Trina Machacek: The season of returning plates

Trina Machacek

Trina Machacek

  • Discuss Comment, Blog about
  • Print Friendly and PDF

Our parents, and when you become a parent, are full of tidbits of helpful life advice-isms. Don’t run with scissors. Sharing is caring. If you get knocked down, come back up swinging. There are two that are handy, especially this time of the year. Here’s one.

With potlucks happening at the drop of a green bean casserole, visitors coming and going so often your budget of toilet paper increases, or you find yourself going over the river and through the woods to grandmothers house we go, remember this.

When you have the luck of having a surprise guest who brings anything to eat? Never return an empty plate. This one is a long-standing idea for sure. Just as sure as there was cousin Susie’s ambrosia salad and uncle Al’s sausage-filled pierogis, there will be leftovers after a meal created by friends and family.

Yes, most plates will be emptied at the meal, or scraped off into oblivion after the gobble is over. Like three bean salad, I am just saying. Those empty plates will go home with the owners. But! Yes, an extra cream cheese filled pumpkin muffin “but.” There will always be some plates that will need to be returned. I might add that they will be the plates of potluck professors who are in the know.

Over their years of pot lucking, they lost a few plates over time. How do I know that? Because after learning the hard way, they now bring food on plates that have some sort of indelible black marker, or some long ago applied white first aid tape, or heavy-duty masking tape used to write the name of the owner of the dish on the bottom of said plate. Or bowl. Or basket.

Markings that will never come off while washing off the last of the pimento-dotted cheese ball that was surrounded with Melba toast crackers. Crackers that no way, no how could ever break into that cheese ball without breaking and leaving jagged edges sticking out of said five-pound-solid-as-a-rock cheese ball. Making it look like one of those ancient Morning Star clubs. The big iron ball adorned with many spikes that was hooked to a club.

It was used to clear the way to the dessert table. But I do go on, don’t I? In reality it isn’t what you put on the plate when you return it. It’s more about the action of using the return to thank the person of the first gift of goodness. Sometimes you know things about the plate owner.

She loves sunflower seeds, so a small package of sunflower seeds in a returned bowl is a great idea. They like lifesavers at their house. A couple of rolls of the mixed flavor savers will do the trick. They have kids in school? A pack of No. 2 pencils will be appreciated. Or yes you are more than allowed to return the plate full of cookies. It’s your choice.

Of course, there’s a way to forgo the returning plate. Take your initial offering on a disposable something. Paper plate. Heck just take paper plates. Always a good additive to any potluck feast. Or fill an aluminum throwaway pan full of tiny Swedish meatballs. Uh, don’t forget the toothpicks. And leave the extra tiny wooden skewers for your hostess.

After all, you don’t know how many were kid handled. Before I let you in on the second advice-ism I referred to at the beginning, here is a good reminder. Try not to take your potluck giving to the party in your favorite/best anything. If Murphy has taught us anything it’s that if it’s going to be broken, it’s going to be your best anything.

The most elegant, treasured, my momma’s momma handed it down bowl is the one marked by Mr. Murphy to end up on the floor in a thousand pieces. Hey, why do you think Tupperware was invented?

And no, it wasn’t to just drive us all crazy because we can NEVER find the right lid! The second advice-ism I want to leave you with came about at a family Thanksgiving many, many years ago. No, it wasn’t a food fight. But as we adult children and our somewhat new to the family spouses were working together to “clean up,” someone flicked a bit of water at someone.

The flick-eee then flicked water back and the ensuing indoor water fight is still today a story told with laughter and of course embellishment. So even though a garden hose was brought in the kitchen window, may I advise, “no indoor water fights.”

Trina Machacek lives in Diamond Valley north of Eureka. Her books are available at, or email her at


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment