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Homemade Holiday Gifts


goldenticket
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Since the holidays are just around the corner (or at least the retailers would have you think so), I was wondering what ideas are out there for creative, yummy, and homemade gift ideas.

Last year I put together a little goody box for a few of my friends. It included spiced nuts (Nigella Lawson's Union Square recipe), white chocolate peppermint bark, chocolate pistachio biscotti, and cranberry oatmeal cookies.

What do you do?

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My wife and I have made it a tradition of only giving our friends and family homemade gifts. They have been extremely well received, and many of the recipients anticipating what we will offer this year. We generally have given a collection of canned goods, and baked goods. The canned goods range from chutneys, to preserves. In the past we have decided on what to make and can based on what we could find at SuperH, or other markets. Some of the things that have been particularly well received are compotes (blue berry walnut being the most popular). And I always include a collection of BBQ sauces (I know these are popular because people keep begging for the recipes, by now they should know better).

This year we are going to give wine that is targeted to the recipient and give them homemade items to match the wines. One of item that will be included is a savory rosemary and Parmesan biscotti that goes particularly well with champagne (the one wine that will be included in everyone’s gift). We are still working on the other items, but spiced nuts will be included, as will some homemade crackers, and maybe something from Cheesetique. And as always a collection of BBQ sauces (including my almost perfected Holy Mole BBQ sauce).

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Just finished putting up the Limoncello. I smell like lemon oil at the moment :P

I also make truffles and used to make florentines. Some years Craig gets inspired to make cookies.

Because my aunt doesn't care much for alcohol, I try to come up with something for her. One year I made her some spiced pecans. This year, I going to make the coconut "cookies" that Cooks Illustrated demonstrated on their TV show. They look simple enough and are dipped in chocolate. Always a good thing. And, I won't have to worry about Craig eating them because he's one of those people who thinks coconut is inedible! :lol:

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Not me but a friend would can all year long, start freezing cookie and biscotti doughs the month before Christmas, and then make truffles and caramels. She'd give people baskets with apple butter, jams, marmalades, several different flavors of truffles, individually wrapped caramels, and at least half a dozen varieties of cookies.

Edited by V.H.
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several different flavors of truffles,
Last year I made a selection of coffee and Tea truffles (3 different flavors of each). Some were bigger hits than others. People loved the Cappacinno truffle, but only a few cared for the Lapsong shoshong truffles (my mother-in-law thought they were the best choclate she had ever had).
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(And what is wrong with fruitcake?!?  :(   :P )

No offense meant - I didn't see your fruitcake thread :lol: - I've just been subjected to some pretty lousy ones in my time (all of them made with love by my great-aunt). Yours (and others) sound much different and much tastier. If I could only erase the mental image of the annual package containing the foil wrapped aluminum loaf pan (wrapped in curly ribbon) and the memory of the taste of its contents...
Candy, candy, candy!  Specifically:

Pralines

Great story on NPR this morning about a Black Panther that spent 29 years in solitary confinement at Angola Prison, where he managed to rig up a kitchen in his cell and made pralines! Now he's out and sells them as Freelines. Click here. His recipe is there too. It's part of a larger project on Hidden Kitchens project. There's a book and audiobook that might make good -non-edible- gifts too!

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Since the holidays are just around the corner (or at least the retailers would have you think so), I was wondering what ideas are out there for creative, yummy, and homemade gift ideas. 

Last year I put together a little goody box for a few of my friends.  It included spiced nuts (Nigella Lawson's Union Square recipe), white chocolate peppermint bark, chocolate pistachio biscotti, and cranberry oatmeal cookies.

What do you do?

I've made biscottii, some of them dipped half-way in chocolate. I put them into a nice jar. Maida Heatter's Brand New Book of Great Cookies is the source of my recipes. Two of my friends have native Italian mothers; in both cases their mothers expressed (not in my presence) disbelief that a non-Italian could have made the cookies.

The Epicurious rosemary shortbread cookie recipe has been another holiday hit.

Edited by PollyG
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I'm working on testing out recipes for homemade food gifts.

I recently made currant and rosemary biscotti which came out perfect. I'm no baker so I could've been knocked over with a feather. Most folks thought that the savory from the rosemary was not to their liking. I liked it.

I got the same reaction , in that people thought, 'wow', these are homemade?? It was really, really easy.

I'm going to try some chocolate and chocolate dipped and see what kind of feedback i get.

I also made ginger cookies, stamped with my Rycraft cookie stamps. Those were keepers.

