Holiday Gifts – Homemade and Healthy

Spiced Nut and Cranberry Mix

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Since childhood, I have made gifts, mostly edibles, to offer as Christmas gifts to family and friends.  Something homemade is a gift from the hands and heart, offering more than what comes from a purchased gift – or so I was taught early on.


Always one to experiment, some of my trials made better memories than tasty gifts.  One year I made homemade sausages and hung them to “cure” from the rafters in my Dad’s workshop.  The flavor was awful as I remember, leading me to believe they rotted instead of cured.  It was hard to toss them as I had put in a lot of time and energy.   Too young to drive, I had enlisted my mom to drive me to a far-away town to find the hog casings and other ingredients.  Then I discovered that squeezing spiced ground pork into those tiny casings takes more skill and patience than I had.


Another time I broke an heirloom, my great-grandmother’s rolling pin, making hand-rolled pasta noodles.  DIY (Do- it-Yourself) was not hip at the time so unless you were Italian you didn’t own a pasta machine.   I hung the fresh noodles to dry on railings and other locations throughout the house for several days.  Our dog would eat anything but she was a Chihuahua and couldn’t reach the display of noodles – only a few that fell to the floor. The results were much better than the sausages; they were beautiful gifts wrapped in cellophane and ribbons. 


Over the years my gift experiments included fruit cordials, candied citrus zest strips, a wild rice mix, yeast breads, jams, flavored oils, vinegars and spiced mustards. While it wouldn’t be the holidays without fudge and cookies, I try to stay away from the predictable and the abundant.  I also love the challenge of coming up with sa special edible that leans toward healthful.   


Here’s a favorite, quick-to-make gift, Spiced Nut Mix with Cranberries.  Nibbles are essential to holiday gatherings and spiced nuts go any time of day and require no last-minute cooking.  Plus nuts are full of good-for-you fat, protein and flavor.  Use leftovers to dress up a salad or add crunch to a side dish.  


For more gift ideas, here are links to slide shows and PDFs for making gift mixes and beverages in jars, along with decorating and labeling tips, from Alice Henneman, MS, RD of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County.  I haven’t tried them but they look budget-friendly and easy enough to include kids in the preparations.


Link to slide show for making Cornbread Mix, Cranberry Oatmeal Cookie Mix and Friendship Soup Mix (with barley, lentils, split peas and seasonings.   Link to the recipes in a PDF format.

This is a slide show for making beverage mix gifts of Spiced Tea, Mint Candy Coffee, French Vanilla Coffee and Double Chocolate Peppermint Cocoa Mixes.  Link to  the beverage mix recipes in PDF format.

The slide shows include labeling and decorating tips which are handy if you experiment as I do.  Packaging and presentation can make up for a less-than-perfect product. Remember – it’s homemade, from your hands and heart. 

Spiced Nut and Cranberry Mix

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

2 cups (about 8 ounces) unsalted raw nuts (such as pecans, walnuts,

almonds, pistachios, cashews or combination)

1/2 cup dried cranberries 


1. Preheat oven to 300ºF.  In medium bowl, whisk together oil, sugar, ginger, coriander, cinnamon, salt and cayenne pepper.  Add nuts and stir until well coated with spices. 


2. Spread nuts in single layer in medium shallow baking pan.  Roast in oven for 15 to 18 minutes, until lightly toasted, stirring every 5 minutes.  Stir in cranberries.  Cool.  Store in airtight container or plastic bag with zipper lock for up to 5 days.  Refrigerate or freeze for longer storage.  To refresh, spread mix on baking sheet and heat in 300ºF oven for 5 minutes.  Makes about 2 1/2 cups. 


Copyright © Lorelle S Del Matto 2012

lorelle About lorelle

Crazy about cooking, eating and sharing good food – my work and leisure revolve around the kitchen. As a culinary dietitian my professional life encompasses nutrition counseling and education, recipe development, product development, food and nutrition writing, marketing communications, corporate test kitchen and consumer affairs management, food styling and work as a product spokesperson.

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