Christmas Presents Simply Made

By: Michelle Karshneski

Oh! The craziness of Christmas! I don't know about you, but Christmas conjures up many images for me. People rushing around trying to find the perfect gift for those special people in their lives. I can honestly say I've "been there, done that". Or how about a fresh cut evergreen tree decorated to the nines with beautifully wrapped boxes placed carefully underneath. I know that vision makes me feel content but also stressed due to all the work these images entail. It's not an easy task making the Holidays "picture perfect". We all want to exchange beautifully decorated gifts with our friends because the gift itself is an extension of who we are (as the gift giver) and how we feel about the recipient.

One of the easiest ways to give a meaningful gift is to give something from the heart; something homemade. Remember the good old days when mom encouraged us to make our gifts? As kids, we were bound by what we were talented enough to make. Some of those cards and macaroni necklaces were "flops". But, we've grown up and have learned many new and exciting talents. Who says they have to be meticulously wrapped boxes? Life has changed or maybe just returned to a simpler time. Let me share with you some self-decorating gifts that come conveniently wrapped in a bottle.

No, I'm not talking of the store bought bottles of wines and liqueurs. I do, however have a great recipe for berry liquor that can be made in a large quantity and divided into some smaller bottles to share at the Holidays. I've only made it with raspberries, but get crazy!

Raspberry Liquor:
1 fifth Vodka
3 pints (10 ounces) frozen raspberries
3 cups water
3 cups sugar

Mix all ingredients together and leave on the counter for 21 days to ferment the flavors. Pour into decorative containers and seal. I usually add some raspberries at the end to decorate. These bottles don't even need wrapping paper. They are colorful all on their own. I usually add a homemade gold bow or some decorative curling ribbon but nothing too will take away from the beauty of the bottle.

Another great drinkable gift is homemade Bailey's Irish Cream. This can be made with or without the alcohol. This recipe makes one large wide mouth bottle plus some extra for sampling.

Bailey's Irish Cream:

1/2 pint (one half pint) whipping cream
2 Tablespoons Nestle's Quick
3 eggs
1 can Eagle brand milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1-1/3 (one and one third) cup white rum or whiskey (leave out for non-alcoholic drink)

Add ingredients to blender and blend well. This will store well in darker colored bottles in the refrigerator. I wrap these the same as the liquor. If you feel the need to wrap the bottles, place them in a wine sack and decorate with a bow.

If liquors and Baileys are not for you, never fear! There are plenty more recipes to follow! How about flavored vinegars and oils? These are not complicated to make and have come back into fashion for marinades and especially salad dressings! There is plenty of room for creativity here. You can make herb vinegars, fruit vinegars and even floral vinegars. Even better, Kitchen Krafts sells some great bottles you can purchase for this project.

To make any of the flavored vinegars, I start out with a good wine (or cider) vinegar. For the best flavor, I recommend using fresh herbs, flowers or fruits; but store bought will work just as well. Here's one of my favorite flavored vinegar recipes.

Raspberry Vinegar:
1 pound raspberries, washed and hulled
2-1/2 cups wine vinegar
Approximately 1 pound of granulated sugar

Place the raspberries in a large bowl with the vinegar and cover with plastic wrap. Let stand on your counter 5 days. This mixture should be stirred daily. After 5 days, strain and measure the liquid. For every 2-1/2 cups liquid, add one pound of sugar. Pour mixture into bottles. This recipe makes 4-1/2 cups.

Again, I use raspberries because they are a family favorite, but feel free to experiment and suit your own tastes. I'm sure blackberries and plums would work nicely. This vinegar will let you make a great raspberry vinaigrette dressing. If placed in the right bottle, little wrapping is required.

Another fun and easy (and pretty looking) gift is a flavored oil. You can buy these at any specialty store but homemade oils are much tastier. Here is my "tried and true" herbed oil. I like to mix garlic and basil but you can mix any of your favorite herbs together to create a successful oil. Just be sure to use a good olive oil for your base.

Garlic and Basil Oil:
2-1/2 cups olive oil
Desired herbs (quantity depends on how strong you wish to make your oil)
I use a Mortar and Pestle to help crush the herbs and garlic and release the flavor and natural juices. Put this mixture into a clean jar and cover with oil. Put on the lid and let stand in a warm or sunny place for about 14 days. After 2 weeks have passed, strain the oil mixture through a piece of cheesecloth. For a stronger herb taste, repeat this process. I usually do this step twice because I like a stronger flavor. Pour into a clean bottle. I add 5 or 6 cloves of garlic and some fresh basil for decoration and as identification.

It is important to note that vinegars and oils need to be kept in a well sealed bottle, preferable in a cool dark cupboard to help preserve it's color and flavor. Liquor and vinegar bottles can be purchased through Kitchen Krafts in a set of three. All of the recipes above would fit nicely into these bottles.

Like I mentioned at the beginning, all of these "recipes in a bottle" are gorgeous on their own. Feel free to add a bow or some ribbon or slide into an appropriate bag or wrap in tissue paper for a "complete" gift. Remember to add a tag stating what the item is and if you feel daring, add a favorite recipe that you think this creation would taste good in. A terrific example would be a recipe for a vinaigrette dressing using your flavored vinegar and/or oil. Make sure to add: "Made especially for you by....". You will truly make someone's holiday. When you care enough to give the very best - make sure it's homemade!

Here are some more ideas to get you motivated to create some gifts. Don't forget about all the jams and relishes and chutneys that you put up over the Spring/Summer/Fall months. There's nothing like giving or receiving homemade jams. I gave away my Strawberry Jam last year and they were a HIT! Again, no wrapping necessary. I placed a square piece of cloth with "rik-rak" edges over the lid and tied with matching ribbon. Very county looking!

For those of you looking to create other "presents in a jar", try layering the dry ingredients of your favorite cookie or brownie recipe in a wide mouth Mason jar. Decorate the lid with fabric or ribbon and include the recipe. These make GREAT gifts and by sharing the recipe (and tradition or story behind the recipe) you've created a gift that really does "keep giving" long after that batch of cookies or brownies are gone!

Finally, an idea for those gift recipients who have a sweet tooth. Find a uniquely shaped jar and layer with their favorite candies or popcorn. I found a wonderful triangular shaped bottle last year and layered it with red and green M&Ms.

I have tried to touch on quite a few recipes for Christmas presents in a bottle and hope I have sparked some creativity in you! Remember - The sky is the limit!! In making your own gifts, just think of how much stress you could save yourself? No more shopping with the throngs of people hunting down "something" that would be appropriate to show how much you care.

This year, you can start early and prepare individual gifts specifically for that special person. You can buy bottles that would suit a specific décor. You can make someone's favorite liquor. You can create a gift that is meaningful and shows that you put some thought and effort into what that person likes or needs.

This year, you can still have beautiful packages under the tree. You can use ribbon and bows to accent your bottle instead of hiding the beauty of your creations in a box. It's time to think "out of the box"!!!

Enjoy making your gifts! Feel like a child again and don't worry about "flops" - mix these recipes with a little ingenuity and creativity and you'll come up with gifts that are beautiful all in themselves. I bet you'll feel better and even proud of your accomplishments ...and so will your mom.

Happy Holidays!!