Out with the old, in with the new…

Here’s a reprint of my take on New Year….

If my mom ever cooked anything special for the new year, I really don’t remember it. The first time I recall hearing about good luck New Year’s foods was when I was in the Navy. Working with lots of guys from down south, Hoppin’ John entered my vocabulary. As I got older and moved around the country, more traditions arrived.

When I lived at Lake Tahoe, working for the Hyatt, I worked with a lot of Mexicans. They made tamales and brought them in for everyone to share. Somewhere, I remember King Cake – that was probably Boston. Black-eyed peas and cornbread followed me around the USofA, and landing in Pennsylvania, it became Pork and Sauerkraut. Victor would divorce me if I ever made pork and sauerkraut – so much for good luck.

After years in the restaurant and hotel business, the very last day I want to be out is New Years Eve. It’s even worse than Mother’s Day. I don’t know if you can even imagine the horror of delivering pizzas on such a night, or dealing with drunks throwing glasses in the general vicinity of a casino fireplace. We were still finding shards of glass for weeks after that one…

Other than a few small house parties, First Night in Boston was probably one of the more fun of the New Year festivities I’ve experienced. Definitely the most unique. Outdoors in a cold, snowy Boston with performances ranging from classical to contemporary in a score or more different venues. And the crowds were relatively well-behaved.

We had bullets raining down on us when we lived in San Leandro – why people think it’s a good idea to shoot guns into the air boggles my mind. We flew across the country on New Year’s Eve 1999 to bring in the year 2000 with Victor’s family – on a near-empty flight in deserted airports – remember Y2K?!?. And, as 2003 turned into 2004, being locked out of Times Square after seeing The Producers with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick less than a half-block away was pretty aggravating. We ended up heading back to our hotel and had a champagne toast with the bartender, the Beverage Manager, and a couple from Norway as the clock struck twelve.

Normally, I eschew crowds – especially the throngs out on a New Year’s Eve – but I do think I’d like to ring in the new year in a European city, Rome, London, Paris, Florence, Barcelona… I dunno… Outdoors in a huge plaza, somewhere – and within walking distance of wherever we were staying. The biggest stipulation being within walking distance of where we would be staying. I wouldn’t want to have to deal with any sort of transportation. And I could definitely envision a moonlit walk through Paris at 3am

So… New Year’s Eve 2022 was fun and quiet. My brother and sister-in-law came over for homemade pizza and Aperol Spritzes.

Mike and I bored Victor and Debbie with antics from our Navy Days… We were both in The Gulf of Tonkin around the same time – he on the Saratoga (CVA-60) and me on the Ranger (CVA-61). Mike was an Airdale – working on the flight deck. I was a Commissaryman working mainly in the Bake Shop working 12 hour shifts 7 days a week baking thousands and thousands of loaves of bread, rolls, cakes, pies, donuts – you name it. I had the easy job.

The bars of Olongapo City in The Philippines, the Wan Chai district in Hong Kong, going through typhoons – all of the trouble a 20-year-old and a 23-year-old could get into 7000 miles from home. And there was a LOT of trouble to get into! That we survived is a testament to our good upbringing.

I spent New Year’s Eve 1972 drinking homemade apple wine in the forward bake shop with a couple of buddies. The Navy recipe was to open a case of canned apple juice, add a pinch of yeast to each can, and let it sit behind the ovens until ripe. It was pretty nasty, but it did its job.

I had been dressed as Santa the week before… Love those Navy-issued glasses!

It just dawned on me that the apple wine was fifty years ago, last night! That really is several lifetimes ago. At least my taste has gotten a bit more sophisticated – last night was Laurent-Perrier La Cuvee Brut with Aperol!

And just in case you might want to make a pizza, this year… this really is a great dough. It’s a 2-day rise, so plan accordingly.

Pizza Dough

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (100º to 105º)
  • 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 4 cups “00” flour or unbleached all-purpose flour plus more for dusting
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Extra-virgin olive oil for bowl

Sprinkle yeast over warm water in bowl of mixer fitted with dough hook. Let proof about 5 minutes.

Mix together flour and salt. Add to yeast mixture. Mix on low speed about 4 minutes or until dough forms a coarse ball. Stop mixer and cover bowl with a towel. Let dough rest about 5 minutes, then remove towel and continue mixing another 2 minutes or so.

Lightly oil a large bowl. Form dough into a ball, transfer to bowl and turn to lightly coat with oil. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature 30 minutes, then refrigerate overnight.

Punch down dough, re-roll, and return to bowl. Tightly cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours.

Divide dough into 2 pieces; shape pieces into balls and place on a lightly floured work surface. Loosely cover with a damp kitchen towel and let rise at warm room temperature until doubled, about 2 hours.

And Happy New Year!