Cutting Costs? Try These Christmas Cheats For Frugal Gifts

Frugal Ideas for Christmas Gifts

Banish Baking Blues

Are you baking this year? Don't fall for the iced sugar cookie routine! Unless you schedule cookie-baking as a child-centered activity, frosted sugar cookies violate principle two: they take too much time. Ditto the more-is-merrier idea--baking tons of different kinds of cookies. Long hours on weary feet, and have you priced nuts this year? Yikes!

Perusing our catalogs, though, we can identify two Christmas Cheats for baked gifts. First recommendation: biscotti. Now, I thought everyone knew that biscuit are twice-baked Italian cookies, made for dipping in coffee or chocolate. Wrong

So I will tell you: these easy-to-make, cheap to bake goodies are hot, hot, hot. Biscotti have an espresso/cool quality that makes them suitable candidates for a Cheat. Pair them with a bag of good coffee beans, and you've created the ultimate--and desirable--Christmas cheat.

Check any recent Christmas cookie magazine for recipes.? You'll make dough, shape it in a single big flattened log shape, and bake it once. Then you'll cool your log of dough, cut it into 1/2-inch slices, and bake again until the slices are dry and crisp, but not hard.

Applying "Presentation is Everything", you'll stand eight or nine biscotti on end in an inexpensive coffee mug and wrap with plastic wrap or cellophane. Stop there for a modest gift, or add a half-pound of gourmet coffee beans for a heftier treat. Result: a city-chic Christmas Cheat!

Here's Baking Cheat Number Two: dip things in melted chocolate chips. Christmas cookie magazines are full of dipped goodies this year, but I'll share the secret.

Use 1/2 cup of white chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate or milk chocolate chips. Place them in a Pyrex measuring cup or small batter bowl. Add one teaspoon solid shortening, no substitutions! Microwave for 30 seconds on high, stir, and repeat the cycle until the mixture is melted and smooth. Dip away! Short, sweet, and you'll look like Cordon Bleu material.

Dip one end of biscotti in melted white chocolate chips for a fancy touch. Pedestrian oatmeal cookies turn Gourmet Snob Cookies when they've stuck their toes in some melted chocolate. Add some dried apricots half-dipped in white chocolate, line both cookies and apricots up in rows on a foil-covered piece of shirt cardboard, and top with plastic wrap. If Presentation is Everything, this cookie plate is mega-everything--and quick, and cheap!

Get the Goods on Gift Wrap

A confession here: I hate gift wrap. It's expensive and it's wasteful and it takes too much time and it's just thrown away and if I could do without it, I would. But I can't. So here are some hints for getting your time and money's worth out of gift wrap

First, keep it simple. Why buy a box, fancy printed tissue for the inside of the box, fancy printed paper for the outside of the box, a cardboard mailing carton, and separate gift cards?

Check into the U.S. Postal Service's new innovation: decorated mailing containers. Buy white tissue paper, wrap it around the gift, plunk the gift in the decorated mailing box: an instant Christmas Cheat!

When you do have to buy paper and tissue, stick with solid colors. A thick package of white tissue will cushion birthday, wedding, and baby gifts all year long, but you can't get away with that Cheat if your tissue says "Merry Christmas!"

Ditto wrapping paper. Solid red can be used throughout the year with different-colored ribbons. Mickey Mouse in a Santa hat just doesn't have the same universal appeal.? Slickest Cheat I found this year: nicely printed gift boxes, 3- and 4-for-a-dollar. Wrapping couldn't be easier!

With bows, you're on your own. At most, I wrap glossy gold ribbon (also multi-occasion; red ribbon is just too saved-from-Christmas for me) once or twice around the box. But I acknowledge that others may be of a different bow persuasion--so do your best to get the most dash from your ribbon purchases!

Stretch-Tite(tm) Saves the Day

Here is my number one packaging Cheat: Stretch-Tite brand plastic wrap. It's hard to find, and costs about $4 a roll, but Stretch-Tite is the best single food wrap going. (It's also designed for the microwave, but that's another article.)

Use Stretch-Tite to wrap stacks of cookies. Stretch it over baskets. Tape it to food plates. It has an elastic quality that looks almost professional, doesn't tear, and won't wrinkle or shift. Pedestrian cookie plates will look professionally shrink-wrapped. Bonzer stuff!

Look for Stretch-Tite at warehouse stores like Sam's Club and Costco, or ask your grocery store manager to add it to the plastic wrap and bags section.

Packaging Cheat number two: "foil" gift wrap works for baked goods as well as holiday gifts.

Buy several rolls and use the foil to wrap hunks of cardboard for cookie trays.

Tuck pieces of fudge or Aunt Bill's Brown Candy in small squares of foil gift wrap, and they'll keep nicely, yet add a gala Christmas flair to gifts and candy dishes.

Who said you had to buy metal tins and fancy "goodie" boxes for your baked goods?

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