Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Gift of Gifting

As a child, few things came close in the excitement stakes than being allowed to help my grandmother in the kitchen with the preparation of a plethora of traditional treats in the weeks leading up to the Lunar New Year festivities. Equally exciting was witnessing the seemingly endless stream of gifts beating a path through the front door, from mammoth hampers brimming with delicacies like bird's nest, abalone and dried scallops to small jars of homemade pineapple tarts or squares of Kuih Lapis, each layer impossibly thin and even and perfect.

As an adult, I have to wistfully confess this palpable sense of anticipation has almost all but vanished. I know I am not alone; many friends recount a similar feeling of loss. I suspect it largely has to do with the malady of the modern age - the chronically time-strapped condition we find ourselves in. Said tarts and kuih are notoriously painstaking and laborious to make - I remember my grandmother taking a whole day alone to grate dozens of pineapples and simmer the pulp down with sugar and spice just to make a vat of jam. Then there was another day spent making, rolling, stamping, crimping and filling the tart pastry. And we haven't even come to the batch baking part of the story yet - Who has the time? Or the energy? Especially given that the ready made option is so readily accessible?

Convenience, alas, may have been bought at the expense of the true spirit of the season. Handcrafted gifts of food have sadly become a dying tradition, and along with its demise, there's a waning sense of the momentousness, the very pomp and splendour, of the occasion - no mere coincidence, surely. Of course, it should not be gifting per se that defines the season, but the gift of gifting. And as far as I can speak from personal experience, nothing quite puts me in the right spirit of things than rolling up my sleeves and putting my hands to work. It may not be weeks, or even days, on end. Just the odd hour stolen here and there. Nonetheless, the satisfaction at having produced something from scratch - and whoever said it shouldn't also be simple and quick? - more than amply repays whatever little time was set aside.

I imagine I can't be the only baker in a hurry. The sort who needs things done in a jiffy. Yet insists on something freshly baked and crafted by hand. And it is for this very reason that I designed the recipes for this series of classes the way they are - effortless recipes where speed and ease of preparation do not compromise deliciousness. The wow factor comes not so much from how many man-hours it apparently took you, but the element of surprise, of using familiar flavours in wholly unexpected ways. Flexibility was another major consideration - the freedom to bake just one, or two, or all four of the basic recipes (Jasmine Tea Macarons, Mandarin Friands, Sesame Financiers, and/or Almond Shortbread) to give away. Or choosing to jazz one up at reunion dinner table (or any other dinner table with an Asian menu at any other time of the year, for that matter) with an easy accompaniment to compose a plated dessert. Each of the four recipes will, hopefully, also provide plenty room for improvisation and invention. The remaining sessions are on 26 January(Saturday) and 27 January (Sunday) (the January schedule has all the details; please call the school at +65 6479 8442 or email shermaycs@yahoo.com.sg for all inquiries).

Even if you take the minimal approach and zoom in on only one of the baked treats that speaks to your particular sensibilities, that doesn't mean the packaging and presentation has to be anything less than spectacular. I can't say often enough how most of us eat with our eyes first, and presenting what you've taken the effort to make in a thoughtful manner really is half the battle won.
Felt and silk cord can dress up vibrantly coloured boxes, adorned perhaps with a fabric bloom or two. Treats can come coddled in twists of metallic tissue, interleaved with squares of mulberry paper, or simply cradled in pleated cases. Art papers, be they silk screened or reversible crepe or corrugated card stock, can make for rather special envelopes, pouches and wrappers. I sincerely hope this series of pictures illustrates how a little imagination goes a long way when it comes to artful gifting.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Only you, dear Joycelyn, only you. You bring it all to a whole new level! Inspiring, as always

9:18 pm, January 15, 2008  
Blogger siewyuk said...

What gorgeous pictures! Love visiting your blog to get inspired :) May I ask from where you purchased the metallic tissue? Thanks!

10:01 pm, January 15, 2008  
Blogger Gigi said...

What gorgeous packaging and treats! You bring gift giving to another level. It's all very stunning.

2:03 am, January 16, 2008  
Blogger FreshAdriaticFish said...

No comment! this is beyond wonderful!

4:20 am, January 16, 2008  
Blogger Linda said...

As always, your photographs and styling is simply amazing.

There's nothing I love more than spending my weekends baking up a storm and seeing the looks on the faces of my friends and family when they receive such a simple gift of bag of biscuits or a slice of cake :)

It is a real shame that the simple art of giving little handmade food gifts is slowly dying, but with people like you out there, trying to continue that tradition and teaching others, well, what can I say? Well done!

