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organizing a Thanksgiving potluck

by Yee-Fan Sun
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I'm my motherís daughter -- which means my natural inclination, given an opportunity to host a big group of friends or relatives, is to spend the entire week in advance running around all over town in search of the perfect ingredients and laboring away in the kitchen. Working completely from scratch and all by your lonesome, it takes a lot of advance work to ensure you donít go completely nuts come party day. Most of the time, I only barely succeed on that last front; by now, my poor boy knows itís best to stay out of my way when Iím in the last throes of party food prep, just in case some last-minute mini-disaster unleashes my inner hysteric.

I love feeding folks; I get the warm fuzzies envisioning my favorite people all gathered around my dinner table. But when I really think about it, itís the second thatís most important at any gathering. Which is why Iím slowly coming around to the joys of potluck.

At big holidays like Thanksgiving especially, potlucks are often the most sensible choice. Meals like these are chock full of expectations; thereís a lot of pressure to recreate everyoneís favorite food memories of holiday spreads past. Even for those of us who love to cook, thereís no question that busy lives sometimes make procuring a full-course, picture-perfect Thanksgiving meal for 12 more stressful than fun. For those still new to the wide world of possibilities in the realm of oven and stove, itís enough to put you off hosting turkey day altogether.

So thank goodness that thereís another way. If youíre not going home to the annual family gathering this Thanksgiving and youíre trying to figure out some way to celebrate the big day on your own with friends, save yourself a whole lot of headache: organize a potluck. Check out these tips for host and guest alike, for a sumptuous spread thatís sure to be a successÖ

for the host
Potlucks are among the easier dinner parties to plan, but still: a little advance work on your part will go a long way towards making sure the gatheringís fun for you and guests alike.

First things first: start spreading the word about your potluck as soon as the idea pops into your head. Get a feel for how many folks are planning to stick around town, and who might be up for a shared feast. The beginning of November is when most people start firming up their holiday plans, so if you havenít already started bandying the idea around, do it now. No need to worry too much about the size of your guest list either: with potlucks, more is generally fabulous, as youíll get a bigger variety of dishes without much extra work for you, the busy host/ess. On the other hand, if you do find youíve waited too long and a lot of your pals already have turkey day plans, no worries: even if itís just a handful of you, small can be cozy and just as much fun.

Once you start getting an idea of what kind of crowd youíre talking about, itís time to take inventory of your cooking, serving and eating supplies. Roasting pan and rack? Baster? Ice chest for chilling drinks? Serving platters? Dishes and cutlery? Make a list, and if thereís anything you need but donít already have, ask around to see if one of your guests might be able to loan theirs for the big day.

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