The holidays are about sharing and giving, and what better way is there to show your loved ones how much you appreciate them than by giving them gifts that you made by hand. This year, the special people on my list are getting flavorful cultured vegan butter, my famous dry rub, some spicy jalapeno jelly, and a homemade instant coconut mocha (or hot cocoa) mix.

It may seem hard to believe judging from my jolly holiday demeanor, but just a few years ago, I didn’t really care much for Christmas. I saw the people in my life turning into monsters; stressing themselves out, worrying about what they were going to get for everyone on their list.

Everything about this time of year just seemed like a worthless corporate stunt set up to oblige people into spending their money on worthless things that nobody actually wanted. People were going crazy, worrying about what they were going to get for someone they barely knew, but that they felt the just HAD to get something for.

And I DID NOT want to be involved.

As a kid, the holidays were all about getting everything you asked Santa for, and as a parent, it’s all about making sure your kids get everything that they ask Santa for. But what about those of us who are in between? What about those of us who are no longer children anticipating the arrival of sleigh bells on the roof, and who are not planning on having human children (of course my pups are spoiled this time of year) anytime soon?

For those of us who are intentionally childless, and no longer children ourselves, the holidays can seem just feel like a waste of time, energy, and money. 

The stress and anxiety that’s caused by trying to get everyone in your life the perfect holiday gift seems like the antithesis of what the holidays are actually supposed to be about. I get that there is something exhilarating about purchasing just the right thing for just the right person, and having them love what you got for them, but for most of us, that rush is overshadowed by the dread of “What am I going to get for__________?”

So, I pretty much opted out of the holidays for a few years in my early 30s, and I didn’t really feel like I was missing out.

One year, on a whim, I decided to collage some holiday cards for people. As a crafty person, it’s always fun to make, but it’s sometimes difficult to figure out what to do with all of the things that you make. Christmas seemed like a perfect time of year to have a captive audience for my work, who an obligation to accept the crafts that I made for them.

Making these cards not only allowed me to have some type of creative outlet, and a way to process the holiday stress, but it also allowed me to tailor my gifts to the specific people in my life. It was no longer about finding things that people may like, and instead it was about making things that you know they would. 

With the success of my card making, I decided to start making some food gifts to give out as well. I started with giving out small bags of my dry rub to friends and family, and I was happy to hear actually used and enjoyed what I had made for them. The next year, I added some jalapeno jelly to the roster as well. 

This year, a few extra special folks will get my handmade collage cards, and in addition to the rub and jelly, I’ve added homemade vegan cultured butter and instant coconut hot cocoa to the mix. 

As a gift to y’all, I decided to film my gift making process. Hopefully my gifts inspire you to make some of your own, and if you’re in a holiday rut, stressing about what to get for everyone on your list, just give them all some homemade jalapeno jelly and call it a day.

Watch the video below to see exactly how I made each of these easy holiday gifts, and then scroll down for full written recipes, or links to where you can find the full recipes. 

Enjoy, and Happy Holidays!

Cultured Vegan Butter: Two Ways

Maple-Cinnamon Vegan Butter in cute maple leaf shapes.

One of the gifts that I’m most excited about making and giving this year is cultured vegan butter in two varieties: salted and cinnamon-maple.

And although I write a lot of recipes for my channel and website, some things are just science, and you can’t mess with perfection. To make vegan butter at home, I use Miyoko’s Glorious Butterless Butter recipe from her “The Homemade Vegan Pantry” book (affiliate link HERE), and I think you should, too.

To make it a “cultured” butter, you need to add yogurt in place of the plant milk. I sub in my homemade vegan soy yogurt (link to the recipe HERE), but you could just use any plain store-bought vegan yogurt, or you could follow Sarah Sullivan’s homemade vegan butter recipe HERE, in which she shows you how to culture your own cashews milk. 

In addition to using yogurt when making Miyoko’s recipe, I also double the salt amount, and I use a rich olive oil in place of the neutral oil because I think it gives richer, more buttery flavor. 

To make the cinnamon maple butter variation, I add 2 tablespoons of real maple syrup and about ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon to every cup of vegan butter. I always taste the butter before molding it just to make sure that the flavors all shine through. 

There are a number of ways you could mold the butter so that you can give it out as a gift. You could form the entire batch into a disc using a small spring-form pan, and once it’s firm, cut it into wedges, and wrap each wedge in parchment paper. 

You could also just purchase a silicone mold, as I did, and mold the butter into various shapes. I personally prefer the butter to be molded into 2 tablespoon portions so that it’s easier to give and to use. 

