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.
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.”
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.
“The heart of hospitality is about creating space for someone to feel seen and heard and loved. It's about declaring your table a safe zone, a place of warmth and nourishment.”
― Shauna Niequist, Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes
Potlucks, I believe, can change the world. They provide an easy way to fundraise, to host speakers, to bring people with diverse views and backgrounds together to talk about issues, and to get people working toward a common goal. To help you thinking about how you might use potlucks to foster community and, perhaps, make change, I've gathered some inspiring ideas I've seen over the last year.
Peace promotion. A number of YMCAs, churches, mosques, and synagogues have hosted Potlucks for Peace to get people talking about challenging issues, like race relations, immigration, and religious freedom. Host a potluck with the specific intent of fostering conversation around such a topic. Consider having speakers or panel discussions at the event.
Local foodshed support. A friend recently reminded me that supporting the local-food economy, including farmers and small-scale producers, is an unexpected act of patriotism. Many communities already host locavore-minded potlucks, but if yours doesn't, consider starting one. Use it not only to share a meal but to discuss ways to support your local farmers, soup kitchens, and food pantries.
Community solidarity. When a controversial, hate-promoting speaker passed through San Luis Obispo, California, the mayor suggested that upset residents hold potlucks to support the affected community members. The lesson: Sitting down and breaking bread together can help create a sense of security and solidarity against hate.
Fundraising. Last spring, Bernie Sanders supporters held potluck fundraisers that helped the presidential candidate raise some of that April's total of $26.9 million, almost all of which came from small donations. Choose a cause—perhaps supporting your local homeless shelter or animal rescue—and ask friends to bring a dish as well as a small donation. Even better, find a way to make that cause go viral.
Activism. There's a surge of interest in activism after the election. Use potlucks to have teach-ins, with seasoned activists leading the charge. Or simply invite friends over to write postcards to your lawmakers.