Potlucks, because the pressure cooker blew a gasket

Potlucks, because the pressure cooker blew a gasket

Anybody else with children annoyed by Dr. Sears and his attachment parenting claptrap? (Oops, spoiler alert.) You know, that guy who said we moms should “bond” with our babies, unlike our mothers before us who failed in this regard, and has written a shelf full of books to tell us how?

I know. It sounds good. “Bonding” is good, right? All babies should be connected to their mommies. They just should.

But here’s how we were supposed to do it.

1)  Wear our baby every waking moment, so that baby would feel our love, otherwise they wouldn’t. By now there are several industries devoted to manufacturing products that tie our babies to us, 24/7. We are to wear our babies about the house as we cook and do chores, we are to take them to fancy parties in sequined slings. Said babies may feel our love but they also run the risk of feeling our rage as we

2)  never ever allow them to cry, as crying is traumatizing and we must soothe our child, we just haven’t figured out how, yet, after changing, feeding, bouncing, bundling, trundling, driving around in the car at exactly 55 miles an hour, changing again, feeding again, massaging, the “neck nestle,” and more babywearing (see, it’s all one word) which leads to

3)  “nighttime parenting,” which simply is the darkness-infused portion of our 24/7 babywearing, because nighttime is, naturally, traumatic and scary and that terrible separation called “sleep” requires mommy’s nearness at all times.

How dare mommy ever go away.

Oh, and did I forget to add this part?  If you don’t do this, Dr. Sears gently warns, if you don’t follow all these instructions for bonding, your baby may just turn out to be a sociopath. Probably. In all likelihood.

Did anyone besides me ever wonder how he and his wife (a nurse) ran their medical practice, built a mega online parenting empire, wrote the aforementioned shelf-full of books (30, at last count), raised eight attached children, and all slept together in the family bed every night?

Well.  One thing they probably never did, ever, was socialize with other adults.  Just other adults.

Anyway I always knew we weren’t supposed to.

And in fact, since becoming a mother, I never have. Oh I tried once. I tried to set up a “dinner party” (doesn’t the very term sound archaic, like a dinosaur?) for three couples. In conversational negotiations with the other couples about my idea for a “dinner party,” I mentioned, gingerly, that the concept was a grown-ups only kind of thing, and they became outraged that their little ones were not invited (“what? well, what are the children supposed to do?!”) and that was that. Really. I got a little gun-shy and never tried again.

The question never was, why don’t we get babysitters and socialize together, we grown-ups?  Rather it seemed to be, why would someone even want to do that? Clearly such a person is selfish and doesn’t love baby enough. Isn’t baby enough?

Well yes, in some great cosmic sense, yes, baby is enough.  But sometimes, sometimes, mommy needs to do her own thing with her own kind, and not with tiny alien beings who dictate how you move your Playmobil guy in the tiny world they built. (And yes, you are the bad guy. Always.)

Foundational attachment assumptions impacted later years, when we often thought regarding our children: you’re not safe outside of my presence; I must hover over your homework; let’s socialize together! Kind of babywearing without the sling and without the baby. It’s a little…awkward.

The huge cultural pressure that has been brought to bear on mommies to meet the impossibly high, and bizarre, standards of attachment parenting and its fallout lead me to a metaphor from the kitchen.

The pressure cooker.  That valve where the steam gets out? It’s going nuts, it’s busted, steam’s shooting and sputtering menacingly all over the place.  Don’t get too close, you’ll get third degree burns. I’m talking about the rise of the angry mommy blogger and snarky mommy books, the profane, vulgar, shocked, and totally understandable response to what “parenting” has somehow become–an endless, child-centered guilt trip. It’s easy to find on the internet. Hundreds of thousands of social media moms joining together and declaring their rebellion against unattainable, ludicrous standards upheld nowhere else in the world and at no other time in history.

I get it, but I wish they would just simmer down. Frankly, maybe all they need is a dinner party or two. Or fifty.

Can’t you just see it in your mind’s eye? Through a mist? Down at the end of a long tunnel? In some faraway place and time? If you squint?

swanky partyGrown-ups, standing around calm and cool, swigging martinis….listening to weird grown-up music….eating fancy complicated food no kid would ever touch….no one’s worrying about entertaining the children, putting on a new Barbie movie or getting another craft ready….no one is saying, Mommy is having a conversation now, please don’t interrupt. Because mommy is actually just having a conversation.

creepy aspicOf course if we had a party that looked like this we would probably be eating food that looked like this,   and that would be super creepy. But I digress.

