As anyone who has spent any time with me knows, food and drink are an important part of who my family is. The holidays are no different. Although they can be a busy, stressful and expensive time of the year, exchanging gifts is a must. My family came up with a solution years ago, which, while not eliminating the work involved in gift giving or even the stress, created a custom that works for us.
We give each other gifts of food or drink, usually homemade though being homemade is not a requirement. I should explain that we, my brothers and their families and I, don’t live near each other. One of us lives in San Francisco, another just outside of D.C. and I’m in New York. That means shipping can get expensive, but we’ve been doing this kind of exchange for at least twenty years and have no plans to stop.
It’s an interesting exercise in creativity to come up with something that feels festive and generous and tastes good. Sometimes, we’ve relied on one of the websites that specialize in food, fruit, and cheeses, and my brother in San Francisco always has California wine as a default, but only in times of desperation. Usually we go with homemade. My brother in San Francisco’s wife (who is the one who actually does the baking and the giving for her family) is the most creative gifting homemade sundried tomatoes, vanilla extract, infused vinegar or soap and candles from their own bees.
My brother in Takoma Park, the suburb just outside of D.C., has always baked though there was one year when we got a great barbeque meat rub.
I’m a good cook, but not much of a baker so this kind of gift is always a challenge. I can’t very well send a salad or casserole. But the holidays are the only time I do bake and I like the challenge since it’s always seemed to me that a homemade present is more meaningful. For years I baked fruit breads including one that had apple and every healthy nut and grain in creation. It was good, but I’m not sure how festive. Then, for several years, I was on a granola kick. I used the recipe from 11 Madison Park, which is wonderful and guaranteed to be delicious and a hit. But this year I’m thinking of baking again. Maybe I’ll do shortbread or some other reliably easy cookie that will be tasty and not impossible to make look pretty since my cookies and cakes never look the way they’re supposed to.
For some who do not like to bake or cook, all this may sound like an incredible pain. But for me, it’s always been the perfect family gift. Because we’re never together for the holidays I want to reach out and show the love I feel for my brothers. The time it takes to put together the kinds of gifts we exchange seems just right. Now that my brothers and I are at the downsizing stage in our lives, food, wine or even artisanal whiskey (which I’ll give if the shortbread doesn’t pan out) is much more appreciated.