Saturday, April 2, 2011
The Small-Town Potluck
I've been to small-scale Potluck dinners before, where a group of friends or colleagues get together in the intimacy of someone's home or the workplace lunch room, where we're provided with a list of foods to sign up for, where there may be 8 of your office co-workers' or friends' favourite dishes on the table, where you know everyone who is bringing food, and where, thereby, some of the fear and apprehension of the situation is diminished.
I went to a barbecue Potluck party once where the hosts were supplying hot dogs and hamburgers and the other guests were asked to bring a contributing dish. I found it bothersome that we weren't just assigned something specific to bring, because I'm the type of person to worry for 2 weeks about what I'm going to bring, and would rather have just known...known that I was bringing the perfect dish and that nobody else would be duplicating it. Well, needless to say, out of 13 accompanying dishes on the picnic tables, 11 were pasta salads. ELEVEN. And, yes, sadly, one of them was mine. The best one, though, of course.
(well...best in my book...the one with the rice pasta, olive oil, goat cheese, and seeds and nuts thrown in for good measure....)
Last night was a small-town, well-attended Potluck dinner for the girls' figure skating club. I wouldn't have considered going except for the fact that they were both receiving 1st Place ribbons for their club competition this year.
The instruction for the Potluck was to bring a salad or main dish.
So of course, I stressed all week about what to bring. Within smaller circles of friends, I prefer to bring something healthy and new-agey, unusual yet enticing....yummy quinoa dishes (before everyone else was eating quinoa), lettuce wraps, kale/beet/corn salads, you get the picture. But, for a large crowd of small-town folks that I don't know well, I was leaning towards a more common dish; one sure to be sought out and eaten up. I considered such popular favourites as meatballs, chili, and macaroni and cheese, and then while haulin' ass on the treadmill during Interval Training on Friday morning, I decided what to make...an ultimate white trash contribution really....one sure to be a hit, definitely amongst the kids, and probably the dads. Hots dog wrapped in Pillsbury Dough.
So, T.Rube and I settled in, after obsessively washing our hands (and while doing so, sending a silent prayer that everyone else at home cooking their contributions had washed theirs too!), and rolled up 24 of these bad boys. I loaded them into the slow cooker on 'keep warm' after taking them out of the oven, and we headed to the party.
The first thing that struck me was how visually unappealing the whole scene was: a community centre gym, fold-up tables and this horrible mishmash of eclectic dishware and food all packed together. I took notice of a particularly yummy looking macaroni & cheese dish and a particularly scary looking Shepherd's Pie. I had overheard that the macaroni & cheese had won first place blue ribbons at local town fairs. And I overheard that the woman made the Shepherd's Pie in a record 10 minutes flat and that the ground beef was barely cooked. It had e-coli written all over it! There was pizza and 4 large buckets of KFC fried chicken (lazy fuckers), there was a variety of pastas, chicken wings, lasagna, rice dishes, unrecognizable casseroles, green salads, Asian salads, potato salads and lots of buns. We added our weinies to the mess and found ourselves a table, happy to see the smiley faces of a couple of good friends.
Then, we sat and watched, as other tables were called up before us. We watched to see who chose our dishes and who passed them up. I realized that I had left the lid on my slow cooker dish and that people were just walking on by it. I had a flash visual of having to collect up my pot after the dinner and still having 24 hot dogs left inside. I didn't want to get up to remove the lid myself, though. Then everyone would know the weinies were mine. (and some things are just better left a secret.) Somebody finally took the initiative to lift the lid, but the handle broke and came off in his hand. The poor guy kinda stood there for a moment; an awkward, uncomfortable moment; not sure what to do. He shrugged, put the handle down next to the cooker and moved quickly away from the hot dogs, without taking one. We were giggling about the whole incident, as we witnessed the popularity (or not) of our dishes from the other side of the gym.
And I not-so-quietly celebrated a moment later when people started to reach in and take my weinies. My friends pointed out to me that most people eating around us had hot dogs on their plates. They were a success!
Then, it was our turn. Filling your plate at a potluck, where there are 30 main course options, is not easy. Your plate might, in fact, end up looking a bit like this one.
Appetizing eh? mmmmm
I proudly noted that there were only a few hot dogs left in the slow cooker as we reached that part of the table. I left them for the other guests, especially considering I had wolfed down two of them hot out of the oven with mustard before leaving home.
There are a few truths about potlucks, I realized. They are:
1) The variety and appearance of the foods invites the questions: "Who are these people making this crap?" and "What do their home/kitchen environments look like?"
Really, eating at a potluck is kinda like eating at a restaurant. A really shitty restaurant that wouldn't, most definitely, pass any sort of health inspection. You have to wonder if people wash their hands prior to handling the food, or if they perhaps have a hairy home, where dog fur randomly ends up on countertops and floating into dishes. Have they blown their nose, scratched their ass, sneezed, lost an eyelash or an earring in the food they're cooking? Many of the casseroles really do look just like vomit and you can't be sure what exact ingredients went into any specific dish. You'd never hear someone shouting out, "Does anyone know what the fuck this even is?" as much as we might like to. There is what appears to be a "don't ask and don't tell" etiquette policy to follow, if you can even match up the person to their dish in the first place.
2) The people who are first in line or are heaping their plates the highest are the ones who didn't bring a dish. They're really the only ones who look forward to these dinners, because they're getting a free meal out of the deal. Fortunately for us last night, they drew tables to determine the order. But, you can be sure there were those slackers who had failed to contribute a thing. (This is usually more apparent at the office potluck party.)
3) A boring or awkward speech always precedes the start of the potluck. In our case last night, there were boring words both before and after eating. Not only was it an awards dinner, but it was also the skating club's annual AGM meeting, so it was doubly boring.
4) We will always weigh our self-worth based on how much is left of our dish at the end, as ridiculous as that may be. So, my advice is to bring a popular and inviting-looking dish. (Last night, all of my hot dogs were eaten. :o) I am worthy. I am worthy.)
5) There will inevitably be a multitude of pasta dishes, hot and cold, containing an overabundance of cheese, mayo, the odd stray pea and even a raisin. For me, this is a great thing. I am in the peak of my training for my next half-marathon, with a 21 km run on Monday morning, and ingesting lotsa pasta is a much desired thing. Carb me up!
6) It is virtually impossible to keep your foods separated on your plate. But, it is worthwhile to try to keep your dessert out of the baked beans or chili. That crap just doesn't mix with the sweets well.
For these two following reasons alone, last night's potluck was totally worth it. You could've served me shit on a plate and I would have been proud and happy to be there. (oh wait, I think I served myself shit on a plate. Not that I would've really recognized it or known anyway...)
Congratulations, my sweet girls. You worked hard on the ice this year and it showed.
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Copyright 2008 A Rural Rube
Copyright 2008 A Rural Rube