Simple Living - Christmas Gifts

Christmas can often feel overwhelming. Pressure to buy gifts is put on us as consumers everywhere from constant bombardment through television and internet advertising, ‘content creators’ on social media selling lifestyle goods to kids picking up the Argos catalogue and ticking off every item on there that they see for Santa to deliver. Apart from a stocking for my son, I don’t buy any gifts at Christmas. Instead, we make a Christmas cake for each member of the family (my husband is one of five and then there are all their offspring so it’s a lot of cakes!). For my parents, I add some local beers, sweets and jam to their box alongside the Christmas cake, and that’s it. To me, it doesn’t have to be about spending lots of money and more about showing someone that you are thinking of them.

However, I know that many people do like to buy a gift and pop it under the Christmas tree for a friend or loved one, so I thought I’d collate a few ideas of gifts that are ethical, edible or useful. As the William Morris quote goes “have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful” and I think this should apply at Christmas time too. Most of these gifts are things that I already own and love or are from some fantastic online independents and local stores. There is nothing on this list costing more than £30 and many of them are under £10. I’ve included a few makes too as I think there is nothing better than a homemade gift which you can personalise.

I’ve divided each section into areas of interest - food, eco, home/lifestyle, plants/flowers and ideas for kids. There are no gifted items on this page, no affiliate links and no sponsored content either. These are all things I love and that I hope may help you live simply this Christmas.

For foodies -

Independent magazine - Walnut Magazine - a nice mix of features on food producers, healthy living and recipes. Add a couple of nice bars of chocolate, some loose leaf tea or a jar of jam and you’ve got a great present.

Book - ‘Neighbourhood’ by Hetty McKinnon I love her books and they are all simple, quick and healthy vegetarian recipes. Lots are vegan or easily adaptable too. A recently purchase is ‘Zaitoun’ by Yasmin Khan which is a book of Palestinian recipes - lots of cooking with grains and middle eastern flavours. There are quite a few meat recipes in it, but also lots of great soups, salads, mains and deserts that are all vegan/vegetarian. Most recipes are simple and fuss free too. I’ve cooked several things from it and they have all been utterly delicious. It’s a beautiful book to look at and to curl up on the sofa with while you enjoy the stories from the Palestine Kitchen. My other favourite cookbook that I’ve purchased this year is ‘Five Seasons of Jam’ by Lillie O’Brien. It’s a great guide for anyone starting out with preserving and offers some fantastic flavour combinations of jams too - raspberry and purple basil, blackcurrant and almond, cherry and black pepper - yum!

Make your own - Spiced Tomato Relish. This is a simple and amazingly tasty recipe and the perfect gift to add to Christmas hampers or with a nice piece of cheese. I’m adding this to my Mum and Dad’s Christmas hamper this year (they know, so this isn’t a spoiler!).

Notes - You will need to sterilise any jars and lids to ensure that the relish stays fresh. I use Weck preserving jars as the seals are very secure and they can be used repeatedly. Sterlising is easy and it’s really about getting the timings right to match the relish being ready. Put your oven on the lowest temperature setting. Wash the jars, lids and rubber seals in warm, soapy water and then rinse them in hot water. Pop the washed and rinsed jars and lids (as long as they are glass) onto a baking tray and place in the oven. The rubber seals can be put in a pan of boiling water or I simply boil the kettle, put the rubber seals in a bowl and pour over the boiled water. If you are using any other type of preserving jar and lid please investigate the correct method for sterlising. Nobody will enjoy a mouldy relish as a Christmas present! It’s also important to use a pan when making the relish that is either stainless steel or enamel and not copper or aluminium as the vinegar can react with those metals and spoil the relish. This recipe makes two 290 ml jars. Double the ingredients if you need to make more.

Ingredients - 4 tbsp olive oil, 1 red onion finely diced, 3 cm piece of fresh ginger - peeled and grated, 1 small red chilli (mild, medium or hot depending on how much you like the heat from a chilli) finely chopped and seeds removed, 2 star anise, 500 g fresh tomatoes (cherry or small vine ones are ideal), 4 tbsp red wine vinegar, 4 tbsp soft brown sugar, salt and pepper to season.

Method - In a large stainless steel or enamel pan, heat the olive oil and add the red onion, grated ginger, chopped chilli and star anise (you could also add some chopped garlic to the recipe but I hate the stuff so never use it). Cook gently, stirring occasionally for around ten minutes. Add the tomatoes, red wine vinegar and sugar and stir to combine. Season well. Increase the heat and turn the heat up to high. Stir regularly until the tomatoes have broken down. Once the sauce has thickened (which will take around 10 - 15 minutes) you can take it off the heat. I like to remove the star anise at this point but you can leave it in if you like. Always spoon hot relish or jam into hot sterilised jars otherwise they can crack. If you are using ordinary jam jars it’s a good idea to add a wax disc to the top of the relish before sealing with the metal lids but if you have jars like I do, you can simply attach the rubber seal. Unopened, the relish will keep for several months but once open, put it in the fridge and use within two weeks. Remember to add the ingredients and instructions for care to a gift label.

Make your own - Salted Caramel Fudge - I make batches of this for gifts and it’s ideal to give as a present from your kid to their teacher. You can pop some in a glass container, an old jam jar or a paper bag and attach a gift tag. Just remember to add the list of ingredients to the label.

