As wonderful as I think Christmas is (and – ehm – as good of a gift giver I think I am), it does come with an awful lot of pressure. Pressure to have a big, loving family. Pressure to eat glorious looking and social media-worthy food. Pressure to be happy, in love, dressed in red. And to give the perfect gifts. Unique ones to those who already have everything. What everyone else plays with to your little nieces and nephews. Expensive ones to those you want to impress upon or show some extra love (or so we think). It’s certainly a tough time to stay true to your anti-consumerism philosophy, if you have one of those (hint: I do). It’s also a tough time for the environment and this planet, as we’re tapping into already non-existing reserves as if there – truly – is no tomorrow. But I love Christmas. I can’t help it. I love it with all my heart and can’t pretend otherwise. I love traditions, I love the typical spices and flavors, I love winter, I love family gatherings, I love watching bad Christmas movies, I love Christmas music. And I love giving gifts. So what to do? Are there mindful and meaningful ways to enjoy something as wonderful as this time of year without wrecking havoc somewhere else? Yes! Of course there is! I was thinking we could try to look into the whole gift giving thing today – an area where many of us feel forced to over-spend, where we buy things no one will ever use and where hefty price tag often trumps wholehearted giving.
Over the years, my particular gift giving has evolved from random pieces of crayon drawings and woodwork (I’ll never forget the year when 7-year-old me had made my dad a wooden butter knife and he said “what a beautiful letter opener” when he saw it – turns out someone had been a little too eager with her sanding, considering the thin sliver of wood that was remaining) to more legit gifts. Tickets to fun events, luxurious skincare products, books (always), clothes. And since a few years back, with the arrival of our first nephew, toys. My approach during the end of my teens and beginning of my 20’s sounded something like this: the more gifts underneath the tree, the better. But over the past 5-6 years, and definitely this year, my focus has shifted. I’m not buying into that concept anymore. I want to give gifts that have been selected, purchased and wrapped consciously. The price tag is not important, the brand is not important. Where and how it’s been sourced is, though. And whether or not it’ll be loved and used by the recipient. Giving gifts for the plain sake of giving is pointless – but giving sustainable gifts from your heart that will make someone else truly happy is wonderful.
What to give someone who already “has everything” is always tricky. What to bring for a family member or friend who’s hosting a gathering can be hard too. In the end, we just want to show them we appreciate them, right? So. Most people like edible things. In my opinion, nothing (nothing!) beats homemade gifts – because what oozes more of love and dedication than something you’ve actually created with your own hands? And also, in our mass-produced, it’s-from-somewhere-far-away-with-ingredients-I-can’t-pronounce kind of world, getting to open a jar of homemade jam is a gift as large and grand as any. This brings us to today’s actual post: 8 homemade, edible Christmas gifts that I promise will be endlessly appreciated. And don’t worry about getting fancy looking jars – I save every single glass jar I come across. Glass doesn’t hold smells at all, and unless there’s been something really – cough – fishy in there, most metal lids are more than fine to use again and again. A piece of twine and a handwritten label and voilà – done. But let’s go through them one by one, shall we?
1. Apple Butter
If it hadn’t been for my former boss Daniella and her homemade Long Island apple butter she had whipped up for all her employees one day, I wouldn’t be in the know of this utmost delicious thing. Contrary to what you might think, apple butter doesn’t contain butter at all – or any kind of dairy for that matter. The dreamy, buttery consistency on the other hand – that’s where the name comes from. And I guess when it comes to application too, since it’s downright excellent on any type of bread, scones, crackers etc.
The procedure is simple: core and slice unpeeled apples and place them in a large pot with a bit of water (approx. 2-3 dl per kilogram apples used) and apple cider vinegar (approx. 1 dl per kilogram apples). Simmer until the apple slices are very soft, and then strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve (you might have to use a spoon or spatula to push it through a little bit). Then, place the strained apple sauce back in a pot together with sugar. Go for about 1/2-1 dl sugar per dl of apple sauce (sweetness depends on apple variety, so don’t hesitate tasting), which means you can either eyeball the amount of apple sauce or move it back into the pot using a measuring cup. Add in a pinch of salt and about two tablespoons of lemon juice (if you started out with around a kilogram of apples, otherwise adjust as needed), and then allow the mixture to simmer for about an hour. Stir frequently to prevent any burning, and when you’ve gotten the consistency nice and thick, remove from the heat. For an extra Christmas-y touch, stir in a teaspoon or two of cinnamon (but this can be omitted). Pour the apple butter into clean, warm jars* and close the lids. The jar(s) can be stored at room temperature until opened, thereafter refrigerated. Decorate as you please – and you’re done. *A quick and easy way to sterilize jars: place carefully cleaned jars and lids in the oven at 100ºC for about 10 min. Take out a minute or two before pouring in the apple butter.
