Posted tagged ‘christmas gifts’

Christmas present ideas for teens

November 30, 2014

What great ideas are you using this Christmas to help your teens shop creatively for gifts? This one is perfect for scrabble fans.  For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see

Alphabet necklace: find old scrabble letters; fit a 2.5mm or 3mm drill bit into a hand drill and get to work. Then thread the letters on to ribbon or bevelled edge leather.

Alphabet necklace: find old scrabble letters; fit a 2.5mm or 3mm drill bit into a hand drill and get to work. Then thread the letters on to ribbon or bevelled edge leather.

My teenagers long for Christmas. They want big presents to give and to get. They want to be able to treat their friends and their family. So far, so sweet.. but they’re not that keen to use their own savings. And the one who does babysit uses this money mostly to travel to college and buy 80p cups of coffee when she’s there.

So how do I find a way for them to get their friends a present everyone will be satisfied with – ideally without spending much money? It seems that even spending a lot of money you might not get the sort of gift you want – just seen a box of super long matches on sale for £9.99!

A few months back I saw a jar of scrabble letters for sale in a charity shop and thought they might make a clever gift if I had the right drill bit. And so it turns out: drill a letter into a scrabble square and then use a specially bought bit of leather cord, or a pretty ribbon and you’ve got a perfect teen gift. What’s more the kids are doing the making.

If you’ve got any ideas what teens can give to teens in a creative, thrifty and eco-friendly fashion then please share them here! Thanks.

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Share your foodie gift ideas

November 3, 2011

Hello Family readers – and all other visitors to my blog.This post is by Nicola Baird, and offers some simple foodie gifts to make with your children. Or make them yourself and get the kids to design a label. These gifts show off your creativity and are cheaper to make than buy (although Lidl can compete on the truffles).

Wrapping can look eccentric, or authentically chic, using newspaper, especially foreign language papers which you may find at train, tube or metro stations. There are lots of other ideas in my book Homemade Kids – itself a fine gift for baby bumps and new mums. You can buy copies of Homemade Kids here (or have a look at the library).

 PayPal says when families start to watch their budgets, more of us give food or drink gifts. Encourage your children to make something – jam or truffles for the older ones. Or try vanilla essence (split a vanilla bean and put into a clean small jar with vodka); flavoured sugar (decorate a big jar and fill with fair-trade sugar and a vanilla bean  or cinnamon stick). If you want to be more imaginative with a bargain tin of Quality Street from Tesco try sewing together the sweets to make a necklace. The green ones can be turned into mini sweet kebabs if you spear them on a lolly stick. Draw on a smiley Christmas fairy face/dinosaur/Santa at the top.

Instructions below for making:

1) Jam     2) Truffles     3) Vanilla essence (needs vodka)
4) Flavoured sugar (super simple)     5) Mini sweetie kebabs (panic choice)

1 JAM is a great gift
If you buy preserving sugar there is usually a recipe on the packet. I find the more sugar or pectin-rich fruit you use, the easier it is to get the jam to set. If it’s very runny, leave to cool and maybe try re-heating tomorrow when you’ve got more time, or are less tired. This works well for me and the kids:

1 kilo fruit (strawberries/blackberries fresh or from the freezer)
1 kilo jam sugar (contains pectin)
Blob of butter
Lemon juice (squeeze one)

  • Method – sterilise 5 jars by putting through dish washer OR wash out and then warm/cook in oven for 20mins on 100C – or do for 10mins in 180C. Also put 2 saucers into the freezer.
  • Gently melt a spoonful of butter with the sugar and then add the fruit. Stir occasionally so nothing burns.
  • Now bring to boil. Boil for about 6 minutes until setting point reached (!).
  • You can test success by putting a teaspoon of the mix on to a cold saucer. Leave a mo then push at the jam with your finger – is it runny, or slightly tacky. The firmer the better. Keep testing every two minutes. I find this usually takes 20 minutes on an electric hob – perhaps gas hobs are quicker?
  • Remove from heat, allow to cool and then pour (I use a milk jug) into the warm jars.
  • While warm add a wax disc (make  from greaseproof or baking paper) to put on the top of your jam – this stops mould growing. Seal the lid and store in a dark, cool place (eg, larder/cupboard) until needed.
  • If when you open your jam there is sugar mould scrape it off for the compost, and then eat the rest. To avoid this happening if this is a gift encourage the recipient to eat soon and once open keep in the fridge.
  • Jam that doesn’t set is still delicious as a hot or cold sauce for icecream, an extra filip for a cake or eaten on cereal, with yoghurt etc.

TIP: Instead of making jam, you could give a voucher for a pot of marmalade 2012 – the bitter Seville oranges are in shops and markets from early January. I’ve always had best luck finding them in Waitrose or greengrocers.

2 TRUFFLES are easier to make if your house is a bit cold

Ingredients: 110g dark choc (one bar), 2 tbs double cream, 2tbs alcohol, 25g butter, some toppings to give the truffles a finish (eg, dessicated coconut, chocolate powder, grated chocolate) = 12. I usually double or triple ingredients – it’s just as easy to make with a larger quantity of truffle mix.

