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Simply Entertaining: Little gifts make big hit at holidays

Thursday, December 20, 2001

By Mary Miller

We've all heard the saying, "It's better to give than to receive."

For me, it sure is more fun. As the holiday season chugs along, I find myself wanting to give everyone who enters my home a small present. Not something large and expensive that makes a guest feel guilty for not reciprocating, but a small token of appreciation for sharing time with me.

But as the days become frenzied, there is little time to shop for big gifts, let alone small ones. Keeping a secret stash on hand can solve this problem.

How to develop your supply? Begin to purchase fun items, such as pretty picture frames, great-smelling soaps and exotic teas. Select them because you like them, not because they are on sale. Sale finds are a good thing, but a chipped Wayne Newton collector's teacup that's been marked down three times is another issue. Most people know when they are receiving a bottom-of-the-barrel gift.

Keep your treasures in a drawer or basket where they are easily accessible. Shoved behind coats and boots in the back of your hall closet is not a good place. In addition to stockpiling goodies, store extra tissue paper, gift bags and bows for quick decorating. Wrap a few ahead of time to have them handy for surprise visitors.

Don't toss unwanted gifts that you've been given into your secret stash. Eventually, you will surely forget who gave you the gift and embarrass yourself in front of others.

My husband and I once gave a neighbor a gag gift that had been given to us. It was perfect for the recipient, but we also wanted it out of the house. (My husband is a urologist -- need I say more of the nature of the gift?) We forgot that the gift card from the original giver was still in the box. It was awkward when our friend pulled out the card and read it to the group. Caught giving a used gift. Not a good scene.

Consider these ideas:

For children: holiday themed pens or pencils, small stuffed animals, old-fashioned toys such as yo-yos or jacks, coloring books, sets of crayons or markers.

For teens: lip-gloss, crazy socks, body glitter, pretty hair clips, puzzle or sports fact books.

For adults: holiday napkins, candles, note cards, small cookbooks or thought for the day books.

Even better than a store-bought gift is a homemade one. Food gifts are always appreciated. And make-ahead mixes are a real treat. You make the mix, put it in a container and then decorate it. The person receiving the gift finishes the recipe at home.

This is a recipe-in-a jar that I enjoy giving. The jar can be decorated with a personalized label. The lid can be covered with fabric or wrapping paper. Small trinkets, dried flowers, buttons or even extra peas and beans would look terrific hot-glued onto the lids. Don't forget to attach the recipe!

Layered Lentil Soup Mix

1 cup split peas, divided
1/2 cup lentils
1/2 cup red lentils
Seasoning packet:
1 tablespoon dried parsley flakes
1 teaspoon dried minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon sage
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Pick through peas and lentils for any bits of dirt or stones. Place 1/2 cup of split peas into a wide-mouth pint canning jar. Top with 1/2 cup of either lentil. Follow with remaining 1/2 cup of split peas and remaining lentils.

Mix seasoning ingredients and pour on top of the lentil and pea mixture. Decorate jar lid with fabric, wrapping paper or ribbons and attach recipe.

Recipe to be included with the mix:

Lentil Soup

Empty jar into a large pan with 7 cups water. Add 1 chopped onion. Bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover and simmer for one hour, stirring occasionally. Note: 1 pound of chopped ham or turkey can also be added. Serves 6.

Adapted from "Gift Mixes: Food Gift Baskets for All Occasions"

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