It’s New Year’s Eve, and we’re not going anywhere.
It’s one of the major party nights of the year, and we’re sitting on our butts at home.
It’s not that we don’t have the opportunity to party, and it’s not that we’re so old we can’t stay awake past nine. We were invited to a whoopdeedoo that we have attended in the past. We sent the R.S.V.P.; we were rarin’ to go.
Until Kathy takes sick.
On New Year’s Eve.
Suffice it to say, I am crushed. After all, parties mean food and beverages.
On someone else’s tab.
In this case, pretty darned good food. Catered by Amy, most likely. And Amy cranks out top-shelf stuff.
This was a chance to get ripped, get fed, get away from all the whiny babies that inhabit everyday life in Siberia With a View — for example, middle-aged men whoact like a junior high school girl abandoned by a date at the big dance — to enjoy an hour or four of relatively mature experience.
But … no.
“I don’t feel well.”
“Change into a pair of pants with a bigger waist size. It always works for me.”
“No, I mean, I’m really sick . I felt bad when I got up this morning, and I got worse as the day went on. And now I feel really bad.”
“But … free drinks, great nibbles. Cheese.”
“I know. I told them we were coming, so maybe you could go for a while. It wouldn’t bother me.”
“Well, yeah, but you’re my designated driver.”
“Don’t you think you could stick to a sip or two and have a good time?”
“No. I could try, but after that first sip, I would fancy myself sophisticated and charming and, of course, I would be relaxed and I would have another sip. Then I would tumble into the illusion that I’m the most fascinating person at the party and, of course, I would need another sip and with that, I would channel Oscar Wilde and have another sip. A sip leads to a quart, and pretty soon I am Charles Bukowski — a drunken beatnik falling down the stairs and cursing The Man. At the end of the evening, they have to call the fire department to get me out of the bathroom after I lock myself in there with the host’s dog. You know the drill.”
“Unfortunately, yes, I do.”
“And I have it on good authority that every employee of the town police department, the sheriff’s department and the state patrol will be on the roads looking for Oscar Wilde. It’s DUI night for the Oscars of this world.”
“I’m sorry, but I just can’t do it. I feel awful.”
I accept reality, and I sulk.
I haven’t gone to the market, expecting we would chow down at the party, so a meal is a patchwork job: pasta with some cheeses and garlic, leftover turkey chili, a fistful of greens three days past their prime.
I find a bottle of St. Joseph in the basement and, despite the big price tag, I decide I am going to open it. It’s New Year’s Eve, after all. If I can’t channel Oscar Wilde in public and embarrass myself, I can darn well do it at home . And, since we don’t own a dog, there’ll be no need to lock myself in the bathroom.
They say drinking alone is a sign of a problem. But, when you think about it, life is problematic, isn’t it?
We eat, then watch a bit of television as the new year approaches.
I scroll through the channels; the pickings are slim. There’s the usual New Year’s Eve dreck, with ancient hosts, pouty and marginally talented pop stars, and hordes of drunken, quasi-adolescent partygoers.
There are a few movies on the premium channels.
Kathy won’t let me watch Cheaters or Steven Segal: Lawman.
Then, we hit paydirt! The perfect New Year’s Eve diversion — something that mirrors the year about to pass, something, in fact, to mirror the human condition (as in a world where middle-aged men act like a junior high school girl abandoned by a date at the big dance ).
A Three Stooges New Year’s Eve marathon!
How could we be so lucky?
We catch several classics, including my personal favorite — the one in which Curly has to deliver blocks of ice to a woman whose house sits far above the street, at the top of a long, steep staircase. Curly starts at the bottom with a gigantic block of ice and makes it to the top with but an ice cube left in his tongs. He undertakes the task again and again, with frequent pummelings by Moe.
Who would have guessed: Camus filtered through a cadre of vaudeville schticksters.
Kathy loves it because it gives her a chance to further refine her Three Stooges imitations. Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck. Whoop, whoop, whoop. She’s sick, but never so sick she can’t get in lockstep with the Stooges.
We make it past nine, but we don’t make it to midnight.
