I had a few people for dinner the other night, 25 to be exact.
So, truth be told, I like cooking for my family but cooking for friends is a bit trickier and it stresses me out a bit. Those meal trains when someone has a baby and everyone brings a meal? Total stress bomb in my world. What do I make? What if no one likes it? What if it doesn’t turn out?
I always get over it and it’s fine, but every time I have to psych myself up to it.
When 25 people come to my house for dinner, “winning” is reduced to remembering to clean the powder room. I’m smart enough to know that it’s not going to happen unless everyone chips in, and chip in they do. We had a great time with new friends and old, shared some laughs, some wine, and some amazing food.
This particular occasion was for sharing an abridged Passover meal. We’ve done this a few times before Easter with a Jewish friend who graciously agrees to share his heritage. We walk through an abridged Seder that places context into Easter weekend, mainly that the last supper was a Passover meal and it’s a point where understanding one faith helps you understand another. As I’ve said, we’ve done this a few times and it’s become something we enjoy immensely because it’s a pleasure to open our home and table with so many.
But, this isn’t the only potluck in town. In fact, we’ve got a small group that meets every week for a shared meal where everyone contributes for what is hands down the funnest meal of the week. It’s not the healthiest, but it is the most creative and I am never disappointed with the collective offering.
Now I bet when I say potluck you think dried out tuna casserole with a side of boring. Nope. Not on my watch. Every fall when we set the schedule for the season, we set and circulate a themed meal plan for the year, breaking for holidays and summer. At the end of the year we vote on our favorites and not so favorites and change the list for the next year. Fondues were a bust because too many people and too slow, diy nacho night also a bust because of the sensitive smoke alarm. Winners include gourmet grilled cheese, iron chef:noodles and surprisingly, “Dinner with Elvis” became an instant classic with a side of coronary artery disease but delicious nonetheless.
We do include lots of healthy options: salad bar, springtime in Paris, vegetarian offerings, but by and large the individual cooks determine the ingredients.
If there is any way you can organize your life to do this with friends, or even better, acquaintances you’d like to be friends with, do this. Find a way to make it happen. Put the phones away and make it kid friendly so your children will experience real dinner conversation and connection with real people without screens present. Laugh, share, enjoy the gift of being together.
Below is a list of some of our dinner themes, don’t hold to hard and fast to an idea if it means that someone else will feel stressed. Some weeks all I can manage is some paper plates and a bottle of wine. Life happens and you’ve got to be gracious about it. I’d rather a friend show up with a veggie platter from the grocery store if that choice was that or not come at all.
List of Potluck Theme Ideas:
1970’s potluck: raid your grandma’s recipes
5 ingredients or less
50’s Diner, roller skates optional
Baked potato bar, bring toppers
Best story, food with a memory
Breakfast for dinner
Bring anything you want
Chicken and Waffles
Dips and food that can be dipped
Family Tree, something served at your family gatherings
Fire and Ice
Food inspired by a favorite book
Food inspired by a favorite movie
Food named after a place
Gourmet grilled cheese
Hippie Menu: greens, yogurt, whole grains, anything wholesome
I ❤ Unicorns: Rainbows and sparkles
Iron Chef: Apples
Iron Chef: Cranberries
Iron Chef: Secret ingredient Maple
Iron Chef: Secret ingredient Soda Pop
It’s a small world, pick a country, bring a dish
No cooking, Not allowed to use your stove
Potluck with Elvis. What would the King or Rock and Roll serve for dinner?
Rainbow Dinner, pick one color or a dish with all of the colors
Rice Bar: bring something that goes over rice
Scottish food (Haggis)
Something you love that you hated as a kid
Spring salads and finger foods
Springtime in Paris
Stranded on a desserted island, what would you bring to eat?
Stuffed or layered
Submarine bar (no I don’t mean sailors)
Takeout, no cooking, order it to go.
Tea with the Queen
Winter salads and appetizers