Just a few years ago, Christmas was all about buying presents and buying lots of them. I purchased for every family member and most of my friends and coworkers. I practically started shopping for the next year on December 26.
That’s when things were more flush. The economy better. Situations different. And I know that the holidays aren’t suppose to be about the presents, but part of my joy in the season is being able to give these gifts. This year I wanted, and needed, a way to carry over this spirit of the season without the price tag.
Our family draws names now so we only purchase for one person. My husband drew perhaps the hardest family member to buy for – my father. My dad is a simple guy. He doesn’t desire a lot of fancy things. The things he does want, he buys for himself and gets quality items that he takes good care of for years. I put my mom on task of coming up with suggestions and even she came up blank.
In many cases, those that don’t need more stuff can easily enjoy consumables, so we set our sights on creating a gift with his taste (which leans towards the spicy or the sweet) in mind. Three of the things that ended up in his Christmas basket were inspired by a recipe in Bon Appétit for homemade hot sauce. Last summer our friend Alex had also seen this article and had delivered us a bottle made from the bounty of his garden which we really enjoyed. I wish we would have thought to make our Christmas presents back then because my dad grows enough peppers to stock a small Mexican village, but unfortunately we lacked that foresight. Instead we worked with what we could find at our regular grocery store in December. My husband took the reins on this project and did an excellent job making two batches appropriate for the holidays – one green and one red – infusing our kitchen with a strong spicy smell that had me hungry for Mexican food for days (although I’m pretty much always hungry for Mexican food so this is not exactly something new, although perhaps enhanced).
I mentioned three things resulted from this foray into homemade hot sauce, the last of which came as I looked at the pepper slurry that was left after my husband strained it. I saw much more than just a bi-product there and started considering ways to use it. One very simple solution was to mix it with cream cheese for a spread to be included with a nice box of crackers. My dad likes it hot and I am hoping we hit the spot with our homemade gifts.
We are so lucky to have so many really wonderful cooks as friends. People that really appreciate good food and everything from the elaborate to really simple food done really well. I dreamt of their kitchens during the holidays, filled with leftover turkey or ham or beef and when I saw this recipe in Bon Appétit for hot & sweet mustard I hoped it would be the perfect accompaniment to the sandwiches I envisioned them to be making. I did adapt the recipe – theirs specifies Colman’s mustard powder, the purchase of which would have greatly changed the economics of this gift. I made it with regular ground mustard from the bulk section and made sure to stir in a few extra good intentions.
One of the first entries I wrote for this blog was on the cookbook At Home with Michael Chiarello. In the first few pages he talks about the beauty of making your own spice blends, and I’ve been hooked every since. This gift of citrus salts was easy to make, looks beautiful in the inexpensive little glass jars and is a great addition to the kitchen no matter the level of cook. In the name of economics, I made a slight modification to the recipe substituting in salt flakes, again from the bulk section, for the more spendy gray salt.
I hope all the recipients enjoyed our gifts from the kitchen and knew that even though they might have been small, they were from the heart as holiday presents should be.