2. Granola or Müsli
Fancy looking granolas and müslis are ridiculously overpriced in my opinion. Ingredients are usually nothing special – or at least not so special the end product should cost a fortune – and most of us could whip up something granola/müsli-ish with what we have at home at any given time. You can easily differentiate between the two by thinking one is very crunchy (granola) and the other one not so much (müsli). I happen to love müsli more than granola, but we all have our preferences. With that in mind, choose whichever kind you think your recipient will appreciate the most. The recipe I’d like to share here is super easy and actually falls into neither category – it’s sort of a baked müsli, I guess, with a little more crunch than your regular kind. With ginger, cinnamon and cardamom stirred into the mix, it sure packs some good Christmas feels. If you want to make a smaller/bigger batch, just adjust the amounts and keep the ratio.
So, here we go. For approx. one quart: Set the oven to 175ºC. Place 5 dl rolled oats, 1 dl oat bran (Swedish: havrekli) and 2 dl roughly chopped nuts in a big bowl. My favorite nuts to use are walnuts, hazelnuts (if using, toast and de-skin beforehand) and pumpkin seeds (leave these whole, don’t chop). In a small saucepan, melt 1-2 tbsp of coconut oil. Stir in 1 tbsp maple syrup, 1 1/2 tbsp ground cinnamon, 1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom (freshly ground is the best), 1/2 tsp ground ginger and the smallest pinch of salt. Drizzle this mixture over the oats and nuts, and mix well. You can use your fingers to really squeeze in the oil-syrup concoction and make sure it gets divided evenly. Place the müsli in an oven dish and bake for 20 min, stirring halfway through. Once done, stir in 1 dl of raisins or any other dried fruit you might want to use – dried cranberries, apricots, dates, apples etc. are all good. Put the baked müsli in a jar, and tie a piece of twine around the top. If you want to, you can also attach a little tag with the ingredients written out.
Ah, a favorite! They’re perfect to put in a little brown paper bag for the cutest gift, and they will sure last a good while – since they’re already dry, there’s no risk they’ll crumble up and go bad if ignored for a few days. Excellent to dunk in coffee or hot chocolate too!
My go-to recipe looks like this: Set the oven to 175ºC. Using a mortar and pestle, grind 1 g of saffron with a pinch of sugar. Set aside. Melt 100 g of salted butter (or use coconut oil, but I haven’t tried that) in a small saucepan, and stir in the saffron. Pour the mixture into a bowl and mix in 2 eggs. Stir in 1 1/2 dl sugar, 5-6 dl spelt flour (I also like 2 dl graham flour and 4 dl regular wheat flour), 1 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1 dl whole raw almonds. Form 3 flat logs of about 20 cm long, 4 cm wide and 1 cm thick, and place them on a parchment paper covered baking sheet (not too close, because the logs will flatten out). Bake for 25 min, and then remove from the oven. Using a sharp nice, cut the logs into 1 cm wide biscotti, working diagonally. Lower the temperature to 125ºC, and bake for another 15 min. Turn off the oven, and allow the biscotti to dry in the oven overnight, or for at least a few hours until they’re cooled off. Store in an airtight container.
If you had access to berry picking this summer, you might have some goodies stored in the freezer that could be used for this. Jam is the easiest thing to make. You need berries, sugar and lemon juice. For berries with little naturally occurring pectin, adding some will help thicken the mixture into a jam-like consistency. There are endless guidelines online for all the different kinds – strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, queen berry (that’s what we call the blueberry-raspberry combination in Sweden), cloudberry, lingonberry, gooseberry… We made a huge batch of strawberry jam this summer, with the intention of gifting some jars come Christmas time. We’ll see who’ll be the lucky ones! For canning/storing once the jam is made, follow the jar-cleaning instructions in #1.
