Dana Cowin
April 27, 2012

Do you think there’s a point in one’s life when receiving gifts feels like a burden? I already have too much stuff, and I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to part with it. So when a party invitation says, "No gifts, please," I obey, out of respect (and sympathy) for the host. I often institute my own no-gifts policy—but then I get something truly terrific and wonder what else I’ve missed. For this holiday issue, we search out the presents that would convert any naysayer.

In "L.A.’s Best Wrap Party," we drop in on a dinner and gift swap to see what the cognoscenti of the Los Angeles design scene give their friends. After chef Jeff Cerciello of Farmshop served the meal, including a sensational spiced lamb, hosts and guests exchanged gifts. I’d be thrilled to get any of those presents, from the glass cocktail straws to the Frog Hollow Farm peach jam.

Grace Parisi in the F&W Test Kitchen has strong feelings about what does and doesn’t constitute a proper hostess gift. In the first installment of her opinionated new Fast column, she suggests recipes for the proper kind, like a lemony tea cake. If you’d rather buy a present, deputy editor Christine Quinlan polled F&W’s editors and our trusted experts for their choices. My favorites are the surprisingly chic little houses for bees and chickens—perfect for urban homesteaders.

Sometimes the best gift is a dinner invitation. If I could go anywhere, I’d pick the Manhattan apartment that chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten shares with his wife, Marja, star of public television’s Kimchi Chronicles. In "A His-and-Hers Holiday," Jean-Georges prepares dishes inspired by his native Alsace, while Marja shares her take on Korean food. I’d love to get a taste of their lives. Best of all, I’d leave the dinner feeling totally satisfied—and without adding to my clutter.

Where I’m Coming From: My Recent Expeditions

La Mar: New York City

One of the world’s great chefs, Peruvian-born Gastón Acurio makes a surprising ceviche with uni and corn.

Empellón: New York City

Alex Stupak’s Mexican restaurant expanded my understanding of salsa and tacos. My favorites: a smoked-cashew salsa and fish-tempura tacos.

DA/BA: Hudson, NY

I found evidence of the Scandinavian trend at this ambitious spot, which also has perfect Swedish meatballs.

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