Guest Chick: Catriona McPherson

The Chicks are absolutely thrilled to have fab and funny author pal Catriona McPherson back for another visit to the coop! Scot in a Trap, the fifth book in Catriona’s darkly humorous Last Ditch Mystery series, is out this week. Grab a copy for the holidays and an extra copy to put under the tree for your favorite reader friend. Today, Catriona talks about rules that should be adopted for potlucks and other communal eating occasions.

Have you finished all your Thanksgiving leftovers yet? Or are there still some safely tucked away in the freezer? Even recklessly tucked away in the fridge? Hopefully, not insanely lying around at ambient temperatures, but you do you.

SCOT IN A TRAP opens on Thanksgiving morning and while the plot is murder and the subplot is #MeToo, the sub-sub-plot is definitely leftovers.

I love leftovers. So, it was a sad day in my new country when I found that, here in California at least, when you bring something to a potluck and it doesn’t get finished, you take it home again! How did I find out? I eyed up a cheese ball (What can I say? My friends are classy) I was too full to even think about. “That’s lunch for the week sorted,” I said to myself. Then, at the end of the night, I saw the cheese-ball-bearer re-Tupperwaring it and slipping it into her bag. Eh?

Next potluck, I got sneaky. I carved off a hunk of . . . I think it was paté with some kind of berry topping . . . and hid it in a cupboard. Unfortunately, my dad found it when he was doing the dishes and thought some party guest had dumped it there because they didn’t like it and didn’t want to offend whoever had made it. So he helpfully hoyed it into the bin.

For these reasons and more, my first rule for sharing food is

1. She who folds the guest towels gets the leftovers.

Rule 2 is also about potlucks. They’re a great invention, in their own way. You can feed twenty people without breaking the bank or the spirit. But! There are always some sneaky freeloaders, aren’t there? There’s always someone who brings a bag of Doritos and eats seven pieces of fried chicken. There’s always someone who brings cheese and crackers and eats three slices of Black Forest gateau. Shame on them:

2. Thou shalt not eat anything nicer than your thing.

Is this practical? Would it start an arms races ending up with everyone bringing lobster? Oh no, what a tragedy that would be. Finally, on the subject of potlucks, I’ve had the experience of planning and executing a dinner party for ten people, where the word “potluck” appeared nowhere in the initial invitation or subsequent exchanges and yet opening the front door to greet a guest with a foil covered tray who – get this –changed the temperature setting of my oven to finish off her dish. And took the leftovers home.

3. Menus must be respected.

Next, sharing food in restaurants. I’m not even going to talk about tapas, that triumph of passive aggression. God, I hate tapas. If there are six of you they bring five things, if there are five they bringfour. I’ve never been out for tapas in my life and not wanted to stop for fish and chips on the way home. No, I’m talking about an ordinary restaurant – Chinese, Thai, Indian, Jamaican, Ethiopian –where a group of friends or colleagues might gather for sustenance. There are menus – starters and mains / appetizers and entrées – and no need for any trouble. Until that one person – and there always is one – utters these words: “Let’s order for the table and eat family style, shall we?” It should work. You should be able to order enough yummy stuff for everyone. People, it never works. It never works because the person who suggests it only suggests it because they A. are pretending to eat healthily and believe that the lamb pasanda they swallow is calorie-free as long as they didn’t order it or B. always wanted to try curry goat but suspect they won’t like it. So:

4. Order what you eat and eat what your order.

I’m going to end on a happy note. For a decade, I was in a pub quiz team that met once a month in an Irish pub and argued about the length of rivers and the highest grossing movie of 1990. Then the pub closed down and the quiz went online. So, we decided to meet in one another’s houses once a month to eat, drink and argue instead. There was just one rule:

5. No fuss; no cleaning.

We stick to it. We order pizza and buy ice-cream and there are no guest towels involved. It’s heaven. (And six people can’t finish two giant pizzas; so the host’s lunch is all set for the next day.) What food-sharing rules would you add – or subtract – from these, Chicks? I’m open to reason except on tapas.

