Q: Seems like most of my friends and family (including myself and kids) have some sort of strict food restriction or are trying an elimination diet like Whole30. From my own experience, I feel bad when someone shows up at my house with a plate full of cookies I can't eat or a bottle of wine I won't drink. With the holidays coming up, what kinds of ideas do you have for nonfood hostess gifts that won't cost much?
A: The hostess gift is a lovely tradition that is 100 percent alive and well. A hostess gift is a token of appreciation, and it shouldn't be extravagant or expensive. As you are noticing, however, a hostess gift these days needs a little more thought than some flowers or baking something yourself.
The first step of being a gracious guest is to know your host. Otherwise play it extremely safe. In addition to an astonishing variety of foods, people are allergic to anything from scents, pollen, wool, feathers, dust and much more.
New books are hypoallergenic — unless they get dusty, perhaps! And in this digital age, beautiful books make wonderful home-decor accessories. If you know your hosts love to travel or garden, for instance, a nice coffee table book about that topic would likely please anyone.
Table-related items that aren't edible are attractive decor. Consider a unique cutting board to hang on a wall, or a rustic salad or fruit bowl that could double as the base for a centerpiece. Other ideas include a set of natural fiber cloth napkins or place mats, coasters, a fancy pepper mill, candleholders or a wine bottle opener which would go perfectly with any menu!
Actual food items that could be generally safe for many people include special vinegars, Himalayan or other specialty salt, or olive oil. Just avoid getting something that is too fancy, too large of a container or so unusual that it would never get used. Do you know someone who saved that bottle of whatever "for a special occasion," moved it more than once, and had to throw it away a decade later because it went bad?
And, instead of flowers, choose a leafy plant for the house or yard. A potted herb plant could be charming, useful and inexpensive. Or find some trimmed leaves off of a giant palm, fig or other trendy plant to add greenery without the pollen, expense or the hassle of a full sized plant or pot.
If you think along these lines, I'm sure you'll come up with the perfect gift for your hosts. And as you mentioned, stocking up on versatile gifts is also a great idea but only if you have room to store it all. If you see something perfect on sale, buy two or three and save for your upcoming holidays and events.