My question is can these things be frozen (say within 2-3 weeks of giving them)?

Biscotti

Chocolate dipped biscotti

Ginger cookies

Shortbread cookies

Pizzelle (sp?)

Any help would be appreciated.

Thanks :lol:

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My question is can these things be frozen (say within 2-3 weeks of giving them)?

Any help would be appreciated.

Thanks :lol:

I found this on a website about cookie exchanges:

Most cookies can be frozen with no loss of quality. Store them in plastic freezer containers in single layers, divided with waxed paper or parchment paper, tightly covered. Thaw soft cookies wrapped at room temperature. Thaw crisp cookies unwrapped at room temperature.

and here's a link to a little more detailed info

Hope this helps!

I saw a variation on my white chocolate peppermint bark at a Caribou the other day - pretzel rods dipped in white chocolate and rolled in peppermint. LOTS of variations on this out there -looks easy enough!

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Any interest in doing some sort of recipe swap? We could each make a small batch of stuff and get together and sample each others recipes and see if it's something that we'd be interested in making for a gift basket this year. Sometime in early December perhaps? I'd be happy to host at my house in Arlington.

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Any interest in doing some sort of recipe swap?  We could each make a small batch of stuff and get together and sample each others recipes

Ooh, that sounds fun! I'd be happy to show up with almond toffee and apricot rugelach at a minimum. Both have been well-received at holiday time.

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Any interest in doing some sort of recipe swap?  We could each make a small batch of stuff and get together and sample each others recipes and see if it's something that we'd be interested in making for a gift basket this year.  Sometime in early December perhaps?  I'd be happy to host at my house in Arlington.

Sounds like fun to me!

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I tried out two recipes this weekend, one for caramels with sea salt and the other for sweet spiced nuts. Both were well received at an open house I went to and incredibly easy to make so I'll definitely be making them for holiday gifts. If I host something, can more people attend if it's a weekday night or sometime on the weekend?

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If I host something, can more people attend if it's a weekday night or sometime on the weekend?

Weekday night might be a little easier for me - or a weekend afternoon. the caramels and nuts sound yummy - hope you'll share one or both of those recipes. I might make the chocolate pistachio biscotti and some version of bark.

There was a truffle recipe in the WashPost on Friday, from one of my favorite chocolatiers (aside from Willy Wonka, of course :lol: ) Rob Kingsbury, of Kingsbury Chocolates in Old Town.

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I think it's going to be too ambitious of me to try to host something this December. Instead, I'll share the three recipes I've tested so far, all with good results. All recipes have been adapted so no worries about copyrights.

Fleur de Sel caramels

1 cup heavy cream

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 teaspoon fleur de sel

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/4 cup light corn syrup

1/4 cup water

Line an 8-inch square baking pan with lightly oiled parchment paper.

Heat cream, butter, and salt in a small saucepan until boiling, then turn off heat.

Boil remaining ingrediants in a heavy bottomed saucepan until light golden in color. Carefully add hot cream mixture, a little at a time. Once all of the cream has been added, boil the caramel mixture until it reaches 248 degrees F.

Pour into baking pan and cool 2 hours. Cut into squares with a pizza cutter and wrap in squares of wax paper. Michael's sells pre-cut 4" foil squares for festive wrapping.

*******************************************************************

Sweet spiced nuts

1 lb mixed nuts (lightly salted)

1 egg white, beaten with fork until lightly foamy

1/2 to 1 tsp spice mix (think pie spices, I used a Moroccan spice blend that worked great)

3/4 cup sugar

1 tsp sea salt (can skip if nuts are salted, but since Trader Joe's sells 50% salted nuts, I add the extra salt)

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees F. In a large bowl, mix nuts with beaten egg white until thoroughly coated. Sprinkle remaining ingredients in and stir until nuts are evenly coated. Pour onto baking sheet and bake about 10-15 minutes (maybe longer), stirring every now and again so that the nuts don't clump up or burn. Nuts are done when the sugar mixture is lightly caramelized. Pour out onto parchment paper to cool, separating nuts if you can with a wooden spoon. Once cool, put in airtight container. Do not leave to cool overnight like I did, because the nuts absorbed moisture from the air and got all sticky. I solved the problem by warming them in a low temp oven for 10 minutes to get rid of the moisture but it was an annoying extra step.

