Most of us will attend at least a couple of parties or dinners between now and New Year’s, and no one wants to show up empty-handed. Sometimes it’s easiest to grab a halfway decent bottle of wine and toss it in a gift bag – sometimes on the way to the party!
If wine is the way you want to go, a good rule of thumb, according to our Let it Pour columnist Amber Nimocks, is to spend about $20 on a bottle of Mumm Napa Brut Rose. Everyone needs a bottle of bubbly at the ready during the holidays.
But this guide is for those who want to break out of that wine-giving rut.
We asked Joyce Fitzpatrick, known around Raleigh as a stellar hostess and a gracious guest, for hostess gift advice.
“They need to be small, homemade if possible, and tasteful,” Fitzpatrick says. “By that I mean I love homemade jams, jellies, relishes, pickles, cheese straws, bourbon balls – but always in beautiful or vintage containers.”
Hostess gifts should also be “easy to handle,” she says, which means maybe don’t show up with fresh flowers that immediately need a vase and water. If you take flowers, have them already in a nice vase or old bottle, she suggests.
Fitzpatrick also connected us with some other creative gift givers, and their suggestions are reflected here as well.
Joyce’s Cherry Bombs
Fitzpatrick makes these bourbon-soaked cherries to give during the holidays. She says they’re perfect for an Old-fashioned or Manhattan, and they’re a favorite of several male hosts she knows.
Leah Devlin of Raleigh suggests long fireplace matches and bundles of fire-starter kindling. You can get fatwood kindling sticks in bulk at Plow & Hearth in 10-, 12-, 25- and 35-pound boxes, then separate them into bundles with holiday ribbon. Fire starters: $14.95-$39.95. Matchsticks: $12.95 for two tubes. plowhearth.com/hearthside-gifts.htm.
If you’re handy with a needle and thread, Beth Fleishman, who owns KnickKnack Paddywhack Antiques in Raleigh, recommends balsam-filled sachets this time of year. Her daughter, who lives in France, makes them from vintage dish towels. Balsam needles can be ordered in bulk, and their scent has amazing staying power. You can get a pound for about $15 on Amazon, or a little cheaper on Etsy (Etsy shipping may take a bit longer, though).
Locally made treats
Devlin lists North Carolina food items among her go-to gifts. You could do nuts, chocolate, pimento cheese, cheese straws, barbecue sauces or bitters. Pictured here: Artisanal Cheese Straws from Five Points Bakery in Raleigh, $9; a 2-pound burlap bag of shelled Bertie County Peanuts, from Southern Seasons, $11.95; and Videri dark chocolate with sea salt from Videri Chocolate Factory in Raleigh. fivepointsbakingco.com, southernseason.com, viderichocolatefactory.com.
In our electronic age, sending or receiving a handwritten note is more special than ever, so Devlin suggests a gift of stationery. Hit your favorite local stationery store, or for something unusual, check out This Paper Ship, run by a husband and wife team of illustrators out of Saxapahaw. They offer handmade cards and prints. Locally, their products are available at The Makery in Durham, but also online at thispapership.com. A boxed set of eight cards, such as this Cardinal Flowers card, costs $20.
Other gift ideas
▪ Guest towels (holiday or not, cloth or even paper)
▪ Sea Salt from Sea Love Sea Salt in Wrightsville Beach
▪ Kitchen towels (holiday or not)
▪ Cocktail napkins with matching paper plates
▪ Christmas cactus or poinsettia
▪ Small votive candle holder with a holiday motif, candle included
▪ Small vintage frame containing a holiday recipe or a photo of you and the hostess
▪ Personalized note cards or drink cozies
▪ English silver serving pieces picked up at an antique store (pickle forks, cheese knives and jam spoons)
▪ Mopping slippers
Source: Joyce Fitzpatrick, Leah Devlin, Beth Fleishman and Charman Driver
Cherries can be refrigerated in syrup for up to two months. From marthastewart.com.
1 cup bourbon
2 tablespoons sugar
4 ounces dried (no oil added) cherries, about 3/4 cup
Bring bourbon and sugar to a gentle simmer in a small saucepan over low heat. (Watch carefully, since bourbon may ignite.) Simmer, stirring, until sugar dissolves.
Pour bourbon syrup over cherries in a 12-ounce glass jar. Let stand overnight to macerate.
Yield: 1 (12-ounce) jar