Northern Mummy

General thoughts and wittering about all sorts of things

Gifts of gratitude

on December 15, 2012

Every year, in addition to the usual nearest and dearest, there are several other people to whom we give Christmas presents. School teachers seem more numerous than when I attended primary school – time was you just had your class teacher and that was that (apart from those über-generous families who sent something for the head, the secretary, all four dinner-ladies and a tin of Roses to leave out in the staff room). Not so nowadays – 5 of the 8 classes in the girls’ school are taught by a job-share, not to mention the various teaching assistants who seem to drift in and out of the children’s life on a weekly basis, leaving me with an average 6 (one year it was 9) gifts to find. There are also the dancing teachers (4 this year) and the Sunday school teachers (4… I think…)

When I talk about how numerous these people are, it’s not that I begrudge any of them a gift and do absolutely want to express my heartfelt gratitude for the time they spend with my children. However – 14 gifts is a lot, so wherever thrift and value can enter the equation, so much the better. For the various teachers I tend to go either for a Christmas decoration or for something homemade. This year, we have mined an especially useful seam at Dotcomgiftshop who are selling various decorations for £1.00 each. As far as homemade presents are concerned, I’ve returned time and time again to my chocolate truffles and mincemeat and last year also branched out with hot chocolate lollipops and shortbread. For Christmas last year my parents gave me a wonderful book called Gifts from the Kitchen which contains all kinds of recipes and presentation advice. I fully intended to make use of it this year, but haven’t quite got round to it, having first been bogged down with other things and then struggling for most of the last week with a fluey-coldy type virus. Thus it was that this afternoon, when Southern Daddy queried whether the girls were at their final dancing class of the term and I confirmed that yes, they were, it occurred to me that I had about an hour to come up with a gift for all four teachers. Everything in my repertoire takes a little longer than that, even if I’d had the ingredients, and I didn’t really relish the prospect of a supermarket visit. Then I remembered Holly Bell’s Christmas Pudding Vodka (actually, I think the recipe might have come from a friend of hers who runs a cocktail bar, but it was on her website).

I’d come across the recipe a few weeks ago and been impressed by the speed at which it could be whipped up. I’ve fancied doing something along the sloe gin/fruit vodka lines in the past, but the fact that most of them take about a year to infuse has put me off. I’m sure that, if your garden is overrun with blackthorn and your family has been making sloe gin for as long as you can remember, it’s a lovely tradition to make some and then drink last year’s, but I like to reap my rewards slightly more quickly – it’s all I can do to keep my hands off the Christmas cake for 6 weeks or so. And anyway, I haven’t got any sloes.

So, the idea that I could produce something similar, Christmassy and only requiring a week’s infusion appealed to me, and I set about it as soon as I could. The recipe is on Holly’s blog so I won’t repeat it here, but here are some pictures of the process:

All the ingredients are mixed in a bowl

2012-11-26 11.27.47



and the vodka added.2012-11-26 11.29.26








The mixture is then covered and left to infuse for a week.

After that I strained it through muslin back into the vodka bottle (no photos of that as it was quite a messy process, despite the fact that I had dredged up the funnel I once bought in a Lakeland sale, not knowing if I’d ever use it but feeling that at 50p or whatever I couldn’t go wrong).

I saved the fruit as directed, and it does indeed make a wonderful topping for ice cream (I exceeded my target weight last weekend so I can have a few more treats now!)

2012-12-05 20.07.40

and the bottle sat in our drinks cabinet* awaiting some sparkling wine at Christmas.

On remembering this I was able to throw together some last minute gifts in time for the end of dancing, thanks to some little bottles I’d bought on a whim (sort of with this in mind but no real clear idea). The caps come loosely fitted, but when you replace them after adding the liquid you screw them on harder and they seal.

Here’s a finished bottle which I labelled and tagged.

2012-12-15 14.50.04

The teachers seemed to be very pleased with them – it’s not a huge thing but it is a token of my appreciation for all they do.

On Monday (when my shopping is delivered) I shall begin some other goodies to supplement the Christmas tree decorations, and will let you know if I get round to trying out any new recipes!

But there are also the “Service Providers” – bin men, window cleaners, milkman, veg box delivery man, Tesco delivery man (there are several of these as I don’t consistently choose the same slot, so I’m not sure how to play that)…, which I’ve never managed to sort out properly. I’d love to know how to approach gift-giving with regard to these people, who benefit us in so many ways over the year. Previous tacks have included random over-paying (of milkman and window cleaners – including one embarrassing incident of putting money in an envelope with a cheery “Happy Christmas!” written on, only to discover the following week that even with the ‘bonus’ I’d added, it still didn’t cover the debt I’d accrued by consistently being out at work when they called for payment) and foisting bags of sweets and biscuits onto unsuspecting delivery personnel early in the new year when I remembered. I’d like to take a more structured approach – if possible using edible treats rather than cash – but certain factors are making it difficult: firstly that I don’t always know when people are going to call, which means that either the gift will go off, or I’ll be forced to eat it/give it to someone else and make another one, which could get expensive either way. Secondly, I keep thinking of the episode of Friends in which Monica adopts a similar policy and finds it isn’t welcomed by everyone – I do find that a little rude and ungrateful, but at the same time don’t want to give offence. Thirdly, my windows are cleaned by a small army of men who surge onto the house from all directions once a fortnight, and I wouldn’t be confident I’d catered adequately.

I’d genuinely love to hear from you as usual, especially if anyone’s got any suggestions about how to approach this issue, either from past experience or just spontaneous ideas!! Leave a comment by the beautiful winter trees…


* We don’t really have a drinks cabinet but we do have a cupboard with glass doors, which accommodates such things as glassware, cook-books and the manuals/warranty documents from any electrical goods we buy, in addition to housing a small collection of alcoholic beverages on half of one of the shelves, which is all the space we can afford them.


2 responses to “Gifts of gratitude

  1. shaunagh61 says:

    My daughter makes my mum’s hedgehog cake with walnuts, sultanas, Marie biscuits (especially important as that was mum’s first name), and sundry other ingredients. I then buy little nicknack bowls and wrap all in cellophane and ribbon. Very satisfying as it reminds me of my mum who passed away 12 years ago and passes on the love and gratitude to others who have in small ways added to our life.

    • northmum says:

      Sounds like a lovely gift with so much family significance! I had never heard of Marie biscuits, or hedgehog cake, but a quick google has revealed to me what they are (isn’t the Internet marvellous?!) – hedgehog cake is what we’d call fridge cake in the UK but I think your name’s more imaginative! And do you give these treats to your delivery personnel, window cleaners, etc? Are they pleased with their gifts?

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