This weekend, we were in the slightly unusual position of having two housewarming parties to attend (plus, oddly enough, a book launch and a two-year-old's birthday party. Is there something about the second weekend of April that makes everyone feel decidedly social? Parties, man. They're like buses. Wait for ages in the rain without an umbrella and then suddenly they all come at once.)
When I attend a party, I usually bring the standard thing one brings when one attends a party: a bottle of wine. Ocasionally I mix it up with a six-pack or—depending on whether the party is likely to be the kind where at least one person ends up in the corner with a lampshade on his head—a bottle of bourbon, but, by and large, I'm not particularly original when it comes to my hostess gifts. I really just abide by one simple rule: don't show up empty handed.
If you too dislike showing up empty handed, I have a pretty neat idea for you: salted caramels in cute packaging.
Not to go all Martha on you, but this honestly couldn't be easier. For the salted caramels, I swear by this recipe, which I have made a million times: for bake sales at work, for a friend's birthday a few years ago, and—most stressfully—for my wedding favors, during which my parents' kitchen was transformed into a sweatshop of salted caramel-making and also I started a small fire. (Don't start a small fire.) You need four ingredients, a candy thermometer, a roll of wax paper, and about an hour. Between you and me, I can't see why you wouldn't make them.
Oh, you've made them? Excellent. Now let's tackle the packaging.
The number one way to make your caramels look way fancier than they are is to put them in a clear treat bag, which you can buy at craft stores or party stores (they look something like this.) Before you do, though, stick some vinyl letters on the front (mine were left over from an old project, but you can buy them at office supply stores and Michaels. These are 2 inches tall and the font is Helvetica. I'm pretty sure they're these.)
After that, all you have to do is seal the top with tape, tie a piece of twine around it—I buy my twine in the rope section of the hardware store, where they're practically giving it away for free—then grab a black pen and write a message on a shipping tag, which is the one craft supply I never, ever run out of (partly because they're so versatile you can use them for anything, but also because you can really only buy them in boxes of seven squazillion, so they last forever. I got mine at an office supply store several hundred years ago and they look like this.)
And there you have it: a pretty cute hostess gift in some easy-peasy packaging.
I only did this for one of my housewarming parties, by the way; for the other, I rolled the bag of caramels up, tied a piece of ribbon around the middle, tied a piece of twine around that, then attached the shipping tag to the twine. If you don't want to mess around with vinyl letters, this is a nice alternative.
If you do want to mess around with vinyl letters, though, let me also show you a fun way to use them when wrapping presents.
I used IKEA craft paper, more twine, another shipping tag—sensing a theme here?—and some white vinyl letters I had left over from another project. I also included a little present for Caden's mommy, whom I assumed would be needing some chocolate after hosting a two-year-old's birthday party. (Caden's mommy confirmed that this was the case.)
So go forth! Make caramels! Package them attractively! And then invite me over, so I can wrap something new for your hostess gift.