I love it when I read articles on great host gifts. I love it when people like Martha Stewart, Emily Schuman, Ina Garten, and the editors at Real Simple tell me how great glitter pens are, and how hand weaving a basket out of found rustic twigs filled with artisanal jams and chutneys is so easy, so chic, and SO necessary. I mean, our hosts have done so much work! So not only do we have to bend over backwards, (having taken a japanese bonsai pruning class, obviously) making sure to honor their expenditures, but we must do so with things that they cannot possibly use and probably don’t want. Having been on the receiving end of some of these gifts, I can happily say I have several jars of mystery spreads expiring in my cabinet. One can in fact, have too many tapenades. So what is a guest to do? I’ve already discussed one of my favorite host gifts, flowers, what else can we add to that list? There are a bevy of great offerings to grace your host with. And they don’t have to be complicated, they don’t have to be expensive, and they definitely don’t require a certification in competitive scrapbooking. Here are some idea’s that I particularly like:
1. Make a playlist- this sounds vaguely juvenile, but hear me out. If you are the kind of person who has genuinely great taste in music then maybe offering up your egalitarian ear is the way to go. Now, this means you have to have a truly crowd pleasing taste in music. I don’t mean you have great taste in music that you are so pretentious everyone will be raising their eyebrows all night at your obscure cover of Bright Eyes, and I don’t mean you are a top 40 aficionado. YOU can please a mixed crowd. You’ve got oldies peppered between the ubiquitous, followed up with a mellow indie tune, and a great sense of how to set the mood. If you are this person, offer to make a playlist/play DJ for your host. One less thing for them to think about, and one nice thing you can do for them. (Just make sure you make this offer before you arrive, no one likes the ipod hog when uninvited.)
2. Flowers- I’ve talked about it here. But they do wonders. Cheap, simple, lovely.
3. Libations- whether it’s a bottle of wine, a bottle of Jack, or a bottle of beer (well maybe a few bottles of beer…) taking drinks off the host’s hands can be super helpful. Check in with your host ahead of time and ask what kind of beverage you can add to the equation. Don’t ask if you should bring, ask what you should bring. If this is your offering just tell your host that you’d like to bring some drinks, and what works well. Red wine is less graceful next to street tacos and fried chicken, bottles of Heineken seem uncouth next to duck confit, and a bottle of tequila is useless if they’re planning on making old fashioneds. Have a quick chat and then feel good about playing Bacchus.
4. Do the dishes- We have a family friend who does the dishes every year at Christmas. It’s this crazy knack she has. She claims her trick is searing hot water and rubber gloves. Regardless of the magical power she harnesses, I commend her. If you’re the kind of person who would rather clean up than cook, this is your moment! Offer to help out with the dishes after hours. Don’t offer if you feel like you’re being held hostage after shorting the bill, but if this is something you enjoy and feel like you can contribute, go for it!
5. Sweets- A little confection goes a long way. Whether you baked a batch of cookies, or picked up a small box of chocolates, sugar is often welcome at the end of a party. Heck, I’ve seen a bag of dark chocolate Hershey kisses be the highlight of a soiree. They are always appreciated, they are always delicious, and there’s something incredibly charming about dessert. One of my favorite after dinner treats at a particularly fancy restaurants is a pint sized bowl of brown sugar cubes they serve with coffee. I could care less about the caffeine, but those tiny condensed brown sugar cubes are my heaven.
6. When in doubt, put it in a mason jar- Mason jars are cheap, and they can hold a bounty of fun things. I’m half kidding about this, except that it’s completely true. I’m pretty sure you could fill a mason jar with marbles and offer it up as new pie weights (hey, some people need pie weights!) and your host would be over the moon. Unless they are totally not that kind of person, in which case maybe you put a nice candle in the mason jar, the pinterest favorite of “all-but-the-liquids” mixes (hint…it’s either hot cocoa powder scooped in with marshmallows, or a box of cake mix), or a goldfish. Get creative, stick it in a jar, call it a rustic trip on the whimsy train.
7. Kitchen Towels- It’s kind of cliche, and many-a-domestic diva will tell you to hand embroider them, or make them out of antique sheets or vintage dresses. And sure, you can totally do that. But I’d also say picking up some cute kitchen towels that are befitting to your host’s taste is a pretty clutch move. Dish towels are one of those things that you always seem to need more of, and its thoughtful, but not insane. Plus they’re easy to find, make some fancy rustic ones out of burlap or do the more realistic thing and pick some up anywhere- from Target to William Sonoma.
8. Pie Weights- So hey, remember how I mentioned marbles in mason jars earlier? Well, here’s a funny thing: pie weights can be pretty much anything. Pennies, dried beans, marbles….anything that can be put in the oven in high heat can be turned into a pie weight. So just don’t use legos. But you can toss your choice of weights in a jar of some kind, tie a bow around it and offer up your pie weights. They make you sound like a domestic genius, and have genuine use. Pretty nifty, eh?
9. Game Master- Easy games can be the winning move to a successful party. Many dull dinner parties have been saved by a rousing game of charades. You can roll your eyes or gag over this, but there’s a reason this game that needs no board, and can be played with virtually any amount of people is still so beloved. But hey, there are plenty of great group games, and if you’re that kind of person, offer your skills up! Bring the board games, the latest handheld word stumper, trivia cards, a big white board, or just some pens, a pad of paper, and a big hat. Get the game stuff together, and let your host focus on the food.
10. The “F*!& It Bucket”- This is just a great gift. Period. Invented by the hilarious Amy Sedaris in her hosting book “I Like You” which I highly recommend reading. This has been my favorite gift to give people for years. You begin with a receptacle of any kind, preferably one with a lid that’s also opaque. Painted jars are good, but I’ve used old peanut tins or even children’s toy buckets. Fill said receptacle up with candy and treats. Things you wouldn’t eat on the everyday and preferably things that don’t quickly expire. Replace the lid and using whatever tools you have (chalk paint and chalk, hi my name is labels and a sharpie, it doesn’t matter!) write the phrase “F*!% It!”. When your friend is having a bad day, you can say F-it, and take a piece of candy. Everyone has a day where they need the bucket.