Q. A wonderful and generous woman invites me, on a regular basis, to dinner parties at her house. What is an appropriate gift for an impoverished artist to take along on such occasions? I am always told by her that I shouldn’t have brought anything but my rigid British upbringing is telling me otherwise.
— T. R., Florence
A. As a rule grandees have present fatigue. They already have wall-high supplies of scented candles and chocolates and find flowers irritating due to the nuisance of having to find a vase. They are not ungrateful for the ‘thought’ but for practical reasons, they prefer guests to walk in empty-handed. Having to thank someone for what they have brought disrupts the whole choreography of their entrance, the theatricality of their being welcomed and introduced to other guests. Far better to do something later. Return the hospitality at your own house — even if you live in the proverbial artist’s garret. The novelty of eating off an upturned crate or ironing board may soon pall but it gives them material for their conversational repertoire. However, since this wonderful woman has taken you up, it suggests she considers you talented. You might do even better to thank her with a small artwork presented on her birthday.
Q. In middle age and three years after my last relationship ended, I have a new serious girlfriend. How can I announce my new ‘status’ without putting it on Facebook? We are not engaged, just going out, but if anyone is inviting me to dinner or to stay I would like her to be invited too. And without appearing self-important, I would like friends to share the good news.
— Name withheld, Norfolk
A. Simply confide in one socially active female friend. Your whole network will be updated within a week.
Q. Your correspondent seeking a recipe for avocado dessert could copy the one I use myself. It serves four, with no cooking and little preparation. Puree three avocados, six tablespoons of cacao powder, a quarter-cup of agave syrup and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Sprinkle with sea salt before serving.
— A.S., Petersfield, Hants
A. Thank you for this useful recipe.
Q. Might I suggest an alternative to wedging the door against an over-friendly host: welcome him, then dispatch him on false errands. Staying with my sister in her idyllic but chaotic Welsh farmhouse, where the doors had long ceased to fit, I was visited by her husband ‘for a chat’ while taking a bath. After being sent to search for my handbag in the orchard or my car keys in the lane, he got the message.
— J.M., Malmesbury, Wilts
A. Thank you for this thought-provoking suggestion.