I’ve been meaning to write a post on dinner party gifts for ages, but because I don’t go/give that many (middleagedad has an ‘aversion’ you may remember…) I keep forgetting the level of sweat-inducing panic you can get into trying to judge the size/cost/cool factor of the gift you give the host. Thanks to everyone on our twitter feed who helped out here too.
If it’s your oldest friend in the world then she’s probably not even going to get a present -your presence is enough!- but if you’re trying to make the host your new best friend, then thought needs to be applied. Sometimes you do actually want to please someone by showing you can pick a gift they’ll love, other times you want as much of an impression as you can muster on a tenner and a mainline supermarket around the corner.
So, to bookmark and use at your leisure, here are a few suggestions, categorised by the impression you want to make.
The Welcome Anywhere Scented Candle
“Oh god not another scented candle! ” is actually not something people REALLY say, because you can never have too many scented candles. Although hardly an innovative present, anyone bringing a Jo Malone scented candle (our favourite is Pomegranate Noir) will always be warmly welcomed, everyone’s heart skips a beat on eyeing those classy cream and black boxes. But should you have a need for something a little more impressive -for those occasions when you want your host to really love you, then try a Rachel Vosper one, Choysia is her best seller.
Some of the best value/beautiful smell/gorgeous packaging candles are to be found at Anthropologie, smells such as the yummy Vanilla and Fig start at around £14. These will be loved. Trust us.
But if you want to be a bit creative, think of offering a bunch of coloured candles wrapped up in gorgeous ribbon.
Below and top image are the Cire Trudon coloured candles at £2.00 each, you can make up a fine bundle of neon pink or cobalt blue ones for a reasonable price -or mix them up. The colours are incredible and you can make them fit the mood/host’s decor/this season’s trend colours.
If you can’t visit the Cire Trudon store in Chiltern Street (where you can also buy a set in a box all wrapped up nicely) then find your nearest John Lewis, which has an excellent selection of coloured candles and start coordinating.
Just Call Me Martha
Nowhere is it possible to demonstrate your ability to be as creatively brilliant as our domestic hero Martha Stewart than with a home made gift. Although this sounds terrifying, you don’t actually need to be that gifted, just canny.
Bake your own shortbread and wrap it in waxed paper if you like, but the easiest Martha-style gift is an artfully decorative bunch of vegetables or fruit tied with beautiful string or popped in a nice box. Flowers are SO last year. Think giant artichokes, below, a bundle of speckled aubergines, an assortment of tiny pumpkins, whatever looks pretty at the green grocers. When in season Alfonso mangos can be bought in boxes of 6 at good middle eastern stores, wrapped up with a fat ribbon and away you go! At the moment pomegranates would work just as well.
Who cares if you can’t identify it or cook it, just so long as you can make it look beautiful.
Another Martha creative stand-by is the Kilner jar (Mason jar for our American readers) which can be used at a moment’s notice for all sorts of clever things. First you need to stock pile a few largish ones, try Anthropologie or Selfridges, (or John Lewis, but they are currently out of stock) or think where your nearest junk shop is and go forage a bargain.
Then you could layer vanilla pods into castor sugar to make scented sugar, which works just as well with scented geranium leaves, lavender or star anise and cinnamon sticks for a spiced sugar. They are also useful for mixing a batch of home-made Negroni cocktails, but we’ll come to that below.
Be My New Best Friend
These are the best presents, where you know what the person likes and you give more than ten minutes of panicky thought to the selecting process. The key here is to think ahead, inspiration needs think-time -particularly as we get older and with so much milling around our brains -so don’t rush it.
One of my favourite browsing sites for gift-porn is the Foodie Bugle’s eshop, where I could happily make christmas/birthday gift lists forever. The elegantly simple yet deeply covetable flower scissors are a snip (sorry, couldn’t resist) at £10 and are just what any gardener wants but can’t justify buying themselves (I am speaking from the heart here). Or the Seedbom -a set of four grenade shaped seed bombs ready to throw- is a genius idea for those who are gardeners/green/adventurers in life.
As an alternative to wine (around the price of a very good bottle) think about gin. It’s the spirit-of-the-moment with many artisan distilleries opening up all over the country. There will be one near you, we’re sure. Some of them are now making interesting concoctions that mash-up recent foodie trends for foraging/ historic/ locally sourced ingredients.
Edinburgh Gin do a nice Elderflower Gin, topical for any parties this weekend, Sipsmith is always welcome and the Sloe Gin looks festive, and there’s Rose Hip Cup from Sacred gin. The Sacred gin’s Negroni cocktail box could, speaking frankly, have been made for me. It’s probably only for very special friends, but you’d definitely be dancing in the kitchen at this party.
For a cheaper alternative, let’s return to Martha and her Mason/Kilner jars. For a really cute personal-touch present, mix your own smaller-scale Negroni/Manhatten/Cosmopolitan to fill the jar (what do you mean you don’t have gin, vermouth and Campari in the house?) add a few edible flowers, a whole cinnamon stick, tie a ribbon/stick a label on it and you have a mobile cocktail treat for a very reasonable price. This will also increase your standing as a mixologist of note and ensure you are invited back.
The Emergency Present Pile
Occasionally even the best organised party-goers get last minute invites/forget stuff. For these occasions you need an emergency present pile (I AM turning into Martha, I just know it). You need a suits anyone, male or female, old or young present you can grab, wrap and go. These need to be cheap yet decoratively impressive.
You could start with the Anthropologie decorative pinwheel drawing pins, who knows if they have a pin board but they look charming and someone in the host’s house will want them. Ditto the jolly pencil set with their festively colourful tails. Who wouldn’t want to write out daily job-lists with one of these to make you smile?
And to light all those scented candles, you might consider posh matches. Useful if your host has recently installed a of-the-moment wood burning stove, and the sort of thing that you’d absolutely never buy yourself. Cheap, decorative and you can upscale you purchase to luxury brands such as Kenneth Green, Cire Trudon or Penhaligon’s without breaking the bank. For maximum fabulousness, wrap beautifully in coloured tissue paper and glamourous ribbon.
The Uber-Cool Flower bouquet
Sadly only available currently in London, Petalon flowers will deliver, by bicycle, a beautiful bunch of well priced seasonal flowers, wrapped in hessian, to the door of your host. So instead of thrusting flowers at your already busy host when you arrive for dinner, forcing them to abandon stirring the risotto to find a suitable vase, they can be delivered an hour or so before. And by bike, which will be a talking point, for sure. Alternatively, if you fall outside of the delivery zone, you could always bribe a teenager to cycle flowers around early, where ever you are.
Should you disaster strike and you forget to take something, this works effectively the next day as a thank you/ sorry / Oops drank too much! present too.
What do you take as the perfect present?