Yes, I know it is November and the holiday frenzy properly begins in December. I like to start early and avoid the frenzy altogether. In fact, I used to hate Christmas because it meant shopping for gifts and the mere thought of prowling through a moodily-lit shopping mall, listening to canned, sappy Christmas music while navigating through a dense, restlessly-milling crowd of what appeared to be the damned, really put me off.
I also hated parting with money for some thoughtless gift that I would buy in desperation to be outside the shopping mall. I marvelled at just how many of the shops appeared to be selling the same over-priced tee shirts and jeans. How do they all stay in business?
So, it must be twenty years ago that I opted out of the commercial aspects of the holiday season and pursued a policy of make, bake, grow or sew for my holiday gifting. Not only was this a relief to me but people really seemed to enjoy the gifts I made for them.
For example, I baked some old friends a tin of Mexican wedding cakes which are really a very simple shortbread cookie that is rolled in a mixture of powdered sugar and cinnamon while they are still warm. I gave the tin to the father of the family who lived about a ten minute drive from us. He received the tin with marked enthusiasm and, much later, his daughter told me that not one cookie had made it back to their house. Her father had lost control in the car on the short journey home and had wolfed all the cookies down. I was really surprised as he was normally the most considerate of men but everyone has their breaking point.
Raisin bread also has that effect on a lot of people and I have given gifts of a warm loaf of raisin bread to friends and later asked how they had enjoyed it. I usually received the sheepish reply that the loaf had forced them to consume it all in one sitting with a great deal of butter. I begin to think it is possible that I knead into my baking my own lack of control over sweets.
Now, not everyone wants the gift of uncontrolled gluttony so it is good to ask if a friend might like some cookies for Christmas for example. I was out walking with friends and they both agreed they would like to receive some cookies for the holidays. Later, one of them confided in me that he is planning to make sorbets in his ice-cream maker for his gifting. He makes the most delightful sorbets.
This year, I received a Finnish steam juicer as a present from a friend. It is my new favourite toy! I have a bunch of quince to deal with and they are difficult to peel and core, being a very hard fruit. With this steam juicer, all I had to do was wash the fuzz off the quince and chop them up and load the steamer basket to the rim. I filled the water chamber and let it steam away. By the time the pan of water was almost gone, the quince was a mere defeated remnant in the bottom of the pot and I had two and a half quarts of quince juice.
The next day, I stood at the stove and had a half-hour zoom call with an old friend while I stirred and tested the mixture of sugar and quince juice that became the most spectacularly red and tasty jelly. I poured it into jars and it set up beautifully. This was much easier than making membrillo, a quince paste, which takes hours to prepare and the Mexican side of the family really enjoys. The jelly is mostly going to be Christmas presents. You cannot generally buy quince jelly so that makes it a really special treat.
There is far too much sugar and food consumed in the holiday season so you may not want to make food gifts. I get together with some friends and we paint Christmas cards. This is really easy and fun and you don’t need heaps of equipment to enjoy watercolour painting. I paint a lot of cards and use them as stationery all year long and some of my friends collect and frame the cards and the result is really pretty.
To make a start at painting Christmas cards, you need only a box of kid paints and some brushes, some 140 lb watercolour paper, some card stock, a glue stick and some glitter glue and you have all you need to begin painting cards with your friends and family. The resulting painting parties will become a treasured part of the festivities. All these supplies can be found on Denman at Abraxas Books.There are heaps of free painting tutorials on Youtube, aimed at the beginner level.
The same skills used to make cards can also produce bookmarks and if your friends don’t always need more bookmarks, you may have the wrong kind of friends.