Host Gift That Most Missed

Something just occurred to me. I have been spending a good part of the pre-Thanksgiving week presenting recipes that will help you fulfill some of the essential menu items people expect to see on the table this time of year. These standards are so elemental to the holiday meal that I’ve even stretched my oven mitt to the breaking point by bringing you two versions of these staples each day this week.

We’ve had cranberries 2 ways; glazed carrots presented simply and deliciously, as well as an unusual but spectacular carrot tart. Yesterday, we had perhaps the most requested of the Thanksgiving side-dishes, Mashed Potatoes– one version traditional the other with all the bells and whistles.

As pleased as I am with myself about my progress during this week of Thanksgiving Double-Takes, I realized this morning that I might be a little bit too smart for my britches. Because I’ve made an oversight; I’ve assumed that you were cooking the meal this Thanksgiving. But what if you’re a guest? What if you have been invited to dine in another person’s home for this grandest of all holiday meals? And furthermore, what if it’s one of those glorious dinner occasions when the answer to the question, “What may I bring?” is “Nothing.”

You’ve been to parties like that. No matter how much you implore, the host sticks by his or her guns and follows “Nothing, with the phrase “just yourself”.

new yorker party cartoonWell, “Hallelujah” you’re probably thinking. Especially if the meal in question is Thanksgiving. That is quite a culinary bullet you just dodged, and one heck of a covetous dinner invitation.

Of course the phrase “nothing” may actually make you feel uncomfortable. If you are anything like me the concept may leave you feeling conflicted. However, I must recommend you listen to your host on these occasions. You may think you’re being gracious by going ahead and bringing along your favorite sweet potatoes. But oven space can be at a premium on days like this, and the extra chore of reheating your casserole could actually be a burden to the host. Of course this depends on the circumstances and your relationship with the host, but when someone says to bring “nothing” they usually mean it.

Because not only are they happy to be making the gesture of preparing the entire meal, but it’s also very likely they have a very specific menu planned. Under these circumstances, it’s quite uncouth to waltz into your host’s kitchen carrying 6 plastic bags from the Piggly Wiggly, announcing with pride, “I brought pretzels and Pixie Sticks… why don’t we start with those and save your pretty soufflé for later?” Because even if you’re a better cook (and know it), this is not your party, not your house, NOT your rules. Trust me Sup! has a lot of trouble dropping the culinary reins, so I have learned the hard way.

But in truth, you can’t just bring “nothing”. That is why they invented the Host Gift!

The Host Gift can really be anything at all. Anything that feels right to you will be greatly appreciated. Flowers are a common host gift. On the surface they seem the perfect choice. But let me give you a word of warning: handing the host a big bunch of flowers that need to be trimmed, arranged and put into a suitable vase just as the Turkey is coming out of the oven is another one of those burdens I mentioned earlier. Sweetly intended of course, but a burden nonetheless. So please, flowers should arrive in a vase, thoughtfully arranged and chosen to match the décor. If in doubt, choose all white.

So during this day of Host Gift Double-Takes I am not going to be choosing flowers as one of my two alternatives. There is too much room to make a faux pas there.

What I will be choosing is wine. Wine is the classic choice to bring to any occasion. Taking a bottle of wine to a dinner party as a gift to the host is a common occurrence. Make it a memorable one by bringing a bottle that reflects the taste of the host, as well as the style of the party. You may ask ahead what is being served if you like. That way you can bring something appropriate to the meal. However, do not expect your wine to be served at this particular occasion. It is completely up to the host’s discretion what wine to serve and when.

There are polite ways to encourage that the wine you brought make an appearance. I often say quite directly, “I chose this wine with your menu in mind”. Most people are flattered by the extra care you took and are happy to serve it at the appropriate time. Sometimes, it’s fun to have a tasting during the meal and compare one wine against another. However, if you know for certain that your Bordeaux is going to beat the pants off the Blue Nun chilling in the ice bucket, it might seem a bit pompous to suggest such a thing. Again do not become a burden to your host, or worse yet, embarrass them in their own home.

However, ultimately the wine is not your decision. Remember what I said about NOT your rules on this occasion? So do not skulk if your wine is not served… because honestly skulking is so unattractive! And if you are just dying to taste the wine you chose, go ahead and buy 2 bottles. That way there will be one at home waiting for you.

wooden spoon as hostess giftFor my second idea for a Thanksgiving Host Gift, I want to get a little creative.

How many Thanksgivings have you been to where there is something missing in the buffet line that sorta holds the whole proceeding up a little bit? It is fairly easy to guess what that item is when you see your little brother’s 30 year old, hand-engraved baby spoon being used as a ladle for the gravy. Yep, there may be a lack of serving pieces in the house. Not many people have 10 or 12 large serving spoons, as well as enough cutleries for the Thanksgiving meal.

So my host gift of choice is designed to fill this gap. It can be a functional pair of tongs, or a funky vintage fork. It can be expensive, or nearly free. Make it work with your host’s taste and décor, or go wildly off beat. All these choices will be appreciated on this particular day.

My preferred choice in this circumstance is an artfully hand-carved wooden spoon.  You’ll be so happy when your sister-in-law smiles gratefully and returns that silver baby spoon to the shadow box from whence it came!

Aren’t you glad you left the Pixie Sticks in the car?


Greg Henry