Many years ago I received a squat little jar of fig jam that an Italian friend had made from figs grown in her backyard. It was the best hostess gift I’ve ever received. It was sweet and surprising and gave that cold New York winter a nice long hit of Italian sunshine. And with those homegrown organic figs and the recycled jar, it was so nicely green. Of course the majority of us don’t have a perfect garden in Italy bursting with fresh figs—but we can still steer away from humdrum hostess gifts and opt for something thoughtful, sweet and green.
Aloe Vera Plant
Instead of cut flowers, give an aloe vera plant. I happen to love the look of this sexy succulent in a matching green ceramic pot—but any container will do. Aloe is great for burns, but it is also fantastic to use as a moisturizer, a hair gel, and is a wonderful all-around healer for woes of the skin.
These take three weeks to cure, but are so fabulous and simple to prepare. And if you start a few batches now you can be assured that you will brighten the day of any adventurous hostess by next month. Preserved lemons are a staple of Moroccan and Middle Eastern cuisine, but add a vibrant, salty zing to just about any type of dish you can think of. They are amazing with poultry, whole grain salads, steamed vegetables, fish, olives, in relishes … you name it. You’ll need clean jars; organic, unwaxed, scrubbed lemons; and additive-free kosher salt. Cut the lemons over a bowl or cutting board that will hold the juice—and cut each lemon in quarters but leave the quarters attached at the end so that the lemon remains in one piece. Pour a few tablespoons of salt in the bottom of jar, pack lemon quarters with salt and press them into the jar, layering them and topping it all off with salt. Pour extra juice in the jar and cover tightly. Leave them at room temperature for three days; the lemons should be submerged in juice by then, if not, add more juice. Let them pickle for three weeks. These do not require refrigeration, but many people store them in the fridge anyway. They will keep for up to one year.
Unlike paraffin candles (which are made of petroleum), beeswax candles actually purify the air. They burn long, clean and bright, and give off their own natural honey fragrance. Make sure to buy 100 percent pure beeswax candles; and choose yellow beeswax over white beeswax, which is often chemically bleached.
Healthy Sweet Spice Blend
Instead of the tired refined sugar and cinnamon mix for buttered toast, give this wholesome alternative. Mix Sucanat (non-refined cane sugar) with nutmeg and warming spices such as cinnamon and cardamom—which according to Ayurvedic medicine can help boost energy and improve circulation. This looks both elegant and homey packed up in a recycled jar with a sweet homemade label, and does wonders for buttered toast, plain yogurt or a glass of cozy warm milk.
Vanilla Infused Maple Sugar
Maple sugar is a terrific replacement for refined sugar, and its heady deep flavor is divinely enhanced by vanilla. Use half a vanilla bean per one cup of maple sugar. Scrape the bean and bury it in the sugar in a recycled jar, and seal tightly. Let it sit for at least one week. Vanilla maple sugar can be used in place of regular sugar in coffee, on plain yogurt, in baking—wherever sugar is used.
This is so versatile and lovely. It keeps in the refrigerator for up to six months, and can be used on ice cream, fresh fruit, French toast, waffles, or with sparkling water to make an all-natural ginger ale. Not only is ginger delicious, but it is a true healing food that has been used for millennia to treat everything from stomach distress to arthritis and heart conditions. Combine 1 1/2 cups water and 1 cup honey in a small pot and bring to a simmer. Slice 6 ounces of ginger root into thin pieces (no need to peel) and add to mixture. Simmer uncovered for about 45 minutes. When the syrup has reduced to about 3/4 cup, remove from heat and strain. Discard the ginger, let cool, and refrigerate in a clean, recycled jar or bottle.
The Old Standbys … Done Green
In a pinch you might end up with little other choice than chocolate, wine or flowers. And heck, you’ll still have a happy hostess! But if you can, show your green side and try to find an organic wine, some fair trade chocolate or flowers grown without pesticide.
For other hostess gift ideas including recipes and personal care goodies, see Perfectly Natural Hostess Gifts.