Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

Sometimes It's About the Quantity

The shapenote convention this weekend includes "dinner on the grounds", which means the local singers have to provide quantities of food for all the attendees. For two days. Plus Saturday night. Plus for any guests you might have.

Me, I always worry whether there will be enough food for guests, in general, so I tend to overdo my contribution. This isn't necessary, as most of our local singers have truly learned the more! more! more! theory of providing food, and our spread is bounteous. But I always make something and then buy a lot of other things just to fill in. This year is typical. This is what I am providing:

- For each day, a huge bowl of tortellini-basil salad. This marinates in a lemon juice + olive oil + garlic dressing and needs to be served at room temperature, so the issues of keeping it cold or hot over a long morning are moot. That's really my actual contribution, in the sense of something I make in quantity from scratch in my own kitchen, which is the tradition. This takes half an evening, as making it in quantity involves two enormous pots of boiling water and cutting up lots and lots and lots of fresh basil (and scores of small tomatoes). Actually, I now use a food processor to chop the basil; it saves me at least an hour.

- I always buy about half a dozen pies and cakes from a supermarket. It's better to do homemade, of course, and many do, but I consider these filler to be sure there's enough. You can actually get some pretty good pies even at Cub Foods (but this year I went to Lund's which has great pies and even crostadas). This year I also bought some nice large chocolate chip cookies that look homemade (hah!)

- I buy a large container of commercial potato salad, which I remix with fresh pepper and parsley and put in a real bowl (rather than leaving it in the plastic container). If you leave it in the plastic container, people don't eat it. If you put it in a 1930s mixing bowl, people do. I used to get two huge containers of potato salad and two huge containers of macaroni salad, but that was too much.

- I buy about four pounds of basic cheap cheddar and swiss cheese which I cut into slices. The kids tend to eat this and only this, which is why I bring it, because there have been countless times when I have watched a small child look over six huge tables overflowing with all manner of delicious dishes and declare there's nothing he or she likes. But a slice of yellow cheese? Hooray! Now for dessert!

- I buy one large summer sausage for each day of singing, which I slice up.

- I buy two small hunks of ham, precooked, which I slice up and put out cold on platters. Others cook their own delicious whole country hams, which are vastly superior to what I put out, but -- again -- I'm just trying to make sure there is abundance and that nobody will go hungry.

- For Saturday night, I buy a dozen large spinach pies from Emily's Lebanese deli, which I cut up into six triangles each. There's usually a bunch of stuff left over from my Saturday day contribution which I bring as well.

Consider that all this comes from just me, and we've got dozens of folks providing food. Most people don't bring quite this much, but some do (or nearly so). One local singer who does not cook will sometimes arrange to have huge platters of fried chicken catered, and even though this violates the "from my own kitchen" rule it always goes over well.

After all these years we still have some folks who don't quite get the quantity thing -- they bring one small dish just as if they were attending a private potluck meal (rather than feeding the multitudes at a singing convention). But most of us have the quantity thing down pat, and it all balances out.

This may seem like a lot -- a lot of food and a lot of money. But I've traveled to singings all around the country -- no, all around the world -- and I have been stuffed like a roast pig with fine kitchen specialities more times than I can account for. Many people spend more on plane tickets to fly here than I spend on food. This is meant to be the big annual celebration, and sometimes you just have to go with it. There is tremendous pleasure in doing so, that's what I have found. Feeding other people when they've come to sing with you is what money is for.
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