We are now into the second month of isolating ourselves from each other. So much is different now, but thankfully, some things are still the same. Our need to celebrate and connect is still alive and well. I see it everywhere, from people enjoying a socially distant dinner on their driveway to families making birthdays a little more special. These are all ways to celebrate the everyday.

With summer holidays around the corner, no doubt people will be celebrating in full swing. So let’s talk about how to make our new everydays a little bit more celebratory and happy.

My favorite thing to do right now is drop off gift baskets. I’ve got the kids involved to make sure they don’t forget to connect in meaningful ways. We include everything from a full dinner for friends and family, to gift cards and cookies, as well as DIY dessert boxes. The goal is to make the people who
receive it feel happy, connected and remembered.

Being thought about in this day and age isn’t a common feeling. So many of us were busy before the lockdown, but now we’re busy in a totally different way. We’re juggling home school, work, household chores, hobbies (if any) and hoping to fit in a shower.

This is a reminder that we will always be busy in different ways. What if we fit in being kind with the rest of our busy-ness? What if celebrating was part of our busy-ness, too? I’ll tell you exactly how it turns out — you’re actually less stressed. You go to bed a more complete person, and you did a little good in the world without really even trying.

I’ll share an example with you. Last month we bought our teachers and their families dinner. It’s not a huge act, nor is it ever an inconvenience to fit in an extra dinner for someone else along the way where you can, but its impact can be profound. One of the teachers told me that in her 16 years of teaching, no one had ever bought her dinner. She was grateful, not just because it was food, but because she felt thought about, and that night she could just sit with her family and enjoy their company. Being thought about is such a basic but impactful act.

If you are thinking of someone and want to celebrate them and connect with them, here are a few ideas as well as a recipe you can share with them for either a holiday, birthday or just another day. I love to support local businesses whenever possible, so be sure to look close to home first! 

Ideas: Gift basket with local made goodies (chocolates, candle, snacks); cake, frosting and sprinkles kit to decorate together; a full dinner with homemade cookies; barbecue basket (local barbecue rub, nice steaks from a local butcher, homemade barbecue sauce); fresh strawberries from a farm along with a printed recipe for jam; a gift card to a spa or salon for once the world reopens. 

If you want to go that extra step, here are a few recipes you can make to make someone's day.

 

Homemade Barbecue Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups ketchup
  • 1/4-1/2 cup apple cider vinegar (depends on how tart you want it)
  • 2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tsp. paprika
  • 2 tsp. onion powder
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp. good mustard
  • Optional: 1 tsp. liquid smoke (or more if you prefer a smokier flavor)

Directions:

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
  2. Allow to cool and store in an airtight bottle or container in the fridge for up to a month.

 

Fresh Strawberry Jam

Ingredients:

  • 16-18 oz. fresh strawberries, washed, hulled and chopped up
  • 3/4-1 cup sugar (Depends on how sweet your berries are as well as sweetness you prefer. Start with 3/4 cup and test. If not sweet enough, add a little bit more at a time.)
  • 2-3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Directions:

  1. In a large pot, mix together strawberries, sugar and lemon juice. Cook together on medium low heat until the sugar is dissolved.
  2. Increase heat to medium high and bring the strawberry mixture to a boil.
  3. Stir frequently while mashing the strawberries until the jam thickens up (about 10-15 minutes). Make sure to move the mixture around so as not to scorch the bottom.
  4. Transfer to jam jars and allow to cool.
  5. To seal jars, make sure they’re sterilized and have about a 1/2 inch headspace at the top before putting on lid. Place lightly sealed jars in a pot of boiling water (making sure that the water comes up at least one inch over the top of your tallest jar). Boil for 10-15 minutes and then remove gently. Place it on the counter for at least 24 hours (you’ll hear the lids pop at different times). The jars are sealed when you push on the tops and there is no give to them)

 

Chewy Sugar Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup softened, unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/8 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract (optional)
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
  • Topping: 1/4 cup of sugar for rolling

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and the sugars until light and fluffy.
  3. Add in the egg, extract and mix until combined.
  4. Add in flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt until mixed. Scrape the sides to ensure all the ingredients get mixed.
  5. Roll dough into 1 inch balls, roll in the remaining sugar and place on baking sheet about 2 inches apart.
  6. Bake for 10-12 minutes until cookies no longer look wet, but be sure not to overbake.

From Z to A with Zara Abbasi

Zara Abbasi is the pastry chef and recipe developer for Zara Made It. Follow her food adventures on Instagram at @zaramadeit