Sara Volk
Homemade truffles make a great gift for the foodie in your life.

Organic salt scrub made at home makes for an incredibly customizable gift.

Candles are a holiday staple, and can easily be made at home!

The gift-giving season is underway, and with it comes the stress of planning out your present list. Who should get what? How can you change it up this year? Consider these homemade gifts, tailored to different friend types, to add a little something special this season.

For the foodie

For the foodie in your life, make something indulgent. The holidays are a time to loosen up on calorie-counting, after all! There's nothing better than homemade candies, and you don't need to spend a fortune on candy-making equipment to create rich, flavorful truffles in your own kitchen.

Chocolate Oreo truffles

1 16-oz bag of plain Oreos

1 8-oz pkg. cream cheese, softened

2 8-oz pkgs. semisweet baking chocolate

1. Crush cookies into fine crumbs in food processor (or put the kids to work with a plastic bag and a rolling pin).

2. Add cream cheese to bowl, and mix with cookies until well blended.

3. Form cream cheese mixture into 1-inch balls, and place on a wax-paper lined baking sheet. Stick them in the freezer to firm up (about 10 minutes).

4. Melt your baking chocolate in the microwave in 15 second intervals, stirring well each time. Be careful -- chocolate can burn quickly!

5. Dip your pre-formed cream cheese balls into the chocolate; this works best by resting them on top of a fork, dipping, and tapping on the side of the container to drain off excess chocolate. Return the dipped balls to the baking sheet.

6. Return sheet to freezer and refrigerate until firm (about 1 hour). Leftovers can be covered and stored in the fridge.

Yield: approx. 42 truffles

Additional options: Use flavored Oreos to mix things up a bit. Or, after step 5, top your truffles with extra cookie crumbs, crushed candy canes, or a drizzle of festively colored white chocolate for a decorative flair.

For the skin-care maven

When the holidays roll around, everyone needs a little extra TLC. (There's a reason why bath items are a staple gift this time of year!) A homemade salt or sugar scrub is a great present -- especially since it can be customized for the recipient, combining the perfect level of scrub power with their favorite scent.

Scented scrub

1 c. fine sea salt*

1/2 c. oil (grapeseed, sweet almond or other light massage oil)

5-15 drops high quality essential oil

Bowl for mixing

Air-tight container (such as a mason jar)

*Sugar can be substituted for a gentle scrub, or coarse-grain salt for a foot scrub.

1. Put the salt into the mixing bowl.

2. Add the regular oil, mixing well with a spoon or wooden stick. The texture should be moist enough to hold together, but not overly oily. Adjust the amount of oil to achieve desired texture.

3. Gently tap in the essential oils and combine well. Mix and combine essential oils as needed to achieve desired scent.

4. Transfer finished scrub to container. Scrub should be kept in a cool, dark place.

While your scrub can work just as well with only the massage oil and salt, essential oils replace the synthetic scents that often irritate skin in store-bought bath items. Homemade scrubs, especially those made with organic ingredients, are a perfect alternative for those with sensitive skin or allergies to synthetic scents. Synthetic essential oils do exist, so always research your supplier. Azure Green and Aroma Vera are two brands providing only natural essential oils.

Be sure to ask if your recipient has sensitive skin or allergies when selecting your ingredients. Some essential oils, such as cinnamon, can be irritants; do your research when trying new oils! (The oils listed below are all sensitive-skin safe.)

Note: Pregnant and nursing women should exercise caution when using essential oils, as research on their effects on pregnancy is ongoing. And, despite how delicious the scrubs may smell, remember that essential oils are for outside use only.

For the spiritual guru

Candles are another holiday gift-giving go to, and perfect for a friend who enjoys meditation or relaxation. Make this staple gift special by pouring it yourself. Candles can be adjusted for the recipient, taking into account their tastes by choosing scents and containers to add personal flair.

Homemade candle

Container for melting wax

Candle wicking

Candle wax

Bottled candle fragrance OR essential oils (optional)

Candle coloring (optional)

Container/mold for candle

1. Prepare your work space; lay down newspaper or a towel for easy cleanup.

2. Melt wax slowly according to factory directions. For easy cleanup, consider using a plastic candle-making liner inside of your melting container. Waxes will vary; some, such as soy wax, are microwavable, while others require a double boiler.

3. Add coloring and fragrance. If using essential oils for fragrance, ensure that your wax is slightly cooled (but not set), or the oils will evaporate.

4. Place wick inside container; it should stick out about 2 inches beyond the container's rim. If desired, you can "glue" the wick to the bottom of your container with a small amount of wax before pouring the main candle.

5. Slowly pour the melted wax into your container. Hold the wick gently so it remains upright for a few minutes while the wax begins to set.

6. Cool candles completely (overnight if possible). Trim the wick down to a quarter inch.

If your recipient has a flair for the unorthodox, consider making a candle in a nontraditional container. A bergamot-scented candle inside a tea cup is a great nod to the tea-lover in your life, for example. Just make sure that your container can withstand a little bit of heat.

For an extra surprise, consider hiding a small, hard item (such as a piece of jewelry) inside your homemade candle. Take care to keep the object away from the wick, as the hidden item may cause the flame to go out. When the recipient burns the candle, the surprise gift inside will be revealed.

Remember: Gift-giving is about sharing something with someone you love. Packing a little extra love into the gift by making it yourself is a way to show the recipient that you care -- and a great way to make your gift stand out.

Essential oils and their meanings

Cedarwood: enhances spirituality

Eucalyptus: healing

Bergamot: protection

Lavender: love

Tonka bouquet: money and wealth

Yarrow: courage

Ylang-ylang: peace

Sara Volk is a Bismarck native and special sections editor at The Bismarck Tribune. She previously served as genre editor for the Upper Mississippi Harvest literary magazine and as an editorial intern for Business Valuations Resources in Portland, Oregon.