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Posts Tagged ‘New Year’s Eve’

Well here we are at last. We just stepped in it, 2021 I mean. It will be kind of strange not to be referring to 2020 anymore, strange good not strange bad, mind you. This month should prove to be an interesting start to the new year. Once we get to the end of January, hopefully the dust will have finally settled over the election, many more vaccines will have been administered, some of the essential workers can put their feet up and enjoy some time with their families, and life can at least take the first steps toward returning to a sense of normality. Currently Northern California, where I make my home, is the only part of California not at full capacity in their IC rooms. We are in general, less populace than the midsection and southern end of the state, which could be contributing to our numbers being lower. Getting control of the virus will hopefully be the first and main concern of the new administration moving into the White House.

New Year’s Eve passed uneventfully at my house. As usual I didn’t make it to midnight with my eyes open. Well, if you go by EST, I made it. New Year’s Eve has never been a special holiday for me. Over the years there have been many parties and gala events I’ve attended but for some reason I barely made one serviceable memory of New Year’s Eve out of the lot. There was one back in the late 1990’s that was really a bomb. Not literally, mind you, but there was truly nothing redeemable about the evening from beginning to end. My main squeeze at the time loved, loved, loved New Year’s Eve. For him, it was the highlight of his entire year. As the holidays drew close the first year we dated, he suggested booking a New Year’s package at a seaside resort.

The New Year’s package in question included a two night stay at a four star resort in one of their premier rooms with a fireplace, sitting room, private hot tub and panoramic view of the Pacific. On the big night, we would enjoy a lavish seven course meal, complimentary champagne, and dancing following dinner in their grand ballroom. Sounded pretty grand to me. Aware he had spent a great deal of money on the weekend, I didn’t want to disappoint. About a month before the event, I went shopping and indulged myself in a particularly dreamy and well fitting sea blue formal with a touch of bling sprinkled across the front for a hint of magic. The shoes I bought to compliment the gown were also reached beyond my budget, but since the gentleman was paying for the entire weekend above and beyond my attire, I felt them worth the splurge.

At that time, I held down a very demanding job in a high tech company. The hours were intense. Many nights I would be driving home after a long day only to get paged (Yes, paged. This was before everyone and their labradoodle had a cell phone.) to return to work. Some days I had to prop myself up by sticking brooms under both arms to keep myself in a vertical position. Every night dinner was catered in the company’s incredibly well equipped kitchen because most people working their nearly called the place home. The job was demanding in so many ways besides the hours. I was a graphic designer for the firm as well as the only employee there with significant experience creating Power Point presentations including animations, and videos etc. This made me the go-to gal for such projects, and the need for my services came up frequently. The title Power Point Specialist was tagged on to my original title giving me more responsibility for the same paycheck. Sigh.

At any rate, the thought of a few days R&R was mighty appealing that particular New Year’s as I remember. Even though I was relatively young, the long days and little sleep were starting to do their work on my immune system. A few days after Christmas, I got a head cold. It wasn’t one of those colds where your entire face looks like you’ve been bobbing for French fries, but it was definitely slowing me down. After blowing my nose steadily for a day or so, the symptoms migrated to my lungs. Oh-oh. As is typical of my MO, I kept on pushing through the week, and by the time I reached the day before we were to leave I was beginning to feel really miserable. I had the chills and was hot concurrently, and my chest was beginning to feel as it it was being held hostage by a boa constrictor. I asked my boyfriend what the situation would look like for him if I couldn’t go. From the expression on his face I knew the answer wasn’t going to be “not a problem”. Apparently, he would lose his money, as it was too late to cancel, and his New Year’s would be a total disaster. Is that all? Sucking it up, I insisted I was confident I could rally. These words were coming out of my mouth, but my internal systems were all screaming in unison, “Noooooooooo. Run, save yourself”. I should have listened.

He picked me up at my apartment mid-afternoon. I had the day off so took advantage of the time to take turns sleeping, coughing, then sleeping and sneezing for a change of pace. Looking at my face in the bathroom mirror, I knew even that gorgeous sea blue dress wasn’t going to save me. Droopy red eyes, weepy nose, pale cheeks. What’s not to love? Hack. Trying hard to be cheery and good company as we drove up the coast, secretly I was hoping the nausea rising in my throat would remain at that level and not reveal itself on the carpet of his beloved BMW.

