New Years have generally been fun celebrations, although I've always made it a habit to not drink much, and ideally to just stay home, or somewhere that didn't require interacting with the hordes of amateurs who thought it was ok to drive a car in what was surely an impaired state. New Years and St. Patrick's Day have always struck me as good nights to be home.
Growing up in Daly City brought predictable festivities each year. I'm the oldest of six kids, with five "baby sisters." My dad commonly worked two jobs to support this small tribe, but he was usually home on New Years Eve. And since he couldn't cook to save his life, snacks were generally fairly simple fare, and New Years and the annual screening of The Wizard of Oz (every March, as I recall) would always mean the same "snack," which consisted of orange soda and popcorn. No idea why, other than the fact that it was cheap and easy to fix.
My mom was a great cook ... but only dinner. Our lunches were awful, and we were on our own for breakfast, which was a rotation of several types of cereal. Corn Flakes, 40% Bran Flakes, Cheerios, Puffed Wheat, Rice Krispies, then back to Corn Flakes again. But she put on a great dinner every night, and we were all required to attend ... no excuses. In retrospect, it was quite commendable that she managed to put on meals with salad, a protein, vegetable, a starch, and dessert, every night. For eight people! Loyal readers know that I do all the cooking for my wife and myself, and I've been known to throw some fairly nice dinner parties, but to cook for eight picky eaters every night? Commendable doesn't come close ...
My dad, on the other hand, couldn't cook at all. Maybe two or three times a year he'd surprise us with some overcooked pancakes (and never enough syrup, I seem to recall) on a Sunday morning, and of course the popcorn and orange soda, but that was about it. He could boil a mean can of Franco American spaghetti (which I don't regard as food in the first place), and I believe he could handle a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese. He was also known to "fry" a hot dog on a fork, directly over a gas burner on the stove. This of course did not amuse my mother, and when she found out that several of her kids had taken up this practice as well, it was brought to a halt quickly.
New Years Eve took on a whole new meaning in 1979, when I worked the first of what would be ten consecutive years for Bill Graham Presents. BGP, as it was known, was the premier producer of rock and roll shows for the greater San Francisco Bay Area. New Years would commonly mean four or five BGP shows going on simultaneously around the area, and it was an "all hands on deck" for the 150 of us who worked Security for Mr. Graham. Most of us did this part time, and it was obviously a great way to see shows for free, sometimes from enviable vantage points. And if you had any aspirations of getting one of these "good spots," you didn't want to say no to your New Years Eve assignment. Doing so would guarantee you months of no work at all, likely to be followed by a spot watching a back door at a Triumph or Christopher Cross concert at the Cow Palace, in the rain. Everyone was needed for New Years Eve shows, and virtually everyone worked them. I worked them every year, and was rewarded with spots like in The Who's dressing room area, backstage at dozens of shows, front of stage at dozens more, and on the mixer platform for two days of the Rolling Stones at Candlestick Park. For New Years, I almost always worked the Grateful Dead shows. These were the best shows to work, as the crowd was generally mellow, and they were simply very fun nights. It helps if you like the Grateful Dead, which I most certainly did, and still do. Always sold out, always memorable in one way or another, and these were the shows that Bill himself made an appearance at ... always at midnight, always as Father Time, sliding down from the rafters on some sort of a gliding mechanized sled.
One memorable year that I didn't work the Dead show turned out to be an incredible night, and I didn't expect it to be. My friend John and I had already checked in at the Oakland Auditorium to work the Dead show, when our boss came up and asked if we'd drive back over the bridge and work the Cow Palace gig instead. A couple people hadn't shown up to work, and they needed us. We were told we'd have "easy" posts, but they definitely needed our experience at the show. I'm a rock and roll fan to the core, and the thought of working this particular concert really didn't appeal to me. But if you do what you're asked, it usually pays off within the BGP organization. So we got in the car and high tailed it back over the Bay Bridge, sat in for the traditional briefing from Mark Lewis, just in time to see Earth, Wind and Fire, and The Commodores. Our "easy spot" turned out to be a perfect vantage point behind the stage, where we had an unobstructed view of everything, and virtually nothing to do other than keep fans away from the lighting equipment. For a show that we had no interest in working, it turned out to be one of the best I've ever seen, and certainly more lively than the Dead show. The crowd was totally stylin', exceptionally well behaved, and this was a real live party. Dancing everywhere, happy people, great music, amazing lights and production, and I was totally glad to be there.
