Deviled eggs are a potluck classic, but if you want to make something even easier, try this egg salad. By grating the eggs instead of chopping, the salad has a light, elegant texture. Tossed with mint, lemon juice, and olive oil, it's also completely mayo-free. The recipe is from the new book, Unforgettable, about the life stories and best recipes from cookbook author Paula Wolfert.
Last week, I published this story on Taste about how people are using potlucks and dinners as a force for good all over the country. I featured one particular potluck I attended last month in Hopewell, New Jersey, created by a new organization called Foodies for Refugees. I found it especially inspiring that the organizer, Maricel Hermann, pulled off this great event even though she only recently moved to town. She also had very little event planning experience. It proved to me that anyone with a mission can create a similar event.
A few days after the potluck, I chatted with Hermann about her efforts behind the scenes. "I had three different goals," she says. "I wanted to raise awareness about the plight of the refugees. I wanted to eat really good, international food, which you can't always find in Hopewell. And I wanted to bring the community together."
At first, she thought she'd host a catered event, but with no budget, she decided to make it a potluck. She skipped charging a ticket price in favor of asking for suggested donations, with all of the money going toward a refugee resettlement organization called InterfaithRISE.
She admits, she was nervous about the potluck format in the beginning. Because of her career as a financial-industry projects manager, she say she thought constantly about risk. "I wrote down all of the risks and had contingency plans. My biggest fear was that 10 people who committed to bringing entrees wouldn't show," she says. She had money on hand and a phone number so she could call for pizza if necessary, but her fear proved to be unfounded. Not one of the 133 people on the RSVP list canceled. And everyone, as far as she knows, contributed what they signed up to bring. Here, she shares some tips and lessons learned for throwing a large potluck fundraiser.
Find a venue. She knew from the beginning she wanted to host a big event. With no budget, she needed to find donated space. She had once attended a meeting at the local Presbyterian church, which has a huge basement and commercial kitchen. As long as the potluck stayed focused on the humanitarian aspects of the refugee crisis and not the politics, she was able to use the church for the potluck. She did need to purchase liability insurance and follow their clean-up instructions. "Only fair," she says.
Manage the menu. If you don't care if five people bring deviled eggs and no one brings a main course, this step is not necessary. The Global Table, which I featured recently, did not ask people to sign up for dishes in advance. For Hermann, however, she wanted to make sure there was balance to the menu. "At one point, I was telling people, no more chicken dishes with rice!" she says. She created a spreadsheet that lived on GoogleDrive, which people could access and change. (This checklist I created includes questions to ask when you book a venue.)
Stagger the arrivals. Hermann started the potluck at 7 to accommodate families with kids. She liked the early start, but not the crush of people who all came at once. Next time, Hermann says, she'll ask people with appetizers to arrive a little earlier.
Ask for plenty of volunteers. Hermann had a group of volunteers, but she didn't anticipate the set-up would require as much work as the clean-up. "I thought we'd set up in no time, but it was actually more work than I thought," she says. Luckily, a group of Boy Scouts were meeting at the church, so they helped her move around tables.
Have office supplies on hand. "At one point, I needed some tape. At another, scissors. These little things became stressors during the set-up and the evening." Next time, she'll buy these things in advance.
Ask people to label their dishes. Some of the cooks created signs for their dishes that included whether they were gluten-free or vegan. Hermann says she'll ask everyone to do this next time.
Plan a silent auction. Hermann decided against having entertainment because she wanted people to engage in conversation. But she did coordinate a silent auction, which she considers one of the successes of the event. Not only did the auction help raise money, but she says it gave people something to do before it was time to sit down. "It's especially nice for people who don't know anyone and are shy," she says.
Think about decor. "It was a no-budget affair, so I figured tablecloths weren't necessary," she says. At the last minute, she made a run to the party store and bought whatever color table covers she could. "They really did make a difference," she says. A local florist donated flowers and vases for the tables.
Hermann is now creating a cookbook of recipes from the event to sell to benefit InterfaithRISE. If you're inspired to throw your own large potluck, you can download a copy of the Potluck Nation: Checklist for Organizers to help you with the planning.
After the President signed the first executive order banning immigrants from seven majority Muslim countries, Ashley Shaw felt compelled to do something. "My friends and I were heartbroken about the message this executive order sends to refugees and immigrants who are already here," she says. Last month, they launched The Global Table, a series of potlucks in Cleveland, Ohio, geared toward celebrating, welcoming, and protecting the local immigrant community.
