Damsel's Edible Complex CookIn Listings

BY Ray Bruman

Summer is here, Cook-Ins are planned, people are asking for advice. I have hosted a couple of Cook-Ins, and attended many. Here is some advice based on experience. I'm interested in seeing advice from other people too.

First, some advice specific to a Cook-In:


Get a pack (of 50) "Hello, My Name Is" tags from a stationery store. Get the kind that sticks to clothing but peels off easily (not pin-badges). Don't just set them out (some people will ignore them or miss them). Don't just ask people to write their own (some people will scrawl something tiny and illegible). Find an extrovert with good printing who will be a "greeter" and make name tags as people arrive. Ask "How would you like your tag to read?" (this is a good dodge if you've blanked on a name you should remember!) Print the names (I like first and last both) as large as possible so they can be read from a distance, using a good marker (like a Sharpie). Anyone who's ever blanked on a name will bless you silently for this. When the majority of guests have clear, legible name tags, newcomers will ask where to get one, rather than skipping it for some reason. The number of unused tags will give you an idea how many people attended.


Get a pack of 3x5" cards and fold some in half the 3" way as a "tent." Get people to put their name, as well as the name of the dish, on each card. This is important, because some guests may need to ask if a dish contains meat or an allergenic ingredient such as peanuts, milk, etc. Tell everyone not to throw away these cards when the dish is gone, because you will gather them up after the party to remember what was served. When you see an empty dish, grab that card for your little stack you are saving. You will be so glad you did, when you try to remember who brought what. Watch out for compusive discarders (see below under CLEANUP TIME).


Some people are intimidated because they think all the food will be hoity-toity gourmet food. Not true! Bring anything you like. Bring several different bags of Cheetos if you want to see a debate. Bring beverages, paper goods, charcoal, or other supplies if you like.

Now, non-specific advice for pot-luck parties of all kinds:


There's always more to do than you thought. Don't get too worked up, but take care of the important stuff in advance. If you have kids, pets, extremely fragile or valuable or vulnerable possessions to consider, walk around imagining the party in progress. Try to get things out of the way, for the sake of you and your guests. In the last day or so before the party, you will think of some new really cool things that would be great to have for the party. You will only be able to do those things if you have already taken care of the things you could anticipate. Been there, done that.


It helps to clear out as much space as possible before a party. During and after the party you'll appreciate room for many containers of ice cream or other great things.


Give some thought to how people will get a plate, put some food on it, and get out of the freakin' way so someone else can get some. Put the plates, napkins, and utensils right up front, with a clear path down (or around) the serving table. Put all the beverages in a completely different area, with cups, ice, and coolers easy to find. Leave lots of walking room if you can. It's really frustrating to be at a poorly laid-out party where the food is packed into a corner behind a crowd of people standing in the way talking.


Potlucks usually have a huge bunch of great leftovers, but guests are too stuffed to deal with them. You can buy Chinese-food cartons in bulk at Costco and other big stores. When the first guests start to leave, bring these out. But please make sure that it's time. Other (later) guests may not have gotten around to that particular dish yet for their first taste.