- The Washington Times - Monday, March 1, 2004

It’s not just luck that Winifred Morice and Don Sudduth have been happily married for 15 years. If you ask either, he or she will tell you that they’ve abided by the only two rules they set for each other: She wouldn’t put rubber bands on doorknobs, and he wouldn’t put knives in his mouth.

The wedding itself was another story. It was a potluck.

“We were living on a small houseboat at the time,” Mrs. Morice said, “and we had no room for gifts. So we told our guests to bring food, instead. Besides, Don was so utterly friendly, he was inviting people right up to the last minute. He would have driven caterers right out of their minds.”

At some potlucks, dishes may be assigned, but this one’s menu was left to luck. The result was two pool tables groaning with finger food, casseroles and salads. There were also tons of desserts, even though the bride herself baked the wedding cake, a tower of coffee-liqueur-laced white chocolate. One woman brought raw dough and baked cookies on the spot.

“Don said we didn’t need a cake because his friends would rather just have another beer,” Mrs. Morice said, “but I knew we had to serve cake or they’d never go home.”

When it came time to toss her bouquet, the bride threw one of the extra loaves of bread instead, because she wanted to take her bouquet on her honeymoon to her native New Zealand so she could show her mom. That led some guests to turn other bread loaves into make-believe musical instruments and form their own orchestra.

Arriving at the airport, bouquet in hand, the couple were upgraded to first class as a honeymoon gift from the airline. Upon landing in New Zealand, though, the bouquet was confiscated at the agricultural monitoring checkpoint.

During their marriage, the couple have had a stake in many a potluck, mostly on a smaller scale. Monthly meetings of Mrs. Morice’s book group are potlucks. Unlike what the couple did for their wedding, the book group often requests certain favorite recipes from her. One is for curry-scented deviled eggs. Another is for bites of marinated salmon sizzled in a wok, then strewn with chopped pistachios.

Other times, Mrs. Morice tries to make something that can be managed in one hand. “It should be easy to grab and serve, if you don’t know what you’re going into in terms of the type of service,” she said. The egg and salmon recipes, for instance, provide a protein dish without having to use knife and fork.

Sippable soups and sturdy, unfrosted carry-along cakes are other favorites.

“Soups are something you can make, take and serve in the same pot.” She suggested making anything that can be cooked in a slow cooker: “Unplug it, take it with you and plug it back in.”

A well-built Bundt cake is a good choice for dessert. If you want to decorate it a bit, Mrs. Morice suggests mixing up a cup of glaze in a jar to take along with some nuts and quickly finishing off the cake at the party. “That way, you don’t have to worry about dinging the decorations in transport. Don’t leave that part to luck.”

Mrs. Morice and Mr. Sudduth have grown to depend less on luck than they did on their wedding day. Now when they host a potluck (they’ve moved from the boat to a multicolored home they call “the playhouse”), dishes, or at least courses, are assigned for their guests to bring.

“For smaller gatherings, say three couples, we provide the main meal and ask one couple to bring appetizers and the other dessert,” Mrs. Morice says. “All of us bring wine, of course.” For larger gatherings, the couple breaks it down into categories such as appetizer, main dish, salad, side dish and dessert, leaving the rest to luck.

“Then there are always a few culinarily challenged beings who can be assigned the responsibility for music, flowers, wine or even cleanup,” she says, laughing.

Here are Mrs. Morice’s egg and salmon recipes, along with two sippable soups and a well-built cake:

Deviled eggs

1 dozen hard-cooked eggs, shelled

1½ teaspoons curry powder

½ teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives

⅓ cup mayonnaise

Using a sharp knife, halve eggs lengthwise and gently scoop yolks into bowl.

Arrange whites on serving platter. Mash yolks with a fork, adding curry powder, salt, pepper to taste and chives. Mix in mayonnaise. Adjust seasonings to taste. Using a small spoon, pile mixture into egg whites, or use a pastry bag fitted with a star tip and pipe mixture into egg whites.

Pistachio salmon bites

1 pound salmon fillet, about 1 inch thick

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon grated ginger root

2 teaspoons dark sesame oil

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon finely chopped pistachios

Rinse salmon and pat it dry with paper towels. Cut into 1-inch chunks. Place in plastic bag set in a shallow dish. In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons water, soy sauce, ginger root and sesame oil. Pour over salmon chunks. Close bag. Marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes, turning bag occasionally.

In a large nonstick skillet or wok, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Drain salmon, discarding marinade. Cook and gently stir salmon chunks for 3 to 5 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Remove from skillet. Drain on paper towel. Arrange on serving platter. Sprinkle with pistachios. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 20 to 24 servings as an appetizer.

Tomato-basil bisque

This recipe was adapted from the “Totally Tomato Cookbook,” by Helene Siegel (Ten Speed).

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup chopped onion

2 to 3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 small bunch basil, leaves only

4 large tomatoes, seeded and chopped

3 cups chicken or vegetable stock

Salt and freshly ground pepper

½ cup whipping cream

2 tablespoons dry sherry

Hot red pepper sauce, optional

Additional basil leaves for garnish

Melt butter in heavy stockpot over medium heat. Cook onion until soft, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic; cook 30 seconds longer. Stir in basil, tomatoes, stock, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer about 20 minutes. Transfer to food processor or blender in batches, and puree until smooth.

Strain back into pot, and add cream. Return to a boil, and stir in sherry and hot red pepper sauce to taste, if desired. Remove from heat and serve hot, garnished with additional basil. Makes 6 servings.

Cream of celery soup

This recipe was created by Marion Cunningham.

10 to 12 stalks celery (inner light-colored or white center stalks), chopped

1 onion, chopped

6 cups chicken broth

1½ cups half-and-half

1½ cups milk

Salt

In a large pot, combine celery, onion and broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until celery is tender, about 30 minutes. Puree vegetables in batches in food processor or blender. Return puree to pot, and add half-and-half and milk. Stir to mix well. Add salt to taste. Reheat over low; serve hot. Makes 4 servings.

Pumpkin-nut cake with maple glaze

3 cups cake flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

3/4 cup vegetable oil

3 eggs

1 30-ounce can pumpkin pie filling mix

½ cup, plus 1 to 2 tablespoons, light evaporated milk, divided

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

½ teaspoon maple flavoring

Walnut halves

Combine flour, baking powder, soda and salt in bowl, and toss with fork to blend thoroughly.

In large bowl of electric mixer, beat oil with eggs, pie-filling mix and ½ cup milk. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Fold in chopped walnuts. Transfer to oiled fluted tube pan. Bake in preheated 325-degree oven 45 minutes or until cake tests done. Cool on rack 15 minutes, then turn cake out onto rack and cool completely.

In small bowl, mix confectioners’ sugar, 1 tablespoon remaining milk and maple flavoring. Stir until smooth. Add more milk as needed to make a thin glaze. Pour glaze over cooled cake. Garnish with walnut halves. Makes about 12 servings.

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