I’m not sure how many books I’m actually going to be receiving for Hanukkah/Christmas this year (considering that my fiance and I aren’t exchanging our usual bookish gifts–I got a computer instead and I’ve got different surprises in the works for him), but there’s always an insanely long list of books I’d love to have.
To narrow it down a little, I’ve limited this list to cookbooks/food memoirs. Because the holidays always make me hungry!
A Feast of Ice and Fire: The Official Game of Thrones Companion Cookbook by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer
This is exactly the book I need to take my Game of Thrones obsession to the next level.
How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking by Nigella Lawson
I like to think that I’m pretty much a domestic goddess already, but I’m eager to pick up some more tips. Maybe she has an idea of how to trick yourself into enjoying doing dishes…
Larousse Gastronomique: The World’s Greatest Culinary Encyclopedia by Larousse
I don’t know how often I’d use this book, but I want to read it from cover to cover.
Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya von Bremzen
Food is memories–even if those memories aren’t always the warmest or most pleasant. Food is still home.
The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook: From Cauldron Cakes to Knickerbocker Glory–More than 150 Magical Recipes for Wizards and Non-Wizards Alike by Dinah Bucholz
Our friends actually gave us this cookbook for Christmas and I was so excited! I can’t wait to cook something from it.
Pastrami on Rye: An Overstuffed History of the Jewish Deli by Ted Merwin
Even as delis are beginning to disappear, they’re such a big part of America’s culinary history (and they’re delicious). I miss the deli that used to be close to our house growing up. When it closed I was so sad.
Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons
I read some of Gibbon’s work for my food writing class, and I’d love to read his famous work.
Sugar Cube: 50 Deliciously Twisted Treats from the Sweetest Little Food Cart on the Planet by Kir Jensen
This Portland food cart has really fun desserts, and I’d love to see what in her cookbook!
Jamie Oliver’s Food Tube Presents: The Cake Book by Cupcake Jemma
A book of recipes by my favorite YouTube baker, Cupcake Jemma (I love her Oreo cupcakes)
The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Dinnertime–Comfort Classics, Freezer Food, 16-minute Meals, and Other Delicious Ways to Solve Supper by Ree Drummond
This is the only Pioneer Woman cookbook I don’t own. I love her step-by-step photos and down-to-earth nature.
Most of us understand the appeal of pretty ribbon near the holidays, but stocking up on ribbon can have its downsides. Unless you find it on clearance, ribbon can be pretty expensive and the holiday ones don’t have a lot of yardage, making it necessary to buy lots and lots of ribbon to make a present feel special.
This DIY helps save money and gives a personal touch. It’s perfect for the reader in your life, but its elegant simplicity makes it great for everyone on your list.
All you need is:
an old book (I used an old dictionary that’s falling apart, but you can use any book–try the clearance bin outside used bookstores or visit a thrift shop)
raffia or twine (I like the raffia because it’s thin and that makes it easy to adhere the small shapes onto)
punches (You can find punches at the craft store– I find that they’re almost always 40% off, but you can use a coupon if they’re not on sale. If you don’t want to invest in punches, try cutting easier shapes by hand like triangles, squares, or hearts)
Measure out the length of raffia you need (or you can do the whole spool and wrap it back up). Decide if you want a single or double strand when you wrap the present.
Use the punches to punch out a bunch of shapes. Cut more than you think you’ll need as you’ll have to use two for each part of the garland. I chose to do mine in an alternating pattern, but you can make any pattern you want and cut your shapes accordingly. If you only have one punch, you can create more visual interest by varying the spacing between shapes.
Glue the two circles (or other fancy shapes) together, sandwiching the raffia between them, leaving about three or four inches near the end so you can tie it. I found that only one shape needed the glue as long as the glue was spread along the edges with some in the middle.
Repeat this process until the entire garland is complete.
Wrap your present! You can’t really make a bow at the top like you can with regular ribbon, so it’s better to tie on a tag (I’ll be linking my calligraphy tags on Etsy later in the week) or a trinket and call it a day.
