Some years ago – when we lived in Santa Barbara – a friend would hold an annual Open House on New Year’s Day. She would set out large platters of cold meats, cheeses, assorted breads and rolls, and condiments. Coffee and Wine were the drinks.
And that was IT!
Driving home, my husband Norman always said, ‘Now why can’t YOU entertain like that instead of cooking up a storm and wearing yourself out?’
When I reported this to my friend she laughed and said, ‘Well Eli always asks when we are driving home from a party at YOUR house, ‘Now why can’t you entertain like that?’
The moral of the story is one does what makes one comfortable – and the New Year is no exception.
Open Houses on New Year’s Day have been a tradition for hundreds of years – when the lady of the house would be ‘at home’ to friends and family – and would serve an elaborate Brunch or Afternoon Tea.
This is a day to ‘repair frayed friendships’ and eat for ‘Luck’. One also may leave some food on one’s plate to ‘save’ for the coming year, [though I doubt using it past its ‘sell by’ date will enhance one’s longevity!]
A tradition my husband loved was ‘first footing’. If a dark haired man crosses your threshold just after midnight on New Year’s carrying lump of coal, you invite him in, ply him with ‘vittles’ and wine and can then look forward to a Good Year. With his mop of dark hair and the obligatory lump of coal, Norman would cross as many ‘thresholds’ as he could, only stopping when he was too full [and inebriated] to proceed!
A New Year’s Day reception in the 1800’s might be Afternoon Tea featuring sandwiches, meringues, cookies and cakes. At one New York New Year’s Day Buffet around that time, the menu included fruit punch, crackers and cheese, turkey, ham, assorted breads, olives, celery, potato salad, cranberry jelly and cookies.
In Texas we eat black-eyed peas. Elsewhere in the world grapes or cabbage [sauerkraut] or lentils or fish [carp] or donuts are favored. Cakes may be doused in brandy. It occurs to me, irreverently, that many of the New Year foods are those you might care to eat only ONCE a year!
Upon reflection, perhaps my friend had it right. With New Year’s Day just a couple of days away cold meats and cheese and breads seem perfect!
But if you still have time and energy after the last few weeks here is a recipe for a simple LENTIL SOUP. Good for New Year’s Day – and the many winter’s days after.
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 cup baby carrots
½ large or 1 small onion, peeled, cut lengthwise into thin strips
1 teaspoon cumin
1 can tomatoes, diced
3 cups strong well flavored stock [you can use vegetable or beef]
1 cup dry lentils
Salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste
Parsley for garnish
Sauté the carrots and onion in the oil over a medium heat until slightly browned.
Add the cumin, tomatoes, stock and lentils and simmer, covered for about 20 minutes or until the lentils are soft.
Check the seasoning and add the salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice to taste.
Serve warm with a garnish of chopped parsley.
(Note: Depending on the saucepan you use you may need to add more stock if the soup cooks down too quickly.)
The soup freezes well.
In Coventry, England godparents gifted their godchildren with GODCAKES – puff pastry triangles stuffed with mincemeat. Originally the puff pastry was made by hand but thankfully one can now pick up a package of puff pastry from the supermarket and the pastries are a snap to make, requiring the minimum of effort. My friend would have LOVED them!
1 pkg. puff pastry
Mincemeat [or a mixture of assorted dried fruits including currants]
1 egg white, whisked lightly
Preheat oven to 425.
Roll out the puff pastry to ¼” thick and cut into 4” squares. Then cut the squares across into triangles.
Spoon a small spoonful of the mincemeat onto one triangle and top with a second triangle, moistening the edges and pressing down to make the pastry ‘stick’. Repeat with the rest of the triangles.
Brush with egg white and sprinkle with sugar and make three cuts on top of the triangles.
Set on a baking paper-lined cookie sheet and bake for about 15 minutes or until the Godcakes are puffed and lightly browned.
Cool on a rack.
(Note: A little brandy is often added to the mincemeat/dried fruit mixture. As you are aware the alcohol will evaporate when cooked – just the taste will remain.)
About the Author
McKinney resident Kyra Effren is a contributing writer for TownSquareBuzz.com's "Food" section. She is a retired food stylist and contributing writer for the "Food" section of Dallas Morning News. In 1975, Effren opened Cours de Cuisine Cooking School in Dallas and in 1978, she was awarded The Commanderie des Cordon Bleu in France for her contributions to French cooking. She has edited multiple cookbooks and served as recipe tester for a number of cookbooks including both of the Mansion on Turtle Creek cookbooks by Dean Fearing and baking books by Nick Malgieri.
Kyra welcomes any and all reader comments and suggestions. What would you like to have for dinner?