5. Energy Balls
A more nutritious sweet treat, these energy balls will keep your hanger at bay and your mood on top when out on some fun winters adventures. A favorite around here this time of year has to be these Gingersnap Energy Balls – a ginger snap flavored (pepparkakssmakande) nut and oat based ball. Christmas feels guaranteed for whoever receives them! For a nice grift wrapping, I would put them in a jar or box. A paper bag would look nice, but it would start to look greasy almost right away. A cellophane bag would look equally nice, but let’s try to work without plastic? A little box or a glass jar will look great – just cut out small sheets of parchment paper to place in between layers, in order for the balls to not stick to each other. A sticker on the lid or a string around the top and you’re good to go.
6. Kale Pesto
It’s winter, ok? Traditional basil pesto feels wrong now, but kale pesto is 100% right. Super easy, climate-friendly, looks pretty and will impress upon the recipient – it’s a winner. Also, you might be saving your loved one from a future dinner-disaster, when kids are screaming and someone didn’t go grocery shopping and blood sugar levels are hitting rock bottom. Provide this pesto with some pasta and it will put an end to the misery. The only thing to remember here is that the jar should be refrigerated most of the time, so if you’re traveling across the country for your holiday celebrations, this might not be the one for you. A few hours non-refrigerated is fine though, so as long as your trip isn’t longer than that and you ask the recipient to place it in the fridge right away, you’ll be good. A quick how-to: place 3 dl chopped kale in a food processor together with 1 dl walnuts, 2 garlic cloves, 1 dl grated cheese and a squirt of lemon juice. Pulse until broken down. Mix in 1-1 1/2 dl olive oil, a little at a time, until you’ve reached the desired consistency. Season to taste. Place in a jar and decorate as you please. Refrigerate. Note: you can use just about any nut or seed – almonds, sunflower seeds, pine nuts etc. – and whatever cheese you prefer. Personally, I think Swedish Västerbotten cheese is a total bomb in pesto. So. Delicious.
Homemade mustard is SO easy to make and will most definitely feel special to whoever receives it. Adding some Christmas spices to it will just make it even better, so don’t be afraid to experiment! We haven’t gotten around to creating our own recipe here yet and certainly don’t want to steal someone else’s glory, so I’m just going to share a recipe I’m very intrigued to try. It comes with dried figs, which seems very holiday appropriate and a little unusual. Now, it’s in Swedish, so if you can’t read it, please shoot me a message right away and I’ll translate it in no time. Here’s the link: Hemgjord Senap med Fikon
8. A loaf of bread
I just learned that the words company and companion are derived from Latin’s cum panis. Cum means “with” and panis means “bread”. “With bread”. The bringing of bread has indeed always seemed a friendly, peaceful, comforting, grounding thing to do, I think. Sharing a meal, breaking off a piece from a shared loaf – they’re sort of all acts of companionship. Learning this piece of linguistic history warmed my heart. Baking a loaf of bread, tying together the bag with a red ribbon and handing it over to someone you care for is a loving gesture, plain and simple. This recipe for a Cranberry Nut Bread is a great one to start with if you’re not too experienced with bread baking. This Dutch Oven Grain Bread is another one we make quite often around here. And if these doesn’t tickle your fancy… go ahead, the internet is your friend. For the sake of nice “gift presentation”, a loaf of bread won’t dry out too quickly if not cut up yet, so keep it whole and you can get away with a brown paper bag instead of an airtight plastic bag (which will be the best bet once cut open).
I know we’ll be gifting at least 3 out of these 8 this year, and I can’t even tell you how happy it makes me to give something we’ve actually taken the time to make. Of course, it feels even better when you can use things you’ve harvested and picked yourself. We went apple picking crazy this past September, when we picked almost 200 lbs at a fruit orchard (for free!). What’s left, after all the apple butter making, is enjoying life in our shed right now, where the temperature hovers a few degrees above freezing, just the way the apples want it. There’s no shortage of kale around here either, despite the season, because you know what? Green curly kale likes winter almost as much as we do, so we have a whole bunch of plants still standing tall out there, just loving the cold winter and occasional snow sprinkle. By growing, creating, using your imagination and thinking outside of the box, there are so many wonderful gifts we can shower those around us with. Sure, we’re gifting other things too. Like lego, for example, because we have a 4-year-old nephew who loves his lego with all of his heart. But we’re definitely keeping the one promise I mentioned up top: all gifts must fall into the category of things that will be loved and used by the recipient. And whether you stick a bag of saffron biscotti or a jar of apple butter under the nose of your mother, sister, grandpa or uncle, I’m sure that box gets checked right away. Oh, and just email, comment below or DM on Instagram if there are any question marks in any of the how-to’s and I’ll be happy to clarify. That’s all! Merry edible Christmas gift making!