Short version: we’re inviting people across the country to have potluck parties in honor of American Classics Reinvented, to gather the people you love together to share food everyone can have together. Have a pie party. A Midwest celebration! A long Southern afternoon of eating hush puppies and gumbo with your friends and family. Read on for more details.
Years ago now, my friend Sharon, our roommate William, and her boyfriend Ed rented a car, negotiated the streets of midtown New York, made it to the 9W up the west side of Manhattan, and drove up to the Catskills for the weekend. There were snacks in the car — every good road trip needs snacks — and much laughter. Sharon is the single funniest person I’ve ever known, and I’ve known her for 33 years now. William still makes me laugh after only 2 minutes on the phone. And Ed’s full name is Ed Helms. This was in the year 2000, before The Office or anything after it. In fact, I sat in the audience with about 8 other people at the open mic where all three of my friends did their first-ever stand-up routines. (I’ve always been better at the supportive laughing part than the performing part.)
So with a car full of three hilarious people and one laughing while driving, this was a good trip. We stayed at a strange little bed and breakfast I had found while searching for places to stay on the internet on my giant bubbly iMac, the place that intrigued me more and more. (Google was a recent, giddy innovation in the world. The first thing I ever looked up on Google was “Paul McCartney.” So there’s that.) The older woman who owned the bed and breakfast was obsessed with the blind Italian singer Andrea Bocelli, whose music was blaring in the common room every time we walked in the door. She loved to tell us about him, “Did you know that he bought his mother a house? In Italy? He’s such a nice boy.” I was vegetarian at the time, and she made it loudly clear that I was making her life more difficult when she brought us breakfast. Sausage, scrambled eggs, and a little pre-fab pumpkin-shaped sugar cookie in honor of Halloween. My plate didn’t have the sauasage. There were drunken MadLibs in our attic rooms, a print of Blue Boy that seemed to stare at us everywhere we went, and a madrigal that Ed and WIlliam made up about the scent of the lavender candle Sharon had brought to give the room ambience. My stomach muscles hurt by Sunday afternoon.
On our way back to the city, we passed a u-pick apple orchard. Sharon called out from the back of the car, “Stop! We have to go back!” Bless her heart, Sharon was always seeking out the perfect experience. This was, of course, long before Instagram, so we couldn’t frame an iconic shot of the sun suffusing the leaves of the apple tree and one hand reaching. We didn’t even have a digital camera. We picked apples. Seven bags of apples. Seven brown-paper-grocery bags of apples. We lost our minds a little. As we drove back to the city, we started laughing. “What the hell are we going to do with all those apples?” Sharon started worrying, as she often did.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I know what to do.”
The next day, we called all our friends and told them to be over at 7 pm. I spent the entire morning peeling apples and tossing them in cinnamon and sugar. I used every bowl in the house. In the late morning, I ran down to Gristedes to buy 5 more pie pans. (I had 2 in the apartment already.) Back in the kitchen, I cut butter and let the white flour fly. I made pies. I made 7 apple pies in one day. When our friends came over, we handed everyone a saucer with a generous slice of pie and a glass of milk. I still remember looking up from the stove where I was cutting slices of pie and seeing the apartment so full of happy people standing close to one another that most of them were holding the glasses of milk above their heads when they weren’t drinking. We were full to the brim of people eating pie.
That was a good party.
(That photo above was taken by Erin Little, at a beautiful potluck party at 3Crow in Rockland, Maine, hosted by our friends Tara Barker and Josh Hixson, as part of the potluck party tour we did around New England two years ago, as research for American Classics Reinvented.)
I’ve always loved throwing parties. When Danny and I got married, we had a potluck wedding. We asked our friends to not bring anything with gluten in it, or anything with fish, since our friend John is deathly allergic. People lined up dishes on long tables, with cards we had printed where they could indicate if the dish had meat or dairy or any other problematic food. I still hear from people, nearly 9 years later, that it was the best food they’ve eaten at a wedding. I loved watching people I knew, who didn’t know each other yet, side by side at that buffet, talking as they filled their plates.
For years, Danny and I hosted Sunday morning potlucks. Drop on by, if you can. Each week had a theme: winter root vegetables, citrus, potatoes, bacon. We haven’t done this in awhile but I think it’s time to revive it. Those gatherings were always good.