Don’t want to let your garland out of your sight? Use it to decorate your tree or your house for the holidays. A pretty garland is always useful to have around, and it makes a present that much more special.
What’s your favorite way to decorate for the holidays?
In my family, gifts are a given. We go overboard during the holidays, and we give all year round. However, I understand that this is not the case in all families: some have less money to work with, and some families don’t have the same traditions surrounding gifts.
I’ve noticed that there are a lot of gift giving ideas, normally in the form of lists. But if you’re like me, you only rarely find something on those sorts of ‘gifts for girlfriend/boyfriend/mom/dad/sister/brother/etc. lists’. They’re either too generic or too specific and they take way too long to comb through. My suggestions are less about finding the perfect gift for you than about cultivating a creative, thoughtful spirit so that you can come up with a gift yourself. Discovery is always better than being told what to get someone, and hopefully these tips will open you up to discovering the perfect gift for EVERYONE on your list.
Most of the time if you listen to people carefully you’ll have a good idea what they want during the holidays, and indeed at any time of year. People are pretty good at dropping hints. Children especially are very vocal about what they want (as are parents who are talking about what their children need/want to other adults). Even if you can’t get them what they want down the toy aisle one month, make a note–an actual physical note–about what they were looking at, the kinds of things they were interested in and so on. This applies to all people, it doesn’t help you to have the perfect gift idea because of a hint someone dropped if you don’t write it down.
You know people better than you think you do. If you’re buying someone a gift, it’s most likely because they’re important to you in some way. Even if it’s someone you know less well, chances are you’ve seen them around a little bit. You probably know what colors they like to wear most, the kinds of food they like to eat, the jewelry or accessories they wear, the sports team they prefer, and so on.
If there are people you go shopping with on a regular basis, you’ve probably seen what they linger at and what catches their eye. Thoughtful gift giving is not about pulling something totally random out of a hat, it’s about seeing what people want and giving it to them when they don’t expect anyone to have remembered.
3. Start Early
If you are watching and listening all year long, then you’ll probably have ideas well before the holiday rush. It’s great to have December roll around and already have gifts in your secret hiding place. When you find things, get them, they won’t always be around when you need them. Keep a record of what you’ve gotten and how much you’ve spent so you don’t go over budget. Starting early keeps you from getting panicked and having to go to the mall at the last minute with all the holiday-crazed people. It also lets you shop around and find the best deals before finalizing a purchase.
This tip especially applies to homemade gifts. Whatever amount of time you think a project is going to take you, triple it and start then. Homemade gifts are great, but only if you have the time to complete them.
4. Always keep your eye out.
This is related to the above tip, but you don’t know how many times I’ve found the perfect thing when I wasn’t looking for it. Every person on your list has a style and personality that you’ve had in your life for years. When you start exercising the “this looks like so-and-so” skill, you’ll never go back. You don’t have to buy everything that speaks to you, but you should start keeping an eye out. This doesn’t have to be an active practice, it’s probably something you do already and just need to listen for.
5. Be thoughtful all the time.
Like any skill, gift giving improves the more you practice it. The more you listen and find things, the more you give “just because” gifts, and the more you’re happy with what you’ve given, the better at gift giving you’ll become. You’ll find that the more ideas you use, the more will come to you. Like any creative gift, you become more creative as you create–the well doesn’t dry up.
Being thoughtful also means being personal. I don’t keep a drawer of gifts because even a last minute gift should still be personal and special. There are a few go-to gifts I give a lot, but I always try and think of the unique personality of the person I’m giving to. Jewelry, books, and baked goods are some of my favorite gifts. These are lovely no matter what, but when you take the time to really think about the person in question, these gifts become so much more special. Think about the kinds of things you give a lot, and now think about where you buy them. Maybe you like to give soap or candles, clothing or handmade goods. Knowing where to get the gift you want is sometimes the hardest part of getting a personal gift. If you know the best places to buy the things you like to give, it makes that part so much easier.
