THE HOLIDAY SEASON is a time when you become the artist and your kitchen trans-forms into a magical workshop for creating edible homemade gifts. Will Santa fill your stocking with a lump of coal or will you be rewarded with sweets and treats? In the second edition of my family cookbook, Almost as Good as Granny’s, I included a section called “Cooking with Friends” and compiled favorite recipes enjoyed together with friends over the years. For the holiday season, cooking for friends and family seems more appropriate. Check out the recipes for sweet or savory scones, lemon curd, deep dark chocolate cookies, brownies, Emily’s mini pecan pies, spiced Cajun pecans, chocolate almond fudge sauce, chicken liver mousse, and kumquat chutney on the Sophisticated Woman website. Each one of these, packaged in a special jar or wrapped in a beautiful tea towel, would be welcomed gratefully by any of your friends. Last year I delivered homemade Bloody Mary mix, premixed Sazeracs and jars of our secret family remoulade sauce to special friends on my holiday list. Jars of my husband Gayden’s “Dr. BBQ’s Secret Sauce” is an annual favorite from our family and is still requested each year by friends around town. My friends and I agreed many years ago that when it comes to holiday gift giving, we all prefer consumables. No more stuff! Cooking for friends, a homemade gift from the heart, is a personal and more intimate gesture than a store-bought gift. So what to make this year? Sometimes, months before Christmas I get lucky and stumble upon the perfect unique container and voila, it talks to me and tells me exactly how to fill it with love for my foodie friends. At other times, I may find the perfect recipe or rely on well-established traditions for gift giving. Some of my family and friends expect certain food items for Christmas. I have been obligated by my family to bake French yule log cakes, bÛche de noël, for our Christmas Eve and Christmas day parties for over 25 years. Each year I threaten that this will be my last, but somehow, as much as I pretend to complain, I have not been able to give up this holiday tradition. I love to see the pure joy that the final masterpiece, complete with meringue mush-rooms, green pine boughs, red marzipan berries and buttery chocolate ganache kindles when it is brought to the table on a glimmering silver tray. I love the last few weeks before Christmas when I come home from work and find little carefully wrapped parcels and delicate, beautifully packaged gifts filled with freshly baked goods from a friend’s kitchen on my front porch. What better way to show your love than warm cookies or a homemade, from scratch, fresh pound cake? Can you think of anything? I can’t! Or, there is an unexpected knock at the door and a friend drops by with a surprise of Christmas cheer. Perhaps it’s a treasured jar of preserved figs or spicy pickles, homemade biscotti, milk punch or a carefully guarded family recipe for the best cheese straws in the south. I will leave you now with a few of my favorite recipes for gift giving this year and warm wishes for a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! And, don’t forget, when cooking for friends I recommend making two batches—one to give away as gifts, and the other to keep for yourself!