This butter needs to stay refrigerated to hold its shape, so if you are gifting it, just store it in the freezer before handing it out Just instruct your recipients to put it into the refrigerator as soon as possible so that it doesn’t lose its shape. And although it does need to be stored in the refrigerator, it is best when served at room temperature.

Monson’s Famous Dry Rub

Monson’s Famous Dry Rub

This recipe was inspired by a BBQ joint I went to about 7 or 8 years ago. I fell in love with their seasoning and Googled to see if I could find a list of spices online. I stumbled upon an old online article that had their “secret” recipe, and over the past few years, I’ve tweaked it and made it my own.

Dry rub is a perfect gift because it stores and lasts forever, it can be used on pretty much anything, and eventhough you can’t control what your friends and family put it on, you’ll have the piece of mind in knowing that you gave them something that was vegan that they can use.

Depending on the person, I give out about 1 cup portions to people. Find some old jars, some old bottles, or even old spice shakers, clean them up, and fill them with this rub, for a quick and easy gift.

And if you want to share a few vegan recipes to use this rub on, here you go:

Monson’s Famous Dry Rub

This recipe makes a lot of dry rub, perfect for mushrooms and vegetables of all sorts. Make a ton to store or give away as gifts, or scale the recipe down and just make a small batch for tonight.

Author: Michael Monson
Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 cups tightly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup course kosher salt
  • 1 cup ground espresso
  • 1/4 cup ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup garlic granules
  • 2 tablespoons onion powder
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoons smoked paprika
Instructions
  1. Combine ingredients. Store in an air-tight container until ready to use.

Vegan Instant Coconut Mocha or Coconut Hot Cocoa Mix

Instant Coconut Hot Cocoa and Coconut Mocha Mix in cute thrifted mugs.

This coconut hot cocoa or coconut mocha mix is perfect for all of the adults or children on your list this year. I like to jazz up the gift a bit by packaging it in a cute compostable bag, tying a vintage spoon or candy cane to it with a piece of string, and then delivering it in a thrifted mug.

As delicious as this mix is, it’s kinda all about the mug. Honestly, I spent over 45 minutes at one thrifts store trying to decide which mugs to get. You’ll be surprised at how many are actually in your local thrift stores; ranging from the cute and festive, to the brash and sassy.

I like to get a variety. Basic holiday mugs with Santa or snowmen are perfect for those you might not be that close to, while plain mugs or simpler designs might be best for those who don’t celebrate Christmas, but would love a fun mug full of coconut hot cocoa.

Personally, I like the ironic ones, or the ones with grouchy office ladies on them, or even those bizarre ones like the one I found with a photo of people dressed up as pirates and mermaids on the front of it.

Have fun with this! It’s about being creative and avoiding the holiday stress. Get some crazy mugs, make some coconut cocoa mix, and call it a day!

Vegan Instant Coconut Mocha or Coconut Hot Cocoa Mix

Add about 1/4 cup of this three ingredient mix to a cup of coffee or warm plant-based milk for a quick and delicious coconut mocha or coconut hot cocoa.

Author: Michael Monson
Ingredients
  • 2 cups Powdered Coconut Milk*
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 cups vegan powdered sugar**
Instructions
  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl, making sure to get all of the lumps out. Divide into individual bags or containers to give out as gifts, or store in an airtight container until ready to use.

  2. To make an Instant Coconut Mocha, just add 1/4 cup mix to 1 cup of hot coffee. To make Instant Coconut Hot Cocoa, add 1/4 cup mix to 1 cup warm plant-based milk.

Recipe Notes

*I used Native Forest brand powdered coconut milk in my recipe, which I found at Sprouts. It’s also available at Natural Grocers, Whole Foods, and online. 

**White sugar is often refined through “bone char”. Check the label of your powdered sugar to see that it is organic, or certified vegan and bone char free.

Easy Jalapeno Jelly

Easy Jalapeno Jelly

Jalapeno jelly is one of those things that seems way harder than it actually is. Go to your local grocery store, get a package of pectin, and follow the directions. I purchased the Ball brand, but I know for a fact there are a couple other brands that have the same exact recipe on the package as well.

A quick note: White sugar is often refined through “bone char”, so just check the package of sugar when you purchase it. Look for organic, or if it’s labeled “char free” or vegan.

I save jars throughout the year to use for just this purpose. You could go through the process of getting special jars just for this jelly, and even going through the step of canning them so that they are shelf stable. I don’t really bother with all of that. I like the unique jars that I find, and I just tell people to store the jell in the fridge.

Easy and done.