Posts Tagged ‘New Year’s Eve’


It is nice to be writing my blog this morning. The first blog of a brand new year. A year laid out before like a clean sheet of paper before a writer waiting to add his first word to his story.

A good deal of my time over the holiday season was devoted to getting my mother ready to relocate. Shopping took the back burner to more pressing issues, making the holidays truly about family and friends and not about what was under the tree. I have to say it was rather freeing not spending hours searching for just the right gift. A gift which most likely would find itself on top a pile of other unwanted items in the return bin at the store the day after Christmas. Though not Catholic, I have to get on board with the Pope when he said Christmas is being held hostage by materialism. Certainly the true meaning of the day has been lost somewhere among reams of wrapping paper and blinking lights as the years have passed.

Once the Christmas decorations are back in their boxes we quickly lay siege to the next holiday on the calendar, New Year’s. I’ve never been a big fan of New Year’s Eve parties to be honest. Not that I haven’t participated in them over the years, I have. More often in my misspent youth than as I’ve gotten older. Drinking is usually an integral part of such parties. Being of small frame it doesn’t take much alcohol for me to feel the effects that I’m quite sure many revelers were experiencing yesterday after a night of New Year’s Eve imbibing.

Years have gone by since I’ve had a hangover, yet I can remember it well. Once you’ve endured a really significant one, your mind doesn’t easily put the memory aside. The following morning life can seem substantially less sunny when viewed from the backside of bloodshot eyes. Nausea often leads to finding oneself assuming the position over a porcelain bowl either taking the pledge as you relieve the contents of your churning stomach or finding religion.  When you’re drinking champagne with all it’s bubbly goodness you’re not really reflecting on what the experience might be like should the golden deliciousness decide to come back in the opposite direction. Like many bad ideas, it may appear a stellar road to take at the time you are going down it. We humans are always looking for something to make our experience while on earth a little bit easier to bear I believe. A little something to enhance our situation, to dress the windows of our lives, if you will. Sometimes a little libation can help to temporarily ease the pain of a recent breakup, the loss of a loved one, or make you forget for the moment the stack of overdue bills waiting for you on the counter when you return home. Never will it provide a permanent fix for anything, most likely the opposite.

As usual I’ve digressed so far from the subject as to make it nearly invisible unless viewed under a microscope. I began this blog by speaking to helping my mother pack up and relocate. Years of accumulated “stuff” mounts up, making sorting through it and deciding what to keep and what to let go a most formidable job. Last week was my fourth trip down to the Bay Area in two months and will not be my last before the move is done. Mum is downsizing considerably. Many family treasures have been dispersed among family members for safe keeping. Boxes are stacked on walls in each room with directions to movers. I’m exhausted and find myself wondering if the move will actually ever happen without divine intervention. I have to say my mother is far more grown up than I might be about parting with much-loved items. “Here take this” is her most frequent response when I ask what to do with something. “Me”, says I? I can barely fit the cat and Rick and I in our house as we downsized to move to our new digs. I see a garage sale in my future even after the huge moving sale anticipated at the end of the month. Sigh. Anyone need twenty matching spatulas? Just give me a heads up.

For some reason the end to 2016 feels more like a relief than a celebration. Even the television stations seem to have given only a passing nod to the occasion. So many famous people laid to rest, political strangeness, and just a general unease about what’s around the next corner.

For us we ate manicotti and watched movies to welcome the incoming year. Life on the edge. Probably the most amazing thing about New Year’s Eve was I made it to midnight with Rick. Well, I made it in stages. I went to sleep before the witching hour, but was up again precisely at the stroke of midnight. Our neighbors commenced a half an hour display of rather impressive fireworks as 2017 made it’s entrance accompanied by a chorus from the neighborhood canines.

2017 is calling and we must answer. With so many changes in our world it should at the very least be interesting to watch as it unfolds.