I know my parents used to get together with other adults without us. Oh, sure, we did all sorts of things as a family, including lots of parties (legendary parties). But our parents also used to have a social time and a place that was for adults. At fairly regular intervals. If they entertained in our home, we kids got to hang out in our room. If they were elsewhere, we got looked after by a babysitter. Somehow, we survived.

They were not unique. My aunt and uncle had a gourmet potluck group for decades.  My in-laws in Delaware did something like this too. Folks did this all over the country. A conversation with CN blogger Erin led me to her mother’s gourmet potluck group which has met monthly for 38 years in Texas. Sharon, now more or less the social director of the group, told hilarious stories.  They started out making cuisines from other countries, and after they wore that out, switched to a slightly simpler model of bringing assigned categories.  One of the six couples–that month’s hosts–would provide the main dish, a meat entree.  The next month that couple would be bringing the bread to help offset the costs incurred by the previous month’s main dish. Always, kids were left with sitters: each month the dinner was “something to look forward to, no stress.”

Sometimes they would do different themes, always they would entertain each other with stories and jokes, stay up late.  Sharon can recall many specific evenings and dishes, can delineate memorable nights and foods that flopped. Greek food plus togas; Hawaiian food and of course leis. Big successes. Indian food–a certain lemon soup and rose water were recalled by Sharon as being particularly Glade Air Freshener-esque. Spinach casserole–spinach leaves not quite fully rinsed, the casserole cleaned your teeth like sandpaper.

When they began they were all new in town and needed to create a community.  Somehow they found each other and over four decades they have laughed, cried, and prayed together, comforted and supported each other through 6 deaths and an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

Without question they are family to each other.

What would their lives have been like without this group?

So whatever happened to this kind of thing? Whatever happened to adults hanging out together? (Okay–maybe you all do, somewhere, you’ve just never invited us. That’s a possibility.)

So many potential reasons.  Our culture has become much more individualistic and isolated, said one friend. Another built on that, pointing to “individualized resources and isolating resources”–i.e., 600+ television channels and facebook, to name two. Demographic changes: the time crunch and chronic exhaustion faced by two-parent working families, and single parent families, make it hard to really look forward to fixing a fancy meal for a houseful of folks, to say nothing of the standards floating around out there on the internet of what we’re supposed to be cooking (thanks, Pinterest and food bloggers). Then there’s the possibility that this period of vaunted glory days of adults having fancy potlucks together–in the 50s, 60s, 70s–was itself a short-lived social solution. Did they do this in the 1930s? Eh. Somehow I can’t see it.

However you want to frame it, we’re not socializing like we used to. In fact it hardly ever happens even with kids.

Last week my family was invited to a potluck. Fourteen children and fourteen adults were on the guest list, the theme was Mexican, folks brought a lot of beautiful dishes, the kids were totally great and the whole thing wrapped by 7:30 p.m.

I talked with the host, Ken, about my question–whatever happened to the grown-up dinner party. For the record, this is a family that entertains frequently, and their parties are always fun whether it is an Iron Chef cook-off or an evening of homemade music by curiously talented guests. He thought that mainly economics was the driver in this, as babysitters seem to have gotten unionized and make more now than many parents can pay on a regular basis. Good point.

But the consensus among party-goers was clear: nobody seems to host grown-up dinner parties anymore. And maybe I don’t even need to blame Dr. Sears.

at the table togetherWell, I’ll take what is, over what doesn’t exist. If potlucks are family affairs forever after, so be it–cooking for and sharing with friends is both critical and sadly lacking.  Feeding each other, sharing the table, these acts build connections, and connections weave us all together.  And I have to admit that there is something lovely about that weaving when it is intergenerational. Our communities need more weaving.

Next time you’re invited to a potluck, here are some trusty recipes to choose from.

Better yet, throw one yourself. Try it once–try to invite only your grown-up friends over. Just to see. See if anyone comes, and if you can get that loud hissing from the busted pressure cooker to quiet down.

Chicken Taco Rice
This recipe is an old stand-by for Sharon’s Texas supper club.  Double it if you are going to serve your friends and their kids too.

