Seattle Times food writer Nancy Leson likes to give her pals a basketful of ingredients, made special with her handwritten recipe.

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FOR YEARS, I’ve spent Christmas Eve sharing dinner and exchanging gifts with friends whose daughter, Krystle, has been helping me make (and eat) “Nancy Leson Rolls” since she was in grade school. Now married with a kitchen of her own, Krystle’s been the happy recipient of the gift that keeps on giving: a big basket stocked with flour, yeast, dried buttermilk, baking powder, Crisco baking sticks, a muffin tin and her favorite roll recipe — mine.

Among family, friends and not a few of my longtime readers, those buttermilk rolls have become a holiday tradition.

So is the recipe gift-basket idea, one that works whatever your budget.

One fall, my buddy, Glenda, stopped by for a bowl of soup. “Honey, this is delicious!” she said. “I’d love to have the recipe.” I gave it to her for her birthday, along with a basket (from Goodwill) stocked with dried herbs and spices, bags of split peas and beans, garlic, onions and a copy of “Dairy Hollow House Soup & Bread.”

Get creative. Make it personal.

You have a pal who’s always ordering pad thai when you go out for a bite? Get thee to an Asian market for: rice stick noodles, fish sauce, palm sugar, tamarind concentrate and peanuts. For good measure, throw in something fun. A ginger grater, maybe? Don’t forget the recipe, written in your own hand, culled, perhaps, from a trusted website like

So, your brother can’t stop yapping about the paella he adored on his trip to Valencia? Take a trip to The Spanish Table and hook him up with paella fixings: bomba rice, saffron, smoked pimenton and a jar of piquillo peppers. If you can afford it, consider a paella pan big enough to use as a “basket” (they’ll throw in the recipe for free). Then invite yourself over.

Need a gift for someone who doesn’t cook? Maybe your boss loves Manhattans. Get shopping for a mini-cocktail shaker, kitschy cocktail napkins, a jar of high-quality maraschino cherries and a bottle of locally produced Scrappy’s Bitters. Add “The Seasonal Cocktail Companion,” with recipes by Seattle author Maggie Savarino. The boss can buy the booze.

Nancy Leson is The Seattle Times food writer. Reach her at Benjamin Benschneider is the Pacific NW magazine staff photographer.

Nancy’s Buttermilk Rolls

Makes about 2 ½ dozen

1 tablespoon active dry yeast

2 tablespoons warm water

5 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup shortening

2 cups buttermilk

1. In a mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in warm water. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut in the shortening with a pastry blender until mixture resembles very coarse cornmeal.

3. Add the buttermilk to yeast mixture, stir briefly and add to flour mixture. Stir until just moistened. (The dough, which will be very soft, may be covered and refrigerated overnight.) Let the dough rest and rise, covered, for at least 30 minutes, or up to several hours, punching it down as need be during the longer rise. (If refrigerated, remove dough from fridge and let rise, covered, till doubled, then knead briefly on a lightly floured surface.)

4. Lightly grease muffin tins. Pinch off quarter-sized pieces, roll into rounds between the palms of your hands and put 3 small balls into each muffin cup. Let rise until doubled (about 30 minutes in a warm spot). Preheat oven to 400 degrees and bake until golden (about 15-20 minutes).

— adapted from “Dori Sanders’ Country Cooking”