I live primarily in a land of words. Speaking to my family all the needed exchanges of life and love. Writing through my professional hours as I answer questions and hopefully provide a helpful idea or two. Reading endlessly in my downtime.
I love words, but there are times when words fail and cease to satisfy. My best remedy in such moments is a tangible task – something I can feel and smell and see. This is why I so enjoy making useful and consumable gifts. There’s a definite satisfaction in seeing the product of one’s labor, and also a secret satisfaction in defying the hustle and hurry of shopping. As I’ve written elsewhere, everything we purchase eventually is trash, so I want to be sure whatever I impose on others through my gifting is worth it.
There’s also a certain extra value in the fleeting nature of a consumable gift. For example, the apple butter I make every year I inherited from my Aunt Jean. Growing up, we would await the autumnal arrival of a jar of her apple butter. We’d try to savor it, but it would be gone all too soon. Then we’d have to wait another year to have it again. It’s transitoriness made it all the more cherished.
I hope in these ideas, you find more than just a checkmark off your gift-giving list. I hope you find a spark and a smile, joy, and satisfaction.
Here are 15 ideas, with oodles of variations, to spark ideas for gifts that reduce trips to the store, rely less on supply chains, and include more of what’s best: your personal touch.
1. Layered Mixes – Soup, Brownies, Cookie, Gourmet Cocoa
There are so many ready-to-eat foods given and received this time of year, but this gift gives a meal or treat for later, after the hubbub has faded.
Here’s my favorite Italian Bean & Barley Soup!
- 1 1/2 c. any variety of beans or lentils in layers
- 3 Tbsp. dried minced onion
- 1 Tbsp. dried parsley
- 1 Tbsp. vegetable broth granules
- 1 tsp. dried rosemary
- 1 tsp. dried basil
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. dried minced garlic
- 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
- 1/2 c. barley
Layer all of the above as ordered in a pint mason jar. Instructions on tag: Add contents of jar plus 8 c. water and 1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes to a slow cooker. Cook on low 8-10 hours. (Alternately, simmer on stovetop for 90 minutes.)
VARIATIONS: Pair a soup mix with a brownie mix and you’re giving both dinner and dessert! Wrap them up in a bright kitchen towel!
Skill level: Easy
2. Jellies, Preserves, Pickles
If you know how to preserve, do not take this for granted. I have been canning for over 20 years, and though it’s almost second nature to me, it’s very impressive to non-canners. So keep this party trick up your sleeve and never underestimate how appreciated home canned goodies are.
One year I pickled a whole bunch of fresh vegetables for my brother. He loved it and I learned so much! Did you know you can pickle carrots, green beans, asparagus, and radishes? They were gorgeous in their colorful array.
If you are not a canner, there is still plenty of deliciousness to share with an “enjoy by XX” label on it. Any jelly, jam, marmalade, butter, barbecue sauce, marinades, applesauce and more are fantastic as fresh gifts.
In my kitchen, homemade applesauce captures the essence of autumnal splendor in a jar.
- 4 lbs. apples – a variety of sweet & tart is best
- 2 c. Spiced Cider (alternately, unfiltered cider + 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 tsp each allspice and cloves)
If you have a food mill, wash apples and cut in half without peeling or coring. (The peel and core add flavor and color.) Without a food mill, peel, core, and halve apples. Cook apples and cider either in a pressure cooker for 5 minutes on high, or in a covered pot on the stovetop at a simmer for 20 minutes or til soft.
There are a couple of ways to make the sauce at this point. 1) Process the cooked apples through a food mill which will remove skin and seeds, producing a very smooth sauce. 2) Use a potato masher to mash the apples roughly, producing a chunky applesauce. 3) Puree the apples in a food processor or blender, or use an immersion blender.
If you would like to go the extra step and can the applesauce, heat the sauce to bubbly and simmer for 10 minutes. Ladle into sterilized pint jars, leaving 1/2″ headspace. Seal with lids and bands. Process in a water bath canner for 15 minutes + 1 minute for every 1000 feet above sea level.
Skill level: Advanced
3. Homemade Granola
Anyone who’s sampled homemade granola knows what a treat it is, and that it’s worlds different from its commercial counterparts. Endlessly customizable, here’s a recipe to get you started from my colleague Christina Volgyesi, VP of Marketing.
