Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

Food and drink: To eat or not to eat

That is the holiday question



'Tis the season and if you aren't yet glutted by the gluttony or sated by all the satiations, you're likely contemplating the holiday goodies and baddies hanging around. The bits of Christmas baking, the leftover turkey and stuffing, the remainders of holly-jolly gift baskets your niece and nephew and mother-in-law all brought over for your Boxing Day open house.

If, like us, you have the above still kicking around, the following guide on what to eat and what not to may prove helpful. If all else fails just give it to your dog - just kidding. All that chocolate might kill Puddles. In fact, a few items are best kept away from same (see below). Otherwise, pick your moments.


The chestnut

To eat. In fact, eat them large and eat them often. With the exception, perhaps, of New Yorkers, we North Americans haven't twigged onto the joys of chestnuts like our European cousins, who use them in myriad forms from chestnut flour to marrons glacés (chestnuts deliciously infused with vanilla syrup).

You'll never look back once you've tasted a properly roasted chestnut - the outer shell is slightly charred, which means the flesh will have a sweetness to it, something like caramelized onions. That's when you'll hunt down a good supply of fresh chestnuts or a street vendor who sells them already roasted (there's usually one on the corner of Robson and Howe, beside the Vancouver Art Gallery).

Chestnuts are great for diabetics and the rest of us, as they have a very low glycemic load, meaning they won't send your blood sugar level through the roof. Unlike most nuts, they store future energy as carbohydrates rather than oils. They're low in saturated fats as well as cholesterol and sodium. They're also high in fibre - 10 chestnuts account for almost one fifth of your recommended daily intake of fibre, so useful at this time of all things cheesy, meaty and creamy, when the only fibre is in the wrappers.

To pick out good ones, look for glossy, dark brown ones with no cracked shells that feel heavy. To roast your own, cut an X on the flat side of each chestnut with a knife. Use a heavy frying pan - a cast iron one is perfect - pour in a few drops of vegetable oil and "roast" your chestnuts over medium heat, shaking the pan often.

I like them when at least one side is just a bit blackened and they're toasted all around. They're done when the shells and the inner nut skins peel off easily.

If you're one of the rare West Coasters who owns a true chestnut pan - a long-handled pan with a perforated bottom - you can put on Nat King Cole to croon as you literally roast your chestnuts over an open fire. Again, keep shaking your pan above the heat until they're roasted to perfection. A bed of hot coals and low flames is better than a raging inferno.


The eggnog

Yes, eat or, rather, drink it. But you might want to think about serving it in a thimble or at least a one ounce shot glass, as in eggnog shooters. Given your average eight ounce glass of eggnog, one of which I managed to down before Christmas dinner this year, contains about 350 calories and 50 per cent of your recommended daily intake of saturated fat, you can see my reasoning.

But god, how I love Avalon eggnog. Mercifully, our local store was sold out of it before Christmas. If you managed to get a bottle, I hope you shared it with many friends.

The jury is still out on whether the rum is just an excuse to drink the eggnog or vice versa. Personally I'm of the second mind-set. If you're a Spartan or lactose intolerant (nearly one in the same) and even if you're not, maybe try Vitasoy's dairy-free Holly Nog. It's nice and nutmeg-y and not bad for a non-dairy substitute. Even my Avalon-addicted husband likes it. The label says to serve it hot or cold, but we prefer it cold. Bonus: it's organic.


The salami

Okay, eat it, but like the eggnog, pace yourself. One, yes, one single slice of your average beef salami contains 11 per cent of your daily sodium intake and 11 per cent of your recommended daily saturated fat allowance. Spend wisely.


The holly berry

Basically, a not-to-eat. In the "olden days" holly berries were widely and wildly reported as poisonous. But given that dozens of bird species depend on winter holly berries for food (our bush is currently stripped of its winter supply, thanks to juncos, robins and chickadees) it's pretty radical to think of all hollies as "killers," especially since there are hundreds of varieties. Some, like the South American variety whose berries are used to make yerba mate tea, we humans actually seek out. However, eating more than a few of the bright red berries of most European varieties can make you sick, so keep your holly décor away from kids and pets.


The poinsettia

Here's another holiday icon that's suffered from eons of bad - and mistaken - press. For decades, old aunties and grandmas went ballistic when poinsettia plants were kept at child-height, as though brushing against one would cause instant death. But I trust the Mayo Clinic when it says that poinsettia plants are not, repeat, not poisonous. Not that you want to encourage kids or pets, especially cats, to eat them, but they shouldn't be a source of undue anxiety. That said, it is possible for someone, child or not, to brush against a poinsettia and suffer an allergic skin reaction. Maybe that's how the myth arose.


The cranberry sauce

Eat it happily and often, presuming it's not hijacked by sugar. Cranberries are loaded with vitamin C and fibre, and provide some of the finest antioxidants money can buy.


The stuffing

Eat it. But make sure it was properly cooked. Get thyself a meat thermometer and use it. Turkey stuffing should be heated to 165 F. Stuff Mr. Bird loosely and after the feast, refrigerate it promptly - within two hours. Stick the stuffing in smaller containers, not one big mass.


The champagne

Low in fibre, medium in carbs, high in joy. Go for it.


Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning freelance writer who just went for another biscotti.