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Cooking Up New Traditions with Edible Gifts

Posted on: December 24th, 2012 by Joe Daly

After graduating college and finishing a job as a community organizer on a political campaign, I found myself unemployed this holiday season. I made peace with the fact that I’d have to make the rounds of holiday parties unable to produce a satisfying answer for nosy relatives asking me “what I was doing.” Once I put aside my post-grad angst, I was faced with the more practical concern of how, without an income of my own, I would afford gifts for those relatives. I decided to turn to edible gifts as the solution. I could spend the days leading up to Christmas in the kitchen with my family, and I could produce thoughtful, homemade gifts on the cheap.

I decided on four dishes that I could make in large batches and would use many of the same ingredients, cutting costs even further. I would make Coconut-Cinnamon Granola, Spicy Chipotle Nuts, French Chocolate Bark, and Toasted Coconut Marshmallows. The cashews I needed for the spicy nuts could also go into the bark and the granola—two very forgiving recipes. The coconut I needed for the granola would do double duty as the dusting on the homemade marshmallows.

I was proud of my thriftiness and excited to share my homemade gift idea with my brother and parents. I presented my family with the menu, however, and got some unexpected pushback. How could I think about making these new dishes as gifts, when we had a tradition in our family of giving the same Christmas cookies that my dad’s mother had made starting in the 1950s?

Every year for as long as I could remember we spent the days leading up to Christmas dutifully recreating my grandmother’s cookie recipes. It wasn’t Christmas until we had made the pecan balls, sugar cookies, peanut butter cookies, and shortbread. My departure from this menu would be controversial.

Eventually, I was able to convince my family that the impact of the new dishes on the recipients would be worth the radical departure from family tradition. So, we spent one chilly December day together in the kitchen—my parents and brother making the traditional family recipes, and me making my new edible gifts. Although they could never accept that I was using coconut (“That’s too tropical!”) in Christmas dishes, they finally saw the new-old synthesis as something positive—something fitting of the holiday season.

And for me, initially entering the holiday season ashamed and confused about where I was in my professional and personal life, creating these new dishes helped me think productively about my unemployed post-grad status. Just as my parents had to get used to new traditions and me branching out on my own when it came to holiday recipes, I had to get used to no longer being a student—no longer able to move in lockstep with my peers from one institution or internship to the next.

After the holidays pass, I will have to leave home, make some real decisions about the path my twenties might take, and stand by those choices to my family and friends. Making my edible gifts is the first step.

Need more ideas for edible gifts? Here are some favorites!