With the holidays around the corner and party season heating up, right next to your fears of what to wear is what to bring. A gracious guest is one who comes armed and ready with a hostess gift — a small act of kindness in return for the entertaining evening ahead. In Style magazine's Amy Goodman was invited on the “Today” show to share ideas for the perfect present, as well as the dos and don'ts of hostess gift-giving.
So what is the quintessential gift for a dinner get-together? Think of small indulgences and luxury items for the home: A bottle of wine or champagne, savories or sweets, a scented candle or arranged flowers. (Never arrive with fresh flowers in cellophane ... while a sweet gesture, your host will be forced to scramble for a vase and then a place to put it.) The closer the friendship, the more personalized you can be. Is your friend a gourmet cook? Then give a bottle of high-quality olive oil or a collection of exotic spices. A consistent party thrower? Monogrammed cocktail napkins or a chic serving platter would be appropriate. A book lover? Bring them a copy of the latest best-seller.
If you are headed for an overnight or a weekend stay (with your spouse and kids in tow), a general rule of thumb is the longer you stay, the more substantial the offering. First, ask what you can bring and then send an appropriate gift basket in advance — like a breakfast basket filled with coffee beans, bagels, smoked salmon and cream cheese — anything that will help your host amidst the festivities. (For perishable items, alert the recipient of the delivery date.)
Lastly, don't take offense if your gift isn't used during your stay: be honored that your host adores her present so much that she wishes to indulge only herself!
Making a tremendous comeback, aprons will add some pizzazz over your hostess’ clothes as she greets guests. Retro designs by Kitsch’n Glam feature reversible designs and whimsical names like “Martini,” “Shortcake” and “Peppermint.” Available in eight designs, $42 for half aprons, $62 for full size; Kitsch’n Glam, 213-250-9793 or kitschnglam.com.
Citrus twistThe time-honored tradition of giving citrus — the sweetest fruit from November through March — takes on a fresh take with this potted kumquat tree. Known as the golden jewel of citrus, these petite and fragrant kumquats are sweet on the outside, tart on the inside and completely edible, rind and all. They can be made into jelly or chutney, or used to flavor pork, chicken and fish. The beauty of a potted plant? You can replant in warmer weather and continually harvest benefits years from now. Perfect for even apartment living, a potted kumquat has the potential to grow up to 5 feet, is evergreen, and prefers moderate sunlight. An 18-inch tree is $50 at Clifton's Nursery, 888-209-4356.
Bubbly and brewThe latest in sparkling wine trends leads us to Italy for a light, effervescent party wine that is sure to energize the atmosphere. Presented in a gently curved bottle, Il Prosecco is perfect for before or after dinner or in mixed cocktails ($11; Mionetto Wines). For your brew-loving dude (or dudette), the finest of Belgium beers comes in a überchic bottle — undistinguishable when placed alongside champagne bottles during an elegant affair (Bosteels Deus Brut des Flandres, $25). Complete the beverages with some sweet or savory handmade nuts by Sampsons, sure to be a party pleaser with their unusual flavors: citrus-curried cashews, sweet and spicy pecans, wild and smoky pistachios, hot and sassy almonds or dark and decadent pecans ($5 for a 5-ounce bag; 877-977-0077 or sampsonsnuts.com).
Pop artGetting past the cork to the wine was never easier than with this chic screwless bottle opener. By inserting the needle (which comes with a handy cover for safe storage) completely through the cork and lightly tapping the top C02 cartridge, your cork will pop right out — just like a bottle of bubbly! Each cartridge will open 60 to 80 bottles before needing replacement. Available in chrome, brass and copper, $26 each; Cork Pops, 800-322-6757.
Bee hotFor the friend whose favorite after-dinner drink is tea, give a tin of infusers from Tea Forte (eight flavors, $10 per tin; 800-721-1139) along with a celadon green ceramic tea holder ($6 for 2). Each handcrafted infuser is made from Asian silk for maximum steeping and makes two cups or one small pot of tea. For a spoonful of sweetness, throw in a jar of imported honey, such as Sicilian honey with wild strawberries ($10 for 8 ounces; Leesik Imports, 877-601-9300) or a unique domestic product, Tupelo honey by the Savannah Bee Co. ($18 for 20 ounces; Turpan, 631-324-2444).
Sweet toothDoes your host have a hankering for old-fashioned buttery caramels? Knudsen’s are made from a grandmother's recipe and are creamy, chewy and buttery with a mocha-flavored finish. Since these caramels are preservative-free, make sure to store in the refrigerator or freezer, then thaw to room temperature before eating. (A 1-pound box is $12; Knudsen's, 888-388-1970.) A perfect box of chocolates is one that comes daintily wrapped and travels all the way from California’s wine country. Having studied traditional Belgium methods, John and Tracy Wood Anderson have created chocolates that even celebrities can't resist — from dark chocolate ganaches to fresh creams (24-piece chocolate assortment, $26; Woodhouse Chocolates, 800-966-3468). If hot chocolate is more her calling, you can’t miss with Marie Belle’s version made in the European tradition, in a gift-ready decorative tin. She’ll be reliving a scene from the film “Chocolat” with one sip! Four flavors including Aztec Original, Aztec Dark, Aztec Mocha and Aztec Spicy ($17 for 10 oz.; Marie Belle, 866-925-8800).
Healthy treatsFor those who wish to avoid chocolate and sweets altogether, try dried fruits, a vitamin-rich option that still packs in the sweetness. We’re not talking the perennial fruitcake, but rather neatly arranged rows of dates, peaches, pears, plums and apricots, all together in a gift-ready crate. Dried-fruit assortment, $29 for 3.75 lbs.; the Sweet Life, 212-598-0092. Whenever possible, buy a gift that already comes in lovely packaging, to save yourself a step.
Cheese plateWith cheese plates featured prominently on many restaurants’ desert menus this fall, why not offer the gift of quality artisanal frommage that everyone will have fun sampling? (Six handmade California cheeses including Gouda, Carmody, Dry Jack, Goat Cheese, Mt. Tam and White Cheddar, $100; the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills, 800-547-1515). Better yet, present your wedges on a sleek bamboo cutting board, touted for its durability, design and smooth finish (11.5”, $50; 6.5” $20; Totally Bamboo, 818-505-0159).
Copyright © 2004 by In Style magazine.