As I expressed in my last post, I am a most festive person, and very quickly get into the spirit of Christmas; to quote Audrey Hepburn, I have "a terrible need to give" when it comes to affection. I know that most people loathe and detest the act of wrapping presents; I love it. Not only do I get great pleasure out of imagining the soon-to-be recipient ripping off the paper to reveal the gift that I know they will love, but the soothing monotony of folding and taping instils in me a sense of calm.
In this post, I will share a few ideas of gifts that I think are some of the nicest to receive; presents that will reflect your genuine love and appreciation for whomever you choose to give them to. As I also like to go the extra mile and put in more effort for that special someone, I will also include a recipe or two for treats that make beautiful edible gifts that are sure to be very well received. Giving a home-made gift is not to be unfairly seen as penurious; in fact, I would argue that it can often express greater thought and generosity. After all, anyone can go out and buy a gift (not that there is any shame in that), but it requires that additional bit of time and patients to put love into a jar or box of some edible delight for their Christmas pantry.
Here are some nice ideas which I believe can cover many tastes:
For the foodie in your life: I think a voucher for their favourite restaurant is likely to be very much appreciated, or alternatively, if they are also into cooking and gastronomic ventures, a voucher for one of Ireland's many fantastic cookery schools would be a great choice. Both the Dublin Cookery School and Ballymaloe House in Cork offer a wide range of courses; covering everything from baking to game preparation and foreign cuisine.
For make-up lovers: I won't insult anyone by listing the myriad options in terms of amazing make-up palettes and offers that are currently available; magazines have covered them to death at this stage. Instead, I would recommend acting on your initiative and buying them some skin-loving products to remove the make-up and restore their skin for after the party season. In the more luxurious end of skincare, I am a big Clarins fan, and find their cleansers gentle yet effective at giving a deep clean. Dermalogica is another brand I favour for their kindness towards those with more sensitive skin. Any woman would be delighted to receive a treat from either of these expert brands. For excellent products on a budget, you can't go far wrong with Avene or Nuxe. The latter is one which I particularly love because, despite the reasonable price point, the products are beautifully packaged and smell amazing. Using a Nuxe shower cream or body lotion will make you feel like you are steeped in luxury. Who wouldn't want that as a gift? Most importantly, the results rendered from use of this line will not disappoint.
For thrill-seekers: Again, vouchers. If you know anyone who loves adventure, there are many centres across the country that offer vouchers for either courses or day trips in activities such as kayaking, bungee-jumping, sky-diving, zorbing and even helicopter lessons. If your finances allow, I think you can be satisfied that a voucher for any of above will leave you showered with gratitude by the lucky person who receives one.
These are just a few ideas; books, perfume/cologne, theatre tickets, magazine subscriptions and art/decorative interiors pieces are also lovely thoughts to receive.
Now, for one of the greatest of all presents - the one you make yourself! Christmas is stereotypically a time for too much rich, indulgent food, but being a bit of a health nut, I prefer to choose sweet treats that offer a little more in terms of their nutrient profile. I ask you to throw aside any scepticism you may have - once you try my take on caramel shortbread, you will concede that healthier indulgences need not be any less delicious than their standard counterparts. If you need any more convincing, these have been described as "gorgeous" by my anti-health foodie sister. Enough said.
Caramel Shortbread Squares
Ingredients for the biscuit base:
1/2 cup of unscented coconut oil
1/4 cup of coconut palm sugar
1 tablespoon of pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons of water
1/2 of rice flour
1/2 cup of oats, ground into a flour
Ingredients for the caramel:
1 1/2 cups of almond milk
3/4 cups of coconut palm sugar or brown rice syrup
2 tablespoons of almond butter (meridian is a favourite of mine, but any will do)
1/2 scant tablespoon of coconut oil
2 teaspoons of sea salt flakes
Ingredients for the topping:
1 cup of 85% dark chocolate (I love Marks and Spencer's, one, but Green & Blacks, Lindt and Tesco also do very good versions)
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C.
First, make the base. Beat the coconut palm sugar into the coconut oil, then add the vanilla.
Slowly add the water, a little at a time, and beat again. Fold in the flour.
Press the dough into a lined tin (approx. 18cm) and bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly in the tin.
Meanwhile, for the caramel, bring the almond milk and coconut palm sugar or brown rice syrup to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for five minutes.
Add the almond butter and salt and whisk thoroughly before stirring in the coconut oil and whisking once again.
Simmer this mixture for 5 minutes, until it has thickened.
Spread over the cooled base with the back of a spoon or a spatula.
Place this in the freezer for 15 minutes.
Melt the chocolate in a bowl resting over a saucepan of simmering water (a bain marie). Remove the base from the freezer, pour over the molten chocolate, and return to the freezer for another 20 minutes.
When ready, cut into squares or rectangles.
I hope you enjoy these as much as every one in my house.