- ½ c. melted Dr. Bronner’s Regenerative Organic Coconut Oil
- ¼ c. melted honey (or more) or maple syrup
- 2 c. coconut chips
- 2 c. rolled oats
- 2 c. slivered almonds
- 1 c. pecans (chopped)
- sea salt
- cinnamon (optional)
Combine Coconut Oil and honey. Toss with dry ingredients. Spread evenly on a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 250 degrees F for 30 minutes, or til golden, stirring occasionally. Cool completely and store in an air tight container.
Skill level: Intermediate
4. Seasoning Mixes
This was a recently new realm for me – the joy and deliciousness of spice compounding. These personalized blends carry food to the next level!
All-One Chef Kimmie D’Amico has four of her favorite seasoning blends for you! Combine thoroughly and package in a glass jar.
Southwest blend – for tacos, chili, etc.
- 2 Tbsp. chili powder
- 4 tsp. cumin
- 2 tsp. coriander
- 1 tsp. granulated onion
- 1 tsp. granulated garlic
- 1 tsp. oregano
- 1 tsp. smoked paprika
- 2 tsp. sea salt
- ½ tsp. black pepper
- ¼ tsp. Chipotle chili powder (omit if too spicy)
Veggies & all things
- 2 Tbsp. Greek oregano
- 2 Tbsp. Italian basil
- 2 Tbsp. thyme
- 2 Tbsp. dried minced garlic
- 2 Tbsp. savory
- 2 Tbsp. sage
- 2 Tbsp. tarragon
- 2 Tbsp. dried grated lemon peel
All-purpose Seasoning Salt
- 1 Tbsp. dried minced garlic
- 1 Tbsp. granulated onion
- 1 Tbsp. coarse ground black pepper
- 1 Tbsp. sea salt
- 4 tsp. basil
- 4 tsp. oregano
- 4 tsp. rosemary
- 4 tsp. marjoram
- 4 tsp. thyme
- 4 tsp. savory
- 2 tsp. granulated garlic
- 2 tsp. fennel seed
VARIATIONS: Snag the seasonings from any of your favorite recipes and packaging them up ready to go!
Skill level: Easy
5. Frozen Cookie Dough
These unbaked frozen cookies are ready to be popped in the oven for a fresh baked treat! Makes the house smell amazing, too! These are the cookies that Kimmie D’Amico and I made in our recent Facebook Live, Cooking with the Magic Chocolate!
- 2 Tbsp. ground flax seed
- 6 Tbsp. water
- ¼ c. Dr. Bronner’s Organic Coconut Oil, melted
- ¼ c. Miyoko’s vegan butter, melted
- ¼ c. coconut brown sugar
- ½ c. cane sugar
- ½ tsp. vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp. sea salt
- ½ tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 3/4 c. Bob’s Red Mill 1–1 gluten free flour
- 2 ½ c. quick rolled oats
- 6 oz. (2 bars) Dr. Bronner’s Magic All-One Roasted Whole Hazelnut Chocolate, chopped coarsely
- ½ c. dried cranberries, chopped (optional)
- flaked sea salt (optional)
NON-VEGAN VARIATION: Use eggs in place of flax seed & water and dairy butter in place of vegan butter.
1. Combine ground flax seed and water. Let sit for 10 minutes.
2. Preheat oven to 350°F.
3. Combine vegan butter, coconut oil, and sugar. Add flax mixture and vanilla.
4. Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl.
5. Add the wet ingredients to dry ingredients and blend thoroughly. You may need to use your hands.
6. Add chopped chocolate pieces and optional dried cranberries.
7. Roll into 2 1/2” balls and press into 1/2” thick circles. If desired, sprinkle sparingly with flaked sea salt.
8. Set on a parchment lined baking sheet or cutting board. Freeze until thoroughly frozen. Package in an airtight box or bag.
Variations: One year, when my other brother was still a bachelor, I filled his freezer with ready-to-cook foods – marinated meats to bake or broil, spaghetti sauce ready to simmer, frozen cookie dough. He still had to do minimal cooking, but it gave him that fresh homemade goodness without any fuss.
Skill level: Intermediate
6. Scented Rice Bag
You can buy these or make them – I’ve done both – but either way, there is nothing so soothing to aching muscles or tired feet as a warm scented rice bag. I use my own regularly, especially during cold months. Sometimes I place the warmed rice bag under my blankets just before bedtime to warm the sheets and infuse them with the scent of lavender. Lavender is not the only option, though!
Herbal Rice Bag
- Plain muslin twice the size of desired finished dimensions
- Dried herbs or spices: Lavender, rosemary, juniper berries, spearmint
- Decorative fabric for a cover, cut the same size as the muslin.
