At almost exactly this time last year, I wrote a post called “Potluck-less” about my fear of, disdain for, and frustration with potluck suppers. I bemoaned the wiggly Jello salads, the endless casseroles, and the overly-full-yet-unsatisfied feeling left in my tummy by such a weird collage of foods consumed in one sitting.
But recently, Maggy has been singing the praises of her amazing Potluck Dinner Club. She’s recounted with contagious excitement how easy and fun it is to prepare one dish and have everyone else do the same. The way she describes uncovering what people bring sounds like Christmas freakin’ Eve. I must admit, I was a little curious.
I’ve never hosted a potluck at my house. (I know! I told you I am a recovering food snob!) But when a group of friends wanted to have dinner at my place on a busy Monday night, I momentarily entertained the idea of cooking for 10 people—I thought about how stressed I’d be, how much school work I wouldn’t get done, and how little time I’d have to clean the apartment. So, I took a deep breath and suggested a potluck.
Tony and I made our new favorite chicken chili and bread, put out some homemade bar nuts and hummus, and hoped the rest would follow. As our friends arrived, so too did their culinary creations. The first, timid arrival was some crudités and dip—ain’t nothing wrong with that! The fresh bruschetta on thick slices of toast hitched a ride with the tower of homemade creampuffs. Apps and dessert came early! We were doing well so far. Then came the three-tomato casserole with a Grapenut crust (surprisingly good!). And finally, the wine and the mashed potatoes brought up the rear. The wine was terribly apologetic for being late, but Tony and I had drinks on hand so it was no biggie. Plus, the tardy vino was gooooood and plentiful…even better!
And so we ate and drank sitting on chairs, couches, and on the floor. And with no stress or further host-like responsibilities, I could just enjoy the company…which was even more eclectic than the food. We had a bonafide genius and ultra-marathoner; a professional cheese buyer turned pastor-in-training; a Memphis kid with a heart of gold and a voice to match; a laid-back academic who grew up in French Guiana; a former Wall St. investment banker who’s swapped stocks and bonds for scholars and Bibles; a free-spirited environmentalist who loves art and drama and can’t wait to own a cow; and a Canadian “international student” who does hilarious impressions and recently punched James Franco in a coffee shop.
Honestly, with a crowd like that, we could have eaten cheese and crackers all night and it still would have been a huge success. The food was icing on the cake.
And so, a year after my snarky post about potlucks, here’s what I’ve learned to help perfectionist cooks like me joyfully partake:
1. Have drinks and hors d’oeuvres on hand and just be happy if you don’t have to serve them. (Read: No more fretting about whether the sides will show up before the apps!)
2. Offer to make the main dish, tell people what it is, and then just let folks go! You might be disappointed, but more likely you’ll be amazed. I never would have asked someone to bring homemade creampuffs, tomato-Grapenut casserole, or even mashed potatoes that night, but these additions were wonderfully unexpected and given with great love. (And, even if the sides are less than perfect, you still have a good main-course backbone!)
3. RELAX! No one will go hungry and (trust me) no one will care if the cheese is Italian and the main course is Spanish. Potlucks aren’t supposed to be like carefully prepared and coordinated meals. They’re like quilts, a little patchy, made with love, and very warm.
Certainly, there is a time and a place to cheerfully reply “Nothing!” when guests ask what they can bring to dinner. But, constantly saying “nothing” is like being the friend who always listens but never confides. It’s good to share the responsibilities and trust your friends to bring something they love. The meal could turn out perfectly! And if it doesn’t, rest assured that the fellowship around the table, the coffee table, or the kitchen island will more than make up for some slightly mismatched foods—especially if everyone feels like they’ve contributed.