In closing I would like to acknowledge the passing of two screen ladies I most admire. Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher have gone on to a higher stage and I for one will miss their attendance at roll call.

Here’s yet another manicotti recipe, but a good one. I’ve decided to forgo my New Year’s weigh in until next week after admitting to a second helping of the richly filled tubes.

Spinach Manicotti

1 8 oz. pkg. manicotti shells
1 10 oz. pkg. frozen spinach, cooked and drained well
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. bulk Italian sausage, mild
1 tsp. basil
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground pepper
3 cups tomato basil pasta sauce
3 cups ricotta cheese
3 Tbsp. chopped parsley
2 eggs, beaten
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. chicken bouillon granules
2 Tbsp. flour
2 cups half and half
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook pasta one-half the time indicated in box cooking directions. Place in cold water to stop cooking process. Drain and pat with paper towel.

Heat olive oil over med. heat in large skillet. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic and cook for 1 min. Add ground beef, sausage and basil Cook until browned and fully cooked. Add salt and pepper. Drain on paper towels. Return to pan and add tomato basil pasta sauce.

Mix together together ricotta cheese, parsley and cooked, drained spinach (cooled). Add eggs, and salt and pepper to taste.

Grease 9 x 13″ pan. Spread 1/4 cup sauce over bottom of prepared pan. Stuff each shell gently with ricotta cheese mixture. Layer in single layer in pan.

White Sauce

Melt 2 Tbsp. butter in saucepan over med. heat. Whisk in flour and chicken bouillon. Cook, stirring constantly for 2 mins. until. Slowly add half and half. Bring to boil and continue cooking 1-2 mins. until thickened. Salt and pepper to taste.

Pour oven manicotti. Ladle remaining tomato basil sauce over top. Cover. Bake for 50 mins. Remove cover and top with Parmesan cheese. Bake 15 mins. longer. Allow to cool 5 mins. before serving.

Serves 4-6


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It’s an odd time always between Christmas and New Years. Kind of like being in the eye of a hurricane, for me, at least. All the commotion of Christmas behind you and boxed up (at my house I have the Christmas ornaments packed and stored at the stroke of midnight Christmas Day), New Year’s Eve still ahead, and then a whole new year sprawled out in front of you like Uncle Fred after a Christmas party.

Outside its gloomy and every once in a while the slightest hint of raindrops appear on the asphalt. Makes me want to cook. In honor of my time in the southern states I have a large pot of Hoppin John bubbling on the stove. Hoppin John, according to legend, is good luck on New Year’s, in particular financially, so I’m not taking any chances. The lovely aroma hovering in the kitchen has even Mouse the cat standing on her hind legs to get a whiff. Before I moved to the American South I’d never tried black-eyed peas. Nor, for that matter, had I tasted okra, the juries still out on that, and until I moved to Arkansas I had the impression catfish were to be thrown back if caught as they were scavengers and not much good eating. Now it is true, the whiskered bottom breeders are indeed noted scavengers, but it is not true that they aren’t great eating when breaded and fried.

We’re staying in this year. In truth, New Year’s Eve has never been my most successful holiday, so I’d rather cook a couple of lobster tails, rent a good movie, and share a glass or two of champagne and call it good. Which, as it happens, is exactly what we’re doing.

Before I met my other half, I dated a man for several years that loved New Year’s Eve. It was his holiday of choice. Although usually thrifty, and I’m being exceptionally polite with that adjective, the other 364 days of the year, on New Year’s Eve money, it seemed, had been printed for him to spend. On our second year as a couple he brought home a number of brochures regarding New Year’s Eve for us to decide on. One offered a night at a four-star hotel which included a seven course dinner in their premier dining room, party hats and horns, and entertainment provided by a well-known group popular at the time. I believe this package ran around $1200.00 per couple. What? We could be whale watching in Lahaina for that. However, it was his night, and his outlay, so in the spirit of the moment I bought a fabulous long and slinky red dress, slightly off the shoulder, shoes and accessories. My mother always says a woman can’t have a bad time in red dress, but I managed to identify some serious flaws in this assertion.

