Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Getting in the spirit - Local gifts

Last week, I talked about "Getting in the Spirit" with some homemade holiday cards. Now that all the cards have been mailed, it's time to start pulling together some of the gifts I've been picking up over the last few months. We don't do gifts for most of the family. Nieces and nephews generally get money; local friends and family get cookies (the subject of next week's "Getting in the Spirit" post). But I do like to give a little something to our parents since they have been so generous towards us all these years. 

Seriously though, what do our parents really need? If your parents are anything like our parents, if they want something, they just go buy it. Anything they can't just buy most likely isn't anywhere in the realm of my budget. Sorry Dad, no boat this year. So instead, I've purchased local gifts. Next year, now that I'm seeing more "crafty" items at the market, I'll probably pick up a few handmade items. For instance, one of the ladies at our farmers market mentioned making aprons, pot holders and such. They would make wonderful gifts for mothers and talk about keeping it local. I'd be paying the artist/crafter directly. Perfect! This year though, we kinda have a food theme, but then everyone loves food, right?

Of course, I have oodles of my homemade jams in a variety of flavors, I also picked up some local honey, local olives, and jars of the Amici Olive Oil that is sold at our farmers market (the olives are from Tuscany Italy, but the owner lives here in town and sells at our market). With each gift, I have a story of the maker (who he/she is, how I know them, where the product was made) to share with the recipients. A few of each in a gift bag (recycled bags from years past) makes for a wonderfully unique gift, one that can be used - and once used, can be recycled. Does it get any better than that? Not to mention, in the meantime, I've supported some wonderful locals! Happy holidays to all, for sure (not just those big box execs who are raking in the holiday dough). 

Along the same local theme, I met up with my friend Tammy on Sunday to help make holiday gifts for her friends and family. Joining the craft party were Tammy's sister (Lorrie), Tammy's friend (Cathy - the resident expert on all things crafty), and Cathy's daughter (Alice). What a crew! 

Cathy has some serious craft supplies. It was just amazing. We had so many options to choose from, but in the end Tammy and Lorrie decided on making reusable cloth bags and holiday ornaments. And what fun they were!

We started with the holiday ornaments. We all piled out to the barn where the press, kiln, and supplies were. Alice, just 5 years old, was an experienced ornament maker and she helped us press the clay and lay the cookie cutters to make all sorts of shapes from snowmen to angels. There was even a few longhorns and Texas-shaped ornaments in there for good measure. Upon filling the work space with ornaments of all sizes (40 ornaments total), we decided to move to the next task. The ornaments will have to dry for about 24 hours before they are baked in the kiln, glazed, and baked again. These will really make nice gifts!

Right so, next were the reusable bags (yikes - sewing!), which Tammy and Lorrie planned to stock with local and organic fruit - a little something to enjoy now (fruit) and a little something to enjoy forever (the bag). Very thoughtful! Unfortunately, only one of the four of us was handy with a sewing machine. If anyone is wondering, I was not the "one." But it turns out we are great observers! Actually Lorrie had done some sewing in the past and was a fabulous assistant to Cathy. Unfortunately, I had to leave before the bags were complete, but you can probably tell from the photo that they look great!

In the end, Tammy and Lorrie should end up with some really wonderful gifts to hand out this holiday season (and maybe a little inspiration for next year). The good news is Cathy, our host and owner of Cox Family Farm, has plans to built an on-site craft facility that, when complete, will host craft parties each month. Participants, for a small fee, will be able to make their own crafts with the help of Cathy's years of expertise and wealth of supplies - sewing projects, clay work, pottery, soap-making, crochet, knit, the possibilities are endless (as is the fun)!

So what about everyone else? Are you making gifts this year? Will you be giving local products? What ideas do you have for simple-green-frugal gift giving?


ttammylynn said...

Hi Heather,
We are testing the cocoa recipe so we can hopefully add it to the bags plus the baking we will invariably (mini-cheesecakes and bourbon chocolate pecan pies are in the works)do between now and then.
Those cookies you brought must have been delicious because by the time we left, there were only two left(so I left them). I am the kind who makes sweets but doesn't really eat them, so I am fine with the fact that nothing went to waste. Lorrie wants to make the gluten free peanut butter cookies, the chocolate covered cherry cookies and some sugar cookies as a result of tasting a few of your gourmet cookies, so I know they must be amazing. I forwarded your e-mail to Cathy(who was worried that you didn't have a good time although I reassured her)and printed it off for my sis who isn't into computers.
I really love how you were reading to Alice while Cathy was sewing, it touched my heart. Alice is such a sweety and so are you, Heather. I think your cookies really made you a hero, too.

Jennifer (of Veg*n Cooking) said...

Heather your gifts sound wonderful and so very thoughtful. And really, can anything beat food as a gift? I really don't think so. :-)

I bet that crafting party was really fun. A friend of mine asked me recently if I'd be interested in joining a book club (yes!) and a crocheting/knitting club (I have the supplies my am awful at it), but I am thinking about giving it a try once she gets settled into her new house in the next few months. It seems like it would be a fun activity to do together and you can give nice, useful, thoughtful gifts to people.

