*I will be taking a little winter break and returning with a post and podcast episode in March. I have some exciting visits planned for 2018, and I can't wait to share them with you!*
Potlucks are, hands-down, my favourite kind of gathering to host. We have been hosting them fairly often for almost a decade, with a wonderful group of friends. There are many more kids in the group now than when we began, and the toddlers who ran around and hid under the table are now taller than I am.
Our potlucks are informal, and we usually hold two or three each year. Because it's primarily families with kids who attend, we typically host it at noon on a Sunday. People are free to come and go as they're able, and it's intended as a time for everyone to relax and catch up and enjoy some good food.
Potlucks are great for several reasons - everyone gets to contribute something, it's easier on the host, there's a variety of foods for everyone, and people with special dietary needs can bring something that they know they can eat. The whole nature of the thing just feels comfortable and relaxed. I like to host them at times of the year when there aren't a whole lot of other things going on, December excepted. Our very first potluck was a midwinter one in February, to bring something fun to the darkest and coldest time of the year.
I feel like I have our potluck routine down pat, for the most part, and I thought it might be helpful for anyone who has never hosted one to read a few nitty-gritty tips and a timeline for making the day a success. We typically have 35-40 people, which may be more than you'll begin with (or maybe not! be ambitious!), so keep that in mind as you read along. When everything is written out, it looks more intimidating than it is!
Feel free to skip to the end for the recipes from this December's potluck!
- The most important thing, and the whole point of welcoming people into your home is to connect with them and make them feel at home. A bit of planning ahead will let you relax while your friends are there - and if you're relaxed and having a good time, they will be, too. They won't remember that dust bunny in the corner, but they will remember how they felt in your home.
- You'll need a clear table or countertop for placing the food, cutlery, and drinks. I set up the drinks on one section of counter in my kitchen, and we use the dining room table as our main serving area.
- You'll also need seating for your guests; I find that people tend to mill around and enough seating for each person isn't really necessary, but you'll probably want to get out those extra folding chairs if you have them.
- Bonus points if you have a deck, backyard, or other space where guests can circulate - placing some chairs in those areas will encourage guests to spread out. (At our place, the kids always want to go down to the barn to see the chickens.)
A week or two before:
- Choose the recipes that you're going to make. We always make three things - one main dish, one dessert, and one appetizer, usually seasonally inspired. Choose recipes that will be entirely done before your guests arrive, and preferably ones in which parts or all of the recipes can be made the day before.
- For drinks, we always have coffee, tea, and a punch, so buy the ingredients for those, too. Punch seems to be a crowd pleaser that is easy on the host and can be spiked or not, depending on your crowd.
- Send out invitations (we just send them as a group message on Facebook). A week or sometimes two seems to be a good lead time for our group.
A few days before:
- Take a good guess as to how many people might come based on replies so far, and buy any napkins, cutlery, and paper plates you might need. I always prefer to use our actual dishes, but we just don't have enough plates or cutlery for everyone, so we use disposable cutlery and buy paper plates that can be composted.
- Buy ingredients for the recipes you're going to make, and if there are any parts that can be done in advance, get those taken care of.
A day or two before:
- Tidy the house a bit, but not too much - it's just going to get dirty again. People will not notice what you think they might. And even if they do, they don't care! They're glad to be enjoying a good time, and you're making it happen!
- Chill any drinks that you can.
- Put extra rolls of toilet paper in bathrooms.
- Set up a coffee and/or tea station, with milk, cream, and sugar. Turns out that for our group, I'm pretty much the only one who drinks tea, so I make two pots of coffee and refill them a few times during the gathering.
- Set out extra trivets / tea towels for warm dishes.
- Make punch.
- At this time of year, I set out bowls of clementines - always a hit with everyone.
- Set out plates and cutlery.
- Set up easily accessible garbage and compost bags.
- Make room for coats and shoes by the front door.
- Turn on outside lights.
- Run the dishwasher before people arrive so you'll have plenty of clean mugs.
As people arrive:
- Greet them at the door, take their dish and offer them a drink! I typically put the desserts aside (on top of our piano, actually) and main dishes on the table.
- Just before guests arrive, I put on some music, not too loudly. You can't hear it for most of the time, but when there's a lull, it's festive.
During the potluck:
- Relax! There will be spills, sometimes dishes don't turn out as you expected, a kid or two might fall down the stairs (all of which happened at our place this weekend - everyone's okay). It's real life in all of its messiness and fun.
- Check bathrooms - switch out hand towel if needed.
- Check coffee and refill if needed.
- Refill punch as needed.
- Sit down, eat, and visit with your guests.
- After everyone seems to be done with the main dishes, switch to desserts.
- I always clean up as soon as the last guests have left, so it's done. We all chip in - my boys gather stray dishes and napkins from around the house, and it really doesn't take long to get the kitchen sorted out.
- You may find that you need to sweep and mop the floors if, you know, your kid falls down most of the stairs with a cup of punch in his hand. (He's fine.)
Who knew I had so much to say about potlucks? I guess this post has been almost a decade in the making.
And now, the recipes!
This cranberry salsa was a HUGE hit. I was asked by no fewer than five people for the recipe, and it was probably one of the best tasting things I've made this year. I made it a few hours before the potluck using frozen cranberries and it worked just fine; I only used one jalapeno, but two would be great. I served it with wheat thins over a block of cream cheese; any sturdy cracker would do!
In the audio, you'll hear my friend Donald (husband to Barb) describing the recipe for a family favourite in their house - a Lemon Sponge Pudding. It was so lemony and delicious!
Andrew (husband to Katie) described the main dish he made, and Katie explains in detail how to make a popular Christmas treat around here - Christmas Crack. (There are no crackers in her version, and I prefer it!)
And I made up this star bread recipe the evening before - it was a hit! I warmed it in the oven and took it out just before the first guests arrived. Its second rise lasted a bit longer than I would have liked (there was something else in the oven) so it was a tad puffier than anticipated. But still delicious!
I'll be back in March with a new post and podcast episode. In the meantime, may you have a lovely holiday season filled with family, friends and good food to share. Merry Christmas!