I love to give handmade gifts, especially the edible kind. They don’t tend to take up a lot of space in people’s houses and the same thing can be given year after year and people are still happy to get them. This may not be so true about many other things that people tend to give.
One of the most memorable edible gifts I ever got was a giant Hershey’s kiss. I must have been only eight years old and a friend of my mother’s gave it to me. It was especially precious to me because I think that might have been one of those years that my mother decided not to “do” Christmas. Christmas didn’t mean anything to her, so there were many years that she grudgingly celebrated, if at all. It made sense to her to be that way since she did not grow up celebrating Christmas, but it was challenging for me growing up in a place where everyone, even those who did not go to church, celebrated Christmas. Most years, I put up the artificial tree by myself (which she really only bought under the influence of another friend who insisted that we needed to celebrate Christmas, if only for me; that Christmas was one of the good ones) and I spent many a Christmas morning watching all the various special Christmas programs on tv by myself. It was just another day off for my mother, not a day to do anything special. Because of those times, I think I really treasure this time of year and this freedom that I have as an adult to create traditions and celebrate freely in the ways that are meaningful to me. It’s also why I love to give gifts.
Unfortunately, today’s easy gift idea did not totally turn out the way I had hoped. I got the idea for this Hot Honey on the internet, but now I can’t find the link–sorry! It’s basically honey that is infused with chili papers to make it a little spicy. It sounded like a great idea because anything sweet and spicy always sounds like a good idea to me, but those directions said to just mix together and steep for a week. However, I am an impatient sort and I did not want to wait that long, so I went with another recipe that I found which involved heating the honey in a double boiler and cooking the mixture together for a bit.
Well, I guess I didn’t add enough chili peppers because it does not have the kick that I was hoping it would have. There is a little warmth, but barely noticeable. Sometimes there was a little heat and sometimes there wasn’t. The good news is that it didn’t stop anyone here from enjoying it on our biscuits, fried chicken, and waffles, so I guess it wasn’t too bad.
However, I recommend that if you make this, double the number of chilis I used. There really is no set recipe here. I used about 12 ounces of honey and five chinese chili peppers broken in half as well as a teaspoon of Szechuan peppercorns. It spent about fifteen minutes cooking in the double boiler. Next time, I would use double the amount of chilis. Chilis vary in intensity, so it wouldn’t surprise me if that resulted in a super hot honey, ha! If you get a good mix of flavors that you like, it would make a super gift.
Unfortunately, I can’t include a sample in the fun gifts box for you to try. I am afraid that the honey would spill out of the container, so you’ll have to try it yourself to have a taste. Leave me a comment and tell me about how you like to spend your Christmas mornings. We always open our stockings first thing and then have a nice breakfast of homemade bread and various other treats. After we are well fed, we then open our gifts one at a time so we can really enjoy each one. We play Christmas music and always have the Christmas pyramid lit up, which is my favorite Christmas decoration by far.
Today, I am going to go with the theme that has been started. I have actually been hankering to make soap for awhile, but have been a little intimidated by the process of making soap from scratch. This is because it involves a powerful chemical called lye, which, if not handled properly, can be quite dangerous. Somehow, this year has not seemed the right time to embark on that project, but there is another very easy way to make your own soap bars.
You can use what is called ‘melt and pour’ soap. Most craft stores sell blocks of this stuff in different varieties and sizes. I chose a big five pound block that included shea butter and mango butter.
From there, it is a simple task to cut it up and melt it in the microwave. We just followed the directions on the package.
For scents, we chose to stick with our usual food grade oils that we already had in the pantry and for colors, we used the food coloring you buy at the grocery store.
The first one was peppermint, which ended up being a two layer thing because it turns out that after you pour the soap, it forms a skin and starts to cool pretty quickly. However, we weren’t quite done swirling yet, so the surface got kind of rough. It was a little bit thin anyway and the layered look is pretty cool.
We used an eight inch pan that we lined with parchment paper. For each batch, we used between 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of soap base. Then, after it cooled, we trimmed the rough edges and cut each slab into nine blocks.
In this one, we used almond extract and some ground apricot seeds that I found in the soap section of the store. It’s supposed to be a mild exfoliator. Unfortunately, most of it sank to the bottom, but I think it will still be ok.
I really wasn’t sure if we would use all five pounds, but it turns out that it was so easy and fun that we just kept going and made a third batch, which we scented with lemon and orange oil.
