Competitive Potlucking: Invitation
My mom had a punch bowl.
I do not have a punch bowl.
I don’t need one.
The only reason I’d need a punch bowl is to hold my excess shoes, the ones I can’t fit on the floor of my closet. Or on the floor of the back porch. Or in my special shoe organizer hanging in my closet. Or in my other special shoe organizer on the back porch. Or on the shoe shelf in the front coat closet.
I take it back: I need a punch bowl.
Personal obsessions aside, a case can be made for punch bowls, if one is given to entertaining. How else are you going to float a raft of sherbet in a lake of Hawaiian punch and 7-Up? However, as I look around at my peers, I have to say we, as a generation, aren’t punch bowlers. We don’t entertain like our parents and grandparents did. Why would we want to entertain when it’s so much nicer to hang out with our friends through the computer?
You think that last is some sort of commentary, don’t you? If so, you’re reading the media’s agenda into my words. Railing against technology is pat, easy thinking: “Computers are ruining us! The Internet is compromising face-to-face exchanges!” I actually prefer hanging out with friends through the computer. By and large, I’d rather not see people. Bizarrely, it’s more intimate that way. Plus: boundaries. Plus: me no have to wear a bra. Plus: I can start and stop interacting when I want to. Plus: I don’t have to do big, dramatic greetings or long, extended goodbyes. Plus: no need to work up performance energy. Plus: it’s perfect for social introverts…or, err, introverted extroverts…or, um, whatever I am this year. Plus: I don’t have to leap up and get drinks for anyone but myself. Plus: I’m lazy and selfish, so refilling only my own drink suits me fine. Plus: doesn’t the word “Plus” look kind of weird when you read it for the ninth or tenth time in a row?
Of course, I’m being overly broad when I lump all my peers into a “No Need for Punch Bowl” passel. We do entertain, just less frequently, less lavishly. There are people my age who host Thanksgiving dinners, have friends over for drinks, throw graduation parties, welcome a book group.
Yet it’s different. Gone are the days of sing-alongs around the piano; the children of the house collecting guests’ coats and heaping them on a bed down the hall; Sunday night sandwiches and pots of coffee brewed with eggs (shell and all); women extracting their hands from their opera gloves by unbuttoning the wrist openings; cream cheese mints popped out of molds and arranged on glass platters.
I was raised in a house where some of these things happened, and those evenings when, say, a church choir would come over were tinged with excitement. There would be singing. Coats would be collected. Mints would be eaten. The punch bowl would dominate the dining room table. From the basement, where we kids would seek safe harbor from inquisitive adult faces, I would listen to the floor creaking above my head, hear the co-mingling of voices creating the synergy that is a party–the warmth of collected bodies seeping into the subterranean depths of orange carpet and wood-paneled walls.
Now, forty years later, when it comes to entertaining, I am of two hearts (which puts me 2/3 of the way to becoming an octopus!): I love it, and I don’t want to be bothered with it. Fortunately, I married a guy who feels exactly the same way. We tell ourselves it’s a fair exchange to have 300+ nights a year for ourselves, during which we eat dinner at 9 p.m. in front of our Show of Choice, countered by a decent slate of social occasions where we hope against hope that someone will show up in opera gloves carrying a platter of mints fresh out of the mold.
In terms of occasions we ourselves host, the majority of our “entertaining” consists of having people come to stay for a night, a weekend, a handful of days, a couple of weeks. In addition to that, we’ve settled into hosting an annual Event. It evolved out of inviting neighbors over for yay-the-kids-are-going-back-to-school night of drinks and in recent years has gained shape and energy.
Once a year, we hold a competitive potluck in our yard.
Inspired by Food Network shows and people’s love of winning, we’ve got themes; we’ve got prizes. It started four years ago, and since then we’ve had a “Pairings” party (guests were challenged to bring a dish accompanied by a dish-enhancing drink), a gathering where “ginger” was the theme ingredient, and a potluck where all dishes had to be related to a fairy tale or children’s story (the post about that party can be read here).
A big part of the fun, for our family, is brainstorming the next year’s topic. We spend months tossing around ideas.
This year, we all agreed on this idea: the theme would be nostalgia, with guests being asked to offer up dishes that somehow tied into memories of specific or special times of their lives.
Below is the invitation. In my next post, I’ll share some of the “promotions” for the potluck that we threw out during the weeks before the party. After that, I’ll post photos from the evening, so you can see what folks brought. Hint: it was a festival of refined sugar and carbohydrates.
Byron’s parents are healthy eaters. Thus, when Byron reminisces about the dinners of his childhood, listeners often ask, “You guys probably ate salads and beans every night, right?”
When Byron recalls his childhood dinners, he recounts this household standby: cut-up, fried hot dogs stirred into instant mashed potatoes, all topped by gravy made from wiener juices.
Even though this dish inspires shudders, it also inspires nostalgia.
And that’s this year’s theme for our annual competitive potluck: NOSTALGIA.
Please, if you’re free, come hang out in our yard and participate in the competition. All guests are invited to contribute a “nostalgic food” dish. It could be the roast your mom made every Sunday. It could be the challah bread you braided with your grandmother. It could be the turkey tetrazzini that made you vomit into a trash can outside your social studies classroom in seventh grade. It could be the martini you ordered on your first date with your now-spouse. Just bring a food offering that occupies a special place in your memory—that ties into an important or specific time of your life.
Prizes will be awarded in two categories: Best Dish and Best Story Explaining the Dish. Mind you, “best” is a term loosely applied. We like to think fried hot dogs and instant mashed potatoes would stand a chance of winning the gold. Prizes will also be awarded in two age categories: Under-16 and 16+.
Your Hosts: Byron, Jocelyn, Allegra, and Paco
Saturday, September 19th, with registration starting at 5 p.m., voting beginning at 6 p.m., and the evening ending when you vomit into the trash can
How about you, Gentle Reader? What might you have brought to this potluck?