7.29.2017

Hostess Gifts

“Never show up empty handed.” It's a rule I grew up with and, for many years, that meant I brought a bottle of wine to every dinner party.

As I got older, and was on the receiving end of lots of bottles of wine, other issues presented themselves. Do I serve the wine that was gifted me, even though it doesn't go with the meal?

Someone once arrived with two magnums of horribly sweet, cloying pink wine. Imagine the look on our faces. We could not bring ourselves to drink it, but opened it for him and he proceeded to drink an entire bottle, getting sloppy and maudlin till we had to escort him to the door and drive him home. The other bottle made lovely rosemary jelly (lots of it, and a rather successful redemption of an iffy wine) that everyone was given as a hostess gift that year.

At some point in my adulthood, I realized that I could be so much more personal when choosing a gift for my hosts. I now try to think, “Who are they? What would be special for them?”

Some items I like to bring include: homemade food items (limoncello, jam, bread), fun kitchen implements (hand-carved wooden spoons, ceramic bowls, an antique pie server), cheese from a local artisan (maybe include a cheese board, too?), a small basket of beautiful ripe tomatoes from the farmers market, a lovely hand or dish towel, or – when visiting friends abroad – crafts and spices native to our desert.

My niece Caitlin sent me some beautifully presented kitchen towels and aprons that she found in a local shop in New Jersey. Wouldn't these make a terrific gift for your host? So clever! (I am impressed she gave them - I never could have parted with them!)

What I try not to bring are things that make my hosts stop what they are busily doing in order to deal with my “thoughtful” gift. Cut flowers is first on my no-no list. If I really want to bring them, I present them already arranged in a vase, and offer to find a place to perch them so the host needn't skip a beat in the kitchen. A potted plant can be an even better choice.

A friend, Barbara, presents us with something she sewed - over the years, she has made us a beautiful Provençal picnic bag, a stunning potholder, and a lovely cloth bag that contained a local artisanal bread.

Dianne always brings creative, fun, and silly stuff - sparklers and bubble blowing equipment, for example. We love that!

Our friends Susan and Appy often bring a wonderful book, and last time it was a fantastic cookbook!

Recently, Ed and Lila brought some wine, and they brought us a dozen figs from their tree. I like gifts that can get turned into tarts! And that is just want happened to these figs!

Remember - a gift for the hosts isn't about an obligation not to show up empty-handed, but an opportunity to say a personal “thank you” for being invited into their home.

Key word: personal.

~ David

Fig Tart with Orange Flower Custard
adapted from Finecooking Magazine

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
pinch salt
8 tablespoons chilled, unsalted butter
1/4 cup ice water
10-12 ripe figs
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup crème fraîche *
3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons orange flower water
flaked sea salt, for finishing

Combine the flour and salt in a large, wide bowl. Cut the butter into 32 pieces and add to the flour; toss to coat. Working quickly with your fingertips, pinch the butter into the flour to create flakes of flour-covered butter. Do this until there are no chunks of butter left, only flakes. Sprinkle the water on top, and, using a fork, toss the mixture to evenly distribute the water. Then, with your hands pull the dough together and knead briefly to form a ball. Refrigerate for 10 minutes before rolling. Roll the dough into a 12-inch circle and put it in a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Fold the excess dough down to make a thick rim for the tart, pressing it into the fluted pan. Prick the bottom of the pastry all over with a fork, then put in the freezer for 20 minutes while you heat the oven to 425°F. Line the pastry shell with foil, and fill with beans or pie weights. Bake until it’s lightly colored, about 20 minutes. Remove the tart and reduce the oven temperature to 400°F; remove the weights and foil.

Cut the stems off the figs (leave the skins on) and slice the figs in half. Whisk the egg yolk, crème fraîche, brown sugar, and orange flower water until combined and then pour into the tart shell. Place figs into the custard, cut side up on concentric circles starting from the outside. Bake the tart on the baking sheet in the 400°F oven until the custard is lightly colored and set, about 30 minutes. Sprinkle the tart with flaked sea salt and serve slightly warm.

Serves 8-10.

* If you don't have crème fraîche, you can approximate it by putting 1/2 cup heavy cream in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Then add 1 tablespoon of buttermilk, cover, then shake of a few seconds. Set aside at room temperature for 24 hours. You will need to do this a day in advance.

37 comments:

  1. Not only does this fig tart look amazing, but those host gift ideas are wonderful, too! The things you have given and received are so beautiful and meaningful. Stunning is exactly the word I'd use to describe that quilted pot holder. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. I love that potholder, Caroline - I can't bring myself to use it often for fear it will get damaged!

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  2. nice post (I always bring good wine + we are lucky: all r friends know that if they come with cheap wine, they would be kicked in their ass/when they ask: what wine to bring, if they are not drinkers, I am very plain: go for a rather expensive one or do not bother... :) ) - I will try this tart: it is doable also with the bad figs we can find here (the only ones, actually) stefano

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    1. Ah, but so few people actually think about - or know - what a good wine is! You can come to my home any day, Stefano!

      I bet you could get some lovely figs at the Borough Market (at great cost!). But this Tart is perfect for the less-than-perfect figs, too!

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  3. I love the way your turned the magnum of wine into jam! I'll have to try this tart; it sounfs great! Sadly, our fig tree is having an off year. I'm not enough ripe at one time to do anything with. Maybe next year!

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    1. So sorry about your fig tree this year, Lois! At least Trader Joe is there to back you up!

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  4. I've been the bearer of wooden spoons for years. This tart is so beautiful. The only figs I ever get I have to steal from the neighbors trees. That won't be happening anytime soon though. I am sitting at LAX as I type about to leave the country (and its figs) for 17 days. GREG

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    1. Bon voyage, Greg! I look forward to reading about your exotic adventures!

