PROJECT / Hands On

People who give homemade gifts for the holidays are often seen as superhuman, so organized they make the rest of us sick with envy. But there's a secret these ubergivers rarely reveal. If you choose a "signature" gift to make in one large batch for several friends, you save not only money but time. Anyone who suffers from the what-am-I-going-to-get-her/him syndrome--of which the main symptom is wandering aimlessly around the mall resulting in nothing to show for your wasted time or, worse, yet another sweater--should take a season off from the stores and try giving a gift from the kitchen.

FLAVORED MUSTARD

This small but thoughtfully wrapped present can easily be made several at a time.

CRANBERRY-SAGE MUSTARD

1 (7 1/2-ounce) jar Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon mustard seeds

1 tablespoon finely chopped dried cranberries

1 tablespoon finely chopped sage leaves

Process Dijon mustard, mustard seeds, cranberries and sage leaves in food processor until completely blended. Keep refrigerated.

Makes 32 (1/2-tablespoon) servings.

Each 1/2 tablespoon contains about:

17 calories; 180 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 0 fat; 2 grams carbohydrates; 0 protein; 0.13 gram fiber.

DECORATIVE JAR

1 clear (8-ounce) glass jar with lid

Water

1 sheet writing paper

Decorative-pattern paper edgers or pinking shears

Stamp pad with gold ink

Pencil

Angel pattern stamp

Stamp pad with dark red ink

Pen

Rubber cement

Wire thread

4 to 6 Dried cranberries

Raffia

4 to 6 fresh sage leaves

* Sterilize glass jar by placing in boiling water to cover few minutes.

* Place jar lid, top side down, on writing paper and lightly trace circle. Using decorative-pattern paper edgers or pinking shears, follow traced line and cut out circle.

* Gently blot circle of paper on gold stamp pad to create soft mottled gold effect. Stamp angel pattern stamp with deep red ink in center of circle. Write name and date of mustard on paper with pen.

* Brush rubber cement on back side of paper and top of jar lid. Let dry slightly. Center paper on lid and press down. Pour mustard into jar and secure lid on jar tightly.

* Using wire thread, string 4 to 6 dried cranberries until you have formed a small bunch. Wrap raffia around the neck of the bottle and tie into bow. Just under bow, tie sage leaves and cranberry bunch with raffia.

QUICK SPIN

Two gifts in one: spiced nuts (which are also great to make for a holiday party) and the top ornament, which can be taken off and used during the holidays. Iuse Sculpey modelingcompound, which is ssold in art stores.

SPICED NUTS

1 teaspoon garlic salt

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon curry powder

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons peanut oil

2 cups mixed raw nuts

Coarse salt

Mix garlic salt, cumin, chili powder, curry powder, cayenne, ginger and cinnamon in small bowl.

Heat oil in skillet over low heat. Add spice mixture and stir 3 to 4 minutes. Remove skillet from heat, add nuts and toss to coat.

Transfer nuts to baking sheet in single layer. Bake at 325 degrees 15 minutes, tossing with spatula every 5 minutes. Remove from oven and toss nuts once more. Sprinkle with coarse salt to taste and allow to cool 1 to 2 hours.

Transfer to airtight jars.

Makes 2 cups.

Each 1/4 cup contains about:

Each serving contains about:

235 calories; 251 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 21 grams fat; 9 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams protein; 0.40 gram fiber.

*

DREIDEL TOPPER

1 (2-ounce) pack blue modeling compound

Tracing paer

Sharp knife

Toothpick

1 (2-ounce) pack gold modeling Compound

Knead blue plastic modeling clay in hands until soft. Mold into box shape 1x1x2 inches. Place on clean sheet of tracing paper (not directly on work surface; it can leave grease marks). Starting in middle of 1 long side, slice with sharp knife toward 1 end at 45-degree angle; repeat on remaining 3 long sides to form point.

Knead gold plastic modeling clay in hands until soft. Pinch off almond-sized piece and roll between palms to make handle. Flatten both ends.

Make small depression in middle of top of dreidel (opposite end from point). Press one end of gold handle into depression and mold blue modeling clay around base of handle until secure.