And last but not least being thoughtful means being grateful. If you were given a gift, you should write a thank you note (unless it was during the holidays, people don’t normally expect thank you notes, but if you were given something extra thoughtful, by all means write one). If the gift was informal, the thank you doesn’t have to be formal (could just be a text or email), but if you were given a gift someone put effort into, you should acknowledge it.
6. Go small.
Sometimes you’re able to buy a great big present that’s absolutely perfect, but a lot of times that’s is a gift for a special occasion like a graduation or an important birthday. When you’re able to give generously, that’s great, but small gifts can be thoughtful and special too. Remember that people usually love to unwrap things, and several smaller gifts can be just as lovely as one big one. This is especially true for kids, who typically see gifts in terms of quantity rather than quality.
7. Make it yourself.
If you’re on a tight budget, or you just like to make things, giving homemade gifts might be the way to go. Before you start, make sure you have all the ingredients/supplies you need and maybe do a practice run before you dive right in. It may not look the way you though it would turn out, but the best part about a homemade gift is that it doesn’t have to be perfect.
That said, try and do your research and don’t get in over your head. You may not have done one or two of the steps required before, but learning an entirely new process might be a daunting task. If you’re thinking about trying knitting, painting, wood-working, or serious baking for the first time, make sure you give yourself ample time to learn the skill. If you’re having to learn something or buy lots of things to make one project, ask yourself (and be honest) about whether this is the start of a new hobby or if it’s just for the one gift (or even multiple gifts). If you don’t see yourself having a future in it, and it’s going to be more trouble than it’s worth, ask yourself if it’s not better to buy from a professional and commission something handmade. Etsy can be a valuable resource, as well as craft fairs and Saturday markets–you may even know someone personally. You can buy something homemade and help an artisan rather than get in too deep and start pulling your hair out.
8. Group Presents or Group Exchanges
The nature of this type of present normally depends on the exchange. Budget and the type of exchange will affect the outcome, but there are a couple guidelines that’ll help no matter what.
If you’re buying for more than one person, keep the items as similar as possible–definitely within the same budget. Keeping everything uniform helps your budget (buy in bulk) and prevents hurt feelings. You can personalize within that (maybe everyone gets a lotion, but there are different scents), but the more regular you keep it the better.
Always stay as close to the budget as you can. Don’t go too much lower (unless you got the item on sale and the value of the item was on budget) and definitely don’t go higher. Also, make sure you’re getting something you wouldn’t mind receiving, or, if you’re buying for children (like party favors) that it’s something your child wouldn’t mind receiving. This goes with the thoughtful tip again, but even a white elephant gift should have some sort of redeeming feature, even if it’s just humorous.
9. Wrap with Care
If you’ve put this much thought and work into your present, you should at least make a little effort with the presentation. You don’t have to spend much money to be creative with wrapping. You can reuse things you have in your house (I always save things like small boxes, plain gift bags, and I reuse tissue paper and ribbon), and if you feel like you need a gift wrapping station, choose papers that could be personalized with small additions like ribbon, but that could be used for many different occasions.
10. Give from the Heart
This is the most important part of gift giving, which is why I saved it for last. There are certain occasions when gifts are expected like weddings and birthdays and holidays, but regardless of this, gifts should be given with an open heart and with sincerity. Even if the process was frustrating, the receiver wasn’t grateful, or the gift was born of obligation, finding a way to give openly and freely is the most important part of giving. This means that you don’t expect a gift in return, or even a thank you note. It means that you don’t care how they choose to use the gift or if they decide to return it or get rid of it (if there are exceptions about this, which might apply if it’s a family heirloom or was expensive, those concerns should be discussed upfront). It also means that the gift is about them, and not about the audience it’s opened in front of. This can be really difficult–the most difficult part–but I promise it’s the most rewarding.
What’s the most thoughtful gift you’ve ever received?