Christmas Goodies Neighborhood Style
by Celia Hayes
I know, I am trying as hard as I can to get into the Christmas mood – an uphill fight, since I have been sidelined most days by the Cold From Hell. This is the cold that I developed after Thanksgiving, which sends me coughing persistently as if I am about to hack up a large piece of lung. It saps about three-quarters of my energy, and an equal portion of my interest in life, the universe and everything ... including Christmas. The good thing is that I got just about all of my Christmas shopping done, thanks to the internet and a nicely-timed and generous payment for some work accomplished ... so, on to gifts intended for two good friends. At the estate auction in Fredericksburg this summer, one of our winning bids was for an envelope of pen and ink prints of various local scenes. Nothing especially valuable, I don't think, but nicely matted (thank you, Hobby Lobby) and framed (thank you, Thrift Town) they will make something personal and attractive ... and what the heck, something new to look at on the walls is always appreciated.
Which means that the final gift-giving obligation is to those of our neighbors whom we hold in especial esteem; we went through the standard Christmas cookie selection, and then the small-brick-of-fruitcake several cycles ago. We experimented last year with flavored oil and vinegar, including in the basket one little roundel of home-made cheese and a baguette of home-baked bread, which mostly worked out well, so this year – edible goodies again.
I took a firm stand with my daughter, though – no expensive containers for the goodies; this time, we are using a plain small paper shopping bag, and instead of tissue paper, some gingham-check patterned paper napkins. These we found at the Dollar Tree a couple of months ago – and since I was already thinking ahead, we bought them at once. And my mother's Christmas basket of Spanish goodies came generously padded in a large round basket with simply heaps of crinkled paper excelsior, which is still perfectly good and useable, and we're supposed to recycle anyway and have you seen how much it would cost to buy new crinkled paper excelsior, even at the Dollar Tree? And I don't want to go to a store anyway – I'm sick, people!
So – into the bags will go a selection of the pickles, relishes and jams that we made over this summer, from seasonal fruits and vegetables; the pickled okra came out absolutely amazing, and so did the mixed garden vegetable pickles – what they call in Italy giardiniera. Strawberries – holy moly, did we have strawberries. I've lost track of how many; strawberry jam, strawberry preserves. I made the most luscious pickled pineapple spears, over the summer; flavored with cinnamon, allspice, ginger and other spices; as my daughter said admiringly, "They taste like Christmas in your mouth." We have figs to offer, too – thanks to the bounteously producing fig trees in the neighborhood, we have on hand whole preserved figs, fig jam and fig preserves... I think the difference mainly between jam and preserves is that the latter is rather lumpier – but anyway, our neighbors will benefit from the bounty, too.
And that will be (cough) our Christmas (cough-cough) gift to our neighbors. (Cough-cough-COUGH!) Hopefully that, and not the Cold From Hell.