Homemade gifts someone will actually use

Making all-natural vanilla extract without artificial flavors or colors is easy and relatively inexpensive. All you need are bottles, vanilla beans and alcohol.

When it comes to homemade gifts, they can be meaningful, cost-effective and easy to make.

However, I draw the line at anything involving glitter, store-bought pine cones, or ridiculous crafts that no one wants to receive.

Sure, making a macramé owl-shaped plant hanger using seashells and yarn shows off your skills, but geez, you probably could have picked that thing up at the thrift store for $2 and just wrapped it up. Same goes for anything involving doll heads and crochet (Southern belle Kleenex-box topper, anyone?) and anything that remotely looks like a flowerpot turned into lamp. Just don’t. Please.

For those of you who want to make something that might actually be enjoyed, and you don’t want to learn how to quilt in a week, there are a lot of options.

Keep in mind that giving homemade gifts requires you to know a little something about what the other person might like, but that’s part of the fun of gift-giving. Also, make sure you realistically have enough time to complete the gifts before D-Day.

Here are some ideas. P.S.: Sorry if I’m spoiling Christmas for some of you who might receive these gifts from our house. Stop reading now.

I love to give foodie gifts. There’s always the tray of assorted fudges, brittles and divinity you slave over for hours (and no one should really be stuffing themselves with, anyway).

But why not give a gift that the recipient can use later? Spice rubs, infused oils and liqueurs are easy to make.

I found adorable, brand-new bottles at the Fruita Thrift store for 50 cents each, and they’re going to be used for infused oils.

I’ll bake a few loaves of bread (or make bread mix in a bag?), put them in baskets with the oil, and voila, it’s a gift people can use. Just make sure you aren’t derailing someone’s Paleo diet.

Making infused oils is easy. You can use herbs, chiles or citrus peel among other things. Don’t use garlic cloves because you can give people botulism with those and no one wants that for Christmas.

Detailed instructions can be found all over the Internet. Check out thekitchn.com if you want a good recipe.

These are good gifts to make if you get to Dec. 1 and don’t have your stuff together since infused oils only need to sit around for one or two weeks before they are ready to use.

For bakers, giving homemade vanilla extract is a no-brainer. Vanilla beans and extract are expensive at the store, but if you buy the ingredients in bulk and make it yourself, it’s reasonable.

On beanilla.com, you can buy a whole pound of vanilla beans (about 100 beans) for $48.95, with free shipping. That makes a lot of vanilla extract, which is simply vanilla-infused alcohol.

Find some reasonably priced bottles, get some vodka, and you’re good to go.

We put 2–3 split beans in each 8-ounce bottle before pouring in the alcohol, but if you use larger bottles, you might want to use more beans. Check out the instructions at zoebakes.com.

I recommend letting the extract infuse for 4–6 weeks before using it or giving it away.

Spice rubs last forever and are simple to make. The bulk spice area at Vitamin Cottage will help you out on the price with this one. The store’s bags of spices are a fraction of the cost at other grocers.

Go to thecraftyhostess.com for basic recipes such as barbecue, Montreal steak and Jamaican spice rub, or theyummylife.com for other spice mix varieties.

Tiny 4-ounce mason jars are perfect packaging for these and will keep the spice mixes fresh.

If you want to go all-out, make all of these and arrange them in gift baskets for the lucky recipients. Then, assure they’ll love your homemade foodie gift by mentioning you were thinking of painting everyone an Elvis on velvet this year.

Erin McIntyre is a writer, master gardener and owner of the gourmet pickle company, Yum Pickles. Email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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