pot luck wars

I’ve been working in the same place for more than five years now, and in all that time, I’ve allowed most of my coworkers to believe that I don’t know how to cook. In fact, I’m quite capable of cooking and baking, although I rarely do either because I live alone and I’m lazy. But the main reason I let everyone keep on thinking I’m clueless in the kitchen is so that I can avoid being dragged into the Pot Luck Wars.

Bringing a dish to a pot luck or to an ailing coworker is a tricky business with almost no winners. I have seen friendships end over pot luck dishes. I have seen physical fights to get to the pot luck sign-up sheet. I have seen women crying in the bathroom because their pound cakes didn’t have as many slices missing as someone else’s pound cakes. I have personally witnessed with my own eyes a knock-down, drag-out fight when two women decided to make a birthday cake for a third person. The presence of two cakes at a single office party was enough to make people whisper about the NERVE of that WOMAN behind closed office doors for the rest of the day. Maybe even for the rest of the week. Oh, and the building imploded and someone kicked a puppy.

Everything in that last paragraph is a lie, by the way. Well, except for the very first sentence. And part of the sentence about the two birthday cakes.

The Pot Luck Wars are primarily fought by women. Most guys get out of them in one of five ways:

  1. They make their wives cook something and then bring it in.
  2. They offer to bring something like napkins or plastic forks.
  3. They bring a bucket of KFC.
  4. They offer to give money instead.
  5. They ignore the fact that it’s even happening.

I tend to go for options 2 or 4, if option 5 won’t work for some reason. There’s probably some feminist commentary in there somewhere but I’m as lazy a feminist as I am a cook, so I won’t bother.

The main reason I avoid the whole pot luck thing is the drama. But the secondary reason I avoid it is because my family has a remarkable knack for bringing The Dish That No One Will Touch.

On a Baptist church table with 40 different macaroni salads, my mother’s macaroni salad won’t even have a serving spoon in it. Instead, the serving spoon sits neatly on the side, just in case the other 39 salads run out and someone is starving to death and will die without macaroni salad. In that case, the person will take a teeny, tiny bit of it – like a half a spoonful – mostly just to be nice, I think. We think this may be because it has peas in it, but come on! The peas are good! And green!

Ginny and I have both taken the macaroni salad to pot luck things in college with identical results. In fact, when I took the macaroni salad to a college pot luck, I’m not even sure the Saran wrap came all the way off. The only good thing is that we all love the stuff, so we never have to go to the trouble to make two batches. We just make the one, banking on the fact that no one will eat it and we’ll have plenty for ourselves later on.

This also happens with my mom’s awesome and wonderful Spanish rice, which may not be authentically Spanish but is most certainly awesome, wonderful, and ricey. In fact, it’s one of my favorite dishes in the whole world and so I’m always glad when no one touches it at the pot luck. She also used to make these grody-ass porcupine meatballs from like one of those 70s recipe cards and I hated those things, and I don’t know how well they did at pot lucks but I know we always brought some home. Ew.

One year, I had an athletic banquet of some kind and my mom either forgot to cook or didn’t have the time. So she stopped at the grocery store on her way home from work and got some potato salad, fried chicken, and banana pudding from the deli. Because my mom is insane and didn’t want everyone to know she hadn’t cooked, she scooped it all into her Corningware dishes and set them out on the tables next to the various buckets and boxes of fried chicken and biscuits from KFC, Hardee’s, and Bojangles.

And of course you know what happened next. She took those Corningware dishes home completely empty. In fact, I think someone may have licked them clean. She vowed never to cook for pot luck again, but her perfectionist neuroses won out and she still makes stuff for every pot luck.

She finally hit on a winner, though – one of those weird breakfast casseroles where you dump eggs and hash browns and sausage and shit into a dish and bake it for a million years. I hate it because it has sausage in it, but it always gets snatched up at the Baptist Easter pot luck breakfast. So in order to avoid the hideous scourge of being the church wife who didn’t bring a hot dish, and also because of the pride that comes from finally making a dish that people will eat, my mom will get up at like 4 in the morning on Easter Sunday to make that casserole thing.

Probably she should do like I do and bring plastic forks, or ignore it entirely.

14 Replies to “pot luck wars”

  1. I have impressed many a baritone player and SAI girl with mom’s lasagna, though it’s a bit of a pain in the ass to make and weighs about a half ton, making it cumbersome to carry. Also a big hit are the ham and cheese biscuits that Mary Beth gave me the recipe for… they’re my standbys if I feel like impressing the knickers off someone… if not I go for the veggie tray, or the hormel pepperoni and cheese and crackers tray.

