Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Goodbye Old Year, Hello New Year

This photo is actually from sunset on the winter solstice this year, which to me seems more truly the end of one year and the beginning of another. This time of year is about rituals, especially family rituals, which I find myself seeking out and reflecting on. I see our kids doing this, too. I think we've pared it down to the ones that really matter to us. Our New Year's Eve ritual is to get together with one particular family we are close to--and we've been doing it since before our kids were born. Most often we end up at the beach, as we did yesterday. We tried once again this year to remember the first New Year's Eve we celebrated together, but it was undocumented and the date remains a mystery. One of the earliest New Year's Eves we spent with this couple was harvesting blue mussels at the beach and bringing them back to our apartment and cooking them. So our subsequent New Year's Eve feasts have usually included mussels, or seafood at least. We do stay up until midnight (this is getting harder for me and easier for my kids) and make noise outside on our front porch. When the kids were little we banged drums and pots and pans; now they play their saxophone and trumpet and the neighbors call out for more. This year all our noise woke our friends' baby, the newest addition to our yearly ritual, but he is about the most cheerful baby I've ever met: he just gurgled and smiled and then went back to sleep.
Yesterday when I was preparing to go shopping for our feast, I checked in with my husband about what to get.
"I was going to get mussels," I told him. "And we have the pot roast for that pot roast pasta everyone likes."
"Don't get mussels," he said. "Get something else. We always have mussels."
I was shocked. Wasn't that the point? We ran through all the other shellfish choices but nothing seemed right, or would please all of us, including the kids (now ranging in age from 7 months to 15 years). We know they like mussels (not the baby, yet), we love mussels, and we couldn't come up with anything else.
"Oh, all right," my husband said. "Just get whatever you want."
I bought mussels.
When it came time to cook them, he took charge (despite his earlier reluctance), and whipped up an incredibly delicious brand new recipe for 2008. It's called...

Mejillones Año Nuevo 2008 (New Year's 2008 Mussels)
8 appetizer-sized portions

1/4 cup olive oil
3 shallots, minced
5 medium garlic cloves, pressed in a garlic press
2 fennel stalks, chopped
1 pinch saffron
1 Tbsp. fennel seeds
1/2 tsp. peppercorns
2 oz. dried chorizo*
1 cup white wine
3 crosswise slices of lemon, including peel
2 lbs. mussels, cleaned thoroughly
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the shallots, garlic, fennel, and saffron and saute until soft, 15 minutes or more. Add fennel seeds, peppercorns, and chorizo and saute for another several minutes. Add the wine and lemon and cook for another several minutes, until the wine is simmering. Add the mussels and cover, then steam until the shells open. Remove mussels to a large bowl and taste the remaining broth. Discard the fennel stalks and lemon slices, and add a little water if there is not enough liquid. Divide up the broth into 8 bowls, making sure each bowl gets some bits of chorizo. Divide up the mussels between the 8 bowls. Serve with lots of crusty bread for dipping in the broth.
*The only chorizo I use is made in Spain--Palacios brand is available in our market. Don't bother with the Mexican chorizo.

Cries of pleasure accompanied the eating of these mussels. After that we had a salad of orange slices, avocado, watercress, and sliced fennel bulb, then pot roast pasta. For dessert, my son's speciality: flambeed bananas (flambeing done by my husband). I don't have any photos because I was enjoying the evening too much to take photos.

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