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?
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
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.