On New Year’s Eve …

[New Year’s Eve 2010, San Francisco.]

At the beginning of the new year — for all of January, really — I find I am more quiet. After the rush of the holidays has subsided I want only to go to bed early with a book, to curl up on the couch in a patch of winter sun and read the entire Sunday Times (well … one day), to catch up on magazines, to make soup (recently cauliflower-potato; tonight, most probably, lentil-brown rice with spinach), to drink tea at tea-time and then maybe a glass of red wine (or orange juice, depending on mood) a bit later on, to make simple cookies (like oatmeal-chocolate chip) after the flurry of holiday baking.

And so I do some of these things as well as others — including a few days out of town to explore the central coast; pictorial evidence to come tomorrow — and marvel in this beautiful sun Northern California is currently experiencing. And so also I have not recounted my 2010 ushering out of the year which, despite the beginnings of a cold which necessitated the drinking of cold care tea rather than champagne, was warm and good and full of equally warm and good and delicious food.

I woke up New Year’s Eve day feeling sickish — though I’d foregone the semi-traditional backpacking trip out to Wildcat Camp I’d still spent a sunny, blustery day in the Seashore which perhaps didn’t help, and so, probably inevitably, succumbed to the cold that had gotten my brother as well as nearly half my office. But do not, please, discount the powers of over-the-counter cold medicine combined with force of will. I had planned to cook a New Year’s Eve dinner for eight, and so a New Year’s Eve dinner for eight I would cook. Also do not discount the mania of the cook — originally I’d envisioned, somehow, a multi-course rendition of the Thanksgiving feast, complete with a turkey that would’ve taken up most of the space in my wee oven and finished with updates on the traditional fixings.

Fortunately my friend Kate, ever the voice of reason and my house guest for a long weekend along with her husband Avner, intervened, offering not just aid in the kitchen but her sturdy shoulders for carrying groceries, cheerful spirit, and generic decongestant. She gently turned me away from my dinner plot which in hindsight was completely ridiculous and way too much work. Instead, she offered to make her baked fish (usually tilapia) dish, which involved in this case a couple of pounds of wild-caught cod nestled on a bed of sliced onions and chopped tomatoes laced with dill and lavished with lemon juice. It was a thing of beauty (and deliciousness, though of course I didn’t partake myself even if I was tempted) and something which I shall make again, if only so as to take a photo and share the recipe here.

I didn’t take a single photo that day and evening of all the food, mostly because I worked straight for about four hours (happily so, I will add, and really not that long comparatively) and also I was a bit hopped up on decongestants. But it was a beautiful new year’s dinner — the last day of the year, no matter if one is low-key and doesn’t feel like going out (all of us), or is headed off to the airport (my brother and Emily), or feeling slightly under-the-weather (me), is a bit special and should be treated accordingly. I love to do so with a dinner, and thus now I must recount it here before it slips away entirely, a whole 18 days after the fact …

To start
A silky mushroom- leek soup

Baked wild-caught Alaskan cod with onions + tomatoes + dill
Sweet potato-spinach gratin
Roasted cauliflower
Garlic-roasted fingerling potatoes
A simple green salad
Sauteed green beans + toasted pine nuts

And to finish
Alice Water’s chocolate cake with chocolate ganache
Vegan chocolate cake
Vanilla ice cream

Though we ate rather quickly owing to the necessity (darn it) of travelers and their flight back to (darned — though lovely) Maine, the conversation was no less lively for its brevity. After the guests (darn them) had departed, the dishes were washed and put away, more chats were had, and bed early awaited. I know, we’re crazy. But that just made the next morning more pleasant — a good thing given that adventures awaited ‘cross the bay.

[At the lighthouse, January 1, 2011.]

The first day of the new year we had oatmeal for breakfast, and the chocolate babka my mom had brought the night before, and cups of tea (black, with milk and sugar for K and I; green for A). Then we put on coats and shoes and scarves in a rush, grabbed our cameras, and went out through the rain to the Pelican Inn for pints of Guinness and a chai tea. One of the bar tenders told me her fail-safe remedy for a cold: lemon, fresh ginger, hot water, honey, and lots of whiskey. I said, I’ll take it, but maybe without the whiskey. (For I was nearly voiceless, the cold having drawn its claws and sunk in for the long haul.) Kate very nicely handed over one of her extra-strength decongestants, and that and the pint surely helped keep me upright the rest of the day.

For then: Olema for lunch; then to the Lighthouse, slipping up and down the narrow steps, all 308 of them in the rain. We swore we spotted a whale and I think we did (and now there are rumors of a gray whale in Tomales Bay) — certainly lots of seals and shore birds. Then careening through the green fields for a cup of tea and a stout shot of single malt before the fire, singing songs and petting the dog. Then home through the dark rainy night back to the city for Thai coconut soup and bed in a cold room, shivering even wearing wool socks.

It was the perfect day to start off the year.

Often on the first day of the year I like to go for a long run or hike, or in a previous life had my new year’s eve dinner on new year’s day. I don’t make many hard-and-fast resolutions, but usually have a little list in my mind upon which to reflect in the waning hours of the year and into the next.

This year was different, and perhaps it was better: there was lots of laughter, good food and conversation, and beautiful landscape to set the tone for the next 12 months. I was completely in and of the moment — something I hope will continue well into 2011 and beyond. To spend the day with old and much-loved friends was the icing on the proverbial freshly-baked cake of the new year; if I am to have similar slices of it in the days ahead I will consider myself the luckiest and consider the year a blessed one indeed.

Next time I’ll share a recipe for these sesame butter cookies, which are a childhood holiday staple for me but which can be made any time of the year …

A taste:

PS to KK and AO: come visit again soon. I promise I’ll make more cake.

Join the Conversation

  1. Hi Nicole, my name is Caroline, and I have been an avid follower of your blog for a few years now – though I confess, this is the first time I have ever left a comment.

    I am a Bay Area native but have been going to school for the past 3 1/2 years in Providence, RI. You can probably imagine how nice it is to come to your beautiful site and see pictures of a part of the world I love so much.

    While I could sing praises for your blog all day, I also confess I am leaving this message for partly selfish reasons. When I signed on to cucina nicolina for the first time since coming back from my road trip up North, I noticed you had changed things around a bit (it looks great); however, I immediately worried if I’d be able to access the one recipe I have probably used more than any other that I make…your (deeeelicious) apple cake. And alas, I soon discovered that the link no longer works. I’ve since been able to find a copy of the recipe that I scribbled down in a notebook, and I debated whether or not to say anything at all. But I figured for the sake of future apple-cake-makers, I would let you know that the link from your recipe archive does not work.

    The decision to post a comment was also a nice excuse for me to let you know how much I admire your writing, your recipes and your lovely photographs.

  2. It sounds like a lovely way to usher in the new year, even if decongestant is necessary.

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