Molly Fisk: Potlucks

Although I’m usually a mild-mannered, well-behaved, poet-of-a-certain-age, happy to let you go first when we come to a stop sign at the same moment, occasionally I snap. Snap as in break in half, like a twig. Snap as in go for your jugular vein with my big white saber-tooth teeth. Metaphorically speaking, of course, but the energy is similar. Suddenly, something happens and it’s just too much, the last straw has descended on the camel’s back and the camel throws off her burden of hay bales and starts to trample the tents.

The oddest things will provoke me, but they often involve some sort of inequity. Take, for instance, pot lucks. What could possibly irk a girl about a pot luck, you ask? Well, how about the famous pot-luck-gender-inequity pandemic? You know what I mean. The home-made lasagne and Waldorf salad versus store-bought salsa and a bag of chips? Or maybe just the bag of chips? Now I know I’m making a generalization here: all women do not cook and all men do not pick things up at 7-11 on their way to the party. Richard brought a great carrot cake to the last meal I attended, and Jack often loads Moroccan delicacies into his Tupperware. But it’s not a gross generalization. And I’m thoroughly sick of it. Since I can’t change anyone else’s behavior, I’m changing my own. No more Molly’s Grandmother’s Famous Chocolate Cake this summer, unless you’d like to borrow the recipe. I’m going to man up for pot lucks. I’ll bring the tonic, the limes, the Smart Food, or maybe  a box of Altoids.

I started my new campaign last weekend by buying an angel food cake at Safeway. My mistake was doing this in advance. After looking at it on my counter for a few hours in its see-through plastic container, I broke down. The cake looked so lonely. . . So I slapped it onto a pretty blue plate, whipped up a glaze out of butter, lemon juice, and powdered sugar, went outside, clipped a few flowers and put a drinking glass in the cake’s central hole for a vase. It took 45 minutes, and the cake and I both felt so much better!

But of course, it wasn’t guy-like behavior. And here’s why. I wanted people to like me. I didn’t want them to sneer at my offering or think it was lame, I wanted praise for my efforts. This is a big deterrent to being a pot-luck man. Next time I will praise myself for not wasting time on idiotic things like flowers, and buy the cake on the way to the party, so there’s no time to anthropomorphize its feelings.

“Potluck” is mostly a western idea, according to Wikipedia — as in west of the Rockies, not the opposite of Asia. It’s thought to be related to “potlatch,” the elaborate shared feast of Northwestern Indian tribes that involved a spirit of generosity and maybe a little competition. The name also has roots in the Southern American phrase of “taking pot luck,” or joining someone for whatever’s already cooking. I’ve always liked the randomness of potlucks — how you really don’t know if a balanced meal awaits you. It could be 17 loaves of French bread and a pitcher of Bloody Marys.

I hope my diatribe inspires you to shake things up. If you always work hard on a dish and are feeling a little put-upon, pick up a bottle of wine this time, or a watermelon. Do not carve the melon into the shape of a swan and fill it with rum-infused fruit salad! Just bring the darn melon. Your host will surely have a knife. And if you’re a last-minute, what-if-it’s-a-potluck? individual, maybe this is the day to challenge yourself with Beef Wellington.

Me, I’m on my way over right now. Can’t wait to see you! Just got to stop at the gas station for those Altoids. . .

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  • Jeanie May 29, 2017 at 8:45 pm

    I would love to have the recipe for your Grandmother’s Famous Chocolate cake too, Molly!

  • Shirley May 6, 2017 at 11:06 am

    Molly, And most men are inept at doing anything with food other than grilling a piece of meat of some sort. I’d much rather eat your store bought, self decorated cake or a melon. Don’t stress out–most people are so darn glad not to have to host the supper or cook the complete meal, they don’t care what you bring. I think it’s really the social part that counts!

  • Kate Campbell May 6, 2017 at 10:33 am

    In the spirit of potlatch, I will continue to offer my potluck contributions as gifts, which means intentional efforts to delight. If ever I show up at a party with a bucket of fried chicken and a bottle of Glenlivet, stab me with a fork. But, I worry about your charming idea for angel food cake. Did you check to make sure the flowers were edible? Oh, dear. Time for a swig of scotch.

  • hillsmom May 6, 2017 at 10:08 am

    Hey Molly, I’d love your Grandmother’s chocolate cake recipe. Care to share? =^..^=
    P.S. Had two lovely Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and one female hanging around my feeder. Then first Catbirds 4/28…they headed straight for the birdbath. The Thrushes which usually appear on the dot 5/1, were late. Finally heard the first fluting trills yesterday evening after the rain. (I know you like birds, too.)

  • Wendl in Manhattan May 6, 2017 at 9:55 am

    My potluck strategy is to bring something I enjoy making and love eating, so I’m sure there will be at least one tempting dish at the dinner. And if no one else eats what I bring, I hope the host urges me to take home the leftovers. (Of course, I’m very flattered if there is nothing to bring home.) Thank you, I’d love a couple Altoids to savor on the subway ride home.