Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Humble DIY Christmas Gift Guide of 2008

Let's be honest: not all handiwork is created equal. Unless it is from your child, you will not gasp at and cherish for always any little thing that someone has made from their own two hands. Does that sound dreadful? I'd like to call to the witness stand some of the hideola items I've seen at craft shows, in helpful books and around the web. (If you are not sitting at this very moment, may I suggest that you find a seat?)

* The ashtray made from the bottom of an aluminum can. (H once brought home two of these, because he "felt bad" for the elderly woman who was selling them. I did too, but felt also that he could have just tossed them in the trash before getting home. They lived on our balcony for two years.)

* The anything made from plastic shopping bags. Just don't. They're great for lining small wastebaskets, toting your lunch to work, putting in the diaper bag just in case of a messy diaper, etc. -- but decorative and/or festive they ain't.

* The clove-studded-orange pomander. I have to say that I think these look really fantastically old-timey, and will probably make a few for my house. But I am kind of odd, and also fairly sure that your friends will not want to receive one of these as a gift. Mainly because none of them were alive two centuries ago when they were useful as well as popular.

* Cozies of any kind: teapot, soda can, you name it. Come on, that just sucks!

So, because I've had such a hard time finding good DIY Christmas present ideas, I thought I'd put together a few of the best offerings I've seen. Just for you! Now, mind you, I have some strict parameters for gift-giving. They are based on the following observations about my own life:

1. I own many, many more things than I ought.
2. There is very little that I need.
3. My home is too small to hold the things we moved in here with, which explains why we have carted out so much stuff in the last nearly-six years.

Thus, I think that gifts make sense if they are a) something the recipient is sorely lacking (like, how about a back yard for me this year?) and/or will use/need anyway (like a cute, small calendar) ; b) something which will be consumed (cookies are never turned down); or c) something the recipient will be able to use in the near future for a basic need or treat (like a gift card). Of the three options, I go with c) the gift card only when I know the recipient will find it most useful -- i.e., new parents who have tons of tiny clothing but will most assuredly run out of diapers on the same day they are overdrawn. You know? Otherwise, I stick with a) and b). It takes some thought, some planning and a little time -- which the recipient will know and love, of course. And the end result is something delicious.

Two other caveats: One, these gifts can't be too fiddly. Candy thermometers scare the daylights out of me, so that's out. Also, I don't want to have to wait for yeast to rise and all of that. Two, it's silly to go handmade if your costs don't also go way down. And when I say "costs" I am including "time."

That said, here is what I'm giving people this year.

The Aforementioned Cute Desk Calendar
This one.
Or this one.
Download, print to nice stock, slip into a CD case. Functional, cool and something your mitts actually touched.

Blood Orange Vodka*
2 blood oranges
1 (750-milliliter) bottle vodka [the directions specify "premium" but come on, times are tough.]

Wash and dry oranges. Cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds and layer in a tall, wide-mouth jar.

Pour vodka over top (reserve bottle); seal lid. Allow to infuse in a cool, dark place for 3 to 4 days.

Meanwhile, soak bottle ro remove labels; clean bottle andhave it ready to fill. Strain infused vodka through a cheesecloth-lined sieve; discard solids. Use a funnel to pour liquid back into bottle. Store in refrigerator or freezer until ready to give. Tie a bow and attach a gift card, or create your own label.

I'm thinking that these labels would be pretty great.

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Rice Krispies Balls*
Makes 16 balls

2 (1.4-ounce) chocolate-covered toffee candy bars
2 cups Rice Krispies
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
16 regular-size marshmallows
1/4 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
Canola oil
Leaving candy bars in wrappers, use a rolling pin to pound and crush bars into small pieces. Place Rice Krispies in a large bowl and set aside.

Place peanut butter in a medium-size microwave-safe bowl; microwave on high until hot, about 45 seconds. Add marshmallows and microwave on high until softened, about 30 seconds. (Alternatively, place peanut butter and marshmallows in a heavy saucepan. Stir over low heat until melted, 2 to 3 minutes.)

Working quickly, stir to combine mixture with Rice Krispies. Stir until evenly coated. Add crushed candy bars and chocolate chips. Stir until combined. Coat your hands with oil and shape mixture into spheres the size of golf balls, making 16 treats. Pack in decorative tins or arrange on waxed-paper-lined wrappers and tie ends with ribbon. The balls will keep up to one week at room temperature.

I'm also going to be wrapping as much as possible in recycled materials. I've become one of those people who hangs on to random scraps for later re-use, so that shouldn't be too much of an issue. Everything from corrugated cardboard to oversized envelopes, from tissue paper with fun prints on it to big squares of soft leather that would otherwise be thrown out at work -- it's all going to get put to (sometimes very abstract) use. Should I run out, this idea of wrapping gifts in inexpensive-but-cool vintage scarves is fantastic.

One last thing to keep in mind: when making everything, it's best to stick to just a couple of things. That way you can keep your assembly lines organized and moving quickly. Then you can wrap things up (hee hee) knowing you've not contributed to the machine of Christmas craziness.

*From O, The Oprah Magazine. O, hush. I don't care what my (non-white) best friend says about white women being under Oprah's spell. I'm not under her spell, I don't even particularly like her. But that magazine of hers is pretty great.