Tag Archives | Gift in a jar

Folk Potions for the Holidays

One of the things that runs in my family is the drive to etch a fresh path and create something that is uniquely ours. At various times in their lives, my parents have made films, opened toy stores, published volumes of poetry, recorded albums, and run music-centric businesses.

My own career path over the last nine years has been one of writing, teaching, making, and inventing the roadway with each step. And my sister is much the same. She’s been a working folk singer and song writer for over 15 years. She spent the bulk of her twenties traveling, playing music, and collaborating with fellow musicians.

Since having her babies (now three and six!), Raina hasn’t been able to travel as much. While she’s still playing music, last year she started up a little business that allows her to satisfy her need to make and engage with others while staying closer to home. It’s called Folk Potions and she sells an array of handmade, organic body butters, salves, balms, and deodorants.

Everything Raina sells is made by hand in small batches in her kitchen in Austin, Texas. I use her Lavanilla Body Butter on my hands and feet nearly every day and swear by her Melty Minty Lip Balm.

If you’re still on the hunt for holiday gifts, you have until December 20th to place a Folk Potions order! I highly recommend the five piece Natural Skincare Gift Pack for an easy, sure-to-be-appreciated present! Oh, and make sure to follow Folk Potions on Instagram. She often posts about new products and announces when beloved items come back into stock!

Disclosure: Folk Potions is a business created and run by my baby sister. She did not pay me to post this (though occasionally she will drop her new products into the mail for me to try). Her stuff is simply so good that I had to share. 

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Holiday Giving: Homemade Coffee Liqueur

instant espresso

When I was 13 years old, one of my parents’ friends gave them a bottle of homemade coffee liqueur. I remember my dad being particularly pleased with its arrival. His favorite way to eat it was to stream a generous pour over several scoops of vanilla ice cream. Once in a great while, he’d let me have the tiniest taste. I though it was heaven. I’ve always been some of a fiend for sweet, coffee-flavored things.

3/4 cup instant espresso

Last year, Molly posted a recipe for Coffee Vanilla Bean Liqueur and I took note. I never got around to making it then (writing a cookbook means that you don’t get to many of the recipes that look appealing) and this year I was committed to mixing up a batch.

3 cups sugar

Yesterday, I bought a bottle of inexpensive vodka and today, I spent ten minutes putting my batch of coffee liqueur (also known in some circles as Kahlua) together.


I combined 3 cups granulated white sugar with 2 cups water and heated until the sugar was dissolved. Next I added 3/4 cup instant espresso (this is actually an ingredient I try to keep on hand, as it is an easy way to add high quality coffee flavor to a variety of baked goods) and whisked vigorously until it was fully dissolved. Once all the little grains of coffee are gone, remove the pot from the heat.

vanilla beans

I split and scraped 3 vanilla beans (Molly’s original recipe only calls for two, but three fell out of the bag, so I took it as an omen) and stirred the seeds into the sweetened coffee slurry. Finally, I added 3 cups vodka and whisked to combine.

homemade kahlua in the making

I funneled the nascent coffee liqueur into a 1/2 gallon jar, dropped in the vanilla bean pods and capped it. I hear it needs to sit for at least three weeks, though four to six is even better. I’ll be away for Christmas, but hope to crack the jar for a few friends on New Year’s Eve, which means I’ve just squeaked under the wire as far as starting the batch goes.

If you’re feeling like it’s too late to make something like this for holiday giving, I firmly believe that there’s nothing wrong with giving someone a jar of homemade liqueur that has a note, instructing them not to open it until the first or second week of January. Think of it as a holiday season extension. Who wouldn’t like that?

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Holiday Giving: Burnt Sugar Toffee with Chocolate and Toasted Walnuts

This deeply caramelized burnt sugar toffee is finished with a sheet of melted chocolate and toasted walnuts. It’s perfect for holiday gift baskets and cookie exchanges.

I started out life totally indifferent to chocolate. For my first ten years, I’d eat it when it was offered, but always preferred sweets that were based on vanilla, fruit or toffee flavors. Pecan was my favorite ice cream flavor, and when Eleanor’s platter of holiday treats arrived each year, the first candies I went for were the homemade caramels.


I did eventually come around to chocolate’s many charms, but I’ve still got a soft spot for caramels and toffee-based candies. In past years I’ve made those graham cracker toffees and pepita brittle. Last week, after having the page bookmarked for years now, I made this skillet toffee.

burnt sugar toffee

I made just a couple changes to the original recipe. I swapped in toasted walnuts for the almonds and I cooked it just a bit longer than called for. As I’ve aged, I’ve found that I like my candy to have an edge. I want sweets to have complexity and so when I cooked the butter and sugar together, I took it to the brink of of being burnt. It’s sweet and sharp and utterly entrancing. It’s one I plan on making for many years to come.

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Holiday Giving: Cranberry Orange Scone Mix in a Jar

cranberry orange scone mix

In my family, we always eat the same breakfast on Christmas morning. It consists of eggs cooked sunny-side up, crispy turkey bacon and a warm bread product. Some years, it’s crusty sourdough bread. Others, we toast slices of panattone. Last year, upon my father’s request, I made a batch of bear claws (they were good but deeply imperfect). Of all our breakfast breads, I think my very favorite was a batch of cranberry orange scones.

jar with funnel

It’s a recipe my mother plucked off the internet some years back and was so easy and good that I asked her to send it to me. I’ve made them many times in the last four years (the recipe print-out is dated 2006) and now, I’ve adapted the recipe to make a gift out of the mix. I’ve managed to get the whole thing into a pint jar, save the 1 egg, 1/4 cup of butter and 1/2 a cup of buttermilk that the recipient will have to provide. Gifted with a jar of homemade jam, it becomes a Christmas breakfast kit that I think many a household would be happy to have.

