December 12, 2018 § 2 Comments
If you’re a sugar-avoider at this time of year, it’s hard not to feel like the Grinch. If you’re a clutter-avoider, you may well feel like you’re channeling Scrooge. So if you’re like me you’re a… a Scrinch. Basically, this time of year represents a nexus of everything I’ve ever written about. Too much sugar? Too much clutter? It’s all here. No wonder celebrants suffer from “holiday hangovers” and vow a slew of New Year’s resolutions. The problem with too much is that it never feels like enough until… it feels bad.
My goal at Christmastime is to have fun without ever arriving at the hangover part. An important part of this is practicing what I preach and avoiding excess sugar AND excess stuff in my gift-giving.
The holidays are tricky in this regard and Christmas is super tricky. This year I got a request to write about Christmas stockings in particular, which might be the trickiest of all. In a holiday that is chock-full of deeply weird traditions- trees in the house, shrubbery on the ceiling- the tradition of hanging our socks up for Santa to fill with treats is so especially strange that I am particularly fond of it.
But there are several key considerations with stocking stuffers. Firstly, no matter how big your stocking may be, there’s always a clear size limit. (I’m a stickler on this: in order to be a “stocking stuffer,” it must actually be physically stuffable in the stocking. Sorry, wall calendars.) Also, stocking contents are usually in addition to whatever “real” gifts are waiting under the tree, so probably there is a real budgetary limit as well. Santa has his work cut out for him, right? We need cheap, we need special and fun, we need small. And if you’re like me, and a Scrinch, then pile on top of those considerations the fact that you’re not wanting to overdose everyone on candy and chocolates either, OR wreck your home or the environment with crappo, plastic, break-in-five-minutes toys and hilarious, but-they-end-up-in-the-landfill joke gifts. (Seriously, no one really wants that taco-flavored coffee.)
If you know me, you probably have already guessed that I have given an inordinate amount of thought to The Stocking Problem. Before we go any further let me point out that yes, if you are avoiding sugar (which is cheap) and avoiding plastic crap (which is also cheap), it is going to be very, very easy to spend more money in the process of trying to avoid those things. So I recommend trying to work the problem backwards: decide how much money you want to spend on a person and then set aside some portion of that to spend on their stocking. No matter how much you set aside, of course, it won’t be enough, but that’s the nature of Christmas, so we’re used to it.
In the stocking stuffer category I’ve found most solutions to avoiding both sugar and clutter fall into two main groups. They are: No Sugar But Still Special Food, and Nice Versions of Small Things They Really Do Need/Will Use. Below are a few ideas I’ve used over the years… website links are beneath each idea. BTW no one is paying me to say any of this because I’m simply not that big a deal.
- No Sugar But Still Special Food:
Dried Cherries: Shhhhh! Don’t tell but I am totally doing this this year. I mean, Santa is. I hear. Chukar Cherries offers dried Rainer, Tart and Bing Cherries without added sugar in 6 oz bags for
about $10 each, or in tiny 1.85 oz. snack bags coupled with pistachios, cashews and almonds, 12 pack for $39, so $3 each. Other dried fruits or freeze dried fruits can be great too, just be sure to check that they don’t contain added sugar, artificial sugar or sugar alcohols (if advertised “sugar free” be on the look-out for sucralose, erythritol, mannitol, isomalt. I’d avoid these things as well.)
Tea in a Tin: Not so much a kid gift, but adults hang stockings in our house too. Try: Harney and Sons Hot Cinnamon Spice Tea, which, due to its combination of spices, tastes as if it is sweetened… but it isn’t. Seriously, I wouldn’t kid you about this. $8. Also consider hot sauces, little jars of special olives stuffed with garlic, fancy French mustards, olive oil so prized it comes with an eyedropper… anything you can’t buy at the supermarket automatically counts as “special.”
Popcorn: There’s just something fun about the idea of food that explodes. Unflavored, unpopped popcorn is your best bet in the no added sugar department, so ignore the millions of “gourmet” flavored varieties that include everything from maple bacon to booze… instead how about corn still-on-the-cob? All you need is a brown paper bag and you can pop it right off the cob in your microwave. It really is kind of fun and you’re avoiding PFOAs! (The very nasty chemicals coating microwave popcorn bags.) At $5 for a two-cob bag you are paying a premium per cob for the novelty of it of course, but then again it’s the cheapest thing on this list so chalk it up to the Elves’ Union or something. Or, if you have more stockings to fill, they also have a package of ten cobs for $17, giving you a much better deal per cob.
