Homemade gift ideas
I told myself I would never be one of those bloggers who wrote a Christmas gift guide. To me it seemed like the ultimate trap, just another means of encouraging the purchase of useless gifts that will end up in the dustbin, contributing to the masses of landfill that are cluttering up our countryside.
(Cheerful soul, wasn't I?)
But the truth is, I do love Christmas shopping. Actually, I'll be more precise than that: I love shopping for gifts. I love picking out things that will make people smile; I love searching for bargains; I love the satisfaction that comes when you've wrapped and labelled a pile of gifts, ready to hand them out over mulled wine and mince pies later on in the day.
Giada has a really great Christmas gift guide this year (and a good giveaway!), and Etsy has some good quirky gifts, too. I personally hate spending large amounts of money on gifts - not only because I'm a student, but also because I don't think the amount we spend necessarily makes the present any better. Some of the best gifts I've received have been made up of tiny little things - trinkets, really - but what makes the difference is that they have been specifically chosen for me. For Emma.
I'm aware that it's not always practical to buy everyone a sweet, meaningful gift. I'm aware that sometimes we have to give gifts to people we barely know at all - but there's a solution for that too, away from the boxes of body butters and tubs of lip balm that will only be used occasionally, if ever.
Tiger is a really good shop for little gifts, as is the latest addition to Belfast's Ann Street: Stostrene Grene. Keep an eye out for local craft markets, or check Easy if you're looking for something a bit more special.
Homemade foodie gifts are handy because you can make them in bulk on a Sunday afternoon, wrap them up in brown paper and send them off to be eaten by the grateful recipient. See my list of suggestions below!
Jam is difficult to make in the winter without spending oodles on fresh fruit imported from the Southern Hemisphere, so if you haven't had the opportunity to make plum jam this year, you could try making your own marmalade - either with real Seville oranges, or with a tin of Mamade (we swear by the stuff).
You could also try chutney - Nigella has a good pumpkin chutney recipe in her book 'Kitchen', or you could go for the classic onion chutney, or Mary Berry's Christmas Chutney.
Biscuits and sweet things
Chocolate bark is having a moment, but you could also try making these little chocolate/dried fruit pebbles for something a bit neater.
I tried making fudge a few years ago, but it was a disaster. Unless you're a seasoned fudge-maker, I wouldn't recommend it - no matter how easy the recipe says it is to make!
Biscotti and cantuccini are slightly more unusual but are incredibly tasty, and will be much appreciated if you know someone who likes to have a little biscuit with their coffee. Try the BBC recipe, or, if you're worried about nut allergies, why not attempt their gingerbread biscuits? (See my attempt at them here.)
For friends who like to bake, you could try making your own cake/cookie mix by layering up the ingredients in a glass jar and decorating it with a ribbon and hand-drawn label. If you're really stuck for time, you could buy a supermarket cookie mix (the Tesco one is good) and put it into a little brown bag.
Chocolate truffles are in theory a good idea, but their short shelf life makes them a bit of a pain. Good as a last-minute present, though!
Hot chocolate kits are also a lovely idea at this time of year. Similar to the cookie mixes, all you'll need to do is combine hot chocolate powder, mini marshmallows and maybe some chocolate chips in a tiny jar or cellophane bag, perhaps adding a mini liqueur for adults.
You could also try making a little set of recipe cards: pick a theme (cakes, jams, curries, pasta dishes), collect a few recipes on Pinterest, and print them out onto pretty card.
Or how about buying in bulk and dividing the products up between several people? A little parcel made up of socks,handcream and some chocolates is thoughtful and budget-friendly.
How do you feel about buying gifts? Do you love it or loathe it?