Monday, September 26, 2016

what you bring to a potluck

I went to two potlucks last week. Sometimes I can look back on my life and think that they are measured in potlucks. As a seasonal park ranger, I lived sequestered in mountain compounds, with no TV/movie capability and years before the Internet came along. Potlucks were the main source of entertainment. We would all gather at weathered picnic tables, bearing our creations.

Potlucks were held for memorials, weddings, when people left the area, or just because. Later, when I moved to small communities in the middle of nowhere, potlucks continued. Once a friend arrived at a potluck and set her dish down only to note that she had arrived at the wrong potluck--hers was a little ways away down the lakeshore!

In a highly unscientific study, I maintain that you can tell a lot about a person by what they bring to a potluck. There's the person who does not plan ahead--the guy who shows up with a bag of chips. There's the foodie (I'm thinking of my friend The Freak of Nature) who always has something complex and delightful, needing ingredients not easily found. Two guys I know always bring the same dish--for decades--is there any correlation to the fact that they both like routine and are change resistant? And for the love of god, don't marry the guy who never brings anything to a potluck (Been there. Done that. Divorced it).

Over the years in this small town, some of the same people attend the same potlucks. You get to know what to expect from some. J always brings his "scalloped corn" dish, and people know he will bring it. They ask for it. Everyone knows that I will toggle between a dessert, usually cookies, and some kind of savory appetizer.

The conversation at potlucks is as varied as the food but over the years, it's tended to be focused on the outdoors. What hikes have you done lately? Where are you planning to go?

Potlucks have gotten more complicated with the advent of gluten free people (the ones who really suffer from gluten probably suffered in silence in the past). I'm reluctant to show up with bread or oatmeal cookies anymore. My new standby is a gluten free, vegan spicy ginger cookie.

I wouldn't call myself a picky eater, but potlucks for me can be a maze of future regrets. I generally stick to the salads. In Alaska, someone could be counted on to bring some form of salmon-smoked, baked, broiled, casseroled, always a good choice. The brownies that look so good might be, disappointingly, from a box. Dishes in a crockpot could contain dreaded jalapenos. You need to be cautious at potlucks.

Sometimes, though, like this week, you hit it just right. Steelhead, homemade bread, sweet potatoes, tabouli, salad, huckleberry cobbler. Two great potlucks in one week! It's an embarrassment of riches.

Do you go to potlucks? What is your signature dish?

24 comments:

  1. In Oz we just say 'bring a plate'. Unfortunately people new to our country do just that and are filled with embarrassment.

    I'd love some huckleberry cobbler but what is steelhead?

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    1. Steelhead is a type of fish! Delicious. Ha..I would totally just show up with a plate!

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  2. Yum steelhead, and huckleberry cobbler! That is definitely a potluck jackpot. For weekend potlucks usually I take spinach dip bread bowl and sourdough or French bread to dip in it or homemade potatoes salad w/dill pickles. For dessert I love to take strawberry pretzel salad. Because I work til 5pm potlucks during the week usually get grocery store fried chicken, pizza, or if they are really lucky Chicken Alfredo courtesy of Costco. I'll buy it the night before and the kids or hubby will stick in oven and heat it up. For Boy Scouts we always end up having to take a main dish and dessert. Dessert consists of Costco size pack of cookies, or grocery store brownies. Superfoods Kale salad from Costco is my salad go to. Tomorrow is our first potluck of new Boy Scouts year so yep they'll get Chicken Alfredo and cookies. These are teenage boys you really can't go wrong with pasta, chicken, or pizza and brownies/cookies. They prefer brownies. We do what is called Dime-A-Dip to collect as a special thanks to the church that we hold our meetings at.

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    1. Ooh what is spinach dip bread bowl? I'm definitely not hating on store bought, I get it that working can't afford time to cook. I tend to avoid those weekday potlucks just for that reason. Seems too rushed. But yes, you must factor in the audience...sounds right for boys!

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    2. Spinach dip is made with the recipe on back of a packet of Knorr Vegetable soup mix. Sourdough or French bread roll with center scooped out. Put dip in bread bowl tear or cut pieces of bread to dip. Sometimes I don't use the bread as a bowl I just cut it into chunks and serve with dip in a dish. Family favorite, and coworkers always ask if I'm bringing it.

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    3. Spinach dip is made with the recipe on back of a packet of Knorr Vegetable soup mix. Sourdough or French bread roll with center scooped out. Put dip in bread bowl tear or cut pieces of bread to dip. Sometimes I don't use the bread as a bowl I just cut it into chunks and serve with dip in a dish. Family favorite, and coworkers always ask if I'm bringing it.

