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Don’t skimp on gratitude

By on January 17, 2010

chocolates
photo by quinn anya

DEAR SARA: Help. Do I take a gift? One of the ladies on my block invited me to a brunch that she has invited all the other ladies on the street to. They did it last year (I wasn’t able to attend), and, from what I understand, it is an informal get-together. Should I bring a hostess gift? I asked her what I could do to help/bring, and she insisted nothing over and over, but I don’t feel quite right about that. I do not know her very well (friendly conversations passing in the street is about the extent of it), so I have no idea of tastes, likes or dislikes. My normal gift would be a bottle of wine; however, she may not drink. What should I do? Listen to her and show up empty-handed? Is that the norm? As you can see, I don’t do many ladies brunches. Should I take a small gift? A potted plant or something? And I don’t want to show up with something and make everyone else feel bad if this is not what is done. Help me please! Thank you. — S.S., Indiana

DEAR S.S.: I’m not an expert on etiquette, but I would still give a small gift. That’s simply how I was raised and what I’m comfortable doing. Some might argue that it would be rude to bring a gift if she insisted otherwise. But I would take her response as she doesn’t want you to contribute to the meal. You can bring a gift with you when you attend brunch, or you can give it the following day as a thank-you with a note or card. I lean toward simply bringing it with you. I wouldn’t bring flowers, wine or food (unless it’s a small box of chocolates or assorted mixed nuts). These items are nice when you’re better acquainted, but in this situation, they can be gifts that require fuss. For example, what if you bring brownies and she made brownies? You could bring a gift as simple as four taper candles bundled together with a lovely French ribbon bow tied around them, a small blooming plant or assorted teas or coffee beans, which she can set aside and not feel pressured to tend to or serve. And they aren’t grand gifts that might make other guests feel uncomfortable if they didn’t bring a gift. Keep in mind that you’re not obligated to bring anything and could attend and simply enjoy yourself, but I think you’ll discover other guests will bring gifts, too.

DEAR SARA: I’ve never tried to make my own biscotti, but I’d like to try. I love it. If I can get a good recipe, I want to give them as gifts, too. Do you have a recipe? — Liz, Pennsylvania

DEAR LIZ: Here’s a recipe that you can make for yourself or share with others. It’s a good way to use up any leftover candy canes, too.

Peppermint Biscotti

3-1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
2 eggs
1 cup finely crushed peppermint candies (divided)
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
4 ounces white chocolate, melted

Leave the butter out to soften. Crush the candy canes. Toast the almonds (350 F oven for eight to 10 minutes). Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside. Cream together the sugar and butter in a large bowl. Beat in the water, peppermint extract and eggs. Add the flour mixture, 1/2 cup crushed candies and almonds. Mix until just blended. Divide the dough in half. Shape each half into a 10-inch-by-3-inch log on a prepared cookie sheet. Bake 30 minutes. Let cool 15 to 20 minutes. Using a serrated knife, cut the logs diagonally into 1/2-inch slices. Place on cookie sheets, and bake 15 minutes; turn and bake 15 minutes, or until edges are browned. Remove and cool on wire racks. Dip each cookie halfway into melted chocolate. Before chocolate sets, dip the ends into remaining crushed candies. — Donna, California

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