Around the beginning of the week prior to the big event, I sneezed my first sneeze. I’d been working long hours that year at a dot.com company and was a total burnout both mentally and physically. Everyone in the office had come down with some dreadful hacking cough sounding like residents in a T.B. ward. I’d been dosing with vitamin C and Echinacea in an effort to stave off all the germs circling my cubicle.

In spite of my efforts, two days prior to our non-refundable fun evening of pampering, I had developed a two pack a day Kleenex habit, my nose now a perfect match for my crimson dress. Both eyes had dark circles under them, I spent most of my time in the bathroom, and my cough had sufficient velocity to put out a house fire.

Determined not to ruin the evening and knowing full well that $1200.00 would be lost, I bucked up. The room at the hotel was fabulous, with a panoramic view of San Francisco. We were to be downstairs at 6:00 for appetizers and cocktails and dinner service was to begin around 7:30. Managing somehow to get dressed, and being quite sure that I was going to be pronounced dead at the scene in a matter of seconds, we entered the elevator joining several other well-dressed couples already going down. By the time we reached the lobby one man was holding a handkerchief over his mouth and I believe the lady standing directly to my right was administering me the last rights.

As beautiful as the hotel room was, the dining room outshined it. Bouquets of majestic white gladiolas were everywhere, spilling out of the tops of tall white vases. Silver and white being the theme, tables were covered in shimmering silver linen cloths and topped with impressive hurricane lamps flickering from the candles inside. Waiters in tuxes circulated through packed rooms with silver trays containing plates of smoked salmon, and bacon wrapped scallops. Others passed out delicate flutes of bubbling champagne and orange mimosas to the already merry group. I found myself looking for the tray with NyQuil and an ice pack, but somebody had overlooked that.

After giving our name to the hostess, a waiter escorted us through the crowd to our seats. At this point I was beginning to sweat profusely and my hair was sticking to the nape of my neck.  Definitely this wasn’t helping to achieve the look I had originally been going for. Just the smell of food was making me nauseous and lucky old me I had seven courses coming right up. Argh.

At the table we were seated with five other couples. After introducing ourselves and a few good sneezes and healthy snarfs from my direction the other five couples huddled together at the opposite end of the table as though we had a black “P” for plague written on our chests.

The first course, a single scallop, my favorite naturally, arrived on a plate in a lovely rich sauce. Argh, hack. I ate one bite and turned completely pale. Unable to move on my own, my date reluctantly bid fond farewell to his check and the six delectable courses that our waiter would be taking home and escorted me to our room. Calling the desk in a panic, it seemed they had a doctor on call. Really? Who knew. He arrived about an hour later and determined that I had pneumonia dispensing enough antibiotics to keep me going until I could see my personal doctor. I spent the rest of the evening in bed in my lovely red dress oblivious to the fact that my date had consumed two bottles of expensive champagne and passed out watching the ball come down in Time Square. Poor guy.

Happy New Years! Give this a try, perhaps just for luck. Add heat or subtract according to your tastes.

Hoppin John

2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 large ham hocks (meaty if possible)
(or substitute 2 andouille sausages for 1 hock)
1 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1 small green pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. black-eyed peas, sorted, soaked overnight, and rinsed
1 1/2 quarts chicken stock
2 bay leafs
1 14 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with jalapeno peppers (optional on the peppers)
1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 – 1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
White rice

Heat oil in large stock pot. Sear ham hocks on all sides for about 5 mins. Add onion, celery, green pepper and garlic. Cook 4 mins. longer. Add all remaining ingredients except rice. Bring to boil over med-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 1/2 hours until peas are creamy and tender. Remove the meat from the ham hocks and return meat to pot. Adjust seasonings if necessary. Serve over steaming white rice.

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