Potlucks: A Gentle Reminder

Raffle at Gathering of the Tribes. Photo by mollyjade. Licensed under creative commons

Yesterday was the third biannual Gathering of the Tribes here in Austin. The aim of the event is to bring together the Austin veg community—social groups, activism groups, animal groups, the business community—for a meal and an exchange of ideas. I learned about so many great new businesses and opportunities (keep your eyes our for a new local vegan product at Wheatsville soon!) and met a lot of great people.

Chicken Fried Chickpea Cutlets adapted from the Chickpea Cutlet recipe in Veganomicon. Photo by mollyjade. Licensed under creative commons

I made chicken-fried chickpea cutlets using the chickpea cutlets from Veganomicon as the base. I’ll post the recipe later in the week. I also ran a raffle to raise money for Sunny Day Farms. Unfortunately, that meant I was one of the last  people to get food. And this is what was left.

My plate at Gathering of the Tribes. Photo by mollyjade. Licensed under creative commons

It would have been just the chips and salsas, but someone showed up late with the sushi just as I was grabbing my food.

So I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you of the right way to do a potluck.

  • Bring something. Unless you walked in off the street, there is no excuse not to bring something.
  • Moreover, bring something you’re excited to eat. That’s probably not fruit salad (though we do have a big healthy eating community here, so bring fruit salad if it floats your boat). It’s also not chips and salsa, especially not Pace Picante. And it’s probably not the same take out dishes we all get at Wheatsville or Whole Foods all the time. Don’t get me wrong. I like to eat all of these thing. But as a vegan community, a potluck is our opportunity to be surrounded by wonderful vegan food that we didn’t have to cook, excepting your own contribution.
  • Bring enough food to feed a lot of people. If you could consume everything you bought by yourself, you haven’t brought enough. And if you’re coming as a couple, you have to bring twice as much food. You’re both eating, so you both have to contribute.
  • Don’t take huge portions or seconds before everyone has had an opportunity to get food. People bring small portion sizes so that everyone will get to try a dish. That doesn’t work if you take five mini cupcakes.
  • Help out. If it’s at someone’s house, help greet people or offer to clean up. If it’s at  a park, help greet people, volunteer to man a table, and help clean up. Potlucks are a group effort, so if you’re not helping, you’re taking a free ride.

I can hear the excuses now. I heard them in person last night. You don’t cook. You can’t afford it. No excuses. You’re an adult, you’re capable of cooking. (I’ll be more lenient for any university students who don’t have access to a kitchen. You can bring fruit salad or popcorn tofu.)

  • Learn to cook one thing really well. That’s your company/potluck dish. After you’ve made it several times, you’ll be able to do it quickly and expertly. Call it your signature dish.
  • Cornbread: this recipe is super simple (and cheap). You can get the ingredients at any grocery store. Try not to stir too much, otherwise, it’s impossible to mess up.
  • Garlic bread: again, it’s pretty hard to mess this up, and everyone loves garlic bread. It’s also a lot of food cheap.
  • Seven layer dip: It’s a step up from salsa, but still doesn’t require a stove or oven.
  • Nachos. Canned refried beans and chips are cheap. I like to add some salsa and a bit of cumin to the beans to spice them up and thin them out. Then just scoop a dollop of beans on each chip. Add some guacamole, vegan cheddar, chopped cilantro, chopped green onion, black olives, or pickled jalapenos as a garnish. Unless you use cheese, it doesn’t even need a trip through the oven.
  • Buy phyllo cups. Fill them with something. Bake. Filling ideas: bean dip, chorizo, Wayfare cheese, tofu scramble, chickpea salad, fruit pie filling, chocolate pudding, sauteed mushrooms, or nuts and chocolate.

I know there’s a lot of cooking talent in our community, and I know that everyone gets busy sometimes. But remember that these events are only as good as we make them, and I know we can make an incredible potluck.

El Paso Times Food Writer Tries Vegetarian Diet

Jane Steele, who writes food features for the El Paso Times is trying to switch to a vegetarian diet. Inspired by fellow food writer Mark Bittman’s healthier diet, Steele writes about her first day trying to switch her eating patterns.

Steele’s article brings up a lot of the issues that new (and sometimes veteran) veg*ns struggle with. What to cook when you’re too tired to function. Finding meatless dishes your whole family will eat. Learning new quick recipes for those nights when you’ve got to rush out the door to a meeting. In some ways, you have to learn to cook all over again.

I think many of us longtime vegans and vegetarians began in fits and starts. I never woke up one day, and said “I’m going to be vegan now.” Instead, I thought, I want to eat more plant foods and less animal foods, because animal food production is doing terrible things to the environment. Slowly, slowly I added more and more vegetarian and vegan recipes to my diet. At the same time, I learned more and more reasons why eating animals wasn’t something I wanted to do. One day, I found myself vegan. And I’m pretty happy where I am.

Jane Steele, here’s what I recommend to you:

  • Chickpea cutlets, my whole family loves them, and they freeze great for nights when defrosting is the only thing that saves you from ordering pizza. Serve them with vegetarian gravy and mashed potatoes or spaghetti and tomato sauce.
  • So Delicious Coconut Creamer for your coffee (find it at Sun Harvest), though I’m partial to almond milk cafe au lait, too.
  • Avocado and tomato sandwiches, which I pretty much live on all summer long. And the summers are endless here in Texas.
What would you suggest to Jane Steele to help her establish new vegetarian habits? What do you wish someone had told you when you first started going meatless?
Steele and Bittman aren’t the only food writers going meatless these days. Oregonian food writer Grant Butler went vegan as an experiment about a year ago, and the experiment stuck. Read about his first year as a vegan here.