Get the ‘magical feeling’ of Christmas through food: East Coast bloggers share their thoughts on holiday food

The magic of the holiday season is made, not guaranteed, and it is all the more wonderful for that. For proof, look no further than food.

The cheeseballs and cinnamon buns and sugar cookies. Cured meats and cheeses and mustard pickles. Coconut balls and fudge and dips. All the good things we surround ourselves with in December.

But what are Atlantic Canadians looking for most this holiday season? Some bloggers from the East Coast offer up their insight.

Meet the bloggers

Shannon McQuaid (@savourbyshannon) is a registered dietitian by training who started her Instagram in 2018. The PEI resident loves making food and posting pictures and created a dedicated account to avoid flooding her personal feed.

“I just decided to put it on another Instagram and have kind of morphed it from there. So now it includes some nutrition stuff, some intuitive eating, some food justice things, but mostly, recipes are the primary focus of it.”

Newfoundland’s Glenda Truitt (@gmt709 on Instagram) was a teacher for the deaf, hard of hearing, blind and visually impaired for 30 years. When she retired in June 2020, she began learning about food photography as a hobby.

“That’s kind of where my page ended up growing from. I’m just kind of stumbling along and it’s trial and error, but the Instagram page has kind of gotten a life of its own,” she says. “I just put GMT, which was my initials, and 709 because it was my area code. And that’s just the way it stayed.”

Andy Hay(@andyseastcoastkitchen) is from Nova Scotia. His food career from him got a major boost from being runner-up on season seven of Masterchef Canada.

“That really poured gasoline on the whole online part of my business. But I’ve been at it for about four years professionally.”

Shannon McQuaid is a registered dietitian by training, which helps inform her recipe creation.  Although she isn't working as a dietician right now, she's stayed involved through volunteer work with Farm and Food Care - Contributed
Shannon McQuaid is a registered dietitian by training, which helps inform her recipe creation. Although she isn’t working as a dietician right now, she’s stayed involved through volunteer work with Farm and Food Care – Contributed

Traditions, Not Trends

I started out asking these three chefs if there were any holiday trends this year. It turns out that for the holidays, that’s not really the right question.

“I think around Christmastime, it’s less trendy,” says Hay. “For me, it’s all about the classics. That’s what I lean into is just that old-school nostalgia stuff. I think there’ll always be trends, but the stuff that has staying power has been here for a while.”

Hay’s own analytics bear this out. Of the dozens of recipes he has on his website, the one that’s most popular right now is for nuts and bolts.

Given how trying the last two years have been, Truitt also feels like people seem to be looking for comfort above complexity.

“I think we all acknowledge that people are feeling very weary and very in need of comforting things. I think that’s universal,” she says.

“People are looking for things that are not too complicated but that are just going to make them feel happy. Happy and little moments of pleasure.”

Our food memories are strong. Smells and tastes pull us straight back to the moments we first experienced them. Having special holiday foods strengthens that association.

“It just gives you that feeling of Christmas. It gives you that special feeling, that magical feeling, that you had when you were a kid,” says McQuaid. “Toys and presents and stuff are great but they lose their luster as you get older, and food always keeps that magic.”

For a new take on cranberries, try Glenda Truitt's recipe for Cranberry and Onion Chutney.  - Contributed
For a new take on cranberries, try Glenda Truitt’s recipe for Cranberry and Onion Chutney. – Contributed

Magic in the Making

We shape and are shaped by the traditions we hold, break, or change. Growing up on the West Coast of Newfoundland, for Truitt, Christmas always meant extra goodies that were only abundant during the holidays.

“I think of more savory things than sweet, although obviously there were Christmas sweets,” she says. “But I think about cheeses. Extra cheeses. Extra cured meats. Extra pickles. Chips and dip. All those little nibbly indulgences. That was a special thing in our house at Christmas.”

‘Tradition’ can also mean things that are ordinary for others can remain extraordinary for us. McQuaid comes from a Swiss background and has been doing charcuterie since before it was cool.

“Every Christmas Eve, we call it Swissmas Eve, and we do charcuterie boards. We’ve done this since I was a kid, before it was called a charcuterie board,” she says.

Making old family recipes, like birra wecka – a kind of yeasted pastry dough filled with dried fruit – helps maintain a tangible connection to family members.

“I have my grandmother’s old apron and I always put that on when I’m doing my Christmas baking,” says McQuaid. “Those things that you probably took for granted as a kid when you could share those times, so to get those memories back.”

For Hay, Christmas Eve means seafood chowder.

“One of those things that just immediately transports me to Christmas Eve. That’s a standard tradition,” he says. “From there, it goes into party snacks like cheese balls, nuts and bolts, spinach and artichoke dip in a bread bowl. On top of that, too, is the desserts. My grandmother, she’s from Newfoundland, and she used to send us parcels in the mail just packed with amazing bars and squares and cookies, so I love that sort of thing.

The Recipes

All three chefs have offered up their most popular recipes for the holidays.

Andy Hay – For when you need a bowl of something to crunch, try Hay’s Ultimate Nuts and Bolts Recipe

Of the dozens of recipes Andy Hay has on his website, the most popular right now is for nuts and bolts.  - Contributed
Of the dozens of recipes Andy Hay has on his website, the most popular right now is for nuts and bolts. – Contributed

Or, if you’re looking for something sweet, try this dessert you’re always willing to rouse yourself out of a food coma and find just a little bit more room for Earl Gray Sticky Toffee Pudding,

Glenda Truitt – For a tangy, spicy addition to cheese and crackers, or whatever else you want to spread this on, try Truitt’s Cranberry and Onion Chutney

Or for a sweet treat that’s also simple to make, try this Rum and Pecan Chocolate Fudge. There’s no need to break out the candy thermometer for this smooth and creamy holiday treat.

Shannon McQuaid – If cranberries want to be part of the holiday we might as well put them to work in more than just desserts and sauce – try McQuaid’s Cranberry Jalapeno Dip.

Or, make these Jean-Luc Picard-approved treats. A happy holiday? Make it so with these Earl Gray Shortbread Cookies.

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