The New Year Is Soon Upon Us

By: Elizabeth Webber Akre

I hope this post finds everyone fat, happy and still experiencing the spirit of this holiday season. The ornaments and lights have twinkled and lit up our homes. The stockings were hung and delightfully filled. Church services have been attended and filled up our hearts. And then of course, there’s the food…

All of the baking is done, given to friends and probably all eaten. The hams and turkeys have been baked, feasted on and made into sandwiches yesterday. Many sweet potatoes, green beans, biscuits, butter beans, various casseroles, cakes and pies have been happily consumed. Families gathered around tables to share a meal, share their time, and make memories with each other.

And then there’s the New Year. I think New Year’s Eve kind of gets ripped off. I love wine as much as the next gourmand, but I feel sorry for New Year’s Eve. All anyone (in America, at least) seems to focus on in celebration of the New Year’s arrival is alcohol. Nobody plans a New Year’s Eve dinner party. There’s not an “official” New Year’s Eve food (Thanksgiving corners the market on turkey, Christmas and Easter get ham, Hanukkah is filled with challah and latkes, July 4th is busting at the seams with barbeque and Halloween has a monopoly on candy.) But, poor old New Year’s Eve has nothing (food-wise). Champagne, martinis, fine wine and craft beers are great, but without good food, well, you know what can happen.

Personally, I am not a New Year’s Eve fan. What I mean is that I have no desire to go out on this night. Being crammed into a bar with a zillion strangers pressed up against me, spilling stuff, yelling in my ears and then toasting with a plastic glass of Asti Spumante is not at all my idea of a good time. I’d much rather celebrate in my home with good friends, good drink and good food. In fact, what I’d like is a true, authentic reveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre.

I spent the fall semester of 1988 living with a French family in a suburb of Rennes, France. One of the coolest things I experienced was the reveillon. This is a New Year’s Eve festivity to welcome and celebrate the “reawakening,” a new year with a Midnight repast. This was one awesome party/celebration/meal. Probably the best one ever. My sister had flown over to spend Christmas with me and my French family. My host family’s friends down the street planned this reveillon, which was an event that my French teachers never really talked about.

Here’s how it went: We all got together around dusk. We gathered at the table and had aperitifs (kir, Pastis & water, wine) and cheese with fruit. Then, we got up, some of us worked in the kitchen preparing for the next course, drank, danced, listened to music, drank. Then, we all sat down again for the next course, which this night was raclette. I’m sure somewhere in America you can find this appliance, but I’ve never seen one. It’s basically like a table-top salamander. Each person has their own individual, shallow tray on which you place a slab of your favorite cheese.

You place it in the salamander (broiler) until the cheese melts and bubbles. Then, you pour this melty deliciousness over cold boiled potatoes, carrot sticks, bread, crackers, whatever you like. At this juncture, we opened the first bottle of champagne. The first of about 4 cases of champagne. After the raclette, we all got up, moved around, stretched, danced some more, etc. I was finally catching on. We drink, drink, toast, drink, toast, sit, eat, toast and drink, take a break and then we come back to the table and do it again. Now that all the champagne is flowing, I may mix up the order of some of the dishes, but you’ll get the idea.

Over the course of the evening, we had Coquilles St. Jacques (scallops), giant langoustines, filet mignon, a myriad of cheeses (which, in France, is truly a culinary journey). Then, midnight came. This is when it really got going. More champagne corks flew, and then we were on the move. That’s right…down the street we all went. We went to everyone’s house on the cul-de-sac and marched on in to wish everyone a Bonne Année. It was like a New Year’s Eve congo line. We literally filed through all these houses giving everyone the good ol’ French double cheek air kiss, wishing each other “bonne année.” After all of this, we returned to our homebase and popped more champagne. Now, at this point, I can’t even remember what we ate next, but we continued to snack, drink, snack, drink until the sun came up.

Eventually, my French family, my sister and I made our way back down the road to our home. It’s funny when you wake up in the morning, eat, drink and party all night and then don’t go to bed again until the next morning. Takes a couple days to get your circadian rhythms back in order. The reveillon is something that my sister and I have talked about every year since we experienced it. It was a fun, festive evening unlike any we’d had here at home and we both loved it. We’ve often discussed why people here don’t celebrate this way. And, we’ve talked about hosting our own, of course. What we learned is that if you stretch good food and good wine throughout the evening, everyone can maintain his/her composure, keep up the stamina and have one heck of a New Year’s Eve!

Oh yeah, I learned one other valuable little tidbit. If you have a bottle of champagne that you can’t finish (I know, this rarely happens!) there’s no way to recork it, as you know. However, there IS a way to keep it in the fridge without losing the bubbles. You probably think I’ve lost my mind, but I’ve been doing this since 1988 when Nicole and Agnes taught me this trick: place a spoon, stem end down into the bottle. The spoon part will keep it from falling into the bottle. Put it in the fridge and tomorrow, you will still have bubbles. I have no idea how or why it works. I only know that it works. Try it.

Elizabeth writes the blog, Gastronomy (by a Wanna-be Chef). Please follow it and “like” it. And comment. She loves comments!