This holiday season, talk of having a “minimalist Christmas” or participating in Buy Nothing Christmas seems to be all over the place (maybe it’s the economy? An attempted Scrooge coup?). And I’m happy to report that my family continues to be on-trend. Last year, we were all about un-wrapping gifts, a practice just poised on the brink of widespread adoption. And months ago, we decided to switch up our usual store-bought grab-bag presents for all homemade goodies instead.
Usually, our extended-family grab bag works thusly: Each participant brings a crowd-pleasing gift, typically under a predetermined price cap, to place ’neath the Christmas tree. We draw numbers, then, when your number is up, you choose between unwrapping a new present or stealing an opened one from a cousin or uncle (how festive!). If your present is stolen, you get to open or steal another, so in the end, everyone has something — and incidentally, you don’t age into this grab bag until you graduate from college, so the kids still get their toys.
This is a fun system, and we’ve always been able to count on a good haul of wine glasses, board games, tree ornaments, and kitchen gizmos. Last year, I got a salad bowl that looks like an alien.
This year will be a little different. In one small way, we decided to reduce the glut of Christmas consumerism — by making everything ourselves. This, we thought, would result in more thoughtful, meaningful gifts, gifts that have been labored over and loved, gifts that will mean so much more than a mini-blender ever could.
That, or we’ll all just get a shitload of Christmas cookies.
Some of my family members are truly gifted artists and craftspeople. The rest of us have our talents, but we aren’t exactly adept at knitting scarves, die-cutting scrapbooks, or whittling tiny animal figurines. Still, most everyone can cook. Food is the great equalizer among handmade items, so I’m guessing a lot of our offerings this year will be gustatory in nature. Mine sure will be.
SPOILER ALERT! IF YOU’RE RELATED TO ME, TURN BACK NOW!
I MEAN IT!
So about my gift: Last year, I gave a very well-received basket of homemade jams, so of course I’ve gravitated to that again. But I’ve stepped up my game this time around. There will still be hand-picked blackberry jam, but I’ve added a chutney made from backyard plums, a blueberry jam sourced from a local farm’s berries, and a huckleberry syrup made from tart little fruits plucked by hand from a slope in the Cascades. Eh? Nice? (That syrup was actually supposed to be a jam, but it didn’t quite set. Don’t tell anyone.)
Then, for my pièce de résistance, I decided to get behind the bar to offer a homemade liqueur, too. So last June, I stocked up when Washington’s delectable cherries were in season, sliced them up and dunked ’em in vodka for a few weeks, then strained the deep-red liquid into tiny bottles. The result: Cherry Bounce, an old-school libation dating back to George Washington’s heyday. According to some recipes, to gift this stuff is akin to giving the essence of summer in a bottle. (See the recipe I used below.)
I sound like I’ve got it all figured out, but there is still one problem: My boyfriend, Ted, will be joining my family Christmas party for the first time this year. Not only does the poor fellow have to adjust to all that this would normally entail — political catfighting, tiny cousins knocking over lit candles, Jägerbomb-offs — but just because he’s a first-timer doesn’t mean he’s exempt from the new handmade clause. Now we’re scrambling to come up with a suitable DIY present from him, too — and we need your help. Any ideas for what a very-talented-but-not-so-crafty guy could do?
Ted cannot knit, sew, crochet, weave, carve, or make more jam. He is an excellent cook, something of a survival expert (with all the fire-starting and knot-tying expertise that implies), and a great musician. Then again, if I seriously suggest that he arrive, guitar in hand, to bring the gift of song to the Hefferan grab bag, I can pretty much guarantee he will never, ever, ever, attend again.
I’d love your suggestions. And if not? I guess we can always contribute to the mound of lumpy bon-bons and misshapen Santa cookies.
Adapted from Northwest Essentials by Greg Atkinson
Makes 2 cups.
4 cups cherries, rinsed and pitted (traditionally sour cherries, but any sort will do)
1/2 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 cups vodka (or brandy)
Combine cherries, sugar, cinnamon stick, and vodka in a one-quart jar with a lid. Every day for two weeks, turn and gently shake or swirl the jar. Strain liqueur into receptacle of choice (i.e., a clean, dry pint jar or four-ounce bottles with screw tops) and discard solids. Keep in a cool, dark place until Christmas. Note: Many other recipes call for soaking the cherries for months, not weeks, and using bourbon instead of vodka. Go with what works.
Check back after Christmas for a report on how the handmade grab bag went down.