For the last several years I have worked in cultures that esteem the office potluck. Holidays, special events, retirements, and achievements all trigger the dreaded email announcing yet another opportunity to showcase culinary skills.
I have done my best to participate, but as I near retirement I have less enthusiasm for these affairs. And that’s not saying much since I wasn’t crazy about them in my prime.
You’ve seen the spectrum of dishes served at these gatherings. Everything from the office superstar who crafts an artisan bread bowl filled with hot crabmeat dip, to the person with self-esteem to spare who furnishes miniature hot dogs bubbling in barbecue sauce.
As for me, I wilt like abandoned kale in my vegetable drawer under potluck pressure. But I’ve finally broken through my denial to admit I have a condition known as ‘potluck anxiety.’
In the absence of potluck pressure, I can visualize gobs of edibles I could whip together to impress my coworkers. But do you think I can recall any of these recipes when a potluck deadline looms?
Instead, I pull an all nighter researching Pinterest for a simple, elegant medley that includes ingredients I have stocked in my pantry. Alas, in the wee hours of the morning I resign myself to the fact that nothing delicious can come from combining black olives, tomato paste, and cocoa powder.
The making of a disorder
I developed potluck anxiety gradually after exposure to repeated traumatic experiences.
Baked beans and a lawsuit: I made terrific baked beans and was basking in compliments when someone shrieked, “There’s a rock in my beans!” To my horror, a tiny stone impersonating a legume had escaped my scrutiny. After I forked over lawyer fees and dental bills, this batch of beans cost me more than my reputation.
Coleslaw AKA salmonella in a crystal bowl: Sporting a sweatband, I grated organic cabbage and carrots, binding the ingredients with a precise amount of Hellman’s. My grandmother’s crystal bowl and a few sprinkles of paprika made my contribution worthy of the cover of Bon Appetit.
Unfortunately, I left my masterpiece in a 95-degree car for four hours causing my coworkers to shun my victuals, and no amount of cajoling could convince them it was safe for consumption. Even though they said, ‘no hard feelings,’ a morsel of my inner Julia Child died every time I looked at my killer bowl of cabbage.
Crackers, cheese, pepperoni, and shame: In desperation last Christmas, I went to an unfamiliar grocery store, stumbled through the aisles looking for the deli, snagged pre-sliced cheese, pepperoni, and a box of Ritz crackers and arranged them on a cheap plastic Santa Claus serving dish for optimal presentation. I was successful disguising my laziness, but not my shame.
Heartburn in a crockpot: I used to make cowboy beans filling my vintage crockpot to the brim with ground chuck, canned beans, and generic barbecue sauce. After I said a tearful goodbye to my 20-year-old slow cooker, the same recipe looked pathetic in my new supersized model. When I quadrupled the ingredients so I didn’t appear to be a cheapskate, it meant upset stomachs for weeks as we plowed through the wretched leftovers.
How I’ve learned to cope
I have a confession. For the last three potlucks, I sashayed through the buffet line exclaiming over the choices and did not bring so much as a stale cracker.
You may say the potluck would become extinct if everyone adopted my callous actions, but I’m not worried. It takes decades to become a hardened smorgasbord criminal, feeling no remorse while you devour the goodies prepared by coworkers with a conscience.
Now that you know what it is, are you ready to explore the dark side of your soul and admit you share my condition? If not, would you mind leaving your favorite potluck recipes in your comments? I’m considering desensitization therapy.