At school tomorrow is a Sugar and Spice Holiday Cookie event where each class brings in several batches of homemade cookies which are all displayed in the staff room. All the teachers get to choose which cookies they would like to take home as a Christmas gift. I put my hand up to bake a dozen for each of my kids’ classes and I have really enjoyed thinking up what lovely cookies to give. I have made
- Nigella’s Butter Cut Out Biscuits and iced them as snowflakes
- Triple Ginger Biscuits with Espresso Cream
- Crunchy Peanut Butter with Sea Salt Biscuits (I used Murray River Pink Salt as a little nod to my Australian roots)
- Lemon Shortbread (recipe below)
- Chocolate Orange Biscuit (so good that I must share the recipe ASAP).
I have done my baking at night time when the kids are in bed and the carols are playing. I have a Diptyque ‘Feu de Bois’ scented candle which makes me feel like I have a Yule Log burning in the fireplace – just beautiful. I probably got a little carried away with the amount of baking I did but I enjoyed it so much and I believe teachers need all the appreciation we can give.
Besides teachers, it is good to remember those people in your life that you truly appreciate like the friendly lollipop lady, the helpful librarian or those generous parents who take time out to volunteer at the ‘stop, drop, go’ zone in the school car park. I really don’t think people desire extravagant gifts but it is always so special when someone gives a thoughtful message in a card or a small gift that is personal.
Homemade food gifts are my favourite gifts to give and receive. I have shared many little ideas over the years and I think nothing beats a homemade treat – a bag of sugared almonds, a box of shortbread, some rocky road or a jar of Caramelised Onions (Levi gets his very own jar in his Christmas stocking). Last year my clever friend Naomi made incredible Panforte which was beautifully wrapped and labelled ‘From Naomi’s Kitchen’. I can’t remember many gifts from last Christmas but I do remember that delicious panforte which was beautifully packaged. My Grandma use to always make Rum Balls. In her later years she spiked them with crystallised ginger which I didn’t enjoy but I am always grateful for a jar of Rum Balls at Christmas. My Grandma passed away this last year so I will dearly miss them – crystallised ginger and all.
My lovely Joel is a hard one to buy for as he does not like me to buy at all. Unless of course it is at an op shop and then I’m encouraged to spend, within reason. Joel is a scrouge with money but a very generous soul to those in need and I love him for that. So I have to support him and not buy him what I want to buy him but rather head to the local op shop to find him yet another old record to add to his collection or track down another computer engineering book. So maybe the special man in your life may also like a copy of ‘Code Complete’ by Steve McConnell, but perhaps not for everyone. I find it hard to buy Joel what he wants because it seems so boring, but I guess gift giving is suppose to be self-less.
It is much easier to buy for like-minded people and in my case, people who love to cook. A couple of years ago, my friend Fiona gave me a bag full of ingredients from the deli – raspberry vinegar, vanilla, different sugars and chocolate. It was so exciting because it was special foodie things that I didn’t always have in my pantry, or ever had, but immediately I thought of recipes that called for the specific ingredients and I couldn’t wait to use them. I loved it! For those who like to bake then a jar of vanilla bean paste, a box of Dutch Cocoa Powder or a little bottle of edible glitter is special. I have Edable Art edible glitter which I understand is safe to consume but not all ‘edible’ glitters are in fact edible. If you can get a safe edible glitter then they are fantastic gifts for bakers – especially if they have daughters, Granddaughters or nieces to bake for. My girls love sparkles on everything! Levi, however, was mortified that I had sprinkled edible glitter over a chocolate slice for his class party last year.
For my nieces and nephews this year I am giving gorgeous gifts from Planet Eco, a Tasmania business created by my friend Anna. What better way to encourage kids to get outdoors and eat healthily than to give them a gardening kit. I chose the Vegie Patch Kit and hope to see my niece and nephews back in Australia get little green thumbs growing their own carrots, cucumbers, lettuces, radishes and rocket. For my American niece and nephews it is books. Over the years I have tried to gift them classic Australian books but this year I just chose books that have been absolute winners with my kids at similar ages as I’m confident they will enjoy them too.
For my own kids books are always given at Christmas. This year Levi is getting ‘Homer Price’ by Robert McKloskey and ‘Who Could That Be At This Hour?’ from Lemony Snicket. For Matilda it is ‘The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy’ by Jeanne Birdsall and ‘Riding Freedom’ by Pam Munoz Ryan. My little Essie is getting ‘Tumtum And Nutmeg’ by Emily Bearn and ‘A Fish Out Of Water’ by Helen Palmer. And Elliott will unwrap a copy of ‘Harold and The Purple Crayon’ by Crockett Johnson and a couple of Mo Willems books because my younger two think his books are hilarious.
One thing I am passionate about is cookbooks. In my next post I will share some of my favourite books.
Joel introduced me to ‘Festivus’ the other night. We sat and watched the Seinfeld episode and then he showed me what Google had thoughtfully put in their side bar when one googled ‘festivus’ – the unadorned Aluminum Festivus Pole (however it has disappeared in the last 24 hours). In that same episode George gets the idea to gift to colleagues monetary donations on their behalf towards a fake charity, “The Human Fund – Money For People”. I thought it was hilarious but one thing I value at Christmas is sitting down with my kids and letting them flick through the Compassion Christmas catalogue and choosing a gift for someone in need. Someone who isn’t going to give anything back. Some of the gifts could be to:
- Teach an impoverished mother to read and write – $22
- Safe water for life for a child and family – $79
- Protect a child from parasites – $4
And finally, don’t forget to give yourself something and I don’t mean something wrapped under the tree. Rather just following through on something that you have wanted to do for ages like what I did this morning – unsubscribed from all the email junk that I find in my inbox each morning. Thank-you Natalie for that thoughtful gift.
This Lemon Shortbread recipe is from one of my favourite cookbooks, Manna From Heaven. The shortbread has a nice short bite – I’m aware that probably doesn’t make sense but I can’t think of how else to explain it. Just a good shortbread texture and the addition of the ground almonds gives the shortbread a bit more flavour. It is also easy to make as everything just goes straight into the mixer then the dough gets rolled up like a bonbon and sits in the fridge for a couple of hours. Then all you need to do is slice it and bake. The recipes suggest cutting each round into half moons, I sometimes do that but mostly I just leave them as a nice round biscuit. Perfect with a cup of tea. A bag of these with a packet of good tea would make a lovely gift for Grandpa and Grandma.
(just a little bit adapted from ‘Manna From Heaven’ by Rachel Grisewood)
150g unsalted butter, softened
90g caster sugar
150g plain flour
65g ground almonds
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon
I start by placing the mixing bowl on the scales and weigh each ingredient one at a time then finally the lemon zest. Mix on slow until everything is combined and the dough comes together. Divide the dough in two and place each piece on a sheet of baking paper. Roll each piece into a cylinder, about 6cm thick in diameter. Roll the baking paper around the dough and then wrap into a sheet of plastic wrap. Twist the ends and pop in the fridge for a few hours to firm up.
Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C/ 315 degrees F. Line 2 baking trays with baking paper. If you wish to make half moon shapes then slice each dough cylinder in half lengthwise and then slice 1cm slices. If you want the round cookies then just cut slices 1 cm thick. Place on the baking trays and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Leave to cool on the trays.