Christmas has been called the season of giving and for the most part it’s true. Most of our giving is centered around our own families, which is just fine; sadly, some of this giving is out of feelings of obligation, which is not so fine.
Some gifts are sent to far-away countries, helping families struggling with poverty, famine, war and disease. Some goes locally, to organizations, churches, and service clubs helping marginalized families and individuals to enjoy some of the blessings of this season. Kudos to all who help in this way.
Another way of giving is to consider gifting anonymously, where we won’t be acknowledged or thanked, but it will make a real difference in our own and other people’s lives.
Consider gifts to individuals suffering from dementia, and other debilitating mental issues, to a homeless person, or even gifting your time to help with a Christmas dinner for the less fortunate and lonely.
I did a lot of baking this year; some will go to my extended family, one tin will go in a box with an assortment of pre-made meals for a student in residence at college, several will go to a care home for individual dementia patients.
Small gifts and sweets are always appreciated for individuals struggling with physical and/or mental health issues, for shut-ins, and for the working poor. If you’re looking to make practical gifts, try gifts in a jar: there are many recipes on the Internet and I’ve included two today, as well as recipes to make in small containers, such as the pudding and gluten-free vegan cookies for people with food sensitivities.
Thank you for continuing to support people in our own community and worldwide to get a hand up in life.
Scotch Hermits (in a jar)
2 cups quick rolled oats, divided
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries,
1 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 litre mason jar and 2-piece snap lid
Pour 2/3 cup rolled oats into the jar. Using a spoon or scoop, gently tap oats down to an even layer. Top with raisins, arranging them in a 1/2-inch deep circle against the jar wall. Repeat with a 2/3 cup rolled oats layer. Place chopped apricots in a circle against jar wall. Add remaining rolled oats and tap down. Add dried cranberries in a circle against jar wall. Add brown sugar and press firmly on all layers.
Combine flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon until well-mixed; add to jar. Cover tightly with a snap lid and attach Instruction Tag.
Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C). Cream 3/4 cup softened butter or margarine. Add 2 eggs and beat until light and fluffy. Empty contents of jar into large bowl; mix well. Incorporate butter mixture, mixing thoroughly. Dough will be stiff; mix thoroughly with spoon or clean hands.
With a teaspoon, drop 1-1/2-inch balls onto baking sheet, allowing two inches between cookies. Dip bottom of jar in water and use to flatten cookies to 1/2-inch thickness.
Bake 10 to 12 minutes until golden brown. Do not overbake. Remove from oven; cool on rack. Store in airtight container. Makes 30-40 cookies.
Minestrone Soup Jar Mix
¼ cup red lentils
¼ cup green split peas
¼ cup barley
1/3 cup beef bouillon powder
2 tbsp. parsley flakes
3 tbsp. onion flakes
1/3 tsp. thyme
1/3 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. basil
Approximately ¼ cup alphabet macaroni
In a two-cup jar, layer from bottom in the order given, then seal the jar.
In a very large saucepan combine 8 to 10 cups of water, a 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes, and soup mix. Add 2 chopped carrots, and 2 to 4 chopped potatoes (optional: 2 cups chopped cabbage).
Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for one hour or until peas are tender. Enjoy!
Steamed Cranberry Christmas Pudding
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries, halved
1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 large egg
1/4 cup mild molasses
1/4 cup golden corn syrup
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. baking soda
1/3 cup hot water
Stir cranberries, flour and baking powder together in bowl; set aside. Beat egg in mixing bowl. Beat in molasses, corn syrup and vanilla. Dissolve baking soda in hot water in cup. Add to egg mixture. Mix.
Add cranberry mixture; stir to moisten. Turn into 8-cup pudding pan. Cover with double-square greased foil, tying sides down with string.
Put in steamer with boiling water 2/3 up sides of pan. Cover. Steam for 1-1/2 hours, adding more boiling water as needed to keep level up. Remove pan from water and let stand 1/2 hour. Turn out of pan and cool on rack. Remove from pan.
Wrap in plastic or foil. Freeze up to 2 months or keep in refrigerator 2-3 weeks. Reheat before serving. Serve with creamy pudding sauce.
Gluten-free Vegan Star Cookies
2 ½ cups blanched almond flour
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup coconut oil, melted
5 tablespoons agave nectar (or use honey)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
In a large bowl, combine almond flour, salt, baking soda and cinnamon.
In a smaller bowl, mix together coconut oil, agave and vanilla.
Mix wet ingredients into dry, then chill dough in refrigerator for 1 hour.
Place dough in between 2 large pieces of parchment paper and roll out until ¼ inch thick.
Remove top piece of parchment paper and cut out cookies with a small star cutter.
Using a metal spatula, place stars on a parchment lined baking sheet.
Bake at 350° until lightly browned around the edges, 7-10 minutes.
Cool completely prior to handling cookies. Serve alone or frost with favourite butter icing.
Makes 32 cookies.
Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist.