Make-It-Yourself Hostess Gifts for the Holiday Season

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Make-It-Yourself Hostess Gifts

Don’t get me wrong: Taking a bottle of wine or a bouquet of flowers as a hostess gift is a sure thing. On the other hand, taking something that you made yourself adds another level of thoughtfulness. I promise that the gifts I recommend making are easy, easy, easy and, if made in bulk, are very inexpensive. There have been years I made all of these the same holiday then there are those other years where making one of the recipes was good enough. We have all had those years, right? If you were to ask me which of these to make when you are in panic-mode, I would say the sugar scrub. I have had those times where I have to leave in 10 minutes and realize I don’t have a hostess gift and no time to stop at the grocers. I grab a bowl, mix up the sugar scrub and put it in a jar. Sometimes I might put a ribbon on the jar and sometimes not. The point is, the scrub is easy to make and the recipient is so grateful for the gift.

Some of the recipes give you a bulk ingredient count and some do not. Math is NOT my best skill. In fact, when I try to add 2 and 2, my husband gets nervous. I wish I were kidding! I will let you crunch the numbers to keep myself out of trouble.


Who knew Kahlua was such an easy thing to make? I did a segment a few years ago about making your own liqueurs and the Kahlua was everyone’s favorite. It was also the easiest! Most liqueurs need to sit for at least a month and sometimes several months. For people who need instant gratification, Kahlua is the one for you!


3 cups sugar
2 cups water
6 tablespoons instant coffee (I use Mexican instant espresso coffee, the Medaglia D’Oro brand, which I found in my local grocers)
½ C water
3 ½  cups vodka
2 tablespoons vanilla


Make simple syrup, bring to boil. Continue cooking for 20 minutes on a fast simmer. The liquid will become a little darker in color. Set aside and let cool to room temperature. In the meantime, mix coffee with 1/2 cup water in small saucepan and bring to boil. Set aside and let cool to room temperature.

Combine all ingredients in container that will have a tight lid. It can be stored in pantry or cupboard for several months, even after opening. You can increase the proportions of recipe to make gifts. I order bottles from SKS Bottling (website:

Turkey Brine

I came up with this as a favor for my Thanksgiving guests. I made a bunch of jars with the recipe card attached and put them in a large basket. I made sure to hand them out as people left. I figured there would be a chance to use it sometime over the next several holiday weeks. I have used this on turkey, chicken and (my fave!) pork chops. There are chefs who are on the side of brining and others who are not. Some like the wet brine and others the dry. Personally, I do it all depending on what I’m making. I invite you to try the brine and make up your own mind!


7 quarts water
1 quart apple cider


1 large  onion, diced
1 large  carrot, diced
3 ribs celery, diced
1 head garlic, cut in 1/2 equatorially
12-14 lb. turkey , **see notes


3/4 cup salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 TBS orange peel, dried
2 TBS mixed pepper corns
1 TBS thyme, dried
1 TBS bay leaves, dried and crumbled
1 TBS rosemary, dried
1 TBS juniper berries
1 TBS sage leaves, dried, crumbled


1. Combine brine spices in bowl. Mix well.

2. In large brining bag, combine water, apple cider, brine salt mix, onion, carrots, celery and garlic. Add turkey and let it brine in refrigerator for 24-48 hours. The brining bag can be purchased at Bed Bath and Beyond or William-Sonoma. You can use a large menudo pot instead of a bag as long as the turkey is covered completely with liquid. Add more water if needed.

3. Remove turkey from brine the night before roasting, pat thoroughly with paper towels then prepare turkey in your traditional way. Discard brine and bag. Keep prepared turkey in refrigerator overnight and roast the next day.

4. **notes  This recipe can be used with a full turkey breast (turkey breast with bone), boneless turkey breast or a roasting chicken.


 6-7 lb. full turkey breast: 1/2 jar of salt mix, 1 gallon liquid (can be all water or water with some apple cider)

4-5 lb. boneless turkey breast: 1/2 jar of salt mix, 2 quarts liquid

roasting chicken: 1/2 jar of salt mix, 2 quarts liquid

5. This recipe times 7 makes up 17 1-pint jars (jelly jars). You can buy the dry ingredients in bulk at natural food places, which is WAY cheaper than buying the little bottles (which can be $4-7 EACH!). The ‘Good Apple’ in Apache Junction has all of them. Between the ingredients and the pint jars, this cost me around $2.50 each gift. For a little extra, you can include the brining bag with the jar.

