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Easy, edible homemade treats that can be used during and after Christmas

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There’s a knock at the door, you open it and there stands a friend, holding a basket of multi-colored eggs, a jar of cranberry-pear chutney or a tin of that wonderful spice rub you raved about during a barbecue last summer.

It is the season not just of colored lights, carols and Christmas shopping but also of homemade gifts from our kitchens. These gifts might give a moment of pleasure should, say, creamy caramels be your forte. Or they may give a year of deliciousness if you decide to package that secret spice rub.

If you have a few specialties, or if you are simply tired of all the crowds and commercialism that defines so much of this time of year, you can spend from a couple of hours to a few days making unique gifts that will delight your family and friends.

A little planning makes it all come together easily.

The first thing to do is to consider how much time you have and what is in season now. You can’t make blueberry chutney in December, and you may not have time to make pears in brandy, as the fruit needs to macerate for a while in the liquor.

But spice blends, shrubs using winter fruit, citrus curd, homemade sriracha and quick breads are all perfect at this time of year, as are pickled mushrooms and dried persimmons.

Once you’ve decided what to make, you’ll need to gather containers, labels, baskets, ribbons, fabric, cloth napkins and a good pen with permanent ink. For reliable sources, Cost Plus World Market, The Beverage People, hardware stores, thrift shops and your own pantry are great places for supplies.

A word or two of caution is in order. First of all, making flavored olive oil is not a good idea, no matter how popular it has become. Fresh herbs will go off fairly quickly, and if you add garlic, you run the risk of poisoning your pals with botulinum bacteria; the bacteria thrives in an anaerobic environment, which is just what olive oil provides.

Vinegar, on the other hand, can be flavored with a huge array of herbs, spices and flowers and makes a gorgeous and delicious gift.

You must also remember to tell the recipients of your delicious efforts not just how to use it but also how to store things and how quickly they must be used. If you can, add these details to the label.

Finally, it is helpful to know a bit about your friend’s preferences and restrictions. You won’t want to give little persimmon breads to someone who doesn’t eat gluten or chipotle salt and a bottle of tequila to someone who doesn’t drink. A little thought and a tiny bit of detective work is all it takes.

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Gomashio is a popular condiment in Japan, and if you’ve ever eaten in a Japanese restaurant, you’ve likely had it. It takes no special skill and very little time to make it.

Gomashio

Makes about 1 pound (enough to fill 16 2-ounces jars or 8 4-ounce jars)

1 pound unhulled white sesame seeds, preferably organic

1 ounce nori seaweed, preferably local and unprocessed

1 tablespoon kosher salt or other flake salt

1 teaspoon chipotle powder or red pepper flakes, optional

Set a wok over high heat, add about half the sesame seeds and toast, stirring all the while with a wooden spoon, until they take on some color and become fragrant. It will take about 5 to 8 minutes; do not let them burn. Tip the toasted sesame seeds into a bowl to cool and toast the remaining seeds and transfer them to the bowl to cool.

Break the nori into manageable pieces and toast it in the same pan, turning the seaweed frequently, until crisp, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate or bowl to cool.

Grind the sesame seeds in a spice grinder or food processor fitted with the metal blade, until about half the seeds are broken into smaller pieces and the other half remain whole. Work in batches as necessary and transfer each ground batch to a bowl.

Process the seaweed similarly, reducing it to small pieces but not dust. Add to the bowl with the sesame seeds.

Add the salt and either the chipotle powder or red pepper flakes, if using. Stir well.

Let cool completely.

Divide the gomashio among individual glass jars. Label and decorate with ribbons or fabric of your choice.

Best Uses: Use as a finishing spice on rice dishes, braised vegetables, grilled chicken and any kind of teriyaki, in salads and over scrambled eggs. It is also delicious on avocado toast.

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Here is a perfect gift for your favorite tequila lover. When a glass is rimmed with chipotle salt instead of plain salt, the flavor of a margarita takes on a deliciously spicy aspect. If you have time, you can add several whole chipotles to a bottle of good tequila and let it sit for as long as possible before decanting it into individual jars, each with a whole chipotle. A bottle of the flavored tequila, a lime and a little container of this salt will get you a big smile and enthusiastic “thank you.”

Chipotle Salt

Makes ½ cup, easily increased

½ cup Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt or other flake salt

1-2 teaspoons chipotle powder, preferably local (see note below)

Put the salt and chipotle powder into a small container, add the lid and shake to distribute the powder evenly.

Label and decorate as you like. Chipotle salt will keep indefinitely.

Note: Tierra Vegetables pioneered chipotle powder in the 1980s and still makes one of the finest versions. Min-Hee Hill Garden and Nursery also has a delicious line of chipotle powder and other smoked and ground chiles.

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A shrub is vinegar that has been flavored with other ingredients, typically fruit and sometimes spices, as well. You’ll find them in cocktails and mocktails and anywhere hip beverages are offered, though the best are made in your own kitchen.

I decant mine into narrow, 8-ounce clear glass jars, as the presentation is beautiful and they make great gifts. You will need short bamboo skewers for this recipe.

