A friend once arrived for dinner, in her arms an enormous bunch of flowers and in her wake four extra guests. She is still a friend, which says something about the soothing effect ot flowers . . .

The soothing effect of any gift, since few hostesses expect more from a guest than polished shoes and a party smile. When gifts are offered, most commonly they are flowers or wine, but there are other ways of getting your hostess to invite you back the very next night.

Candy -- A box, all of a kind, of chocolate truffles or after-dinner mints spares other guest the necessity of sticking their fingers through the bottom of each piece to find their favorite.

Brandy -- Like candy, is dandy but also expensive. So is a very good Garsac or Sauterne for your hostess to serve with dessert. [Dessert wines need much chilling, so if you expect it to be served that night, offer it already cold.]

A potted herb -- Basil, chives or the more expensive tarragon. If you know your hostess well and have watched her cut and burn herself through the preparation of a meal, give her Aloe vera. Some people believe the spiky succulent promotes healing. A tip, broken off and applied to the latest cooking wound, may keep her out of pain and ready for the next party.

Real apron -- The kind butchers wear and not one of those small squares that catch only one out of every 10 splatters.


A pound of freshly ground espresso.

Something youru put up yourself -- jam, chutney, brandied peaches, with instructions on low to make it. No one wants to encounter the perfect food and then learn it's an old family recipe which you daren't pass on for fear of bwbeing gotten at by Granny's ghost.

I know one person who buys sets of cheese plates. On her way out of dinner she takes one, tops it with a wedge of cheese and presents it to her host.

I have been given a bag of sweet corn from someone's garden, ditto tomatoes, a small carafe bought at a restaurant supply store adfilled, not with a martini, but with bachelor buttons, a loaf of homemade bread, croissants to be eaten the next morning, and a fish -- as in fresh caught.

But perhaps these days the best gift, one that will earn you endless invitations back, is a gallon of gasoline.