Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Host/Hostess Gift

Last year, my friend, A (I am starting to realize that my friends all have the same initials, so this pattern may have to come to an end,) made chocolate covered pretzels. She made them with little round pretzels, long stick pretzels and twisty pretzels. She made them with dark chocolate, milk chocolate and white chocolate. She made them with sprinkles, drizzles and candies. There were so many delicious pretzel combinations that they covered all the counters of the apartment shared by her boyfriend J, and my boyfriend, M. When we asked her, a.) what prompted this pretzel blitz and b.) if we could have some, she replied that they were hostess gifts for Christmas. And YES.

This was the first time I had ever heard the term "Hostess Gift." I know the basics, like when invited to a party, you should bring something with you. Or when you head to dinner at someone's house, you can't go wrong with a bottle of wine or a bouquet of flowers. (Well you CAN go wrong with either, but usually not at the same house.) What I didn't know is the practice of giving these tokens to the person hosting the get-together actually had a name. And, what's more, that making something entirely different for holiday-themed parties and events was common practice. I had, in fact, followed this procedure since I was little, but as my family did not host a lot of parties, had no idea this was a national phenomenon.

For the past few years, my default Host/Hostess Gift for the holiday season is my mom's recipe for caramel corn. This is my default present because it is my mom's default present too. Every Christmas my mom makes a ton of caramel corn to bring to friends and neighbors. And she makes enough that we can snack on it in the house, too. Eating caramel corn while it is still hot and melty is the absolute best. Now imagine my surprise, when opening this screen to type these words, I found my mom's EXACT recipe listed on my favorite food-related blog as the perfect thing to make this season. So I won't bother repeating the same ideas about how lovely and crunchy and gooey and salty-sweet the caramel corn is. You should read Orangette for that. I will suggest, however, that you try my mom's recipe with walnuts, as hers is written, instead of the peanuts listed there.

The thing about caramel corn that makes it especially great for Host/Hostess Gifts is that it is fairly easy and rather inexpensive to make, and you can make a lot at once. Most people I know have a glut of parties to go to in the month of December. Because caramel corn does not store for an extended period of time without going chewy, I usually make it in batches. So this year, I made a different batch each weekend to bring to that weekend's assorted get-togethers.

We brought caramel corn out to Iowa for a weekend stay with friends. The trip was to see Handel's "The Messiah," performed in part by one of our friends. But in seeing the show, we got to stay with our friends B and D, who have absolutely the most adorable daughter in the entire world. She is so smart and charismatic and beautiful that it makes me NOT want to have kids. Because they could never be that cute. Everyone assures me this is not true, but you haven't met this little girl. When we went to brunch, she wandered out of the room we were in, then ran back into the room with her arms raised overhead, grinning, and said, "Hellllooooo!"

We also brought caramel corn to M's godson's birthday party/Christmas party. As someone who does not like to share, and who makes her birthday an entire week-long event, I always think it must be hard to have a birthday while everyone else gets presents too. But Little M seemed entirely content with a party for the whole family. I was thoroughly impressed. But not one bit swayed to share for my own birthday.

And, we brought caramel corn to my favorite annual event, the "Elf" screening with A and J. A, of the pretzel factory, (and now her fiancé, J) hosts a holiday party every year where we watch Will Ferrell in yellow tights and eat things made from only the four main elf food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corn and syrup.

Here's the thing about these holiday events -- last year I missed all of them. When at least one weekend night is used up working at a bar, you can only attend parties on the other of those nights. For one minute last week, I thought, I should try to pick up an extra shift this week so I have a little more money for Christmas presents. And then I remembered that I couldn't. That option to aid in my own financial situation has been cut off from me. Which made me sad. Kicked in the gut sad. But being able to go to all the parties I want takes the sting away. And in the end, I think bringing sticky sweets to the people I love is more important than being able to buy one extra present.

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