Monday, January 24, 2011

Neighborhood potluck

A few readers have asked about our neighborhood potlucks. I suppose now is as good a time as any to tell about them.

It all started about two years ago when a neighbor's husband was out of town on an extended business trip. She was left alone with the kids and we thought she might enjoy some adult conversation, so we invited her to dinner. She offered to bring dessert. Her kids and our kids did their own thing and we adults sat at the table and visited. It was so enjoyable we repeated it the following week.

As our neighbor left after that second meal, she said "I'll host next week," and our weekly potlucks were born. A third set of neighbors joined us shortly thereafter. We have other neighbors out here who join us from time to time, but these three families are the core.

We alternate between our house and the first neighbor's house because they're big enough to accommodate the ten or eleven people who regularly meet. The host makes dinner, and the visitor brings dessert. The third neighbors bring drinks and a supplementary dish (mashed potatoes or biscuits or something).

None of us are outstanding chefs but showing off our cooking skills isn't the purpose of the potlucks. By now we're pretty familiar with each others' dietary tastes and limitations (one person is lactose intolerant so we don't prepare cheese-laden dishes, for example) and we cook around those parameters. Sometimes potlucks get canceled for a week or even a month if things are especially busy. The day also varies depending on everyone's schedules (right now we're meeting on Sunday evenings).

So yesterday was our turn to host. By cleaning the house on Saturday, it meant that Sunday all I had to do was cook. The nice part about having a crowd over twice a month is it means I'm forced to clean the bathroom and vacuum the floors at least that often.

Clean living room. (My dearest decorating wish someday is to get rid of the hideous blue carpeting the house came with and replace it with hardwood floors. We can't just strip the carpet out because there's nothing but concrete floor underneath. Ah well, for now I'm content.)

I tried a new recipe, pork chops with a wine sauce. Here I'm browning the pork chops.

Shortly before the guests arrive at 6 pm, I light all kinds of candles and oil lamps around the house, just for atmosphere. Mostly this is a winter habit since it's still daylight at 6 pm during the summer.

We say grace before dinner, of course. Here everyone is lining up to fill their plates. One of the families is LDS (Mormon) so I called them in advance and asked if a wine sauce would be okay. (Mormons don't drink alcohol.) Since the alcohol itself cooks off during the preparation, the wine sauce was fine. This is what I mean by being considerate of everyone's dietary parameters.

The adults tend to congregate around the kitchen table while the kids scatter elsewhere. Lydia knows firmly where she wants to be - someplace where something might accidentally drop on the floor!

We serve coffee or hot chocolate after dinner while I do a quick batch of dishes. Since we don't have a dishwasher, this means I'm less overwhelmed with cleanup after everyone leaves. Since all the guests tend to stay around the table, I'm not excluded from conversation.

Dessert this time was black forest cake with ice cream...

...which was eagerly anticipated.

I do a second batch of dishes afterward (coffee cups and dessert plates) and then I'm free to sit and visit with everyone.

No one stays terribly late - people have to get up for work and school the next day - but it's a pleasant way to connect with our neighbors on a regular basis. Sometimes we're all so busy during the week that this is our only time to see each other. We're blessed to live in a neighborhood where everyone gets along so well.

Here's a photo I took last summer where a wider circle of neighbors were being hosted by a new neighbor having a sort of open house. His campfire was perched on the edge of the slope of the canyon and the sun was going down behind us. I thought this photo turned out splendidly - click to enlarge.

Here's the dish I made last night, pork chops in white wine sauce.

Brown eight pork chops in oil; set aside.

White wine sauce:

1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 flour
1 cup dry white wine
4 cups chicken broth

Pour olive oil into saucepan over medium heat. Gradually whisk in the flour until the mixture looks like paste. Reduce heat and slowly add the wine. The mixture will thicken quickly. Slowly pour in the chicken stock, stirring continually. Add a little pepper, and rosemary to taste. (I don't add salt because the chicken stock is already salty.)

Put the pork chops in a crockpot and pour the sauce over the chops. Let the meat and sauce simmer for several hours. Pork chops tend to be tough when just pan-fried, so I like to simmer them slowly in a crockpot to make them tender. (Besides, this means the main dish is essentially done and I can concentrate on other things.) I doubled this recipe because we had so many people. I served it with rice and the neighbors brought mashed potatoes.

