The best gifts for hosts for when you finally go back to a dinner party but don’t want to bring a bottle of wine
Yes, wine is a lovely thing to bring to a dinner party, but it certainly isn’t the only thing. A clever gift can grace a pantry for months, incite laughter that evening, or liven a weekend stroll. Handing over a gift doesn’t need to be an obligation; rather, it can be a memorable token to keep your spot on the invite list time and time again.
The best gifts create a story or derive from one. So here are a few ideas your host and the others at the party won’t soon forget.
Brightland olive oil: Once you’ve tasted an exceptional olive oil, you simply can’t go back. Brightland uses heirloom Arbequina and Arbosana olives harvested from a single-family farm in California’s Central Coast. Founder Aishwarya Iyer’s ancestors were salt farmers in South India, and the earth similarly inspires her and her commitment to the soil, land, and trees. As a result, her oils are robust and distinct in personality and purpose. A drizzle of “Awake” accentuates pasta, roast chicken, and crusty bread, while “Alive” evokes a vibrancy in vinaigrettes, raw vegetables, and, yes, something sweet and bitter like dark chocolate. Suggested retail price: $74 for the duo.
Salt and pepper: As with high-quality olive oil, it’s hard to imagine life before really good salt and pepper. One of the most used ingredients in the kitchen, this famous duo is anything but a bland gift, and cracking Reluctant Trading’s Tellicherry peppercorns challenge the conventional thought of pepper. Chefs at lauded Pizzeria Mozza, Rustic Canyon, and State Bird Provisions use it for the fragrance and mild heat it brings to a dish. The accompanying flake-white Icelandic sea salt stems from arctic waters and amplifies meat, pasta, veggies, and those trendy chocolate chip cookies seen all over Instagram. If you think your host lacks a pepper mill, bring one made of walnut wood because nothing quite beats the sound (and taste) of freshly cracked black pepper. SRP: $29 for the salt and pepper set; $60 for the pepper mill.
Caramels: You know that feeling when consuming something so delicious, you lean back in a chair, close your eyes, and the world stands still? That’s the effect of McCrea’s, whose caramels are slow-cooked in a copper kettle with locally sourced butter, milk, and cream. While McCrea’s offers a selection of traditional and unusual flavors (ginger, cinnamon clove, and rosemary-truffle), this post-dinner duet is a surprising end to the night. Single Malt Scotch caramels are not your typical sweet spiked with smoky scotch, so these confections are a doozy. And the Deep Chocolate satisfies the non-boozer with silky richness. The owner Jason McCrea has a background in chemistry, and like any mad scientist, his efforts devise awe and whimsy. SRP: $31 for the twosome containing approximately 19 pieces per box.
Batched cocktails: In Maggie Hoffman’s book Batch Cocktails: Make-Ahead Pitcher Drinks for Every Occasion, she proclaims that “there are few things as luxurious as having a bottle of martinis in your freezer, ready to pour at the end of a long day.” Nor is there a gesture quite like batching it ahead of time for a host who spent all day prepping. With 65 recipes to choose from, shake together a nightcap like the Happiness, a twist on a Manhattan, or provide a morning cure to the host’s inevitable hangover with the Sunrise at Koko Head, a blend of Campari, Aperol, Benedictine, guava juice, and lime. Then, present it in a hand-turned glass vessel from Turnco Wood Goods, whose walnut wood cap is sleek and seals the drink airtight to avoid spills when your friends are passing it around the table with utter excitement. SRP: $18 for the book; and $39 for the 32-ounce jar.
Mexican whiskey: Sure, whiskey seems like an obvious choice, but Abasolo Ancestral Corn Whiskey certainly is not. This spirit is distilled from 100% Mexican Cacahuazintle corn, an heirloom variety that only grows 7,000-plus feet above sea level throughout the states of Mexico, Tlaxcala, and Puebla. Known for its distinct flavor, Cacahuazintle is processed using the 4,000-year-old cooking process called Nixtamalization—where it is soaked, cooked, washed, then hulled—and is traditionally seen in pozole, street corn, and cornbread. But instead of applying this in food, Abasolo brings it to the stills, where it transforms into a spirit that is so quintessentially Mexican, highlighting flavors of sweet tamales, honey, vanilla, and leather. Local farmers have cultivated this ancestral crop for 200 generations. SRP: $40
Apron: Cooking with style is almost as important as cooking with love, high-quality olive oil, and salt and pepper. Hence, a vibrant bistro apron that allows for graceful movement, a dance around the kitchen floor, and twirling from guest to guest. The linens of this apron were made exclusively for Houses & Parties—an online retailer devoted to the elegant and unusual—by Ankara Company, a textile maker located in Johannesburg. Ankara designs marry modern with over 100 years of African wax print. SRP: $72
Superlatives place cards: Since isolation took us out of social events for so long, sparking lively exchanges may not be second nature anymore. Therefore, give the host and the entire party playful conversation starters. These Superlatives place cards from Dear Annabelle, the maker of luxury paper products and home goods, allow everyone to boast their “best” or “most likely to” qualities. And because we’re celebrating everyone’s accolades, these cards are engraved in gold ink for extra luxe. Even better, Dear Annabelle sources only FSC-certified paper stock and donates to One Tree Planted. SRP: $60 for a set of 24 cards.
Market shopper: Senegal native Sofi Seck weaves elephant grass and recycled plastic to create shopper baskets that delightfully hold fruit, trinkets, magazines, or provisions from the farmers’ market. The baskets are handwoven using one of Ghana’s most complex and time-consuming techniques. For each bag, bolga grass is washed, dried, split, rolled, naturally dyed with vegetables, and woven into functional artwork. Founded by Seck, Expedition Subsahara is based in St. Charles, Mo., and offers Senegalese home goods. SRP: $69
Cocktail napkins: Based in Houston, Hibiscus Linens offers handcrafted napkins, table runners, place mats, and other timeless heirlooms. Owner Mariana Barran de Goodall learned needlework as a child from a nun and now pays homage to her heritage through handmade linens. Depending on how long you have before attending the party, you can choose from premade pieces or personalized designs. Each piece is inspired by Goodall’s travels through Mexico, where she pops in and out of textile shops, learning from different regions and traditions. SRP: Standard cocktail napkins start at $12 each and go up in price depending on patterns, color schemes, and customization.
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