photo by laurenatclemson

This year, you might cut back on gift giving, but there are some people you simply don't want to cross off the list -- for example, the people who have done a great job or provided excellent service throughout the year, such as teachers, your mailman, your child's school-bus driver, a childcare provider or a doctor. These people can be tough to shop for. You don't want to go overboard, but you still want to show your appreciation. Practical gifts will be appreciated this year, but don't wait until it's crunch time, when you'll be more likely to overspend.
Here are a few suggestions.

LETTER: A note of thanks can mean a lot. If the gift recipient has a boss, write her boss a letter that praises her. People are quick to complain and often overlook writing a letter that compliments a job well done.

MONEY: Let's face it: Money is appreciated. An alternative option is giving a gift certificate for restaurants, grocery stores, bookstores, movies, gasoline or supplies. For example, a teacher can make practical use of a gift certificate for school supplies or food more than another plant during the holidays. You can try talking to others and see whether they'd like to pool together to get a group gift. By teaming up, you can all give one meaningful gift instead of several trinket gifts.

CATERED GIFT: Make or buy food for the day for them. If buying food gifts, consider purchasing in bulk to keep the cost down. It's always nice to receive a free meal during a busy season. It can be a simple cold-cut platter, soup and salad, fruit, pizza, cheese and crackers and veggie plate, bagels or plates of baked goods such as muffins, cookies, quick breads or caramel popcorn.
Here are two homemade recipes you can give as gifts.

Caramel Popcorn

3-5 quarts popped popcorn
1 cup butter
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 250 F. Place popcorn on a baking sheet lined with release foil or sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. In a medium saucepan, melt butter. Stir in brown sugar, corn syrup and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil for 4 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in baking soda and vanilla. Pour over popcorn until coated. Bake for 1 hour. Stir popcorn every 10 minutes. Remove from oven, and cool. Break apart. Store in plastic baggies or tin.

Cookie Truffles

1 pound cream-center sandwich cookies, with chocolate- or mint-cream centers
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
crushed star-mint candies
1 pound milk chocolate

Using a food processor, pulse cookies to a powder. With a mixer, blend cookie powder, cream cheese and vanilla until well combined. Roll into small balls, or use a melon baller, and place on wax-paper-lined baking pan. Refrigerate for 45 minutes. Crush mint candies. In double boiler or fondue pot, melt chocolate. Dip balls in chocolate. With slotted spoon, remove balls from chocolate, and let excess chocolate drip off. Place on wax-paper-lined baking pan. Sprinkle on crushed mint candies. Let cool. Store in airtight container, in refrigerator. Optional: Try strawberry cream cheese and vanilla sandwich cookies. -- Kathy, Washington

What gifts do you give to these people in your life?