We spent the day putting away all the Christmas decorations in the natural light while it was available. We are completing day eight of our holiday power outage. We have been without power since last Friday, due to a storm that left ¾ of an inch of ice on everything in its path. Life has ground to a slow frozen halt, except for the sound of branches and trees breaking from the weight of the ice, falling across lawns, driveways and streets, taking the power lines with them. What started out as an inconvenience has blossomed into a slightly tedious endurance test. We joke about being ‘pioneers’ although we are sitting better than most. Since we heat with wood, we are warm and can cook on our gas stove.
Normally, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to feel inconvenienced in any meaningful way, except this was the holiday. Plans had been made, food purchased and company poised to arrive. This was not what we expected or wanted! We love pulling out all the stops for the occasion, with plenty of food and drink for family and friends. It’s a main event, something not to miss and my nose was out of joint. I had planned to roast leg of lamb, stuffed with garlic and herbs, accompanied by a Provence casserole made with caramelized onions, zucchini and tomatoes topped with Gruyere cheese. Did I mention the Swiss chard gratin with pancetta, cream and garlic, the kale Caesar salad or the curry carrot soup? Last but not least, the warm apple crisp with homemade ice cream? @#^%!
What? Did I hear you say this is not about me? Perhaps you’re right. When it comes to food, humility is not one of my strong suits. I do so enjoy putting on the Ritz for the holidays. Cooking for others is my bliss so to speak. When I realized that it was unlikely that we would have our electricity back for Christmas, I called my brother to say I was sorry, but I was cancelling our gathering. We were out of power and couldn’t do our traditional spread; maybe next week, possibly on New Year’s Day? I turned off my cell phone to preserve what power I had left and stared at the house bereft of Christmas lights, music and general cheer. Then I did what I usually do to improve my mood…cook.
I went in the kitchen and assembled ingredients for chili. Ground pork, chorizo, poblano peppers, onions, garlic, tomatoes and corn that had been put up in summer was retrieved from the freezer. I pulled dark red kidney beans and tomato paste from the pantry and started chopping, sautéing and seasoning. What started out as a distraction from my disappointment, turned into a huge pot of simmering chili. Then it hit me. Maybe we could just have chili and still get together for Christmas? Why was I so insistent that it be our usual huge spread? Could it be that I was seriously missing the point?
I called my brother back to see what he thought about having chili. He said it would be fine and so much easier than rescheduling everyone. I ended the call feeling relieved and knowing in my heart that getting together was the right thing to do.
Each year we share a Christmas tree with our neighbor Lynne due to our ridiculous collection of cats. On Christmas day everyone arrived as usual with plenty of holiday spirit and cheer. We had carted over chili, cheese and salami, along with beer, wine and gifts earlier. Lynne fired up her generator and lit up the tree to provide the additional ambiance. My brother’s girlfriend Deb supplied corn muffins and a homemade coconut cream pie. After taking our time opening our gifts, we sat down to steaming bowls of chili and conversation. My nephew Ian said, “You know it’s not what we have to eat that so important, it’s the getting together. Christmas wouldn’t be the same without that.” That’s when I realized the greatest gift of all couldn’t be purchased. Over those steaming bowls of chili, we were rich in the love with have for each other. The true meaning for the season was shared in the glow passing through each of us.
“Home wasn’t a set house, or a single town on a map. It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together. Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.”
― Sarah Dessen