I wouldn’t blame you for thinking, “What kind of question is that? She clearly doesn’t have a plan!” Nor would you harbouring a feeling of frustration be unexpected. My inaugural piece possessed a certain laissez faire about it, didn’t it? Never fear; if truth be told I spend an inordinate amount of time planning meals. While I’ve become adept at flying by the seat of my pants – the world demands it of sane people – I’m a planner. A list maker. An organizer.

In fact, in honour of my husband and I hosting game night last Saturday, there was a clear plan in place. Okay, the planning took the better part of the previous week (longer than the execution), but that’s just because these things need care, nurturing, revision. Kind of like a decent piece of writing. Sometimes luck sits on my shoulder, and I get it right the first time, but luck is an undependable friend.

Because Susie(1) follows a keto diet, the challenge was to create a feast that we could all enjoy. The poor woman is always cast as the outsider. Sure, it’s a place she seats herself that she’s used to, but I really wanted us to enjoy a meal together.

First came choosing the basic ingredients which was the easy part: salmon, spinach and rocket salad with bacon vinaigrette, and cheese. No tomatoes (I asked). Then, a carefully constructed list in hand, I marched off to the greengrocer and the fish market. Not being one of those people who buy exactly what’s on the list, I grabbed some fennel and a few lemons, just in case.

The majority of the planning centred around the cooking technique, timing, and presentation. The salmon was baked, steamed, poached, cured, pan-seared, and en papillote before baking/roasting won out for its ease, and ability to be done beforehand. The fennel, thinly sliced on the mandolin, cradled a full side of salmon which was rubbed with a mixture of herbs, spices and olive oil, then topped with thin slices of fresh lemon. A dribble of stock, twenty minutes at 180º and voila!

Of course there was a focaccia – for us omnivores – because every festive meal needs a starter and some carbohydrates, in my humble opinion. But what about Susie? She gnawed on parmesan crisps. They were easy as. Grate the parm, bake it in thin rounds until slightly brown and wonderfully aromatic, and allow to cool.  “Those’re for Susie. Hands off you lot. Eat your bread.” The boys being adequately chastised, Susie and I attended to organizing drinks and doing our own catching up.

“Thanks, Pamela, everything looks great.” And with that she produced a beautiful dessert from a cooler bag, the look on her face prouder than I’ve ever seen on her. “I researched keto friendly desserts all week.” It found its place in the fridge where the prepared salad dressing had sat next to a yogurt and herb sauce for the salmon – perfectly pink and soft as you like, which rested under a bit of alfoil keeping warm. We continued chatting while the dressing slowly came to room temperature. Because, per the plan, the salad was in a bowl and needed only the crumbled feta cheese toppled on top, while I crumbled, Susie nuked the dressing slightly. As she poured it over the greens they wilted to a perfect, mouth-watering texture. With the final flourish of a handful of toasted walnuts (thank you to Susie for allowing a slight cheat), dinner prep had gone according to plan.

We all enjoyed the same meal that night. And afterwards, we enjoyed a lively night throwing dice, listening to music, and basking in the glow of a shared experience. There was no need to belabour the differences in our lifestyles. I love when the unexpected finds its own way into the experience: Magic. Welcomed with full bellies and smiles all round.

(1) Names changed to protect…

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