Potluck Lunch Loophole

One week before our office’s Thanksgiving potluck lunch, I was getting a little desperate to find a recipe that no one else was making.

All of the usual fare had been covered already: dressing, sides, desserts, breads, even drinks were volunteered by my colleagues. Keeping a vegetarian or even vegan diet for the past decade, my choices for what to bring were limited by more than my lack of culinary skill. I wanted something interesting that everyone could enjoy, but that I could confidently craft in no more than three tries, lest I run out of time, first, and food with which to experiment as well.

Happily, while reading a new friend’s lifestyle blog on Saturday, I discovered a marvelous little recipe with the perfect loophole: Healthy No-Bake Apple Cinnamon Energy Bites. Since the actual cooking was bound to be the hardest part for my potluck contribution, skipping it altogether seemed like a wonderful way to begin! The ingredients seemed simple enough, if somewhat unusual, but they looked tasty, and my friend had posted a brief and entertaining video wherein she put them together, so the entire process seemed foolproof. Of course, I had not yet begun to look foolish in my kitchen, but I was game for the challenge and set out to find what I needed before the day was out.

The recipe, which is posted in full right here, called for chewy apple rings and agave syrup, among other more common items, and those took some looking. I found the cinnamon, vanilla, and blue agave syrup at a grocery store in town, and the dates and bulk apple rings at Sprouts Farmers Market, though I read that Trader Joe’s has good apple rings as well. Still, I overbought dramatically, since I needed room to go wrong a time or three before making enough to feed a dozen people, preferably without rationing too sparsely. Sprouts was definitely the best place to get the fruits I needed at reasonable prices.

Smartphone in hand, I read up a bit on oats right there in the grocery store, before deciding on old-fashioned rolled oats instead of the instant variety. It seems like instant would work just fine, but old-fashioned oats bring exactly the consistency you want to offset the softness of the sticky dates, and I highly recommend them.

After one cycle without the oats (um… to check the consistency, thank you, not because I didn’t realize I had skipped something… oh, shut up), and one more with everything in order, I started to get a feel for the process and the goal. A total of eleven cycles, from measuring, to food processor, to shaping by hand and chilling on parchment paper, produced what I was sure would be plenty of Apple Cinnamon Bites for everyone. Little did I know that I had underestimated my friend’s deceptively-simple recipe, and the quality ingredients I insisted on using for my first run at this new process. I came home from the potluck utterly bereft of Bites, and with one colleague patently asking for more the next time I made them. I was not the only one delighted with the results!

While there is no profound insight in this blog post, in keeping with my frequent theme of trying something new and expanding your horizons, I did make a discovery that charmed everyone around me and left a healthy dose of confidence in its wake, though not so much as a crumb on the empty dishes I brought home. Even a man with zero cooking skills, but with a fine formula and good food choices along the way, can strike gold, and so can you. Choose your next testing ground and set yourself up for success. Then go make a mess, and have some fun doing it! Wherever you land, you can be glad you took the leap.