6 Holiday Gift Ideas That Aren’t Stuff

While giving items can be good, this time of year it seems to get out of control. I actually get anxious thinking about all the gifts I get that I won’t use and don’t have space for. I don’t agree that all object-gifts should be condemned, but it can be good to think out of the box and opt for gifting experiences instead.

I compiled a few ideas of experience-based gifts to consider if you are unsure of what to give!

1. Donate to a Cause or Charity

Donate to a cause or charity that person is passionate about. This is nice because people don’t always have extra money to support causes they believe in, so you can help them out! Plus is emphasizes some really positive things regarding the holidays, like giving and being thankful.

2. Buy a Class

This can be just for the person, or you can buy a class for you to do together! Classes can be expensive, but this is a great way to give the gift of exploring interests.

3. Gift Cards/Vouchers

Gift cards are almost always a good idea, but they can still be personal! Opt for a gift card for their favorite store or a voucher for an activity you know they enjoy (such as a manicure or going to the cinema).

4. Tickets

Tickets to a concert, play, comedy show, sports game, and the list goes on! People don’t always treat themselves to extra experiences like this, so it can be a really special night out. If you are gifting a couple and want to be extra thoughtful, offer to babysit children or pets on the night of the event to allow them stress-free enjoyment 🙂

5. Pay for a Nice Dinner/Drinks

This is a nice option for friends, especially if you are unsure of what they want. Inviting them somewhere nicer than usual (or their favorite restaurant/bar) and treating them the entire night is bound to be fun for everyone involved! Plus they will probably find this more enjoyable than having to keep around some tacky candle/oven mitt/figurine.

6. Try a New Recipe Together

Not necessarily limited to a recipe, this could be trying anything new together. The gift component is that you purchase all the ingredients (or other supplies) to make it. This is great because you spend time with someone and you get to try your hand at something new!

Let me know if you like any of these ideas, or if you have more to add!

5 Favorite Holiday Books

I’m starting to get into the holiday spirit which, for me, usually means 3 things: baking, playing music, and reading.

Reading! There is something about this time of year that makes reading better. The coziness, time off, warm beverages, avoiding family… all of these factors seem to contribute to an improved reading situation.

Anyway, I thought I’d share my favorite holiday books. They aren’t all “holiday-themed”, but they are books I consistently reach for this time of year.

1. Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris

Hilarious and relatable, this is the perfect holiday book to me. It includes both fiction and non-fiction, so it is well-balanced. Bonus that the stories are short, so it can easily be picked up and put down between festivities.

My personal favorite? The SantaLand Diaries, which recounts Sedaris’ time spent working as a Macy’s holiday elf.

2. You Better Not Cry by Augusten Burroughs

All autobiographical stories presented with an intensely dark humor that is all too appropriate for the holiday season. Indeed, the humor is so dry, one sometimes wonders if it is dehydrated. One of the highlights is The Best and Only Everything, which deals with a boyfriend’s HIV diagnosis and goes deeper than many of the other stories.

3. The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Volume 1 by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

This might be more of a personal pick, but I always find myself drawn to Sherlock Holmes stories in the colder months. While Volume 1 and Volume 2 are both excellent, Volume one is my preference because it contains The Sign of the Four. The Sign of the Four is a favorite of mine because it has such a great, winding plot, that unravels wonderfully. Perfect book to settle into with a cup of tea on a winter morning.

4. Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien (or the Father Christmas Letters)

There is not too much to say about these except that they are sweet and whimsical. Tolkien wrote these letters from Father Christmas to his children and they were put into a collection after his death. The stories are really just about Father Christmas and his Polar Bear helpers and are a great read for the entire family, in my opinion. If you are already a Tolkien fan, you will enjoy them even more.

5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

I mean, it’s Harry Potter. I’m not sure I need to elaborate too much. Why for Christmas? I think the first book in particular paints a lovely Christmas at Hogwarts where Harry feels as though he has a place to call home and loved ones for the first time. Plus, he discovers the mirror of Erised and that becomes a good lesson for both the reader and Harry.

These are some of my favorites that I always pick up this time of year, but I would be interested to hear what some other favorites are!

Shinjuku Gyoen

“Not just beautiful, though — the stars are like the trees in the forest, alive and breathing. And they’re watching me.” – Haruka Murakami

I found this quote and it just described this walk perfectly – the quiet park, chilly air, and arboreal surroundings. Almost as if the trees are watching you back.

Vegetarian Thanksgiving Menu

Hosting holidays is something I enjoy. While some people find it stressful, I think for me it is laid-back and just plain fun. I try to not make anything too complicated or fussy and generally tend to have a balanced plate, snacks for peckish people, and a crowd-pleasing dessert. In my opinion, it is best to keep it simple and focus on doing just a few things, but doing them well.

Thanksgiving can be an especially difficult holiday for vegetarians and vegans, as many of the traditional offerings are heavy in animal products. The same flavors are definitely still possible without meat, so whether you are making a dish for a vegetarian guest, or plan on hosting a fully cruelty-free Thanksgiving, I’ve included a sample menu to get you started 🙂

I would include a red wine, IPA, and sparkling water for guests to drink (of course more options if you desire, but I try to keep it simple). Mixed salted nuts and dried cherries are a great snack to have out on tables, as well as soft cheese with baguette. For dessert, apple crisp is easy to make vegan by simply using vegan butter and pairing with vegan ice cream (SO Delicious Vanilla Cashewmilk is my personal recommendation for vegan vanilla). Of course most desserts are already vegetarian, so no need to plan too much for that ;p

Mixed Green Cranberry Walnut Salad

Serves 6

Ingredients:

Large container spring greens (around 8 cups)

Brianna’s Blush Wine vinaigrette

3/4 cup red onion, very thinly sliced

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

4-6 oz. goat cheese crumbles (leave out if making vegan)

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Toss all ingredients together!