Buy - Ananda’s Vegetarian/Vegan Marshmallows - mocha, caramel, coconut, vanilla, strawberry and raspberry flavours. You can buy them individually or they also come in a box of six. I’ve ordered some of these for my son’s stocking.

Buy - Orange and geranium, raspberry and rose, lemon and elderflower gin, rhubarb gin chocolate bars from Yorkshire maker, Choc Affair (all bars of dark chocolate are certified Vegan). I love these bars so much.

Shop local in Leeds - If you live in Leeds, pop into The Jar Tree in Kirkgate Market where you’ll find a fantastic range of zero waste goods. I’m loving their vegan hot chocolate and vegan marshmallows which you can buy loose or opt for one of their pre-filled glass jars. You can then return to the store and use the jar to refill. Alternatively, make up your own glass jar of drinking chocolate and mini marshmallows. Add a simple gift tag with instructions for how to make the perfect hot chocolate.

Make your own kit - Small bread making kit from Hobbs House Bakery. Perfect for beginners and it includes a sourdough starter.

Beer - Saltaire Brewery’s limited edition White Christmas pale ale. The best beer in the world. Fact. We always do our annual trip to the Brewery to pick up our crate and have a wander around the bookshop at Salts Mill too. The brewery currently don’t have a website but you can find it sold per bottle on the link above.

Zero waste gifts -

Buy - Bar soaps by Savon Stories and bought from The Future Kept. The winter edition bar smells incredible. Jeska and Dean who run The Future Kept have signed up to give 1% of all sales to environmental not for profit groups and you can read all about it here.

Buy - Hand thrown ceramic soap dish from Firain Store. The perfect addition to help switch from plastic bottles of hand wash to soap bars.

Make your own - Oat, herb & flower bath blend. Put together jars or muslin bags of this pretty and beautifully scented oat bath blend. You could switch out the rose buds and lavender flowers for some more seasonal scents by using essential oils such as lemon, orange and eucalyptus. Include a handwritten label with instructions on how to use.

Buy - Sailor Stripe Baggu - my favourite bag for grocery shopping. Takes lots of weight and can be carried over the shoulder. Folds down into a little pouch to pop in your bag or pocket. I take this everywhere.

Home & Lifestyle Gifts -

Support an indie - Winter Tea-Light Set from Essence & Alchemy (image, above right). Or purchase a candle club subscription package where you send one candle or a bag of tealights every month for three months. You get to pick which scents you’d like or you can choose a surprise. I treated myself to the tealight subscription and I’m currently loving the scent of wild garden.

Book - Do Inhabit - Style your space for a more creative and considered life. One of my favourite interiors books as it’s all about keeping things simple, bringing in the outdoors and making considered choices.

Support an indie - Hand thrown dip glaze mug from Aerende and if you are looking for sustainable candles but don’t want to buy beeswax ones, Aerende sells a fantastic rapeseed pillar candle.

Independent Magazine - 91 Magazine (now offering a one year subscription which covers two issues). The latest edition is full of inspiring homes and businesses, all with sustainability in mind.The subscription either starts with this issue and the next one in Spring 2019. Alternatively you can start with the Spring 2019 edition, followed by the Autumn 2019 issue.

Support an indie - Hand thrown dinner candle holder from Weald Store (image, above left). Stock up on beeswax candles too. I have the stubby ones that burn for hours (top image left).

Shop local in Leeds - Chirpy in Chapel Allerton is full of beautiful homewares, prints, local artists work or you can buy a workshop voucher. I’m running my next basic photography workshop there in March 2019, but there are many others that you can sign up for. Check their website for details.

Support an indie - Hand thrown ceramic espresso beaker from The Wood Store. Add a bag of espresso coffee beans to make the perfect gift for coffee lovers.

Plants and flowers -

Independent magazine - Bloom - a lovely new magazine all about flowers, gardens, plants, outdoor adventurers and nature. Beautiful photography throughout and interesting articles. Add in a couple of packets of flower or vegetable seeds and you have a great present for anyone who loves to grow things.

Dried flowers - Live Forever Bouquet from Design By Nature (image, above left). I recently bought a dried flower bouquet from this London florist which is beautiful and smells incredible. It’s making me happy every time I look at it.

Art - Leaf lino print from Mr Studio London - I have several pieces of work by Mr Studio and I love how they work with flowers in an urban environment.

Display - Faversham bottle vase from Midgley Green (image, above right). I’d love to own one of these vases and fill it with a couple of dried allium heads for a simple yet stunning display.

Shop local in Leeds - The Plant Room, Leeds. Pop down to their studio on Duke Street in Leeds for plants, ceramics and dried flower bouquets. Check out Zosia’s Instagram to find out what they are currently selling here.

Kids -

If you are looking for eco friendly kids toys, books or activity sets, I really love this site, Conscious Craft. Perfect for all ages, they have a great range of wooden toys, nature kits, crafting activities and books. These are some of my favourite items from their store:

Organic modelling clay made with natural plant dyes. The packaging is environmentally friendly, made from 100% recycled paper.

Botanicum Activity Book

Planetarium Book

Match a Leaf memory game