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21 Easy And Inexpensive Hostess Gifts

I know I sound like your mother, but it's bad manners to show up to a party empty-handed. Appropriately, this list is based entirely on suggestions from my mother.

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1. A pretty jar or tin of fancy cooking salt.

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Any fancy salt is great, but red or black salt is more striking and (I think) more special. Use it like you would use sea salt, on finished dishes like pasta, roasted vegetables, steak, or fish. Available here ($4.50).

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3. A unique seasoning blend.

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Za'atar is a traditional Middle Eastern blend of dried herbs, spices and sesame seeds. It's really versatily and great served with olive oil and bread, but unique enough that your host probably won't already have it in his or her cabinet. Available here ($8.91).

4. A jar of apple butter (or pumpkin butter, or other in-season fruit butter) from the farmers market.

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So many farm stands (or orchards, if you go to one) sell jars of their own homemade apple butter. If you want to cheat and order homemade apple butter online, it's available here ($8.95).

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9. A box of good truffles.

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Picking up a box of cheap chocolate at the drugstore is better than nothing, but it's not a very thoughtful hostess gift. Instead, bring a small (read: for the host, not for everybody at the party) box of nice chocolate truffles that feel special. Available here ($10). Here are some other great chocolate gift ideas.

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19. A wedge of local cheese.

It's nice to show up with something that's not super unusual but also isn't available in the supermarket. Obviously "local cheese" depends on where you live, but this wedge of Camembert from a farm in Hudson Valley is great if you're in the New York area. Available here ($7).

21. A box of unusual cookies.

This is not the same thing as showing up with Oreos, or the box of Do-Si-Dos that have been sitting in your pantry since June because you bought them thinking they were Tagalongs. Amaretti cookies available here ($7.95).