Gifts from the Hearth

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. No doubt, 2020 is one year that can just head on out the door. Most of us are tired and stressed and just ready to call it a day.

And yet, we have seen amazing things happen this year, too. Small acts of kindness, such as the Dunkin’ Donuts customer who started a 40-car chain reaction of paying it forward. Or the friends who brought extra cash to their annual breakfast out, and gave their server a whopper of a tip. Or the people all over the country who gave their time, talents and resources to build desks for students who are learning at home.

In many ways, being apart has drawn many of us closer. Our families and friends, while always important, are treasured even more this year. Have any of you tried a virtual Happy Hour? So fun! Or what about Zoom dinner? Cooking together and then sharing a meal is possible whether you are 5 or 500 miles apart. Score one for technology!

One of the most difficult aspects of this year is being separated from loved ones during the holidays. But one positive to come out of that separation is the realization of just how important those people are to our lives.

Old-fashioned letter-writing is even making a comeback, as more and more of us reach out to friends and family. In fact, a survey conducted by the U.S. Post Office last May found that 65% of those surveyed agreed that receiving mail lifts their spirits.

No doubt it is way more fun to receive a card or letter from a friend, than it is to open a bill!

The personal touch is more important than ever, which is why I decided to porch deliver gifts from my kitchen to my friends this year. I pulled together some of my favorite sweet treats, sealed them in little pouches with a heat sealer, and boxed them up with a pretty coffee cup and some cocoa mix.

I did add small bottles of Bailey’s to a few boxes. Bailey’s + hot chocolate = oh, yeah!

In the spirit of giving, I am happy to share my favorite homemade gifts with you. All are simple, yet elegant, and offer something beyond the traditional cookie tray.

These salted caramel mocha truffles are the creation of baker, photographer Jocelyn at Inside BruCrew Life. The recipe is amazingly simple, and I could easily eat the entire batch by myself! But, I love my friends, so I gave all of these delicious truffles to them. *sigh*

Since I was on a roll with truffles, and I was including a little Bailey’s with the gift, I decided to add a few Bailey’s chocolate truffles. World travelers Toni and Drew from 2 Aussie Travellers created the recipe I use, but there are dozens of versions out there.

You can roll yours in sprinkles, as they show on their blog, or in cocoa powder, as I did for my own. Honestly, though? You can’t go wrong with either!

Hot drinks equal biscotti in my book. Whether or not you dunk your biscotti, this Italian treat is bursting with flavor and looks beautiful tucked in a gift box.

I chose this golden eggnog version from Souffle Bombay.

The rich nutmeg flavor is Christmas in a cookie. If you prefer, you can use whiskey extract or vanilla extract instead of the actual whiskey. I did this for a couple of friends who do not drink alcohol, and the biscotti were still one of the favorite treats in the box!

While I could easily fill a box with chocolate, there are other flavors that are associated with my memories of Christmas. As a child, Santa used to tuck an orange in the toe of my stocking. I don’t think the big guy does that too much anymore, as oranges are not as much of a luxury item as they were 50 years ago.

When I had children of my own, oranges were part of life in Florida, where we lived when the kids were small.

These dark chocolate orange biscotti bring back those memories, and the shiny dark chocolate adds visual interest to any gift. Grated orange zest threads through this recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction. I did skip the walnuts, as I’m personally not a fan; if I won’t eat it, I won’t make it.

These almost didn’t make it out of the house, either, they are so good! But, ’tis the season for giving, so I had to content myself with the little ends that get cut off when slicing the biscotti. Good thing I know where to get more!

Many of my friends have young children, so I did want to include a couple of fun treats for them. Enter hot chocolate fudge from Wonky Wonderful. Easy to make in the microwave, and topped with mini marshmallows, the secret to this fudge is high quality chocolate. When chocolate is the star ingredient, you have to invest in the good stuff!

And I just couldn’t resist these hot cocoa cookies from John Kanell at Preppy Kitchen.

I made these with my niece and nephews last Christmas, and they were a huge hit. And seriously, melted chocolate and gooey marshmallows are perfect on a cold, winter day. Or any day, really!

And that’s it! Bundle up a selection of each treat, seal it with this heat sealer from Metronic, and tuck them into a pretty box. Surprise your friends with a porch dropoff just in time for the holidays!

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