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    2. PS - wooden spoons are a great idea!

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  5. I love those hostess gift ideas. I never know what to bring, and I especially like the reminder not to bring something that will demand time and attention from the hostess. The tart looks yummy. Such a good idea because figs seem to be so short-lived.

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    1. Fig are too short-lived, Susan. Once they are in season, we try to hand them as often as possible.

      Glad you like the hostess gift suggestions. It's fun to find just the right thing!

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  6. What a delightful post. Your ideas are thoughtful and creative. This year when I attend the local version of a German Christmas market I'm going to try to remember to take pictures for you of some of the most unique hand-carved kitchen utensils I've found--things like a wooden spoon which has a notch so that it can perch on the rim of your pan. My favorite part of this post is that you made your gifted wine into rosemary jelly, thereby trading up and gifting lots of others. And I love your niece's gifts, and want to copy that berry basket idea for gifting kitchen towels. Lovely to read--thanks!

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    1. Ingrid - thank you for such a wonderful comment! I look forward to the Christmas Market photo of the carved spoons. Did you ever attend a Christmas Market in Germany? One of the favorite things I have ever done! You are lucky to have a version near you!

      We were just saying the other day that we should make another batch of rosemary jelly, and maybe call it rosémary jelly, using a Provence rosé!

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  7. What a nice post David. Saying "thank you " with a little something is so important . I have gotten all kinds of things. When I am invited I often volunteer to help with the cooking and offer to bring either a dessert, salad or appetizer. Your fig tart looks very good. I have to find some figs.

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    1. Thanks, Gerlinde! Great additions to "what should I bring?" I hope you find some figs.

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  8. David, the tart looks delicious - something I must try when I can get my hands on some figs. I like your brilliant solution to the gift of bad wine! And I so appreciate your great tips on host gifts. Why take wine to people who already have a lot of good wine? And I don't like to waste a good bottle on those who aren't really into wine. Love your ideas!

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    1. That was right up there with, "When life gives you lemons..."! One of my few brilliant moments, Jean!

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  9. Hi David, such a thoughtful post, yes I agree a hostess gift should be personal and it is so satisfying when you can find the right gift for the right person. Lovely tart, figs are my favorite. How special to be gifted some from a friend's tree....;)

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    1. Cheri - figs are one of my favorites, too. (I say "one of" because when melon is ripe, or peaches, or strawberries, they all become favorites. I guess I am fickle! :)

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  10. David - This recipe looks amazing. I love fresh figs and am intrigued by the orange flower custard. I love your story about gift giving and have faced many of the same quandaries - especially the flower one! I, too, try to bring something special to the host. Thank you for sharing!

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    1. Thanks, Nicole - I mentioned the flower issue to a friend "of a certain age," and she said she buys lots of vases at second-hand stores to use for gifting flowers. What a great idea! Hope you get to try the tart!

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  11. What a lovely idea and this fig tart looks fantastic.

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  12. Spot on and so true... my mother always told me never to bring cut flowers... it is such a nuiscance for the hosts/hostesses!

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    1. My mother never told me not to bring cut flowers, per se, but I never saw her take them to a host or hostess, so perhaps I learned from osmosis! Nice to hear from you, Fiona!

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  13. Your fig tart is absolutely gorgeous, David! It is so easy to bring a generic gift, like a bottle of wine, to a dinner party, but you are so right here. Making a bit of effort to make a small gift more personal would be so fun and mean so much. The kitchen towels in the ceramic berry basket is a super cute idea and I really love the sparklers...gonna be using that one next time I get an invite to dine with friends .:) I really enjoyed this post!

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    1. Marcelle - sparklers or one of our favorite things to celebrate special occasions! We love that Dianne brings them!

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  14. I love personnel hostess gifts, it shows that you have put some thought into it. I like to take candy when the house has kids as we can all enjoy it together and I am not encroaching on dessert territory! Some lovely ideas here.

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    1. Candy is a brilliant idea, Emma. Even if they don't have children, small plate of candies can be put out after dessert.

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  15. Very nice post! I am impressed with how you turned lemons (sweet pink wine) into lemonade (rosemary jelly)...and gave them as hostess gifts. Creative! Your fig tart looks like perfection. A co-worker has been brining massive amounts of figs to share. I brought a healthy portion home yesterday to try something new, maybe it will be your lovely tart!

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    1. Don't you love coworkers who have fig trees, Cali?

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  16. Dear David, you must be one of the most beloved dinner guests of all times - all your dinner gifts are so personal, so thoughful and sooo pretty. You put so much time and love into choosing just the right gifts! That, my friend, is rather rare these days...respect! And, of course, your Fig Tart is a true beuaty. I am still looking for the firts figs to hit the markets around here - not long now, I hope.
    Such a lovely idea for a post, fabulous pics and great recipe!

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    1. Thank you, dear Andrea! I imagine - no, I actually know - that the hostess gifts you bring must be amazing! You have such a gift for knowing just the right thing!

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  17. I love your gift ideas David! I have been trying to branch out beyond wine, but haven't been nearly as creative!

    Love figs and your tart is beautiful. You always make the most of your local bounty!

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    1. That is definitely something you and I have in common, Inger - using what's fresh and local!

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  18. I love tarts and this looks like one of the best. Beautiful gift ideas and gifts. And I agree, it's better to make it personal. Thank you. The Dinner with Georgia O'keeffe book looks wonderful!

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    1. The Dinner with Georgia O'Keeffe is a beautiful publication, Ngeun! As much fun to look at as it is to cook from!

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