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Start making a list in your head of all the gifts you need to give this holiday season: Christmas gifts, New Year's gifts, thanks-for-having-me-to-your-holiday-party-sorry-I-drank-all-the-wine gifts.
You should probably get something for your colleagues, even the ones you don't like that much, since they almost certainly got something for you. And don't forget about your neighbor that always leaves a ribbon-tied container of puppy chow in your mailbox on December 24th. They'll need something, too.
You may think I'm simply pushing the consumer agenda. You would be right. Because while the holidays are really about spending time with loved ones and drinking eggnog aplenty, they are also about showing people that you value them—in the form of a gift.
I'm not advocating, however, that you rush to the nearest mall and start picking through absurdly priced candles like a holiday zombie. This year, you can check everyone off your gift-giving list with just $100 and a little crafty ingenuity. Here's how:
First thing's first: Get your packaging sorted. I recommend going to your nearest giant we-have-everything store and stocking up on two dozen pint-sized mason jars, which should set you back no more than $30. (If you've got a more flexible budget, pretty jars are a very nice touch.) While you're there, pick up some ribbon or twine—one color is enough, don't get crazy—and some heavy stock paper that you can cut into cards. Now you've spent about a third of your budget, and it's on to the fun part: the edible gift-making.
Here are 5 of my favorite edible crowd-pleasers that will last for a good long time and look very pretty tied up with a ribbon. Each recipe will set you back around $30 and make enough for 10 gifts; some will cost slightly more, some will cost slightly less.
Choose two projects to mix and match (or just make a giant batch of one recipe) and you've got twenty host/hostess/holiday gifts. Now pass that eggnog.
1) Chocolate Caramels. Make a batch of these chewy, chocolately caramels and slice them into charmingly imperfect squares. Twist-wrap with squares of natural parchment paper, stuff as many as you can into a mason jar, tie with twine, and attach a note. People will be very impressed with this one because they are getting multiple tiny gifts, which they can share with others (though it's more likely they will just eat them all at once).
This recipe makes about 100 caramels, which should equate to 8 to 10 edible gifts.
2) Caramel Sauce. For a slightly lower-maintenance caramel gift, go the sauce route. Caramel sauce is something that most people won't buy or make for themselves, but they will be psyched to receive (and to pour over ice cream). Plus you will definitely get to lick the bottom of the pan, which is worth the effort of making the recipe in and of itself (let it cool a bit first, though).
Each recipe makes enough for 2 mason jars or so; I recommend quadrupling to make 8 jars.
3) Grenadine. This recipe is a bit pricier to make than the others, but it's also incredibly cool. Your gift recipients will definitely make high-pitched noises of excitement when they discover that you're giving them Shirley Temple liquid! Huzzah. Save a little money by skipping the orange flower water and by juicing your own pomegranates.
The recipe makes a quart of grenadine, but it could easily be split into pints (or cute tiny jars) to stretch it a bit further.
4) Torrisi's Genius Spicy Sauce. The ultimate holiday gift-giving no-brainer. This sauce is a snap to make, easy on the budget, and not so easy on the tongue (in a great way). It looks beautiful, and its peppery bite is completely addictive—you will probably get asked for the recipe at least once. On your card, include serving suggestions: Spoon over fish, mix into eggs, drizzle onto tacos...
Quadruple the recipe to make 8 cups and you may have a little extra to keep for yourself.
5) Preserved Lemons. Homemade preserved lemons are a great edible gift for those with adventurous palates. They will last forever, are incredibly cheap to make, and their golden yellow hue is totally eye-catching, to boot. (You're also giving the gift of preserved lemon aioli.) If you have some wiggle room in your budget use Meyer lemons; their sweeter, perfumed flavor is worth the extra dough.
Buy several bags of lemons and a big old container of salt and you'll have enough to fill jars for all of your giftees.