The night before the party, I planned to change the title of this piece to "Why One Should Not Host a Potluck." The "everyone contributes" model is not my normal entertaining MO. In fact, my style is a bit more obsessive. Once, I built a dozen elaborate gingerbread houses for a "casual" Swedish Christmas–themed get-together (as if that weren't enough, I also house-cured all the fish). On another occasion, I re-created a German biergarten for an Oktoberfest-themed birthday party, complete with pretzel-shortbread party favors, all for my miniature dachshund George. Meals at my parties tend to be laborious affairs; think homemade pasta, ramen bars with a million ingredients that went into the stock, and extravagant tiered cakes (I know, annoying!). A more laid-back approach doesn't come naturally.
Therefore, as the potluck approached, the control freak in me was anxious about the unknown, and I felt guilty asking my friends to help. Am I putting everyone out? Will they be annoyed that they have to cook?
Now that I've come out on the other side, I can say with confidence: potlucks are a fantastic, simple way to entertain. Because I wasn't buzzing around the kitchen doing a million things, I was able to really hang out with my friends. I could actually debrief on the joys and trials of motherhood with Kate and Melissa and hear about girlfriends' latest successes without missing key details. Normally, I'm in and out of conversations, too busy multitasking to ever hear the beginning, middle, and end of a good story. Too often, the time and money it costs to throw a party can make everything too stressful, and it gets in the way of the true reason for such gatherings: to spend time with the people you love.
Here are some ground rules, and some easy recipes, that you can use to create your own love-and-friend-filled potluck:
1. Make it a theme party.
Establishing a theme will create a cohesive menu and help avoid a potentially discombobulated assortment of dishes, such as baked beans alongside someone's homemade sushi. The theme can be as simple as picking a regional cuisine — e.g., Italian, Mexican, Greek, Middle Eastern, Thai — or something a bit more creative. Think comfort foods, "breakfast for dinner," or even unlikely holidays like St. Patrick's Day, Earth Day, or Bastille Day. If you run with a crew of foodie friends, consider choosing a favorite chef or cookbook, and have everyone pick and execute a dish!