September 19, 2011

Hotdishing at potlucks

The past week or two this blog has taken a sharp turn towards the serious and highly political, so I'm going to reconnect with my favorite (and dare I say your favorite) pastime: eat.

About halfway through the second verse of the closing hymn is when I would get antsy and eager to go downstairs. Inviting smells of casseroles and crockpotted delights crept into the chapel during the last 15 minutes of the church service, courtesy of whichever ladies' aid was in charge for the event. 

Church potlucks everywhere have their staple items, and in northwest North Dakota those items rarely vary. There are open-faced buns with butter and one slice of turkey or ham, and half the sandwiches would have a slice of cheese (or cheese whiz). A dozen "salads" dressed heavily in mayonnaise or coolwhip always make the lineup, too. The regulars are usually potato salad, coleslaw, macaroni salad, snicker salad, cookie salad, and marshmallow salad (don't be distracted by the name, the latter three contain little to none nutritional value). And there are always crockpots filled with scalloped potatoes, tator-tot hotidsh, macaroni hotdish (NOT the same as the salad), and slushburger meat. 

(If you're questioning what a "slushburger" is, clearly you grew up out of the small pocket of NoDak where we lovingly refer to the more commonly named "sloppy joe" as a "slushburger.")

Cream of Mushroom soup, potatoes, ground beef, cool whip and mayonnaise were the star players at our church potlucks. 

Almost everyone in the congregation would go to eat, drink watered-down coffee, and mostly to enjoy community eating. There's really nothing better than eating together with others and having a good talk over a meal. One of the most basic ways humans can bond is over food. 

Why do you suppose most important meetings offer a meal? Or many of the most successful fundraisers are community benefits or pancake feeds? And on a familial level, look at how many family recipes have been handed down for a few generations and appear at every single big holiday. In my family, it's green jello. As a nation, it's a ham or a turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, some form of corn, and bread. 

By our nature, we love communal meals. 

A few weeks ago, someone my age looked surprised when I said I loved going to potlucks. 

"You mean, those things for old people? Where like everyone cooks some sort of casserole?"

"Yeah, those things. I love them! They're not for old people. And it's a hotdish, not a casserole, you fool." (Ok so the hotdish line was just something I wish I would've said in retrospect...) 

Yesterday, I went to the most fantastic potluck -- it was the first time I was able to eat two of my favorite foods on the same plate: pork dumplings and [homemade] pesto pasta. No restaurant would EVER put those foods together (and no good restaurant would simultaneously offer both on their menu). And to finish it off, we had a delicious homemade cranberry-pecan pie. 

The food was great, certainly prepared with love. But the conversation was even better.  The dinner turned into one of those two and a half hour affairs that leave you painfully full, and thankful, for the deliciousness and delightful company.

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