There is the "kick-start the holidays" Christmas party, the Hanukkah party, the solstice party, the apres-ski party, the gift exchange with friends, the work Christmas party, the school or church pageant, the neighborhood party, the gift exchange with extended family, the Christmas Eve dinner, the Christmas day brunch and the ensuing feast, the Boxing Day dinner, the leftovers meal, the holiday card night with friends, and the New Year's Party - Did I forget any?
Oh yes, the online Skype party with distant loved ones! Nuts. That one was hard to remember as I didn't turn on my computer much over the big weekend this year. Hopefully an interim weeknight call will make up for it!
From someone who successfully attended or hosted many of these events, my advice would be do them all (unless you're under the weather then by all means stay home with your germs and a good book)! To keep the stress levels low and the multiple gatherings enjoyable don't make, wear, or bring something different to each one. In November and early December bake a few batches of cookies and store them in your freezer. Around this time make a list of all the people you'd like to give a little something to over the holidays - my preference is to give everyone a little something rather than half the people a big something. Make a few homemade gifts (see below) and bring these along as needed. Budget for a couple extra bottles of something at the liquor store this month to keep you in the spirit of things and stock your pantry with bulk nuts (salted and candied or in the shell), oranges and pomegranates and cranberries and decent chocolate. These items can be prettied up for a last minute gifties or placed in nice bowls and set out for unexpected guests. Collect a few pinecones and cedar boughs and light some candles; now you're set for the season.
As for shopping, I love the idea of picking up items throughout the year when you see just the right thing for someone you love, but I never actually do this. While I hope to one day shop with that much foresight, I tend to purchase most of my gifts at the same store. One year it's a bookstore, the next an outdoors store, the year after that a specialty foods store and so forth or try getting everything online from Etsy or give yourself one day at a local craft fair; there are some really fantastic shopping events out there these days. Shows like the Shiny Fuzzy Muddy show here in Vancouver or The One of a Kind Show in Vancouver, Toronto, and Chicago.
Here are a few of my favorite gift-worthy recipes from Christmas 2011:
Candied Orange Peel
I dipped mine in chocolate and filled mini take out boxes lined with pretty scrap paper to garner oohs and ahhs.
8 oranges, 10 lemons, 6 grapefruits or any combination
3 cups sugar plus more for rolling
3 cups water
3 cups semi sweet dark chocolate chips
- Cut the ends off the fruit and standing on one end, follow the curve of the fruit and cut away only the outermost peel leaving most of the white pith on the fruit. Slice lengthwise into 1/4 inch strips.
- In a medium pot of boiling water, 10-20 minutes (longer for lemons and grapefruits). With a slotted spoon transfer peel to dry surface and pat dry with paper towel.
- In a medium saucepan, bring sugar and water to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add peel and simmer until it turns translucent and syrup thickens, 10 minutes. With slotted spoon transfer peel to wire rack set in a baking sheet to catch the drips, separating the pieces as needed.
- Let peel dry 1 hour. Toss with cup sugar to coat.
- Return to wire rack to dry. Place in a warm (not hot) oven to dry if you find the strips do not dry as quickly as you would like.
- Working in batches, melt chocolate in a double boiler and dip ends of strips in the chocolate and lay on rack or brown paper to harden.
- Package in boxes with wax paper, decorative paper, and ribbon or enjoy at home with loved ones!
These freeze really well. Be sure not to over bake them!
1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp vanilla
- Preheat oven to 400 f.
- In a medium bowl mix together the flour, salt, and baking powder.
- In a large bowl cream together the remaining ingredients.
- Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat until dough is smooth. If soft, refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.
- In a large shallow bowl mix together 1/3 cup white sugar and 2 tsp cinnamon
- Shape dough into 1 inch balls and roll in sugar/cinnamon mixture. Place on cookie sheets and press down each ball using the bottom of a glass to flatten to about 1/2 inch thick.
- Bake 8 minutes or until firm around the edges.
And finally, make the pumpkin butter recipe I posted about back in November.
Now, on to the new year!