Prior to this year, I had contributed to maybe three pot lucks in my entire life. Just not my thing. I was re-introduced to the world of the pot luck when I moved into a condo complex.
Legacy Estates, my new home, has an active social committee, and its members are gung-ho on pot luck buffets, scheduling one every few months.
I agonized over my first pot luck. As a new resident of the community, I wanted to show I was part of the team, ready to slave over a stove and produce a dish that would attract praise and admiration. I imagined people rhapsodizing over my exquisite dishes, perhaps writing little odes to my achievements on the lobby bulletin board.
I came up with steamed asparagus with a touch of lemon, anise and olive oil, surrounded by marinated cucumber, presented on a vintage Grimley platter. It looked wonderful. Unfortunately, 50 people showed up at the pot luck, with each guest getting half an asparagus spear.
I vowed I would make things right next time. I would create something beautiful and healthy, showing my social conscience. I opted for a Hungarian cucumber salad, accompanied by kale sautéed in olive oil, butter, kosher salt and garlic.
The kale was a disaster, tough, tasteless, a testimony to coarse dining. But I had slaved to make the danged dish, so I threw it onto a platter and crafted a little sign, “Failed Kale.”
Nobody touched it, wisely. A lady in line at the buffet said to me, gently, “You know, it’s a good idea to take the kale leaves off the stem.” At least a few people tried the cucumber salad, which was perfectly okay. I think.
Third pot luck. I rallied. I would not be defeated. I would make a spectacular dish that would show I was part of the gang. This time, I found a decades-old recipe for curried lentils and rice from Gourmet Magazine. Yes! This would please any vegans in the crowd, and it would be economical to make. This recipe, which might have been simple in the hands of a confident cook, required about eight steps, all very precise and demanding. The result: curried sawdust. I ended up carting my beautiful serving dish back to my condo with most of the sawdust intact.
Another pot luck loomed. I felt like a lemming, about to go over the cliff one more time. A friend suggested chicken paprikas with rice, which is tasty enough, but preparing it for 50 people would mean I would have to live on Cheerios from Dollarama for the next month. My solution was chopping a chicken breast into tiny pieces and cooking it with a massive amount of rice and paprika. Whaddya know. It was a hit. I got two and a half compliments on it.
So, when the Saint Patrick’s Day potluck was announced, I felt hopeful. I just had to find a green recipe. I narrowed it down to either sautéed bok choy or Hungarian cabbage noodles. I decided on the latter, remembering the time I had served the dish at a birthday party and people raved about it for months, but forgetting the time I took it to a writers’ potluck, at which I witnessed many looking desperately for a napkin and wastebasket after trying the dish.
The day of the St. Paddy’s pot luck, I suffered a major allergic reaction. Although still alive to stagger to the kitchen, I was not a cook to be reckoned with. Sure, I sautéed the cabbage, but in my Benadryl, prednisone, Epi-pen fog, couldn’t find the egg noodles, and cooked up several mismatched kinds of pasta. It was tasty enough, but it looked like a dog’s breakfast. I went back to my condo with my tail between my legs and a full bowl of pasta.
Do I have a future in pot luck? I think not. In fact, there might be a collective sigh of relief throughout the complex if I just showed up with a package of buns from Sunterra. But there is a warm-hearted aspect to communal dining, with people sharing food with tremendous goodwill and kindness. And perhaps I should remember that as a life lesson: kindness trumps culinary brilliance every time.