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Commentary: Live and learn

Moral of the potluck story: bring enough food.
Feeding a crowd? Make enough food, says humour columnist. Photo: Metro Creative Connection

My daughter Aliyah prepared food for her first potluck dinner the other night. She was in charge of dessert and salad. After mixing up an Oreo cookie cheesecake, she began frying bacon for a crunchy salad topping, busily washed and cut lettuce, and whipped up the creamy, home-made Caesar dressing that’s been a staple in my recipe book for years. She wanted to make everything herself and I was pleased to let her. Presently, however, she came to wave a bag of greens under my nose.

“Do you think this will be enough lettuce for ten people,” she asked doubtfully. It’s always a bit difficult to judge how much people will eat. In her case, where the attendees of the event were all under the age of 20, I’d say A LOT. It was my mother’s philosophy, and now is mine also, that it’s better to have too much, than too little.

I learned this difficult lesson at the table of a dear friend. Many years ago, she invited me to her first dinner party. It was a large gathering, we were young, and she was nervous. Not nervous about whether she could provide sparkling and witty conversation, be a kind and gracious host, or manage to put everyone at ease with her natural charm (situations that strike fear in my heart). She was good at stuff like that. Nope, my friend was nervous about spaghetti.

“I only have two small boxes,” she disclosed nervously, after catching my eye and summoning me into the kitchen with a furtive wave. We hunkered behind the cupboards whispering. “Each box only holds enough to serve four,” she hissed. “Do you think there’ll be enough?”

Leaning back around the corner, I counted heads. Twelve people peered back—looking hungry. One sizeable fellow rubbed his stomach with exaggerated meaning.

“Almost chow time?” he called hopefully. I lurched out of sight. Good grief, these people were ravenous. A crowd like this could turn ugly if not fed soon.

“It’ll be fine,” I told my friend with what I hoped was a reassuring grin. “People will automatically ration themselves when they see how much there is.”

“I hope so,” she sighed, turning back to a steaming vat of water. Nonetheless, she looked concerned.

Within minutes, the pasta was ready and my chum bore a tray of food to the table with a strained smile. Then, she watched anxiously as people passed loaded baskets of bread down the table, and helped themselves to salad. As my pal listened to the cheerful chatter of her guests and the happy clanking of cutlery, she almost allowed herself to relax.

Then, the fellow who had spoken earlier, enthusiastically grabbed the dish of pasta before anyone else, dug in deeply, and plopped half of its contents onto his plate! Passing it to his wife, he watched with satisfaction as she took a further hefty helping, almost clearing the bowl entirely.

All cheerful chatter ground to a halt. My friend and I exchanged looks of despair, but nothing could be done. Even if the couple had noticed their faux pas (which they didn’t) they couldn’t very well have put the pasta back. The other guests quietly laid five strands of spaghetti on each of their plates, and applied sauce.

Would this same dinner party dilemma ever happen to my friend again? Probably not. Live and learn.

Helen lives on the family farm near Marshall, Saskatchewan. She is a writer, columnist and works in education. To contact her, or learn more about these or other books, go to, or write Box 55, Marshall, SK. S0M1R0