    There’s one girl who always brings PBandJ Uncrustables to every function, and I’ve never had one, but apparently they’re a hit to.

  2. Indeed. The potluck scene at my last office was out of control. We already had enough desserts on a daily basis and constant reminders about them. “But haven’t you had a donut YET?” “I already had breakfast.” “You don’t need an excuse for a donut though.” (Yes, I spell donut the short way.) And then they watch you. And wait. And if you have a donut, they’re going to let you know that they know.

    And then the potluck challenges would happen: the egg bakes, the chili cookoffs, the monthly birthday recognitions. We had green shakes at St. Patrick’s Day, cookies and sweets at Valentines, etc.

    But far worse than the culinary challenge were the complaints HR would receive about the scheduling of events. People who worked Tuesday and Thursday were upset about Wednesday events. People who worked Monday – Wednesday – Friday felt abused by a Tuesday event. It got nuts. Even the organizers got pissy and started canceling events, filing complaints and sending screeds to co-workers about them being wet blankets.

    Office life makes it easy to see how quickly governments can go wrong and why philosophers like Aristotle and Plato, 2000 years ago, thought democracy was a cute idea but rather hopeless. The office potluck is one of the proving grounds.

    I still like potluck dinners, though. They can be a blast. (When else am I gonna dust off my crockpot?)

  3. Oh, there’s nothing like several inward chuckles (and not infrequently loud outward guffaws) at Lorie’s stories

  4. People at my office will eat ANYTHING. Employees often bring in leftovers that they don’t want just so they can get rid of them…and they always do.

  5. We have a Bosses’ Day Chili Cookoff, and though you don’t HAVE to enter your dish in the contest (various categories, including dessert), I did enter my pumpkin cheesecake last year. Which lost. TO A TRIFLE. WITH BOXED PUDDING. COME. ON. So now I bring like, cheese for the chili.

  6. I despise potlucks. There is one at work just about every week and I always pretend like I didn’t know about it. We have a chili cookoff potluck on Friday and then a Halloween potluck next week. Ugh. I don’t understand why people like potlucks so much.

  7. I remember that time mom put the store-bought food into the Corningware dishes. She TOLD me and Jamie no to tell anyone we bought that food at Food Lion. Good times.

  8. OOOH… I forgot, the best kind of pot luck I’ve ever been to is the year we had a wassail at the bookstore for christmas, and actually made wassail… though we didn’t go wassailing. It was good times, and MB made the rum cake, which is AWESOME.

  9. Wassail!!! That’s right. A pub on my block makes it wonderfully during the winter (which is six-months long here), yet I haven’t thought to order it yet. I did have the Darcy’s Coffee already–cappucino, Jameson’s and Bailey’s–but wassail is definitely next.

    Wow. Nice one, Ginny. You’ve driven me to drink (and I don’t feel one jot guilty about it!).

  10. Lorie, this has been my second favourite read (Soprano Bitches still reigns supreme in my book – but this was hilarious). Your use of caps in perfect.

    So, yeah – the potluck. As a dancer, we were never given time to eat socially, and as a web manager for my family, every day is lunch-potluck, and it’s always dinner left-overs, so I’ve hit both sides of the spectrum. Actually, when I was dancing, we used to have post-performance parties on the Monday after the performance weekend. Everyone would bring something and NOTHING was ever left. We poor starving buggers were just that, poor and starving. My “boyfriend” at the time, Jerome (5′ 4″, angry Italian with a Napoleon Complex) told me that my dish would be coming home with me because it was disgusting. Canned asparagus rolled in crustless white bread spread with mayonaisse is not disgusting. It was dee-lish, and everyone thought so. I have to say though, every guy that I’ve gone out with has kaiboshed the thought of making that dish, nevermind offering it to friends.

  11. potluck today. lot’s of pasta-type stuff (which is odd, to have so much the same) and one incredible fruit salad. I brought a stack of 125 plates and 75 forks and got two kisses for it. I haven’t heard any reports yet of anyone sobbing in the bathroom or otherwise yet but there’s a huge cake on the middle of the table.

  12. UGH, we have a pot luck coming up next month for our company’s annual Thanksgiving “celebration.” I mean, I kinda understand why we’re doing it (the company’s still kinda small and it’s too costly for all of us to go out and eat somewhere “fancy”), but I’m not looking forward to the cooking, and the schlepping, and then the obligatory dish-washing afterward. I think I’m going to have a chat with the event planner to see if I can bring the napkins and utensils….

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