These days, the parties are smaller: spontaneous dinners with friends who have kids too, weeknight dinners meant to feed everyone well and be done by 7 so the kiddos can go to bed on time. I love that time in summer, sitting on the back porch with a plate of food on my knees talking to friends while the kids run around the yard. It’s the rare week where we don’t have someone over for a dinner party.
And I don’t mean fancy dinner parties, where the table settings are worthy of a magazine. I can’t create a Pinterest-worthy party to save my life. Most of our parties are spontaneous, maybe planned the day before. If you’re invited over, our plates will probably be mismatched and the silverware too, the napkins will be cloth but different colors, and there will 4 or 5 dishes of good food on the table. Dig in. You’re always welcome here.
We like feeding our people.
We’d like to feed you.
When Danny and I gathered people’s wishes for recipes we could make gluten-free for American Classics Reinvented, we knew we needed to meet the people who wanted those dishes. We did a road trip around New England in a minivan with Lucy, and then a trip down California the month before Desmond was born. Everywhere we went, we walked into gatherings organized by other people, to potlucks full of good food in churches in Amish country, community centers, gluten-free bakeries, vineyards, public parks, restaurants, and beautiful home kitchens. We listened and ate and took notes. We laughed, a lot. I will remember those trips until the day I die. Hearing your food stories meant the world to us. And those stories fueled our cookbook.
However, the best part of those parties was always the moment when someone came up to me and said, “Thank you for throwing this party. I had no idea there were this many gluten-free people in my town!” I love connecting people. That’s why I really love throwing parties. And a party with gluten-free food connects people — they feel like they belong again.
We had planned on doing a research trip across the Midwest and in the South, but that baby being born put a stop to those plans. Danny and I wanted to hit the road with both the kids when American Classics Reinvented hit bookstores, but this fall turned out to be different than we imagined. We have to stay here through the fall, for the most part. (New York, I’m coming to you for a week in October.) We have to be here for Lu’s surgery and medical stuff.
We can’t really tour with this book right now.
This cookbook is not about us. It truly isn’t. This is a book about longing and finding a place of belonging. That happens through casseroles and fried fish, cherry pie and snickerdoodles. These are the foods that people fear they will miss when they have to be gluten-free. And not sharing food with the people they love makes some feel left out. Let me tell you, at the parties we throw, no one is allowed to feel left out.
Hearing me read at a bookstore won’t mean as much as throwing a party yourself, in honor of the cookbook and the food you are loving, plus educating your friends and family that gluten-free doesn’t have to mean deprivation. We want this to be your celebration.
So, we’re wondering this. Would you like to have a gluten-free party in honor of American Classics Reinvented? We’d love to be there, virtually.
Instead of a book tour for American Classics Reinvented, I’d love to hear about parties all across this country, in homes and community centers, churches and gluten-free bakeries. Have a pie party! There are 10 different pies in this cookbook. Ask 9 friends to each make a pie and you make one. Eat a lot of vegetables for dinner, then dig in.
Maybe you’re from the Midwest and you miss the familiar dishes you grew up with. Make every Midwest dish in the book: Wisconsin fish fry, tater tot hot dish, the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich, and the cream of mushroom soup to make any casserole you love. There are plenty more. Make it a church potluck.
Do you live in the South? Have you missed hush puppies and gumbo and fried pickles? Coconut layer cake? Buttermilk chess pie? Throw yourself a party and ask everyone to come over and celebrate with you.
Whether you have a small party with family and friends or you organize a big party in your town at the public park with the help of your local gluten-free support group, we want to hear about it. Of course, we’d love if you mentioned the party on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter or Periscope, mostly so we can see it! (Use the hashtag #gfgamerica and everyone can see it.) I think the best way for this book to sell — and there have been plenty of people buying it — is through enthusiastic word of mouth.
I wish we could come to every gluten-free potluck party. There might be a way. Throw a party any time in October, the harvest month, and we’ll Skype into your party, if you want. Send me an email if you are interested in that and we’ll arrange the time and date.
We’ve floated this idea past a few people and every one of them has said the same: I want to have a party!
We hope you will too.
Let’s gather together and feed our people with good food.
p.s. I’ve left comments closed on this post. Instead, email me with your specific question at firstname.lastname@example.org. If there are common questions, I’ll add the answers to this post. Thanks!