Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

The New Year's Feast

It's comforting and fulfilling and reaffirming and plain old good fun to have regular seasonal traditions with groups of friends, but it doesn't necessarily make for novel journal entries. Once again I had a wonderful New Year's day as semi-host of the New Year's Indian Feast of Friends, which takes place in both my apartment and my landlord Stephen's apartment upstairs. Folks come over and cook all day, split up between the two kitchens. We feast on appetizers downstairs, from a buffet table. Then we pause to clean up downstairs and put the final touches on dinner, served formally upstairs. After a long slow happy meal we move back downstairs for dessert. This seems to work, logistically, and evens out the final cleanup between the two apartments, although our differing styles mean that Stephen and Scooter collapse into bed as soon as everyone leaves, leaving cleanup for the next day, and I stay up until the wee hours scrubbing the burned oil off the bottom of my Le Creuset pot with a skin-shredding puff of real steel wool. I probably have my mother to thank for my inability to go to sleep if there is a post-hurricane wreck of dirty pots and dishes in the kitchen.

Two years ago I wrote about the event itself in great detail, then last year I wrote about the big shopping excursion to Bed, Bath, and Beyond I went on the next day. This year we used pretty much everything I purchased last year, except the mortar and pestle - spices were ground upstairs, with Stephen's birdbath-sized tools.

But I did get lots of things right this year. I cleared my toaster and microwave out the day before, and lined all of my counters with cutting boards and chopping mats. I placed an assortment of mixing bowls out along the rear of the larger counters. I bought lots of wine and not quite so much beer (nobody drank any of the beer). This year I was ready with a dozen silverplate bouillon spoons when Douglas brought out his mango fool (he had made this request, last-second, two years ago). I had Stephen sharpen my knives that very morning on his fancy knife-sharpening machine, causing my friend Jan to exclaim with delight at how thinly she was able to slice up some cucumbers. I also learned that the best way to organize the cooking in my kitchen is for me to stay free and ready while the workers call out their bowl and platter and pot needs (and to clean up as we go along).

Does this sound like fun? Well, it's certainly an enormous amount of work (Stephen chooses recipes that are too labor-intensive for restaurant fare but are evidently traditional in Indian homes), but those New Year's Day afternoons with my apartment filled with buzzing activity are very, very happy memories for me.

What do I mean by labor-intensive? Well, just one of the appetizers (not counting the complex chutneys) involves scooping out a few dozen cherry tomatoes, filling them with a spiced cheese mixture, coating them in batter, and deep-frying them, a few at a time. Is it worth it? Hell, yeah! One of the main dishes -- a somewhat complicated pilaf with ingredients I couldn't even identify -- turned out to require so many small advance preparations (many batches of separately toasted spices, for example, and a half-dozen or so complexly prepared vegetables) that Douglas had to stay upstairs and work on it while the rest of us were downstairs eating the appetizers. I expressed concern for Douglas, but Stephen assured me that Douglas was at his absolute happiest, since he had nearly achieved his comfort level of fussiness.

The way the calendar fell this year gave us more time to get the apartments ready in advance. On Saturday both apartments smelled of cleaning supplies and the buzz of vacuum cleaners was stereophonic. (Stephen and Scooter used their ear-splitting Shop-Vac on the back stairs for the first time since I moved here -- at my request, when I pointed out that the back stairwell was going to be well-trod.) Everything was at its shiny best.

It was a long day, lasting from 1pm until nearly midnight, which means there were several acts and lots of memories. During appetizer cleanup I got Tim Dennis to sing Rogers and Hammerstein songs with me in the kitchen, full-voiced. Shannon and I found a bit of time to complain about men. People took occasional breaks to sit in one rocking chair or another.

I don't think you could do a party like that more than a couple of times a year, max, and I don't think you can do it at all without a group of friends who, collectively, enjoy doing it, but what a time it can be.
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