It’s fewer than two weeks until Christmas, and winter came early this year, bringing with it a windstorm that caused major power outages in our province. These facts have dominated my thoughts about food and my activities in my kitchen recently.
In December, we try to squeeze in as many celebrations as possible. There are potluck meals replete with marvelous selections of everyone’s favourite dishes, events at which an ambitious host prepares it all and, thankfully, some get-togethers that take place in restaurants, allowing all the guests to relax while supporting local businesses.
What does one take to a potluck? It depends on the mood of the affair, of course. I would contribute something different to a casual lunchtime meal than to a fancy Christmas buffet. While a plate of devilled eggs might be a good choice for the former, a beautiful salad of spinach with mandarin orange sections, pomegranate arils and candied walnuts might be more at home at the latter.
It’s wise to avoid foods that melt, wilt, sag or separate if not served immediately, and it’s a good idea to label foods containing common allergens, something I forgot to do when sharing devilled eggs containing Dijon mustard last Sunday. Likewise, it’s helpful, in some situations, to let people know if the dish you’re sharing is gluten- or dairy-free, or vegan.
Individually portioned foods, such as mini quiches, sausage rolls, butter tarts and homemade rolls, are easy to serve and easy to eat at potlucks. If you can commit a little time for preparation – you can spread it out over several days – I recommend Tara O’Brady’s Vietnamese-inspired sausage rolls with nuoc cham found in her 2015 Seven Spoons cookbook (Appetite by Random House). If you are caught in a time crunch, it is perfectly fine to avoid the stress of expecting yourself to make everything from scratch and buy some good-quality festive treats from the frozen food section, a deli or a caterer.
Sticking to healthy eating goals while surrounded by festive foods is a challenge that I don’t pretend to meet with any regularity. However, I have learned that my best bet at potlucks is to survey the selection before picking up foods, fill my plate with the dishes that have the most appeal rather than take some of everything and keep portion sizes reasonable. My friends can attest that, when a particularly delicious food is served, I don’t always stop at one small serving. Consistency is the best path to be on, but I don’t berate myself if I stray occasionally.
Besides all the festivities, we still eat at home more often than at parties or restaurants. We didn’t have much choice when the power went out a few weeks ago.
Maritime Electric staff, as always, worked through the storm on our behalf to deal with damage created by the sustained strong winds. We counted ourselves lucky because our power was out only for about 10 hours in total, with a break in the middle, allowing us to regroup; and we were able to stay warm and well-fed.
When the weather forecasters made it clear that we could expect a big windstorm, we collected saucepans and jugs of water in the kitchen, and even poured a little coffee into an insulated container, in case of a caffeine emergency.
The wood stove that keeps us warm in the living room also provided a flat surface that was warm enough to cook bacon and eggs slowly in a frying pan for lunch. That involved opening the fridge door and letting it get a little warmer. With few exceptions, though, we did avoid opening the refrigerator to keep it cold for as long as possible.
We had some food on hand that we’d have been able to use in case of a longer power failure: bread; crackers; peanut butter; tahini, bottles of apple juice; canned tuna and fruit and, of course, Christmas cookies. I will be picking up a few cans of stew or beans to have on hand in case we experience another outage this winter.
Again, I am reminded that planning and preparation are the best tools for eating well, in December and all year.
Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.