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Friendsgiving.

I’ve got a love/hate relationship with potluck suppers. I do love the surprise. There’s no set menu. You arrive to find an entire buffet of homemade food, but you have no idea what each dish will be. Like Golden Corral without the spectre of salmonella.

But I hate them too. Because of the self-imposed pressure to perform. Whenever I’m invited to a potluck two thoughts come into my head: What can I bring that’s tasty. And what can I bring that takes almost no effort? While I realize these two things are not always compatible, they end up important because invariably I’m invited to a potluck during a week when I have a dentist appointment, three deadlines, two visitors, a dirty house, and I feel a cold coming on. My head understands no one is standing behind me with a “You Did Good” clipboard to check off. Still, a part of me wants to drop off a gorgeous golden-crusted concoction oozing deliciousness and have everyone exclaim, “You brought that?! Wow!” A part of me wants to win the potluck game.

Potlucks weren’t always so cutthroat in my head. When I was a poor college student and the larder was bare, I went to a few potlucks, not many, as my friends cocktailed, never cooked.* The ones I did attend were Stone Soup affairs. Folks brought what they had and we made do. Usually with cheap jug wine or Milwaukee’s “Beast”. I recall a special New Year’s Eve Gumbo Potluck in particular where everyone got drunk on sangria, then watched “When Buildings Collapse!” on Fox.

The competitive spirit creeped in the older I got. Maybe it was some twisted leftover childhood trauma from how I used to brag excessively about my mother’s cooking, then for our French dinner in middle school she dropped off a sad-looking green bean casserole. I recall a Christmas party in my twenties where I made chocolate paté from the “Great Chefs of San Francisco”. It took hours. And it made a shit-ton. I was eating chocolate paté in July. Not that’s a bad thing. Then there were the neighborhood picnics where I sweated and slaved over massaged kale like it was an Olympic hopeful before saying, “Fuck It!” and making a cold semi-Asian chicken salad from my Dinner Doctor cookbook.

I blame Food Porn, or what I lovingly call “Food Pron”. Ever since food became fetish it has to be camera ready. Dripping in delicious succulence and ready for its closeup. Which means it probably has to be fancy. Or at least involve bacon or tweezers. Because comforting casseroles and deviled eggs don’t scream, “Do me now! Do me hard!”

Case in point. The Friendsgiving event I attended a few weeks ago hosted by Our Local Commons. Now I love this event. I look forward to it every year. Local food purveyors, restaurant folks, and enthusiasts gather with their potluck offerings to give thanks, to drink local cider and beer, to gorge, and to collect funds for a local charity. And every year I sweat what to bring. Because these guys are professionals. And I’m just a scribbler who aligns herself with the professionals and hopes they’ll allow her to join the party.

And every year the food is stunning. Just Bon Appétit meets Gourmet magazine stunning. Without the benefit of food stylists. This year was no exception. Sizzling bacon-wrapped dates from Mas Tapas. Mushroom Tarragon Pithivier from The Spice Diva. Succulent roasted goat from The Ivy Inn. Buttery cauliflower paté, yes foie gras tasting stuff made from cauliflower! Gorgeous Pumpkin Cake with Salted Caramel Cream from Maliha Creations. Perfectly fondanted (fondant? seriously?) Hummingbird Cake. Just to name a few. And the taste? So good I want to give up.

So what’s a poor scribbler to do? Give up. Well, okay not give up, but settle for dishes I know at least taste good. They may not win any food stylist awards, but they’ll make your tummy happy. Last year I brought Cathy Fields’s Big Stone Gap Corn Pudding which doesn’t look like much but is guaranteed to add 5 pounds to your frame. This year I brought my Muddy’s Pound Cake. With some fancy schmancy apple butter from Paul Virant that I got from Fire, Flour, & Fork to slather on top. He’s a Michelin-starred chef from Chicago. I figured a little highbrow butter on some homespun cake couldn’t hurt.

How did the Friendsgiving turn out? I ate my weight in succulent bacon-wrapped dates and drank about a gallon of bourbon apple cider. Marveled at how gorgeously delicious a mushroom tarragon pithivier can be. Roasted mushrooms marry themselves with the licorice of the tarragon and the flake of the pastry (pithivier is a puff pastry pie, yes, I had to look it up) and make your tummy happy.

The ultimate chagrin? I went to cut a slab of Muddy’s Pound Cake to find only one thin sliver missing. But the apple butter was GONE. G-O-N-E gone. Sigh. Fancy-schmancy wins again. Sure, Muddy’s Bundt is homely. But in taste? It’s fucking gorgeous. Buttery, light, with the best part the chewy-browned outside layer. Like the best Blondie you ever had. Even better topped with the last vestiges of the apple butter. It added about 5 pounds to my frame. Which seems to be my new criteria for a good potluck addition.

So sure, the good-looking cakes cleared out pretty quick, while once again my homely contribution sat on its Dixie paper plate. That’s fine. Because at the end of the night there was more for me to take home. You can have your fancy cakes. I’ll pick my Muddy’s recipe every time. Not only is it a way to remember and honor her memory, in my humble opinion, it just tastes better.

Thank you to Our Local Commons, and all of the folks who made Friendsgiving possible this year. I truly enjoyed it. Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Remember, whether your dishes are gorgeous or homely, no one is standing behind you with a clipboard. You’re fine. As long as the dish tastes good, everybody wins. Cheers!