"Sharing food is the best way to bring people together," says Shaw. Thanks to her position as the Economic and Planning Manager at Ohio City Incorporated, she knew the perfect venue for the first event: The Cleveland Hostel, which has hosted travelers from over 60 countries.
The organizers promoted the event through local media and businesses, and because they didn't ask people to RSVP for the event, no one knew what to expect. "Every seat was full," says Shaw. Throughout the 3-hour event, about 100 guests showed up, including immigrants from Egypt, Nepal, Switzerland, Mexico, Turkey, Nigeria, China, Columbia, and Canada.
People brought food that represented their heritage or places they've traveled. Some of the dishes included paella, Turkish pastry rolls, Syrian pastries, and a huge pan of homemade cavatelli. The event also featured a crafts station for kids and a performance by a local band, Global Connection, which kept people dancing until the very end.
I'm thrilled to send the organizers signed copies of my cookbook. The Global Table illustrates a bit of what Potluck Nation is all about.
Frank conversations about race are challenging, but Indianapolis chef Tanorria Askew is trying to make them a little easier.
Until last year, Askew worked in human resources for a credit union, where she focused on diversity and inclusion issues. Encouraged by a friend, she auditioned for Master Chef and was chosen to compete in Season 7, where she made it to the Top 4 and earned high praise for her shrimp and grits. (Judge Gordon Ramsay called them the best in the history of the show.) After Master Chef, she left her day job and launched Tanorria’s Table, a multi-faceted private chef service.
Using her background from the credit union and her passion for feeding others, Askew brings together people every few months with the goal of talking about diversity, racial reconciliation, and sometimes, faith. Called Unity Tables, Askew hosts the dinners in a different person’s home each time. She usually provides the food but she has also done the dinners potluck-style when time is tight.
While she thinks her training in diversity issues helps her facilitate conversations and de-escalate potential conflicts, she does think it’s possible for others to host their own Unity Tables. Below, she shares a few tips.
1. Consciously diversify your table. “Invite people who don’t look and think like you to the dinner to have an open dialogue. This is the most important thing," she says
2. Keep the dinners intimate. “I invite as many people as will fit at the host’s table—that’s usually between 8 and 15. If the dinner is larger, you'll need to split into smaller groups and have more facilitators.”
3. Appoint a facilitator. Askew recommends asking someone to lead who has experience with diversity and inclusion issues. If that’s not possible, she suggests that at least one person check out the Latasha Morrison’s videos and guides at Be The Bridge, which first inspired her Unity Tables. “Her work is faith-based, but your conversation does not have to focus on any particular religion,” she says. When Tanorria facilitates, she always starts by asking people what their ethnicity is, which often brings up complex answers. At the end, she always ends the conversation with the question, "Now what are we going to do?”
4. Declare the table a safe space. “Make sure people know, what happens at the table stays at the table,” she says.
5. Prepare people in advance. “It’s important people not come to the table with an agenda and the hopes of changing minds. The dinners should not be political or a place for people to vent their anger. The goal is for people to share experiences and to listen to them.”
This easy tart relies on store-bought puff pastry and is perfect for potlucks.Read More
Hosting a potluck is an easy way to draw attention to the issue of food insecurity in your area. Not only can you ask your guests to make a donation, but you can set aside the time to talk about ways to help locally. I attended a seminar recently led by Ellen Damaschino of Cooking Matters and Lindsey Seegers of Manna Food Center. They shared five things hunger-related organizations need most.
1. Money: Food donations are always appreciated, but pantries can stretch dollars farther because they buy food in larger quantities with significant discounts. If you feel comfortable, ask your friends to bring a small monetary donation (perhaps what they would have spent on a more formal dinner party) in addition to their dish.
2. Protein sources: If you'd prefer to donate non-perishable food, Seegers said no- or low-sodium canned salmon, tuna, beans, and nut butters are more valuable than sodium laden canned soups.
3. Fresh food: Many people are afraid to donate fresh food for liability reasons, but in 1996, Congress passed The Federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, which allows people to give fresh food in good faith without fear of retribution. This doesn't mean every pantry will accept it, of course, so you'll need to call ahead. Even if you don't donate fresh food directly from your potluck, tell your guests about the Act. It's also worth talking about whether your area has a program to rescue excess food from farms. (In my region, there is a terrific gleaning organization called Rolling Harvest.)