I am making baked goods baskets this year, tailored to the tastes of the family member receiving it. I am using locally produced ingredients wherever possible, if I can't buy it local, the next best thing is buying from a local store, then the NEXT best thing is fair trade and organic. We are going to make our own boxes (we are thinking about making boxes for the cookies that look like doughnut boxes), but we are concerned with how to wrap and transport the goodies sustainably without a bunch of waste. The cookies are taken care of, but what do you use to wrap mini loaves of spice bread, blondies, brownies, etc? I don't want to use plastic wrap, but I don't know what else to do. You don't want things to dry out, get soggy, mashed, etc. Argh. I think everyone will love their baskets though. My family and Brett's love the baked goods.

Green Bean said...

How wonderful. A group of green moms here gets together every year to make reusable bags for Xmas gifts. And, really, food is always a perfect gift. Thanks for the inspiration.

Heather @ SGF said...

Tammy - Glad everyone liked the cookies! Three of the recipes were new, so I wasn't sure how they would turn out, but they all seemed to be a hit!

I had a great time on Sunday. Tell Cathy not to worry. Dave told me this morning it's easy to misunderstand my enthusiasm since I tend to be pretty quiet by nature. I had a blast watching that sewing machine (it was awesome) and sitting with Alice while we made ornaments and reading her books. I hope we can do it again sometime! I'm really excited about those craft events she mentioned, though I know it will be awhile before she is set up for it.

Jennifer - You know I was a little nervous at first when Tammy told me we would probably be sewing. But it only lasted a second. I've tried so many things in the last 18 months that I thought I could never do, that now my response is usually, "what the heck. Let's give it a try." So I went into the sewing with an open mind. I didn't do any sewing in the end (probably better for the sake of those bags), but I had a blast visiting and watching. I'm so glad I didn't chicken out just because it involved sewing :)

Your gifts sound great and following your blog, I know what those cookies look like. Mmmm! I would normally wrap the breads in foil and put them in a ziplock. There's some waste involved, but I'm not sure quite how else to wrap them. If you didn't want to do the Ziplock (more for storage than anything), you could wrap in foil and tie some colored ribbon around it.

Green Bean - Oh how fun! I think making gifts, or jam, or whatever, with others is so much more fun than slaving away by yourself. The focus comes off the item and is more about friendship and community.

Jenifer said...

Way to go on the homemade gifts! I also spent the weekend making gifts for family. I made candles with some recently purchased wax and some wax from old candles that were no longer usable. I'm explaining my technique today on my blog seattlesoupline.blogspot. It all adds up in these hard times.

Heather @ SGF said...

Jenifer - candles sounds like a GREAT gift! Where did you learn to do that?

DramaMama said...

Making reusable bags...my first real sewing project! I'm on bag #2 and already I'm improving =) I'm trying to think of something local to put in it...not much grows this time of year up here in WI!! I might try to find some local syrup or honey...

Leroy Grinchy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Beany said...

Not sure about this year, but at my previous job I made cookies right before I left and they were a big hit. They were vegan too and no one suspected.

This got me thinking about bringing homemade food items as gifts during a holiday season and other events. Things like fudge sauce or cookies or cake. I personally like gifts to be edible so there is no worry about a burden (besides one in your belly).

I like the candle idea too, incase there is a Polyanna at work. Should look into this.

livingmyrichlife said...

I like the idea of giving homemade jams as gifts. The re-useable bags is another good one. We just purchased a sewing machine today, so we are all set for next year.

Heather @ SGF said...

DramaMama - WI? Don't you guys make lots of cheese? :) Honey would be yummy too. I'm guessing you probably don't have a year-round farmers market, but do you have a local health food that might carry some local items?

That's great that you are teaching yourself to sew! I'd love to see photos. I'll bet they're great!

Beany - I like food gifts too! You don't have to worry about where to display them, or dust them every once in awhile. You just nibble and enjoy! And homemade is all the better. Although, I'm with you. The candles would be great fun to make and give. I'll bet there are craft classes where you can learn to do that...

livingmyrichlife - check you out! Do you know how to sew? I haven't touched a machine since HomeEc in jr. high and, well, I pretty much sucked at it. :)

Jam does make a great gift. We take some to house warmings, parties with friends, visiting relatives, etc. all the time and everyone loves it. It's so easy to do (I can't believe I'm saying that, but it is) and because it's becoming a lost art, people are super impressed :)

Beany said...

P.S. forgot to mention that I accidentally posted using my husband's account and didn't realize it. Hence the deleted comment.

Jennifer (of Veg*n Cooking) said...

Heather - I would have been too! We have a nice hand me down sewing machine and I am scared of it like you wouldn't believe. I just imagine my hand becoming part of a pair of pants or something. :-)

Maybe next time you go, you can take the plunge and try out the machine, you make a good point, with all you've tried and all the changes you've made, how difficult can this really be? (This coming from someone who avoids the fact that I have a sewing machine.)

I imagine your cookies rival anything I could make, I've seen what you cook on this blog, and all your bread, I can only imagine what your baked goods must be like.

Thanks for the advice about the foil, I didn't think to use that, I thought I was relegated to plastic wrap, which I try to avoid. I like the idea of wrapping ribbon or something around the foil wrapped loaf to make it look more presentable.

Heather @ SGF said...

Beany - no worries. But now I know your secret identity...

Jennifer - I'd love to learn to run the sewing machine. Not that I'm going to start making all my clothes (I say that and one day I'll find myself doing it), but it would be a fun adventure. Another chance to defy the "I couldn't never do that" syndrome that we all face.

Good luck with your sweets! I'm sure everyone is going to love. Maybe I'll do a few vegan sweets next year and see if anyone notices :)