I love a neighbor gift as much as the next person, but I'm always on the lookout for something that isn't a plate of cookies, because by mid-December, the last thing I want is more sugar.
Or at least, the last thing I WANT to want is more sugar.
A couple of years ago, when we spent Christmas with my parents after returning form London, I went around with her to deliver Christmas gifts to a few friends in the neighborhood and she took cute bottles of Mrs. Meyer's Cleaner with a big ribbon and sprig of holly on them. Every single person commented how grateful they were for a useful and non-sweet item.
Last year, I made these "Chili in a Jar" gifts, which were super popular because everyone appreciates some real food that takes five seconds to get in the crockpot during the insanity of the holidays.
This year, I was on the hunt for another good option and settled on homemade vanilla.
I've been making my own vanilla extract for about four years, and I'll never go back. It's SO much cheaper than buying vanilla extract and it tastes a thousand times better than artificial vanilla.
And it makes a great gift because it's not very expensive, it has a personal touch, and they can use it whenever they want, instead of being forced to eat cookies RIGHT THIS MINUTE.
Also, since it takes a while for it to turn into vanilla, now is a great time to make a big batch, put it away in your pantry or on a high shelf and then when mid-December rolls around, you're ready to go.
I don't have beautiful handwriting, but my friend Lisa from Handlettered Design does the most gorgeous hand lettering and she made these pretty printable tags to tie on the bottles - aren't they gorgeous?
She also teaches online chalk and lettering classes, which make a great gift for the person who has everything including unfortunate handwriting, and you can get 20% off with the code EVERYDAY20. I took a short version of one of her classes earlier this year and it was seriously so fun and I was amazed by how much progress I made in a hour. One of my goals for Christmas break is to take the full class.
- A big bottle of vodka (don't worry about buying an expensive variety; cheap works just fine)
- Vanilla beans (I buy mine from Amazon because they have the best price I've seen)
- Glass bottles (I like the ones from World Market)
- Printable Tags (you can download them here)
For each bottle, you'll want about 3-6 vanilla beans (depending on how fast you want it to turn into vanilla extract and also how strong you want it to turn out).
With a sharp knife, split the bean in half (I cut mine so they are open but still connected like a hot dog bun) and put into the jar.
Fill with vodka, close the jar and shake gently.
Tie on a label and put them away, shaking them every couple of days or weeks, until you're ready to hand them out as gifts!
Some people strain their vanilla before they give it as gifts so it looks clearer, but I really like the little flecks of vanilla beans for additional flavor and because I like the look of it in baked goods.
Also, the longer it sits, the better it'll get. My current bottle is about a year old (I just stuck an entire package of 30 beans in the whole bottle of vodka and keep it in my pantry) and it's fantastic.