Last minute holiday/hostess gifts-cheap

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You're rushing around, can't find your head, and all of a sudden, you think, 'Oh, my gosh! I forgot a little something for Mary tonight!' The holiday cookies are looking a little worn and you just can't make yourself re-gift the fruit cake you got from Aunt Mabel. So what are you going to do???

Sugar scrub! I just know you have all these ingredients in your cupboard. Sugar, oil, honey and any essential oil and you have yourself a lovely, well-received hostess gift. I have put these ingredients in a little jam jar (I found a dozen of these for under $10.00 at my local grocery store), put a ribbon around it and got all blushy over the praise I got. And since these are ingredients you already have, the expense is minimal.

This is not the only thing that will work for last minute gifts. I have shown you how to make a luscious lotion and shower gel so consider giving one of these or make a trio. During the holidays I will use peppermint essential oil for the scent and label it 'Candy Cane Luscious Lotion', etc. Very seasonal and smells like candy canes!

We all have those nuts we get as gifts and I have a very easy recipe for 'Sugar and Spice Nuts' that uses those extra nuts makes a great hostess gift. I put the finished nuts in a little, clear plastic bag (similar to the clear candy bags you find in the candy-making aisle at 'Michael's') and put a festive ribbon around it. One recipe can make up at least 4 of these bags and if you throw in a miniature candy cane (to take up more room!) you can make up to 6 bags. Or you can use those jam jars.

Spiced apple cider is always a popular drink during the holidays, or any time in the winter, and I have given this as a gift several times over the years. I make the cider, put some in a quart-sized mason jar and give it along with the recipe and a little bag of the spices used. This recipe can be made and stored in the refrigerator for several days and be reheated in the microwave. I make my cider in a 30-cup coffee maker designated for just the cider (the cider kind of ruins it for any future coffee!) but it can be simmered for an hour or so over the stove.

And then there are the men on our list. Most men are the Grillers of the family and a well-received gift for them is a bbq rub. I make my own using several different recipes. The most popular is one I got off of the Food Network website by Bobby Flay. You probably already have most of the ingredients and only takes a minute to put all the ingredients together. You can put the rub in a fun container (they have nice ones at Cost Plus World Market) or you can use one of the handy jam jars. I try to include the recipe in case they want to make their own. But what usually happens is I get the empty jar back with a little note asking for a refill! I have supplied three different rubs just in case there's one that appeals to you.

Well, hopefully one of these ideas will make your holiday time a little less stressful. I can assure you I have given all of these and received great responses. I try to be humble but it's hard when you give something that's got a good 'Wow' factor and is inexpensive to boot! Happy Holidays and here's hoping it is full of warmth and peace.

Sugar Scrub
Makes enough for 5 jam jars
Yield: 1/2 cup (or one jam jar)

2 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup almond, jojoba, avocado, or olive oil
2 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. essential oil (peppermint is good for the holiday!)

Mix ingredients thoroughly in a glass bowl. Place ingredients in 5 ½-pint jam jars or one larger container of your choice.

Luscious Lotion
Serving Size: 1

6 ounces lotion, unscented
1/4 tsp. vitamin e oil
1 1/2 ounces jojoba oil
1/4 tsp. essential oil, of your choice (peppermint!)

Put all ingredients in a bowl and stir well with whisk until fully incorporated. Adjust consistency, if desired, by adding more oil as needed. Using a funnel, pour finished lotion into bottle, using a spoon to push the lotion through the funnel.

Shower Gel
6 ounces unscented liquid glycerin soap (I find bulk amounts on-line but Trader Joe's has a really good one and is inexpensive)

1 tsp. essential oil of your choice.

If using Trader Joe's brand, you can dilute it with water (about 1/3 water, 2/3 soap) and it makes more gifts! Put the soap in a bowl, whisk the water and essential oil into it and bottle and label.

Sugar and Spice Candied Nuts
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, plus additional for greasing parchment paper
1/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. light corn syrup
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. nutmeg, fresh grated is best but regular is fine
1/4 rounded tsp kosher salt
2 cups mixed nuts, of your choice

350 degree oven, put oven rack in middle position.

Line large baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly butter parchment.

Stir together butter, sugar, corn syrup, spices, and salt in a 1 1/2-to 2-quart heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Add nuts and cook, stirring constantly, 3 minutes. Spread nuts in 1 layer on lined baking sheet, separating any clumps. Bake, stirring nuts once with a heatproof rubber (silicone) spatula halfway through baking (keep nuts in 1 layer), until golden and bubbling, 12-15 minutes. Cool baking sheet placed on a cooling rack 45 minutes, then break into small clusters with your hands.

Candied nuts keep in airtight container at room temperature for 1 week.

I have kept them for longer (a few weeks) and they've been fine. You only have to worry about the nuts going 'bad'. You can refrigerate them if you make these ahead of time for holiday gifts and they will last a lot longer. If they last that long!

Bobby Flay's BBQ Rub
3 Tbsp. paprika
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. garlic powder
2 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. onion powder
1 Tbsp. seasoned salt
1/2 Tbsp. chile powder
1/2 Tbsp. black pepper
2 tsp. thyme, dried
2 tsp. oregano, dried
2 tsp. cumin, ground

Combine ingredients in a bowl and store in air-tight container up to 6 months. Salt meat or add more salt to rub to taste.

Mediterranean Spice Rub
1 Tbsp. thyme, dried
1 Tbsp. oregano, dried
1 1/2 tsp. poultry seasoning
1 tsp. rosemary, dried, crushed
1 tsp. marjoram, dried
1 tsp. basil, dried
1 tsp. parsley, dried
1 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper

Combine all ingredients and store in air-tight container for up to 6 months.

Good for fish, poultry and especially pork. Salt meat generously or add more to rub.

Mexican Spice Rub
1 pinch chile flakes
2 Tbsp. paprika
1 Tbsp. cumin
2 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. oregano, dried
1 tsp. cocoa powder
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. sea salt

Combine all ingredients and store in air-tight container.

Hot, Spiced Apple Cider
Yield: 30 cups

2 2-quart apple cider , NOT apple juice
3 cinnamon sticks
1 Tbsp. whole cloves
2 Tbsp. whole allspice
1 Tbsp. crystallized ginger
2 slices orange
3 slices lemon

The best way to prepare this cider is in a 30-cup coffee maker. These can be purchased for around $30 at Walmart or Kmart. They are not usually very expensive and I would get the cheapest one you can find. I wish I could say this could be prepared differently, but it really tastes the best if put thru an appliance that 'perks' it as opposed to simmering or boiling on the stove.

If you want to make this on the stove: Put all ingredients in large dutch oven. Bring to boil over high heat; reduce heat to simmer and simmer for at least one hour. Strain ingredients before putting in quart jars. This will taste fine but if you ever have an opportunity to make it in a 30-cup coffee maker, you will see why it's so much better.

For the coffee maker: Put the cider in the coffeemaker. Place the rest of the ingredients in the basket of the coffeemaker and assemble and start it according to manufacturers instructions.

Refrigerate until given as gifts. I save the bottles the cider comes in to store any leftovers. This cider is great for days after being prepared. I store it in the refrigerator and reheat it in a pan on the stove or in a cup in the microwave. Yummy!