Story, Value, and Becoming More Real
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Let’s Have a Neighborhood Potluck

June 17, 2021

Annie Nardone

What is there more kindly than the feeling between host and guest?

— Aeschylus


Once upon a time, neighborhoods were like little villages. The children walked out the side door of the house in the morning and came home when the street lights flickered on. All of the grownups ‘kept an eye’ on each other’s kids, and screen doors creaked open and slammed shut all through the day with the comings and goings of moms and kids. Rummage sales were a big event! Lemonade stands were posted in front yards and garages set up with tables piled high with used clothes and toys that you might have coveted and could now secure with a quarter. You knew the babysitters like they were family and which house had the best snacks and a good TV set or a fancy yard sprinkler to play in. The block where you grew up was a hive of activity, friendship, drama, and moms who could cook up a backyard picnic in a short afternoon.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to meet up with neighbors again in the warmth of a summer evening? Many of us hardly know our neighbors anymore, but there is nothing like a backyard picnic to bring old and new friends together. It takes a bit of courage to knock on doors and welcome all with warm hospitality, but building relationships with those who live around you gives you a sense of place and belonging. We have good stories and some special recipes to share with each other and it all starts with a smile and an invitation to break bread together.

You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces — just good food from fresh ingredients. — Julia Child


The food doesn’t have to be fussy or from recipes pulled from the latest cookbook. I usually go back to what I know and love. Maid-Rites diners are a midwest franchise that was started in the 1920s. They are known for their simple ground beef sandwich made with steamed beef that is scooped into a soft hamburger bun, then topped with ketchup, yellow mustard, and pickles. (You can also be a bit of a rebel and order it with grilled onion.) Then the sandwich is wrapped up in paper and served with a spoon to ensure that you get every scrap of meat. Maid-Rites are a real treat, especially with a thick chocolate malt or cold lemonade on the side! As the franchise faded into history (although you can still find a few in Iowa), home cooks came up with a recipe that is a fair imitation of the original. After the meat is cooked, keep it in the crock pot to stay warm for the table. I’ve paired the beloved sandwich with another midwest-picnic staple, cabbage slaw. This salad was always an essential on every camping trip as a perfect side dish for outdoor events because it’s dairy- and mayo-free and keeps well.

Maid-Rites in Crock Pot

What you need:

3 lbs lean ground beef

4 beef bouillon cubes

1 cup hot water

2 Tbs soy sauce


What you do:

  1. Place hamburger (it can even be frozen) in crock pot.
  2. Dissolve bouillon cubes in hot water and stir in soy sauce.
  3. Pour sauce over meat, cover, and cook low for about 3-4 hours, longer if using frozen meat.
  4. Break hamburger up with a fork or wooden spoon.
  5. Use slotted spoon to serve the meat on soft hamburger buns.


Easy Cabbage Slaw

What you need:

1 medium head of cabbage, chopped

1 large green or red pepper, chopped

1 cup shredded carrots

2 cups sugar

2 cups vinegar

1 tsp celery seed

1 tsp whole mustard seed

1 cup water


What you do:

  1. Combine chopped vegetables in a large bowl.
  2. Stir the sugar, vinegar, water, and seasonings together in a heavy pot.
  3. Boil until sugar is dissolved, cool, then pour over vegetables.
  4. Stir to combine and refrigerate. Will keep in fridge for several days.


The featured image is courtesy of Annie Nardone and used here with her gracious permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project. 


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