Potlucks and Parties: City slickers who move to these parts are often surprised at the inability of guests to accept a dinner invitation without asking, “What Can I Bring?” This is not an empty gesture, but an acknowledgement that entertaining is tough! And yet, we all love getting together, so if easing the hosts burden will ensure more parties, we’re all in. Of course, there are fancy shmancy parties where it is not appropriate to bring a contribution of food. For those you’ll want to bring some super cool host/hostess gift. On all other occasions we find that people actually like to bring something, so hosts, take them up on the offer, and guests offer up whatever you like to make best.
Tailgates and Picnics and Stakeouts oh my!: And Drive-ins and days at the beach, the park, the field. Summer especially is about being mobile. Some foods travel well from point A to point B, but do not do well going much further down the alphabet, getting loaded, toted and hauled to fun destinations. These occasions call for food that is either sturdy on its own, or composed of components that are easily stored and then assembled on site with minimal effort and equipment.
Apres Anything: Apres ski of course is a classic celebration of low bar entertaining. Furry boots, bota bags of Almaden, salami and cheese, fondue and pickles, a crock pot full of Swedish meatballs. This is livin’. The key to the apres ski experience is the social factor and the complete irrelevance of dress code, punctuality, fussing, over-preparation or etiquette of any kind. But why reserve such fun for winter? Anytime of year is perfect for an impromptu gathering of fun friends or fun folks you met that day. Note the common thread here is FUN.
Drop and Run: Someone you know just had a baby, or had surgery, or had a death in the family. A spouse is traveling or ill. A couple is traveling and the grandparents on kid duty. There are many times when you want to help out, or just show someone you are thinking of them but you don’t want to invade their space. This calls for foods that can be made ahead and dropped off either ready to eat or ready to be easily stored.
Weekend Away 1: You lucked out and got invited to go to someone’s lake house, beach house, ski house for the weekend. Get it right the first time! Bring good food, and be a low impact guest who respects the physical or psychic space of your hosts. That means bringing ample consumable supplies for the weekend, and also non perishable staples that can be used on their next visit. It means getting out of their hair in the morning, but having a repertoire of delicious things that can be prepared ahead or with minimal time, space and effort. It means bringing good food AND good cheer, and in true boy scout tradition leaving no trace, unless it is a fabulous gift they will use often, causing them to say, “Hey, we ought to have them over again!”
Weekend Away 2: This away game is less about impressing and more about survival. With family harmony and mood at stake it is no less vital to get it right. You and the fam are going away on vacation or (less glamorously) to a sports tournament and staying in a rental house or condo. You can a: spend twice what you did on the condo eating out at every meal or b: pack the car with a lot of good stuff so you can spend your time and money enjoying your vacation instead of waiting an hour for that table for six at the not so excellent restaurant with the blooming onion you wish nobody had ordered.
Eats on the Go: If you’ve got kids you’ve got afternoon sports and activities. Sometimes this means months on end of eating several meals a week in the car or at some venue other than home. Even if you’re ok with eating pizza, Subway or fast food multiple times a week there comes a time when you want real food. It’s better for you, it’s cheaper and with a titch of planning it can taste a whole lot better.
Wake Up! Breakfast is serious business. It’s also probably the easiest thing to get right. The beauty is that so many great breakfasts can be eaten on the go, are good hot or at room temp, and are even better as leftovers. Bring it breakfasts don’t have to be fully prepared off-site. They include lots of great things (like 2-2/3-3 Crepes) that can be assembled the night (or even days) before, then popped into the oven or poured into a griddle in the morning.
Camping, Hiking and Roughing it: Some of the best and most memorable food you will ever have is trail food. Not because it is necessarily all that great, but because after a strenuous and/or uncomfortable outdoor adventure food, any food, is much more appreciated. (See Better in a Backpack for some hiking food ideas). And away from creature comforts good food seems nothing short of miraculous. Plus, things just taste better outdoors, even if its been dropped in the dirt a bit.
Snacks: Viva le snack! Grown ups may deny or decry the urge, but kids are unabashedly, joyfully all about snacks. Much of it is about of necessity— replenishing what they’re burning, fueling growth spurts, getting through a school day or eating on the go before during and after activities. Then there are class parties, teacher gifts, team events, etc. In general one can never have enough snacks! All this snacking is great, but it can put the snack-maker-in-chief over the edge, so as early as possible our goal should be to toss the snack-making baton to our kids, so they can make what they want when they want, and we can be happy knowing they will not starve in a fully stocked kitchen.
Positive Snacks: Many of the snacks here were proposed, tested and approved by kids participating in Positive Tracks, an organization that’s all about kids using their creative energy to raise money with and for other kids. We seriously dig on Positive Tracks. And come on kids— yes you little darlings, we’re talking to you— the point here is independence. With a little guidance you can totally make these things yourselves. There now, doesn’t self reliance taste good?