Friday, March 23, 2012

Hostess Gifts With A French Twist

Sam and I have been friends -- albeit cyber, unfortunately -- for about two years. I have always appreciated no, let's be frank, I've always been in awe of her sophisticated approach to entertaining and the ease with which she seems to whip up chef worthy marvels in her kitchen. I love to hear about her travels, her discoveries, what's for dinner. . . 

When you visit her at My Carolina Kitchen, you'll understand.

That's why I asked her if she would be so kind as to offer some beautiful -- and delicious -- hostess gifts. As you can see, we can learn from her divine inspiration below.


No one wants to go to a dinner party empty handed, but choosing a hostess gift can be challenging. The two choices that immediately come to mind are of course wine and flowers. I always keep a nice bottle of wine tucked away “just in case” a dinner invitation is extended at the last minute. It’s always easy to pick up flowers on the way.

However, I have a problem with taking flowers to someone sans a vase. Pourquoi you ask. I don’t like to put the hostess in a position of having to search for a vase while she’s greeting guests. In fact sending flowers the day before the party, or the day after is the rule in France. So I keep a spare vase to use for such an occasion. It’s an all purpose kind of vase that will hold almost any bouquet. Problem solved.

What if you would like to be more creative with your hostess gift and give something special, perhaps something you’ve made yourself? Here are a few ideas. For the recipe, just click the name.

Do you have an invitation to someone’s house who is entertaining house guests? Take a jar of homemade breakfast granola. You’ll be doing them a great favor – their guests can make their own breakfast in the morning.

Seasoned salt will please absolutely everyone. This seasoned salt with rosemary is simple to make and uses only two ingredients – sea salt and rosemary. If you can find French grey sea salt, by all means use it. Grey sea salt has been hand harvested from the clay bottoms of the French Atlantic sea marshes each summer since the seventh century. How’s that for being around for a while?

Are you going to someone’s home who loves martinis? Take a jar of blue cheese stuffed olives along with some Southern cheese straws. Stuff the olives yourself or pick up an assortment at an olive bar.

If you’re coming to my house, bring an interesting bottle of flavored vinegar. I am an avid collector of vinegars and embarrassed to tell you how many I have on my shelf. One more will always make me happy. Raspberry would be a nice choice.

For your friends who are bakers, take some homemade lemon curd. Maybe they’ll bring you a slice of their tart when they make it.

How about a jar of your Italian grandmother’s spaghetti sauce made from her recipe that’s been handed down through your family for generations. No Italian grandmother? No problem: neither do I. Mario Batali’s recipe for marinara sauce has never let me down.

I would like to say that there is absolutely nothing wrong with buying something and making it pretty.  There’s no rule that says you have to make everything yourself. For example, tie a fancy silk ribbon around a really good slice of cheese from your favorite cheese shop and present it with pride along with a bottle of nice wine.

For someone who loves to read, gift wrap a book. Here I’ve used brown mailing paper and a dried hydrangea. My absolute favorite book to give is Lydia Cassett Reading the Morning Paper by Harriet Scott Chessman. Inspired by five Mary Cassatt paintings of Cassatt’s older sister Lydia (who is dying of Bright’s disease), the book gives you insight into Lydia’s thoughts on how she feels about modeling for the paintings for Mary in Paris in the late 1870s.  The five paintings, beautifully reproduced, appear at intervals in the book along with fascinating real-life figures that include Renoir and Degas.

So there you have it – some ideas for hostess gifts. You’ll never go empty handed to a dinner party again.

All photography by Meakin Hoffer

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