For me and my eldest daughter, sauces and dressings are meal deal-breakers. All our food orders end with “extra dressing on the side, please.”
It already comes with dressing, ma’am.
Yes. We’ve heard. We’ve seen what your idea of dressing is, and we rebuke it. Whatever you’re thinking is enough, double it.
We struggle to understand people who eat dry, naked food on purpose. Sandwiches with no condiments. Rice with no gravy. Noodles with no sauce. Grilled vegetables with no drizzling or dredging. (Basting doesn’t count.) What is that? Sure, you’re saving a few calories, but at what cost?
Anyway, when her birthday rolled around recently, I knew exactly what I wanted to give her: a DIY gift of homemade dressings that she could use to create masterpiece salads and meals all week long.
Her stepsister, a budding 13-year-old artist of incredible skill, was the absolute star of this project. She helped me transform an unfinished $10 box from Michael’s into a beautifully-designed foodie gift box where everything is reusable, from the specialty mason jars to the decorated box itself. The extra bonus: for every Collection Elite jar used, Ball donated one meal to the hungry via its partnership with the Feeding America organization.
This was fun and easy to make. Want to create your own? Here’s what you’ll need (allow 3-7 days lead time):
- (1) unfinished wood box with an interior divided into squared sections, or sized to securely fit (4) 16-oz mason jars
- leftover household paint (neutral color)
- decorative 16-oz mason jars, such as Ball Collection Elite Sharing Jars sold in a 4-pack for $9.99 at select Target stores or Bed Bath & Beyond (for every jar purchased, one meal will be provided to the hungry via Ball’s partnership with Feeding America)
- chalkboard labels for canning lids, OR reusable chalkboard lids for mason jars
- waterproof chalk pens for canning labels, in gold, silver and/or white
- brown kraft paper krinkle (or choose a color and texture that matches your overall scheme)
- Purchase the unfinished box from Michael’s or another local craft store. I suggest Michael’s because they carry a large inventory of assorted-size containers and always seem to be running these recurring 40% and 50% off sales. (Take the 4 glass jars with you to ensure proper fit before buying.)
- Remove any box handles and paint the interior and exterior of the box with a neutral color. Allow to dry overnight. This didn’t cost me a dime because I dipped into an old paint can in my garage which was leftover from an interior paint job. If you want to get fancy I suppose you can sand it and prime it first, but I didn’t bother with any of that since (a) I’m lazy and (b) the end result was intended to be rustic, which meant imperfections were OK. (When choosing a paint color, consider how the box will likely be repurposed in the recipient’s home and try to stay within a color scheme that will work with any decor.)
- Enlist the help of an artistic family member or friend to create a design on the outside of the painted box. In my case, we relied mostly on medium-point waterproof chalk pens of white and gold, and watercolors. I recommend sticking to a primary color palette of just 3 or 4 shades. Allow the final painted-on designs to set overnight. Once everything is completely dry, replace the box’s tie handles.
- Prepare the dressings or sauces a day in advance, fill the jars and refrigerate. Quadruple your favorite recipes so that you have plenty left over for your own meals, saving yourself a meal-prep step for the week. Apply the stick-on labels to the jar lid and, using a white or gold marker, write a simple one or two-word description.
- Pad each divided box section with some paper wrinkle. Remove the jar dressings from the fridge and fit them into the divider sections, making sure to “pad” the area around each jar with paper wrinkles to create a tighter fit. (If you couldn’t find a box divided into quadrants and are simple working with one large interior area, use extra paper wrinkle to pad all around and between jars so that they remain fixed in place.) If you’re driving the gift to an event or other destination, carefully place it in a bag right-side up and put a few covered ice packs on top to keep the dressings cold during transport.
- Present the gift!
That’s it! If you want to be extra, you can write down your favorite salad recipes, serving suggestions or dressing ingredients on little decorative notecards or large gift tags and slip them in alongside (or tie them around) the dressing jars. I thought about doing it, but simply ran out of time.
Did you know this concept is unisex? Grilling season is here! If you have a man in your life who considers himself a grill master, knock his socks off with a similar box filled with homemade hot sauces and artisan barbecue sauces, decorated with a flame or pepper motif. Makes an excellent Father’s Day gift that all the kids can help in creating.
If you think about it, there’s no one who doesn’t eat. This would also make a great housewarming gift, New Mom gift, Mother’s Day gift, Teacher’s gift, visiting-your-kid-at-college gift, hope-you-feel-better gift, welcome-to-the-neighborhood gift, I-screwed-up-and-I’m-sorry gift…you name it!
(I’m sorry, but you knew it was coming the moment that list started. I couldn’t not. Mother Shirley Caesar is the gift that keeps on giving.)
The point here is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to show someone how much you care. Sometimes a personalized gift that has been customized according to their interests, tastes and passions, goes a lot farther. In this case, my daughter can repurpose the box as a display or potpourri container in her living area, even using it to organize personal products or other household items.
As for the jars, I have a feeling she’ll be bringing those back to my house for refills!