Quick and Easy Recipes for Gifts

I love to bake at the holidays. Here are a few of my tried and true recipes that anyone can do. They make great gifts for neighbors, teachers and friends.  Make a batch to give away and maybe another batch for your own family and to share with guests.

Gifts from the Kitchen that anyone can make. Teachers love the toffee!!!

Gifts from the Kitchen that anyone can make. Teachers love the toffee!!!

Almond Butter Toffee

Toffee is a family favorite. I usually make 3 – 4 batches for the holiday season, depending on how much the kids want to give to teachers and friends. The original recipe is from Necessities and Temptations  cookbook by the Junior League of Austin.

  • 2 cups butter
  • 2 ½ cups sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 2 cups slivered almonds
  • 1 (12 –ounce) package of chocolate chips – we all seem to prefer milk chocolate with the flavor of the toffee.
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Melt the butter in a pan and add the sugar. Raise heat, stirring constantly until mixture bubbles around the edge. Add cream of tartar and almonds. Stir constantly. Sometimes during the cooking, the butter boils out, keep stirring, it will all come together. Continue stirring until the mixture is a caramel color. Do not let it burn. It will start to smoke just before it burns. Carefully pour into two buttered cookie sheets (that are sitting on hot pads or towels). Use a spatula to spread thin. Pour chocolate chips on top of the toffee and as they melt, spread the chocolate chips across the top of the toffee. Sprinkle with the pecans. Refrigerate until hard. Break in to pieces. I like to serve the toffee in bags tied with ribbons or decorative canisters.

Spicy Pecans

These are delicious and while they are a great gift on their own, if I have extras, I toss them in to a batch of homemade Chex Mix. The recipe is from The Pirate’s House Cook Book, Savannah, Georgia.

  • 1 pound pecan halves
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • dash of Tabasco

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Melt butter and stir in all ingredients except the pecans. Mix well. Add pecans toss until coated. Place in a singer layer in a jellyroll pan. Toast in the oven, stirring frequently for 15-20 minutes or until brown. Watch carefully that the nuts do not burn. The pecans will crisp up as they cool.

Maple Walnut Granola

This granola recipe is based on the granola recipes in The Earthbound Farm Organic Cookbook Food to Live By by Myra Goodman with Linda Holland and Pamela McKinstry. I’ve combined and adjusted the original granola recipes based on my kids preferences. The one below contains my alterations.

  • 4 1/2 cups gluten free oats
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup sprouted pumpkin seeds
  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place the oats, nuts, seeds and sugar in a large bowl. Stir to combine. Place the oil, syrup and 1/2 cup water in a bowl and whisk to combine. Pour over the oat mixture and stir well. Spread the mixture in a baking sheet with a rim or a roasting pan. Bake for about 25 minutes. Stir every 4 to 5 minutes thereafter for about another 15 minutes or until golden. The original recipe says it will bake another 30 minutes after the initial 25, but my granola gets too dark in that amount of time, so I’ve shortened it. Let the granola cool and store in in an airtight container for up to 1 month. May be frozen for up to 3 months.

I like to add chia seeds, coconut flakes and occasionally dried fruit to my granola once it has cooled.

Happy Gifting!


Things to Do in Galveston during the Holidays

Galveston Dressed Up for the Holidays

For the past few years my extended family has spent the week of Thanksgiving at the beach house in Pointe West on Galveston Island. Aside from cooking and eating the usual holiday feast, here are the other things we like to do during that week and other times during the holidays on the island.

Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier

Fun family holiday events and activities in Galveston

My kids can’t get enough of the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier – an amusement park that juts out over the water. It’s is a real thrill to ride the roller coaster over the Gulf of Mexico! I tend to stick to the less thrilling rides myself, but love hearing their squeals of terror and delight. Tickets for unlimited rides are $26.99 (48″ and up) $19.99 (under 48″). Walk on passes are $10 (48″ and up) $8 (under 48″) $7 Senior Citizens (must show valid I.D.) There are places to eat on the Pleasure Pier or great restaurants with in walking distance off the Pier.

Moody Gardens

The Moody Gardens Festival of Lights runs from November 14th – January 10th, 6-10pm each night. The display has more than 1 million lights and has over 100 animated displays with sound. Tickets are $10.95 and include admission to the skating rink. Skates available to rent for $7. Moody Gardens offers discounted admission to some of their other attractions after 4:30pm with a Festival of Lights ticket. It’s been a good time for us to take the kids late in the day. The walk around the complex is easy and slow. A visit definitely gets you in the holiday spirit and there are plenty of picture taking opportunities.

There is also a much acclaimed exhibit of ice sculptures returning to Moody Gardens this year. ICE LAND runs November 14th – January 10th. Tickets are $26.95 for adults, $21.95 for seniors and $15.95 for children. You can receive a discount of $5.00 Sunday through Thursday, Nov. 15 through Dec. 17, excluding Thanksgiving Day. The theme is “SpongeBob’s Christmas Party” and boasts 65 sculptures and figurines. The event is in a 28,000 square foot chilled tent, down to 9 degrees. Parkas are available for the visit, but be sure to dress warmly!

Beyond Thanksgiving: Dickens on the Strand

Dickens on the Strand is an annual favorite in Galveston. It’s a Victorian Holiday Street Festival December 4th-6th. The event features parades, entertainment, carolers, holiday food and crafts sold by vendors in full Victorian regalia. The event is sponsored by the Galveston Historical Foundation and this year will have a “distinctive historical theme that will add new attractions and cultural experiences,” according to GHF Executive Director, Dwayne Jones (GalvestonHistory.org) There are a lot of special events during the weekend that require RSVPs – including breakfast with Charles Dickens great grand daughter cooking a traditional English breakfast and a special tour of Bishop’s Palace that opens rooms that are usually off limits. Tickets in advance are $13 or $15 at the gate. Children 7-12 are $7 in advance or $9 at the gate. If you want to dress up in Victorian attire, you can get in for half price!

Check out Galvston.com for a complete listing of other holiday events.

Holidays at the Beach

Of course, as much as we love all the things Galveston has to offer, we can’t get enough family time at the beach. Most years the kids can run around in short sleeves, play football in the yard and event get in the water. Only once in the past 4 years, did we actually have to bundle up for our family beach walks. We have great memories from times there!

Thanksgiving at the beach - food, family and fun.

What’s your favorite island holiday tradition?