Ringing in 2014

Karma Bhotia, owner and chef of Himalayan Kitchen, sets flame to tse phing, a special dish prepared for New Year’s called “long life noodle.” Karma Bhotia, owner and chef of Himalayan Kitchen, sets flame to tse phing, a special dish prepared for New Year’s called “long life noodle.” (C) Copyright by Durango Herald

New Year’s represents the magical, the joyful and the hopeful. We wish for a better day, a better life, a better world. And of course, darn good food.

If you’re Southern, you express your desire for good luck and good fortune by serving black-eyed peas and greens (preferably with a good ham hock) accompanied by that starchy staple, cornbread.

If you’re Eastern European, your wishes for progress take the form of pork and sauerkraut, the vegetable a sign of plenty and the meat a symbol of forward motion.

If you’re from Nepal, like restaurateur Karma Bhotia, you don new clothes and eat phing, a dish of mung bean noodles sautéed with carrot, celery and cabbage, and momo, a dumpling filled with yak meat (which he sources from Montrose), a favorite at New Year’s parties.

“The new year is a blessing,” said Bhotia, owner of the Himalayan Kitchen.

But if you’re Russian, the holiday is a fervent hope for a good omen for the coming year.

Russian immigrant families like my mother’s celebrated with smoked fishes and caviar, potent vodka and that migraine-inducer, schnapps.

If your family is still in Russia, however, here’s what you do – work until noon, cook until 5, nap until 7, then show up at 10:30 dressed to the nines. You come to your hosts laden with elaborately composed salads and beef-and-pork pelminis, listen to the clock chime in Red Square and the president give a speech, and then you tumble into the streets with your friends to dance until the trains start running in the morning. You don’t return to work for two weeks.

Now that’s a party.

“I truly, truly miss that about Russia,” said Durango banker Anna Passalaqua with a sigh as she recounted her youth in her homeland. “The clock chimes 12 times and then you have to make a wish. It really is magical.”

It’s especially magical if you bite into the pelmini (a tortellini-like pasta) containing the tiny coin believed to bring the finder boatloads of good luck in the new year.

New Year’s also is a time for sweets. Jews celebrate with apples and honey, Italians with marzipan candies and the French with gateau des rois, a butter cake also with a coin hidden inside.

For Letitia Peña, it wouldn’t be New Year’s without tamales, either pork or the sweet ones made of sugar and pineapple. The co-owner of Emilio’s in the Main Mall gets wistful recalling the holiday foods from her home state of Jalisco, located at the point where Mexico bends into an elbow. There, New Year’s portends small whole-roasted pork and bacalau, a delicious creation of reconstituted salted cod whipped into a creamy mound.

“I miss Jalisco so bad for the holidays,” she said.

Even those who boast no overtly ethnic heritage insist on certain foods we just have to have for the holidays. One local family celebrates with a marvelously carbo-heavy meal of mashed potatoes topped with homemade egg noodles, which sounds wonderful after an ebullient New Year’s Eve. Another friend, a good cook and total foodie, remembers eating the less-than-perfect cookies brought by others (mom’s were already devoured) in the days between Christmas and the new year.

For Holly Zink, owner of Sunnyside Farms Market, a local purveyor of meat and seafood, you’d expect the holidays to include a giant roast beef or a whole pig, cooked all night.

But you’d be mistaken. Zink and her family prefer instead to prepare a bevy of appetizers, from homemade summer sausage and sauerkraut to a big slice of James Ranch young Belford cheese.

New Year’s Day is a low-key lunch with parents, kids and spouses – a time to reflect on wishes larger than getting in shape or landing a promotion.

“We put forth our intentions and our hopes for ourselves and the world and have some sausage and cheese and beans and maybe watch a movie. It’s a time for introspection,” she said.

Interestingly, some food traditions travel. Josh Klarer, a butcher and the owner of Missing Link Durango, lists his heritage as German and Cherokee. Yet his strongest association of food with New Year’s is the Southern dish of black-eyed peas with greens and, of course, ham hocks. His great-grandmother would cook the beans with a silver dollar on top to bring good luck. Turns out his forbearers traveled to Colorado from the mid-South.

Italians, too, know how to throw a New Year’s party. Of their many traditions, they eat lentils (because they look like miniature coins) and pork (a symbol of the richness of life). They drink prosecco (Italian sparkling wine), wear red underwear, watch midnight fireworks, throw old possessions out the window and stay up all night to catch the first sunrise of the new year. Naples is known for its rowdy New Year’s celebration and online travel guides warn to watch out for flying objects emitted from the upper floors.

But no such partying hearty for Jennifer Berridge, a Durango massage therapist with strong Sicilian ancestry.

“We watch the ball drop back East because it’s two hours different and we can be in bed by 10:15,” she said of herself and her husband. “We’re not the traditional whoop-it-up crowd.”

But one local lady can always be counted on for a good party, whether she’s throwing it or merely making an appearance. Diane Wildfang, owner of the Rochester Hotel, waxes nostalgic about New Year’s Eves past spent in New York City living the good life.

Nowadays, it’s quieter – she’s going to Southern California this year – but the most traditional of New Year’s accoutrements will still be in order. Champagne, caviar and chocolate are not to be foregone.

“Chocolate is always on my mind,” she said.

Whether you celebrate with succulent pork and black-eyed peas, sweet pineapple tamales, savory homemade pasta or plain old bubbly, may it be a happy, healthy and sweet New Year for you and yours.

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