Thursday, July 2, 2009

Potluck Day in the Office...

It's the day before a holiday today and we're having a potluck for lunch. Over the years, I have learned to embrace the potluck. This may sound like an easy thing to do but as a former picky eater and a person who is apprehensive about 'eating other people's food,' I had a bit of a worry about potlucks.

I know. I sound rude when I say that I didn't like to eat 'other people's food.' . I'm talking about those random coworkers/people who you don't know who bring in dishes to potlucks that, well, frankly look...a little scary. I'm also talking about people I do know whose kitchens I have seen and have been scared to enter. For example, I knew a woman who loved to bake. She also loved her cats. She would keep the litter box in the kitchen. She only cleaned it once a week so, inevitably the kitchen smelled very bad. I did attempt to eat her baked goods since she was a friend and, sadly, I got a mouthful of cat hair as did several of my other friends. Needless to say, I learned my lesson.

There was also another former coworker of mine whose food I learned to avoid. She was one of the people who just attracted disaster, no matter what it was. She would drop things on the floor and quickly shovel it back into the bowl. I saw her doing this once. I also heard stories about a time before I began to work with her in which she brought turkey for a Thanksgiving themed potluck. She apparently dropped the turkey onto her lap where it rolled down her substantial thighs and then proceeded to scoop it up and serve it.

So, you see, my fears about other people's food aren't too unfounded. As I said, if I know the person, I know they're sanitary and hygenic, I will at least attempt to try their offering unless I find that it is something I simply don't like. Potato salad, for example. I just can't get behind cold potatoes with mayonnaise or mustard. I also don't like those mixed together things like seven-layer dip. I tend to like my food...simple, no mixing.

Still, as I said, over the years, I have become more open-minded. I try new things now as long as I can identify all of the ingredients in them or at least the visible ones. That way, I'm not taken surprise when I bite into a plate of coleslaw and find that someone's secret ingredient is raisins. I love raisins. I enjoy coleslaw, as long as it's not sweet. I just don't like raisins in my coleslaw though, ironically, in my first home economics class in England, we made coleslaw...with raisins.

The one thing I enjoy about potlucks is that it's a good way to enjoy home made cuisine with a regional flair. For example, the potlucks I had in L.A. were always heavy on the salads along with Mexican-type dishes and fancy desserts. Somoene would always bring in El Pollo Loco chicken, a California/Western U.S. restaurant which specializes in juicy seasoned grilled chicken. It was a diverse group of people and they brought a diverse offering of foods.

In the Midwest, potlucks are quite different. They're much more 'homemade'. I used to shy away from some of the dishes such as smoky links in barbecue sauce, simmered in the crockpot. Then I tried them and, unhealthy as they are, they're horribly tasty. The same goes for the buffalo chicken dip someone always brings. Someone always brings chili in, also but as a non-chili lover, I usually shy away from those. Crockpots are a much bigger deal in the Midwest and when we have an office potluck, there's usually a fight to try to find an outlet into which the crockpot must be plugged. The food is...heavier. I hate to support a stereotype but in my experience, the Midwest, at least this corner with its Germanic influence, likes their food hearty, tasty and nurturing. People are getting better, using turkey instead of beef, using low-fat ingredients but the truth is...that just doesn't taste the same. In L.A. there was always some healthy person who made sure that there was healthy options.

I'm not complaining though. There's no better way to get a feel for an area of the country than to go to a potluck. For example, while I tried cerviche for the first time at an L.A. potluck, here in Ohio, I tried strawberry pretzel cake which sounds revolting but actually tastes quite nice. I was shocked, to be honest. In my mind, strawberries and pretzels don't go together but...they did. Yes...I found that weird too.

Normally, for potlucks, I like to bring in something I know will taste good to others. Sausage rolls are a popular option; they're relatively easy to make and everyone likes them. Today's is supposed to be Independence Day-y, sort of a summer celebration. Someone's bringing hotdogs, someone else pasta salad....everything falls neatly into the summer picnic category.

For me, since I'm in the process of moving and my apartment is sort of in an upheaval, I asked the potluck coordinator what to bring. With a look of glee, the coordinator told me to bring in...Smoky sausages in barbecue sauce in the crockpot.
How Midwestern for me.

Happy Thursday.

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