E-coli all ye faithful

I’d like to think that I’m not all that particular about my food. I’m pretty adventurous in my eating habits, and will happily (if sometimes squeamishly) tuck into strange parts of strange animals if they’re proferred in my general direction. Blood, guts and entrails are all happily welcomed on the Brit Out Of Water menu, even if I do draw the line at tripe. Put simply, I’m not a picky eater – invite me to your house and I’ll eat whatever is put infront of me.

As it happens, the few things that I don’t particularly like to eat are central to the American way of life. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t generally eat eggs. This means that on the average breakfast menu in a diner, the only item that I can sometimes bring myself to eat is the menu itself. It’s fine if you put steak sauce all over it, to be honest, although I’ve had to give up laminated menus because of high blood pressure.

I don’t eat beetroot. I don’t desperately enjoy (although will still eat) bitter greens like broccoli rabe. And while not unique to the United States, I’d rather put pureed head lice on my burger than ketchup. Apart from that though, I’m the most laid back eater you’ll ever find.

Where my culinary openness ends though is with an American tradition that shakes me to my core, and causes me to shudder at the mere thought. It’s only in season for a short period each year thankfully, but during that time you can find yourself in food hell at least once a week. Turning it down isn’t an option, unless you want to adopt an air of anti-festivity that would make Bernard Madoff look like the people’s champion by comparison.

There’s no place for potluck dinners in this day and age, if you ask me.

For the uninitiated, the potluck dinner sees all attendees bring a dish of their choosing to the event, for everybody to share and enjoy. It’s an impressive display of community which generally happens around the Thanksgiving or Christmas holiday seasons, although the seriously unhinged have been known to try it at other points during the year. And to be fair, the principle is good, allowing the party host to engage in festive frivolities without the stress and strain of making food for dozens of people.

But the problem isn’t in the principle, it’s in the execution.

For a start, unless the potluck is organised to within an inch of its life, it can lead to some unholy combinations. I mean, pumpkin curry has its place, but it’s not on the same plate as roast chicken. Of course, there’s always somebody who brings their old family recipe for stuffing, made largely from dust and toenail clippings. And who needs eighteen different types of pumpkin pie, given that even one plate of the noxious substance would be enough to keep me dry retching for at least a week?

More to the point though, it’s the lack of clarity on the food hygiene standards of eighty three different people that sets me on edge. Let’s face it, these events are only called ‘potluck’ as it’s anyone’s guess whether you’ll get away without a serious dose of food poisoning. I mean, I know that I cook in clean pans and don’t use carrots that have been dropped on the floor to be licked by the cats, but that’s not to say that everybody is so fastidious. As I stare into the gloop of a lukewarm turkey gravy cooked by Andy Onymous, I’m not thinking “mmm, look at that glorious deep and flavourful stock” but “I wonder if he had a cold when he cooked this?”

I spend most of my time at potluck parties standing around the thing that I’ve cooked, or that’s been catered by the host. I know caterers are more than capable of their own crimes against domestic health, but at least I haven’t sat watching them pick their nose on eight separate occasions in the three days leading up to the event.

Still, the potlucks are all over for another year, and it’s home cooking all the way from here on in. I hope The In-Laws are looking forward to black pudding, that’s all I can say.

7 thoughts on “E-coli all ye faithful

  1. Karen

    I wonder if you would be so willing to try new things, if you had been in my hotel today. It is Thorlaksmessa, which is when they cook Skate(ray) There are no words to describe the smell that soaked into every nook and cranny from your hair to the furniture.
    I was told the chefs wore masks.. Apparently it tastes alright, but I am sure my gag reflex will never allow me to know 😉


  2. Sven

    Aaargh! Eggs! Last time I was in the US (Atlanta) the woman in the diner spent about ten minutes checking that all I wanted was a cheese toastie for breakfast. When I explained I didn’t like eggs, she actually rolled her eyes and tutted. What is the obsession? As for the potluck dinner, I like them, but I only invite six people at a time and I’m a control freak. Seems to work well.

  3. Alasdair

    Dylan – you are proposing the treatment for an episode of “Monk”, are you not ? (grin)

    Ancient Wisdom concerning Potlucks –

    1) Bring at east 1 dish you *know* you like …
    2) If concerned about not gaining more basic immunities, stick to the well-cooked dishes brought by others …
    3) Keep strictly Kosher at potlucks – it’s sorta like an early Boy Scout Handbook for eating where hygeine is suspect …

    Sounds like you’ve already learned 1) … the rest will become second-nature, eventually …

  4. Silverback

    With you on the potluck although we’re having a variation of it for NY’s eve. A group of us will start here at our place for ….well starters. Then we’ll all move to a 2nd house for the entree, on to a 3rd house for dessert and finally to the 4th house for nibbles, booze and games to see in the NY. I think I’ll need the booze to help sterilise my stomach.

    Hey we never said it would be traditional !!

    They also do a big park meal for everyone here tomorrow. The owners provide the basics and everyone brings another item. Yes, you can imagine the tables groaning under the weight of food items prepared by oldies with upwards of 70 years of cooking/baking experience from numerous US states and Canada !

    Because of this, we’re staying at home and fixing steaks on the bbq. Sod tradition, it’s what we want. Oh and I’ll introduce my friends to Spotted Dick and Birds custard for dessert.

    Happy Christmas and a jolly New Year to you, Dylan

  5. Expat Mum

    As long as no one brings the disgusting green bean casserole you’ll be fine. What is it with that dish? yuck. They even have all the ingredients stacked together in the supermarkets for convenience. And they would be – tinned green beans, tinned fried onions rings and concentrated mushroom soup. Pour the soup over the beans, sprinkle with the onion rings and bake. Yuck, yuck, yuck. Sorry.

  6. Carole Lanno

    I took today as a vacation day, partly to avoid the Christmas potluck lunch at work. Last potluck I went to I nearly died from food poisoning .Not sure if it was the curried goat or marshmallow fruit salad that did it.

  7. Matthew Marcus

    If you think not being able to eat eggs is bad, you should try not being able to eat meat – at least in a red state. I remember one Florida restaurateur explaining snippily to us that yes, every one of the salads did have meat in it and no, it was not possible to have one without.

    Also, I don’t see why it needs to be a choice. Pureed head lice AND ketchup, for the win.

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