Why Potlucks Rock

Being the aspiring (albeit mostly amateur, though others have paid me to make certain dishes for them for some of their gatherings, it’s not a career aspiration) gourmet cook I am, most of my culinary twists and ideas tend to come from the restaurants in the different cities I hit up. Lately, though, I haven’t been to a potluck dinner in ages, although I am pretty sure potlucks are generally associated more with the family-friendly/suburbia/open spaces crowd with decent sized houses to accommodate the people that arrive for such events.

Today I hitched a ride to Lawrenceville, NJ, just north of Princeton for such an event, it was an orientation for some of the exchange students studying for the year in the greater Philly area. I took up some vegetables and two bowls of the hummus that I had made (recipe here) with some crackers. I had been designated to collect the RSVPs from those attending as well as what type of foods they would bring, and as the responses piled up, I got an insight into some of the things people would bring.

When I arrived at the host’s home, we put our bags down and help set up. The volunteers and area representatives to the host families all went through orientation and the ins-and-outs of how things worked. Soon the host families and students arrived with more food. The volunteers continued to help everyone get settled.

Finally, as I had discussed with some of the host mothers on cooking tips, we exchanged a few ideas and from today’s potluck I had picked up a few more. I definitely will be trying out a fruit tart and quiche recipe for sure although some of the desserts were even more intriguing.

For starters, a black bean salad with chopped cilantro, onions and peppers and dare I say it was spiced up pretty well after that. There had to be oregano, and a few other things in there. There was a version of cornbread that I think was on the thicker and richer side than what I was normally used to.

Spinach salad with strawberries – I’ve seen apples in salad before, and walnuts and grapes and raisins, but the juice from the cut strawberries made a really NICE vinaigrette substitute. It was just spinach and salad – nothing else, not even oil. Totally wholesome yet still incredibly tasty.

There were other dishes that looked appealling although I did not have them because I am a vegetarian – there was an Italian sausage with capers and peppers that looked pretty good, as well as a ziti mix with beef and vegetables thrown in the mix. Even though I don’t eat meat, it does give me some good ideas to twist recipes for visitors should I need to cook for my meat-eating friends or family.

I’d say on the dessert table, the top two winners were the Swedish tea log brought in by a Swedish exchange student (recipe here though I’ll repost it as well) and the fruit tart brought in by a fellow volunteer who also lives in the city. The fruit tart recipe from what I was told, was written by another host mother in the greater Philly area, who once owned a restaurant and cafe, so it was no small wonder the recipe was a hit with everyone. It had tangerines and plums and berries – perfect combination for myself, as those are three of my favourite fruits in general.

There was no mistake I had fun getting to meet the students, getting to learn about their interests, whether they had gotten into the city and so forth, and what they thought about schooling in America so far. I got to know about the experiences of the host parents as well as the area reps in dealing with students and so forth. I enjoyed getting to meet the other volunteers. And all this is why potlucks rock, even if it’s not something I get to partake in often.

But between chatting it up with the host parents and veteran volunteers, the foodie in me was also glad to have exchanged recipes and gotten a taste for some more of the things and methods that pass for dinner on the tables stateside and abroad. It’ll make things on my own a bit more interesting, that’s for sure.

A friend from university summed up her 3 Fs on potluck dinners: fellowship, food, fun. And this it sure was.

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