  • Method: Melt small dob of butter in a big pan, add chopped up chocolate and melt very slowly.
  • Take off heat and stir in cream and brandy (or your choice – cointreau is good)
  • Leave until almost hard but friable enough for you to mould into balls. Overnight is too long. 2-3 hours probably OK.
  • Using your fingers and palm roll teaspoonfuls of the mix into a nice round ball – then finish off by rolling through grated dark chocolate, dessicated coconut, chocolate powder (eg, milo, ovaltine etc) or whatever coating you want.
  • Put in a pretty box and leave in a cool place until you need to hand over.
  • Best eaten within 5 days, might be a good idea to store in a cold place – not just by the woodburner, or dog.

TIP: Dogs get sick if they eat chocolate, so keep them out of reach. This is a very rich truffle, ideal gift for grown ups. Take to parties, housewarmings, new baby arrivals, birthdays, significant milestones etc.

3 VANILLA essence

Find a small clean bottle or tiny thin jar. Snap a vanilla pod to fit the bottle and release its flavour. Then fill the bottle with vodka and leave to marinate. Result vanilla essence – ideal for flavouring cake mixes.
Homemade Kids verdict: Slightly troubling to know there’s alcohol in your kiddy cooking? 

Find a large, clean, empty jar. Fill it half-full with Fair Trade sugar (pale brown looks nice). Then add a flavouring.

  • vanilla pod for vanilla flavoured sugar
  • energetic shakes of cinnamon for cinammon flavoured sugar

Top up the jar with the remaining sugar. Tighten the lid and make a label.

TIP: Keeps forever but gives sugar-users a nice kick to their sweet treat. Also nice used in crumbles or a cake mix.


Sew your wrapped sweeties from tins (eg, Roses, Quality Street) together and make bracelets, necklaces… Ideal time waster for a rainy afternoon with six-year-olds. And you’re bound to eat some of the sweets too, so it’ll be a fun chore. I use the sweets without excess wrapping for sweetie kebabs. Spear with a sharp skewer (or clean object) and then thread on to a clean wooden lolly stick. You can add paper decorations to the lolly stick – someone’s name, or an animal head, monster design to raise the crafty stakes. It might be fun doing this for a hide and seek quiz around the house?

Over to you
Good luck making these gifts – I know I’d be very happy to have any one of them! Do share any other quick foodie ideas you have that are simple(ish) to make with children of any age. Thanks. Nicola

Gifts for teachers/nursery staff

December 15, 2010

Yummy festive treats you can make with any age children, easily.

Doesn’t the word nursery staff sound posh? It’s just that this is the last week of term and may also be close to the xmas holidays for anyone using a nursery or childminder and clearly your kids and you need to give a few of your childminding/child educating lifesavers a gift. More ideas for gifts for your children to give from Nicola Baird, partly gleaned from her book Homemade Kids.

My dad handed out wine and whisky with great generosity. But even if this is affordable – and going to someone who drinks – it still doesn’t seem like the right gift from a child. So here are two ideas you can try out that will produce a pile of presents if you want within an hour. They look and taste fab and your child can have a large hand in creating them. However messy this gets now – it’ll be a skill investment that means next year they will be even better at creating these presents. You may even be asked to make them next year!

Old fashioned oranges
Find a ribbon (ideally red) and tie around an orange. Some people hold these in place with pins but I never do – if the ribbon slips, it’s all part of the authenticity! Then using a knitting needle or skewer make holes in the orange so it’s easier to push cloves into them. The mix of cloves and pierced orange peel is intoxicatingly Christmassy. Even very small children can do this if you make the holes.

Making the studded oranges is a good project to do when visitors come around for a cuppa. It keeps the children occupied and smells lovely too…

Chocolate truffles (makes 12)
Packet dark organic chocolate (approx 100g)
25g butter
2 generous dessert spoonfuls of double cream (freeze what’s left over for next time, or eat it up!)
2 spoonfuls of brandy or a liqueur

Gently melt the butter and broken up bits of chocolate. Then add the rest of the ingredients and allow to cool so the ganache mix is as stiff as solid mud. In winter it takes about 30mins to cool it down. You can put the pan outside or in a cool part of your house (or any room without heating).

Give each child a large flat plate with a heap of chocolate/cocoa powder, or Milo granules, or grated chocolate or cinamon or whatever you fancy that will make a dusting for the truffle. Then take a tea-spoonful of the mix and gently roll it into a ball on the coatings. Years of practice will perfect this technique – expect to get very sticky the younger your child. As the truffle is very rich most kids don’t eat too much, so you may be saved from sugar-overload.

Put on a flat non-stick tray (or clean plate) and keep in a cool spot until you’ve got time to decant into pretty boxes – or boxes that you and your child can decorate. The chocolates are special, and look even more luxorious in a nest of coloured tissue paper.

Let me know how you get on – I was doing this only this morning but tripled the ingredients (ie, 3 bars of chocolate…). Melted the chocolate goo at 7.10am, everyone had breakfast and then at 7.50am Lola and Nell started rolling up truffles. We weren’t late for school either!

In a few days I’ll let you know what the office staff, lollypop lady and class teacher made of them – hopefully it will be a thumbs up for creativity. It’s lovely getting a present that is made especially for you.

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