Carmen Miller
 

Potlucks are the backbone of community involvement. If you've been even remotely involved in your church, your children's school, local politics or any civic organization, chances are you've brought something to a potluck. Having recently left the world of freelance consulting for a more traditional office setting, I have had the joy of rediscovering the office potluck. At several times in my life, I have secretly, sheepishly, wanted to answer the question, "What do you like best about your job?" with "We have really great potlucks!" I have always been a sucker for a good potluck. I love the randomness, the unpredictability, the fact that you could have six coleslaws one time, way too many desserts the next time. Few things are more truly welcoming than a long table filled with the most unexpected mix of foods. I typically make a scouting trip just to plan my attack.

Certain dishes become the stuff of potluck myths -- the subject of hopes and expectations ("Oh, I hope she brings X!"), or even outright requests. Potlucks are starter forums for countless great recipe exchanges. Some contributors see the potluck as an opportunity to experiment and go all out while others pick up something at the store, and both approaches are equally valued. There are no rules, no expectations, no judgment -- potlucks are sort of the yoga of communal cooking. If all else fails, someone will always bring chips. Of course, there is also the moderately orchestrated or managed potluck, which provides assignments or general categories to assure some balance to the meal. Honestly, I prefer the former, more free-flowing approach. This is the one area of my life where I truly enjoy being surprised. Sure, it's a bit retro, but it's also a great way to get to know people a bit more and to be involved. So embrace your next potluck invitation (or assignment), bring one of your favorite dishes, and settle in for a true community dining adventure.

Mexican Rice Pilaf

Ingredients:

1/4 cup olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 jalapeno or Anaheim pepper, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups long-grain white rice (Basmati is a good choice.)

4 cups chicken stock

1 1/2 cups frozen corn, thawed

1 cup feta cheese, chopped or crumbled

Directions:

1. Heat olive oil in a small Dutch oven or medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions, red pepper and jalapeno or Anaheim pepper, and saute until soft and translucent, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for one minute.

2. Add the rice, stir to coat with the oil, and increase the heat to high. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender, about 15 minutes. Gently fluff the rice with a fork, remove the cover and cook for another five minutes. Gently stir in the corn and cheese.