New Years

grapesnyeI was ecstatic to be reminded of an old tradition by Martha Stewart in her magazine this month.  

I remember doing this on New Year's Eve with some foreign friends many, many years ago and everyone had a lot of fun partaking in the simple ritual.

According to Martha, it's a Spanish tradition (my friends were French) to quickly eat a dozen grapes at midnight. 

The fruit being a predictor of the year ahead:  Each sweet grape representing a good month, each sour grape a less-than-lucky one.

So join the fun, thread a bunch of grapes onto skewers and serve each in a glass of Champagne right before the countdown. 

This is great because children and non-drinkers can also participate.  Just put the skewer in Sparkling Apple Cider or whatever beverage you are serving for the toast.

partytipsHoliday time and the sipping is easy. As for the food—I have four words to help you take your New Year's Eve bash over the top: fire up the grill. Yeah, it's cold out there—especially if you live up north, but live fire and wood smoke add high drama and depth of flavor you just can't achieve on the stove or in the oven.

So what makes a great holiday hors d'oeuvre spread? Three words: snap, crackle, and salt. Appetizers should be small enough to snap up with your fingers and salty enough to drive you to drink. The appetizers offer a contrast of textures, the most important texture being crunch. (I'm thinking crisp bacon exterior with gooey cheese center.) The short list of world-class starters includes poppers and chicken wings, dips and chips, mini sandwiches and sates.

Here are 7 indispensible tips to help you take your New Year's Eve cocktail party over the top.

1. Variety matters and so does abundance: If hors d'oeuvres are the only food served at your party, figure on 6 to 8 pieces per person. Serve at least 3 to 5 different items—the more the better. Your reputation as a savvy host and accomplished grill master is directly proportional to the elaborateness of your menu.

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diet_plans.jpgJanuary is the traditional month for new diets. I get kind of amused reading this week's Time magazine which chose 3 of the new diet books to review. The first one disallows wine, salt, sugar and artificial sweetener. The second forbids carbonated drinks, coffee, gassy foods including cabbage. The third forbids dairy, white rice, and processed foods. And the last one forbids volume. Eat anything you want but just choose small portions.

Are you beginning to see a pattern here? Why does every new diet start off by telling you what you cannot eat?

People have had problems with excess weight ever since mankind began to grow food. The hunters and gatherers weren't fat. They spent a lot of time just searching for food and were grateful for what they could find. And the game and berries they found also spent time searching for nourishment and water and didn't store fat either.

But that was then. This is now. We are besotted with food, drink, choices, and chance. What on earth can we do?

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scallopcookedCooking long hours is fun on Thanksgiving but on New Year's Eve nobody wants to be in the kitchen except to pass through on the way to the freezer to refill the ice bucket. The perfect at-home meal on New Year's Eve is one that has pazazz, great flavor and doesn't take long to prepare.

With expectations high, everything about a New Year's Eve party needs to be special. Take-out deli sandwiches are fine to watch the weekly football game. Pizza and beer works for a Netflix festival of Tarantino movies. But for the night when you say goodbye to a whole year's experience and celebrate what's-hoped-for in the coming 365 days, it isn't enough to simply put food on the table.

If you're having a small gathering of friends and loved ones, easy-to-make scallops are an elegantly delicious way to tell everyone how much you love sharing this end-of-the-year evening with them.

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ImageI enjoy spending hours cooking in the kitchen. Doing the prep work soothes my frazzled nerves. Watching a dish slowly come together as the various ingredients combine their flavors calms me down.

Being in the kitchen is a great escape from a contentious world. Pulling together appetizers, a salad, main dish, and a couple of desserts, gives me a lot of pleasure. Good food promotes good conversation and well-prepared dishes tell our friends that we care about them.

I like to have the meal completed before everyone arrives, but sometimes, like this New Year's Eve, I know I'll still be cooking. The best solution is a colorful cocktail that refreshes and entertains while I'm finishing dinner.

Because there are edible pieces of fruit at the bottom, including a spoon means the cocktail is a drink and an appetizer all in one.

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