There’s just something super special about a hand-crafted gift. While handmade gifts can often be more economical than store-bought ones, it’s important to realize that they’re created with far more valuable commodities—the time and creativity of the gift-giver. They also play a key role in helping us appreciate the holiday season in a less commercialized and more personalized way, and to appreciate each other for the qualities that make us each unique and important in each other’s lives.
Here are a few great hand-crafted gift ideas that you can pull off easily in your apartment’s kitchen, at your counter or dining room table, without a lot of fuss.
Fancy Fridge Magnets. No apartment is complete without cool fridge magnets; and you’ll probably want to make a batch of these for yourself, too! You’ll need: a package of large clear glass tiles or gems (available as vase filler at most craft stores), any clear-drying craft glue that won’t give off harmful fumes, super magnets (we buy ours in bulk from www.dealextreme.com), old magazines (the cooler the pictures and lettering, the better). Start by tearing out pages or cutting out images that will appear on your magnets (make sure each piece is slightly larger than the glass gems because you’ll be trimming them down later). Put a blob of glue on the back (flat side), then press the magnet gently onto the image allowing the glue to thin out and spread just a teeny bit beyond the edges. (You might want to do a practice one to get a feel for the right amount of glue.) Allow the glue to dry fully clear, typically overnight, before trimming the edges of the paper down to the size of the glass gem. The next day, after all gems are decorated and trimmed, add the magnets to the back of each piece and allow them to dry fully. Package your magnets in a pretty box or gift bag. Bonus tip: Make an alphabet set by choosing cool lettering from throughout your magazines, and your gift recipient will be able to spell out words on their fridge!
Killer Hot Cocoa Mix. Thanks to instant packets, the art of making fantastic hot cocoa has kind of gone by the wayside; but bring it back by mixing up a batch of this great mix and gifting it in a pretty jar. Keep some of this on hand, and your apartment will suddenly become everybody’s favorite “drop in and get warm” hangout spot until the weather gets warm again! You’ll need: unsweetened cocoa powder (we love Hershey’s Special Dark, but any kind will do); vanilla sugar (available at www.penzeys.com or make your own); regular granulated sugar; and salt. Increase the recipe according to the number of servings you want to create, but each six-serving batch should contain ½ cup sugar (scoop out one heaping tablespoon of regular sugar and replace it with an equal amount of vanilla sugar), ¼ cup cocoa, and a dash of salt. Add a card listing all ingredients and directions for preparing: to prepare, whisk about three tablespoons of mix into one cup of milk (or more if you like it really rich) and continue whisking gently over low heat until all ingredients are hot and well-combined. Bonus tip: If you want to give your mix a unique kick, add a pinch of cinnamon and/or a sprinkle of ground cayenne pepper!
Bread Dipping Spices. If you’ve ever been to a restaurant where the meal starts with dipping oil and fresh bread, you know exactly how addicting this stuff can be. This recipe will create a dry mixture of herbs that can be combined with olive oil to make a fantastic dipping oil. Make some for yourself and you’ll turn your apartment into everyone’s favorite Ristorante Italiano. Present it to friends in a pretty jar alone or along with a bottle of good olive oil, and you’ve got a fantastic gift! For each serving, combine: 2 tablespoons dried parsley; 1 tablespoon dry minced garlic; 1 tablespoon dried thyme; 1 teaspoon dried oregano; ¼ teaspoon dried basil; 1/8 teaspoon dried rosemary; 1 teaspoon ground black pepper (fresh ground is best); ½ teaspoon kosher salt; and ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes. Add a card listing all ingredients and directions for preparing: at the bottom of a shallow bowl or plate, add a teaspoon of the herb mix to approximately ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil. Allow to sit for about an hour then serve with fresh bread! Bonus tip: tweak the combination of flavors by adding a pinch more or less of your favorite herb to customize the recipe—maybe go heavier on the rosemary or fresh black pepper; add some dried lemon peel (available in the spice aisle); give it a smoky Spanish flair by leaving out the lemon and replacing the pepper flakes with an equal amount of ground chipotle or smoked paprika; or replace the kosher salt with a fancy gray or pink gourmet salt!
Happy gift crafting, and Happy Valentines Day to all!