I am not a handy person. When I tried knitting, the scarf was lumpy and grubby. I bend nails. I am too impatient to do embroidery or calligraphy and inevitably cut the sleeves out of the material for the skirt if I try to sew. So when it comes to home-made gifts, I have three options: write something, cook something, grow something.
In spite of my general clumsiness and lack of meaningful domestic skills, I do give home-made presents to people. Our most common gifts are maple syrup and garlic braids, but for our funkier friends, we sometimes give bags of onions or stalks of brussels sprouts. I also try, most years anyway, to give my children something I have made myself for Chrismukah.
My all time favorite home-made gift was made in 2005 when my son Jacob asked for a list of books worth reading. I asked many friends and acquaintances to give me the titles of any book they had ever read at any stage of development that made a big impact them. I took all suggestions, even from the non-readers who had only read a couple of pretty brain-dead books in their lives that impressed them. The result was Everybody’s Favorite Book List. If more than one person recommended a book, I bought it for Jacob. But Everybody received the book list that year. If you have a favorite book or books, please let me know and I will add them. It is definitely time for an update.
My second favorite present was a family cook book. My friend Mary Ellen, who is a truly fabulous cook, gave me a binder filled with her favorite recipes for Christmas in 2008. I copied her format, a three inch white binder, with plastic sleeves containing back-to-back recipes. The plastic sleeves are sheer genius. You can add or subtract recipes at will and if you spill milk on them, you can wipe it off with a sponge. I put a bunch of extra sleeves at the back of each binder.
My cook book is divided into seven sections: Appetizers, Soups, Salads, Breads and Doughs, Fowl and Fish, Vegetarian Dishes and Desserts. I used 13 point type so you don’t have to bend over to read it. I then went through all my cookbooks, my husband’s xeroxed family cook book, Mary Ellen’s cook book, and my 30 years of clippings, recipe cards and half torn out notebook pages to write down every single recipe that is in my common repertoire. I ended up with seventy three recipes; including everything from Mark Bittman’s quick salad list to paneer to the corn bread I made when they were children to my mother’s apple strudel. I even included a recipe on how to make pizza when you are in prison that one of the men from Michael’s prison diabetes support group gave to him. My biggest regret in terms of the cook book is that I did not find out how my mother made beef goulash before she died.
I named my cook book “How to Cook Some Things.” I put a photo on the front that was the funniest looking dish we had ever made; a deboned, sewn up, half chicken that I dubbed tampon chicken.
I don’t know how much my kids or the other people I gave the cook book use it at this point in their lives, their mid twenties, but I use it almost daily, so it was really a present to myself too. You will use yours too.
This year I have written a memoir of my childhood for my kids. I still have to edit it and add some things I forgot and go through the photo albums to add some photographs. I thought it would be around 50 pages long, but at this point it is already 250 single spaced pages, so it seems I have written a book in spite of myself. Next year who knows what I will do?
And for fun, here is the prison pizza recipe, in case you ever find yourself locked up:
Buy a loaf of soft white bread, tear off all the crusts and feed them to your pet mouse.
Smash the bread together to make a dough ball.
Take the mattress off your steel bed frame. Oil a 12 inch round on the metal surface. Pat the dough ball down on to the oiled surface to form a circle of pizza dough.
Put canned tomato sauce, grated cheese and other toppings on the pizza dough. Sliced salami is good.
Check for guards.
Build a paper fire under your bed and grill the pizza for about 10 to 15 minutes or until the guards come around.
Remove from bed stand and eat.