Of all the holidays, New Year’s Eve has always been my favorite. That was the night when girls transformed into princesses and carefully walked in heels to a hotel’s grand ballroom, supported by a boyfriend’s steady arm. That was the night when the tables were set with starched white tablecloths, shining silverware, and sparkling glasses, glittery sliver and gold ribbons, garlands, and balloons swaying from the ceilings and hanging from the walls. That night the feet hurt from dancing, and the eyes stayed permanently lit from laughter. That night was shared with best friends, counting down the last seconds of the year, raising champagne flutes to welcome another one, while the band played the first notes of The Blue Danube waltz, inviting everybody to dance their way into the future. That was the night that always stood for hope.
As I was getting ready for work on New Year’s Eve, I tried to catch the usual twinkle of excitement that accompanies the holiday. I closed my eyes to avoid distractions, hoping to recognize the familiar flutter of anticipation. Nothing. Was the culprit the tall and skinny California palm silhouetted against the cloudless sky? Was it our token tree, decorated with a few ornaments that somehow evaded the garage sale back in Ohio? Should I have blamed the absence of snow? Maybe the spirit of the special day was kidnapped by the depressing thought of facing the work-harpies?
Whatever the reasons, the fairy dust failed to appear. I trudged off, plastered on smile #6, and tried to bring a touch of cheer I did not feel to my customers. As the doors of the restaurant closed behind me, I limped to the car and fell into the passenger seat. Husband knew better than to utter a sound before my customary monologue that summarized the day’s events. The drive home lasted about seven minutes thanks to the lack of crazy holiday mall traffic. My litany took six minutes. In the last minute, Husband started to describe the state of the affairs on the home front, but my exasperated whine stopped him as soon as he mentioned the failed attempt to procure the mussels at Costco. The stars seemed to be fully ruled by the horrible forces of entropy. We obviously needed a new session of the council of elders to determine the alternative New Year’s Eve dinner menu.
Walking toward the apartment, I was thinking only of shedding the uniform and wrapping myself in something soft and fleecy right after the shower, already seeing myself on the couch, feet propped up, laptop fully charged, and a martini within reach. I banished all the thoughts of parties from the past years, and resigned myself to just another ordinary night.
But something started to change in the air with the first notes of Dean Martin’s baritone invoking images of snowflakes and fireplaces. The house was clean, the candles lit, and the tiny plastic tree blinking with lights was surrounded by meticulously wrapped presents. There was a nice, green tablecloth on the dining room table, and the glasses were ready for vodka-tonics. The Beasties ran out of their room to hug me and tell me that formal attire was required for dinner. The College Kritter had flour all over her arms, finishing the pizza dough for the appetizers. Hastily, afraid to lose the elusive tendrils of hope, I dispatched Husband to the Persian store to get steaks (rib-eyes for the real meat connoisseurs, Father and me, and fillets for the the uninitiated remainder of the family).
By the time he was back, vodka-tonics were waiting on the table, Nina’s gorgonzola pizzette were in the oven, champagne was chilling in the fridge, and everybody was dressed for a gala. Magic has crept into our small home and turned it into a beautiful fairy-tale castle. We played music, laughed, and danced, stepping over each other, pretending that we were gliding over the vast expanse of a ballroom. We opened the presents, truly appreciating all the love and effort each of us put into making it happen. We ate the flavorful morsels of baked dough, with tangy gorgonzola balanced by sweet tomato and fresh bite of basil. More music, more laughter, and more wine accompanied the perfectly cooked steaks and twice-baked potatoes.
As midnight approached, the excitement grew. The champagne was uncorked as 2011 stepped across the threshold, invited in by The Blue Danube waltz. We kissed each other, whispering and yelling wishes, poured the champagne and toasted, knowing that some wonderful things are awaiting us just around the corner. The six of us danced the waltz, exchanging partners, until our feet could not stand it any more.
It was not a special day, and it was not an ordinary day. It was just a day. By the end of it, there was fairy dust everywhere and the air was full of glitter. And I felt like a princess again.
PIZZETTE WITH GORGONZOLA AND TOMATOES (adapted from Giada De Laurentiis)
(In her recipe, Giada uses purchased pizza dough, but College Kritter can whip up some mean pizza in no time. She also used more gorgonzola and more tomatoes.)
- 2 tsp instant yeast
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 cup warm water
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 TBSP olive oil
- 2 ½ cups all purpose flour
- 8 oz crumbled gorgonzola
- 8 oz cherry tomatoes, halved
- a bunch of fresh basil
Dissolve the yeast in a little bit of warm water, Add sugar and let proof for 10 minutes, until bubbles appear. Add the water, salt, oil and enough flour to form a non sticky dough. Knead for several minutes, until it becomes smooth and elastic. Put into a bowl, grease with a bit of olive oil, cover with plastic wrap and let it rest in a warm spot until it doubles in size, about 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 450F.
Punch the dough, and flatten using the rolling pin to ¼ inch thickness. Cut out the circles using a 2 inch cookie cutter and place them on two baking sheets. Crumble some gorgonzola on each circle, press 1 or 2 tomato halves in (depending on the size of your tomatoes), sprinkle with a bit of salt and bake for 10 minutes. Garnish with basil and serve immediately.
You can find the original recipe here.