Sunday, November 16, 2014

By Hand: A Post about Gifts, and Meatball Soup

It's beginning to look a lot like the holidays: we begin December with a series of birthdays around here, follow it up with a Christmas chaser, and keep partying until February, after my husband's and daughter's birthdays are over.  I gave in today and started making dough for gingerbread people.  As we approach Thanksgiving, I'm finding myself increasingly thankful that we'll be starting the holiday season from a slightly different perspective, at least. But at some point, I'm still going to have to think about gift lists.

I've written here and here before about gifts, about how much I dislike the artifice of generosity precipitated by Christmas, how much I dislike the expectations of extravagance, how I appreciate the people in our lives who have removed that expectation and give what they want simply because they want to do so.

Last week, the good folks over at The Daily Post asked about the best gift you'd ever received that was handmade by the giver.  I've been lucky enough over the years to get lots of homemade gifts: my kids have made me all sorts of featuring their handprints and pictures made of popsicle sticks and paper and glue; my sister-in-law made us a set of cloth napkins that we use daily; I was once involved in a blogger exchange in which I ended up with two lovely quilted mats and a lavender neck-warmer; my mother-in-law knits all sorts of hats and mittens.  And I won't even try to enumerate the gifts of food (though yulekake is up there somewhere, as is granola, and by the way, awesome present for a friend if you can't make it yourself: some Kimberly's Blend from Hippie Chick).

But I think the handmade gift I treasure most, still, is the bulky red scarf my mother knitted for me a few years ago.

I remember opening the box on Christmas morning--we'd gone to her house with my son--and she, apologizing, saying something about well, you'd said you liked handmade things, and this is all you get this year, so I hope you like it.  The scarf itself was lovely: made with soft, non-scratchy red yarn that looked like a fuzzy plump caterpillar, knit loosely enough to breathe, but tightly enough to protect against the wind.  It was even more lovely, though, because she'd finally heard me, after all of those years of lobbying against extravagant gifts.  The gift was both the thing itself and the acknowledgement.  Which is what a handmade gift is really about anyway, isn't it?  Because you can't really make something handmade for someone without knowing them, understanding them, appreciating them in a way that makes them completely present.  I was deeply sorry the next year, when she went back to expensive gifts.

What's your most memorable handmade gift?

Lentil Soup with Spinach and Mini Chicken Meatballs
I don't usually like meatballs, but these are pretty fun to make by hand, too.

1 c. dried brown lentils (or 22 oz canned no-salt-added brown lentils, rinsed and drained)
5 c. water
2 T. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 large cloves garlic, grated on a microplane or crushed using a mortar and pestle, divided
6 1/2 c.  low-sodium chicken stock
1/2 t. salt, divided
1 lb. ground chicken breast
1 oz grated Parmesan
1 t. Worcestershire sauce
4 T. flour
6 oz (170 g) fresh baby spinach leaves

(Skip this step if you’re using canned lentils.) Sort through the dried lentils to remove any small stones or pieces of dirt, and then rinse with cold water in a colander. Bring the lentils and water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Cover and simmer until the lentils are tender but not mushy, about 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally; strain. 

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; add the onion and sauté for 3 minutes, then add 2/3 of the garlic and cook 1 minute more, stirring constantly.

Add the chicken stock, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper, bring up to a boil, and then turn the heat down slightly to simmer.

Meanwhile, combine the ground chicken breast, remaining 1/3 of the garlic, grated cheese, Worcestershire sauce, almond meal, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper in a large bowl. Combine the mixture with your hands, being careful not to over-mix. You can add a bit more almond meal if necessary so that the chicken mixture forms little balls when pressed together.

Shape the chicken mixture into small balls (I use a 1 1/2 teaspoon-sized scoop) and drop the balls into the simmering stock. Cover and cook until the meatballs are cooked through, about 10 minutes.  Add the cooked lentils and cook until warm, about 1 minute.  Turn off the heat, add the spinach, and stir until wilted.
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  1. People are hard. The annual juggernaut of Christmas is bearing down on my, and try as I might to curb it in my immediate family, I have very little control over my extended family. I'm going to try acceptance this year and see where it gets me.

  2. I can't think of my favourite handmade gift, but I can tell you that I don't think I could do Christmas. It sounds like a ball of stress. Our gift giving holiday -- Purim -- is simple because (1) you only get gifts for kids. It would be weird if Josh got a Melissa-specific gift for me. And (2) you give the same gift to every adult. So you come up with your mishloach manot package for the year and just make 30 of them. I tailor the contents to match the person in the sense that I think about likes or dislikes or allergies. But I don't have to come up with a person-specific gift. Way too much pressure. And interesting/funny mishloach manot packages are better received than expensive ones.

  3. I think the best thing you can give next to a handmade gift is a gift that is hand made by someone else - hey, before I sold granola, I gave it away as gifts - lots of it. I'm with you on ditching the extravagance of the holidays. Thank you for loving my granola! xo


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