Anyway, that's the scoop on our neighborhood potlucks.


  1. I make an awesome gravy using bacon grease as the base ingredient. We have a nieghbor with whom we sometimes eat their house or our house. She is a dietician and chooses her food carefully. She will never know the joy of this gravy,
    On a related note I also make sour cream pancakes with bacon. (You have to do something with the bacon you cook for the grease :>) I plate them with homemade blackberry jam, a cream cheese and cream compote and a little whipped cream on the top. (this is so good my mouth is watering just writing this.) Another great meal I cannot serve my nieghbor.

  2. How blessed you all are to have this tradition. It's also a wonderful lesson for the kiddos. :)

  3. What a nice thing to do. I wish every neighborhood was like yours.

    I wanted to pass something on to you. We desperately want hardwood floors as well. We found unfinished flooring that are only $0.89/sq.ft. We don't have the time right now to put them in and finish the wood, but I think it's a great deal if you're willing to finish the wood. I found several websites that show the product installed and finished. It's quite beautiful if you like that rustic/country look for floors. You can see some of it installed by clicking on the REVIEWS. Here is the link:


  4. Wow, thanks Margaret! I'll check it out.


  5. That looks like fun, and how cool to stay connected with neighbors in such a way (food! LOL).....

    It's always nice to come across other people who share my aversion to cleaning bathrooms, it's the last place I clean because it's just so yucky, and never stays clean for very long either......

  6. Patrice. This is what 'community' really means!

    Unfortunately, most of America doesn't know this real community anymore.

    This is how you connect with your neighbors to form that community relationship.
    You learn to know your neighbors and with this learning a bond of trust will form.
    That bond of trust will serve you well in the future!

  7. Remember make due with what you have, things can wait. I have wood floors (raised foundation) and lets say they would look nice if they were not mine, we ripped up a carpet that came with our house and the floors are not beautiful. They need to be sanded and re-stained, but that takes time. Then you have to sweep, mop and dry them, I would rather vacuum a carpet but that is costly to install also, and with kids, dogs, cats and a hubby who seem to spill stuff all the time, the wood floors will stay!

  8. We lived for many years with the blessing of great neighbors in CA. Now in OK, our neighbors have big houses and several acres and the neighbors don't know each other. It's very different, and not for the better. Could it be that if they live in a 6000 sq ft house, they're too busy working to pay for it?
    K in OK.

  9. OK, that's two posts and two chocolate cakes.

    One more and you will be officially guilty of torture.

    Guess I know what I'm gonna be makin' tomorrow!

    Anf it's ALL YOUR FAULT Patrice Lewis! lol


  10. Looks like a real cozy, warm home, and the food..the best!

  11. I love the neighborhood potluck idea. Our hesitation would be that we have an 11 year old and a 9 year old and we would be concerned about the influences of some of the neighbor kids (public-schooled/day care). Thoughts?

  12. Jessica, here are a few thoughts.

    1. Remember, like it or not your neighbors are the people among whom you live. If your neighbors don’t have the same values but they’re basically decent people, consider including them. It’s just a couple hours a week. Our neighbor's children go to public school but that doesn’t automatically mean they’re bad kids (their home life is a powerful factor as well). So if it’s just a question of homeschooled versus public school/day care families, I wouldn’t let it worry you. Your children are not likely to be adversely influenced by such brief encounters. However…

    2. You don’t have to invite **everyone** to a potluck. If it’s to be an enjoyable experience, it won’t help to have folks whom you despise involved. If the neighbor kids are hoodlums, you don’t have to invite that family. But nor should you broadcast your plans: “The whole neighborhood is invited except YOU!!” (That’s just plain rude.) Quietly invite a few of your closer neighbors and see where it goes from there.

    3.Potlucks are meant to be flexible. We have dearly loved neighbors who live a bit further away (about a mile) with five kids, but they’re seldom able to make it. They’re not “excluded” – we just socialize with them at different times. If anyone has out-of-town guests visiting – parents or grandparents, family friends, adult siblings, whatever – then of course the whole kit-n-kaboodle tags along. Or consider inviting a wider circle of neighbors to special events (like our Independence Day celebration: ) and keep the weekly potlucks to a smaller and more intimate circle.

    Hope this helps!

    - Patrice

  13. You have an interesting blog! to read something different from other places is great! thanks for sharing. God bless.