This post comes to us courtesy of Melissa Graham, founding Executive Director of Purple Asparagus.
My mom was an elementary school teacher, and every year on the last day of school before her winter break she would bring home a box of holiday gifts from her students. I would love to sit next to her as she opened them one by one. Each year there would be an assortment of world’s best teacher mugs, Christmas tree ornaments and sweets, lots of sweets.
While she was never one to look askance at a gift given, as the years passed and I got older, our excitement about the homemade hot chocolate mixes and tea cakes waned. For this reason, when my own son started school, we decided to take our inspiration for his teacher’s holiday gifts not from the bakery case, but instead the spice aisle. Sweet gifts are delicious, but they are of limited utility. Savory herb and spice driven gifts will provide months of tasteful joy for their recipients.
For example, if you have a windowsill herb garden, you and your little ones can infuse vinegars; tarragon and rosemary are particularly good for this purpose. Pour top quality white wine vinegar into pretty bottles filled with rinsed herbs. Tie a red or green ribbon around the neck of the bottle with a recipe for vinaigrette.
Spice mixes are also a deliciously simple gift. I like to mix up a big batch of taco seasoning. Gift recipients can stir it into ground beef, sprinkle it on chicken, or even popcorn. Use your imagination and your own spice cabinet to personalize your own combinations.
This year, my son and I will be making mustard for his teachers, a recipe that requires lots of measuring and scooping, great fun for kids. Paired with a gift card from a favorite retailer (you can’t go wrong with one from Williams-Sonoma), most teachers would be very grateful.
Once you’re done in the kitchen, pack up your jars and bottles in old berry boxes saved from the farmers’ market purchases. Instead of filling the boxes up with packing paper, we use sweet as candy Satsuma tangerines. We then create tags from holiday cards from years past. A gift that’s good for the planet and the palate!
Thor’s Spicy Mustard
1 cup brown mustard seeds
¼ cup yellow mustard seeds
1 ¼ cups white wine vinegar
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup mustard powder
1 cup water
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Combine the mustard seeds in a medium bowl with the white wine and vinegar. Let sit, covered, at room temperature for 2 days. Whisk together the mustard powder and water and let sit for ½ hour. Scrape the soaked seeds into the bowl of a food processor, add all the remaining ingredients, and puree until the mustard is creamy. Package in 4 ounce jars. Makes 6 4-ounce jars.
1/2 cup Ancho chile powder
3 tablespoons cumin
1 1/2 tablespoons oregano, Mexican if you got it
1 1/2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 1/2 tablespoons onion powder
1 1/2 tablespoons paprika
2 teaspoons cayenne
Stir together all of the ingredients and transfer to small jars. Makes approximately 3/4 cup.
About the author: Melissa Graham, a former attorney, is the founding Executive Director of Purple Asparagus, a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to educating families about all things associated with good eating, eating that’s good for the body and the planet. Though its Delicious Nutritious Adventures program, Purple Asparagus has taught thousands of parents and children about healthful, sustainable eating in schools, community centers, and farmers’ markets throughout Chicago and the suburbs. Melissa speaks and writes regularly on child nutrition and sustainability both in the Chicago community and online, blogging at Little Locavores, as The Sustainable Cook on The Local Beet, and as a regular contributor to Kiwi Magazine’s KiwiLog. In recognition of her contributions to the Chicago community, the Chicago Tribune recently awarded her a 2011 Good Eating Award, an honor previously bestowed to Rick Bayless, Alinea chef Grant Achatz, and First Lady Michelle Obama. Melissa resides in Chicago with her husband and 7-year old son in a rowhouse built in 1896.