|Gift wrapping - brought to you by Pinterest and being a scrap-hoarder - Photo by Wasabi Prime|
Handmade gifts aren't just for budget-conscious gift-givers like myself, they're downright practical these days, as let's face it -- we all have more than enough stuff. Baked goods, bath/spa products -- gifts that get used versus taking up space on a shelf -- are all better options than the Shake Weights and Chia Pets that inevitably pile up in our landfills. And there's just something really nice about a handmade gift. I'd sooner take a plate of homemade cookies over some weird gadget or doo-dad dust collector. With a handmade gift, you're not just getting something unique, you're getting that person's time they spent, working on this special item. Or at least, that's what I tell myself, when I opt for handmade versus busting my credit card limit.
|Vanilla extract - a DIY Oldie but Goodie - Photo by Wasabi Prime|
Yes, I've done this one before. It's an oldie-but-goodie, especially useful during the holidays, as people do their baking around this time of year, and if you time your gift-giving, you can be their baked goods savior by presenting them with a magical bottle of vanilla elixir, or they'll thank you the next time they bake something, because the holidays will have likely tapped-out their vanilla extract supply.
|When the kitchen becomes a holiday gift factory - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
Doing all this a month or earlier before giving the vanilla extract is ideal, just to give the flavor time to develop. It's totally fine if you add a "Do Not Open Until 2015/Next Xmas" label on it, letting people know this is a gift in progress. Here's my sources for vanilla extract-making:
- Specialty Bottle - I used the 8oz swingtop glass bottles
- Beanilla - they have Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans that you can buy in bulk
|Another use for vanilla beans - Vanilla Salt! - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
Yes, vanilla salt -- it's totally a thing. The internet said it was. This is a gift designed for your more baking/cooking-savvy friends. It's just salt mixed with the vanilla bean seeds and pieces of the bean itself. Suggested uses are as a finishing salt on top of cookies, brownies, and other baked goods; sprinkled over caramel sauce on ice cream, and even mixed into savory sauces for things like roasted carrots or other naturally sweet veggies.
This is when your glass jar hoarding comes in handy. Come on, I'm not the only one who does this. I ransacked my cupboard and much to Mr. Wasabi's glee, used up the majority of my small glass jar collection/hoard. When making the vanilla salt, do about a 1 bean-to-1/2 cup salt ratio. More, if you want it extra vanilla-y and have the beans to spare. This is where buying the vanilla in bulk is handy, you don't feel wasteful chopping up beans and throwing them into a big pile of salt. As for the salt choice, I always keep a giant box of kosher salt handy, so I used that. Sea salt works, and if you want to get extra fancy, fleur de sel, sel gris, or Himalayan salt would all be beautiful options as well. A mix of the fancier salts with kosher salt would be lovely, but I'll save that idea for next Xmas.
|Soothing bath sachets, made from your own garden - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
While we're on the subject of salt, how about epsom salts? Not edible, but a recipe for relaxation, to be sure. The need to utilize epsom salts came from last Christmas. We got a 50lb bag of epsom salts from a friend. No joke - FIFTY POUNDS. That's like, several babies, if they were made of epsom salts. Our friend bought a bulk order and shared the wealth. Brock uses epsom salts for soaking after a workout, and we were regularly buying the bulk boxes from Costco, but no need for that, at least for a while. You don't have to buy a 50 lb bag of epsom salts to make these wonderfully soothing herb bath sachets, you can usually buy a carton or bag of epsom salts for a few bucks in the pharmacy aisle of your grocery store.
I got the idea for bath sachets from -- of course -- the internet. You can look up "epsom salt bath sachet" on any search engine, but this how-to on The Happy Homemaker's blog is just dandy. That recipe uses lavender and oatmeal, a common combination. I opted for mint and rosemary only because our backyard plants were doing oddly well despite the chill, so I snipped the plants bare and used that, along with some dried orange peel and a few drops of essential bath oil. You can skip the essential oil if you don't have it handy, a strong-smelling herb like rosemary comes through quite nicely.
The reason why this is a sachet and not just aromatic bath salts is, you want to keep all this pleasant smelling goodness contained. I don't understand why anyone would throw in whole herbs, oatmeal and other stuff that could potentially clog up the drain. A double-layer of cheesecloth would work, or in my case: coffee filters. These things are my holiday savior this year. A pack of 200 for $2 at the grocery store -- short of the fresh herbs, you could get all the major components for this gift at Safeway.
I spooned about 2.5 heaping tablespoons in a small coffee filter, tied it up with cotton string, then wrapped it in another coffee filter and tied that off tightly, just to make it more sturdy. I used decorative cotton string to make a long tether, so that each sachet can hang from the faucet, like a tea bag, so that it can infuse the bath water. The whole thing is biodegradable, so you can toss it all in the compost pile when you're done. And even if you don't want to use it in the bath, they can hang in a closet or be placed in a drawer for sweet-smelling clothes and unmentionables.
|The spice is right, Bob - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
Coffee filters save the day for another DIY gift -- single-use mulling spices. The holidays are all about mulled cider and wine, the spicy-sweet, often boozy concoction that makes the house smell like Christmas and drink enough of it, and you're dancing on the table like a jolly old elf. Typically a party drink, what about if you just want one mug-ful of holiday cheer? Martha Freakin' Stewart to the rescue.
Totally got this idea from Martha Stewart -- her Mulling Sachets how-to was just what I needed. I had a bunch of whole spices like cloves and cardamom, and as wonderful as they are, it's use it or lose it, they don't last forever. Making little mulling spice sachets was the perfect way to make sure these spices were enjoyed properly. I filled out the flavor profile with buying bulk cinnamon sticks, candied orange peel and crystallized ginger. I had bulk bag of star anise from the local Asian grocer -- another great supply area for bulk spices at a good price.
|Give yourself (and others) a glass of holiday cheer! - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
Here's my resource guide for ingredients:
- Oh! Nuts - (yes, that's the name) for the dried fruit, also a great source for baking supplies
- Beanilla - I bought the cinnamon sticks with the vanilla to get free shipping
|It's all about the packaging, yo - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
My packaging must-haves are white address labels and plain brown food-safe boxes. Office supply stores sell those address labels in bulk -- you can customize the label describing the gift, the ingredients, or any instructions. If you get Avery labels, their site has a whole section of templates so you don't have to line up your designs by hand. The to-go boxes can be bought in bulk online for a good price; because they're food-safe, you can use them for your baked goods gifts, the bath sachets, and even send your holiday guests off with leftovers after a big meal. It's a handy item to have around, believe me.
- Paper Mart - I got a bulk order of take-out boxes and decorative tissue paper, but they have tons of other good stuff as well
- Pinterest - all packaging inspiration came from typing in "gift wrapping ideas" in the search box and collecting a ton of pins on a board to keep the ideas fresh
|Meaningful gifts are always ones from the heart - Photos by Wasabi Prime|