Archive for Monday, November 28, 2011


Homemade for the holidays

Some families prefer creating gifts rather than shopping for them

November 28, 2011


Will Richards, 6, and his sister Catharine, 9, show off their hand-decorated picture frames they made for their grandparents.

Will Richards, 6, and his sister Catharine, 9, show off their hand-decorated picture frames they made for their grandparents.

Jennifer Richards enjoys creating handmade holiday gifts for a personalized touch. Many of her ideas have come from seasonal magazines. Richards is co-owner of Made, 737 Mass.

Jennifer Richards enjoys creating handmade holiday gifts for a personalized touch. Many of her ideas have come from seasonal magazines. Richards is co-owner of Made, 737 Mass.

Chocolate truffle almonds

4 cups whole natural almonds

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup water

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

12 ounces dark chocolate, melted

2-3 cups powdered sugar or cocoa powder for rolling

Line a baking sheet with foil and spread the almonds on it. Place in a cold oven, set the temperature to 350, and bake the almonds for 15 minutes. Measure the sugar and set aside.

Combine the honey, water and oil in a wide, shallow saucepan and slowly bring to a boil. Stir in the hot almonds and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until all the liquid has been absorbed. This stage is very important — if you leave the almonds too wet they will be sticky and gummy rather than crisp.

Spray the foil with a light film of pan spray, and turn the almonds back on to the tray. Spread them out into an even single layer, and sprinkle all of the sugar over them. Use a rubber spatula to turn and toss them until all the loose sugar has coated the almonds.

Bake the almonds for about 20 minutes. They will be golden brown and caramelized, and when they are completely cool, break up any clumps.

Place pan in the freezer while preparing the chocolate coating.

While the nuts are cooling, melt your chocolate. Place the chilled, separated nuts in a very large bowl and have the powdered sugar handy.

Add about a third of the chocolate to the nuts and immediately fold with a large rubber spatula until the nuts are completely coated. Add another third of the chocolate and repeat the process. Finish with the remaining chocolate. Make sure all the nuts are well-coated and separated. Add powdered sugar to the bowl and continue tossing until well-coated.

These can be stored at cool room temperature in an airtight container. They are great for holiday goody bags and hostess gifts. Makes about 6 cups.

— Recipe from Nancy Stark

Chocolate Truffle Almonds, recipe by chef Nancy Stark.

Chocolate Truffle Almonds, recipe by chef Nancy Stark.

Caryl Hale’s favorite gift from last Christmas? Something special from her husband, Aaron, of course.

If visions of diamonds or iPads or high-end cars adorned with bows are dancing in your sweet little head, you’re wrong. Though the Lawrence mom did gasp with surprise and delight when she laid eyes on her gift: A homemade necklace holder.

“It was very simple, but for me, receiving it from him, it had such a huge meaning for me. I could hear him out there working in the garage. He would say, ‘You can’t come out!’ Or he would cover it up. So there was this anticipation of ‘What is he making? What is it this year?’” Hale says. “It’s the same as when kids make you gifts — when they make you a little paper ornament, there’s a meaning as a mom and you want to hold onto it. I think that’s the same way for me — whomever makes me a gift, I feel that. … It has a deep, sentimental meaning to me.”

This year, the Hales are trying make all their gifts by hand. Family, friends, even the couple’s three children — everyone gets something made with a bit of elbow grease. It’s an idea the couple had been playing with for a few years, but they’d never done things strictly handmade before this year.

If you’re thinking of making this year a handmade Christmas (partly or whole), know you’ve got plenty of options for gifts. Whether you’re looking for edible, crafty or practical gifts, there’s a little something for everyone. And every one is customizable to anyone on your holiday list.

Food gifts

Nancy Stark would rather no one ever “have” to run to the store to buy her a present. Thus, she practices what she preaches by hand-making all of the gifts she gives friends and family. And when she thinks of “homemade,” the Kansas City chef naturally thinks of edible gifts.

“I’ve been making my own gifts forever. I’m very challenged by shopping. I don’t like buying things for people just because I’m supposed to,” she says with a laugh. “So I have always made my own gifts. It’s sort of evolved over the years. I’m happy to spend hours in the kitchen making stuff for people. I mean, I think that’s a reasonable trade for spending hours out at the mall.”

Among her own personal favorites and suggestions she gave her students in her “Make-Your-Own Gifts from the Kitchen” class earlier this month at The Merc, 901 Iowa? Gifts both pre-made and kits with recipes:

  • A plate of prepared tamales (a traditional Christmas dish in Mexico)
  • Tamales recipe and select ingredients plus a nice pot
  • Chocolate Truffle Almonds or other homemade nuts
  • A breakfast gift, complete with German stollen or Irish soda bread
  • The Christmas gift staple: cookies
  • Candied citrus peel
  • Jams and jellies
  • Sauces and stews
  • Dry ingredients and a recipe

Stark adds that any food gift is customizable, and you don’t need to crank out thousands of the same thing.