filling the jar

You begin with a pint jar. If you’re preparing a batch for particularly good friends, I recommend using a lovelier than average jar. I’ve pulled a sturdy, vintage one from my collection to use here and I think it adds to the charm of the gift. Layer 1 1/2 cups of whole wheat pastry flour, 3 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt (sea salt is best if you have it) into the jar. Put the lid on and give it a good shake, so that ingredients integrate. Once they are combined, make sure to tap the jar gently on the counter a few times, to better compress the ingredients into the jar.

orange sugar

Measure out 1/4 cup of sugar into a small jar and grate the zest of one orange into it. Use your fingers to work the zest into the sugar. The sugar will act as a preservative and will help the orange zest maintain its fragrance and flavor longer than if you just heaped the zest into the jar on its own (a small jar of orange infused sugar would make a tasty gift all on its own as well).

cranberry orange scone mix

Pack the orange sugar on top of the flour (if your orange sugar is very moist, laying a small piece of plastic wrap between the flour level and the sugar level will extend the shelf life quite a bit. Just make sure to tell your recipient to look out for it) and finish the jar off with 1/2 cup of dried cranberries. Should you realize as you’re making up a jar that you’re actually out of dried cranberries, feel free to substitute dried blueberries. Had I not already written up the recipe card, I would have simply called these blueberry orange scones, but that’s what I get for my poor pantry maintenance.

Write the following instructions on a small card (if you’re doing a number of these, feel free to print it up on the computer. Though, the handwritten touch is nice, provided your penmanship is legible).

1. Empty the contents of this jar into a bowl.
2. Cut 1/4 cup of butter into the flour.
3. Beat 1/2 cup buttermilk and 1 egg together. Add them to the flour mixture and stir to combine.
4. Once combined, turn out batter onto a cookie sheet and pat into a circle.
5. Cut into 8 wedges, but do not separate.
6. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until they are golden on top.
7. Serve with jam.

One thing to note is that this scone mix doesn’t have the longest shelf life ever, so do try to gift it soon after mixing.

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Gift in a Jar: Handmade Spice Blends

mixed pickling blend

Back in the summer, I went through a period during which I made approximately seven pints of dill pickles a night for at least a week (I now have a lot of pickles in my coat closet). While I worked my way through at least a bushel of pickling cukes, instead of opening up each individual container of spice for every batch, I’d mix up a spice blend and add a couple of teaspoons of the mix to each jar prior to packing the cucumbers in.

pickling blend in layers

During that pickling frenzy, I toyed with the idea of mixing up a extra-large batch of this spice blend and selling it in a little Etsy shop. While I never followed through with that thought, homemade spice blends do make excellent gifts for the right person. The following measurements fill a half-pint jar: 4 tablespoons dill seed, 2 tablespoons black peppercorns, 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes and 1 tablespoon mustard seeds. Two teaspoons of this blend can be substituted for the spices in this recipe (everything else stays the same).

bbq rub

If you’re not making gifts for canners (I realize that not everyone is as crazy for home preserving as I am), but you like the idea of a handmade spice blend, how about a barbecue rub? I mixed this one up for a 4th of July cookout last summer and used it on a nice, big brisket (that was a good food day!).

This rub comes from Elizabeth Karmel’s terrific book, Soaked, Slathered, and Seasoned: A Complete Guide to Flavoring Food for the Grill. It’s called the Barbecue Circuit Rub and the recipe is after the jump. However, if that one doesn’t look good to you, definitely check out her book, there are more than 20 rub recipes in there, so you’re sure to find the right one for your bbq lover.

Ty's spice blends

These spice blends were a most thoughtful wedding gift from Ty (my friend Shay’s mom). She makes all manner of these blends from the herbs she grows in her backyard (Ty was also the source of that 2-gallon bag of basil I got last summer). For those of you who like to think ahead, consider planting an expanded herb garden next summer and harvest the herbs for holiday giving.

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Gift in a Jar: Rosemary Maple-Glazed Nuts


Here’s another simple little edible gift, that can easily be packaged up in jars and distributed to your friends and family for the holidays. This recipe is inspired by a sweet and spicy nut mix that my friend AnnElise was once famous for in our circle of acquaintances. It was her favorite thing to bring to parties and potlucks, and I would always make sure to station myself by the bowl as soon as she walked in the door. Then AnnElise up and moved to Ohio and I lost my spiced nut source. After suffering through months of cravings, I pulled myself together and made my own.


This particular glazed nut recipe isn’t too sweet, but I think balances the forces of sweet, spicy and herb-y (from the rosemary) nicely. I can’t stop eating it and that’s always a good sign.


It’s a quick little thing to mix up (I managed to make it on Wednesday night, after getting home from work right around 9:30 p.m.) and the active time is less than ten minutes. In one pot, melt together butter, maple syrup, a tiny scoop of cayenne and a couple palmfuls of dried rosemary.

In another larger pot (Dutch ovens work nicely here) or skillet, toast the raw nuts until they develop deep brown speckles (turn them constantly and watch like a hawk, nuts burn fast). When the nuts are sufficiently toasted, pour the butter/maple syrup mixture over top and toss to coat. Then spread the nuts out on silpat or parchment lined, rimmed cookie sheet and roast at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes.


The minute you take the nuts out of the oven, sprinkle a couple of pinches of crunchy salt (kosher, sea or flaky Maldon work best) over the top, so that it adheres. Once the nuts are cool, pack into jars or bags. Careful that you don’t nab a handful or two each time you pass the pan, as soon you’ll realize that you don’t have enough for all the gifts you’d planned. Not that I did anything like that. Nope. Not me.

Official recipe after the jump.

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