******************************************************************

Chocolate Fudge

Buy 1 jar of marshmallow creme and follow instructions on the jar using good quality dark chocolate. I poured mine into a 9.5"x13" pan though, I thought the 9x9 pan they recommended would have been too thick. Super easy and makes a ton. If you line the pan with parchment paper, it makes removal of the cooled fudge quick and easy.

*******************************************************************

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If I can be a little self-indulgent, here's parts of a piece I wrote for the Post a few years back. You have to pay for it on line, but for my DR buds it's free. :P

Gravlax and aquavit are a can’t-miss combination that gives cooks at every level a chance to stretch their skills and please their palates. And, maybe because of their Scandinavian origins, they’re a great lift on a grim winter night....

Aquavit began as kind of a Nordic moonshine, unflavored grain spirits used for medicinal purposes, hence its literal translation as “water of life.”

Eventually, the people of Scandinavia -- led by the Swedes, according to Swedish Embassy Chef Tim Manelius – developed new techniques to make what was to become a signature combination more palatable and more potable....

Aquavit presents similar improvisational opportunities. Though they seem to come in three varieties -- berry, citrus or spice -- the basic recipe is simple. Pour a liter of vodka into sealable container a little larger than a liter, add flavoring, seal and wait. Drop a half-pint of raspberries into the jar, with a little sugar and lemon. For citrus, use peels (pith removed), flavoring the vodka with oils rather than the juice. Or add seeds by the teaspoon, like caraway, cumin or anise; include a little citrus or a lighter herb for contrast.

I’m impatient -- I’m usually into the aquavit within the week. In contrast, Chef Samuelsson, maintains that aquavits should macerate for six-to-eight weeks before straining and serving, to develop their full depth of flavor. Experiments are ongoing.

And don’t limit yourself to shots over appetizers. Try flights: a light and lemony aquavit cordial with gravlax to begin the evening; a blueberry-based aquavit in a martini glass, perhaps fizzed up with a splash of champagne, with duck breast; and anise and roasted caraway when it’s time for a digestive.

Follow your instincts. It’s probably not impossible to wreck aquavit and gravlax, but it is awfully hard to do: the simplest traditional recipe yields a deliciously elegant creation; bringing your own experience and instincts into the mix can lead you someplace truly extraordinary… or at least unique. Skål.

-30-

Classic Aquavit

Swedish aquavits come in a wide variety of brands and flavorings. This version approximates the flavor most commonly identified with commercial aquavits sold in the United States.

750 ml high quality unflavored vodka

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp caraway seeds

1 star anise

2 strips of orange peel, without pith

1. Warm a heavy frying pan over medium heat. Add caraway and coriander and toast until just beginning to brown, constantly but gently shaking the pan. You’ll notice a warm, toasty smell as the seeds are just about done.

2. Pour vodka into a large, sealable glass or earthenware container. Add cumin, caraway, anise and orange, cover, seal and store away from heat and direct light for one to six weeks.

3. Strain aquavit through cheesecloth and serve ice cold.

Note: this recipe yields a fairly strong-tasting aquavit. If you prefer a more delicate flavor, you can halve the quantity of spices and orange peel.

Raspberry Aquavit

750 ml high quality unflavored vodka

1-1/5 cup fresh raspberries

¼ cup sugar

strip lemon rind, no pith

1. Pour vodka into a large, sealable glass or earthenware container. Add raspberries, sugar and lemon. Cover, seal and store away from heat and direct light for one to six weeks.

2. Strain aquavit through cheesecloth and serve ice cold.

Lemon Aquavit

750 ml high quality unflavored vodka

Peel of two lemons, sliced away from the fruit so that as little white pith as possible adheres to the peel.

2 tsp honey (optional)

1. Pour vodka into a large, sealable glass or earthenware container. Add lemon and honey. Cover, seal and store away from heat and direct light for one to six weeks.

2. Strain aquavit through cheesecloth and serve ice cold.

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Jlock and I have made many holiday gifts over the years. The most successful of which have been the homeade vanilla extract (vodka and vanilla beans), the spice rubs (curry-cumin, jamaican, and cajun), and herbed vinegar. It has been several years since we have given these to many people, but we frequently get requests for refills and recipes even now.

