Mix of spices
I recently made a Somali Chicken Stew recipe from In Bibi’s kitchen by Hawa Hassan and Julia Turshen. It included a blend of spices called xawaash, AKA “Somalia’s garam masala”. I plan to make more xawaash and give it to people along with a printed copy of a recipe to use. To make it, you crush a cinnamon stick (in a sachet) and heat it in a saucepan with cumin seeds, coriander seeds, black peppercorns, cardamom pods and whole cloves. After a few minutes, let cool, then reduce to a fine powder before adding the turmeric and mix well. I was dreading the “half teaspoon” of cloves on the ingredient list, so I just added three. Next time I’ll be a little more adventurous. Belinda Cash, Librarian, New York
With an emphasis on hand washing, I thought the soap would be a timely and welcome gift. I found a recipe on YouTube that I thought was good and I was blown away by how easy it was to prepare. The resulting soap is very premium, with a rich, creamy lather. You don’t need a lot of fancy equipment, just a hand blender and plastic jugs, plus a container to use as a mold (a small cardboard box lined with parchment paper works fine). I – very carefully – mixed a mixture of oils with a lye solution and mica powder, for the color. I poured it into the mold and left it overnight, before using a kitchen knife to slice it into bars.
Different oils add different properties to soap – coconut is good for suds and bubbles, olive cleans. I used these two oils with rice bran oil and sunflower oil. I would say the ingredients cost around 60-70p a bar and it’s as good (or better) than most handmade soaps I see in artisan markets selling for £ 5 or more. Ian Cumpson, retired lecturer, Durham
I learned to sew during the first confinement, using a machine donated by a friend. Juggling my doctoral thesis work and video call meetings in my freezing cold apartment all day, I wanted to make a blanket with sleeves that would keep me warm, but also look like something more formal. I ordered some blanket fabric and sewn it into a sleeved blanket with a cute cascading cardigan. Several have been requested as Christmas gifts. Branwen, student and consultant, London
When I saw my small currant loaded with fruit in October, I picked them and washed them. I then crushed them and mixed with sugar before adding gin. I poured the mixture into some old fruit jars and all I have to do is shake them from time to time. Before Christmas I’m going to sift the mixture and paint something cheerful on the bottles, so they can be used as candle holders after the gin is finished. Fiona Chapelle, writer and artist, Surrey
Alcoholic vanilla extract
It’s a real treat. All you need is a cup (250ml) of vodka, a few fresh vanilla pods, and a pint-sized mason jar (approx. 500ml) with a resealable lid. Place the vodka in the jar, cut two vanilla pods in half lengthwise and use a sharp knife to remove the delicate seeds. Add the seeds and pods to the vodka, store in a dark cupboard at room temperature, shake several times a week and you’re done! After about a month, it will be better than any store-bought vanilla extract. Carol Cummins, retiree, Ohio
Embroidered hoop art
Back to school, I was looking for a hobby that would help me relax. Embroidery was the answer. I asked family members for their favorite quotes. The first to be finished said “Shine like a rainbow”. I embroidered a rainbow in the back stitch, added a few sparkly touches, and gifted it to a family member for their birthday in September. She was very impressed and displayed it on her fireplace. I make four more as Christmas presents. I sketched out ideas and, for longer quotes, I invested in mini shots. Fingers crossed, recipients will appreciate all of their personalized gifts and appreciate the time and care taken to create something just for them. Keran Kaur, teacher, East Midlands
I’m making a little stop-motion style puppet of a friend to give him for Christmas. The head is a ping-pong ball, which I filled with liquid resin. Before it hardened, I inserted some twisted garden wire, so that the head could be attached to the rigid foam body. I sculpted features (nose, eyes and hair) on the head using Milliput plasticine, which hardens like stone. The arms and legs are also made from twisted garden wire, with hands and Milliput feet sculpted at the ends. When the Milliput was laid, I painted the head, hands and feet with Humbrol enamel paint. I covered the arms and legs with a foam chip mat underlay, for extra bulk and flexibility, and then made the clothes out of scraps of fabric. Duncan Willis, puppet maker, Carmarthenshire
I received a dehydrator as a gift last Christmas and took a picking class over the summer. So I learned a lot about the types of edible leaves and berries that are found in nature. Pairing them with different dehydrated fruits to make toppings for gins, tonics and whiskey cocktails is a fun experience – and the kind of thing I know many of my friends will love to receive. Hannah, project manager, Cardiff
This year I started growing herbal remedies as I took an online herbal medicine course to give myself something to do while in lockdown. I use comfrey primarily as a fertilizer, but it’s also good for treating bumps and bruises, so I make lots of little jars of comfrey balm as gifts for friends and family. I infused the crushed comfrey leaves in oil, then melted some beeswax and added it to the oil infused with a few drops of vitamin E and lavender oil. . When it cooled, I poured it into tiny jars with golden lids, added a label with instructions, and placed the jars in golden gift boxes. If I have time before the first frosts reach the flowers, I hope to make calendula balm as well. Jeannie Mackenzie, retired, Renfrewshire
I make hand knitted socks for everyone. I think about the color and pattern for which person, and then I go to the yarn store. A pair takes about four evenings in a comfortable chair with chocolates and red wine – that’s the perfect excuse. The finished pairs sometimes become decorations around the apartment before they are wrapped and given away. A fairly inexpensive gift, well thought out – and a total relaxation to do. Nadja Bossmann, journalist, Berlin
When I was in Iceland last December, I noticed these beautiful, handcrafted snowflakes hanging from the window of every house. I knew they were crochet, but they looked too complex to copy. Then, back home, I came across a book of drawings. I bought fine crochet cotton and tried it on. They are very difficult to do unless you have experience with stitches – in part because the thread is so thin, like lace. You have to concentrate well so as not to make mistakes, because it is important that they are symmetrical. I had a few false starts.
When I created a number of them, they are dipped in a mixture of starch and pinned evenly to dry and harden. Once they are stiff, I add the loop of wire to hang them. I shaped them into individual tree decorations because I figured that no matter how someone decorated their tree, you can always add a few snowflakes. They make the perfect gift for all those friends that I haven’t been able to meet this year. Truth Watkins, writer and blogger, London