WHEN JULIA CHILD dropped a turkey on the kitchen floor during her nationally televised cooking show, she simply picked it up and finished preparing the dinner. Not all potential entertaining disasters are so easily resolved -- nor are they all confined to the kitchen.
One summer day when we were expecting 40 friends for a cold buffet dinner, a torrential storm knocked out the electricity in our apartment building and for several blocks around.
Fortunately the supermarket a half-mile away was spared the blackout, and we rushed to stock up on ice to fill picnic coolers and the non-working refrigerator and freezer. We also bought more candles and the last flashlight.
Without electricity, elevators are useless (we live on the fifth floor) and windowless corridors are dark even in daytime. Nor could we buzz open the front door to ait our guests, since the door is controlled by an electronic system connected to the apartment phones. So we went downstairs to greet -- and guide -- our friends in person.
We briefly considered moving the party into the lobby with its central table and comfortable sofas. Instead, we put candles on the table -- leading one woman to exclaim, "Oh, a seance!" as she peered into near-darkness at the people grouped around it. What the gathering awaited was not spiritual guidance but flashlights, being passed along, as in a relay race, to guide guests up the five flights of stairs and down the long corridors.
Once inside our apartment, guests shed jackets, ties and other extraneous clothing and gathered around the ice-filled coolers as they would warm themselves at a fireplace on a blustery winter night. Iced tea turned out to be as popular as wine and beer. Then, just when the ice was beginning to melt, the lights blazed forth and the air coitioning began to dissipate the heat.
The lesson: City survival entails an ability to function without electricity in an environment dependent on it. The National Weather Service says Washington experiences an average of 26 thunder-and-lightning storms between May and September. So if you are planning a party, give a thought to emergency alternatives.
If you have planned a buffet menu, you needn't worry about guests having to cut and slice food in very limited light. Consider serving a poached fish such as cold salmon that will remain firm and delicious for hours on the buffet table. Fruit and cheese are great summer foods because room temperature brings out their flavors. Oil, vinegar, sour cream and yogurt do not turn sour without refrigeration.
On the other hand, a mousse may melt, and food containing eggs -- such as mayonnaise -- should not be left unchilled, so eschew them to avoid potential disasters. Or keep them in your refrigerator, which will continue to be quite cold for a long time even though the electricity is not working -- if you don't open the door. Whether or not the power returns, you can bring them out, still cold, into an air-conditioned room.