New Year's Eve makes me anxious.
There are lots of reasons for this, but to be all Dr Freud about it, the most obvious one has to do with my parents' divorce. We spent Christmas with Mum, and New Year with Dad, and the result was that I came to feel ambivalent about both. My trouble was that I could never be with all the people I wanted to at any one time; someone was always missing. Later, when I was a teenager, it was just plain gruesome. There would be a nightclub – Cairo Jax, Josephine's, or (the cooler option) the Leadmill – where I never got off with anyone, and where I never had enough money for drinks (the cash I did have, I unaccountably spent on repulsive concoctions such as snakebite and black, or Cinzano and lemonade). Afterwards, tipped out into the cold, dank streets at 2am, there would be the long search for a bus or taxi (funds allowing) home. Waiting for a ride was horrible. I would be in a coat, which marked me out as – whisper it – possibly middle-class (most revellers in Sheffield wear T-shirts, mini-skirts and not a lot else). A lot of jeering would go on, the scantily clad merrily yelling at the all wrapped up. So humiliating.
There are several ways to deal with New Year's Eve. You can make like my friend, J, and go to bed at 10pm ("It's just a normal evening," he will say to anyone who'll listen, in the voice of Mark from Peep Show). Or you can go to some party or other, and spend £586 on a cab home. Or you can go away, to a foreign city, where you will eat gingerbread and smile manically at strangers. But the best plan is probably to stay at home and continue the process of exponential thigh expansion that you began at Christmas. I'm not advocating the thrifty eating of leftovers. New Year's Eve might not merit a journey across town in a Toyota Avensis with no rear seatbelts and bad air-freshener, but it surely deserves its own foodstuffs. Those high-rollers who pay millions at auction for white truffles: why do they bother, if not to shave them on New Year's Eve?
At my father's, we used to eat a particular canape, which sounds peculiar, but tastes delicious. Honestly, it does. I've tried and failed to check its provenance on the internet, but I believe it originated in a gentlemen's club; he, not being a gentleman, probably tore the recipe out of his newspaper. Anyway, it's like a super-posh miniature club sandwich. Take some small squares of brown toast. Smear them with good chutney (date, or green tomato; it should be home-made), and then place a slice both of very crisp bacon, and smoked salmon on top. Eat with something golden and dry and alcoholic. I hope I haven't misremembered this, but if it does sound too weird to contemplate, you could try another of our favourites – cheese gougeres – instead (little clouds of savoury choux pastry: easier to make than you think).
Other things it's good to eat on New Year's Eve: a bowl of salted roast almonds; a dish of chicken livers cooked in marsala wine with pasta, or on toast; a roast pheasant with bread sauce and game chips; fondue or bagna cauda, with things to dip in it; a really good (ie day-old) shepherd's pie with carrots, peas and Worcestershire sauce; omelette Arnold Bennett; anything potted, especially shrimps; caviar (if you happen to have won the pools or something). To finish, a slice of cheese – the fantasy would be a piece of brie with black truffle, but Wensleydale would do – followed by a single salted caramel from L'Artisan du Chocolat (the original and best). Champagne is never bad, though my personal preference is for a glass of old, buttercup yellow riesling. I've come a long way since the Cinzano.
I would save the cheese and the chocolate until after the ritual of first footing. Where I'm from, we always used to first foot: a tall dark stranger (ie your dad) would "arrive" (ie be shoved out) at the door at the stroke of midnight, bearing a lump of coal and a hunk of bread. This would bring the household good luck – or, possibly, a lower heating bill and a steady supply of toast – for the rest of the year. These days, if I saw a shivering man loitering outside my front door, I'd ring the police. But back then, I'd look out at the massed ranks of shivering blokes (every house had one) and – feminism and superstition dovetailing neatly – I'd feel that all was right with the world. Of course, if you've got oozing brie and salted caramels indoors, it very probably is.
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