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Just to add to Waitman's excellent directions for aquavit: Go to a good supplier (one where there is a high turnover in product) and buy NEW seeds and herbs. They are cheap and some of these things lose their flavorful qualities quite quickly. That jar of whatever you inherited and have had in the back of your pantry for however long just won't do. :P

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Just to add to Waitman's excellent directions for aquavit: Go to a good supplier (one where there is a high turnover in product) and buy NEW seeds and herbs. They are cheap and some of these things lose their flavorful qualities quite quickly. That jar of whatever you inherited and have had in the back of your pantry for however long just won't do. :P

For fresh and well priced herbs and spices go to Penzey's

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Just to add to Waitman's excellent directions for aquavit: Go to a good supplier (one where there is a high turnover in product) and buy NEW seeds and herbs. They are cheap and some of these things lose their flavorful qualities quite quickly. That jar of whatever you inherited and have had in the back of your pantry for however long just won't do. :P

And just to add to Barbara's flattering description ofmy contribution, you shouldask her about the addictive limoncello she turns out like somekind of crazed but brilliant Italian moonshiner.

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This year, I plan on giving homemade marshmallows and hot cocoa mix. I'm looking for some ideas on sprucing up the hot cocoa mix to make it a little more special. I started with an Alton Brown recipe that called for dutch processed cocoa, powdered sugar, powdered milk and a little salt. To this I have added chipotle powder (decided to go a little spicy rather than minty) and additional dutch process cocoa. The mix is decent - but not "special". So I headed to my local spice store and picked up some non-dutch processed cocoa with 25% butterfat and vanilla powder to add to the mix.

Just curious if anyone else has made their own mix in the past and has suggestions?

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This year, I plan on giving homemade marshmallows and hot cocoa mix. I'm looking for some ideas on sprucing up the hot cocoa mix to make it a little more special. I started with an Alton Brown recipe that called for dutch processed cocoa, powdered sugar, powdered milk and a little salt. To this I have added chipotle powder (decided to go a little spicy rather than minty) and additional dutch process cocoa. The mix is decent - but not "special". So I headed to my local spice store and picked up some non-dutch processed cocoa with 25% butterfat and vanilla powder to add to the mix.

Just curious if anyone else has made their own mix in the past and has suggestions?

A little bit of Medaglia d'Oro powdered espresso will give it an extra dimension and a bit more of a kick. The vanilla powder is a very good idea. You might also consider adding a bit of cinnamon. With the chile, you are on your way to making "Mexican" hot chocolate, and that needs to include some cinnamon for authentic flavor.

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You might also consider adding a bit of cinnamon. With the chile, you are on your way to making "Mexican" hot chocolate, and that needs to include some cinnamon for authentic flavor.

zoramargolis Thanks for the suggestion. I do have some cinnamon in the mix - forgot to mention it in my initial post.

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This year, I plan on giving homemade marshmallows and hot cocoa mix. I'm looking for some ideas on sprucing up the hot cocoa mix to make it a little more special. I started with an Alton Brown recipe that called for dutch processed cocoa, powdered sugar, powdered milk and a little salt. To this I have added chipotle powder (decided to go a little spicy rather than minty) and additional dutch process cocoa. The mix is decent - but not "special". So I headed to my local spice store and picked up some non-dutch processed cocoa with 25% butterfat and vanilla powder to add to the mix.

Just curious if anyone else has made their own mix in the past and has suggestions?

Thank you for the idea! I was trying to figure out what I could make for 25 people and this seems like the easiest idea yet. I have a few questions....Where did you get the vanilla powder? What size jars are you using? How are you attaching the recipe directions?
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Thank you for the idea! I was trying to figure out what I could make for 25 people and this seems like the easiest idea yet. I have a few questions....Where did you get the vanilla powder? What size jars are you using? How are you attaching the recipe directions?

My brainstorm came a couple months ago when I saw a recipe for marshmallows posted on Slashfood. I found the vanilla powder at a local spice store called the Spice House (I'm in Chicago). I believe they have a website that you can check out. My initial idea was to get a couple vanilla beans and infuse them a la vanilla sugar, but I saw the powder in the store and thought it would work better.

As for presentation: I bought empty quart-size paint cans (with tops) from Home Depot (under $2 each) and I plan on putting the cocoa mix in sealable plastic bags and then fitting the bags into the cans. Even though the cans are plastic on the inside, I'm not sure how food safe they are and I figured the bags will be more airtight. I'm planning on cutting the marshmallows into snowflake shapes (with a cookie cutter) and will probably just put a few in cellophane and attach the cellophane to the cans. To finish, I've got some shipping labels that can be printed via laser printer so I'll just make up a cute label with directions and attach it directly to the cans.

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Anecdotal evidence: I am batting .750 or .800 with my submitted Kliman questions. (Probably 4 or 5 total submissions, one was not answered.) I bat about .250 with Sietsema.

