Gifts From the Heart (and the Hand)

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As folks scramble to buy presents for their loved ones during the holidays, I am happily ensconced in my home crafting away like a mad elf. As an avowed minimalist, I can honestly say that I have not stepped into a store (or, heaven forbid, a mall!) in many years for Christmas shopping. (Admittedly, I have shopped on Cyber Monday for my teenage son, who’s at an age where he appreciates a pair of AirPods more than anything I can make.)

But, I’m no Scrooge. I love giving presents, and as a crafty person who genuinely likes to make things, I’m happiest when I put effort into gifts, and the hours I spend making them make me feel connected to the recipient. I am also keenly aware that material things could potentially create unwanted clutter for the giftee (I know this is the case for me), so I try to make practical consumables or small, wearable accessories the focus of my gift-giving.

Here are a few things I love gifting during the holidays:

1Handmade Soap

Not to knock on commercial brands like Dove or Irish Spring, but handmade soap is so much better. Walk into a Whole Foods and you’ll instantly feel soap envy — the chain carries a good selection. But, you can easily make soap at home. And the best part is you can customize it however you want. Make your base from goat milk for extra softness or stick with the tried-and-true glycerin. Then, add your additives of choice, like essential oils and coloring.

There are two ways to make soap: The cold process method and the melt and pour method. The cold process method is a little more involved — you need to use lye, an ingredient you have to be really careful with. And, it takes weeks for the soap to be fully cured, so you’ll need some advanced planning. The melt and pour method is exactly as it sounds: You melt blocks of soap, add a colorant if desired (like mica powder), scent with essential oils, and pour into molds. The possibilities are endless, and it’s as easy as melting your base soap in the microwave or double broiler.

For all the supplies you need, including festive holiday molds, head to

2Infused Oils

Extra virgin olive oil doesn’t last long in my house. It’s my go-to for cooking everything. During the holidays, I love making infused olive oils to give out as presents. This is a pretty simple process: Get some hermetic glass jars, a big bottle of good olive oil, and whatever herbs and additives you’d like. Let your imagination run wild! Rosemary sprigs, mint, browned garlic with chili flakes, lemon peels — the options and flavor profiles are endless. Make your infused oils as close to the day you give your gift as possible, as they will need to be used within a week to 10 days. The 8-ounce bottles are just the right amount, too.

3Hot Cocoa and Marshmallows

Sure, Swiss Miss packets and Jet Puff marshmallows are fine, but why settle on fine when you can level up your hot cocoa-with-marshmallows mug? This is where the from-scratch version comes in, and once you taste it, you’ll never go back. The Food Network’s Alton Brown has excellent recipes for both hot cocoa mix and marshmallows, and they take little effort to make. Package your hot cocoa in mason jars and tie with twine, attach the marshmallows in holiday-colored cellophane, and you’ll have a crowd-pleasing gift in no time — one that truly warms the heart on a cold winter night.

4Knitted Gifts

I’ve been an avid knitter for many years now, starting from when I was pregnant and the urge to nest was strong. I learned how to knit from Debbie Stoller’s Stitch ’n Bitch and countless YouTube videos, and my original goal was simply to knit a blanket for my newborn. The knitting fever hasn’t loosened its grip, and I’ve made scarves, sweaters, socks, mittens, and hats in the years since. I can’t think of a more therapeutic craft to undertake; once you learn the two basic stitches of knit and purl, there’s literally nothing you can’t create. For holiday presents, it’s best to start early and do a simple pattern, like this easy scarf, which you can do in a couple of evenings while bingeing a Netflix show. Pro tip: If you’re short on time, pick a pattern that calls for bulky yarn, and you’ll be done in no time.

5Vanilla Extract

This one takes some planning, but now is a fine time to start. As someone who dabbles in baking, vanilla extract is an essential part of my pantry. Forget store-bought vanilla extract (or, vanilla flavoring — the horror!); they’re subpar quality and unnecessarily expensive. You can easily make and gift jars of the good stuff with a little forethought: Buy high-quality vanilla beans in bulk — yes, they’re expensive up-front, but you can make a lot of extract from just a few pods — split open four or five of them and throw the whole thing in a mason or  swing-top jar. Add 8 ounces of your liquor of choice (vodka is most common, but bourbon makes a deeply rich extract), and… just wait. In about a year’s time (or two, if you’re really patient), you’ll have some of the best vanilla extract for baking and gifting.

Tags: Christmas, DIY, holiday season, gift

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Written By

Genevie Durano

Genevie Durano has worked in various magazines in New York City, and currently is the food editor for Las Vegas Weekly magazine. See Full Bio

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