ROSEMARY HARRIS: For a while there..in my youth, it was scented candles. Then, ridiculously expensive soaps which you'd probably never buy for yourself...artfully wrapped. I still have many of them used to scent my linen closets and guest bathrooms. In the last few years olive oil has made a splash.
What's the cool hostess gift this year?
One year I got wine charms. I had no idea what they were. I've gotten strange liquers obviously regifted. I have nothing against regifting, particularly when it's chocolate, but I will probably have that black and white bottle of ...something...forever. The mead I got a kick out of. And the label was beautiful. And I had one friend who brought a bottle of Frangelico every time she came over. I still have a lifetime supply.
Homemade anything is always appreciated. To bring or to get. I'm looking forward to my pal Helayne's rugelach this Sunday.
I have two go-to recipes which travel well (recipes to come on Saturday, btw) - almond crescent cookies and struffoli - which I sometimes package, artfully, of course, and bring as gifts. But I always ask in case the hostess is planning her own special dessert. I wouldn't want to show her up - or vice versa!
Home Goods is my number one store for last minute gifts if I don't have time to make something. Shelves and shelves of things Jan would hate! (See below...)
JAN BROGAN: Let me start by saying, that except at a Christmas party, I am philosophically opposed to hostess gifts. At one point I wanted to lead a national campaign against hostess gifts, but it seemed that if I had that much time, I really should lead a campaign against something more significant - like world hunger. At any rate, by "hostess gift" I don't mean when you bring wine or food to a party, but when you bring candles, or cocktail napkins or some cute little chochkie that I can never find when I'm shopping. The times I have felt compelled to bring a hostess gift, I've always felt embarrassed handing it over, because I'm a bad shopper and usually I'd just bought and delivered the stupidest thing in the world.
And when I get a hostess gift, I want to tell whatever woman (and it is ALWAYS a woman) who bought it for me: YOU DIDN'T HAVE TO DO THIS, I MEAN IT.
But I digress.... at Christmas time, when I have occasion to go to stores, I usually stock up on really cool, organic bayberry and other spice candles my cousin sells in her NJ boutique, if I can get them. I sometimes bring a box of my home-made candies. I always bring wine and if it's a party, I either bring an appetizer or a pitcher of my world famous Christmas cookie martinis. My basic rule is that if you have to bring a hostess gift it should be perishable. (Especially if that person throws a lot of parties because you know they have a cabinet just filled with useless hostess gifts. )
RHYS BOWEN: I love to get homemade gifts--anything but fruitcake, please. However I'm always so busy that I don't have time to bake. I like to take and receive plants--flowering plants in the middle of winter are great. And we always take wine. Sometimes chocolates. My strangest hostess gift recently was a swan--I'm still not sure if it's meant to hold napkins, soap...it opens its wings and is slightly scary.
Regifting is dangerous. You never know who will be at which party. The only thing I do sometimes regift is wine. We drink very little red wine so if I get given too many bottles I spread the love around.
LUCY BURDETTE: It's kind of a nice idea, bringing a little gift to a host and hostess, but it does keep the chain going, doesn't it? I like your idea of perishables Jan, but not too perishable. Like fish, for example. (you think I'm kidding...) Or a little package of cute cocktail napkins--not too much and they are something that can always be used (or passed along.) Wine, always, or a little package of homemade cookies. I could use a piece or your candy right now, Jan...
ROSEMARY: I love the swan. Food, yes. Although someone once brought over a whole mess of barbecued chicken wings. And it wasn't really that kind of party. Jan, it is time for that candy recipe again? Or maybe this year you can just send us the candy...
HALLIE: Fish -- REALLY? Actually, we had some friends bring over fresh caught blue fish. My husband loves blue fish (me not so much) but they'd have been better if we'd been able to cook them the day they were caught. Even day-old blue fish is ... strong stuff.
I'm very snooty about food (big surprise, right?) And I know they mean well, but I just hate it when someone brings over baked goods from a supermarket (even Whole Foods). Better to bring a bar of soap. (I love nice soap.) Why is it that a simple homemade cake or cookie is SO MUCH BETTER than anything you can get in the store?
When in doubt, bring wine!
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Yes, I LOVE getting wine! And I always bring it! (In fact, sometimes I bring two bottles..Jonathan says--we don't need TWO.) Getting? Soap. I love little soaps although I can never bring myself to use them. It's thoughtful when people bring food, but I never eat it. And are scented candles passe? Not for me.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Oh, erg. I'm terrible at hostess gifts. I'm a "stop at the supermarket, grab a bottle of wine" kind of guest. Although I love it when friends bring pot-luck-y things like yummy appetizers, or I have a friend who makes the best brownies and pound cake--things that never come out of MY kitchen!
Fish?? Really? Though I wouldn't turn my nose up at some nice smoked salmon. If I'm the one gifting, I'll remember the cocktail napkins. They're ridiculously expensive, and something that always (unless you happen to be a bachelor type) comes in handy.
Interestingly, the rules of dinner party etiquette seem to be more formal in the UK. One would never ever dare show up at a party without something in hand, and wine AND chocolate AND flowers are not overboard.
ROSEMARY: What will you be bringing, making or hoping to get?