Think with your culinary mind when it comes to gift-giving this holiday season.
Taking the time to do things slowly – to do them right – has always bored me to tears. I’m impatient at the onset of a project, jumping the gun, darting toward the finish line before ever tying my sneakers. As you can imagine, this has had many a dire consequence. Take, for example, the time I rushed to plant $200 worth of shrubbery, only to forget to water them. Only when the poor plants wilted beyond repair did I notice my gaffe. Then there are the times I try to carry all my groceries into the house in one go. My herculean effort never works out, and yet I seemingly prefer a few rolled tomatoes to slowing down and doing things right. It’s crazy.
But, here we are – in December – with our feet firmly planted in the holiday season. About this time my warning bell goes off rather violently. You see, over the years I’ve come to realize that things are different in December. I can’t pull my usual tricks and expect to come out on the other side sane and content. No, I have to deal with the holiday season slowly and correctly.
I’m still refining the process, but here’s what I do: I make food gifts for family and friends – things I would not otherwise think of in the rush of the holidays. I know what you’re thinking – “Making gifts! Who has time for that? It’s so much easier to just buy everyone gift cards.”
I agree when it comes to sewing, knitting and crafting – these are not my forte – especially not while raising a 2-year-old. And yet, gift cards are so much less personal. No, something simple and creative is in order this time of year.
Last year I made themed food baskets for my family. Taking my adventure to eat the world as inspiration, each family got a basket filled with food from a different part of the world. My in-laws got an Italian basket, stuffed with gorgeous dried pastas, gourmet sauces and specialty Parmesan. My brother-in-law’s family got the Greek filled with tapenade, fancy breads, feta and more. The great thing about these gifts is that I could add to them every week I went shopping, browsing the aisles carefully, until I had enough items to fill the baskets. No special trips to the mall required. Halfway through December the baskets were overflowing and more beautiful – more customized – than anything I could have purchased.
Since I was way ahead of schedule I took it one step further, adding a few homemade items to the baskets – fresh ground spices and seasoning blends. These also work on their own as smaller gifts or stocking stuffers. Take the time to find unusual containers and your recipient will be thrilled.
For an Indian Basket
2 tsp. black peppercorns
2 tsp. ground turmeric
2 tsp. coriander seeds
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. fenugreek seeds
1 tsp. cumin seed
1/2 tsp. fennel seed
1/2 tsp. cayenne
Seeds from 4 cardamom pods
2 whole cloves
Toast spices in a dry frying pan over medium heat until fragrant, about one minute. Let cool slightly and grind in a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle. Store in an airtight container.
Makes 1/4 cup.
For a European Basket
Georgian Khmeli-Suneli Five Spice
Sprinkle on vegetables, salads, mix into marinades and soups. Mix with lemon juice and olive oil for a fabulous chicken marinade.
4 tsp. fenugreek seeds
4 dried bay leaves
2 tbsp. ground coriander seeds
2 tbsp. dried savory
1 tbsp. dried dill
1 tsp. black pepper
Grind all ingredients in a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle. Store in an airtight container.
Makes 3/8 cup.
For an African Basket
Kan Kan Kan
Sprinkle this spicy peanut powder on meats after cooking to heat things up.
1/2 c. peanut powder
1 tsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. allspice
2 Maggi bouillon cubes; or
2 tsp. powdered bouillon
Crush up the bouillon cubes, if using. Stir all ingredients together. Store in an airtight container.
Makes 1/2 cup.
Sasha Martin is cooking one meal for every country in the world. Her picky husband and baby girl are along for the ride. Join the adventure for recipes, reviews and more at www.globaltableadventure.com.