Last December, during the height of COVID restrictions, when we were at home and coming up with creative ways to stay connected to the people we missed most, I loved returning home from my daily jaunt around the neighbourhood to find a package on my doorstep or in my mailbox. Not an Amazon delivery, but a tin of cookies, a loaf of sourdough or jar of preserves – a kind and personal gesture from a friend that said “I’m thinking of you; I made this for you; and I know you’re probably tired of your own cooking, too.”
Door drops have been one of the positive things to come out of this pandemic. Feeding each other has always been an expression of love and support, and when we can’t be physically close, eating something made by someone else allows us to be – in a not insignificant way. On one of the days blurred between last Christmas and New Year’s Eve, I found propped by my door a platter of cookies and brittles from Patti, a batch of the cheese crisps Cathryn brings every year to the party we didn’t have, a jar of rum mix to make Avery’s Tom & Jerry cocktails, and another of Matt’s famous homemade Worcestershire sauce. It was a new kind of holiday potluck.
This year, with supply chains overwhelmed by natural disasters, labour shortages and increased online shopping, being able to go to the kitchen to make something delicious for the joy and delight of people you care about is a salve that suits the season. Time spent in the kitchen with others in mind is arguably more festive than filling online shopping carts, and is something kids can get in on, too.
All edible gifts are well received, of course, but the best items to drop on doorsteps are those that are okay to hang out for a while, will be fine if temperatures drop below freezing, and don’t need to be consumed immediately. (If cookies are part of your plans, shortbread and biscotti tend to have the most longevity.) And though dollar stores are great sources of packages, boxes and bags, you could also hit a second-hand store (or your basement) and fill vintage mugs, jars, plates and bowls, or buy new (or old) cutting boards or baking dishes to load up before gifting, so that thoughts of you will linger in your friends’ and loved ones’ kitchens long after the last crumb is gone.
To get you started, here are some recipes that hold up well for door-drop gifting this holiday season.
Start with about 2 cups pecan or walnut halves or mixed nuts. For Rosemary-Balsamic: Toss with 2 tablespoons each packed brown sugar and melted butter or olive oil, 1 tablespoon each balsamic vinegar and finely chopped rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon flaky salt and a good grinding of black pepper. For Everything Bagel: Toss with 1 tablespoon each sesame seed, black sesame seed, poppyseed and melted butter or olive oil, and 1/2 teaspoon each granulated garlic and coarsely ground or flaky salt. Spread out on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 325 F for about 15 minutes, until pale golden and fragrant. Cool and store in bags or jars.
Truffles or Tiffin
Bring 1 part whipping or coconut cream to a simmer in a saucepan. (If you’d like, infuse it with sliced ginger, loose Earl Grey tea, citrus zest or other flavourings.) Remove from the heat and pour over (through a sieve, if there are aromatics in it) 3 parts chopped semi-sweet or dark chocolate. Let sit for a minute or two, then whisk until smooth. For truffles: Chill until firm, roll into balls, and roll the truffles in cocoa or finely chopped nuts to coat. For tiffin: Add a couple spoonfuls of butter to the cream as it heats (if you like), and pour the chocolate mixture over plenty of broken biscuits (digestive or shortbread cookies are traditional), raisins or other dried fruit (plump them first in hot water, booze or tea), or even crunchy cereal and pretzels – stir in lots, so there’s just enough chocolate to hold them together. Press into a pan, chill and cut into small squares or bars.
Whisk 1 part butter and 2 parts each packed light brown sugar and whipping cream, coconut milk or eggnog in a saucepan; bring to a simmer for 3-5 minutes, whisking occasionally. (For ginger caramel sauce, add a slice of fresh ginger to the pan as it simmers, then take it out before you pour into a jar.) Remove from heat and if you like, stir in a bit of vanilla or instant coffee, or a big pinch of salt. Cool and package in jars.
Raid your fridge, pantry or freezer and tuck chopped fresh or frozen rhubarb, sour cherries, quince, plums, cranberries or other fruit into clean bottles of any size – or try strips of citrus zest and warm spices, like cinnamon sticks, whole allspice and star anise. Add a few spoonfuls of sugar, top up the bottle with gin, close and tip the bottle once in a while for a few days to help the sugar dissolve. It will get better the longer it sits. You can gift it with the aromatics still in the gin, or strain as you decant a larger batch into smaller bottles.
Beat any quantity of whipping cream in a stand mixer or in a bowl with hand beaters (cover loosely with plastic wrap to prevent splatters but still see what’s happening) until the cream separates into butter and buttermilk. Save the buttermilk for a future batch of pancakes, gather up the lump of butter and wash it in a bowl of ice water, squeezing out as much liquid as you can. Knead in some salt if you like (about 1/4 teaspoon per 1/2 cup of butter, or to your taste) and pack the soft butter into a jar or ramekin, or shape into a log and wrap in parchment, twisting the ends, and chill. You’ll wind up with about one-third of butter as the cream you started with.
Spread as many old-fashioned oats, chopped or sliced nuts, seeds and coconut as you’d like on a parchment-lined baking sheet, drizzle with runny honey or golden syrup, add a smaller drizzle of melted butter or oil and a shake of cinnamon, or other dry spices – ginger, turmeric, garam masala, for instance – and stir until it’s lightly coated and starting to clump together. (If you need an estimate, aim for around 1/2 cup honey/syrup plus a few tablespoons of butter/oil per 4-5 cups of oats/nuts/seeds – but no need to measure.) Bake at 325 F for half an hour, stirring once or twice, until golden. Cool and add a handful of dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, chopped apricots) if you like. Store in bags or jars.
Roughly chop (no need to peel) about 3 apples and/or pears, and grate another 2. Put them into a pot with the grated zest and juice of an orange and a lemon (or a couple chopped mandarin oranges, even), and 1 cup each of packed brown sugar; raisins; currants; and orange juice, brandy, rum or water. Add a few cinnamon sticks and simmer until the mixture is dark and thick. Cool completely and if you like, grate in about 1/4 cup cold butter. A handful of chopped walnuts or pecans are delicious, too. Package with instructions to fill tarts or pie – or stir into oatmeal.
Pulse a generous 1/3 cup drained jarred pimentos (or a 4 1/2 ounce jar), 3 cups grated extra-old white cheddar and 1 cup old orange cheddar, 1/4 cup mayonnaise, 1/4 teaspoon salt and a pinch of cayenne in a food processor. Some recipes include about a teaspoon of grated onion, a shake of Worcestershire, and/or a small handful of pecans. Pack into jars or chill and shape into a ball and roll in finely chopped pecans to coat, and gift with crackers.
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