Create your own holiday gift baskets

December 9, 2022
As the gift-giving season fast approaches, we’ve been inundated with mail-order catalogs and online advertisements for holiday themed food and wine gifts.
Stores like Fresh Market, Marshalls and Home Goods have set up massive displays of brightly wrapped themed gift towers. As pretty as these can be, I find they’re often filled with empty cardboard spacers to make the collection appear larger. Perhaps, you should consider building your own, here are a few ideas to consider from the items in the photo.
Starting with the set of flavored tea bags in the left of the photo, you can combine the ingredients for a casual tea party. Find a pretty serving plate or tray and arrange a small teapot, mugs, box of specialty teas, honey stirrers (spoons pre-filled with honey to add some sweetness to your cup), a scone mix and miniature jars of jam. You can wrap it all in cellophane and top it with a bow.
Behind the teas is a chicken noodle soup mix packaged to look like it’s in a mason jar. You can find all sorts of dried soup mixes that can be the featured item in this gift basket. Include a colorful silicon ladle, two soup bowls and a pair of whimsical cloth napkins. Add a box or bag of soup crackers and some cookies for dessert. Lunch is served.
Next, we have a jar of artisanal pasta sauce and a package of tri-color pasta. For this gift, I would consider filling a collapsible colander with the makings of an Italian feast. Splurge on high-quality pasta (not the blue box) and an unusual sauce. Add a bottle of fine olive oil, a wedge of Parmesan cheese along with a grater, and a garlic storage jar filled with fresh cloves. Depending upon the timing, you could also include a package of bake-at-home Italian bread.
A little difficult to see in the photo is the bag of organic kale chips, the first of several vegetarian items you could arrange in a rustic woven basket. Consider a tofu press which will allow you to squeeze out all the excess moisture from your block of tofu, making the protein better able to handle stir-fry preparation. Include gluten free soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, miso paste, and a jar of sesame seeds. Look for a decorated set of chopsticks and ceramic chopstick rests to round out the gift.
The next treat is a tin of holiday cocoa mix, which would pair nicely with holiday mugs, a bag of specialty marshmallows and Santa dish towels. A cookie or cake baking mix would be a nice touch, along with a set of decorated spoons to match the theme. These would make a pretty presentation in a holiday baking dish or pie pan.
At the far right in the photo are chocolate Santa crisps in a tree-topped jar. These could be the start of a chocolate-themed basket, alongside frilly packages of gourmet chocolates, holiday-wrapped Hershey’s kisses, homemade brownies or cookies on a serving plate that could be left out for Santa. Include a few carrots, as well, so the reindeer are not forgotten. 
Many of us often complain that we have kitchen cupboards filled with appliances we don’t use all the time, so we should resist the urge to gift an air-fryer or insta-pot, as the recipient may not have the space for another device (unless your spouse has been dropping hints since Halloween). Consider small devices that tackle tough chores, like an herb stripper or mini microplane. Package the former with a potted thyme plant and the latter with whole nutmegs.
Remember that homemade gifts are appreciated for the time and effort you put into making them. I’ve included a gingerbread recipe shared by my friend, Jennifer Horsley, from George Washington's Mount Vernon and originally made by his mother, Mary Ball Washington for a visit from the Marquis de Lafayette. The slightly-sweet fairy butter is a delicious spread. 
Lafayette’s Gingerbread*
1/2 C unsalted butter, softened
1/2 C plus 2 T packed dark brown sugar
1 C molasses
Scant 2 3/4 C sifted flour
1 T ground ginger
1 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t ground cloves
1/4 t ground allspice
2 large eggs, plus 2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
1/4 C fresh orange juice
1 T freshly grated orange zest
Fairy Butter for serving (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch-square cake pan; set aside. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, combine the butter and brown sugar; beat until light and fluffy. Add the molasses and continue to beat until well combined. Sift the flour with the ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. Alternately add the eggs and flour to the butter mixture, beating very well after each addition. Add the orange juice and zest; continue beating for several minutes until the batter is smooth and light. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 35 to 45 minutes. Set the cake on a rack to cool completely in the pan before slicing.
Serve squares of the cake spread with Fairy Butter, if desired.
*Adapted from the Mount Vernon Cookbook.
Fairy Butter*
2 hard boiled eggs, cooled
2 T sugar
1 T orange blossom water
8 oz butter, softened
Peel eggs, remove whites and reserve for another use. Place the yolks in a mixing bowl and mash with a fork until smooth. Add sugar and orange water; mix into a fine paste. Add butter and mix until smooth. Pass through a sieve onto a plate; serve decorated with flowers.
*Adapted from Colonial Williamsburg.

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