The weather has warmed up, a lot of vaccines have gotten into a lot of arms, and many of us are getting ready to gather with friends (following all CDC safety guidelines) for the first time in well over a year.
And a special warm-weather get-together calls for a special gift. There never has been, or ever will be, anything wrong with a bouquet of flowers or a bottle of nice wine, but I’m wanting to step it up a notch in the host-hostess gift department. There are so many ways to be thoughtful in your gift-giving; just take a few moments to reflect on your hosts and think outside the usual.
FOR THE COOK
Food that speaks to where you live or are coming from is fun for recipient and giver alike. If you hail from Wisconsin, bring an assortment of the state's cheeses. Bourbon from Kentucky, maple syrup from Vermont, a crate of peaches from Georgia, boiled peanuts from South Carolina. I have brought bagels and salmon from NYC to many homes outside the city.
Other thoughts: a special bottle of extra virgin olive oil or aged balsamic vinegar, or a set of hot sauces for spice lovers, like the eye-catchingly designed sets from Clark & Hopkins, which feature sauces from around the world. Perhaps an assortment of fresh herbs in pretty planters to put on a windowsill.
Many serious cooks like to grind their own whole spices for full-flavored dishes. If you know such a cook, consider whether they would want: 1) a stunning mortar and pestle, the old school way to grind spices, or 2) an electric spice grinder, like the Finamill grinder, which grinds herbs and spices with the press of a button.
A cookbook tailored to the recipient’s tastes, interests and memories can also be a welcome present.
FOR THE ENTERTAINER
If you are headed to a home where in normal times they like to have guests, think about something to help them elevate their hospitality.
A pretty cake stand with an classic domed lid is the best way to serve cake ever; the Mosser glass cake stand in a variety of colors is a knockout.
A table runner in your host’s favorite color, a fun apron, or maybe some cloth napkins are good picks. Etsy has some lovely options, and I think you can never go wrong with simple linen. Check out LinenMeStore and Magic Linen for a selection of appealing colors.
I will admit that when I get a beautifully designed candle, I can never bring myself to light it, but I also think that’s fair. Greentree Home Candle in the New York Catskills makes quirky and regal candles, such as a monkey with a fez, or sculptural pillars, all available in unusual colors.
Zingerman’s, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has some smart and customizable food assortments and subscription packages. One of the most popular is the pick of four cheeses and cured meats (you choose from a wide variety), and a bread option. They have other assortments, which are also available as subscriptions for a gift that keeps on giving, like their Food Explorer’s Club, or the Quarterly Bacon Report.
FOR THE ART LOVER (AND THE ONE WHO HAS EVERYTHING)
Some of the best places to find unusual and sophisticated gifts are museum gift shops. Large museums often have dazzling stores with an array of products, while smaller museums might have a handsomely curated selection.
At the Art Institute of Chicago, offerings include Frank Lloyd Wright glasses with an etched design inspired by his Coonley house; Salvador Dali salt and pepper shakers; and a stylish mancala set. New York City's Museum of Modern Art’s shop includes a Keith Haring chess set and a set of rainbow steak knives.
FOR THE GARDENER OR PLANT LOVER
Consider giving a new pair of sturdy but attractive gardening gloves or some nice plant clippers (Gardenista has some nice offerings.) My mom recently gave me some Japanese ceramic plant scissors, and I love them.
An unusual plant in a pretty planter is a great gift that lasts much longer than cut flowers. A cool birdfeeder is also an unusual present. Browse your local nursery for more ideas.
FOR THE GRILLER
A shiny new set of good grilling tools is a lovely choice; try the Alpha Grillers Heavy Duty BBQ Grilling Tools Set with 18-inch handles. Or a high-end meat thermometer, such as a wireless one from Thermopro.
FOR THE FAMILY
How about a set of personalized mugs for each member of the family? Uncommon Goods lets you select skin color, hair color, clothes and a representational hobby for each person, so you can give the whole gang mugs made just for them.
Or maybe oversize beach towels, monogrammed with each person’s name or initials, in different colors. Embroidered Turkish towels are available in an array of colors from the Towel Weaving Shop on Etsy, a seven-generation family weaving company.
Board games are always a winner. We were late to the strategy and adventure game Catan, but it became a mainstay of our past year with two teenage boys. Other family-friendly recommendations include Not Parent Approved: A Fun Card Game for Kids, Tweens, Teens, Families, and Mischief Makers; Kids Against Maturity; Beat That!, a wacky challenge game; and Heist, which encourages team participation.
In short (or maybe it's too late for that), there are a lot of creative ways to say, “Hey, thanks ever so much for having us!” this summer.
Katie Workman contributes regular stories about food to The Associated Press. She has written two cookbooks focused on family-friendly cooking, “Dinner Solved!” and “The Mom 100 Cookbook.” She blogs at http://www.themom100.com/about-katie-workman. She can be reached at Katie@themom100.com.