A thoughtful gift that counts

It’s not the gift, but the thought that counts.

Christmas PresentsThat quote by American author and clergyman Henry Jackson van Dyke was something I grew up hearing, particularly around Christmas time.

It’s not surprising a clergyman would coin such a phase. Perhaps it sprang from the need to help assuage the anxiety, guilty and disappointment people customarily feel with when they can’t afford to buy lavish gifts for their families and friends. This pithy phase not only provided a pass, but gave permission to focus on what’s important when giving a gift: the earnest gesture of thoughtfulness.

As a child, the gift mattered every birthday and every Christmas. The thought counted for very little, except to exercise my imagination about the toy I wanted and didn’t get. I learned to quickly move beyond my disappointment and focus on the gesture or the reason for the season. It wasn’t always easy. Sometimes it was pure torture.

My thoughtful gift

But thoughtfulness became the central theme of my gift giving in my early years as a young mother. Those were lean years; you know when you had more month at the end of your money. So the notion of giving lavish gifts was simply unrealistic, imprudent and irresponsible when I had to keep the lights on, buy food, pay rent and daycare fees for my sons. It was a difficult lesson for my sons to accept back then, but the promise of better days gave them hope. Until then, I taught them it wasn’t the gift, but the thoughtfulness behind that gift that had true meaning.

That thought turned me to the kitchen. After all – the way to the heart is through the stomach (and I have no idea who coined that phase). There I baked the most delectable of gifts, whose variety (nine in total) eclipsed the most lavish of all gifts. I arranged the desserts in  small china boxes I got from the local discount store. It was great fun for the boys to help, although sometimes they were more of a hindrance.

Each year we’d gleefully discuss whom we would give “the box” too and how we would decorate it. It was their job to present the box – which sometimes seemed larger than they were – to family members and friends. It was such a special time. To my surprise, the reception was overwhelming and heart felt.

A change of plan – whoa not so fast

Holiday plate

Christmas dessert plate*

As the lean years slowly subsided, I wanted to do more than just bake for my family and friends – and rightfully so I thought since I had some disposal income to spend. When I finally was able to ask them what they would like for Christmas, they unanimously had the same response: “We want that box!”

Over thirty years later, I am still in the kitchen during the holiday season making an array of desserts from my heart to warm theirs. The box is now a gift plate, which I purchase from a local discount store and include as part of  their gift.

Today the thought behind the gift still matters and through these years the gift matters too.

Here are two of my favorite recipes I include every year: Mini Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake and Almond Shortbread Cookies. The cake is moist and delicious; the shortbread cookie has a subtle delicate flavor.  They both are oldies but goodies. If you have time, give them a try. It’s a great thoughtful gift that will be long remember and requested. Happy Holidays!

Mini Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake

Toll house choco pound cake
Ingredients
3 cups unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups granulated sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter (softened)
2 ½ teaspoons Vanilla extract
½ teaspoon Almond Extract
4 large eggs
¾ cup evaporated milk
12 ounce package mini morsel chocolate chips

Directions
Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (set at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for electric oven).

Toll house choco pound cake uncooked small

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in small bowl; set aside.

In a larger bowl, beat sugar, butter and extracts until creamy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Gradually beat in flour mixture alternately with milk. Use hand mixer if you have one and mix until smooth. Stir in semi-sweet mini morsels.

Pour mixture into a greased and floured 10 inch Bundt pan. (I like to use Baker’s Joy Cooking Spray with flour.) Bake 70 to 80 minutes or until skewer inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 15 minutes.

Flip cake onto a serving plate and cool completely. Serve as it, dust with sifted powdered sugar or drizzle with a glaze.

Almond Shortbread Cookies

Almond cookies
Ingredients
2 sticks butter (softened)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup ground, slivered almonds
1- 2/3 cup unbleached flour
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 cup sifted powdered sugar

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (set at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for electric oven).

Grind almonds in a food processor or hand grinder until coarsely fine. Set aside.

In a bowl, mix butter, sugar and ground almonds until well blended. Sift together flour and salt and gradually add to the butter, sugar and almond mixture, blending well with a large spoon.  Then use your hands to mix the dough to ensure all the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.

Shape the dough into 1-inch balls. Place each dough ball a parchment paper lined baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Press gently to flatten.

Bake 15 to 20 minutes (depending on oven) or until bottoms are lightly browned.

Remove from baking sheet and cool on wire racks for 10 minutes. In small bowl roll warm cookies, one at a time, in sifted powdered sugar until evenly coated. Place back on wire racks to cool completely.

* Featured here: Chocolate dipped Oatmeal Cookies; Deep Dish Sweet Potato Pie with Butter Crumb Crust; 7-up Pound Cake; Hello Dolly Bars; Pecan Tart; Almond Shortbread Cookies and Mini Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake.

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