Catriona McPherson (she/her) was born in Scotland and immigrated to the US in 2010. She writes: preposterous 1930s detective stories, set in the old country and featuring an aristocratic sleuth; modern comedies set in the Last Ditch Motel in fictional (yeah, sure) California; and, darker than both of those (which is not difficult), a strand of contemporary psychological thrillers. 

Her books have won or been shortlisted for the Edgar, the Anthony, the Agatha, the Lefty, the Macavity, the Mary Higgins Clark award and the UK Ellery Queen Dagger. She has just introduced a fresh character in IN PLACE OF FEAR, which finally marries her love of historicals with her own working-class roots, but right now, she’s writing the sixth book in what was supposed to be the Last Ditch trilogy.

Catriona is a proud lifetime member and former national president of Sisters in Crime.

So, do you have a go-to dish for potluck invitations? Do you prefer to meet-up at restaurants? Do you agree with Catriona’s food sharing rules? Share in the comments.

44 thoughts on “Guest Chick: Catriona McPherson

  1. Hilarious. Enjoyed this immensely. I am reminded of a dinner where a guest brought minimal, and their five -year-old ate all the shrimp. Is there a rule about that? Perhaps a sub rule of #2. I’ll leave it to Catriona to compose. Looking forward to the new book!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ha! That reminds me of the Tom Hanks character in You’ve Got Mail scooping all th caviar garnish from a serving platter into his mouth. (I’m not touching “How to bring up your kids”!)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes! A classic scene! I’ve always wanted to go to one of those elegant publishing parties held in some exec’s or famous author’s bookishly-furnished Upper West Side brownstones. Also Meg Ryan’s huge, sunny apt. Sigh.


    1. Right? I was dumfounded. And I don’t get the upside of it because I still can’t do it when I go to a potluck. Mind you, it does mean that everyone’s always got all their own dishes. There’s no monumental casserole diaspora.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Too funny! We went to a tapas restaurant before Thanksgiving this year, and I had to keep reminding my husband that each dish was meant to be shared between all 6 of us. Poor guy. He really didn’t want to share the chicken skewers with anyone.
    On 6 people not finishing 2 giant pizzas, all I can say is, clearly you’ve never shared a pizza with me. I’ll make sure there aren’t any pesky pizza leftovers. Unless there’s pineapple involved.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Funny you should say that about pineapple. Last night, I cut up a pineapple for pudding forgetting that the main course was lentil and pineapple curry I’d made the day before.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. We still have leftover cranberry sauce–two kinds–because I forgot to put it out for Thanksgiving dinner.

    Yes!! I detest it when someone else presumes that their “table order” will be universally enjoyed. And the bill divided evenly. No, thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Especially when one does not eat seafood and that’s what everyone suddenly gets excited about and orders. Ruins my appetite (and wallet) completely.


      1. If they love it so much why don’t they want to eat it??? I can’t imagine wanting to order something enough to inist on ordering it but not enough to want to it eat all.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. One of my brothers always requests that I make my veggie quiche. I’m usually the one the fixes the veggie platter too. We aren’t vegetarians but my dad always had a big garden so we grew up eating tons of vegetables all year long.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Funnily enough, two weeks ago on a NanoWrimo write-in breakfast, I ordered smoked tofu omelette and someone said – with great surprise – “Oh! I didn’t know you were a vegetarian”. It’s odd when people think you’ll eat meat at every meal if you can.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. My rule is, he who isn’t doing the majority of the work doesn’t get to argue about what is or isn’t served. And that’s why I don’t offer opinions on what is served at these meals.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I don’t know if there are still monthly company coffees in the Army anymore. But 30 years ago, we were stationed in Germany. December rolled around and one of the wives (a good friend) volunteered to do the coffee that month. She was an excellent cook and had an absolutely wonderful spread. At the end of the evening, I stayed to give her a hand cleaning up. One of the wives (after everyone else had left) asked if she could fix a plate for her husband as “he didn’t get any dinner tonight”. Of course, my friend said yes. This person (who I frankly never cared for and who was a lousy cook to boot) loaded two plates up and swanned out the door. I was flabbergasted and my friend (who didn’t suffer fools gladly) was even more so.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Love this post, Catriona, and thanks for being on the Chicks!

