In the summer, every weekend seems like a little vacation -- especially when I spend the time visiting friends or relatives.
Whenever I stay a day or two at someone else's home, I bring something to show my appreciation, something to be enjoyed during the long, lazy days of summer. Often I'll put together a "gift kit," a present containing several parts to be used together. Such a gift is particularly useful in a rented summer house, which may not have all the comforts of home.
Gift kits are original, yet easy and inexpensive to create. And putting them together is almost as enjoyable as receiving them. Here are a few ideas.
This contains everything you need for a picnic -- except the food. In a sturdy lidded box or basket, pack enamel or plastic plates, cups, flatware, serving spoons, a pocket knife and a corkscrew. Add a salt shaker and pepper grinder, sugar, cotton napkins, moist towelettes, matches and votive candles.
The kit can be stowed in the trunk of the car for impromptu picnics or kept in the picnic basket.
Keep kids busy on rainy days with craft supplies, such as a sketch pad, watercolors, colored paper, markers, colored pencils, safety scissors, glue, tape, ribbon and glitter. Tuck all the supplies into a cardboard box with a handle (i.e. a cardboard briefcase), available at art supply stores.
In a big canvas tote, pack beach towels, several bottles of sunscreen and one or two waterproof disposable cameras. Add a couple of plastic sports bottles. These can be filled with water and frozen; as the ice melts, they'll provide a supply of cool water on hot days.
Summertime entertaining should be easy, and this gift is certainly in keeping with the spirit of the season. Your host will have one less meal to worry about.
Line a galvanized-steel pail or bucket with a kitchen towel, and pack it with everything needed to make dinner: ripe, juicy tomatoes, fresh basil, pasta, a bottle of fine olive oil, a loaf of crusty bread and fresh mozzarella or Parmesan. Vary the ingredients according to your taste -- and whatever looks most delicious at the farm stand on the way to your destination.
Give your host the essentials needed to make your favorite summer pie: homemade pie crust (wrapped in waxed paper), fresh fruit or berries, a rolling pin and the recipe. Tuck them into a pretty pie pan and wrap the pan in a new kitchen towel.
Fill a knapsack with some basics. Include insect repellent, a Swiss army knife, compass, matches, rope, enamel plates and cups, silverware and a flashlight. Don't forget marshmallows for roasting over the campfire.
The summer chef will love to receive good grilling tools, such as a basting brush, spatula, skewers, a meat thermometer, tongs and a wire brush for cleaning the grill. Wrap them in an apron and tie with a ribbon.
Homemade marinades, a rack for grilling vegetables, a basket for grilling fish and unbreakable platters for transporting food outdoors would also be welcome.
Your hosts can use this to treat their next guests -- or themselves -- to a leisurely breakfast for two. Include a tray, two special place settings of china, a teapot or a French press for coffee, loose tea or coffee beans and a small vase for fresh flowers.
A summer house may not have one, but it should. This kit of essentials couldn't be easier to assemble. All the supplies are available at any drugstore: adhesive bandages in assorted sizes, sterile gauze rolls or pads, adhesive tape, scissors, tweezers, elastic bandages, a chemical cold pack, antiseptic wipes, aspirin and acetaminophen, antibiotic cream, ipecac syrup (to induce vomiting) and activated-charcoal solution (to absorb caustic poisons). (In case of poisoning, always contact your doctor or the poison control center immediately, before attempting any treatment.)
A small toolbox or lunch box makes the perfect storage case.
When was the last time you flew a kite? Offer one as a gift, along with an outdoor game such as badminton, horseshoes or bocce. If your hosts have children, bring along an age-appropriate toy or game for each one. If they have pets, include a toy for them, too.
Pack them all into a big canvas bag; if possible, have the family's last name stitched onto the bag.
Fill a canvas tool bag, a big flower pot or a trug (a shallow gardening basket with a handle) with your favorite tools for working outdoors, such as pruners, a trowel, cultivator, gloves and twine, as well as a variety of seed packets. During your stay, don't forget to offer to help with the weeding, and you'll surely be asked back for another visit.