Cranberry Orange Shrub

Makes 8 cups

2 12-ounce bags (6 cups, approximately) fresh cranberries

2 whole oranges, cut into wedges

6 cups white wine or champagne vinegar

1/2 cup simple syrup, plus more to taste

— Zest of 2 oranges, removed as ribbons

Set aside 24 perfect cranberries, choosing berries that are on the small side.

Chop the cranberries and oranges in a food processor fitted with its metal blade, working in batches so as not to overcrowd the work bowl.

Transfer the fruit to a 1-gallon canning jar, add the vinegar and stir.

Cover the jar with 2 layers of parchment; add the lid and ring. Set in a cool area for at least 24 hours and as long as several days. The longer the fruit macerates in the vinegar, the more flavorful the shrub.

Put the reserved berries in a small container, cover and keep refrigerated until you bottle the shrub.

When you are ready to bottle the shrub, strain it through a very fine sieve or through a standard strainer lined with several layers of cheese cloth. Let the fruit drain for at least 30 minutes; stir it gently now and then but don’t press it.

When all the shrub has been strained, add the ½ cup of simple syrup, taste and add more until fruit flavors blossom. The mixture should be tart and just slightly sweet.

Set 8 very clean, clear 8-ounce glass jars or bottles on your work surface.

Remove the reserved cranberries from the refrigerator. Thread 3 berries onto each of 8 short bamboo skewers and insert one in each of the jars or bottles. Cut the ribbon zest into 8 pieces and insert a piece into each container.

Using a funnel, fill each bottle with shrub, leaving about 1 inch of head space. Seal with a cork or plastic closure; do not use metal.

Label the bottles and decorate as you wish, with ribbons or raffia.

Shrubs keep indefinitely and maintain optimum flavor when refrigerated.

Best Uses: Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of shrub to a glass of ice water, iced sparkling water, sparkling wine or still white wine. A shrub can also be used in vinaigrettes, in place of vinegar.

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Lemon curd is one of the most delicious sweet condiments in the world. It can be slathered onto scones or toast, used in a tart or spread atop cheesecake after it has cooled. Because most people don’t take the time to make it for themselves, it makes a lovely gift. In this version, pomegranate or cranberry juice turns the curd a beautiful shade of scarlet.

Scarlet Lemon Curd

Makes about 2 1/2 cups, enough for 5 4-ounce glass jars

8 large egg yolks

1 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3 tablespoons grated Meyer lemon zest

3/4 cup freshly-squeezed Meyer lemon juice

¼ cup pomegranate juice, preferably freshly squeezed, or ¼ cup unsweetened cranberry juice

8 ounces (2 sticks) butter, melted

Pour about 2 inches of water into the bottom half of a double boiler and set it over medium heat. When the water boils, reduce the heat to low so that the water simmers very gently.

Meanwhile, set the top half of the double boiler on your work surface, add the egg yolks, and mix vigorously with a sturdy whisk until the eggs begin to lighten in color.

Add the sugar and salt and continue to mix until very pale creamy. Mix in the lemon zest and juice. Slowly whisk in the butter, mixing vigorously all the while.

Set the mixture over the simmering water and stir gently, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan frequently, until it begins to thicken, about 10 minutes. Immediately lift the top half of the double boiler off the bottom half and stir for 1 minute. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Transfer the lemon curd to crocks or glass jars and cover tightly. Label and decorate the jars as you like and keep refrigerated.

Curd will keep for about 3 weeks.

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These little breads are delicate and delicious, perfect on Christmas morning or as a hostess gift if you are visiting someone on Christmas Day.

Making the persimmon puree is quite easy. All you need to do is scoop the flesh from its skin, put it in a bowl and mash it with a fork. It takes seconds, not minutes, as ripe Hachiya persimmons practically mash themselves. Please note that the yield will vary depending on the size of your baking tins.

Little Persimmon Breads

Makes 12 small breads or 18 muffins

— Butter, for the muffin tins or little bread pans

3/4 cup currants

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tablespoons Bourbon

1 cup pureed Hachiya persimmons (from 3 or 4 large persimmons)

1 teaspoon baking soda

12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) butter, at room temperature

1 ¼ cup sugar

2 large farm eggs

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup walnut pieces

— Turbinado sugar

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Rub the inside of 12 little bread tins (or 18 small muffin tins) with butter.

Put the currants, vanilla extract, lemon juice and bourbon into a bowl, toss and set aside.

Put the pureed persimmons into a small bowl and stir in the baking soda. Set aside.

Put the butter in a mixing bowl and beat vigorously, slowly adding the sugar, until the mixture is creamy and smooth. Add the eggs and beat well. Add the flour, salt and cinnamon, along with the persimmon mixture, and beat until well blended.

Fold in the currant mixture and the walnuts.

Fill each tin three-quarters full and sprinkle a little turbinado sugar on top. Set on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 45 minutes, or until a bamboo skewer comes out clean when inserted into the center of a bread or muffin.

Alternately, quickly press lightly on a bread or muffin with your thumb; if it bounces back, they are done.

Remove the tins from the oven, cool for a few minutes, remove the breads from the tins and set on a wire rack to cool a bit more.

Wrap in cloth napkins and tie closed with a ribbon or piece of raffia. Alternately, arrange the breads in a basket covered with a cloth napkin.

These are best enjoyed within a day or two of making them.

Email Michele Anna Jordan at michele@micheleannajordan.com

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