Making plans for New Year’s Eve is a stressful endeavor. “What are you doing for New Year’s?” is a question one hears several times in the week leading up to it. For me, I didn’t have a very good answer until Billy and Kate (my friends through Lisa and Annette) invited me to their New Year’s Eve dinner party. I quickly said yes and put a huge check mark next to “Make Plans for New Years” on the “To Do” list on my wall. (“Find a Cure for TMJ” and “Impersonate Jeff Bridges” remain unchecked.)
Fast forward to the Eve itself. Here’s some distinguished company gathered around the table:
There’s Lisa, Billy, Brandy (who I met that night), Katy (who I also met that night) and Kate. Billy and Kate are married and this is their home. I had my camera in my coat pocket, quite ready not to document our evening, but Billy was insistent. “No, no, no,” he said. “You have to take pictures.”
“He wants to be on your website!” laughed Kate.
“Ok, well, if you guys don’t mind, I’m happy to oblige!”
I’m glad I did oblige: Kate, Billy and Brandy cooked up a six course vegetarian feast that would put any meat eater to shame. But before we get there, let’s look at my contribution.
Before the party, Lisa and I consulted. “Let’s make a dessert together,” we agreed. This was the night before.
The next day I totally flaked.
“Lisa,” I said, “I need to do work at my apartment. I’m going to bring nuts and you can make the dessert, ok?”
Lisa didn’t put up a fight. “I won’t put up a fight,” she said.
Now you may be wondering: “Nuts? That’s all your bringing? Nuts?”
Settle down! When I say nuts what I’m referring to are Nancy Silverton’s spicy candied walnuts from her sandwich book. I made them once on here before (I must have deleted the pictures from that post, because it is sadly pictureless). On that day I accidentally rubbed cayenne pepper in my eye. That was dumb. But this day too had its share of mistakes…
The nut recipe has two phases: the candying phase and the frying phase. Here’s the essence of what you do: take 2 cups sugar, 2 cups water and 1 3/4 tsps of cayenne pepper and bring them to a boil in a large pot. Add 8 oz of walnuts and lower to medium heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, bring another large pot half-filled with oil to 350 degrees. When the nut mixture has big bursting bubbles and the liquid is syrupy, drain half of it and then fry the drained nuts for 2 to 3 minutes in the hot oil. Take out and…
Drain on paper towels? Wrong!
Yes, this was mistake #1 on Saturday’s pre-party nut-making adventure. These nuts GLUED themselves to the paper towel so that no nut could be preserved without flecks of paper involved, so I snacked on them myself and set upon frying the second half.
The second half fried, I placed them on a cookie sheet–sans paper towel–and prepared to sprinkle them with kosher salt. I opened the cabinet…
Mistake #2! My vanilla comes crashing down and lands on top of my water glass which shatters into giant chunks with some smaller bits of glass scattered about. Is there glass in the nuts? I pick through them and don’t see any. After much examination under light, I decide to taste one. Do I bleed? I do not. The nut is fine and yet I’m scared to bring these nuts to the party: what if I accidentally cut somebody’s tongue out? So these nuts go in the trash too.
Luckily, I bought 2 8 oz. tubs of walnuts and so I repeat the entire process again with the second tub. It takes some time but I end up with 8 oz of delicious, spicy candied walnuts.
Yet, I don’t feel like this is enough to bring to the party. So I pick up some blood oranges from Whole Foods and two bottles of Prosecco at my local liquor store (Prosecco, for those who don’t know, is like champagne but cheaper and more Italian) and head over to the party. Once there, I present the nuts and the Prosecco. I also bring a portable plastic juicer and I set upon juicing the blood oranges. I ask for champagne glasses and there are only three but we make do with them and two smaller glasses. Each glass gets slightly filled with the blood orange juice and then topped with the Prosecco. [I got this idea from the Babbo cookbook.] Don’t these look yummy?
The guests agreed. My position at this party is now officially secure.
And thank goodness, because it’s time to eat.
Yet, I’d be remiss not to acknowledge the lovely table decorating that went on at Kate and Billy’s. Design is an integral part of Billy and Kate’s marriage–Billy’s an architect, and their apartment is super sleek–so take a look at the table they set up before our arrival. The 2006 placecards had our names on them; the silverware is their good silverware that they got for their wedding.
This is the sort of thing I’m terrible at. My apartment has two nice plates and silverware I stole from Lauren when we left Atlanta. Someone needs to whisk me away to IKEA…
Ok, the food. Seriously. The food.
We begin with corn fritters and roasted tomato:
A lovely presentation and a lovely combination of flavors. True, corn and tomatoes are hardly in season but you wouldn’t have known it from this dish. Did this come from the Donna Hay cookbook? That I’m not sure. But Donna Hay had her hand in our dinner, methinks. (Fun trivia: Kate is Australian!)
As you can see next to the fritters is a cheese platter from Murray’s cheese, brought by Kate, my nuts in a bowl (hey no nuts jokes!) and some bread:
At table, our first course was this light and creamy asparagus soup:
Followed by this hugely successful (and perhaps my favorite course of the night) roasted tomato atop mashed potatoes with peas and mint:
Then there was blurry goat cheese (sorry, bad picture!) breaded with almonds atop wilted spinach:
And for the final course, when we were nearly half-dead from all the eating and drinking, this risotto with lemon and peas and mint:
The risotto was awesome, but I could only eat half. The last thing we need at this point is dessert…
Oh Lisa. You and your blueberry spice cake.
Ok, so I had a slice of this too.
My new year’s resolution? Not to weigh 80000 lbs.
Alas, a conversation ensued about Australia (where Kate’s from. See Trivia.) and I told her that one of my Australian professors loves Vegemite, she says Australians love it.
“It’s true we do,” she says. “Do you want to try some?”
But before I can say no, there’s Kate with a jar of Vegemite.
“What does it taste like?” I ask. “How do you eat it?”
“It’s rather salty,” says Kate. “You usually put it on bread with butter. Just a little bit of it though. A little goes a long way.”
She demonstrates by spreading it on bread with butter. “Come on,” she urges. “Take a bite.”
I do take a bite and it’s good: salty, buttery goodness. Those Australians make a mean salty spread.
And now the best part of our evening is upon us. Billy and Kate live in Hell’s Kitchen on the same block as Lisa. When midnight was approaching, we ventured up on their roof and carried our champagne glasses and a bottle of Champagne Billy and Kate had tucked away in the fridge.
We couldn’t see the ball from up there, but the night was magical:
I felt like I was on a sound stage of some old movie. The bright lights, the fog in the air, the massiveness of those buildings. In the distance we could hear John Lennon’s “Imagine” and then suddenly: fireworks!
We could hear the cheering down the street and then we all hugged and wished each other a happy new year and popped the cork on that champagne which we promptly drank. Other clusters of people on different roofs celebrated too and in the distance, now, we could hear the throngs singing “God Bless America.” This was a New Year’s like none other I’ve ever experienced. Well-fed, well-liquored and surrounded by people I liked, I was in a very happy place.
So thanks Billy and Kate for having me. It was a blast.