Gifting and glitching: mishaps at the holidays

Life is full of many (and mini) gifts, like walking into a fragrant kitchen so warm from cooking that the windowpanes are opaque in the middle. Or like sipping hot Lady Grey tea while reading a good book. Like finding a lone wildflower beaming over the tops of crunchy brown leaves. How about that first bite of food that’s so good it makes you shiver?

Gifts can be – and often are – simple fine things. If you ask me, the thrill of giving others store-bought presents pales in comparison with the grace of gifting loaves of your own baked bread. Wrapping and ribboning a piece of technological gadgetry is far less satisfying than gift engineering with sticky fingers and floured hair … which brings me to the main idea of today’s post: homemade gifts for holidays (or special days, or Tuesday, or …).

Simple fine things may be less exciting for the gift receiver than, say, a new car; but I guarantee the recipient will realize, at least eventually, the treasure of your time and effort. One phrase that never gets old: “I just ate / used that item you gave me and it was incredible!” The sentiment is even better with “Will you make some more?” tacked on the end.

Presents are tricky things though. The action of the offering is rife with snares and potholes, and maybe a bear trap or two. For instance, my mother is a very generous and kind person who loves giving presents. Before my husband and I had children, we (my husband, mother, and I) planned to spend Christmas with relatives out of state. The weatherman predicted sleet the night before we were supposed to leave which put our travel plans in question. My mother, having left a couple of days before, was already there.

When I called to tell her that we might be unable to spend the holidays with the family, Mom was beside herself, truly having fits – thankfully not of the hissy variety although not far from it – insisting that we make the trip early if necessary. “If you leave right now you will be here; and you will be here.” There was more froth in her tone than in  any latte in the history of milk foam. It seemed a little overboard. Thank goodness the sleet didn’t fall. We made the trip on time and later discovered the reason for my mother’s insistence on Christmas Ho! Sleet be damned!: she bought us bicycles, and by “bicycles” I mean the awesome kind from a bike shop and not something at a mass merchandiser. Cool, huh? Except for one thing. Bike riding terrifies me and I refuse to do it. We had a crushed mama that year.

The point is that you can avoid having your gift giving feelings hurt by knowing what others prefer. Does this person cook? Is this person an adventurous eater? Will he turn to mush for the right kind of cookie? What colors of food make her want to vomit? (Using the word “vomit” on a cooking blog is edgy, no?)

My original plan for today was to give you at least one honest-to-goodness recipe. Instead – due to a malfunction and the need to tweak the ingredients or the method (or both) before posting it – here is a much simpler idea for cold-weather gifting. You don’t cook it, bake it, stir it, or coax it, but it is something you make with your own hands, it’s consumable, and it makes a very pretty gift. So! With our friends in mind, let’s go to the gift-giving workshop and try it out, chugging toward home cooking next time.

Mint Chocolate Chip Cocoa Mix

½ c. sugar

½ c. cocoa

½ c. powdered milk

¼ tsp. salt (optional, but nice!)

¼ c. chopped chocolate morsels (smaller pieces = easier melting) – I use a combination of white chocolate and semi-sweet morsels but you can use whatever you have

7 – 8 starlight mints or an equal amount of candy canes, broken into small pieces

Airtight pint container if you are not giving right away or any pint container if you are giving the gift immediately (see pic).

Directions:

1. Chop chocolate morsels by pulsing in food processor until you have nice small pieces (grinding to a powder is ok but having pieces is more exciting). If you do not have a food processor, put morsels in a plastic bag and hit with rolling pin, hammer, or other hefty object. Set chocolate aside.

2. Put starlight mints or candy canes in a bag and break apart with rolling pin (or whatever you have that will break them apart). I did not try to break these in the food processor – I do not know how well it would have worked. And whoa, it would have been REALLY NOISY! Set broken candy pieces aside.

3. In a pint jar, layer the sugar, cocoa, powdered milk, salt, chocolate, and mints. As you add each new layer, use a spoon to level off that layer and to tamp the ingredients down. If it will be some time before you give this gift, make sure the container is airtight so that the candy doesn’t go stale.

4. Make an instruction card for your recipient.

* Mix the contents of container in a large bowl

* Measure 5 – 6 Tbsp. of mix into mug; add hot water, stir, and enjoy!

* Store remainder of mix in an airtight container

You can double, triple, quadruple … err … infinituple (yeah, cool new word!) the ingredients to make larger batches. I doubled the recipe to what should have been 1 quart, so I don’t know if my container was too small (I found it at World Market for under $3 and it looked like a quart) or if the measure of ingredients was too great. Since I was giving the gift right away I improvised the “lid” and used cling wrap tied with a ribbon. As a less expensive alternative, you can also half or quarter the quantities to make smaller batches. Wouldn’t it be cute to make a single serving packed in a mug?

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