Monday, July 22, 2013

Summer Potluck

It has been my custom for several years to host a summer potluck and swim party on or around the Fourth of July to celebrate the friendships I enjoy in the wonderful old neighborhood in which I make my home in Baltimore County, Maryland.  Last year I spent the July Fourth holiday in southern Ireland with my best friend, Kari, and her parents, so there was no Independence Day gathering at my house in 2012.  This year on the weekend I had planned to host my annual shindig, I instead found myself flying to Spokane to bury Kari’s beloved father, who had been like a dad to me for the past decade and a half.  I quickly sent out cancellation notices to all my guests and chose a later date for the get-together, hoping that preparations for the affair, set to go into high gear upon my return from Washington State, would distract me from my grief. I was right.

Guests mingle on the lawn as my
party begins
By the time the new date of my party was nigh, my swimming pool glistened, my window boxes were overflowing with beautiful flowers, and my lawn was lush and green.  Circumstances were just right for a warm summer evening of swimming, food and fireworks among the people whose lives (and some property lines) touch mine.  Then Mother Nature tossed a wrinkle into the mix, introducing a cold front, and its requisite thunder, lightning and rain, forecast to strike not only on the day of my garden party but right smack in the middle of it.

I set up a "food court" on my patio to
accommodate offerings from all my
Undaunted, I pressed on.  I didn’t want to postpone my plans again.  On the day of the event I checked the weather forecast every hour.  Surprisingly, as the afternoon wore on, climatic conditions improved rather than worsened. An expectation of “scattered thunderstorms” became only a chance of "isolated thunderstorms”.  The risk of rain dropped from 70% to 40%.  My tension eased a bit.  Although I would have no trouble fitting 40 people and their potluck dishes inside my house, I decided to set up my “potluck food court” outdoors on my patio as originally planned.  I dressed tables in red cloths and candles and set out hot plates to keep culinary contributions warm.  I’d been laboring all week to make gastronomic offerings of my own: two gallons of Maahs family chili from a recipe handed down to me in the 1970s by the father of my first husband in California, zesty cilantro salsa and Greek pasta salad of my own creation, and three kinds of homemade Sangria.  I set them all outside, along with plates, bowls, utensils and cups, and hoped for the best.
I made homemade ice cream using my
grandmother's old-fashioned recipe

Neighborhood children enjoyed the pool 

At 7:00 p.m. friends and neighbors from all over arrived.  A mix of children ranging from toddlers to teens frolicked in my swimming pool as adults chatted and sampled tasty foods reflecting the area's diversity; everything from Vietnamese fish cakes and shrimp-rice to Jamaican jerk chicken, as well as all-American deviled eggs, jalapeno poppers made from my neighbor’s homegrown peppers, and handcrafted cookies, cinnamon squares and fruit salad.  As darkness fell, I called everyone to my lower meadow, where our resident pyrotechnics expert, Jesse, proceeded to impress children and adults alike with a professional-looking fireworks display.

The fireworks display was fabulous
After the last high-flying pinwheel had exploded, I treated my guests to bowls of homemade strawberry ice cream made from a recipe passed down to me by a previous generation.  The rain managed to hold off until the last guests were bidding me adieu and the tables were folded and the food put safely away.  It turned out to be a fine summer evening after all, during which new friendships were formed and old ones rekindled.  A wonderful distraction, indeed.

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