tips and tricks


Creating personal holiday gifts.


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This year, surprise everyone and do your holiday shopping in the grocery store. Our region offers a bounty of locally produced and grown products and places to purchase them. Many of these edible products can be combined to create prettily packaged, highly personalized gifts this holiday season.

You need not be a culinary or crafting savant to make these simple and memorable concoctions; it just takes some ingenuity and time. The recipes also involve some ingredient crossover, allowing for different gifts to be made from some of the same elements.

After deciding what you’d like to create, pick out gift containers. Mason jars work well, come in a variety of sizes, and easily can be dressed up. Descriptive cards or labels can be printed or handwritten, and attached with twine or ribbon or affixed.

Body basics

Scott Bates and Brianna Punsalang, wellness specialists at the Great Basin Community Food Co-op in Reno, are well-versed in creating body care products. They recommend using pure, organic, and fair-trade ingredients, which are good for both the body and the planet.

A variety of gifts can be crafted from items in their store, such as massage mixtures made by adding fragrant essential oils to a carrier oil such as jojoba. Peppermint, eucalyptus, and lavender are popular scents, but personal preference reigns. A good starting ratio is 10 drops of essential oil per 1 ounce of carrier oil.

Body creams are easy to make using a combination of oils. Exfoliating and hydrating sugar can be combined with circulation-encouraging coffee and a binder oil such as coconut to make body scrubs that smell good enough to eat. Infused bath salts are another uncomplicated gift to make.

“Throw Epsom salts in a bowl, mix in a palmful of dried lavender, dried peppermint, and/or dried eucalyptus, then add in a dozen or so drops of peppermint and lavender essential oils. Add drops in little by little as you’re mixing the bowl to avoid clumping,” Bates suggests. “This recipe also could be played around with a bit by adding in small portions of sea salt and baking soda, or using different dried herbs such as lemongrass or passionflower. The possibilities are endless, but it’s always better to keep it simple rather than too busy.”

Palatable presents

Speaking of salts, flavor-infused finishing salts, the edible kind, are delicious and present beautifully. Start with a base of 1 cup kosher sea salt, either rock or coarse, then add your preferred ingredient combination, using about 1 teaspoon of dried herbs or spices to ¼ cup salt. Lemon and lavender salt can be made by adding the juice of 1 lemon to salt in a pan, letting them dry, then adding about 1 tablespoon of dried lavender. Complete by pulsing to your preferred consistency in a food processor.

HomemadeGifts Infused Salt  (2)th

Rosemary garlic, chile lime, and basil thyme are other tried-and-true combinations with which to experiment. When using dried herbs, make sure to remove the stems, which can cause slivers in the mouth.

Or try your hand at making a distinctive infused liquor, which you can present with a cocktail recipe attached. Ashley Frey of Frey Ranch, a Fallon-based distiller of locally produced spirits, notes its complex, creamy-textured vodka made from four different grains grown on the ranch would be ideal for infusing with vanilla or coffee beans.

HomemadeGifts infused vodkath

It’s an easy process with delectable results: Cut one large vanilla bean down the center, then add to a bottle of vodka. Several coffee beans or chile peppers also add distinctive flavors when added to a bottle. To infuse, add ingredients, then seal and shake the bottle before placing in a dark area for at least one week. The longer the ingredients sit in the spirit, the stronger the flavor.

For the meat lover in your life, rubs made with coffee make delicious presents. Tim Curry with Reno-based Wood-Fire Roasted Coffee Co. roasts his coffee beans over wood to mute acidity and bring out a fuller, bolder flavor that complements beef and pork well.

Local apiarist Karen Foster of Hidden Valley Honey in Reno has seen her product placed in glass jars with whole almonds or a piece of honeycomb to make gifts that are appealing to both the eyes and taste buds and effortless to create.

HomemadeGifts almond honey 1th


High Quality Organics, an international, all-organic food ingredient company with its North American operations based in Reno, has a multitude of do-it-yourself edible and body care recipes on its website. Director of research and development Dawn Wykoff and vice president of marketing and communications Angela Keyser created an organic apple pie spice recipe just for edible readers. Their Quinoa Vegetable Soup in a Jar recipe makes a colorful gift in glassware, and the recipient need not be a chef to use it.

Get creative this season, and avoid the hassle of retail lines or sifting through the online abyss. Your friends and family will appreciate the time you spent creating presents from the heart, and you’ll finish with a sense of inspired accomplishment.

Freelance writer Natasha Bourlin has been making holiday gifts for friends and family for years and is excited to expand her giving repertoire this season with all she learned from these local experts.

Gifts for the Body

Spiced Coffee Sugar Scrub

(courtesy of Brianna Punsalang, wellness specialist at the Great Basin Community Food Co-op in Reno. Makes about 10 ounces)

1 cup brown sugar

¼ cup coconut oil

3 teaspoons used coffee grounds

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground clove

Mix all ingredients in bowl and store in an airtight container.

Whipped Body Butter

(courtesy of Brianna Punsalang, wellness specialist at the Great Basin Community Food Co-op in Reno. Makes enough to fill 2, 4-ounce jars)

⅓ cup shea butter

⅓ cup coconut oil

⅓ cup sweet almond oil

Combine all ingredients in medium-sized bowl and whip with electric mixer until light and fluffy.

Note: In hot climates, use ½ cup shea butter and ¼ cup each coconut and sweet almond oil.

Edible Gifts

Organic Quinoa Vegetable Soup in a Jar

(courtesy of High Quality Organics in Reno. Makes 8 to 10 servings)

For the jar:
1 16-ounce jar
1 tablespoon organic, dried parsley flakes
1 tablespoon organic, dried basil flakes
1 teaspoon organic garlic powder
1 teaspoon organic celery seeds
1 teaspoon sea salt
⅓ cup organic, dried, green lentils
⅓ cup organic, dried, yellow split peas
½ cup organic quinoa, washed, dried, and toasted
⅓ cup organic, dried, green split peas

To make soup:
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 26-ounce can diced tomatoes
10 cups water
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
Fresh chives
Extra-firm tofu or chicken, diced (optional)

Sauté onion and carrots in 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add onions, carrots, contents of jar, tomatoes, water, and chicken (if using) to slow cooker, and cook on low 6 to 8 hours. If using tofu, add 30 minutes before serving to heat through and soak up flavors.

Garnish with freshly ground pepper and fresh chives. Serve with cornbread.

Organic Apple Pie Spice

(courtesy of High Quality Organics in Reno. Fills a 2-ounce jar)


¼ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon lemon zest (optional)

Blend all ingredients thoroughly and enjoy! Store in container with lid, in a cool, dark place such as a cupboard.

Great in yogurt, shakes, French toast egg mixture, and homemade applesauce, or as a topper on buttered popcorn, oatmeal, and ice cream.

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Coffee Dry Rub

(courtesy of Wood-Fire Roasted Coffee Co. in Reno. Makes 20 ounces of rub)

¼ cup kosher salt
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup paprika
¼ cup thyme
¼ cup chili powder
¼ cup onion powder
¼ cup garlic powder

½ cup ground coffee

Mix all ingredients together and package.

This rub is good on most meats. Rub into all sides of select meat just before cooking, or, for stronger flavor, let sit overnight. Then broil or grill. Cooking times differ based on types of meat and preferred degree of doneness.

From left, Jan Solberg, Brenda Horton, Susan Hamarlund, and Sue Higgins of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Fleet Reserve Association serve muffins to veterans at Carson City’s Veterans Memorial Hall




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