“You can just whip together something for those people who you forgot about,” she says, adding she makes uniform label tags to use for each gift, big or small. “But then if you have people who are more special to you, you can just keep piling on the accessories and make the gift totally over the top if you want to but using the same pieces and parts.”

Crafty gifts

Jennifer Richards, co-owner and buyer at Made, 737 Mass., says making a project out of your presents list is one of the best ways to really personalize the holidays. She says she’s always browsing craft magazines and websites like for ideas on what to do or how to tweak craft projects of holidays past.

“It seems like every magazine I pick up, there’s tons of ideas for things you can make,” Richards says, adding her children love to make gifts as well. Among the projects she recommends considering:

  • Cross-stitch ornaments
  • Handmade wreaths from yarn, felt or ornaments
  • Picture frames dressed with paint and buttons (an especially good project for children)
  • Anything felt (especially garlands or ornaments)
  • Holders for store-bought presents

She says many of these projects can be done inexpensively and without equipment like a sewing machine — cross-stitch or felt items being high on her list. Cross-stitch patterns can be easy for even newbies. As for felt, no stitching is needed — fabric glue works just fine.

Not sure you want to give “only” something homemade, or dealing with someone who is hoping for something specific? Richards really likes the idea of making something to hold your gift, like a little stocking.

“If they made the stocking and then tucked a little pair of earrings or even a gift card or something in the little stocking, that would be nice,” Richards says. “Kids can be very particular with the things they want for Christmas. If it’s a particular toy (they desire), you can put it in your own handmade container — to kind of put the personal touch on things you’ve bought.”

Around-the-house gifts

Hale says this year, nearly everyone on her list will be getting a homemade body care item. She’s been experimenting with gifts suitable for women, men or both:

  • Body butter
  • Lip balm
  • Shaving soap
  • Body soap
  • Perfume
  • Earring holder
  • Necklace holder
  • Upcycle and refurbish a toy
  • Coasters

Hale admits the hardest people to create gifts for are her children — one in junior high and two preschool age. She says, though, that just like listening to them moon over a popular toy, she has figured out their gifts based on what makes each child light up.

“Our older daughter, she has seen me make the lip balm, and so the beauty products, she is very excited about that,” Hale says. “I think for children, if you have in mind and what they’re interested in, I think you can kind of cater it to them. Something where it’s not, ‘Oh, thanks for this wool sock’ or something that they wouldn’t perceive as too exciting. I’m optimistic about it — we’ll see when they open them up.”

Hale says though she knows she’s taking a bit of a gamble by going handmade with her kids, she’s hoping that they see the value in their gifts just like she does every time she takes a piece of jewelry off her necklace holder or laces up shoes stored on her shoe rack, another homemade gift from her husband.

“There’s definitely something about receiving something handmade that even though it has a very simple purpose, when it’s given to you by someone who made it and spent time on it,” Hale says. “It carries much more meaning than just holding your shoes.”


Liberty275 6 years, 6 months ago

My wife is weird. One year I went all out and bought her a nice diamond bracelet, emerald earrings and sorta expensive watch. She has never worn any of it more than twice. Last year I bought her a god-awful expensive vacuum and she tells me how much she loves it every time she uses it.

Go figure.

Irenaku 6 years, 6 months ago

Great story!! I love making gifts for people. If you want to make gifts, but are not sure wehre to start, go to Litreally thousands of ideas for DIY gifts!!

pace 6 years, 6 months ago

I don't think it is weird to like a good tool and not care about gild. I don't want a diamond, but I envy the good vacuum cleaner. My dishwasher hasn't worked in years. I would like a new dishwasher a lot more than an expensive watch. My cell phone keeps very good time and has an alarm function. I do not mean to judge people that love diamonds but I don't understand them. Toys, geegaws and trappings, don't compare to function. I do admit to a weakness for art and books.

pace 6 years, 6 months ago

I want tamales for Christmas.
The most valuable and rare gift for most loved ones. is time. So if you have time, take a walk with your kids, If you have time give a little away.
If you have time and muscle, go ahead shovel a little snow. If you have time and wisdom, do one of those chores that usually fall to the other. Do one of your kid's chores with him/her. My husband surprises me with flowers and sometimes when I least expect it, he does dishes. Some day ' am I dreaming" it will dawn on him, to vacuum. I surprise him with mowing before he comes home. Once someone renting a room from us, saw the lawn needing mowing and did it. Hi John. miss you.

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