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Potluck Dinners: The Tradition That Must Die

On those rare (and now nonexistent) occasions when Id have a dinner party at my house, no one was allowed to bring anything. I was having people over for dinner. I invited people to my home. That meant I would be supplying all the necessary components anyone would want for a complete and enjoyable meal, from beginning to belt-loosening end.

If someone showed up with a bottle of wine, great. (I admit I always do.) But I was always careful to also tell first-timers my rule for coming over for eats. And, if after hearing those rules, you still asked what you should bring, my response would be, Everything. And I would enforce it. It was now that individuals responsibility to cater the dinner. I was merely providing the space.

A touch hardcore? Perhaps. Cruel? Just to a slightly enjoyable degree. Heartless? Well . . . yes, absolutely. But it was, I felt, the only way I could teach an unforgettable lesson in what constitutes throwing an actual dinner party.

I dont want 13 salads, as many as five based on couscous, anywhere near my kitchen. Dont bring me great handhewn wood bowls of arugula dressed with sunflower oil unless I can also have your woman for the night as part of the bargain (which may or not be part of an ancient Inuit tradition, depending on whom you talk to).

I recall in cringing horror showing up at any number of potlucks and being the only person who had brought any protein-based (not counting soy, TVP, or their many unattractive cousins) edible material, in many cases a side of smoked salmon. As soon as I walked in the door with it, all eyes especially those of the children, whose stares were like those from the classic science-fiction film Village of the Damned were on me. And they all silently asked the same question: Where are you going to set it down? And will you step away from it fast enough to save your own skin?

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