This is a simple column by a complex  woman.  Dumb-asses need not apply.  If you flatter yourself to be a bright spot in the universe and aren't offended by "psychotic breaks," welcome.  If you're a little frightened, well, all the better. 

We kinda like you like that... with hot sauce.


“secret competition”


Help me. 

I’m addicted to outdoing the other invited guests to the potluck party of the week. It started last spring, I guess, right around the time I got acquainted with Pampered Chef products through some church friends. 

At my first Pampered Chef party, hosted by Beth, also one of the tenors in the church choir (where I lip-sync as a soprano), I was introduced to the orgasmic wonders of the spatula-spoon, the strawberry huller, the Food Chopper, and the Pampered Chef original recipe for the “Enchilada Ring.” Ooh. 

Of course, I couldn’t wait to purchase the recipe book, the large, round pizza stoneware and the ingredients for my own “Enchilada Ring,” a concoction of shredded chicken, Pampered Chef Southwestern Seasoning Mix, green chilies, chopped olives, Jack/Cheddar, chopped tomatoes, a hint of chopped red bell pepper, mayonnaise, lime juice, wrapped up in a ring made of Pillsbury crescent rolls (write me for the recipe, even picky kids love the ring)— 

--Excuse me, I got carried away there. 

So I made it several times, gave it away several times, brought it to one potluck party, for choir in between our performances during two Sunday services. And got high on the Oohs and Aahs from the guests pigging out on my Enchilada Ring until there was nothing left. Secretly, the sight of my potluck contribution eaten up and away within the first 15 minutes fed into my starving, pathetic ego, and I wanted more affirmation. 

Since I’m not much of a cook, with very little in my repertoire besides a mean spaghetti meat sauce (the key is chicken stock), I relied on cooking shows from the TV Food Network, suggestions from SoapZone’s Community Board posters (loved the penne ala vodka, Lily!), and this odd role-play thing I do in my head whenever I prepare for a trip...but with food ideas. 

For trips, I go in my head and imagine myself waking up, getting dressed top to bottom, brushing my teeth, combing my hair, the usual morning ritual, all the way through the day into goodnight, and as I go along, I make a mental note of the clothes, the toiletries, etc., I’ll need to get each task accomplished. Then, I methodically put the items from that mental note in my suitcase. Packing, accomplished. 

Well, it’s the same with preparing for potluck, with a twisted twist. 

I go back through my life, all nearly-40 years, scouring my memory banks for any and all signs of delicious meals cooked by family and friends. If something appeals to me, I consider it for two seconds, whether it’s potluck-worthy for a particular party, Labor Day barbecue, birthday, Christmas holiday, then move on to the next yummy idea. I picture my mom visiting, going shopping at her Asian market and fixing me her and my favorites, pan-fried pork chops, salt and pepper, with sautéed onion rings, Korean barbecued flank steak or chicken, marinated overnight with soy, sugar, sesame oil, sliced green onions, MSG, pepper, elbow macaroni and stewed tomatoes in butter... I picture myself at past company parties, “This Week Magazines,” the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii’s board room, the cocktail hours, “RV Life,” the American Red Cross-Hawaii Chapter, the rows and rows of catered edibles, the fried noodles, Spam musubi, Lau Lau, haupia cake, seven-layer Mexican dip, lumpia, shrimp tempura, chicken long rice... too elaborate, too complicated, too exotic, this isn’t vegetarian enough, the guest of honor is on a diet, another flurry of guests are on Atkins. 

Two week ago, my husband and I were invited to Frank’s birthday party, where he turned 40 with much fanfare and much libation. I like Frank, and his wife Linda, and their two children; they’re fellow churchgoers and very active in choir. They liked Hawaiian food, local plate lunches type food, so Eddie and I thought of ordering from the catering menu of L&L’s Washington outlet (L&L is a bigtime plate lunch joint in Hawaii, and the closest to the real thing in the Pacific Northwest, the only Washington teriyaki place to offer macaroni salad instead of tossed salad), a heaping aluminum pan full of teri beef and another pan of rice. We almost added the mac salad, which Frank also loves to death. Next time. 

This time, our potluck offering was the hit of the party. As I took the hot pans from Eddie to place on the table with the other contributions, the requisite chips, crudités, chicken wings and bread with dips, some guests gathered in the kitchen did their Oohs and Aahs at the sight and smell of our full-on local style meal. Within 15 seconds, people were diving in, and that pan of teri beef disappeared halfway through the party. Frank nearly didn’t get to sample his plate, but when he did, he made a point of finding me and worshipping at my feet, vowing to have another potluck birthday party with just me as the invited guest. A lot of guests worshipped at my feet, as if I made the teri beef from scratch (Eddie and my mom can, in a jiffy), and a big part of me accepted their compliments, between huge forkfuls stuffed into their smiling mouths, as if I did. 

Maybe I’m a simple woman, but seeing people, especially complete strangers, dig into something I’ve cooked or brought for the festive occasion is almost better than sex. It’s definitely on par with a byline in a major publication. I associate their appreciation of the food with a previously unrealized appreciation for me, my thoughtfulness, my creativity to go above and beyond the usual chips and dip mentality, and my Julia Child meets Sam Choy cooking sensibilities. Plus, the strangers are saying, I’m okay if they’d deign put something a nobody like me (whom they wouldn’t look twice at or get within 10 feet of normally) touched in their mouths. 

So, who cares if I can barely cook? 

A couple days ago, Eddie alerted me to another one of those potluck parties coming up. He might gather the musicians and singers in our growing church posse to perform an impromptu concert/rehearsal of David Sanborn charts, as well as contemporary Christian classics in between the eating. Great news for me, as I’ve been missing the concert atmosphere of an outstanding musical performance in quite a while. 

Even better, I get to stay up nights and go into fugue states during the day trying to figure out what next masterpiece to bring and impress the masses with. And, I daresay, driving my husband crazy in the process. 

I’m constantly at him about what else he knows to cook, anything from his deceased German grandmother and German/Irish mother, maybe he can make the pork loin with gravy and potato chunks in butter like he did last Thursday on a whim, or surprise everybody out of their usual appetizer expectations with a full-on spaghetti and meatballs with Caesar salad meal like he usually does better than me. “Oh wait, not Caesar, you’ve done that twice before. Not deviled eggs, either, done that too. What haven’t you done yet, something that nobody would expect? Nobody brings soup or a main entree that needs to stay hot anymore, how about that? Do you remember how your grandma did the potato latkes? Oh, it’d be great if you could make your banana cake, the one your best friend’s grandma handed down to you, but that’s dessert and everybody does dessert—“ 

Eddie just smiles, nods and goes about his business – which, lately, is watching the Red Sox cream the last of the baseball competition, or updating all our music into one ipod – while I run (out of) the ideas past him. 

I still don’t know what I want to bring to the next potluck party, either. 

Last night, I almost bolted upright with the thought of doing something totally against my grain: a healthy, whole-wheat wrap. Then, deflated almost immediately, because wraps are boring and might as well be a tray full of sandwiches, and well, everybody does sandwiches. 

I wonder if a flaming Steak Diane would be out of the question...


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