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9 Homemade Food Gifts to Give This Holiday Season

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What do you give a person who has everything? Something good to eat, of course! A homemade treat is always appreciated by friends and family—and chances are you'll have a good time making them, too.

1. MILK CHOCOLATE BARK CANDY

Once upon a time, you had to use a double boiler to make chocolate bark, but this recipe melts your ingredients in the microwave. The result is Milk Chocolate Bark Candy from Organized Island that looks a lot more complicated than it is. You can vary the toppings according to your tastes and how you want it to look in a gift box.

2. FLAVORED MARSHMALLOWS

It's very possible that some people on your gift list have no idea that you can actually make your own marshmallows, so they'll certainly be impressed to receive a box of homemade flavored marshmallows this holiday season. Dannyelle at Life Is a Party has the recipes for Coffee Marshmallows and Bailey's Chocolate and Vanilla Marshmallows.

3. BRIGADEIROS

Brigadeiros are festive Brazilian candies that look perfect in a gift box. Darcie Hunter's Brigadeiros at Gourmet Creative are made of a base of soft caramel. Then you can separate the batch and add different flavors to the portions, like chocolate, coconut, or pumpkin spice, and use several decorating options. Then you'll have an assortment of attractive candies to pack for each gift.

4. CURRIED LENTIL SOUP MIX

When you give the gift of a homemade soup mix, your friend or loved one can have a meal, partially prepared by you, whenever they please. A jar of Curried Lentil Soup Mix is a matter of layering the ingredients nicely in a jar, and attaching the cooking instructions with a ribbon. You'll also want to share the full recipe, because they may want to make more.

5. PEPPERMINT HOT CHOCOLATE MIX

Hot cocoa mix is a gift that keeps on giving, and the recipient will think about you every time they make a cup. Just layer up four ingredients nice and pretty, and the recipient can shake it all together themselves. The recipe for Peppermint Hot Chocolate Mix from The Bathonian makes enough for six jars.

6. COOKIE BUTTER

Anyone would love to receive a gift of their favorite cookies in spreadable form. You can use any kind of cookie by following instructions for Homemade Cookie Butter at A Beautiful Mess. Pack it in decorated reusable jars for a personalized and delicious gift.

7. MINT CHOCOLATE PUDDING FUDGE

It's chocolate fudge, revved up for Christmas! The pudding makes them extra silky, and the peppermints and marshmallows on top make them extra festive. You'll find the recipe for Mint Chocolate Pudding Fudge at Kraft.

8. CANDIED MAPLE VANILLA PECANS

Pecans by themselves are a wonderful treat. Add sugar and the flavors of maple and vanilla, and they're worth showing off as a gift to friends and family. The recipe for Candied Maple Vanilla Pecans at Hudson Valley Handy Works is surprisingly quick and easy.

9. PEPPERMINT MERINGUE

Believe it or not, these Peppermint Meringues are only about 15 calories each! Yes, they are made of real sugar, but the largest ingredient is air. The sweet and fluffy treats have even fewer calories when you give them away as gifts. The recipe by Sonja and Alex at A Couple Cooks makes around 45 of them, which should fit in several nice holiday tins.

BONUS: VANILLA EXTRACT

Homemade vanilla extract is possibly the easiest homemade gift you'll ever make, with only two ingredients needed: vanilla beans and vodka. It takes a couple of months to do it right, so you can file this one away for next year. Lindsay Garza explains how to make Homemade Vanilla Extract at Honest Cooking. Luckily, you've got almost a year to find some pretty bottles to put it all in.

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Animals
Want to Recycle Your Christmas Tree? Feed It to an Elephant
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When the holiday season finally comes to a close, people get creative with the surplus of dead Christmas trees. One San Francisco-based artist transformed brittle shrubs into hanging installation pieces. Others use pine needles for mulch, or repurpose trees into bird sanctuaries. For the average person, sticking it into a wood chipper or "treecycling" it as part of a community program are all eco-friendly ways to say goodbye to this year's Douglas fir. None of these solutions, however, are as cute as the waste-cutting strategy employed by some zoos around the world: giving them to elephants.

