Wednesday, February 15, 2012

If It Weren’t For Potluck (we’d have no luck at all)

Repas partagé, aka potluck, is recognized linguistically by both our official languages, although the latter sounds far less romantic than the former. Still, the concept of potluck has been romanticized pretty much since the beginning of time.
 When a company I worked for decided to have potluck to celebrate its 10th anniversary, I held strong to the tradition of the communal feast and opted to provide the hungry horde with buns, either as a stomach-starter pre-meal or as a leftovers mop just prior to dessert. (At my own family repas, he or she providing the yeast product is adulated, a hero worshiped as reverently as the Grand Poobah of the Water Buffaloes.) To my complete embarrassment at our company party, however, I discovered that when it comes to the modern-day phenomenon known as potluck etiquette, the bread bringer is often looked upon as little more than the crumbs their contribution leaves on the floor.
In the Middle Ages, anything edible was warmly accepted at potluck; apparently the event has evolved from sharing an enjoyable meal to fighting for bragging rights over platter presentation. Participants often slave over a hot stove for hours using ingredients that no one in the Western world can pronounce. Nothing short of a Martha Stewart masterpiece is good enough. Food is no longer strewn about a central table for all to attack but is introduced one platter at a time, with accompanying testimonials such as, “I used a pinch of this and a dab of that and let it softly simmer until the yolk began to parfait,” or “this recipe was passed down from my great-great-great-great grandmother in Sicily, 1806. It’s a family secret.” Each presentation and analysis drew hearty applause from the hungry onlookers.
When it was time for me to introduce my buns I was stymied for a tale to tell.  “I brought 48 dinner rolls,” I started. The crowd appeared to be waiting attentively for the chili or soup they apparently believed must have been riding shotgun. To their dismay, I produced no side dish but rather a sad story of a young, underpaid clerical worker who put in long, hard hours at the office only to trudge home on foot to an above-the-garage apartment half way across town, stopping only at the grocery store where I waited impatiently in line behind the elderly lady with the impressive penny collection in her change purse and the unfortunate fellow who couldn’t produce his club member card for 10 percent off his asparagus. I relayed these details of my hours spent leading up the partagé ... the hardship I endured in reaching the decision to bring 48 dinner rolls instead of 36, having to choose white over brown and fresh over stale, even though the stale was a full dollar cheaper. But I found very little sympathy coming my  way, only stares of scorn.
“At least my buns did not require any prep work,” I shot back at them (not audibly, of course, just inside my head). “No standing in line to use the microwave to heat up a midnight creation that takes the entire length of the meal to reheat. Trust me, tater tots are better served with the main course rather than after the brownies and mincemeat pie.”
One thing I had to wonder as I walked home later that night: Since etiquette insists that non-homemade dishes are unacceptable, how did the shrimp ring find its way onto the table. I knew none of my co-workers were talented enough to catch the shrimp themselves, de-head them and lay them in a circular fashion on the plate. Why was my offering of bread any different?
Maybe I’ll also bring butter next time, see how that goes.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Do You Want Fries With That?!

I try to be a good husband.  I’ll do just about anything for my wife. So when she was too tired to cook one night last week I offered to take the drive to Ralfin’ Ronnies to pick up a ‘quick’ meal.  Wifey claims the Hamburger Happy Meals are the perfect portion size. 
The drive to the Golden Arches is barely two minutes from our home and I spent it basking in pride at my good deed for the day, coupled with excitement at the thought of sinking my teeth into one of Ronnie’s coveted, tender cheeseburgers, since I was going to feed myself as well. (Hey, if she thought I was bringing her change from her 20, she was sadly mistaken.)  
Suddenly I found myself at the moment of truth -- the order desk, where my success rate at correctly placing Ronnie’s orders is 50-50 at best. We rarely get to dine at this fine establishment as my wife insists we eat “healthy”.  So when I find myself in the McHouse, my palms begin to sweat with excitement and my ability to recall my wife’s exact order often escapes me.
This time, though, I remembered. I asked for a hamburger meal.  My order was immediately challenged.  “What kind of hamburger meal, sir?”
“You know, a hamburger meal ... a hamburger with fries and a coke,” I explained.
“We don’t have a hamburger meal, sir,” she countered.
At this point my palms turned to hot butter, armpit sweat trickled down to my lower ribs and my heart raced. My knees buckled as I sensed the crowd of teenagers converging around me. I scanned the brightly lit billboard and recognized the word ‘hamburger’, at which I sheepishly nodded. 
“Oh a Hamburger HAPPY Meal” she exclaimed, audible enough for the patrons at the Mickey Dees at the opposite end of town to hear. The kid with the long hairnet working fries shot a sudden look over his left shoulder and missed his target completely with the salt-shaker; the four employees working Drive Thru stopped in their tracks, jaws dropped. One of the newly licensed 16-year-olds behind me wondered aloud, “did that old guy just order a Happy Meal?”
Then the delightful order-taker inquired if I’d prefer a girl toy or a boy toy. All remained in suspended animation for my reply. Figuring there’s nothing at this point I can do or say to alleviate the embarrassment already heaped upon me, I loudly declared, “GIRL TOY, PLEASE!”
I exited the building forgetting to order for myself and promptly returned home with a pre-cooked meal, an entertaining tale and some 15 bucks in change, all of which was met with a bright-eyed smile and a kiss for thanks.
I repaired to the kitchen to make a tuna sandwich and poured myself a glass of milk, then laughed at the realization that, through all of it, things actually worked out in my favour.
Happy wife, happy life.