The Hostess Gift

(©istockphoto/Giancarlo Polacchini)

(©istockphoto/Giancarlo Polacchini)

“I don’t know whether you like flowers, sir,” the count said, “but I took the liberty of just bringing these roses.”

“Here, give them to me.” Brett took them. “Get me some water in this, Jake.” I filled the big earthenware jug with water in the kitchen, and Brett put the roses in it, and placed them in the centre of the dining-room table.
— from “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway.

Today, the energetic Mrs. E. and I will pack the progeny into the car and venture to the wilds of Southern Maryland to visit a friend. The country house visit requires, as most visits do, a suitable gift. It wasn’t always this way. At one point, people thought it gauche to bring a gift. That has changed. And it is almost expected that a guest arrive with something in hand. Particularly when your friend never crosses your threshold without a picnic hamper of delicacies. Even if she is only staying for a quick drink.

I like the present-giving. As long as it doesn’t go too far. That means bringing something small and useful. Our friend is a very good cook and part Italian. Her parents owned a vineyard at one time (maybe they still do…) She qualifies as a “foodie.” Which makes my job easy.

Yesterday, I visited my local butcher (note: Monday isn’t the best day to visit the butcher. Weekends empty the cases.) Homemade Pancetta, Proscuitto and Boar sausage all made the cut. A loaf of crusty bread, several of our incredibly delicious, locally grown Hanover tomatoes and three bottles of good Italian red did, too.

We are not always as extravagant. During my early years as a college graduate, I was known for bringing three bottles of inexpensive Champagne to most events. Small, foreign soaps have accompanied me to small townhouses. Tins of real Virginia peanuts are always a big hit. A bottle of truffle oil is too. My local antiques market has a booth with lots of embroidered linens. I can almost always find an appropriate monogram on a set of cocktail napkins or a pillow case. A bottle of good bourbon or single malt whiskey is a safe bet, as is wine.

As a kid overseas, I once had a General give me a Big Mac that had been flown in “Space-A” with some other cargo. First burger I’d had in three years. Heaven. And just about as thoughtful as could be.

Which leads me to this: “it’s the thought that counts.” Think about your hostess and find something she’d love. If you don’t know her, send a thank you gift with a handwritten note the day after you leave. Even if it’s just a snapshot in the envelope, it’s sure to be a hit.

What are your never-fail hostess gifts? Or what gift have you been given that stands out as truly memorable (in a good way)?

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