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Guest Posting: Holiday Gift Giving.. From The Heart

I was talking to Casey today about decorating the house for Christmas this weekend and about an idea I had for the tree. Given the sobering couple of years this country has had, I thought it would be a nice time to really take stock of what we DO have instead of lamenting what we don’t. I suggested, instead of the regular beautiful, but dust-covered ornaments we drag up from the basement each year, that we instead do a “Thanksgiving Tree”. My idea was to print messages of thanks on decorative construction paper and hang them from the tree. I thought it would be inexpensive and thoughtful and who doesn’t love gifts from the heart?

And speaking of gifts from the heart, just in time comes Juli Oates, a high school classmate of mine and owner of Rucka- Chucky Patsy Hut with some ideas for simple, thoughtful  and INEXPENSIVE gifts for the holidays. Added bonus, you can do these with the kids or, if you don’t mind a little clean up, let them do it themselves.

So here are three great ideas; if you do them, take a picture to send in so we can admire your creativity. In the meantime, make sure you like Rucka-Chucky Pasty Hut on Facebook and stop in if you’re in her neck of the woods. And Juli, THANKS!

Christmas… it’s the most wonderful time of the year, or is it the most stressful time of the year? If you’re a mom it’s probably a little bit of both. The chores add up, the decorating, cooking, parties and school pageants jam the schedule. And let’s not forget the never-ending gift list. The teacher who helps your child comprehend algebra or the neighbor who feeds the cat when you are out of town should know you appreciate them. There are the secret Santa and the hostess gifts too. Before you know it, you are gifting quite a few people, and all that gifting can add up to some significant holiday cash.

One inexpensive, kid friendly and personal way to do some serious gifting this season is to give a food gift in a jar. You can buy a case of 1 quart Mason jars for under $20. Many of the ingredients for the recipes are already in your pantry and the remaining can be found at the local bulk food markets. If you’re feeling creative you can buy some cute fabric for the lid of the jar. The average gift jar costs less than $5 to complete. An older child can make recipe instruction cards on the computer, while younger siblings can layer the ingredients. The beauty of gift jars is the absence of dirty pans to scrub while being a fun project that fits into the attention span of the Wii generation. You can easily make a dozen gifts in about an hour and wrapping them is unnecessary. Here are 3 recipes with a nice visual presentation and yummy results to get you started. Each recipe will make about 4 gift jars.

Confetti Bean Soup

This is a nice hearty soup for a cold winter day and very pretty to give.


4 wide-mouth pint (2-cup) canning jars with lid and rings

4 2/3 Pound assorted dried peas, beans and lentils (at least 8 different varieties):

Pink beans

Black beans

Baby lima beans


Red lentils

Black-eyed peas

Red kidney beans

Pinto beans

Split peas

Great northern beans

Small red beans

White beans

4 Italian-flavor bouillon cubes (note: substitute beef-flavor if you cannot find Italian-flavor cubes!)

4 bay leaves


1. Layer beans in jars. Add 1/4-cup of each type of bean to the jars, layering the beans. Choose the most colorful bean for the bottom layers of the jar. Add eight 1/4-cup layers to each jar.

2. Place 1 bay leaf and one bouillon cube on top of the beans in each jar.

3. Seal each jar using lids and rings.

4. Attach cooking instructions.

Recipe Instructions (include on gift tag):

Set aside bouillon cube and bay leaf and choose method to soak beans.

Quick soak: Rinse and sort beans in a large pot. Add 6-8 cups of hot water. Bring to a rapid boil, and boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Cover and let stand for 1 hour. Drain soak water and rinse beans.

Overnight soak: Rinse and sort beans in a large pot. Add 6-8 cups cold water. Let stand overnight, or at least 6 to 8 hours. Drain water and rinse beans.

To cook: Place beans in a large pot with

6 cups water

1 can (14 oz.) chopped tomatoes in juice

Bay leaf

Bouillon cube

Ham hock if desired

Simmer gently until beans are tender, about 2 hours. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Sand Art Brownies

These brownies are delicious and look great layered in the jars.


4 wide-mouth quart-canning jars

2 2/3 Teaspoon salt

4 1/2 Cup flour, divided

1 1/3 Cup cocoa powder

2 2/3 Cup brown sugar

2 2/3 Cup sugar

2 Cup chocolate chips

2 Cup white chocolate chips

2 Cup walnuts or pecans


1. Layer ingredients as follows for each jar:

2/3 t. salt

5/8 c. flour

1/3 c. cocoa powder

1/2 c. flour

2/3 c. brown sugar

2/3 c. sugar

1/2 c. chocolate chips

1/2 c. white chocolate chips

1/2 c. walnuts

Attach gift card instructions:

Baking instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease one 9×9-baking pan.

2. Pour the contents of the jar into a large bowl and mix well.

3. Stir in 1-teaspoon vanilla, 2/3-cup vegetable oil and 3 eggs. Beat until just combined.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes.

Blizzard Bites

Crunchy and sweet, this no-bake snack mix in a jar is easy to make and fun to give.


4 Cup Rice Chex-brand cereal

4 Cup pretzel twists, small

1 1/3 Cup dry-roasted peanuts

1 1/3Cups sweetened dried cranberries

1 1/3 Cup dried fruit, coarsely chopped

4 Cup white chocolate chips

4 canning jars, quart-size with lid and ring

4-food storage bag, small


Layer cereal, pretzel twists, peanuts, cranberries and dried pineapple in a quart-sized canning jar. Place white chocolate chips inside food storage bag, and place on top of layered ingredients. Seal jar, and attach a printable gift tag with recipe instructions. Makes 4 jars.

To prepare:

Remove white chocolate chips from jar. Empty remaining jar contents into a large mixing bowl, and mix thoroughly.

Place white chocolate chips into a microwave-safe bowl. Melt white chocolate chips in the microwave for 30 seconds. Remove and stir until melted. If additional time is needed, check at 15-second intervals. (You may add 1-teaspoon solid shortening to thin chocolate mixture, if necessary.) Pour melted white chocolate chips over snack mixture. Stir until snack mixture is evenly coated. Spread mixture in a single layer over waxed paper, and allow to cool completely. Break mix into smaller pieces when solid.

Have fun!

Juli Oates has lived in Georgetown, California for several years raising her three sons and staying active in her community. She is especially interested in helping at risk children living in rural communities and helping to protect sensitive habitats. She enjoys fishing,cooking wheeling, backpacking and other outdoor activities. Juli is the owner of Rucka-Chucky Pasty Hut  in Georgetown, California and tends bar at the historical Miner’s Club. She is also an example of living a full life while also living with cancer.


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