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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Yule Gift Bags

A few years ago I made the decision to stop buying presents for people. I found I was not enjoying just buying people presents to buy them presents and it all seemed sort of meaningless to me. I wanted to put the meaning back into gift giving. I also decided that I had a lot of different crafts or homemade projects I had always wanted to try but never the motivation or free time. So why not combine these two things. If I could use the excuse of making people presents I could use all that free time created by not going to the mall and buying people the same old tired presents. I could also have fun with it and try out a lot of the crafts I had always wanted to dabble in anyway!

The first year I just did homemade painted ornaments and dried herbs from my herb garden which have become a staple and I think I only failed to deliver herbs in the gift bags one year. Once we did homemade marinara sauce for everyone and another time I made everyone wine charms which went over really well. Everyone knows and loves the gift bags and now get excited as to what we will do each year. I make 50 of them each year only to keep it even and though I would love to give them to everyone I know I find 50 to be the perfect number. We have the first dozen doled out immediately because we both always have a white elephant gift exchange at each of our jobs and our present is one which is always fought over when people realize what it is. Then I have my three brothers and sister's families, my aunts in Woburn Massachusetts plus Patrick's mom, dad, brother's family and his aunt and uncle. The remaining 38 go out to our friends. We host what we call the Sugar Plum Potluck each year a few weeks, usually, before Christmas so we can get the bags to as many of our friends as we can and then the following week play Santa driving around to deliver the rest.

I usually start making the bags each year towards the end of the summer. I bought a $20 food dehydrator a few years ago from Target and I use the thing like crazy at the end of the summer when all of my herbs are at their peak. I try to harvest several times during the summer to get the most yield and some years I am way better at that than others. This year the gift bag contained: 1 jar of blackberry jam, 1 jar of lavender jelly, a few candy cane Andes candies, a bag of rose and mint tea, a container of dried bay leaves (from my laurel which I dried) and 1 container of another herb which was either sage, oregano, lavender or cat nip.

The roses I dried also using the food dehydrator and were either from my yard or from the master rose garden I walk by on breaks near my work because they do not treat their roses at all using any chemicals and they are cared for by a master gardener club etc. I combined the dried roses with pineapple mint, apple mint, orange mint and lemon balm all from my garden to make a nice tea.

The blackberry jam I make pretty traditionally every year now. I found this great street at Sauve Island which is pretty untouched by man or cars to pick blackberries. Personally I think the wild ones have way more sweetness and flavor so I much prefer using them. Blackberry jam is fantastic but not something over the top common though either which is why I think everyone enjoys it so much.

This year I started experimenting with jelly, as you saw from prior entries. I have a very large English lavender and in 2009 I made everyone lavender sugar from its harvest which was very popular. This year I made lavender jelly to either drizzle on deserts, for cooking or to even sweeten and flavor tea.

Each year is influenced by various events. In 2009 I got married to my long time partner Patrick and our very close friend John catered with the help of his partner Rob who is also a very close friend. Basically I bought the food and John cooked it with the help of his staff which was composed of mine and his friends. I had bought a VERY large bag of lemons and an insane amount of ginger root neither of which got used hardly so I was left with a huge bag of ginger root and lemons questioning what does one do with these two items in mass quantities. So online I went trolling through recipes when I found one for lemon ginger marmalade...hello! I thought, "perfect" and decided to make it to give out for Yule. This was one of our biggest hits and mixed up with some soy sauce it made for the tastiest pork marinade ever seriously.

In 2009 I also found our street on Sauve Island where I now go religiously to pick blackberries and mixed in with the berry vines were an insane amount of wild roses. The year we found the street it was super late for blackberry picking so I ended up buying raspberries in bulk and making red raspberry jam for half the fifty gift bags since I was only able to make about 25 half pints of the blackberry jam and as it was I picked those berries and did the canning the same night because the berries were so beyond ripe I was scared they would not last a few days! We went back to the same area though a month later and picked a giant paper bag full of rose hips. I then turned those into rose hip jelly which I will, to be honest, never make again but it turned out fantastic and was probably one of the prettiest jellies I have made. I could not believe how little jelly it made though for the amount of rose hips picked and my fingers were shredded - seriously I was stabbed by thorns so much and was just over it.

Here are some photos of the completed bags. Here is the bag and down front you see the folded "instructions" which is more a helpful suggestions guide for what is in the bag since I discovered the first year or two saw people receiving herbs like sage and having no clue how to use them since they had not before. So now I put helpful stuff for each item. The two Andes candy cane candies are amazing, seriously and hard to find each year for Yuletime. Then stacked up are the lavender jelly, blackberry jam, rose and mint tea and the two herb tins with clear lids.

Here is the rose and mint tea which I label.

So you can see the tea more clear because it did turn out rather lovely and VERY fragrant, as you can probably imagine with the combination or herbs and flora.

And here is a tin of the bay leaves.

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