The hotel lobby was beautiful, still fully dressed for the holidays. It seemed to me they had switched the thermostat to sauna as riverlets of sweat made their way down my body. The urge to strip down and climb in the fountain which was the focal point of the massive entryway was overwhelming.

After checking in, our bags were loaded on a cart and we were escorted to our room. True to the brochure, the spacious suite had all the promised amenities, the most impressive of them being the glorious ocean view visible beyond the sliding glass doors. All I saw was the large bed calling my name. After a rather alarming coughing fit, my date suggested perhaps I needed to grab a nap so I’d be fresh for the night’s festivities. Ya think?

Waking up some time later, I pulled myself together enough to take a shower and apply some make up to my ashy cheeks. Dressed and ready for a celebration my body wanted more than anything to lie down somewhere until the room stopped spinning. Once downstairs, we followed the signs to a reception area where we signed in, we’re handed festive hats and noisemakers, and pointed towards the bar. I ordered a cocktail. Not. My head began a drum roll Gene Krupa would have been proud of. Ignoring the beautiful cocktail trays circulating among the partygoers, I struggled to convince my legs their function at this affair was to hold up my body.

When the cocktail hour was complete we made our way into the huge dining area. Each table was numbered so we wove through the maze and located the number corresponding with our tickets and sat at the seats with our names in front of them. Check please. Again, with all the people in the room the temperature had risen, along with, it appeared, mine. Whew. The first course was a simple plate of fruit, artisan greens, toasted pecans, and blue cheese drizzled with a delicate balsamic dressing. My stomach was doing the lambata just looking at it. I picked at it to appear interested and smiled when asked a question by my date or others at the table and nodded in agreement or disagreement at the appropriate moments. Ach. Six courses to go. No way. The second course was lobster bisque. Normally, I would have stood up at my seat and danced in place, as I do love a good lobster bisque, but as the rich smell made it’s way from the bowl to my nostrils my body finally took over the reins. Feeling unbelievably nauseous I sprinted across the room barely making it to the ladies room before the first course beat me to it. The groans coming from my stall prompted a guest outside to ask if possibly I was dying or worse.

My date was waiting for me outside the door. Taking one look at me, he guided me to the room where he deposited me in bed. I assured him I would be fine and to save himself and go on without me. Back down he went to enjoy the I’m sure delicious prime rib cooked to perfection followed by the promised Baked Alaska.

Realizing I needed something more than a less than helpful date, I phoned the front desk and asked if the hotel had a doctor on call. Explaining I was quite ill, a concierge doctor showed up within the hour. Pneumonia was his diagnosis. I was given heavy duty antibiotics and strict instructions to remain in bed (a choice I had already made) which I did for the remaining of my five star weekend. What a quiet drive it was back down the gorgeous California coast, a view I mostly missed because I was prone in my seat waiting for the grim reaper to arrive. Thankfully, after several days and the miracle of modern medicine, I began to come up from the fog. A lot is revealed about a partner during a crisis. In this instance, I learned the event and the outlay, for this person, outweighed my well being. Not only did he stay downstairs and get his money’s worth New Year’s Eve, but the following day while I was coughing up a lung, he booked a boat tour. I remember a therapist offering a bit of advice during a session years ago I’ve carried with me ever since. Pay attention not to what people say, because they can say anything. It is what they do that is important. Wow, has that been true. Someone can tell you anything. They could say they are in Mensa or that they beat out Ken Jennings on Jeopardy, but if they don’t know who Abraham Lincoln was, neither is likely true. People always show themselves if you know them long enough, and this was certainly true in this case. New Year’s Eve was pretty much the death knoll for our relationship, and nearly one for me as well.

So, that, among so many other New Year’s Eve sums up my love of the celebration. For me, feet up on the footstool, cat on the couch, popcorn in the bowl, perhaps a little bubbly in the glass and I’m good to go. Hope you enjoyed a safe and healthy New Year’s weekend. 2021 YAY!!!!

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final

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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