Instead of boxed gifts, give these food gifts this year

It always seemed so good to me. For me, really, and no one else in my house, but this year we’re doing it: no freebies.

I think I have tried it in the past. I suggested that my family do something other than give each other Christmas presents. This has always been encountered with squinty eyes and wrinkled noses. My kids, die-hard Americans at heart, wanted the traditional vacation, the anticipation, the wrapped packages, the excitement. I remember feeling that too. And I didn’t blame them. This year, however, something has changed. The three of them agreed – willingly, wholeheartedly – to forgo the gifts in favor of something else. Ah, finally we have arrived.

But what then? What would replace a centuries-old tradition of lovingly choosing a gift to give and then opening it, with anticipation and joy? The only thing I could think of was spending time together doing something fun.

Freed from the relentless search for the perfect gifts, strenuous walking in the mall, and searching online, I can spend time gifting my friends, family and neighbors. Gifts that I don’t have to give, but that I want to give. I want to give the people I love sweet things, alcoholic things, crunchy, buttery, and salty things. The kind of things we usually don’t eat at other times of the year. I wanted to make things out of things I have (mostly) in my closets. I didn’t want to trade walking through the mall for a bunch of groceries. Hopefully most of what’s here is on hand.

A note, before continuing on what I did. I want to take my hat off to cookies and, more importantly, cookie makers. There is a special place in our holiday-loving hearts for cookies and the great people who bake them and bring them to our doorstep. Cookies are, quite possibly, the best of the best Christmas gifts. These recipes are definitely not cookies. There are three offers here that are a bit different from the traditional holiday cookie. Since it is a bit late, these gifts can be considered last minute gifts. And hey, they also work as New Years gifts.

The first Christmas gift is made up of ingredients that are basically Christmas. These things all go into one drink meant to be enjoyed on Christmas morning. A boozy coffee drink is a thing on Christmas morning, did you know that? Here, you can make your friends and family easily part of the Christmas morning brewed coffee craze by offering them a full brewed, ready-to-drink coffee. The little bottles I made have a happy punch, with lots of sugar, chocolate, strong coffee, and bourbon. You can easily vary this recipe and substitute dairy free milk, decaffeinated coffee, and any other alcohol you like (or have on hand). Coffee or hazelnut liqueur, rum or Irish cream would all be very good. With a well-watered coffee drink, Christmas morning can go from waking up to unpacking, to napping on the couch. New Years Day could be just as quiet after drinking a little coffee. Sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it?

My family loves Chex Mix, even the inferior type that comes in a bag. If you’ve had the house variety before, you’ll understand the problem. It’s the kind of thing you eat and eat and look down and somehow the bowl is empty even though you don’t remember finishing it. And again, you want more. It’s the salt, yes, but also the way the butter gets into the little pieces of grain, and then the spices and salt that stick to the butter. It’s the texture and the flavor. Once I decided to make a donation (and food) batch, I thought about changing it up a bit. Why not add some flavor and spice? With my son Elliot, who at 17 is a junk food and snack authority acting as a taste tester, I tried a few varieties. There were two varieties with Indian spices, one with garam masala and another with a spicy curry. Nice, but not great. I made a Chinese version with five spices, with cinnamon, fennel and cloves. Interesting, but still not quite correct. We continued. Finally, I mixed in a few simple spices for a Cajun style flavor and we had something close. With the addition of a few herbs, placing it more in a Creole-flavored space, we had a winner. Made with common ingredients from the spice rack, the spicy blend has a bit of heat, herbal notes, and lots of garlic-butter-salted. It’s the kind of thing that surreptitiously makes the bowl disappear. Feel free to mix what you add, as long as the recipe amounts are equal. I love honey roasted sweet peanuts with salt and spices, but you can use plain peanuts. Pita and bagel chips or cheese crackers all work well.