Maple Glazed Sweet Potatoes

Serves 6

Ingredients:

4 medium sweet potatoes, washed well

3/4 cup Maple Syrup

4 Tablespoons butter (or earth balance)

Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400º F.

Slice potatoes lengthwise, then chop into pieces about 1/2 inch thick. In skillet melt butter on med-high heat. Add potatoes.

Add maple syrup, toss to coat, then bring to a boil. Place potatoes in oven, stirring every 5 minutes, until done (they should able to be pierced by a fork). This should take about 20 minutes.

Beyond Beef Pot Pies

Serves 6

Ingredients:

I lb. Beyond Beef (or other meatless ground)

1 medium yellow onion

4 cloves minced garlic

2 carrots, chopped

2 ribs celery, chopped

2 cups frozen peas

3 Tablespoons olive oil (1-2 additional Tablespoons to brown the Beyond Beef)

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup AP flour

4 cups vegetable broth

1 cup wine (I use a red wine to bring out a richer flavor, but white whine is fine if you prefer)

1 package puff pastry (if you prefer homemade, see my post Vegan Puff Pastry)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425º F.

In large skillet or saucepan, heat the 3 Tablespoons olive oil on med-high. Add onion and garlic and cook 4-5 minutes, until soft.

Add carrots, celery, and peas. Cook a few more minutes.

Add herbs, salt, and flour. Stir to disperse flour and avoid clumps. Add wine and broth slowly, stirring well. Turn heat down to low and let simmer 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In separate pan, use a bit of olive oil to brown the beyond meat (this should only take a few minutes, so be careful not to over cook it).

Add the beyond meat to the rest of the filling and remove from heat. Assemble pot pies by filling in ideal ramekins with about 1 cup of filling each (if you don’t have ramekins, simply use a pie dish or a 9×9 baking dish). Top with puff pastry.

Bake until crust is done (about 20 minutes). Garnish with fresh parsley or rosemary sprigs.

Pumpkin Bread

I know we are bombarded with an abundance of “pumpkin spice” this time of year, yet many pumpkin treats seem to neglect the star ingredient! My absolute favorite way to enjoy pumpkin is via pumpkin bread and this recipe contains a healthy portion of pumpkin to ensure maximum pumpkin flavor 🙂

I also add some maple syrup to help bring out the flavor of the spices and pumpkin. Oh! And it’s vegan, so it is a great option to bring to Thanksgiving or other potlucks for a vegan option. The icing is optional, but makes it more decadent (although I may actually prefer it without as a hearty snack cake with some tea).

Pumpkin Bread

2 cups A.P. Flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

2 pinches cloves

1 pinch salt

1/2 cup sugar

2 Tablespoons maple syrup

1/3 cup canola oil

1/3 cup almond milk

1 can pumpkin purée

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Optional: 1 Tablespoon freshly grated ginger (for when you want some extra spice and zing)

Icing

Almond milk (a few Tablespoons, depending on preferred viscosity)

Confectioner’s sugar (1/2 – 3/4 cup)

Vanilla extract (about 1 teaspoon)

Directions:

Heat oven to 350º F.

In medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices, and salt. Set aside.

In large bowl, whisk together sugar, maple syrup, canola oil, almond milk, pumpkin purée, and vanilla extract.

Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients in 3 parts, whisking to combine. Use a spatula to scrape sides of bowl between additions.

Spray loaf pan (lining with parchment should also work). Fill with batter, smooth, and bake for about 55 minutes. You can test using a toothpick or cake tester and if it comes out clean, it’s done!

Hopefully you enjoy!

To see exactly how to make it, I’ve included a video:

A Break

Hi! I didn’t really discuss this because it just sort of happened, but I took a break from blogging for the past few months. It was not necessarily a conscious decision, there were just other things going on that made it difficult to apply myself to hobbies.

I was going through a lot of changes and they were all negative changes, so I was feeling pretty down. Getting through that I’m back on the upswing, with lots of positive changes following that slump (new job that I’m enjoying, classes, and rejuvenation in my goals). It’s a good reminder for me that life is constantly ebbing and flowing.

Anyway, I’m back to (hopefully) posting somewhat regularly.

Apple Cinnamon Rolls

Since apple season is in full force, I decided to make my cinnamon roll recipe with an apple butter filling (to fully embrace autumnal vibes).

It turned out even better than anticipated (I immediately consumed two rolls), so I thought I’d share.

I used the same base recipe for cinnamon rolls found here but used a different filling.

Apple Cinnamon Rolls

Filling:

1/2 cup apple butter (the kind without added sweeteners or sugar)

2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

2 Tablespoons brown sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

I made the dough as usual, but spread this instead of the usual filling and it turned out well! These do seem to be a bit more gentle than typical cinnamon rolls when placing them into the dish for their proof, so treat them gently.

If you want to see the process of how to make these Apple Cinnamon Rolls, watch the video to see the steps in action.