- Nice Versions of Small Things They Really Do Need/Will Use
Personalized Pencils: School supplies that are fun but usable can be great. Scented or shaped erasers, a stapler that looks like a man-eating shark- you get the idea. I love personalization as a way to make something mundane into something special- and kids LOVE having their name printed on things. You can get 24 in a variety of colors or designs for around $10.
Big Fluffy Slipper Socks: Last year I found some super-fluffy, plush slipper socks for my two daughter’s stockings. At $20 a pair, they were on the expensive side, however the upside was that they took up a lot of room in the stocking. YES! This year I found this site (below) and I love both the slippers and the socks which are priced between $7 and $12. However- be careful of buying Santa-themed items- how much use will these really get after X-mas day? Instead I’d go with cuddly polar bears and penguins which are good all winter long.
Fun Soaps: Soap is so great. It can be made in so many shapes and scents, and everyone needs it (unlike, say, scented candles or potpourri, which really aren’t for everyone.) Best of all, it’ll eventually get enjoyed and used up all at the same time. The Vermont Country Store has wonderfully cute animal-shaped soaps on a rope, for about $15, as well as soaps shaped like the gang from Peanuts. Please tell Santa I want the Snoopy.
So let me know: what do you think?
What other No Sugar/ No Clutter stocking stuffers have you found?
January 28, 2011 § Leave a comment
This project certainly has its up and downs. Just a few days ago I was on the verge of despair: a good and trusted friend had offered the observation that our project was big on “deprivation,” and this sent me into a bit of a tailspin.
Why was I doing this exactly? Am I a masochist at heart? Worse, am I torturing my family in a misguided effort to further my own career as a writer? To give me fodder for a book? Wouldn’t that pretty much make me the culinary equivalent of Joan Crawford?
It didn’t help that I made the mistake of taking the girls with me to the supermarket, so we could drool over all the lovely products in shiny packages that we weren’t buying. Note to self: go to Price Chopper during school hours. At home- away from all the shiny bells, whistles and cartoon characters- is where the kids are at their most philosophical about the project, which is nice because it would seem to indicate they aren’t feeling, you know, deprived.
At school, I see them struggling- which is hard for me. Both of them have graduated from “Mommy I had a brownie at school today” to “Mommy, I had a brownie at school today- I’m sorry,” to “Mommy, everyone had a brownie at school today- but I couldn’t! It was terrible!”
Now, we’re keeping in mind my “outside the house you decide” policy, right? Whereas the menu with mom and dad is strictly no-added sugar, when at school or a friend’s house I have been emphatic that it is their own decision. No guilt. Definitely no apologies. Make this of this project what you want it to be. In fact, I might be blue in the face from repeating this.
I guess I just assumed they would choose to have the sugar items and not give it another thought- this unforeseen response is much more complicated. It doesn’t help either that everywhere we go my ten-year-old announces to anyone within hearing-range the specifics of our project, to which the usual response is a puzzled, piteous grown-up look that seems to say: “you poor thing, you have crazy, controlling hippy parents, don’t you? Do they make you eat tofu for breakfast?”
Thank goodness for the health food store. This is the one place so far that the complete-stranger response to project has been unequivocally positive. While I shopped for carob chips, dried mango slices and seaweed crisps (nope! Second ingredient: sugar) my ten-year-old was deep in conversation with the cashier, who seems very upbeat about the whole thing, and totally unfazed.
“Yes, but just think how healthy you’ll be,” she said to Greta, who was not getting the doe-eyed sympathy she had been hoping for. “You’re going to feel so good!” I drank her words in, simple platitudes though they were, drank in the lack of implied critique, the lack of hesitation in her voice. Maybe we weren’t insane! Then again, I thought, they’re probably used to getting all the nutritional kooks through their door; being v-e-r-y open-minded is part of the job description. But still.
The bill was, of course, enormous- one bag of no-sugar groceries? Ninety dollars. Lack of judgmentalism? Priceless.