The holidays are coming, encouraging us to look back at family traditions, cultural cares and the need to nurture goodwill.
Many of us race from store to store, seeking just the right gift or item that will evoke feelings of peace, love or happiness. Others will spend literally days baking perfect cookies and candies just as their mothers did. But in these changing times, I think many of us may hit the internet and spend hours searching different websites to find someone else to do the work or make the treasures.
I have a different suggestion for this year.
Find one or two great, simple recipes for sweets or treats that you can make in a flash. Make those in abundance and stop fretting. Give your friends, family and neighbors something from the heart—that you made, but not that you labored to make. Keep it simple, make it easy on yourself. Wrap things up in pretty boxes or bags and give them something from the heart—that takes less time than searching endlessly on the internet might take.
I have two or three great ideas for you that won’t take much time at all, but that will bring smiles and a bit more joy to the table.
With all the lovely food traditions we have here in the South, none is better than bringing a family a tin or plate of homemade treats. Just as a handwritten note carries much more meaning than a text or email might, a gift of homemade treats carries a clear message that you love the recipient and took time to be sure they had something to enjoy over the holidays.
My favorite ideas for homemade gifts are so simple, they may startle you.
I often just use some white and dark chocolate melts and a package of whole dried apricots or a box of pretzel sticks. Melt the chocolate in two separate bowls. Dip the apricot first in one bowl, let the chocolate set a bit, then drizzle the other color of melted chocolate over the top.
Voila! You have a gorgeous ready to give treat. Do the same with pretzel rods or even twisty pretzels and you have another treat people will love.
If you’re ready to do a little more, I have a Southern classic that will wow friends and family but takes literally less than 30 minutes to make.
These will bring back memories for many and will create new delight for others. Pralines were made back in the days when chocolate was a rarity and really couldn’t be shipped very far. Pralines are simple to make and can be wrapped individually in tiny bags or layered between parchment in a tin or box. The only real trick to them is knowing when the candy has reached the “soft ball stage.” To figure this out, once you have cooked up a batch and think it is ready, test it by dropping a spoonful of the boiling syrup into a glass of ice water. If it forms a soft ball that flattens easily when you press it between your fingers, it is ready to come off the stove. (A more scientific method would be to cook the candy until a candy thermometer reads 236oF.)
¼ cup light brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
½ cup evaporated milk
4 Tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon salt
1½ cup chopped pecans
1 teaspoon real vanilla
Mix the sugars, milk, butter, pecans and salt in a heavy saucepan over medium low heat, stirring occasionally (just stir it enough to keep it from sticking to the pot, but don’t stir constantly because you want the moisture to evaporate from the mixture) with a wooden spoon. Cook until the mixture reaches 236oF or the soft ball stage. (Test it by dropping a spoonful of the boiling syrup into a glass of ice water. If it forms a soft ball that flattens easily when you press it between your fingers, it is ready to come off the stove.) Remove the pan from the heat, add the vanilla and stir constantly until the mixture thickens. Drop the pralines by tablespoonfuls, 1 inch apart, onto parchment paper lined baking sheets. Let them cool until they are firm.