The Spontaneous Pot-luck

Iowa is famous for its pot-lucks: church pot-lucks, charity pot-lucks, neighborhood pot-lucks. And my husband is famous for his cooking. He’s a retired guy who watches cooking shows the way other men watch Monday Night Football.

We love to share food with friends, but there’s pressure in planning a dinner party: what to make? whom to invite? It takes effort to find the right date set far enough in advance. With so much preparation, there’s also the expectation to set a perfect table.

Yet, some of our very best times have been spontaneous get-togethers, mixed and matched with people who might not know each other and food that might not seem to go together. Do we need a reason for the spontaneous get-together? Sometimes. Here’s three good-times excuses.

A Snow Day

There are winter days in the Midwest where everything is cancelled due to snow. Call a couple of neighbors in walking (or snow-shoe) distance with instructions to make something from whatever is in the house. We’ve had freezer chili, pudding cakes, macaroni casseroles. (People don’t feel embarrassed at pulling out the left-overs for this last minute invitation.) Everyhing worked deliciously. And neighbors suffering from cabin fever were grateful for an excuse to get out of the house.

Just Found out the News

I was friends with an author who won a Pulitzer Prize. A few hours after she received the call (at work), I had a about fifty people to my house; people brought champagne, chocolate, fresh strawberries, cheese, chips and dip. We invited the local paper. Someone sent balloons.

But you don’t need a Pulitzer Prize to celebrate. Your son’s acceptance to a coveted college came in the mail that morning? Your husband’s test results were benign? You just closed on the sale of your house? All good reasons for a last minute potluck celebration.

The Not-So-Secret Surprise Party

It was my friend’s birthday and his wife had made him a special dinner: crab-cakes, his favorite. Boy, she made a lot of them, he thought. “Fern and Joe said they might stop by,” she told him. We did, just as they were sitting down to eat. No one said anything about a birthday. Ben graciously invited us to join them. We had brought a bottle of Ben’s favorite tequila. Then other friends came by with a salad. We made more room at the table. Then neighbors across the street came by with a cake. We kept having to get more chairs. It took a while for Ben to realize that we had all “stopped by” for his birthday. There was no one yelling “surprise!” when he came through the door, but it was a wonderfully surprising night.

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