So you want to occupy Wall Street? If you really want to stick it to the corporations this year, give homemade gifts. Buy the things you need to make them from independent businesses and give presents that have your unmistakable stamp on them.
Yes, it's just barely past Halloween and Día de los Muertos, but some of these take a little time to make--and honestly, wouldn't you rather do this now, before the craziness of December sets in?
5. Hot cocoa mix
A couple of cute cups from a thrift store, a molinillo from a Mexican market, and a big sachet or jar of hot cocoa mix is a great last-minute gift. Use the 5-4-3 rule: 5 parts powdered milk, 4 parts powdered sugar, and 3 parts cocoa powder. Add a teaspoon of regular, non-kosher salt (mandatory), a teaspoon of cornstarch (mandatory, helps keep it from clumping) and a teaspoon of espresso powder (optional). Shake it all together and let the dust settle before opening it.
4. Vanilla extract
Eight vanilla beans per fifth of vodka is the rule. Cut them in half lengthwise and crosswise, drop them in the vodka (you shouldn't need to drink any to make them fit, but, uh . . .) and age anywhere from two months (i.e., Christmas) to six months. If you need them more quickly, add a couple of extra beans to the vodka. Shake occasionally and make sure you strain before you bottle. Use brown or green glass, not clear, to keep the vanilla flavor from succumbing to sunlight. Don't throw away the beans, either -- once drained, toss them in a bag of sugar to make vanilla sugar in about two weeks.
3. Infused vodka
You have a friend who loves Bloody Marys? Stick two tablespoons of celery seed in a fifth of vodka, shake it every day for two weeks, then strain out the seeds. Voilà, now there's no need for the giant celery stick that gets in everyone's way at brunch. Dried cherries, apples or cranberries also make great infused vodka, and that's just the beginning. Chile-heads will appreciate chile-infused vodka--chiltepin chiles give an initial burst of heat, and chiles de árbol will follow it up. Just make sure you add a label stating it's for personal use as a gift, and don't give anyone younger than 21.
Call it granola, and it's a hippie breakfast. Call it muesli, and it's Swiss. Whatever it is, it's easy to make, lasts a long time without going stale, and can be made in great quantities for party favors or for the inevitable "invited out and need to bring a gift." You'll want oats, nuts, seeds and dried fruit. Coconut would also work. Toss it all with a little neutral oil and some honey, then roast it all in a pan at 300º F until it looks and smells like, well, granola.
1. Apple butter
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Apples and pears are everywhere--if you take apples and cook them with a little bit of apple juice, then buzz them up in a blender, you'll have applesauce; if you add sugar and lemon juice and let it cook down until it's quite thick, you'll have an apple butter that's acidic enough to process in a hot-water bath. Don't forget the spices--but go easier than you would otherwise, or you'll have cinnamon butter.