(In case you were wondering, yes, I do base some portion of my paltry self-esteem on my ability to get strangers to answer my questions on-line. You should see me during Gene Wang's Fantasy Football chat.)

I would love to make bbq sauce ala Ina Garten and give as gifts.

I would like to can/jar and dress it up with a recipe tag. But, I have very little experience canning. Can anyone point me to a good resource for canning bbq sauce? Do I need to add anything to preserve it (citric acid?)?

Any instructions would be appreciated.

Thanks

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Fleur de Sel caramels

1 cup heavy cream

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 teaspoon fleur de sel

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/4 cup light corn syrup

1/4 cup water

I saw a version of this recipe on Epicurious and was thinking about making these. Does anyone know how long they keep or the best conditions for preservation. I was also thinking about putting them in candy cups instead of wrapping each in wax paper/foil. Does anyone know if they are too sticky? Thanks.

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I would love to make bbq sauce ala Ina Garten and give as gifts.

I would like to can/jar and dress it up with a recipe tag. But, I have very little experience canning. Can anyone point me to a good resource for canning bbq sauce? Do I need to add anything to preserve it (citric acid?)?

Any instructions would be appreciated.

Thanks

Hi, I am new to this site but since I make preserves for a living, thought I could help you out. I would not recommend using Ina's recipe and simply canning it. For successful preservation, you need a certain amount of acid and I am not sure Ina's recipe has that. You can make Ina's sauce, put it in a pretty jar and recommend that it be refrigerated and used fairly quickly. Or, you can use recipes that are specifically formulated for canning. This is a good place to start. If you have any specific questions, I will be happy to help.

http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/can_03/bbqsauce.html

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I saw a version of this recipe on Epicurious and was thinking about making these. Does anyone know how long they keep or the best conditions for preservation. I was also thinking about putting them in candy cups instead of wrapping each in wax paper/foil. Does anyone know if they are too sticky? Thanks.

You could definitely put them in candy cups but there is a distinct possibility that the caramels will eventually flow into the shape of the cup rather than staying a square. I've had friends keep them in the freezer for longer term storage and I've kept them in the fridge for over a month with no problems (knock on wood). They are a bit sticky.

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You could definitely put them in candy cups but there is a distinct possibility that the caramels will eventually flow into the shape of the cup rather than staying a square. I've had friends keep them in the freezer for longer term storage and I've kept them in the fridge for over a month with no problems (knock on wood). They are a bit sticky.

Many thanks for the info. Maybe I'll trying dipping in chocolate if I don't want to wrap them.

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Hi, I am new to this site but since I make preserves for a living, thought I could help you out. I would not recommend using Ina's recipe and simply canning it. For successful preservation, you need a certain amount of acid and I am not sure Ina's recipe has that. You can make Ina's sauce, put it in a pretty jar and recommend that it be refrigerated and used fairly quickly. Or, you can use recipes that are specifically formulated for canning. This is a good place to start. If you have any specific questions, I will be happy to help.

http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/can_03/bbqsauce.html

Welcome to our merry (if not slightly hungover) band. Thanks for the great info.
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Jlock and I have made many holiday gifts over the years. The most successful of which have been the homemade vanilla extract (vodka and vanilla beans), the spice rubs (curry-cumin, jamaican, and cajun), and herbed vinegar. It has been several years since we have given these to many people, but we frequently get requests for refills and recipes even now.

I've been thinking of doing homemade vanilla extract as my holiday gift this year. How long does the vanilla/alcohol mixture need to infuse before it's ready to be used in cooking? I'm afraid I may not have enough time to get this going for Xmas gifts.

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I've been thinking of doing homemade vanilla extract as my holiday gift this year. How long does the vanilla/alcohol mixture need to infuse before it's ready to be used in cooking? I'm afraid I may not have enough time to get this going for Xmas gifts.

I came across this wonderful post on making homemade vanilla extract. It seems as though you may have enough time.

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I've been thinking of doing homemade vanilla extract as my holiday gift this year. How long does the vanilla/alcohol mixture need to infuse before it's ready to be used in cooking? I'm afraid I may not have enough time to get this going for Xmas gifts.
The batch I put up in February didn't get to the point I'd consider usable for 3 months and just gets better with time. You could always do a starter -- rather then decant the liquid alone into pretty bottles, stick a bean or beans depending on size of container in as well and it'll continue to improve.
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