What is the one magic last-minute item you can bring if invited on short notice to a holiday gathering, or any occasion that calls for a graceful gift? As my mother always said, "You don't show up at someone's house with one arm as long as the other."
If you have than 30 minutes to shop, don't try to be original, be elegant. Belt out and get one of the following:
1. A bottle of champagne or prosecco, given the recipient drinks.
2. An orchid. Of course you have to find one, but where I live, even supermarkets carry quite lovely phalenopsis varieties. Cut flowers are an imposition on a busy host, who must dredge up a vase and fuss with an arrangement, while trying to serve drinks and remember your name.
3. A selection of exotic fruits: mangosteens, lichees, mangoes- depends on where you live and what's good. If you can find organic, that's best. If exotic fruits don't look first-rate, buy what's luscious: honey tangerines, glowing grapes, ruby apples. Grab a simple woven basket from the housewares section. You could also bring a luxurious cheese, if you are sure of the quality.
If you have an hour, make these spiced nuts, which take 10 minutes to toss together, plus 30 min. hanging around your oven while they roast. A fun recipe to make with kids.
(adapted from New York Times Sunday Magazine)
1 pound walnut halves (or pecans, or skinned hazlenuts)
1/3 cup dark-brown sugar
2/3 cup white granulated sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
Generous pinch cayenne pepper
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp cardamom
1 egg white, room temperature
1 tbsp water
Preheat oven to 300F.
Mix sugars, salt, cayenne, cardamom and cinnamon; set aside.
Beat egg white and water until frothy but not stiff. Add nuts, stir to coat evenly. Sprinkle nuts with sugar mixture, toss till evenly coated.
Spread sugared nuts in a single layer on parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake for 30 min, stirring occasionally.
Remove from oven and separate nuts as they cool. When completely cool, pour nuts into a bowl, breaking up any pieces that stick together.
Package in a mason jar, or make a paper cone.