I don’t remember giving my teachers Christmas presents, but these days, kids seem to shower their teachers at the holidays, often with generous store-bought items. After long nights of grading and report-writing, teachers head into the winter break with bags full of spice-scented candles and cocktail napkins, and a long list of thank-you notes to write.
But gift-giving can be different. I tasted my first bread-and-butter pickles courtesy of one of my students, who’d spent a day in late summer putting them up with her mom. Inspired by this girl’s example, my kids and I try to set aside jars of homemade preserves or pickles for their teachers. But because my younger son eats jam on everything, sometimes there’s none left by holiday time. So this year I’m trying something new but old-school.
What do teachers, or anyone you need simple gifts for, really want? I can only speak for myself, but I like to have something I can pull out when friends come over. Spiced nuts, pickles, and cookies really hit the spot. And then there’s Chex Mix. I loved the stuff my great-aunt used to bring to family gatherings back in the 1970s. But recently the bagged version has ruined it for me. It comes in flavors you could never concoct at home, and my kids crave it like a drug.
This kind of snack mix is so much fun to make at home. It’s easy to find ideas on online, with flavors from familiar and sweet to exotic and salty. My kids and I decided to update and personalize a classic approach. The basic elements are cereal, nuts, pretzels, butter, and Worcestershire sauce. I tweaked this with smoked paprika and more than one kind of cereal.
As for cookies, I like to make them rich and plain. (I stink at rolling out and decorating them. They end up looking like a bomb went off at a Frozen party.) For years, my stepmom has baked these simple bar cookies, called MFCs, for my brothers and me and now for our kids. They’ll keep in tins for several days, if they last that long. Your kids can customize them: we mixed crushed Whoppers from Halloween into the chocolate. The problem? They’re almost too good to share with teacher. But the thank-you note will be sincere.
Nuts and Bolts
Adapted from marthastewart.com
- 2 cups toasted corn cereal, such as Chex
- 1 cup wheat Chex
- 1 1/2 cups pretzel sticks
- 1 cup salted dry-roasted peanuts or other nuts
- 2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or hot sauce
- 1/4 cup minced fresh rosemary, or 2 tablespoons dried
Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Combine cereal, pretzels, and nuts in a large bowl. Mash garlic into a paste on a cutting board with salt. Stir this together with melted butter, Worcestershire sauce, paprika, and cayenne pepper/hot sauce. Pour over cereal mixture; toss to coat using a rubber spatula. Spread mixture evenly on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake, gently stirring every 15-20 minutes, until toasted, about 1 hour. Add rosemary. Bake for 20 minutes more. Let cool completely.
My Favorite Cookies
Makes 24 big squares or 48 bars
- ½ lb. butter, softened at room temperature
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- Chopped nuts or candy canes, optional
Preheat oven to 325. With a wooden spoon, cream together butter and sugar. Stir in yolk, vanilla, and salt until blended, then gently stir in flour. Press the dough in an even layer in an 8” x 8” or a 9” x 13” pan. Bake for 25 minutes (20 minutes if you’re using a 9 x 13 pan), till golden-brown around the edges.
While the shortbread is baking, break 8 regular-sized chocolate bars into pieces and place in a microwave-safe bowl or a pan. Melt the chocolate. (In a microwave, go 30 seconds at a time on low, stirring between. On the stove, set the chocolate over low heat or in a double boiler, and stir occasionally till melted, about 5 minutes.)
When the shortbread is out of the oven, pour the melted chocolate on top and spread it around with a spatula. Sprinkle with topping, if desired, and allow to cool. Cut into squares and do your best not to eat them all before you give them away.