Debra Reddy hates giving gift cards as gifts. She never feels as though she has put enough thought into them. The Casper woman prefers to make her own gifts, such as jams, jellies and fudge or jars filled with dry ingredients for a favorite recipe or a spa treatment.
"I think it's the personal touch that you take the time and energy to think about what they like and prepare something especially for them that makes homemade gifts so special," Reddy said.
Reddy will teach workshops on how to make holiday gifts Nov. 9 and 13 at Casper College. It's the second year she has offered the class. Gifts featured will differ from last year, but both classes follow the same format. People who attend will leave with samples and a cache of great gift ideas. She will also teach easy fudge-making from her stash of more than 700 fudge recipes on Nov. 16 at Casper College.
Reddy grew up gardening and canning, and giving homemade gifts was just something people did. Today, she sells her canned jams and jellies, as well as fresh honey and scones at farmers markets in Casper.
But you don't have to know how to can in order to make your own gifts. Consider your skills, she says, and if you're canning or making fudge for the first time, take a class or try some test batches first. There's no need to experiment on your friends, relatives and mailman.
Also consider what the giftee might enjoy or need, taking notes throughout the year.
"I really try to think about the person I'm giving it to, who they are and what they'd like," she said.
Reddy starts making gifts in November. Unless you're making food items that must be delivered fresh, it's best not to leave gift-making to the last minute. That way you'll still have time for plan B if the ingredients are not available or the gift doesn't turn out.
The cost of homemade gifts depends on what you're making and what you have on hand. A batch of jelly can be a very affordable gift if you already have the tools needed. If the item requires expensive ingredients or you have to buy supplies, it can cost more than buying a gift. Reddy likes to use items that she has around the house and scours bargain stores for great deals.
Here are five of Reddy's easy-to-make homemade gifts:
LUXURIOUS LOTION BARS
These moisturizing soap bars make great gifts for gardeners, hairdressers and anyone who works with their hands.
What you'll need:
1 part shea butter
1 part avocado oil
1 part beeswax
1200 IU vitamin E (1 large capsule) for every six to eight ounces of soap
other oils, such as essential oil (optional)
Melt the shea butter and beeswax in a double boiler or a small pan set in a larger pan of water on low heat over the stove. Stir in the avocado oil, vitamin E and essential oil (optional). Pour it into molds let cool. Pop them out of the molds and place in a decorative gift bag.
SEWING KIT IN A JAR
With a little retrofitting, you can turn a Mason jar into a sewing kit with a pincushion top.
What you'll need:
1 eight-ounce, regular mouth Mason jar with band and lid
hot glue gun and glue
thread of various colors
Separate the band from the lid. Place the lid on the cardboard, trace it and cut it out. Using a compass, draw a circle one inch in diameter larger than the lid on the cloth and cut it out. To make the pincushion, place the batting between the lid and cloth, place glue on the inside rim of the band and quickly push the pincushion into it it. Glue the excess material to the bottom of the lid. Glue the cardboard circle to the bottom of the lid to hide the excess material. Make sure it is very smooth, or it won't fit on the jar easily. Fill the jar with notions, needles and other items needed in a sewing kit. Or, buy a sewing kit and place the contents in the jar.
ROCKY ROAD BROWNIES
What you'll need:
1.5 quart Mason jar with band and lid
resealable plastic sandwich bag
1 cup sugar
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup miniature marshmallows
Layer all of the ingredients except the marshmallows in the jar. Pack down each layer slightly before adding the next layer. Put the marshmallows in a resealable plastic food storage bag and place them in the top of the jar. Put the cloth between the lid and the band, then seal the jar. Write or print the recipe on a card, and tie it to the jar with raffia or ribbon. Here is the recipe:
Rocky Road Brownies
1 jar Rocky Road Brownie Mix
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease an 8-by-8-inch baking pan. Remove the marshmallows from the jar and set them aside. Pour the remaining browning mix into a large bowl. Add the melted butter, buttermilk, egg and vanilla and stir until well blended. Spread the batter evenly in the pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until set. Sprinkle with marshmallows and bake another three to five minutes, or until the marshmallows are puffed up and slightly melter. Cool in the pan on a wire rack.
Just add a few fresh ingredients to this dry soup mix for a rich and flavorful beef and barley soup.
What you'll need:
1.5-pint Mason jar with band and lid
1/2 cup dry split peas
1/3 cup beef bouillon granules
1/4 cup pearl barley
1/2 cup dry lentils
1/4 cup dried onion flakes
2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
1/2 cup uncooked long-grain white rice
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup uncooked alphabet pasta
Layer the split peas, bouillon, barley, lentils, onion flakes, Italian seasoning, rice and bay leaves in the jar. Wrap the pasta in plastic wrap and place in the top of the jar. Place cloth between the lid and band and seal the jar tightly. Write or print the recipe on a card, and tie it to the jar with raffia or ribbon. Here is the recipe:
1 jar Friendship Soup mix
1 pound ground beef
black pepper to taste
garlic powder to taste
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 six-ounce can tomato paste
3 quarts water
Remove the pasta from the jar and set it aside. In a large pot, brown the beef with the papper and garlic over medium heat. Drain the excess fat. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, water and soup mix. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes. Stir in the pasta, cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the pasta, peas, lentils and barley are tender.
SWEET AND SPICY BODY SCRUB
Revive dry skin with this moisturizing body scrub. It works great on hands and feet.
What you'll need:
resealable glass or plastic container
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons sea salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons nutmeg
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 cup sunflower, safflower, almond or vegetable oil
Mix the cinnamon, nutmeg and ground ginger together really well, grinding them together. Combine the granulated sugar and brown sugar -- crush any lumps. Add the sea salt and mix well. Add oil. (Reddy prefers sunflower oil. It can be found in health food stores.) Package the scrub in a well-sealed, dry glass or plastic container. Attach the scoop to the jar with a colorful ribbon. One batch yields about 16 ounces of scrub. Store the scrub in a cool space out of direct sunlight. Don't let water into the jar, and use the scoop to remove the scrub from the container to keep it from introducing bacteria to it. The scrub can last up to several months, but toss it if there are any signs of bacteria growth.