Finally, I made some pretty sweet loaves of bread. Pistachios are such an indulgence – I bought a few bags of shelled pistachios on sale in the drugstore – making them a perfect ingredient in a holiday bread. Prepare the dough by mixing the nuts, berries (to be used fresh or frozen, not dried) and orange wedges in the food processor, then toss them with the rest of the ingredients. Cranberries add a nice acidity – but don’t worry, there’s plenty of sugar to balance it out – and look so festive nestled in the crumb. I saved a few to press into the top of the bread as well. This bread is nicely sliced ​​and covered with a thick layer of salted butter, which you could wholeheartedly make on a vacation morning. Use this recipe to make a large loaf or a few buns to wrap in foil and give to neighbors or friends. The size of the pan doesn’t matter, as long as you follow the rule of filling it no more than two-thirds full.

So what are we going to do, instead of the freebies back home? There may have been dreams of something really spectacular, like a warm beach. It was not in the cards or in the budget. Instead, we go to the Adirondacks for a few days, to relax together. We will ski and eat, play games and just be together away from work and everyday life. Maybe it’s more of a gift to me than to anyone else. I wish everyone who reads this the same quiet vacations filled with things more important than gifts: the food, the quiet times, and the people to share it with.

Caroline Barrett is a freelance writer who lives in Delmar. You can reach her and follow her work on

Pistachio and cranberry breads
Makes a large loaf or 3 buns

Cooking oil or spray
1 cup lightly salted pistachios
1 cup of fresh cranberries
½ orange, peeled and separated
2 1/4 cups flour
½ teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons of yeast
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
Grated zest of 1 orange, divided
3 eggs
1 1/4 cup sugar
½ cup olive oil
cup of bourbon
â…“ cup of orange juice or apple cider
2 tablespoons of sugar
Fresh cranberries, for garnish

  • Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bread pan (s).
  • Combine pistachios, cranberries and orange wedges in the bowl of a food processor and mix until all the pieces are the size of a pea, 15 times. Put aside.
  • In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder and cinnamon.
  • In another bowl, combine all but 2 teaspoons of zest, eggs, sugar, olive oil, bourbon and juice. Make sure you distribute the zest evenly. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, along with the nut mixture and stir until just combined.
  • Pour into the prepared pan (or the tins if you are making smaller breads). Do not fill any saucepan more than â…”. Bake for 40 minutes (small mussels) and 55 minutes for a single large loaf.
  • Let cool completely before unmolding. Can be stored, wrapped and refrigerated, for a week.

Mix of Creole Snacks

1 14-ounce can Wheat Chex cereal (8 cups)
1 cup of coconut shavings (unsweetened)
2 cups honey roasted peanuts
2 cups broken pretzel sticks
2 cups of sesame sticks
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons of soy sauce
2 teaspoons of granulated garlic
2 teaspoons of granulated onion
1 teaspoon of cayenne
1 teaspoon of paprika
1 teaspoon of oregano
1 teaspoon of thyme
2 teaspoons of kosher salt

  • Heat the oven to 250 degrees. In a large bowl, combine cereal, coconut, peanuts, pretzels and sesame sticks.
  • Melt butter in microwave at 30 second intervals until completely liquid, then stir in soy.
  • Combine the spices in a small bowl and set aside.
  • Slowly pour the butter all over in the bowl, taking care to mix well and coat each piece.
  • Shake the spice blend all over in a few turns, stirring, to coat evenly.
  • Spread out on two baking sheets. Roast for 40 minutes total, stirring once halfway through cooking.
  • Keeps for a few weeks in airtight containers.

Alcoholic chocolate coffee
Makes 10 cups

6 cups of strong brewed coffee (caffeinated or decaffeinated)
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup of cocoa powder
2 cups of whole milk
2 cups of alcohol (see note)

  • Combine the milk, sugar and cocoa powder in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring, until the steam is hot and the sugar is melted.
  • Pour the hot coffee into a large bowl and stir in the milk mixture. Let cool a bit, then use a funnel to pour into jars. Let come to room temperature, then refrigerate.
  • Shake before serving. Good hot or iced. Keeps in the refrigerator for a month.
  • Note: I used bourbon, and it made the coffee particularly alcoholic. You can use coffee or hazelnut liqueur, Irish cream, rum or spiced rum. Or anything alcoholic at all!

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