I love this time of year. Even through the end of year exhaustion and endless meltdowns and tears – from all of us! – the twinkling of fairy lights and the constant hum of carols work their magic bringing that spirit of the season. I feel it. Every year.
I have never done Christmas half heartedly and I thank my parents for instilling that in us. I come from a big family so fifty people for a hot roast lunch was normal. When friends said they had no cousins to share Christmas with I thought it was so sad – and odd – didn’t everyone have fifty people over for Christmas lunch?!
And then there’s the gifts to buy. I blame the Virgo in me – I blame her for a lot of things – and have always struggled to give an ordinary gift. I always put way too much thought into it, but over the last few years I have managed to let that go a little. Especially for those relatives that have the opposite problem..
From the beginning of our school journey eight years ago, I have always given the same gift to our wonderful teachers – food. A basket of handmade treats to hide away and eat all by themselves, or share with the ones they love, or to have on hand to share with family who drop in unexpectedly during the holiday season. Every single time, I have been met with surprise and heartfelt gratitude.
As the kids have all headed off to school, the basket list grew each year. But I’m a baker, and I love to do it. The kids help with some parts like making and decorating shortbread or gingerbread and I save the fiddlier recipes for after they are in bed (also far less ingredients being eaten by three little mouths!). The carols play constantly, the fairy lights are twinkling, and I lose all track of time pottering away in the kitchen, preparing and sorting and packaging everything up. I hope they can taste the gratitude that I bake into everything. It is not a small thing that I drop my kids off to be cared for by other people each weekday. I don’t love our school system and there are sizeable negatives. But there is little by way of constructive alternative so we suck up the shitty parts and focus on the good.
Thankfully we have been blessed with so many beautiful teachers on our journey who have made a real impact on my kids. Relationships have grown each year, and when the year comes to an end, I always feel a pang of sadness that it’s all over for another year and I have to start all over again. So I say thanks with food. And usually a special little gift added in for the extra special teachers who my kids have adored.
This year, amongst the delectable treats will be personalised leather bookmarks with their names embossed. This is the second year I have bought these from the same talented creative. Teachers read a lot – so I am sure they are always in need of bookmarks! Each time they use it, they will remember my children and the year they taught them. Useful and sentimental! The perfect gift in my opinion. Heaven knows they don’t need another BEST TEACHER mug.. I also make a batch of baking soda and cornstarch dough for personalised tree ornaments with teachers’ names stamped into the dough. These are super simple and can be left plain or decorated once dry – just google and find a simple recipe. The baking soda gives a beautiful shimmer to the dough that mimics porcelain beautifully. Another gift that hits the heart because you can never have too many tree ornaments!
So I thought I would share a couple of the staple favourites that make the baskets every year, without fail. They are simple and tasty and easy to make in double batches to stretch across everyone. I collect my jars throughout the year and recycle, cleaning and sterilising, ready for lemon curd and pickled cucumbers, peppermint bark and chutney.
I source baskets from second hand stores, and use pieces of fabric from my stash to line and give colour. I buy a bunch of mismatched ribbon and tags to label everything, and the kids always write their own special thankyou cards. I try to source heartfelt cards that I pour my emotional mama heart into, usually late in the night after I’m done baking. If we’re grateful for something, we should say so.
I always do a shortbread or gingerbread, honeycomb (super cheap and goes a long way!), chutney or relish (Nigella’s apple and cranberry chutney is fab), and sometimes a hot chocolate mix (I like Jamie Oliver’s from his Christmas book).
All of these recipes are dangerous. If you make them, be prepared to be asked to continue to make them each year.. what a great problem to have!
Wishing you all every joy and happiness of this magical season! XX