*Ironically, one is now a chef while the other owns a restaurant. Go figure.

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My Girl.

I’m coming back……with food. Working on a “Where Have I Been?” blog as we speak. Should be posted by Monday at the latest. In the meantime, please enjoy a post I did about my best friend. While not food-related, I’m particularly proud of it. And now that she’s gone, the words mean even more. Cheers.

On August 27th, 2012, my doggie daughter Lois was diagnosed with colon cancer.

I savor every quiet moment with my girl, the good as well as the not so good. She roams our woods searching for a good place to do her business, walking through our forest floor, ferns brushing our legs, mushrooms of every size and shape and color dotting the leaves. Brown tiny-tree like stalks peeping out, and huge white mounds the size of bread loaves or flat like dinner plates. Tiny red umbrellas, and lacy orange fluttering down the side of a stump. Once a tiny pink elfin mushroom, and once, even a magical blue too bright to be real.

She hunts for the perfect spot and I breathe through the fact this might be one of our last days together. I hope we get to roll in the snow one more time. She so loves the snow. My beautiful girl.

My favorite moments of all are when she sleeps by my side early in the morning after The Hubby has gone to work. On her back with her legs splayed out snoring softly. I lie there and listen to the birds and breathe and try to hold onto it, to remember what it feels like to hear crickets chirping, dogs barking in the distance, their echoes calling for my girl to come play, to actually hear the sun rising and to hold onto and remember what it feels like to be loved by Lois. Her gentle eyes telling you everything will be okay Mommy, I’m here, everything will be okay.

Her koala smile tucked into her closed mouth, turned up ever so slightly at the corners, such a small grin conveying such huge happiness. Her soft snore, the way she softly barks in her sleep, her paws tap-tap-tapping on the sides of her crate in the night as she chases rabbits or deer or runs with the direwolves chasing shadowcats. I read, listening to her and The Hubby snore in tandem, each one on either side of me and I am content.

When I first read “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera many years ago and Tereza described to Tomas her love for the dog Karenin, how she might just love Karenin more than she loved him, I rolled my eyes and wrote her off. She’s just a dog. Tomas is your husband. Then I fell for Lois and my whole world changed. I understand how a dog can make you see the world differently, can make you see yourself differently and teach you things about yourself you never knew. They look at you in such a simple, pure way, with such a clean love and never, ever do they expect anything back. What little you have to give them they will take gratefully and never begrudge you a single thing in return. They never resent you or feel threatened by you. You can hate them and even beat them and they will still crave your love.

It is such a purity of spirit, such a generosity, love at its essence. It makes all other forms pale in comparison. You give them love and they give you the world.

You have so many things in your life, your family, your job, vacations, cars, hopes, dreams, goals, anxieties, fears. All they have is you. And that’s all they need.

You never see a dog with self esteem problems. Sure they might be afraid or shy, but a dog never goes around hating herself. Lois just smiles, wags her tail, and looks at you with those big dark eyes as if to say, “Aren’t I cute? Aren’t I just the greatest? Don’t you love me? I sure love me. I sure do. You do too, right? I can see it. You’re DYING to give me a pet. And a treat. And a belly rub. You loooooooove me. You really do. I can tell. Who wouldn’t love me?”

Lois has taught me more about life than any person ever did or will. Dogs have the uncanny ability to act as a mirror. We look into their eyes and they reflect back onto us that which we love most about ourselves. And for most of us, it’s a shocking sight, one we’ve never seen before. For many, including me, it’s the first time we haven’t felt indelible self hatred from reflected images.

Instead of walking around this planet beating ourselves up, dogs remind us why we should love ourselves and each other. I feel better about myself knowing Lois. And by being her Mom, she has taught me to finally get rid of the self-hatred I’ve been carrying around since I was a child.

Taking care of her has been my greatest honor. Loving her my finest gift. And each day I have left with her will be my best.

LoisBed

Tea and Cider on BTF.

Hey y’all. Yeah, I’m one of those…get over it ;) I’ve been hibernating as I tend to do every year from January to March. I’m convinced I was a bear in a previous life.  I love to sleep, eat trashy food, I’ve dumpster-dived (for a FABULOUS mid-century end table) and honey is my favorite. When I was 15 I boycotted all Winter school assignments, including the ever-important term paper because the due date was in March. Ms. Rasnake, who not once pronounced my name correctly, passed me with a “D-” for the year without a second glance. Yeah, she was not pleased. But that’s another story for another time and venue. In other words, I digress.

I have been writing though, working on two books, one sort of about food, one sort of not. I’ve been gearing up my cookbook store for Fleaville in May. And I’ve been submitting bi-monthly “Drink This!” columns to that wonderful website, Beyond the Flavor. One about hopped cider from those good-lookin’ Potter’s Craft boys, and the other about my favorite Sage Tea at Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar. Just up today in fact.

On a day like this, I can think of nothing better than to soak up rays on the Twisted Branch back porch. Tonight they’re calling for snow maybe, so it’s back to layering myself in fleece (THIS is my new favorite thing, WANT!) and curling back up in a ball to sleep, becoming one with my blankie. Wake me when it’s Springtime, will ya?

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