Use toothpick to draw characters about 1/16 inch deep into modeling clay on 4 sides of dreidel. Roll very small pieces of gold modeling clay between hands to make thin strands. Press into drawn characters.

Place dreidel on cookie sheet and bake at 265 degrees 20 minutes.

*

ASSEMBLY

Glass jar with airtight lid

Gold ribbon

Tacky glue (available at crafts or upholstery stores)

Clear cellophane

Sterilize jar. Fill with spiced nuts and close. Wrap gold satin ribbon around jar and glue ends with tacky glue.

Cut piece of gold ribbon at decorative angles to fit on lid. Glue ribbon to lid. Place dreidel to ribbon.

Wrap gift in clear cellophane and tie with gold ribbon.

INSTANT GRATIFICATION

Kits consisting of herb seeds in a box are being sold in every garden store I've been to lately. But what if your friends' gardening abilities aren't quite as great as their love of cooking? Give them a head start with an herb garden already in progress.

1 (8x12-inch) wooden planting box

Small piece of broken clay pot

Potting soil

5 assorted (4-inch) herb plants from nursery, such as parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme and oregano

Decorative rocks

Ribbon or raffia

Place piece of clay pot over drainage hole in the bottom of planting box. Fill box 1/4 way up with potting soil.

Gently remove herb plants from containers and place in the box. Stagger plants by size and color (I put thyme and parsley on left, sage and oregano on right and rosemary in the center). Add more potting soil to 2 inches from the top, making sure to pack well between plants.

Place decorative rocks around plants, inserting 1 inch deep. Do not place the rocks all the way to the top, they will come out if box is overfilled during watering.

Tie planting box with ribbon.

Be sure to include names of herbs and instructions for care. Include a favorite recipe using herbs in your card.

HERB PRINTS

I like the idea of a stamp for making personalized cards, but every ready-made stamp I've seen was a little too perfect for my taste. I knew you could make a stamp from a potato, so I wondered whether herbs would work too. The result was more beautiful and realistic than I had imagined.

You can buy a package of 100 cards and matching envelopes from stationers for $15 to $20 and divide them into packets of 20, making unique, inexpensive gift packets. Experiment with various herbs; you'll be surprised at the different patterns you can make.

Blank cards

Fresh herbs, such as rosemary, oregano, thyme, mint and sage

Stamp pads in assorted colors

Tracing paper

Ribbon or raffia

Envelopes

Clear cellophane

If cards aren't already folded, fold in half.

Trim sprig or leaf of selected herb and place on stamp pad. Place tracing paper on top of herb and press down into stamp pad. Remove tracing paper.

Place inked side of herb on front of folded card. Place clean piece of tracing paper on top of herb and press onto card. Repeat using different herbs or different colors.

Wrap sets of cards, together with envelopes, with clear cellophane. Tie with ribbon, placing clean herb sprig in bow.

OIL AND VINEGAR SET

Gourmet oils and vinegars can be pricey, but they're easy to make (and easy on the budget). I found some nice cruets at the Container Store in Costa Mesa, but empty bottles with wine corks can do the trick. They can be given as a set or by themselves. The pepper and garlic oil also makes a great marinade.

VINEGAR

Fresh thyme

Fresh rosemary

Fresh oregano

1 cruet or empty clear bottle

Cider vinegar

Cork

Place thyme, rosemary and oregano sprigs, 1 at time, stem end down, in cruet or bottle. Fill with vinegar and seal with cork. Let steep 2 weeks in cool dark place.

OIL

Garlic

1 cruet or empty clear bottle

Pequin chiles

Fresh thyme

Olive oil

Cork

Divide garlic head into cloves and peel. Place in cruet with chiles and thyme. Fill with good quality olive oil and seal with cork. Refrigerate. Because of the danger of botulism, garlic-flavored olive oil must be refrigerated at all times and must be used within a week to 10 days of being made. If you prefer use jar for decoration, it must not be used.

ASSEMBLY

Make a card for oil and vinegar, including recipe for dressing or marinade.

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