With only a few weeks until Christmas, rather than face the shops, it's easy, fun and thoughtful to make your own gifts. Shu Han shares a lovely idea for flavoured sugars, complete with their own gift label.
The lights are up, the Christmas songs are playing, and Starbucks have already rolled out their Red Cups of eggnog latte. We are less than a month away from Christmas kids!
To be honest, Christmas has never meant much to me. My family, being very traditional, has never made a huge deal of this "angmoh" (i.e. Caucasian) celebration, and the most we did was to get into my dad's car and join the traffic jam down at Orchard Road to see the Christmas lights. I remember hanging up stockings at the foot of my bed and finding, well, nothing in it the next morning. I blamed it on Enid Blyton's rubbish advice and Santa's carelessness (I was pretty sure I was a good girl), but now I just see that my poor perplexed parents were the ones responsible for my lack of presents. I never got into the habit of sending Christmas cards or buying Christmas presents even when I got older, except for specific Secret Santas/ parties/ unashamed requests, but when I moved to London, I found I could hardly get away with this.
Christmas shopping is a nightmare. All shopping is, really (I know I must be the weirdest girl out there), but the shoppers around this season are the worst; the music around this season, the loudest; and the prices, just ridiculous. Never mind the fact that you're paying 20 pounds for a useless mug, it's also a mug that 2000 other people out there have bought and that 2000 other people out there will receive. I love making my own presents because they are so much more special and meaningful. I've made jams or shit-hot sambals for friends, personalised with a cute hand-drawn label, but this year, I've got an even simpler trick up my sleeve -- flavoured sugars.
Flavoured sugars sound like the sort of thing you might find in a posh Selfridges counter, but are so simple to make, don't cost much at all, and can take you less time than the Tube ride down to Oxford Circus. And presents are so much better when they're edible, don't you think?
DIY Flavoured Sugar
3-4 sprigs of fresh herbs/flowers*
OR 1-2 pandan leaves
2 cups of unrefined raw cane sugar **
1. Tie the pandan leaves into knots/ lightly bruise and crush the herbs to release their essential oils.
2. In an airtight jar, add the sugar to the herbs, stirring to distribute and making sure the herbs are submerged.
3. Seal and leave to stand in a cool, dry place for 2 weeks (hence why you must start NOW), stirring every couple of days to evenly distribute the herbal essence and to keep the sugar from clumping (the herbs still have natural moisture in them at this stage).
4. 2 weeks later, the herbs will have started to dry out and the sugar will have absorbed the herbs' essential oils. Tie a pretty ribbon and/or stick on a pretty label and that's your Christmas present sorted!
*You can do this with any fresh herbs on hand, like mint or thyme, or perhaps lavender. I've gone for pandan, otherwise known as screwpine leaves. I smuggled a plant back from Singapore, but you can buy the leaves from Asian stores, or your own pot from some nurseries. It's not been doing well, so on a trusted plant-geek's (James Wong @botanygeek) tip, I've snipped off all the leaves to prevent further dehydration until it's (hopefully) resurrected, and so this is a brilliant way to make the most of/ preserve my crop.
(Some other pandan gift ideas I was contemplating:
Kaya (pandan coconut curd jam)
Wendy's pandan essence/ concentrate)
Pandan is THE Singaporean/ Malaysian plant used to add fragrance to all manners of sweet and savoury dishes. I don't even know how to describe the fragrance because it's so distinct and unique. It would be like trying to describe vanilla.This is wonderful to sweeten puddings and jellies (especially those made with coconut milk) or you can even use it to give a sweet contrasting note to a soy sauce marinade for instance, with an extra whiff of heavenly pandan fragrance. **It's great to sprinkle over your puds and pies too, in which case consider icing sugar for a powdery finish or demerara sugar for a crunchy touch.
For more edible Christmas gifts, visit Great British Chefs where you'll find collections of delicious biscuit recipes and fudge recipes to make for your friends and family.