The Christmas Disaster of 2013

All I can say is that I’m lucky I live in California.

We were in the early stages of Christmas dinner with our friends, Debra and Ernie, when the stove flickered off.

Frustrated, I moved the cauliflower and truffle soup I was preparing to a different burner, assuming that was the problem. But one after another, I tried all five burners and got no flame. And then a sinking realization washed over me — I rushed out to the propane tank, checked the meter. It read “0”. In other words, empty.

Cauliflower soup cooking on the Weber side burner

Cauliflower soup cooking on the Weber side burner

(For those of you big city dwellers who live your lives in piped-in natural-gas comfort and have no idea what this means, here’s a crash course: We country folk have big propane tanks outside our houses and have to have gas delivered. Usually this is no problem, as we pre-buy our propane and the propane companies are good about not letting their customers’ tanks run low. What a time for them to fail their charge!)

The oven would still work for the main course, but the soup was cold, the mashed potatoes unfinished. And what of the tempura asparagus I was planning for a side dish?

My wife phoned Delta Propane and followed the auto prompt. “Is it an emergency?” she asked me, reflecting on the menu options. “Our propane is out,” I replied. “It’s Christmas dinner, and we’ve got guests. It’s an emergency.”

She got through to a live operator, explained our dilemma, and was promised a call back. In the meantime, we pondered our options. We could scale back our plans for the dinner, or we could schlep all our ingredients down the mountain to Debra and Ernie’s house and prepare dinner there.

My carefully planned Christmas dinner was falling apart before my eyes. It reminded me of the time several years ago at my mother’s house in Sonoma, we had invited one of Dry Creek Valley’s premier wine wakers to dinner, I had printed out menus for the 8-course dinner I was to prepare, and a storm had knocked the power out an hour before the dinner. The kitchen was all electric. And I had to prepare the entire dinner by candlelight on the surface of a wood-burning stove, and on the gas grill outside.

And now, I was an equally desperate man. Then, all of a sudden, I had it — the eureka! moment. I put on the Scott Murphy hat, clicked the high beams, and got to work.

Santa Sean in the Scott Murphy hat, ready for action

Santa Sean in the Scott Murphy hat, ready for action

The weather outside was plunging into the upper 60s — there was no time to lose. I had already shanked off a 1.5 lb. steak that was destined for the grill from the 8 lb. prime rib roast Ernie brought, so it wasn’t too great a stretch to add more components of the Christmas dinner to the al fresco kitchen. I clicked on the side burner — which I’d never before used! — heated up the grill, and got cooking.

In the meantime, Delta Propane called back. On the line was a driver who was on call, also trying to enjoy his Christmas dinner. He could drop everything and bring us propane right that minute if we needed it! He didn’t want our Christmas to be ruined. My wife covered the phone and looked at me sadly. And I shook my head — we’d solved the dilemma sufficiently, and I didn’t want anyone else’s Christmas to be ruined. The driver was grateful, my wife wished him a Merry Christmas and we carried on.

The dinner, despite the challenges, was of course a delicious success. Even the Weber grill-cooked asparagus tempura turned out perfectly, set proudly beside slices of Ernie’s prime rib and my Yukon gold mashed potatoes. Here is the recipe for the cauliflower soup, should you have some good chicken stock and a head of cauliflower around. It’s just about the most gorgeously silky, delicious soup on earth. Although, I recommend cooking it indoors on a regular stove… if you can.


*    *    *

Creamy cauliflower soup
serves 4 – 6

2 quarts good, homemade chicken stock
1 large leek, white part only, cut in 1-inch-long segments
1 tbsp. butter
1 small head cauliflower (or 1/2 large head)
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 oz. fresh white truffle (optional)
salt & pepper to taste

Melt butter in a soup pot over medium heat. Saute leek for 3 or 4 minutes, stirring frequently, until beginning to soften. Add chicken stock and cauliflower, cover, and bring to a simmer. Remove cover and cook for 30 minutes. Turn off heat and let soup cool.

Once soup has cooled to room temperature, place in a blender and puree. Return to soup pot over medium heat, and cook until soup begins to simmer. Add cream, adjust seasonings, and cook for another 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Ladle into bowls. Shave fresh white truffle over the top of each bowl, if you’d like, and serve.

20 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mom
    Dec 27, 2013 @ 01:10:03

    That sounds like a cheery , lollipop, candy cane Christmas party next to our Christmas disaster.


  2. glennis
    Dec 27, 2013 @ 04:39:09

    Aw, hell, you could have come over to our house and used the electric stove and oven!!


    • scolgin
      Dec 27, 2013 @ 16:40:29

      Didn’t even think of that! But yes, given the proximity, that would’ve only added a few dozen extra yards to the distance between kitchen and dining room table. 🙂 I did borrow an egg the other day, though. (Oh, the humiliation…)


  3. linnetmoss
    Dec 27, 2013 @ 14:50:07

    And the moral is, never be without a Weber grill.


  4. rachelocal
    Dec 27, 2013 @ 19:22:54

    If this happened at my house we would have had to order Chinese food.


  5. Nonie Shore
    Dec 28, 2013 @ 05:02:43

    How crazy Sean. So glad it all worked out for you all! xoxo Nonie


  6. Benjamin Thompson
    Dec 28, 2013 @ 19:38:39

    Bravo to you. The asparagus sounds superb. I made an “old school” Christmas dinner of tenderloin with Bearnaise, wilted spinach salad, garlic scalloped potatoes, and beet salad. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to retrofit my dining room with light fixtures from the ’60s but it still turned out thematically well.


  7. Michelle
    Dec 28, 2013 @ 20:57:39

    Nice save! Once I had weekend guests and was in the middle of making chicken pot pie filling when the same thing happened to me. Thankfully, at the time, we had a built-in electric grill in the kitchen and, hours later, I finished the filling (in a freezing cold kitchen as, along with the stove, went the heat and it had plunged far lower than the 60s!). I’d be in bad shape now, though, as the grill went away several kitchen redos ago.


  8. Jessamine in PDX
    Dec 29, 2013 @ 21:25:28

    oh man!! that story along with the one about the wine makers dinner is enough to give me the shivers. Uncontrollable kitchen disasters are the things nightmares are made of. Luckily it sounds like dinner was still delicious and successful — well done! Also please send me some of that soup. Stat.


  9. teddelbeer
    Dec 30, 2013 @ 15:38:06

    ; D


  10. Joel Kravitz
    Dec 30, 2013 @ 21:39:44

    For us city folks with electric stoves…but live in the world hurricanes, the Weber grill is a necessity and there is a need to have skill using it. I’ve been without electricity for 12 days and I never missed a meal. I’m actually using it right now as I type this comment.


    • scolgin
      Dec 30, 2013 @ 23:38:33

      Ain’t it the truth Joel. I cooked on mine for six weeks while my kitchen was being remodeled — made pastas, paella, pizzas, quesadillas… you name it! God bless the Weber.


  11. Leo
    Dec 31, 2013 @ 19:31:12

    That’s a great story Sean. Back in the mid 2013s when we were Topangans our grill was propane powered so we wouldn’t have had that backup. I suppose that we would have to fall back on the solid fuel stove in our earthquake kit. The steak might have been warmed, but certainly not seared. No doubt you would have created a fabulous steak tartare! Anyway, at least you know you’ve got plenty of propane for the annual big dinner. Good luck – I am sure it will be out of this world!


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