    Ordering family style works for me…if it’s actually my family. People are too polite to actually eat the last bite. If I’m dining out with friends, though, we each get our own dish. And we’ve learned to ask the server to split the bill. Otherwise, the poor person at the end gets stuck with making the numbers work (i.e. paying more money).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yes! Family style is fine if it’s my family. Apart from anything else we’re not above hitting someone’s knuckles with a fork if they try to beat you to a good bit of something.


  8. Fun post, Catriona! I totes agree on appetizers. Hate it when a friend orders “for the table” and it ‘s something I don’t care for and hubs is allergic to — then has the waiter split the ticket evenly!
    Thanks for hanging out with us today!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. How much do I love this post? Thank you, Catriona, for the laughs (and true-isms)–and for visiting us on Chicks today. Next time we will offer food. I rarely get to have tapas because they infuriate my hubby–the minute he sees “tapas” listed in a restaurant description or menu, we’re outta there. He complains they’re a rip-off and generally underwhelming. A lot of other people in these parts seem to agree with him. I’m not sure tapas are really a New England thing. Unless they are loaded potato skins.


    1. I had lovely “small plates” at a publishers lunch at The SHed in Notting Hill – but there were four of us and they brought four of everything and kept on bringing more.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. One of the many charming traditions here in Hawai’i is that everyone ALWAYS brings a dish to share when invited to another’s house–it’s considered rude not to do so. So no matter what you prepare for your dinner party, you can be sure there will also be plenty of spam musubi, ahi poke, and lilikoi mochi to go around, as well. And folks tend to leave the leftovers with the hostess, too. Nice, that.

    Ta very much for stopping by the Chicks today, my dear Catriona, and congrats on the new book! Can’t wait for my order to arrive in the mail!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wait one gosh-darned minute here, Catriona! I’m sorry to be such a potty-mouth, but am I to be expected to leave my favorite casserole dish in its festive wicker-and-gingham carrying case at your house after a party?? Just because not everyone liked my cold fish crumble with marzipan ganache and/or you wanted it for lunch for the coming month?? You’d have to push a tearful Becky right off your front porch.

      That said, I’m all for Rule #5. My book club loves a spread of nibbles, but do they nibble? No, they do not. But I dutifully concoct one anyway. Sigh.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. For a number of years, my wife’s go-to for pot lucks was homemade mac and cheese. Then, she gravitated to corn salsa & chips. These days, it’s sweet potato casserole. We never have leftovers to bring home. All credit and praise go to her.
    My job is to stay out of the way. Things are safer that way. Sláinte!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. LOVED this! My additional rule is, be respectful of the host or hostess’s needs. If they’re in AA, don’t bring a booze-laden dessert. If they’re vegetarian, forget the steak tartare.
    As for bringing home your own leftovers, i think that’s on a case-by-case basis. I’ll transfer my leftovers to a plate for the hosts. But we were at a memorial on Sunday where the dessert table was laden down so heavily, there wasn’t room for much else. Plus, it was toward the end of the evening. I left half my cupcakes and took home the rest.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s cultural – but disconcerting before you learn. I always think that about veg/non-veg sharing a big meal. I’m hyper-aware of where the serving spoons have got to.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. A lovely post, as always!

    Here’s the flip side of potluckers taking their leftovers home. A writer friend hosted our local cross-genre group in her home for our monthly potluck meeting, probably 15-20 people that night (pre-pandemic). We ate then had our meeting. Her husband proceeded to pack away every speck of the leftovers for them. I didn’t like him much before that, but that sealed the deal. It just felt greedy of him.


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