Potluck Panic Syndrome strikes when an email glides into the mailbox overnight to announce something to the following effect: “The High School Parents’ Swim Board is organizing the Awards Banquet. In the past, the dishes have been very, very good. Bring your best.”
“Nate! What will I do? It has to be good. It has to be good!” I say, while nearly shaking him by the shoulders.
“Bring the salad,” he says.
I know which salad he means. It’s one my mother brought to potlucks and it was a hit every time. It’s not even my mother’s recipe. I suspect she ate this salad at a potluck once and asked for the recipe from a friend, who probably got it from a magazine.
“But it’s not an original recipe,” I whine.
“This is no time to mess around. Just bring the salad,” Nate says.
I try to resist. I try to come up with a new recipe, but I just can’t. So, I break down and make the salad, which has almonds for crunch, a sweet and savory curry dressing, fresh grapes, and mandarin oranges.
The day of the banquet, I stop everything and start prepping. Since I don’t want the lettuce to wilt, I pack the dressing separately and, since the almond slivers are toasted in butter, I keep them away from the delicate leaves as well and pack them in a plastic baggie.
When Nate comes home, we throw on our church clothes and speed away to the high school cafeteria to start setting up the salad. When we arrive, we realize we’re the only ones dressed in church clothes, but Alex looks quite handsome in his light blue button-down shirt and khaki pants. We’re also the only ones who have brought a whisk, just because I think I should whisk the dressing before pouring it all over the salad first. In fact, I think I’m pretty clever and I believe I’ve thought of everything—except for portable stain removal for khaki pants, which I’ll get to in a moment.
After a little bit of a production, I get the salad onto the potluck table, toss in the almonds, and take the lid off the salad dressing container. Then, I whip out my handy whisk and stir the dressing vigorously before pouring it onto the salad. Nate is helping me as well. When I look up, I realize people are watching the “show,” which most definitely looks strange. They are probably thinking, “Why does it take two people to set up a salad and who the hell brings a whisk to a banquet?”
Meanwhile, I’m happy to see Alex mingling with all of his friends and we’re relieved that the parents get to go through the potluck line first. Nate and I are actually enjoying ourselves at this point and beginning to relax. However, just before the presentation of awards is about to begin, Nate suddenly looks upset.
“What’s wrong with the salad?” I ask—assuming that there’s something wrong with the salad because nothing else could possibly be wrong at the moment.
“Alex spilled red Gatorade all down the front of his pants,” he whispers to me.
I look up to see Alex, who is trying to inch his way towards the bathroom, but I can’t see the stains from where I’m sitting. Nate gets up and helps him wrap his coat as best as he can around his middle, before leaving my side and running home to get Alex’s jeans. Meanwhile, what else can I do but pray the Swim Mom Awards Banquet Prayer? (See below.)
“Please God, don’t let my son win any awards. Don’t let him win any awards.”
But, he wins both his varsity letter and an academic award before Nate makes it back with a pair of jeans, which means Alex has had to get up in front of everyone twice and get his picture taken, while I frantically change my prayer:
“Let the cameras malfunction. Let the cameras malfunction.”
My prayer is not answered. I hear lots of clicks and see camera flashes. When Nate makes it back, Alex has a little bit of time to change into the jeans before going up for his final award—and Nate and I are very proud of him. Not because he is winning awards, but because he is mastering the art of holding his coat quite naturally in front of his crotch and smiling for the camera. Nice job, Alex!
Now, I know what you’re all thinking at this moment: “But what about the salad? Was it the ‘real winner’ that night?” I have no idea. Usually, it’s quite a hit, but there was so much going on and so many delicious things to eat that no one really came up for air to make comments. However, I can offer this anecdote: A woman at our table took a bite of the salad and said, “Curry powder! I wasn’t expecting that.” Then, she took another bite and repeated, “I wasn’t expecting that.”
Her comment, I believe serves as a lesson for the evening. There were a lot of things we weren’t expecting that night. So, to prepare for the unexpected—if you decide to make and bring this salad to a potluck where red drinks are served—arm yourself with the following:
–a change of clothes for the entire family.
Recipe: Curry Dressing Salad—Potluck size:
–two large containers of salad spring mix
–3-4 cups of red grapes, cut in half
–30 oz can of mandarin orange slices (Drain the oranges and cut the segments in half)
–3 cups of slivered almonds—or more—people fight over them since they are toasted in butter.
–1-2 tablespoons of butter
— 1 cup of olive oil
–2/3 cup of white wine vinegar
–4 tablespoons of brown sugar
–2 tablespoons of soy sauce
–2 tablespoons of curry powder
–2 cloves of garlic—chopped
–Toast the almonds in butter, in a saucepan, over medium heat, until they are slightly browned. Then, let them dry/cool down on a paper towel.
–Place the salad into a large tray or foil pan for carrying to the potluck.
–Mix in the grapes and the mandarin oranges.
–Make the dressing separately: combine the olive oil, vinegar, brown sugar, soy sauce, curry powder, and garlic cloves. Whisk well.
–At the potluck, sprinkle the almonds onto the salad and pour on the salad dressing. Don’t forget your whisk! (Whisking in front of an audience serves as pre-potluck entertainment.)
Your Turn: What’s your favorite potluck item to make, buy, or eat?