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  3. I don't go to many potlucks these days but used to attend one almost weekly when I was living in SLC with a bunch of roommates in the early 2000s. My boyfriend at the time was collecting baseball bobble-head toys from boxes of Honeycomb cereal (yes, as a 20-something adult.) We bought at least 40 boxes of cereal in the process. Honeycomb has a shelf life of about a year, so I started bringing Honeycomb-based dishes to all of the potlucks: Honeycomb muffins, marshmallow treats, snack mix, pie ... you get the picture. My friends weren't the least bit sad when I finally used up all the Honeycomb, and had to go back to being the person bringing chips and soda to the potluck.

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    1. Haha, this response makes me laugh, bobble heads and honeycomb. Chips are important though! It seems like those get eaten up fast.

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  4. Lovely post! And I agree---that one hit it just right. :-) I still need your cookie recipe, though. I have lots of coconut oil and I need something to do with it. I'm SO glad you and I were able to see each other and for you to meet my sweetie. It was great to reconnect, however short. xo

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    1. I love your sweetie's accent, what a nice man. I will email you my recipe. It was fun...

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  5. Growing up in a small community and being involved in 4-H, there were always lots of potlucks. Same early on in my career. Sadly I grew to despise potlucks in the workplace as I already spent too much time with this group on a daily basis and had no interest in trying to small talk about stuff not work related since 99% of us didn't have anything in common. PLUS, I quickly learned about the sanitary habits of some of the staff and could only imagine their kitchens :)

    My sister-in-law was famous for making a rum cake. My mom usually made deviled eggs. I loved cooking and baking way back then and definitely had no standard item.

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    1. Luckily when I worked for NPS I really liked everyone though I never thought about their kitchens..hmm. That was the best thing about those park potlucks. We all had lots in common. If I worked in a real office, I'd probably avoid like the plague.

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  6. I must say that the Alaska potlucks are the best I've ever been too, all that wild meat and fish! I tend to find almost nothing I can/will eat at a potluck. I AM a picky eater, in that it either has to be wild or grass-fed/grass-finished, organic or at least GMO-project verified, and of course no grains/sugar. So in general, I guess pot-lucks just aren't my favorite thing. Alaska being the exception. I even found some great paleo-dessert mixes at a local store (great use for that giant-size coconut oil I had to buy up there - since almost everything only comes in economy sizes). So in general, if I go to a pot-luck, I bring a bottle of wine. Even if there is nothing there for me to eat, I can have a glass of wine that I like!

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    1. I admire your clean eating but am unable to do it (Love bread). I can see how potlucks would be hard for you. I don't eat a lot of meat (fish mainly)so I am always on the lookout for good vegetarian dishes. Wine is always good!

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  7. Sounds like a delicious potluck...made better by sharing with friends. My favorite go-to-potluck is a summer salad, borrowed from Ann Koski at a cabin gathering at Pt. Abbaye on Lake Superior (some guests kayaked in!). Green bean salad, made with all fresh ingredients: cooked and chilled green beans, cherry tomatoes, rings from a fresh white onion, with shredded mozzerella cheese and Good Seasons Italian seasoning. Always goes first thing from the salad selection....I think it's how colorful. If dessert, usually French Pie Bars with fresh blueberries or raspberries...makes a lot.

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  8. I love potlucks and am really lucky to have a group of friends who are good and creative cooks! I try to find a new recipe per potluck but have a couple soups (roast sweet potato and corn chowder) I regularly bring or fresh vegetable rolls (if I need vegan/gluten free). Makes me think I need to organize one soon.
    Naomi (Kimberley, BC)

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    1. Oh those sound good. Especially the sweet potato soup. I need to expand my repertoire.

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  9. I always bring home baked cookies. My friends don't bother asking what I'm going to bring anymore, since it's always cookies. I do vary what kind of cookies I bring, though.

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  10. Steelhead are the same species as rainbow trout, but migrate to the ocean like salmon and consequently can get very large. Unlike salmon, they don't always die after returning to and spawning where they were born, and can make multiple round trips.

    Tom
    Fairbanks

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    1. Thanks, Tom. I kind of knew that but didn't want to write the wrong answer. I couldn't remember if they were rainbow or not.

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    2. Good description....steelhead also spawn on rivers from Lake Superior....quite a fishery on the North Shore of Minnesota and somewhat less so here in the Upper Peninsula, though there are avid seekers here, too.

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  11. I love potlucks and I have about 4-5 dishes I bring, depending on the crowd and dish request (app, dessert, etc). If I need something easy, my standby is the spinach dip recipe referenced by Kimberly above. 15 years and it never fails that someone asks for the recipe. I also love making homemade salsa, another easy one.

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