Boxing cookies for the holidays

The holidays look a little different this year, but luckily, an interruption in tradition doesn’t have to mean an absence of celebration! You may not be able to join together with your loved ones in person, but with just a little planning, you can craft a curated care package to create shared, happy memories in a trying time.

I love sending homemade gifts—especially edible ones! But this year, I plan to make a big production out of it and build an opportunity for us to spend time together. I’m going to portion out the ingredients for gingerbread. I’ll put the dry ingredients, molasses, and all of the shelf-stable ingredients in a box (and ask them to have cold ingredients on hand), so that we can bake this holiday treat together on a family video call. After all, cooking together is the best part of the holidays.

To keep the grown-ups interested, I’ll also include a small bottle of special bourbon and a sweet Cara Cara orange for a classic Old Fashioned cocktail, so we can share a toast as our gingerbread heads to the oven.

These days, my kids are interested in hot chocolate—very interested—so we want to share the ritual with their cousins. We’ll work together to prepare a dry hot chocolate mix, including cocoa powder, sugar, and milk powder, plus a little spice packet on the side for the adventurous ones. And since I love to make marshmallows, which happen to keep well for a long time at room temperature, I will be sure to include a few squares of marshmallows, and maybe some flavored varieties like cinnamon, peppermint, or caramel. Packaged all together in a big mug, it’s a great gift!

Each year, I send my grandparents a big batch of homemade granola, and it feels particularly apropos this year when a stocked pantry is a comfort in and of itself. They love it, and since it lasts forever, they can enjoy it for a long time, remembering with each bite what a great-granddaughter they have! Their favorite is made with honey, almonds, and cherries, but the concept lends itself to endless variations.

And remember, since we’re all busy headed into the holiday season, an edible gift doesn’t have to be homemade. I love a nice fruit basket, and I would be thrilled if one of my family members took the time to pick out some beautiful local apples or the first of the season’s grapefruits. If they threw in a fancy bar of chocolate, I wouldn’t mind that, either.

Chef Lilla Bernal, ’99 is a lecturing instructor of Baking and Pastry Arts at The Culinary Institute of America in San Antonio.

CIA Chef Lilla Bernal