Directions: Fold the muslin in half and stitch together two of the open sides, leaving open one long side. Turn bag right side out. Fold raw edge in 1/2” and iron a crease. Stitch channels 3” wide that open on the unstitched side. Add rice to the channels so that they’re moderately full but not overstuffed. You want the bag to be flexible. Add the desired amount of herbs and spices to the channels. Stitch open side closed. For the decorative cover, fold in half to match dimensions of rice bag. Sew long sides closed, leaving one short side open. Either leave remaining short side open like a pillow case, or add buttons or snaps to close when rice bag is inside.
To Use: Remove the muslin rice bag from the cover and microwave 1 minute at a time to desired temperature. Replace in cover before using.
Variations: I have a 12”x24” I wrap around my back, but a smaller 8”x18” is nice for shoulders.
Skill level: Advanced to make, Easy to purchase
7. GIY Body Scrubs
Luxurious and therapeutic, these scrubs are easy to make and there’s plenty of room for customization. Here’s one to get you started from my colleague Jessica Harvey.
Jessica’s Sugar Soap Scrub
- 1 c. organic coconut sugar
- ¼ c. organic grapeseed or avocado oil
- 2 Tbsp. Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Pure-Castile Liquid Soap
- 2 Tbsp. Dr. Bronner’s Citrus Pure-Castile Liquid Soap
- ¼ tsp. organic vitamin E oil (optional preservative)
Directions: Break up any sugar lumps with a fork. Alternate adding grapeseed oil and Liquid Soap to the sugar, mixing well after each. Stop when you’ve reached desired consistency. Add vitamin E oil, if desired, and mix well. Store in a glass container.
VARIATIONS: Switch up the scrubbing agent from a fine sugar to a coarser salt to coarsest coffee grounds. Vary the carrier between coconut oil or liquid soap, or go dry with grated bar soap. Add that personal pizzazz with essential oils or ground spices or dried herbs! A set of three makes a great package! Also, make a lip scrub using coconut oil and fine baker’s sugar!
Skill level: Intermediate
8. Self-Care Goodie Box
Fill this Self-Care Gift Box with all manner of goodies you know your loved one will enjoy. Whatever you know will bring them a smile and a sigh of contentment.
Here are some ideas of what I’d want in one for me to get you started:
- Cozy socks
- A yummy treat (My fav = Hazelnut Butter Magic All-One Chocolate)
- A good book
- Personal care products
- Essential oils
- Note pad
- Nice pen
- GIY Scrub (see above
- Scented rice bag (see above)
Skill level: Easy
9. New Baby/Parent Kit
- Organic cotton swaddling blanket
- Sturdy reusable water bottle
- Dr. Bronner’s Unscented Pure-Castile Soap and Organic Magic Balm
- Dr. Bronner’s Organic Lavender Hand Sanitizer
- Layered soup or brownie mix (see above)
- A note saying you’ll babysit while the parents have some time out!
Skill level: Easy
10. Homemade Blankets & Scarves
While crocheting may be my thing but not yours, there are all manner of nifty blankets or scarves you can make with minimal sewing or even time. Making blankets or scarves for loved ones helps me spend time thinking about and praying for them while I’m working on the project, which I hope is just as much a gift as the finished item. The blanket above I made for my father-in-law last year. For non-crocheters, here’s a fleece version I’ve made on multiple occasions, both as a scarf and a blanket.
No-Sew Fleece Blanket or Scarf
Look into purchasing recycled fleece fabric, such as those sold by Mood Fabrics. I’m loving the look of the ribbed fleece!
For Blanket: Two complimentary fleece fabrics, cut 4’x5’ each
- Lay fleece fabrics wrong sides together on a flat surface. Cut a 3 ½” square notch out of each corner. Along each side, cut a fringe ½” wide and 3 ½” deep. Tie each fringe set together in a knot.
For Scarf: One fabric, cut 15”x72” (60” for child)
- Lay scarf fabric on a flat surface. On short ends, cut a fringe ½” wide and 4” deep.
Variations: Change the size to make a baby blanket. Leave one short end of the blanket uncut/untied to make a sleep sack. My son at age 10 made this for his then 4 year old sister. It was super cute!
Skill level: Intermediate or Advanced
11. Green Cleaning Starter Kit
Use discretion with this gift idea because there is great truth to the wisdom that you should never give a gift that suggests a need for improvement. However, I know first hand from the countless interactions I have with people here on the blog that there are folks get very excited about green cleaning and would just love a set like this. These are my people.
