Seasons by the Sea: Toasting the New Year at Home

New Year’s Eve has been celebrated around the world for more than four millenniums.
Oysters Rockefeller make an elegant New Year’s Eve appetizer. Laura Donnelly

Forced merriment” is what my brother Sherman calls it. We’re talking about New Year’s Eve, a.k.a. Hogmanay, Calennig, Kanun Novogo Goda, Reveillon, Silvester, Ambang, and/or Malam Tahun Baharu.

New Year’s Eve has been celebrated around the world for more than four millenniums, and most countries celebrate it on Dec. 31, the last day of the Gregorian calendar. Festivities can include fireworks, long festive parties, eating special foods, drinking champagne, and making resolutions. 

I like to celebrate and plan to have a grand meal . . . at home, with friends who can walk home afterward. Driving around East Hampton drunk in the wee hours of Jan. 1, 2018, is just another way of saying, “I can’t wait to see my name in the police blotter of The East Hampton Star next Thursday!”

For a small party, or dinner “a deux,” it is fun to splurge. Have a beef tenderloin with whipped cream horseradish sauce, creamed spinach, and potatoes au gratin, followed by a rich chocolate mousse. Start with caviar and/or oysters with champagne and have a really good bottle of red wine with your beef. For a bigger party, you can make layered caviar dip (stretch those eggs!) and a warming casserole with a big salad. Serve prosecco or cava instead of champagne; they’re really all the same, except for the price. Even the caviar doesn’t have to be frightfully expensive: American hackleback is damned adequate.

If you want to acknowledge and celebrate the new year the way other countries do, here are some ideas.

In Spain, just before midnight, revelers gobble down 12 grapes while making wishes. In Scandinavian countries they serve rice pudding with one almond hidden in it. Whoever gets the almond has good luck the following year. In Italy they serve lentils, symbolizing coins, for prosperity in the coming year. A similar dish, hoppin’ john, made with black-eyed peas, is served in the South. Circular pastries are prepared in the Netherlands, Greece, and Mexico to represent the year coming full circle. Pigs represent progress and wealth in some countries, including Cuba, Austria, and Hungary, so that is served. 

The practice of making New Year’s resolutions began in Babylonian times and usually involved returning farm equipment, to appease the gods and start the year off on the right foot.

If you’re having a party with a good-size gang, have a game night with MadLibs, Smart Mouth, and other fast, funny games. I’m having a Saran Wrap ball. You wrap the really good prize in the middle, then keep wrapping joke gifts, practical items, candy, etc., until the ball gets bigger and bigger. (Cut the plastic wrap at various intervals to make it easier, otherwise the whole table will be a tangled mess.) Everyone rolls a pair of dice until someone gets an even number. This person gets to unroll the ball and collect the goodies falling out, until the next person rolling the dice gets an even number, then they grab the ball and unravel it and so on. I found this idea on the internet, which makes the internet good for at least one thing.

Another good game that I learned from my friends Cindy and Jimmy requires no more than a small pad of paper and a pen for each guest. On the first page you write a descriptive sentence, then pass to the next person. They try to illustrate the sentence on the next page. The next person writes a sentence about that illustration, and the pages get folded over each time so all you have to go on is the previous picture or sentence. If I remember correctly, the last time we played, Ernest Hemingway sipping a daiquiri at Harry’s Bar in Paris turned into Hitler eating cake in a canoe. Yes, we are a funny and witty gang!

I’m going to make hoppin’ john this New Year’s Eve. It’s hard to find black-eyed peas out here, but you can find them frozen at King Kullen in Bridgehampton. Cornbread is traditionally served alongside to represent gold, and collard greens cooked with a ham hock are symbolic of “green” money. If I’m lazy I’ll get the cornbread from Smokin’ Wolf or Townline BBQ; they both make excellent versions.

If you’d rather go out, plenty of restaurants are offering New Year’s Eve festivities. How does cauliflower soup with winter truffles and butter-poached lobster at Nick and Toni’s sound? Divine! Almond is offering crispy sunchokes, foie gras, scallops, ribeye steaks, and more. Hubba hubba!

Remember to serve plenty of nonalcoholic beverages for your friends who don’t drink or their designated drivers. However you choose to do it, have fun saying goodbye to 2017 and welcoming in 2018. Celebrate responsibly, give thanks for family and friends, and only make resolutions you can keep. Happy New Year!

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Fast, funny games like Smart Mouth and Mad Libs can enliven a big party, especially with a side of bubbly. Laura Donnelly