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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Pot Luck

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,



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I recently returned from a wonderful visit in Wisconsin. The main purpose of the trip was to attend the semi-annual "Schmidfest" which is a family reunion of my Mother's family. The event stretches over two days and included a fish fry at a local supper club; the normal "bingo with inappropriate prizes," and a new game involving hammering nails into a slab of wood using a tiny hammer " a sport that got quite competitive. (There is also significant competition to see who can come up with the best inappropriate bingo prize.)

However, another feature of this event is the food, a traditional "pot luck" which also can get rather competitive, although not as overtly as the hammer game does. The "host" family contributes the main courses for lunch and dinner, but everyone brings food to contribute to the feast.

I just LOVE pot lucks. There is something about the element of surprise, because you never know what you will find in the offerings. So, you sometimes get foods you love but never make yourself because your family gives it a "thumbs down." Conspicuously absent at this pot luck was a mainstay for most such events in my father's family " baked beans. There was also no potato salad, normally a staple in summer gatherings. But there was an amazing asparagus and soy sauce concoction, my cousin's wife's "cheesy potatoes" featuring a few bits of potato in an irresistible, thick cheese sauce and a massive platter of excellent cheese, chosen by my Uncle Bill, a master of all things cheese. (The Schmid family tree contains two cheesemakers, allowing me to claim the title of "Real Deal Cheesehead.") We are a tribe of real cheese snobs, but everyone was talking about how good the cheese was.

Somehow, pot lucks nearly always end up with a balance of salads, side dishes and desserts. Some pot lucks are pretty regimented, with you being assigned a type of dish by letter of your last name, but even "free-form" ones like this always have a great variety. Some people are known for a specific pot luck specialty " like my paternal Aunt Avis's baked beans. But others love the thrill of trying something they've never made before, and hoping for a home run and lots of requests for the recipe. I well remember the first time I had "dill dip" made for a high school graduation party in Peshtigo by my friend Carol B. in around 1980. I had never had it before, but suddenly it was at every potluck. I went nearly insane for it, and it became my all-time favorite dip especially with carrot sticks.

The worst feeling is taking something to a pot luck and having it bomb. That happened to me here in Oklahoma, where apparently a Wisconsin favorite staple at winter potlucks, sausage and sauerkraut, tanked because no one here eats sauerkraut. (In fact, the comment was made that it was "stinking up the kitchen.")

The big dessert hit was a "pie" made in sheet cake pans, with a bottom crust only, and fresh berries on top. One "pie" was topped with all blueberries, the other strawberries and blackberries. It was killer good and absolutely beautiful. Imagine my frustration as my sister, a good pie maker, described "well, I thought I'd try this, and I sprinkled some sugar, a little flour".." Wow. Not much chance I can replicate that one, I will just have to beg her to make it again next time.

There were many other excellent offerings, and my cousin the grill master outdid himself again as well. We all ate until we were literally unable to eat any more at all, rested a bit, and started right in again as soon as we were recovered. I hesitate to call the eating a competition, but just let's say everyone big and small gave it their all.

You can spend an enormous amount on a really fancy dinner at a restaurant, but given the choice between a potluck whipped up by excellent cooks and that fancy dinner, I'll take the potluck, made with love, skill and a tiny bit of competiveness.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: Janiethibmartin@gmail.com.


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Peshtigo, WI 54157
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