Here’s what I included:
- 1 qt. Dr. Bronner’s Tea Tree Pure-Castile Liquid Soap
- 1 qt. Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds Biodegradable Cleaner
- 1 bar Dr. Bronner’s Almond Pure-Castile Bar Soap
- Tea Tree essential oil
- Sweet Orange essential oil
- Lemon essential oil
- White vinegar
- Microfiber cleaning cloths
- Reusable mesh bag
- Glass spray bottle
- 3 Cheat Sheets printed on sturdy card stock: Castile Bar Soap, Castile Liquid Soap, Sal Suds.
Skill level: Easy
12. Crocheted Dish Cloths
Hang around me long enough and you’ll hear about my love for crocheted cotton dishcloths. I love these things. They’re excellent scrubby picker-uppers and they launder up beautifully. I do not write crocheting patterns, though I happily use them, so I’m thankful for Doni Speigel who wrote the pattern for my favorite Flower Power Dishcloth. If you’re looking for a simpler pattern, or are a knitter, an online search will yield boatloads of pattern options. The only problem with gifting these is that you’ll inevitably hear what I’ve heard, “But they’re too pretty to scrub my greasy dishes!” There is no reason that we can’t have prettiness even when we’re doing the mundane. And when these get dirty, just toss them in the washer!
Skill level: Intermediate to Advanced
13. Simmering Potpourri
A superb substitute for artificial fragrances and candles, stovetop potpourri evokes every good sentiment of the season: Warmth, Cheer, Coziness, Comfort!
Just about anything goes for these, so long as the ingredients are completely dry before being combined in a glass jar. Try one of these combos:
- Savory: Rosemary, thyme, sage, juniper berries.
- Floral: Lavender, rosemary, & star anise. Add fresh lemon slices.
- Cozy: Dried apples, cloves, cinnamon.
- Festive: Cinnamon, star anise, cloves, mace. Add fresh orange slices and cranberries.
- Woodsy: Pine, nutmeg, bay leaves, cinnamon.
Directions on tag: Add 1 c. of potpourri blend to a saucepan with enough water to cover ingredients. Simmer on lowest setting. Check regularly and add water as needed. Alternately, simmer in a mini 16 oz. slow cooker.
VARIATIONS: Use any favorite combination of spice and dried fruit and herbs. Pair the jar of spices with some vibrant fresh apples, oranges, or cranberries for a delightfully packaged gift!
Skill level: Easy
14. Cinnamon Applesauce Ornaments
These smell soooooo good and are an easy craft with kids! But who am I kidding? I thoroughly enjoyed making these by myself!
Directions: In a bowl, combine equal amounts applesauce and ground cinnamon, adjusting amounts until a stiff dough forms. Roll out to 1/4″ thickness. Cut with 3″ cookie cutters. Use a straw to form hole for string. Place on wire rack to dry for 3-4 days, or alternately, bake in 200°F oven for 3 hours. Turn off oven and leave door closed until cool. Thread with festive twine.
VARIATIONS: Tie as a gift-topper on presents. Or in lieu of the string, hot glue a magnet on the back for year-round kitchen cinnamoniness. To make snowmen or gingerbread cutouts, use whole cloves for eyes, nose, mouth, and buttons!
Be sure to keep one for yourself!
Skill level: Easy
15. Sustainable & Reusable Wrapping
Even wrapping can turn into extra thoughtful gifts!
- Give in a cloth or natural fiber bag, or a box they can use again.
- Or a bowl, coffee cup, dish, glass jar….
- Wrap in a scarf or kitchen towel.
- For paper wrapping, repurpose colorful magazine pages, old paper maps, or my kids’ favorite: the Comics section of the newspaper.
- Top packages with sprigs of pine, lavender, olive branches, sage, dried flowers, dried citrus slices, cinnamon stick, pinecones, or the cinnamon applesauce ornaments (above).
Throughout the above, I have cited some of the many supremely valid reasons of sustainability, cost, and clutterlessness to give homemade and consumable gifts. However, for me it is about giving two of my most precious resources: my time and attention. In this season of my life, these are extremely dear. I am investing in the person what is rare and valuable to me. It also gives me a space while I am creating the gift to focus on the person, reflect on our relationship, and recall memories together. I don’t know if any of this comes through in the gifts, but I hope it does.
Share in the comments more ideas for sustainable, consumable, or less stuff-centric gifting!