I don’t understand how Christmas can be so close! Here is what happened. I put a lot of effort into Thanksgiving and then tumbled headlong into lingering illness, computer meltdown and a series of deadlines that would knock your socks off. I just caught my breath and ack! Christmas is 5 days off!
I really like to make Christmas gifts instead of buying them. For one thing I am really good at cooking and crafting and only so-so at making money. I can put my heart into making gifts…shopping not so much. The trick is that making gifts takes time and I started late this year. Here is what I’ve come up with…Vanilla Sugar and Spice Infused Lemon Salt.
I use vanilla beans in my baking. I scrape the seeds out of the pods and into apple pie, cake or pudding. I keep all of the scraped, leftover pods in a jar of sugar which becomes vanilla flavoured by association. I cannot recommend this vanilla sugar thing enough. In a pinch you can use vanilla sugar in baking if you are out of vanilla beans or extract. I use my vanilla sugar when I have guest over for fancy tea. You may have noticed that I cook a lot and as a result I have a lot of vanilla sugar.
So, I packaged up my vanilla sugar (along with a few pods) into spice bottles. I labeled them with sticker labels that I had kicking around. They were from an office supply store, and if I did this again I would look for a stickier label that is designed to adhere to glass. I did not design and print out cool labels (did I mention the computer meltdown?). I just wrote the labels myself with a fine tip felt pen.
I also have an extraordinary number of lemon peels in my freezer. Whenever I squeeze the juice out of a lemon, I throw the peel in the freezer. That way, when I need to add lemon zest to pie or cake or cookies I always have zest on hand. Actually, lemons are much easier to zest when they are frozen anyway. I bake with a lot of lemon zest, but my lemon juice consumption always outpaces my lemon zest consumption. I have two, gallon sized ziplocks full of lemon peels in my freezer at this very moment, that is how freaky I am about not wasting food.
Making lemon salt is very easy and fast and will use up any lemon peel collection that you may or may not be hiding in your freezer. In addition to having lots of lemons I also have a ridiculous spice cabinet so I thought it might be nice to throw in some interesting spices that my friends and family would like to try. I had a really good time coming up with spice combinations! I say just experiment with whatever odd spices you have in your own cupboard. You can make lemon salt with Kosher salt which is very inexpensive or you can make it with flaked sea salt or (my favourite) Maldone Salt which costs a bit. I decided to do half and half and I actually really liked having both salt textures in there. You can’t do this with table salt.
SPICE INFUSED LEMON SALTS
- 1/2 cup Maldone salt (or some other flaked salt)
- 1/2 cup kosher salt
- the zest of 2 lemons (make sure that they are wiped dry before you zest them)
Possible spice combinations (use what you have!)
- culinary lavender and rosemary
- pink peppercorn and fennel
- curry leaf and cardamom
- urfa biber an sumac
- saffron, cinnamon and sweet smoked Spanish paprika
- Preheat the oven to 200 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Mix the salts and lemon zest together on the baking sheet. Use your fingers to break up any clumps of lemon zest.
- Bake salts and lemon zest for 10 minutes then add spices and bake 5 more minutes. Let the salts cool before putting them into jars.
My husband and I also did some gluten-free shortbread baking (black sesame with crystalized ginger, pistachio with rosewater, coconut with orange blossom). I have to admit to being a bit nervous about whether the cookies will make it in the mail or turn to crumbs. I’ll report back on that later.
My friend Claire baked some insane Peppermint Sugar Cookies and wrote about it on her lovely blog A Cheesemonger’s Daughter. Those would make an amazing gift.
So maybe you are thinking to yourself “Yeah, there is no way I’m making gifts”. That’s okay. May I suggest that you allow Claire’s father, cheesemonger, and curator of all manner of delicious gourmet food to help you. He has a shop called Blue Apron Foods in Brooklyn. I just designed and built (with a lot of cutting help from Claire) a holiday window display for Blue Apron Foods and I was payed in the most delicious selection of goodies. Someone in your life needs Elderflower Syrup or a Mozzarella Cheese Making Kit or a hunk of very special cheese with the world’s best gluten-free crackers.
Here are some photos of the window display. We copied (more or less) some classic Brooklyn Brownstones from Union Street (where the shop is located) in cardboard. Of course we took some creative license and adorned our buildings with Friezes depicting cheeses and the like. We also cut pretzels into the snowflakes!