Potluck Impossible

As the sun sets this evening I’ll be partaking in a strange and magical event that has become rare elusive these past eighteen months: a small housewarming party.

A dozen or so (fully vaccinated) friends and I are converging on the newest abode of one of them to sit and chat and eat and chat some more.

And as per usual, the most daunting part of the occasion is spending my Saturday afternoon trying to figure out what kind of dish I should bring along for shares with everyone.

The time honoured tradition of a potluck-style party has stumped many who have planned attendance at gatherings of any size. Bringing a sharable dish to someone else’s event is seemingly simple, but cooking for a crowd can open up a whole host of contemplations and considerations.

I mean, lately I’d bake up a big loaf of sourdough to accompany some other contribution. But not only did I put this off and run short on time, I had put it aside as an option this time because the hostess has lately taken up her own sourdough habit after I re-invorgated her access to a starter.

So, what to bring?

Inevitably, some folks will show up with something tasty and simple, like a deli plate or a vegetable platter, and maybe a bottle of wine tucked under their arm. These are staples and great additions, but one always risks being the second or third one to show up with an “oh… another cheese ball!”

At least one person is bound to have stopped on their way over for a takeaway solution, like a bucket of fried chicken from the drive-thru or a tray of spring rolls from the local dim sum. This is always a hit, and I would never complain while always eating my share of these offerings, but deep down I feel like it would be a bit too much of a shortcut to match my desire to cook or prepare something personal.

The option that I do envy is the person with their special dish.

THE dish.

That thing they always bring to parties. The plate or bowl that never fails to appear in their potluck parade. Their speciality. You know the one.

I don’t have one of those.

I want one of those.

I want that go-to. I want to have a potluck platter with which I always show up at parties.

I want a plate that I unveil to knowing nods, a tray that is cleared before the night is over or a bowl that is scraped clean as people argue politely over the last morsel. I want to bring the kind of thing for which people ask me the recipe and to which I smirk and say, “I’ll send it to you” but never do because it’s THE thing I bring and don’t want to spoil it for myself.

It can’t be too spicy. Many people like heat, but it frightens just as many others away.

And the serving-size commitment level needs to be low, allowing guests to try a bite and then go back for a second or third helping. Forcing a full slice or a portion that takes over a quarter of one’s plate turns potential samplers into skeptics.

This hypothetical dish of mine also needs to be some kind of side that can hold its own across different food themes. We’ve all encountered that one dish that is inexplicably out of place among everything else, the one that tastes great but somehow just doesn’t quite belong.

I want to have one of those recipes to which I always turn when the invite comes through, something that I know I can pull together in a couple hours and do my part for any party.

It might not be an impossible potluck search, but I haven’t found that dish yet. My dish.

Not yet.

So tonight, yet again, I’ll probably just bring a…

Bread, Un-Servable

We had a small get-together in our backyard over the weekend.

Because as the number of new infections drops and more people get vaccinated locally, the restrictions have been eased and we figured a few people over for drinks and food was now not only possible, it was lawful.

Of course, I baked a loaf of sourdough as part of my contribution to the potluck.

I mixed up a nice blend of that local rye flour and some white, rested it in the fridge for an extra-long, extra-souring first proof, overnighted it on the counter so I could bake it the morning of the party as to ensure maximum freshness and…

How am I going to serve this thing? I thought.

My guests and I had been particularly careful in organizing everything to make sure all the local health guidelines were, if not followed to the letter, nodded to in respect.

We had carefully sanitized and bundled out bunches of wrapped utensils.

There were single-serve plastic gloves so everyone could dish up.

The main dishes were brought by the guests and picked to be you-touch-it-you-eat-it type foods like fried chicken, pizza, and samosas.

The beverages were all canned, and single serving.

And even the birthday cake (it was a birthday party) was individual cupcakes where we sat in a big circle and sang to the birthday gal and she blew out the single candle on her chosen treat.

But then I had this loaf of sourdough I had proudly baked. I suddenly didn’t feel comfortable serving it. I’ve been baking loaves of my sourdough for so long, and yet just for us to eat, that I didn’t even consider the high-touch, social nature of this bread.

Usually at a party I set out a loaf of bread on a cutting board with a bread knife. Guests can cut their own slice… but that created a situation where lots of people were interacting with the whole loaf and the knife.

Occasionally, I cube the bread into generous chunks for dipping either in something like a spinach dip or oil and vinegar, but a dip seemed like the kind of communal eating situation we were deliberating steering clear of.

Sometimes I’ll slice it just before I serve it, which would have probably been the best option, but even then I’m the one who is touching every slice and exposing the bread to the air and our house and…

I was being overly cautious, I know, but we’re right now in this moment of time when people are just starting to trust shared spaces again. The metaphor is something like slowly slipping into a icy mountain lake a little bit at a time, or clearing out the clutter of a big mess one piece-by-piece. The road back to normal is slow and careful. And that’s where I am: not quite ready to serve a loaf of bread because I didn’t think anyone would feel safe about eating it.

So I didn’t feel right about serving it. Friendships are built on trust and respect, and when people come to your space put their trust in you to serve them food, to me respect is putting aside your ego – even the pride of a perfectly delicious loaf of freshly baked bread – and sticking with the agreed upon party plan.

On the up side, I do have a lot of leftover bread.