The holidays are quickly approaching and, for most of us, that means finding the perfect collection of gifts on a budget. I’ve done the “shop all year” technique so that the expense doesn’t hit all at once, but people’s needs and tastes change. For the past few years, I’ve been mixing purchased gifts with home made ones. If you’re stuck on ideas, check out these awesome celebs who understand that home made trumps mass produced every time!
Lauren Conrad has been bit by the knitting bug. What is often thought of as a spinsters only club is quickly gaining popularity as people start focusing on the rare, local, and eco friendly side of style. While Lauren has been busy knitting cute eternal scarves for her friends, I’ve worked out a simple headband pattern that can be completed in two episodes of Gossip Girl (with commercials!). Just pick a color of yarn that complements a specific friend’s hair and skin tone. For blondes, stay away from pale warm colors (pink, yellow, beige) and go for jewel tones (emerald, turquoise, ruby). Brunettes and raven beauties can rock anything, but if you’re using a brown or black, make sure the yarn is heathered (has tiny flecks of color variation) to give it visual depth.
For one headband: Using size 11 circular needles, cast on 50 stitches. Knit 5, purl 5 in the round for 7 rows. Cast off and weave in tail. Your friends will be so impressed by your skills! A fun variation on size 4 circular needles: cast on 110 stitches and knit 5, purl 5 in the round for five rows. Then continue purl 5 knit 5 for five rows. The result will be checkerboard like squares. Knit 5, purl 5 for five rows and cast off. If you’re a novice, check out the easy to understand videos on the Knit Picks website.
Taylor Swift is an avid baker and loves tweeting pictures of her Betty Crocker skills. She’s mentioned her passion for all things in the kitchen, and considers Ina Garten, known on Food Network as the Barefoot Contessa, as the paragon of class and culinary prowess. My favorite Ina recipe (since becoming vegetarian) is for toasted coconut dipped marshmallows. The recipe is a little daunting but quite easy once you’ve made it once. Expect your first batch to be delicious and ugly. Once you’ve played with the fresh marshmallow mixture once, you’ll know exactly how to spread it out to make fluffy and elegant squares. Cut them into 1 inch by 1 inch cubes and buy classy Chinese take out boxes at the craft store. For hot chocolate or smores, dust the cubes in powdered sugar so they don’t stick in the box. Ina’s recipe can be found here.
Newly royal Kate Middleton knows all about holiday stress; what does the Queen of England want or need? Instead of trying to impress with expensive gadgets or accessories, Kate kept it simple by gifting the royal family with jars of home made preserves. This is a pretty inexpensive gift—all that’s required is your time. If you haven’t canned before, don’t get stressed. The most important part of canning is making sure to boil your jars, seals, and lids before ladling in the prepared jam. Also, unless you’re making freezer jam (which must be kept frozen to keep from spoiling) don’t try to skip on the sugar. I know it’s a lot, but sugar helps to preserve the jam. Even in the airtight jar food can spoil. If at the end of your canning you find that lids haven’t sucked down, simply put the jars back into the pot of boiling water to process again. The heat will help them snap air tight. And, if worse comes to worse, you can always keep those ones in the freezer for yourself! Canning jams does require a small investment in jars and lids, special tongs for jar lifting, and a wide mouthed funnel, but you’ll get back what you put in. Check out the basics of canning here.
Find some kitchen labels at your local craft store and write what’s in the jar, the date it was made, and who made it for a Martha Stewart finish. My favorite jam recipe is here, but you probably have one in the family that a relative is dying to share! Just make sure to establish whether it’s a family secret or can be shared with gift recipients (if they ask).
Who’s on your holiday list, and how do you approach gift giving?