12:18 pm, January 16, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

*sigh* Kue Lapis... so good, so buttery. I especially like the ones with prunes. I haven't yet managed to make a really good batch.

But Kue Nastar... for those I would gladly stand over a simmering pot of pineapple all day long!

1:04 am, January 17, 2008  
Blogger Coffee and Vanilla said...

Wow, those gifts look really nice... nice styling and photos too! :)


2:35 am, January 17, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So beautiful. And what a pleasure to read a long narrative, too. Your writing is as lovely as your food creations are.

1:01 pm, January 17, 2008  
Blogger Fiona said...

Happy New Year, Jocelyn. What a beautiful selection of gifts - I wish I was a recipient !
I would just like to say "thankyou" for the caramelised pear conserve (you posted it ages ago !) - I made it at Christmas to go with my cheeseboard, and it was really good.

7:34 pm, January 17, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jocelyn,

In the last few months, you may remember receiving an email invitation to become a part of the Foodbuzz Featured Publisher Program. With all the recipe-writing and food photography to be completed, we know emails can easily get lost in the shuffle, so Foodbuzz would like to re-extend our offer of inviting you to be a part of our food blogger network. I would love to send you more details about the program, so if you are interested, please email me at Shannon@foodbuzz.com.

And I must say your presentation and photography of gifts is absolutely exquisite--truly professional! I agree that the days of making homemade gifts have seemed to dwindle (or maybe I'm just too busy). Thanks for sharing your advice and ideas!


Shannon Eliot
Editorial Assistant, Foodbuzz.com

3:42 am, January 18, 2008  
Blogger Anita said...

I always imagine that anything you turn you hand to, whether it's gift-wrapping or decorating or anything else, would turn out as gorgeously as your baking does. I hope you get to enjoy some of the lead-up to New Year this year- it seems like you've already got the gift part well in hand!

12:58 am, January 19, 2008  
Blogger Cakespy said...

You are such an absolute inspiration! I am in awe of your beautiful presentation.

5:51 am, January 20, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dearest Joycelyn - thank you, as always, for sharing such exquisite ideas and beautiful photos - no wonder all the little gifts you've kindly sent me looked absolutely lovely (tasted heavenly!)...

Hope all is well, take care. kxx

10:30 pm, January 21, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi J, if my holidays pushed through soon, Singapore is one of my itinerary, I might as well check the dates when you are teaching how to bake and decorate cupcakes.
Great photos and gift ideas. You really have the eye for such lovely things.
Am in London now... just for few days before I head back to Florida again

7:58 am, January 23, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WOW!!! That all looks stunning. So good.

7:21 pm, January 23, 2008  
Blogger Parisbreakfasts said...

GOOD HEAVENS Joycelyn!!!

4:02 am, January 25, 2008  
Blogger Unknown said...

Oooooh, I love how you packaged your sweet creations!

10:58 pm, January 26, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I have to use one word to describe this... it is "GORGEOUS"

8:53 pm, January 27, 2008  
Blogger SteamyKitchen said...

Very elegant and almost too pretty to open!

10:48 pm, January 27, 2008  
Blogger Jessica said...

I just found your blog and I am enamored of your writing. I can't wait to read more.

10:36 am, January 28, 2008  
Blogger Cannelle Et Vanille said...

I just found your blog and I absolutely love your food styling, the packaging and photography. I just started my own pastry blog and I find this to be a huge inspiration. I will be following it!

5:54 am, January 31, 2008  
Blogger Coffee and Vanilla said...

Hi Joycelyn,

Just a short note to let you know that you have been nominated to Inspiring Food Photography event:


Have a wonderful weekend, Margot

8:59 am, February 01, 2008  
Blogger Alejandra Ramos said...

These are absolutely gorgeous! I'm so happy I stumbled onto here. I've been planning to bake some treats to ship to a friend overseas (fedex overnight) and was looking for good ideas on how to dress the treats up. This is perfect!

12:16 pm, February 01, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Could your gift wrapping and presentation be any prettier? I think not!

3:04 am, February 02, 2008  
Blogger Kaerynne said...

Dear Jocelyn,
it is always a treat to stop by your blog and this time I can say I was truly 'gob-smacked'. These photos are so inspiring. If I'm EVER in Singapore I'll make it my mission to take one of your classes!

8:13 pm, February 04, 2008  
Blogger Yummy Matters said...

Wow Jocelyn, amazing stuff you have!! Could I link your blog to mine please? Thanks and keep up the good work :o)

3:44 pm, March 25, 2008  
Blogger Sophie said...

This is a great gift idea, I'd definitely love receiving this over something store-bought! It's gorgeous :D.

2:05 am, April 12, 2008  

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