Christmas

Gift Guide 2018

Don’t worry. I’m not going to suggest you give away anything you bought at this year’s Bellevue Farmers Market and have been hoarding to tide you over until May 2019. My cans of St. Jude tuna and my jars of market-made jam aren’t going anywhere but in my family’s bellies. But Christmas is still coming and there are other gifts to be given.

Here. It’s not tuna, but I promise it’s still good. [Photo by  Kira auf der Heide  on  Unsplash   ]

Here. It’s not tuna, but I promise it’s still good. [Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash ]

For Someone Who Cooks:

A copy of a favorite cookbook. The one you have in your kitchen with the stained pages falling out and which naturally falls open to your most-frequently-made recipe. My sister mentioned that she and her husband were going to try going vegetarian for a while in January, so I quickly got her a copy of my much-much-used Deborah Madison. And, before I wrap it, I’m going to take a highlighter to the index to mark recipes I know they’ll enjoy.

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A homemade mix for something. Those soups-in-a-jar are always fun to get, but I was making pancakes this morning and thought it’d be fun to get a pancake or waffle mix that had the grains already mixed up for you, along with baking soda, baking powder, salt, and a little sugar. The recipient would just add the wet ingredients: butter/milk, two eggs, vanilla.

For example, a mix for the Deborah Madison pancakes I made would include:

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup whole-wheat flour

1/4 cup spelt flour

1/4 cup rye flour

1/4 cup oat flour

1/4 cup garbanzo bean flour

1 tsp baking soda

2 tsp baking powder

1 Tbsp sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1/8 tsp nutmeg

On the little label you include, you’d ask them to add 3 Tbsp melted butter, two eggs, 1 cup buttermilk, and 1/2 cup milk (or all milk, but they come out flatter). Optional ingredients would be a sprinkling of sliced banana or blueberries. Mix all the ingredients and drop by 1/4 cupfuls on a medium-hot griddle. Proceed as normal for pancakes!

Your favorite kitchen utensil. Do you always reach for a particular spatula first? A certain pair of tongs? Have you, in the space of a month, managed to melt both your meat thermometers (ahem)? Chances are, if you like the design and functionality of that puppy, another cook will too.

[Photo by  Caroline Attwood  on  Unsplash   ]

[Photo by Caroline Attwood on Unsplash ]

And how about gifts for the person who doesn’t cook much?

If they like to read and love history and/or southern food, this memoir was wonderful:

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Chef and history re-enactor Michael W. Twitty goes in search of both family history and food history and finds how they intertwine. This book will make you want to eat, cry, travel to the south, travel to Africa, get your DNA done, and grow a garden.

Or say your recipient wanted to visit Paris but is now scared off by yellow-vest rioters. Maybe this gift could remove some of the disappointment:

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The French-and-American author couple go from pre-Roman times right up to the present, regaling us with lots of mini food histories, collisions of culture, and who-knew? moments. Great fun.

And finally, if your loved one doesn’t cook much and doesn’t read much, but strangely you still like to hang out with such a person, there’s always a gift certificate for dinner at your house or a meal delivered to them. Because who doesn’t love home-cooked food?

Have a great week.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Your Holidays

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I'm pretty sure I do a version of this post every year, but here goes 2016's edition! Recently King County Waste Less News sent out an email about greener holidays, and the first link I clicked on made me think there was not enough time in my day to be green. No, I will not be making my own gift bags this season:

Because these look better than re-using gift bags you already have in the closet?

And then there was the one about re-using metallic chip bags, with unspooled VCR tape as ribbon(!!!). It's a joke, right?

I guess if you're over 80 and still have VCR tapes sitting around and the time to pull the tape out of the plastic case and floof it into a decorative heap...and the gift has got to be pretty small to be wrapped in a rinsed-out potato chip bag.

I'll be the first to admit I'm not a craft-y person, and I'm becoming more of a Grinch every year because I hate junk piling up. I hate plastic packaging; I hate plastic toys and things that break or get boring and then take up space for the rest of eternity; I hate clutter and things that don't have a function. I've even started purging our book collection because I love how my Kindle and its library take up no room. Because of my own aversions, I dislike giving people things that come in plastic packaging, break and take up space, or otherwise add to the clutter of the world. This includes electronics. If you saw my house, you wouldn't believe me, but it's because I live with four other people who don't share my love of spareness. Come visit me in a few decades, when I'm in the nursing home, and you'll see. It'll be some pictures on the wall, my Kindle, and a drawer full of socks and underwear. Done.

All of which is to say, if I could redesign Christmas, we'd only be allowed to give food, clothing, things that take up no room, and experiences. (If you still have little kids at home, you're stuck with plastic junk for a few more years, but maybe just let grandma and grandpa buy that stuff.)

How about a food gift basket? If you don't like to cook yourself, maybe you loaded up at the Bellevue Farmers Market before it closed.

Take one of those empty baskets you have laying around in the garage, from when someone gave you a gift basket, and fill it yourself with favorite foods. You wouldn't even need to do sweets, so they could enjoy it in January, after the sugar binge is over.

Or how about tickets to a local movie theater or live theater show or favorite spa? Maybe handmade coupons for something like dogsitting or babysitting or a ride to the airport. I see my kids' swim coaches spending lots of time reading on their Kindles at meets, so they usually get an ebook or Amazon $ and some suggested titles to enjoy. And there can always be something to open under the tree, even for the electronic or the intangible. Print out a picture of the non-physical item, box it up and you're good to go.

Every year I take pictures from the past twelve months and format them in a photo book for everyone to pore over. As the years go by, they make a nice collection.

Rather than have the season be about a quantity of expensive, useless gifts, build traditions throughout the month: videos you rotate through, certain cookies you bake and foods you eat, places and people you visit. The presents will be forgotten (until your kids are moving you to the home and have to dispose of all that junk in a yard sale), but the memories and habits prove more durable.

As a final suggestion, for those extended families who are up for something creative and less expensive, try a themed Christmas:

  • "Recycled" Christmas. (Re-)gift items you already have or that you found used at a thrift store or garage sale. No new items allowed. Recycled Christmases can be funny (white elephant) or as nice as possible.
  • "Together Time" Christmas. Skip the presents and rent/borrow a place to hang out all together for a couple days. Each branch of the family could plan an activity or game.
  • "Edible" Christmas. Only edible items allowed.

In any case, whatever you do this season, I hope you know to save any nice gift bags, tins, ribbons/bows, sturdy wrapping paper. Then, at least, next year you'll be spared having to do this: