What Are You Cookin' New Year's Eve?

Everyone is suppposed to be happy on New Year's Eve. We're supposed to be full of high spirits and optimism, ready for a party. I have never felt like that. I tried for years to want to gallavant and be really cheerful, but it didn't work. When I'd watch the ball drop at Times Square on TV (I can't understand why anyone would ever want to be there in person), I just couldn't see what the fuss was all about.

Then, one year I read that Kathryn Crosby (Bing's widow) preferred to stay home with a bowl of Corn Flakes for dinner on New Year's Eve. I suddenly felt as if I had permission to lay low and take it easy instead of fake the revelery.

Now Evan and I have a tradition that suits me just fine: movie, potato chips (good ones), and champagne. The potato chips and champagne combo was actually suggested by Marilyn Monroe in Seven Year Itch. Think about it: salt, crunch, and bubbles--pretty near perfect.

But that's not dinner. For dinner tonight I'm fixing in-the-oven spare ribs. I don't think I've ever made spare ribs before, believe it or not. I've certainly eaten my share, but there is something mysterious about them to me, as if you have to have a dose testerone to understand them. I looked up a recipe in Bittman's How to Cook Everything, which calls for a simple rub of salt, pepper, sugar, cumin, paprika, and chili powder. I added some dried chipotle chili too. You bake them at 300F for a couple of hours, pouring off excess fat every 30 minutes. I think greens will go well with them, so I'll use the broccoli rabe that I got the other day for no good reason. That's going to be dinner. It's bound to be late, but it's New Year's Eve, so what the heck.


Dinner for the Lazy

No family dinner tonight. Believe it or not, The six year old Girl is going to a Birthday dinner party. I'm supposed to drop her off at her school mate's house in about 45 minutes, and I'm really curious about the scene. The Husband is going to his painting studio after work, so it's me on my own—something that hardly ever happens.

Last night we were saved by some smoked pork chops. I was in an incredibly lethargic mood, and smoked pork chops are a gift to the lazy. They seem to last a good long while in the refrigerator, take nothing to cook, and can be pretty satisfying with a dollop of apple sauce on the side. We stopped at the market on the way home from picking The Husband up at the station. He failed his task of picking out a vegetable (he got distracted by out of season strawberries and raspberries), so we ended up with the ultimate lazy/over-worked person's vegetable: frozen peas. I heat up hot water in the electric kettle, pour some peas in a bowl with a dash of salt, pour blazing hot water over them, let them sit for a bit, drain and then repeat with what's left of the re-heated water. How quick is that? We had egg noodles with just a smidge of butter and a bit of grated parmesan to round things out.

Nobody really wanted to talk during dinner; we were too exhausted from doing absolutely nothing, which kind of gives credit to the notion that inactivity breeds more inactivity.



We had a ribeye roast for Christmas eve dinner. I had thought that it would take about an hour or so to cook, being all of three pounds. I had planned on an early dinner, so when I called Maurice, my father-in-law (home chef extraordinaire) for his take on to brown or not to brown the roast, I was sent into a tizzy with his advice to brown the thing and then let it roast slow and long to get uniform doneness (i.e., medium rare through and through; top to bottom). Plans for an early dinner crashed to accomodate the new 3 hour roasting time. It was a lovely meal for four, accompanied by mashed potatoes, the best gravy I ever made, and carrots. Gingerbread cookies for dessert (homemade from an old Gourmet magazine).

It turns out that Maurice was quoting the recipe from the cookbook he gave me for Christmas: Cook's Illustrated's Best New Recipe. You basically brown the roast in a pan, salt and pepper it, put it on a rack in the pan in a 250F oven for about 3hrs or until it reaches about 130-135. Let it sit for about 1/2 an hour and carve. I should also say that I was going to serve Prime Rib, but then Maurice talked me into the Ribeye roast, bought at Costco for a bit over $8.00 a pound. It was labled "choice" but was as good as any of the "prime" meat that I've got from Fairway.

So last night we had glorious leftovers. Pink, cold roast beef with dijon mustard and cornichons on the side (from the Maille jar that has the little pickle lifter in it!); a great heap of fresh spinach steamed down to a little dollop in a bowl, and baked potatoes with lots of pepper. It was a quick and easy dinner, that almost seemed uninspired, except for the memory of love and panic that went into cooking the roast.

Tonight there's no family dinner. The Husband and I are going out on a much needed date; Chloe (the sitter) and The Girl will order in a Pizza from the neighborhood pizza joint.


What's the point?

This blog is inspired by my recent reading of Julie Powell and her blog-inspired book documenting her quest to replicate all of the recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I was overwhelmed with her tenacity and distracted from everything by her humor. I kept thinking if I had ever made anything out of that book, although it and it's companion (vol. 2) have sat on my shelf for over 20 years. My cooking challenges are much more mundane, trying to get a good dinner on the table before 7:30 pm.

I have a neurotic's relationship with sitting down to dinner as a family. I think in some ways it's about control because it's the one thing I can orchestrate where we all have to pay attention to each other. In 1999 I was pregnant, though very few people knew yet. I was a middle school teacher at Friends Seminary in Manhattan meeting the parents of the students in my advisory for the regular conferences. Of course I was supposed to convey all that I knew about their child and how we could all work together to make their child a better learner, but my true agenda was to find out about what makes a good parent. Ramon Guitierrez was one of my favorite students. He was a bright, reflective, thoughtful young man, and I wanted to know anything his father could tell me about how to parent such a fine kid. "We have dinner together every night. Everyone comes home for dinner," his dad said through Ramon's sister's translation. "Every night we have dinner." Those words stuck with me. The advice from the mom who said to go on mother/daughter vacations and took her daughter to Egypt over spring break stayed with me too, but dinner was in the realm of possibility for me. Dinner I could do!

I'm not so sure about why I want to document this mission on a blog. My plan is to put it out there as both a commitment to and record of my family dinners.