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MARGARET PROUSE: A glance back at 2019

A vegetarian chili similar to this one was just one of the dishes that food columnist Margaret Prouse provided during 2019 as part of a Once-a-Month Dinner Club gift.
A vegetarian chili similar to this one was just one of the dishes that food columnist Margaret Prouse provided during 2019 as part of a Once-a-Month Dinner Club gift. - 123RF Stock Photo

There were plenty of cooking successes, failures and learning experiences in the kitchen

On this last Friday of 2019, I’m taking a look over my shoulder before bidding the year goodbye.  

One of the best Christmas gifts I gave last year was something we called the Once-a-Month Dinner Club. The wrapped gift consisted of two casserole dishes with a note attached, explaining that I’d make dinner once a month for my daughter and son-in-law’s busy family. Each month they’d decide on the date when they wanted to have the meal, and when delivering the main dish in one of the casseroles, I’d pick up the empty casserole to take home and fill the next time. 

It was a fun challenge, deciding on a suitable meal that would stand up to reheating (that eliminates things like stirfries) and that they’d enjoy. Some of the selections were turkey potpie (January, of course), vegetarian chili, roasted pork and vegetables with coleslaw, haddock bubbly bake with broccoli salad and empanadas. Like most schemes that are intended to roll out over a year, this one had to be modified for external reasons, but I think it was a success in spite of that.

That particular project had me learning to prepare more single serving foods, like empanadas, hand pies and samosas because they are easy for people to grab and reheat when they are ready to eat. I have followed on with making more of these for the holiday season to free up time to spend visiting.  

September’s post-tropical storm Dorian provided a few lessons about being prepared for power outages. Being without electricity for almost 48 hours led me to realize that having a little butane stove on hand to heat water and food is not enough; you need to have extra cylinders of fuel available as well. Living in the country, and relying on an electric pump to draw our water, we were lucky that someone had given us a case of bottled water just prior to the storm. We heeded the warnings that that a storm was coming, and made a point of using most of the perishable foods in the fridge, leaving it stocked mainly with condiments like pickles when the power went out. Consequently, we didn’t have to throw out a lot of groceries. 

We kept the freezer closed for the whole time we were without power, and so most of the foods still had ice crystals in them when the power came on, with the exception of some blueberries that made a big mess. The freezer temperature would have stayed colder for longer if we had packed bags of ice or freezer packs in all the empty spaces and covered the freezer itself with blankets to insulate it from the warmer room air.

Celebrations are always fun, and often involve cake. That seductive ever-changing online collection of images on Pinterest provided inspiration for a cake I decorated for a third birthday party about a month ago. It was for a little guy who loves diggers, dozers and dump trucks. The chocolate cake, which I shamelessly copied from a picture someone posted, was composed of two layers of different sizes so that the area around the base of the smaller top layer became a ledge. Both layers were frosted, and one side of the top layer was shredded away, to create the appearance that it had been excavated. Skor bar bits, butterscotch chips and mini chocolate caramel candies, representing rocks, clung to icing on the excavated side. On the top, and the ledge around the edge of the bottom layer, we placed little toy earth moving machines, all pushing around more candies. It was fun to make, employing the kind of cake decorating that requires little skill or equipment, and the trucks full of candy created play opportunities for the recipient.

There were plenty of misses and outright failures in the year that’s ending, as well.  I could regale you with stories of tough pork chops, cakes that didn’t rise, jam that set a little too much and other efforts that didn’t meet expectations. I don’t worry a great deal about the failures; they’re just learning opportunities. There will be more in 2020, and maybe I’ll share the lessons then. 

Enjoy these last days of 2019 and have a very happy New Year.

Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by email at

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