Holiday Potlucks, Vol. 4, Issue 50

Dear Etiquetteer:The holidays are upon us and I hope you can assist with the whole question of bringing food to various house parties and gatherings. Just what is the etiquette around glorified potluck parties? I'd appreciate your insights on both sides of the equation.For example, I host an annual Christmas gathering at my house. It's one of those parties where folks come and go for hours, mingling and catching up with folks they perhaps only see at my event once a year, people hopping in from shopping and such. It's not one of those times when cocktails and finger sandwiches would do. Folks have a real appetite either when they arrive or after they've been lounging in my house all afternoon. I make some big dishes for folks to share, but feeding the hordes is just too much. I invite guests to bring some beverage or food to share in a low-key way. Some people do bring something and others don't which is perfectly fine and all seem well fed and pleased. But I do sometimes wonder if this makes me a lame hostess who's not really able to provide for her guests. Any thoughts? On the other side, as guest, I've been invited to share a holiday meal with my new beau's family. I offered to bring a dish and, told this was an intimate family affair, suggested a spicy squash soup or my famous pear and pecan salad. My beloved passed the offer to his mother who queried the whole family for their preference. They've never had soup at their family dinner before and, not able to imagine such a thing, selected the salad. Unfortunately, in the meantime, I've learned that there will be a sizable crowd at this event. Making the salad is near impossible under these circumstances since it will require last-minute kitchen prep and lots of room to prepare the now dozens of little salad plates. Doing this would impose on those doing the real cooking of the entrees and is sure to make me look bad with my potential future in-laws. The soup would be far easier for me to prepare and will be far easier on their end when it comes time to serve, but I fear soup is no longer an option. Should I bring the soup and provide them, despite their misgivings, with a new culinary experience or should I write to Martha Stewart for some kind of substitute, easy-to-travel, inferior salad?Dear Potted:Forgive the slight exasperation in Etiquetteer’s tone, but what on earth are you thinking bringing individual salads to a potluck? The First Rule of Potluck Cuisine is that when you bring a dish, it should be completely ready to serve. NO additional preparation time in the kitchen should be required beyond reheating a dish in the oven or adding croutons. To bring the soup after the family has already said they don’t want it would show a disregard for their feelings Etiquetteer knows you don’t feel, so please turn to The Joy of Cooking or The New York Times Cookbook for a Perfectly Proper salad recipe that can be prepared in bulk.This certainly shows how "an intimate family dinner" is defined by the size of the family . . . also why casseroles are so popular at potlucks. (Don’t you miss those white Corning Ware casserole dishes that everyone had 30 years ago? You know, the ones with the blue flowers on the side.) Don’t forget to label yours with your name on masking tape so you can get it back afterward.Now when you’re the hostess, you are not Lame or Bad by asking guests to bring refreshments as long as you say "Potluck refreshments" or "Please bring a dish to share" or something similar on the invitation. Truth in advertising is what’s key here. All Etiquetteer asks is that you keep the hot foods very hot and check frequently that you have enough plates and utensils. Nothing is worse than having to cut and eat tepid lasagna with a plastic spoon . . .

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