Upon awakening the next morning, I confront the problem of what to cook during the remainder of the holiday
“I feel better today,” says Kathy. “I want salmon. The kind where you pan roast it, with that topping made of mayonnaise and whatever else you put in it.”
Ah, yes: mayonnaise and whatever else. Actually, this is a simple recipe. Take the salmon fillet and season the flesh side with Kosher salt and black pepper. Combine mayonnaise, a bit of stone-ground mustard, salt pepper, a splash lemon juice and tarragon. Plenty of tarragon.
Preheat the oven to 425, Take a heavy frying pan — cast iron is perfect — and heat it over medium high heat on the stovetop, When it is hot, put a bit of oil in the pan and place the fillet, skin side down, in the pan. While the skin sizzles and crisps up, spread a thick layer of the mayonnaise mix on top of the fillet. Cover the mayo with panko bread crumbs, if you wish (I like it both ways). After it’s spent about four to five minutes on the burner, take the pan and put it in the oven, Depending on the thickness of the fillet, the fish will roast for 12 to 15 minutes. Check after 10 minutes to make sure the fish does not overcook; you want the center to be relatively soft — never cooked hard. The fish will continue to cook after it is removed from the oven.
I cook the salmon and serve it with oven-roasted sweet potatoes, parsnips and carrots. I peel and chunk up the veggies, toss them in a large bowl with some quartered red onions and several peeled, whole cloves of garlic, extra virgin olive oil, Kosher salt, fresh-ground black pepper, and a bit of ground cumin. I spread the mix in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, and pop it in the oven about 30 minutes before I’m ready to cook the fish. I turn the mix once or twice to make sure the goodies don’t burn. I complete the veggie extravaganza with steamed broccoli.
The next night, I am tempted to continue sailing into the new year with something homey, something comforting.
Meatloaf? Chicken pot pie (dolled up, of course)? Braised or roasted pork shoulder pork shoulder? Osso buco (like I am going to find veal shanks here in Siberia With a View)?
I figure the meal can produce enough leftovers for a repeat on Sunday, or permit some kind of transformation of the primary ingredients.
It is then that I discover a jar of Patak’s hot curry paste in the cupboard.
Eureka! Forget leftovers: Let’s get 2010 on the road with some premium, spicy fuel.
I buy boneless chicken breasts (I am too lazy to deal with thighs), a white onion, a head of garlic, a knob of ginger, a can of diced fire-roasted tomatoes and a can of unsweetened coconut milk.
I cut the chicken into small pieces and season them, slice the onion thin, mash up four cloves of garlic, grate two tablespoons or so of ginger.
I start the process by cooking the onion over medium heat in a deep, enameled cast-iron pot. When the onions are soft, I toss in the garlic and ginger, several tablespoons of the paste and a half cup or so of the tomatoes. I cook this mix for about five minutes, stirring frequently.
I add a cup or so of chicken broth and a bit of brown sugar ( a little at a time, tasting as I go (I don’t want the blend to be sweet, I merely want to take the edge off the acid). In go the pieces of chicken. I bring the liquid to a boil then turn the heat down to low, put the lid on the pot and gently simmer the contents for about 15-20 minutes.
Last in is the can of coconut milk. I continue to simmer the mix in an uncovered pot until the consistency is what I want, in this case fairly thick. I adjust the seasoning and we’re ready to go.
What to serve with the curry?
I have no aversion to swerving off the beaten path — the beaten path being rice — so, in this case, I slop the delightful concoction over buttered, al dente egg noodles. I could have tossed chunks of potato into the curry when I added the broth, and simmered the tubers until tender. But, no. Noodles it is.
And some green peas. I overcook frozen green peas, then mash half of them, adding a lot of butter, a bit of salt and pepper, then combining the paste with the remaining, whole peas. Quite good.
Usually, a raita does the trick for cooling everything down but I am determined to do away with the ordinary in 2010, so I serve cottage cheese, with some diced cucumber and minced green onion mixed in.
For the final meal of the holiday — leftover noodles with curry, leftover roasted vegetables.
And a vow to cut down on the food in 2010, quantity, not quality; to cut down on the wine (maybe); and never to act like a junior high school girl whose date abandons her at the big dance. I’m somewhat entertaining at a party, but I don’t whine well.