Holiday Treats

"Mom. I love Christmas carols. And Christmas trees. And presents! The only thing I don't love about Christmas is waiting for it to come."

Christmas is coming! Wyatt reminds us about it every day.

Before Wyatt was born, our house was not usually very Christmas-y around the holidays. Sometimes we got a tree, and when we did, it was usually a very manageable car-trunk-size. The years we decorated a little tree, our other Christmas decorations would stay boxed away because one of the worst parts of Christmas decorating is putting it all away for next year. In fact, the Christmas a few months before Wyatt was born, we consciously opted out of getting a tree or decorating our home in any way. We figured it would be our last chance for awhile to get away with such a stripped-down holiday.

Our instincts about holiday decorations were absolutely correct. Like every child I've ever met, Wyatt loves holiday lights, decorated trees, treats, and of course, presents. So we're now five Christmas seasons into CHRISTMAS!

And having CHRISTMAS! while striving for "less is more" in our lives can get tricky. Acquiring only great items we know we need or will really use and enjoy has helped make our home livable, our lives less cluttered, and, with any luck, the earth a tiny bit less of a waste dump. Of course Wyatt disagrees 100% with this approach to consumerism and complains bitterly every time we tell him, "No, we are not buying that."

Some of the best gifts we have received over the years have been memberships to museums or gift certificates to favorite restaurants. These types of outings have helped us create connections in a way that unwrapping a thing, no matter how thoughtfully chosen, doesn't. It's tough to beat having a terrific time on a loved one's dime while you recount fun (and funny) stories about times you have all spent together.

And while Wyatt would swear he absolutely prefers toys over fun excursions, there is a small chance that on a given day he would choose a day of ice skating or a dinner out over a toy truck. Not a fire truck or anything fancy, mind you, just a frills-free one. So we do our best to strike a balance for him between experiences and things. We try to minimize overlap with toys he already owns, choose things we think he will use a lot in a variety of ways, and include items like art and craft supplies that will spark creativity and get consumed.

Let's face it: Gift giving is challenging. Most adults we know would prefer less stuff in their lives. But I've noticed that almost everyone welcomes a homemade, edible holiday gift. So, like any good urban homesteading family, we started working on certain gifts awhile ago.

In mid-November, we started a giant jar of preserved lemons with rosemary. My friend, Maja, shared the idea with me, and the lemons were easy and fun to make.

The only issue we had was that salty, juicy lemons can make your hands sting like crazy if you have even the tiniest "owie," as Wyatt always does. Using disposable food service gloves helped keep his little hands sting-free. We checked on the lemons every few days to see and smell how they changed with time. They were a bright and sunny addition to our fermentation corner.

Yesterday, we repackaged the giant jar into two smaller gift-sized Fido jars for Wyatt's teachers. And thanks to Marc, who commented, "Wow. If someone gave me that, I would have no idea what to do with it," I included some recipe ideas in the card.

In the just-in-time edible gift department, we made four batches of caramel popcorn clusters. We made three batches with peanuts and one without, because as Wyatt pointed out, "Some friends might be allergic to peanuts." Wyatt assisted with some measuring, stirring, and of course he carefully tasted every batch. I packaged the popcorn clusters into treat bags.

Once Wyatt had tasted our caramel popcorn, he found it very difficult to give it away, or even look at it in the pantry without complaining that he wanted to eat all of it. But giving it away is becoming easier for him. The other day, he happily presented our most favorite Recology driver with some gift cards and a bag of caramel popcorn. Wyatt informed him, "I helped make this popcorn. It's really good. You'll want to eat all of it all the time, but it's only a sometimes food."

The recipe we used for our caramel popcorn clusters is here. We have a hot-air popcorn popper, so we use it for this recipe and skip the first paragraph of instructions. Lately, I substitute brown rice syrup in an equal amount for corn syrup. Having made the recipe over the years with corn syrup and other years with brown rice syrup, I can honestly say that the substitution doesn't seem to affect the recipe or outcome at all. I seriously doubt that the substitution makes the popcorn healthier. But it does make me giggle to think that, thanks to my careful shopping this year, I could honestly slap an "Organic, Gluten-Free and Corn Syrup Free" label on our treat, and still send someone into orbit on a sugar high.

And finally, we did some unexpected baking this weekend because Wyatt's classmates will be working on "gluten sugar cookies" at school this week. Thanks to Molly, my friend of a quarter-century or so, who is an extraordinary cook and baker with years of gluten-free experience, Wyatt and I made our first batch of gluten-free roll-out sugar cookies. At Molly's suggestion, we used this recipe, and substituted Cup 4 Cup gluten free flour, used only 6 tablespoons of butter (1/4 less butter than the recipe says), and added some lemon zest. Yum.