In this one, we tried to swirl two colors, but again, the type of soap we got was pretty thin when melted. Perhaps a different type of base would work better. All told, we spent less than $20 and got 27 bars of soap out of a five pound block. Actually, we really got 30 because we remelted the edge trimmings and made these little bars for us to keep.
The rest are wrapped up for gift giving.
Speaking of gifts, you have another chance to be entered into the fun gifty box giveaway today. I loved hearing about your favorite Christmas decorations. I definitely sensed a sentimental value theme there and it is very true for me as well. I love to remember every event associated with each ornament on the tree as we unwrap them and hang them. Today, let’s talk about the gifts you love to give. What do you enjoy giving?
Yesterday, we talked about lotion bars and dry skin. It was great to hear about everyone’s winter skin care routines. There were some I had not heard of, so will be checking those out for sure. Today’s item is sort of related thematically.
Several weeks ago, I found myself scouring the shelves of every drug store and grocery store I was going to for some Epsom Salts. Not because I needed them medically, but because my older son needed it for a science experiment. It turns out that we did not actually end up conducting that experiment, so I was left with a five pound bag of Epsom salts with no purpose for them. In the recesses of my memory, I seemed to recall that it was good for soaking your skin in, especially if you had a splinter that wouldn’t come out. Somehow, the salt would coax out that stubborn splinter. I never had an opportunity to test out that knowledge. I’m not sure if that is an old wives’ tale or if I just fabricated it or maybe I am just completely mistaken. In any case, I googled what to do with Epsom salt and learned firstly that it is not technically a salt at all and that it can actually be quite beneficial for a person’s skin.
In warm weather, I am one of those people who never wear socks. I like my feet to breathe and only wear socks when I need the warmth. As a result, the skin on my feet can get quite dry and cracked. Sometimes, the cracks go very deep and get painful. So, when I found some recipes for Epsom Salt foot scrubs on my search, I thought it might help me with this problem of mine.
It was really very easy to make and I think it would make a nice gift as well, especially if paired with a lotion bar (see yesterday’s post). It was very easy to make.
Basically, for every cup of salt use 1/4 cup of oil (almond, olive, or another neutral oil) and 1 teaspoon of castile soap. I used coconut oil, which I melted in the microwave first to make it easier to mix. I chose this oil because it is solid at a cool room temperature and so it would be less prone to pooling at the bottom of the container. If you do end up using coconut oil, my only tip is that after you mix the scrub, let it sit out awhile to re-solidify. Stir it once every few minutes to encourage the oil to stay mixed evenly. Once it starts to get stiffer, pack it into your jar. Otherwise, it will pool at the bottom of the jar, like more liquidy oils, which is not bad, but just requires a little stirring before use.
The castile soap is easily found in the soap section of your local store. There was a large variety at the store I went to and some already had scents added. I chose the baby one which was unscented because I wanted to be able to control my scent. You can leave out the soap, but it gives the scrub a smoother texture and helps to cut the greasiness a bit. For a light scent, I chose to add a teaspoon of orange oil, just the variety I have for cooking, not the essential oils kind, though you can use those for sure.
Now, I can’t give you any testimonials about how great this scrub is because I literally just made it today (I am usually not this behind, but, you know, life happens). However, I did try it right away and actually found it more soothing than I was expecting.
To use, just take a small dime sized scoop per foot and rub your feet all over. Then rinse off with the hottest water you can stand without burning yourself! Be cautious because it can leave the tub feeling a bit slippery. I did it while sitting down and made sure to rinse the tub quite well before finishing. After all that, pat dry with a clean towel and enjoy the feeling. My feet felt softer for sure, especially my heels. The magnesium in the salt is supposed to have a calming effect and maybe it was just in my head, but I think I was a tad more relaxed afterwards. I am really looking forward to using it more regularly and will certainly let you know what I think about its longer term affects. For now, I think that it can’t hurt and would make an easy and nice gift for anyone. The recipe above yields a generous cup of scrub and is easy to multiply.
That’s it for today. It’s only two weeks until Christmas now! We have finally done the last of our decorating, I think. It took me quite a bit of searching, but I finally found some stocking hangers to go on our new to us mantle that I like. For some reason, hanging up the stocking made everything seem more festive and homey. What is your favorite Christmas decoration? Tell me in the comments and you’ll be entered into the drawing to win the fun gifty box!