Friday, November 19, 2010

The Little Things (consumable gifts)

A Suburban Greenmom realizes it's time to think about gifts again...

Okay, I had this sort of social faux-pas moment on Mother's Day last spring. My parents were visiting, and my mom and I have never really exchanged gifts for Mother's Day, we do cards and good wishes and stuff like that. But on the other hand, in the past 20 years we haven't really ever been in the same place for Mother's day. And my mom had brought me a couple of really nice gifts for Mother's Day, and I hadn't gotten anything for her...

Not to worry. For one thing, my mom is cool, and it wouldn't have been a big deal, and she's (thank God) not the kind of woman to spend the next year or ten having Negative Thoughts about her ungrateful daughter with no Mother's Day gift. For another, I know how to make cool cosmeticky products out of ordinary kitchen ingredients. So for Mother's Day this year, my mom got a nice bail-top jar of lavender-orange scented turbinado sugar scrub. I'm sure she knew it was a punt-gift, but I hope she enjoyed it anyway.

The ability to create unique and useful consumable gifts has been, for me, one of the best side effects of my whole "learning to be green" process. I mean, I've learned to do all this stuff for me and for my family, but somewhere along the way it occurred to me that with just a little work on "presentation," many of those same things make really lovely gifts for other people. And most of them are easy enough to make that kids can help out, so they also can learn both the skills to make easy lovely things that make life a little nicer, and the joy and fun one feels giving something homemade and personal.

So, here are my favorites:
  • Bath salts: You can find recipes for this all over the internet, but one good site--which includes instructions for pretty decorative jars, can be found here. Or a nice body "dusting powder"--Crunchy Betty has nice recipes for this. (Heck, Crunchy Betty has nice recipes for pretty much anything.)
  • Sugar and Salt Scrubs: essentially, this is bath salts with a little neutral vegetable oil (like grapeseed or sweet almond) added. Or, obviously, with sugar substituted for the salt. (Going Green Mama uses leftover candy canes to make a minty scrub--how inventive is that?!--and I have to wonder, having used Betty's mochacchino facial scrub, whether maybe adding some finely ground coffee to the blend might not both smell and work really nicely...)
  • Melt-and-Pour Soaps: This is one of my children's favorites. You can buy the glycerin soap base at a craft store or online, color with soap coloring, add fragrance with essential oils. You can pour it into soap molds, or into a loaf kind of container and slice it up. Easy, personable, and let's face it, everyone uses soap.
  • Tea Blends: My post of a couple of weeks ago here covered this topic pretty thoroughly--buy the basic ingredients in bulk and make your own mixes for a lovely and personal gift, maybe given in a pretty thrift-store-purchased teacup and saucer, with a small muslin bag attached for brewing.
  • Cocoa or Chai mix: if your gift-ee is not a tea drinker, homemade cocoa or chai mix could be a very nice gift too, given in a mug instead of a teacup.
  • Baked Goods: Probably not much I have to say about this, right? Especially if you have some "specialty" you love to bake, this can be a really nice gift either for an individual to take home to their families (or eat on their own!), or to take a big plate of something to a group of folks at work who could use a treat in the middle of the morning. Or afternoon. Or night. Whatever. (I sometimes take one of my bundt cakes, sliced on a plate, to the nursing home where my mother-in-law is staying, or a smaller portion to my own office.) Anyplace where the workforce is reduced to vending machine goods or junk food for their mid-shift snacks would probably love a nice energy-boosting quick bread or cake. And what about homemade granola?
  • Fresh Bread: Yes, I know, this is kind of the same thing as "baked goods," but it's sort of in a category of its own. For me this is often an "impulse gift" kind of thing for a neighbor or friend, and I'll bake an additional loaf for someone at the same time as I make one for our family. The "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes" method is spectacular for easy and fast artisan bread, the kind that makes people's eyes first widen, and then close when they get a whiff of the fresh yeasty smell...ask anyone, there is nothing like fresh baked bread to make people feel comforted and special.
  • Homemade Liqueur: This takes a lot of planning ahead, of course, but if you made herbal or fruit liqueur from some of your summertime harvest, or wanted to try just making some Irish Cream Liqueur from scratch, this makes a really lovely gift for the non-teetotaler in your life. (Wouldn't recommend this for the first grade teacher, unless you know her really well.) I often combine this with the loaf of fresh bread.
  • Preserves, jams, pickles: Heck, anything you put up from the summer, if it's well-preserved and in a nice jar, makes a great gift. Anything you preserved more of than you'll actually eat, there's your gift. (Lots of great internet sources for recipes, but the Food In Jars blog is by far my favorite...)
  • Gifts that give: Why not consider giving a gift that gives to someone in need? Heifer Project International enables one to give part or all of a gift of livestock to a family who then raises it and gives its first offspring to another family, and so on? The Hunger Site Store also has a wide variety of gifts for others--from paying for schooling for girls in Afghanistan, to buying lunch for AIDS orphans, to tree planting, to feeding marine mammals, to toys...
This site has suggestions for lots more in the realm of unique consumables--dog biscuits, soup mixes, herbal oils and vinegars, and lots more.

That's what I've got...So...what are your favorite consumable gifts? Recipes, links, anything you can share would be most appreciated!
--Jenn the Greenmom


Frances said...

I saw that you recommended the Heifer project and I just wanted to throw out another option for gifts that give back. MCC is a charity that knows how to make every penny count. Their Christmas Gifts can be found here: My husband and I give these donations as gifts to each other, to share each other's love and generosity with the world. It is my favorite Christmas tradition to open my card from him and read how my gift has helped people in need.

Robbie @ Going Green Mama said...

Years ago, when I was still in my reporter life, I wrote a story on a congregation that did a "Christmas catalog" where you could "buy" items for the various ministries. It was as small as crayons for the children's ministry to large items for their overseas work. It was a beautiful idea, and well received!

Anonymous said...

I seriously love the gifts-that-give idea; thanks, Frances for the other link--and Robbie, that catalog idea is AWESOME, I love it.

What I love about a lot of these sites, and the Hunger Site one in particular, is that you can tailor the charity to the person you're giving it to, whether it's the animal-person or the college professor or the greenperson or whatever...


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