Sugar Scrub

This is the standard recipe

Yield: 2 1/2 cups


2 1/2 cups sugar, white or brown
1/2 cup olive oil (can substitute almond, jojoba, or avocado oils)
2 TBS honey
20 drops essential oil of your choice


Mix ingredients thoroughly in a bowl. The consistency should be similar to new snow; fluffy and light. Store in air-tight container.

To use: When you shower, do your normal routine then finish with the sugar scrub. Rub scrub gently over face and rinse. Rub scrub on rest of body starting at your neck and finish with your toes and heels. Rinse thoroughly. Gently pat skin dry with towel. You want to let the oil soak in your skin so don’t rub too hard. Moisturize with your body cream or lotion of choice.

In a pinch: If you don’t have some made up and are in a hurry, what I have done is put about ½ cup of sugar in a plastic bowl or container, drizzle some olive oil on top of it and mix is up with my fingers. I do this while my shower is heating up. The sugar is a terrific exfoliate and the olive oil is a wonderful moisturizer. It doesn’t have to be fancy to work for you!

To make multiple gifts: Increase proportions to desired size. You can use ½ pint mason jars or any container that suits you. The mason jars are so inexpensive and can be used for other purposes. I usually use mason jars and wrap a ribbon around the top. Be sure to label the jar or add a little note listing ingredients and directions. This is good to have on hand in the cupboard for last-minute gift giving.

Since it’s the holidays, I make up a special batch for gifts. You can purchase Chocolate Olive Oil or Vanilla Olive Oil at any of the fine food stores (AJ’s or Whole Foods) and these oils make delicious-smelling scrubs! Using them is wildly popular with my friends. These flavored olive oils are also nice to have on hand for the last-minute hostess gift if you don’t have time to stop at the store.

In a separate recipe, I will use peppermint essential oil and label the jar as ‘Candy Cane Sugar Scrub.’ I have paired this with a jar of body cream with the peppermint essential oil. These two items together are a big hit.


Most vanillas are made the same: Vodka or bourbon with a vanilla bean. That’s it! I got this from Chef Barb Fenzl, who I consider one of the best chefs I have ever been around. This is the only vanilla she uses and she bakes a lot! Her recommendation was to have a mason jar (maybe ½ or 1 pint jar), cut 2-3 vanilla beans down the middle (without separating the two pieces) and place in jar. Fill jar with either vodka or bourbon and seal with lid. Place the jar in a cupboard and shake it every few days. Chef Barb starts using it after a couple weeks but the longer the better. Add more alcohol as you use it.

I make the vanilla and let it sit for months before I use it or give it as a gift. The longer you let it sit, the better vanilla it makes. I increase the proportions to make gifts for the holidays by putting up to a dozen (or more!) vanilla beans in 1-quart jars and let them sit in our temperature-controlled storage room. I go in there about once a week to shake the jars. When I put the aged vanilla in their bottles, I also add one or two beans. I order special brown bottles to put the vanilla in from SKS Bottling (website: along with a little note explaining ingredients and instruct them to add more vodka or bourbon to the bottle as they use it. As long as the vanilla beans are there, adding more alcohol gives them a never-ending supply!
I order the vanilla beans from Amazon. You can save a LOT of money if you buy the vanilla beans in bulk. Since this is a traditional gift I give over the holidays, I buy 1-2 lbs of beans at a time and put the jars up sometime over the summer, giving the vanilla plenty of time to get real vanilla-nee! With that many vanilla beans, I make a TON of separate bottles of vanilla. After taking in the cost of the vanilla beans and special bottles, I end up spending about $6-7.00 for each gift.

If you want to make this for the coming holidays, you can put the vanilla beans in a jar, add the alcohol then label it with a ‘Use after’ whatever date gives it a couple-three weeks. I have done this and my friends are more than happy to wait.