1 lb boned chicken breasts, cut into strips
2 T oil
1 can (13 3/4 oz) chicken broth
1 can (8 oz) tomato sauce
1 pkg taco seasoning mix
1 can (12 oz) corn, drained, or 1 1/2 c frozen
1 medium red or green pepper or a combination cut into small strips
1 1/2 cups Original Minute Rice
1/2 cup (2oz) shredded cheddar cheese
tortilla chips
sour cream optional

Cook and stir chicken in hot oil until lightly browned.  Add broth, tomato sauce and seasoning mix.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer 5 minutes.  Add corn and pepper strips.  Bring to a full boil.  Stir in rice.  Cover, remove from heat.  Let stand 5 minutes.  Fluff with fork.  To serve, put some tortilla chips on each dinner plate.  Spoon mixture over the chips.  Put shredded cheese over the top and add a dollop of sour cream on top of that.

Corn Fritter Casserole

Sharon’s group would pair this dish with the above.

3 T butter, softened
3 large egg whites
1 (8 oz) block cream cheese, softened
1 c finely chopped onion
1 c finely chopped red bell pepper
1 (15 1/4 oz) can whole kernel corn, drained
1 (14 3/4  oz) can cream style corn
1 (8 1/2 oz) pkg corn muffin mix (such as Jiffy)
1/4 tsp black pepper
cooking spray

Preheat oven to 375. Combine first 3 ingredients in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk until smooth.  Stir in onion, bell pepper, whole-kernel corn, and creamed corn, mix well.  Add muffin mix and black pepper, stirring until well combined.  Pour into 8 x 12 baking dish coated with cooking spray.  Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.

Rick Bayless’s Tortilla Soup
This soup, pictured at top, was brought to the potluck my family attended.  It’s a lovely presentation and all those add-ins really stretch it out. Kristine, who made it, says this comes out just right every time, and that the lime is important. This serves 6, so at least double it for a crowd.

6 corn tortillas, halved and cut into 1/4 inch strips
Canola oil, for frying
4 cloves garlic, peeled and whole
1 small white onion, sliced
2 fresh pasilla chiles or 1 ancho chile , stemmed and seeded
1 can (15 oz) whole tomatoes in juice, drained
6 c vegetable stock or chicken stock, low salt
1 bunch cilantro
1/2 t salt, or to taste
6 oz queso fresco, Monterey Jack, or mild cheddar, shredded
2 large avocados, peeled, pitted, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 large lime, cut into wedges

In a medium (2 qt) saucepan, heat 1/2 inch oil over medium heat until the edge of a tortilla strip inserted in oil sizzles vigorously. Add half tortilla strips. Stir until golden brown and crisp. With a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain. Repeat with remaining tortillas.

Pour off all but a thin coating of hot oil. Add garlic and onion and cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until golden, about 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, press garlic against side of pan to leave behind as much oil as possible, then transfer garlic and onion to a blender or food processor.

Add chile pieces to hot pan. Turn quickly as they fry and release a delicious aroma, about 30 seconds in all. (Frying too long will make them bitter.) Transfer to paper towels to drain; set pan aside. Chop chiles when cooled.

Puree tomatoes with garlic mixture in the blender or food processor until smooth. Heat same saucepan over medium-high heat. Add tomato puree and stir until thickens to consistency of tomato paste, about 10 minutes. Add stock and cilantro; bring to a boil, then partially cover and gently simmer over medium-low heat 30 minutes. Add salt.

To serve: Divide cheese and avocado among warmed soup bowls. Ladle broth into each bowl; top with tortilla strips and a sprinkle of fried chiles. Add a generous squeeze of lime.

Bonnie’s Chili Verde
Bonnie was visiting Chicago from California and still managed to bring this great dish to the potluck. Impressive! This is an easy chili verde that will serve a crowd, and you certainly should not double it.

4+ lbs boneless pork (shoulder, butt, whatever) – discard fat, cut in small pieces, maybe 1″ to 2″ cubes
½ yellow onion, chopped in quarters
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 T +  chopped cilantro
1 16 oz can chicken broth
more chopped cilantro
½ t cumin
3 bay leaves
½ t white vinegar
½ small lemon
1 can (16 oz) La Victoria Green Chili Sauce

Roll pieces of pork in flour and brown in a deep-dished frying pan with olive oil, onions, garlic & some cilantro. When brown, put in crockpot. Add remaining ingredients–if more liquid is needed, add water. Put crockpot on high, stir occasionally and cook for 6 hours. Fish out the bay leaves and lemon before serving with flour tortillas. You can prepare this the day or two ahead and reheat on low for 3 hours.

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