Relaxation: the final product of continual potlucks

I had my third potluck of the year last night; while a couple of new friends and N’s boyfriend came for the first time, the core of the group had all been to my house before and new the drill: we fill our giant dining room table with food, you help yourself to drinks and pile plates high, and we mingle between rooms and the back porch all evening. Nearly everyone knew where the bathroom was, and no one seemed shy about raiding the fridge.

I had anticipated, as I moved from crockpot to oven to stove with the various foods I was cooking, some nerves or butterflies or just general anxiety about the party. However, it really never arrived; around 7 I put on some background music and people began arriving. It felt comfortable: a couple of my more shy friends sat on the back porch where it was quieter, and Husband started a fire in our firepit and talked heat transfer with a couple coworkers. We played one silly party game, but it was mostly to make each other laugh, not because there was nothing to talk about.

As for food… soup and bread turned out to be a wonderful theme! We had tomato soup, butternut squash soup, Indian mulligatawny, chili, gumbo, a sweet red bean soup from China, golden curry, and potato leek soup. For breads, we had roti, naan, fluffy peasant bread, crusty artisan bread, sesame seed bread from the farmer’s market, cornbread casserole, and smores bites for dessert! I also made some gingerbread cookies, which I’m happy to see have survived to the second day. 🙂

I include this picture of N putting away a pile of spilled toothpicks because she is grinning, and because it makes me smile too; parties aren’t perfect, just like spilled toothpicks are no fun to pick up, but if you get to know people and spend time eating with them and sharing life stories with them, you will eventually find a comfy rhythm that can actually look like being relaxed, not like being a stressed host.


Dinner Party 2 and Daydreaming of Spain


It doesn’t come up as often now, but when I first moved back to the United States after living in Spain, I think I annoyed the people around me with how much I talked about it. Just like that friend you have who lived in Colorado or the Finger Lakes or some other ridiculously spectacular place, I felt myself saying “oh that reminds me of…” all the time and connecting back to a place that, for all the memories, was now very far away.

Lately, I’ve been daydreaming specifically about the flavors of spain: the combination, for instance, of crusty bread toasted and layered with olive oil, crushed tomatoes, and just the lightest sprinkling of salt. I’ve been daydreaming of the overwhelming freshness and cheapness of veggies and fruits, of sangria made from overnight-soaking sliced fruits in red wine, of slices of spanish omelette with firm egg on the outside and a gooey wad of potato and oil in the center, nearly liquid. When I look at my fridge in the United States, so many of these flavors are still possible, still right there: I eat eggs and potatoes in so many forms here. However, there is something about the combinations, about eating them under a beating mediterranean sun by a plaza in Cadiz, or of leaning back in the metal-framed chairs that most terrace restaurants had, and just oozing into my meal. I don’t think I’ve been relaxed since I’ve moved back, not really, and it has been years.

So the second dinner party (coming up soon!) carries a tapas theme – I will tell my invitees to bring any food that would be reasonably easy to cut down to tiny portions, but it was my chance to try some of my favorite flavor combinations again, to make a true Spanish tapas feast. It looks like turn-out will be low (I am friends with lots of teachers, and they travel elsewhere on spring break), but so many of the best times in Spain were with only a few others, sharing many foods that came in portions. This style of eating, dubbed “para picar” in Spanish, or “to nibble,” instead of ordering an individual meal for each person you order many different things and everyone tries a bit of each. It is pretty much the definition of a potluck, even if it is more common as a snack-type meal in Spain, and I’m pretty excited to see what tapas-like foods my friends bring.

I will be making (unless my ambition outpaces my ability/time), tomato toasts and spanish omelette, as well as a simple chicken and veggie paella (not traditional; more like a paella-flavoring chicken and rice dish); I’m also going to attempt a fried eggplant with honey and goat cheese that was hands-down my favorite tapa in Madrid, but I have never tried it before. When I write about these recipes, they will be connected to people I shared them with (S, and L, and A, and E are sure to make appearances) not with the people who gave me the recipes, but in my effort to look further and farther with this project, I think this will still be in the spirit of how food and cooking connect people.