Well before the recent economic recession, crappy housing market and a self-funded relocation across the globe whittled our Yuletide budget to less than zero, I had begun to feel anxious about Christmas gift-buying. As the list of giftees continued to grow each year, so did my worries: Will she like this? Is that what he wanted? Did I spend too much? Or too little? I fretted over not putting enough thought into picking one present, then fussed about overthinking the choice of another. Most of all, I wondered: what am I actually giving my family and friends?
Can't Buy Me Love?
|That's not the Star of Bethlehem guiding the most famous gift-giver of all|
Perhaps it is the height of selfishness, but I hope that there is something of me in the presents I give, whether it is store-bought or hand-made. I would like my gifts to reflect a value that I share with others, not one that is assigned by retailers and advertisers. For the past few years, I have been making items - knitted hats and scarves, homebaked treats - to give as presents on holidays and special occasions, and I continue to do so this Christmas. These gifts are tangible, to be enjoyed by taste or by feel, but they also hold intangible wishes for even more cherished things that I hope we all receive in abundance. With just three days left before Christmas, I'd like to share some of these gifts within gifts with you.
Not Quite Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh . . .
Upending the adage that it is better to give than to receive, I was fortunate to have received in order to give! Thanks to fellow food bloggers who shared favorite holiday recipes, I found sweet little ways to hold some big gift wishes for us all this Christmas.
The Gift of Time
There never seems to be enough of it during the holidays, but these Saltine Toffees should help. With just four basic ingredients, they are a snap to make, leaving you time to read Christmas cards, watch a classic Yuletide movie or just put up your feet and relax. When they're ready, I guarantee that you'll find the time to indulge in their sweetness. But be warned: this combination of crisp crackers, buttery toffee and rich chocolate is so addictive, it's also known as Christmas Crack. And it just might stop the clock altogether.
For the complete recipe, please visit Chef Dennis at More Than a Mount Full, where he chronicles his adventures as the chef and director of dining services at an all-girls Catholic high school. With such a tough crowd to please, you know his recipes are not to be missed!
|Also known as Christmas Crack for its addictiveness|
The Gift of Knowledge
Data, facts, information, wisdom, common sense, learning, experience . . . no matter what it's called, knowledge is infinite and priceless. We can know so much and still not know everything, but the more knowledge we gain, the more we can share. Now that's a gift that keeps on giving! I learned about these confections, known as Les Quatres Mendiants au Chocolat, from writer and historian Cynthia Bertelsen, who shares her extensive knowledge of food history and culture at Gherkins & Tomatoes. Knowing the rich story behind its origins turns these treats of chocolate, dried fruit and nuts from simple candy into a taste of history. For the complete recipe and origins of Les Quatres Mendiants, please visit Cynthia's blog for an all-you-can-learn buffet!
|Les Quatres Mendiants au Chocolat|
The Gift of Carefree Moments
Having a roadmap is often the only difference between staying on track and driving off the cliff. But once in a while, stepping off the beaten path can lead to something new and fun. For instance, I started to worry about having enough goodies to give away, so I planned to make a large batch of cookies. I had a recipe printed out and all the ingredients on hand when I spotted a can of sweetened condensed milk, some uraro (arrowroot) biscuits and a bottle of rum . . . When the cocoa dust finally settled, the cookies had turned into these soft and crunchy rummy-fudgy bites. With just that bit of spontaneity, what was in danger of becoming a chore became an instance of fun. It's not a monthlong vacation on the beach, but such small carefree moments can be more than enough to revive your energy and spirit. So, for those inevitable days in the New Year when worries start to weigh you down, rip up the recipe and dump everything into the bowl. You never know what sweet surprise might come together.
This is the treat with no name, borne of a spontaneous amalgam of hazelnut chocolate spread, sweetened condensed milk, biscuit bits, nuts and rum. Though it requires some time in the refrigerator and a food processor would help, there's no need to turn on the mixer, stove or oven. You can even make it your own by sticking to the basic idea but changing up the specific ingredients. It's a carefree Christmas confection . . .
1 cup walnuts or nut of your choice, coarsley chopped into small pieces
1/2 cup hazelnut chocolate spread (such as Nutella)
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 Tbsp butter, melted
1 tsp brown sugar2 oz rum
In a small bowl, thoroughly combine biscuits, nuts, chocolate spread and condensed milk. Separately, stir butter, sugar and rum together, then add to the biscuit mixture and stir to incorporate. Resulting mixture should have the consistency of a soft cookie dough. Refrigerate for at least one hour or until dough is firm. Form spoonfuls (however much you prefer) into balls and roll in cocoa powder*. Refrigerate to set.
*For my next batch, I plan to dip them in chocolate to make simple truffles.
Wishing you a joyous, wondrous and meaningful Christmas!
|Stars of wonder, stars of light|
Parols (Christmas lanterns) adorn a garden