4. Volunteers: Food pantries need year-round helpers to receive and sort food in warehouses and help with distribution. Those with cooking or nutrition skills can volunteer through Cooking Matters to teach families healthy recipes or how to strategically shop the grocery store. Talk about ways each guest at your potluck might be able to help.
5. Advocates: SNAP benefits and school breakfast and lunch programs could be threatened by forthcoming changes in laws. Use an app like Countable to follow legislation, and at your potluck, write some postcards to your lawmakers if necessary to encourage them to support programs that fight food insecurity.
A creamy cashew cream sauce is the secret to this plant-based lasagna.Read More
Other than voting, writing postcards to your local lawmakers is one of the easiest ways to participate in US democracy and let your voice be heard. I’m helping organize a larger postcard-writing event in my town, so I recently hosted a potluck with friends to help me prepare. The main lesson I learned? Make everything as easy as possible for your guests. Here are five tips for hosting your own postcard-writing party.
- Get your supplies together. Unless you announce it’s BYOP, you’ll want to provide the postcards. If you're a fan of The Women’s March, you can use the graphic they provide. You can also design your own cards through online shops like Vistaprint or use store-bought postcards. Think about whether you’ll provide pens and stamps as well. You can always ask guests to chip in for these supplies.
- Provide the names and addresses of local lawmakers. Create a list of your senators, federal representatives, and state representatives with their addresses. (I like to include the DC address as well as the address for at least one local office.) On the list, include the legislators’ political parties and maybe a few bullet points about where they stand on hot-button issues.
- Write up a one-page guide about how-to write a postcard. If you want, you can just crib this language.
- Include your name and address somewhere on the postcard.
- In the first line, mention you are registered to vote in the lawmaker’s district. (Super duper important!)
- Quickly double check how your lawmakers lean on an issue. If they agree with you, thank them for their support, especially when they are vote against the party line. If they don’t, let them know you disagree and are watching.
- Don’t worry about overwhelming a note with statistics. Share your opinion in a firm, polite, thoughtful way.
- If you have a personal story that relates to an issue, use that. It’s more powerful than general text.
- Provide sample language. People are chatty at parties, so make postcard writing easy by suggesting a few sentences. For example, when I hosted, a friend wrote, "Affordable healthcare is not a luxury—it is a necessity. Please work for those whose options are limited by their income. Healthy citizens = a productive, great nation." Short and opinionated. That’s all you need.
- Share your party. Inspire friends and followers to have a postcard-writing potluck by sharing it on social media. If you’re on Instagram, tag the photo with #potlucknation. ☺
Hosting a weekly dinner doesn't sound revolutionary, but writer and editor Sarah Grey found the habit changed her life. She created the dinners, called Friday Night Meatballs, in 2013 to battle the isolation she feels working from home and to make time for a social life, which faded after having her daughter, Lucia. The payoffs, including a stronger sense of community and a weekly dose of stress relief, have been extraordinary for her family.
After nine months of hosting the dinners, she wrote a beautiful piece about them for Serious Eats which instantly went viral. Now, she hears from people all over the world who have been inspired to have similar dinners. I recently caught up with Sarah to get some of her hard-earned hosting lessons, especially in light of the current political climate. Her tips:
Invite people who will keep it fun. Sarah loves bringing together disparate groups of people and those with diverse viewpoints. To make sure the night is relaxing for everyone, however, she draws the line at bigotry to ensure all guests feel safe.
Invite kids if you can. "It's hard to get too serious when you're interrupted by a little stampede of people coming downstairs to make a blanket tent," she says.
Ask friends to bring sides, drinks, and desserts. Keep it easy on yourself and make it a potluck, of sorts.
Be prepared for dietary restrictions. While meatballs with pasta are always on the menu, Sarah keeps a box of falafel mix on hand for vegetarians and gluten-free pasta for those who can't eat the usual stuff. She says making these items part of her pantry keeps it easy for everyone.
Wait until dessert to discuss politics. By the time people have eaten dinner, they've found common ground, so there's a lot less rancor when sensitive or challenging subjects are discussed.
I'm so excited to launch Potluck Nation! As an extra incentive to get you around the table, I'm giving away three signed copies of my cookbook, Modern Potluck.
To enter the contest, host a potluck with a specific theme or intent during the month of March. (This post will get you started with ideas.) After your event, share a photo of it on Instagram with a little story and be sure to use the hashtag #potlucknation. During the week of April 3, I will use the hashtag to choose the three most inspiring potluck stories and send the winners a book. You do NOT need to make or share recipes from Modern Potluck to enter. Here, the fine print.