Each year, zookeepers at Tierpark Berlin—a facility that bills itself as “Europe’s largest adventure animal park”—feed the elephants unsold pine trees. The plants are reportedly pesticide-free, and they serve as a good (albeit prickly) supplement to the pachyderms' usual winter diets.

A bit closer to home, the residents of The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee rely on local residents to take part in their annual Christmas Tree Drive. In addition to being nutrient-rich, the tree's needles are said to help aid in an elephant's digestion. But beyond all that, it's pretty adorable to watch.

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5 Eco-Friendly Ways to Dispose of Your Christmas Tree
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What’s the environmentally safest way to dispose of your Christmas tree? It’s hard to say. Grown, managed, transported, and recycled efficiently, a real Christmas tree’s environmental impact should be near neutral. Unfortunately, not all Christmas tree plantations are equal in their environmental impact.

The most eco-friendly way is to leave the tree in the ground, where it belongs, so you never have to dispose of it. But then you don't have a Christmas tree in your house to bring festive cheer. One thing you can do is be environmentally smart when it comes to the tree's disposal. After this festive season, why not try one of these eco-friendly methods.

1. CHIP IT.

If you’re lucky enough to have access to a big wood-chipper, you may be able to chip the entire tree. Wood-chip is great as a decorative landscaping material. But if you really want to do great things for the environment (and if you have access to a lot of Christmas trees), you could make a bioreactor to denitrify water. Nitrates are put on farms across the world to help increase crop output, but a considerable amount is washed away into lakes and rivers where it’s disastrous for fish and potentially toxic for people. A wood chip bioreactor encourages the growth of bacteria that break down the nitrates in the drainage water, reducing the amount that gets into the water supply. It's not a simple project, however. To make one, you have to dig a big trench, get the water to flow through said trench, and fill it with wood chips. More info can be found here [PDF].

2. CRAFT IT.


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If your tree hasn’t yet let go of its needles—and you haven’t yet let go of Christmas, get crafty with it. Cut off small branches and bind them around a circle of wire to make an attractive wreath. This looks even better if some of the cones are still attached. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you could set up an essential oil extractor to get a supercharged Christmas scent. If you are already distilling alcohol, you have everything you need (here's how to do it). With a little less effort and equipment, you can make a weaker liquid called hydrosol, which is a fragrant condensate water containing water-soluble parts of the needles.

3. STICK IT.

Many legumes, such as garden peas, are thigmotropic, meaning that they respond to objects they touch, growing in coils along or up them. Needle-free Christmas tree branches have lots of twigs, texture, and knobby protrusions for peas and beans to get a grip on. This allows them to grow upwards strongly toward light. Simply stick a small tree branch in the soil next to each new shoot for a free, effective legume-climbing frame. Another advantage of this technique is that it makes grazing animals less likely to munch those tender green shoots, as they tend to avoid getting Christmas tree twigs spiked up their noses.

4. TREECYCLE IT.


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Come January, it’s cold, the festivities are over, work looms, and you’ve got too much on your mind to be thinking about dead Christmas tree horticulture or crafts. Fortunately, a simple solution is at hand: Most counties and municipalities now provide Christmas tree recycling points where you can take your tree for chipping. Some “TreeCycle” points will even exchange your tree for a bag of wood-chip or chip mulch. OK, this probably means that you’ll have to jam that Christmas tree into your car once more, but as long as you don’t have to drive too many miles out of your way, Christmas tree recycling is a quick and easy environmentally-friendly option.

5. DONATE IT.

After you’ve had your Christmas cheer, why shouldn’t fish have some fun? Several communities have programs in place where they’ll take your old Christmas tree, drill a hole in the base, tie a brick to it, and throw it in a lake. When humans create artificial lakes, they tend to be relatively featureless on the bottom for easy dredging. That’s great for us, but it means baby fish have nowhere to escape predators. Christmas trees provide a nice, temporary place for the fish to hide out and explore.

If, on the other hand, you’d like to see your Christmas tree mauled by a pride of lions, that’s OK too! Some zoos around the world take Christmas tree donations (but please remove all the tinsel first) and allow the animals to play with them.

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