The Bend, Oregon years were always fun. We'd left the Bay Area with high ambitions that never really came to fruition, but the combination of some amazing friends and "real winters" made for some great New Years. Parties in Bend would take place at our house, Bob and Chris', or Chuck and Barb's. Always fun, great food, great people, and a short ride home (although you could count on some ice and snow, just to add to the merriment!). I'm sure we're going to get back to our beautiful house and wonderful friends in Bend fairly soon, and this time we'll stay for good. We miss everything about it, other than the challenging financial conditions which were, and still are a stark reality. But since it's a challenge to live anywhere these days, I figure we might as well be happy and in our own home while we're figuring it out. Something good will develop. It has to.
So last night was the end of the first decade of the millenium we ushered in ten years ago. I remember the night like it was yesterday ... Monterey, great dinner with friends, watched the fireworks go off over Monterey Bay, drank some Middleton Irish (bless you, John) and called it a night. We all had such high hopes for the next years ... the economy was on an upswing, we were healthy, we had great friends, what could go wrong? We, along with most of the nation found out that our complacency was about to cost us dearly. We'd be saddled with eight years of a Bush administration, which will likely have the dubious distinction of being generally regarded historically as the very worst American President to date.
It was the decade that we were attacked by terrorists from the middle east, and the realization that there's a good number of people in the world who would like nothing more than to see the fall of all of the civilized western developed world. We were in Maui on the infamous morning of 9/11, and like every other citizen of our great country, we were shocked that this could happen on our soil, as well as the notion that a group of people could hate us so much. It's scary knowing that they're out there, undoubtedly planning more attacks, while we sit and wait. We all owe the brave men and women of our armed forces a major debt of gratitude, and I don't envy what they have to go through on a daily basis.
It was a decade that saw too many good people leave us. The public figures who have died are of course well publicized, and their talents and presence are gone forever. But it's also a decade that saw the passing of some dear friends and family. My mother, my wife's mother, and our wonderful friends Trudy and Leilani, are no longer with us, and there isn't a day that passes when one or all of them doesn't come to mind. Whether it's thinking about the meals my mom prepared, the incomparable cranberry molds that Risa's mom would make once a year, Leilani's wonderful smile (and a voice as loud as mine), or Trudy's uncanny ability to make us laugh and put a positive spin on the worst of situations.
We lost two cats; my gorgeous 26 pound monster Maine Coon Cody, and our 18 year old mutt Annabelle. Our friends Barb and Chuck lost their beloved vizsla, Driver, and Bob and Chris lost their beautiful German Shepherd, Cody. Be kind to your friends and family, cut the pets a little slack. Nobody's around forever. I quote Neil Peart way too often, but there's truth to his line "We're only immortal for a limited time." Amen.
Which brings me to New Years Eve 2009. I had no intention of leaving the house and mingling with the crazy people on the Bay Area highways, and life in general is not particularly exciting currently, so the best I could do was create a good meal. It's what I do, and tonight wouldn't be any different. I began the night with an "early" cocktail. Uncharacteristically, I shook myself a Grey Goose martini fifteen minutes before the theoretical "cocktail hour" of five o'clock. Just felt like it, so I did it. Up, with a twist thank you. And for the New Years Eve meal? I opted for a variation of a recipe that comes from a small but very well done cookbook called "Curries & Indian Foods," by Linda Fraser. The recipes in this book range from basic to fairly complicated, but it's a wonderful way to take a step into this amazingly flavorful type of cooking. I've made many of them, and they always please my audience immensely. Tonight's was no exception, garnering oooh's and aaah's from my wife.
The first decade of the new millenium is now behind us. We're only one day past 2009, but it just feels like things will improve. They have to, right? For me, I'm fairly confident that it's going to mean that I'll finally devote the time and energy I want and need to, into real estate and writing. Two things I keep gravitating to, and love doing. I also foresee a return to our beautiful home in Bend, where I'm sure it's not going to be easy and nothing will be handed to us, but it's where we belong and want to live. I'm looking forward to having the Deschutes River across the street, and the river trail available via a five minute walk. To being able to have my fly rod cast out after a ten minute walk up the trail. To seeing the Cascades in the near distance, from almost anywhere in town. To 4th of July parties at Barb & Chuck's, and Meatfest 14 in our backyard (and hopefully it won't be snowing in June!). To four seasons, dressing accordingly, dealing with snow and ice, and appreciating the long(er) days of summer. I see these things as "normal" and I'm certainly ready for some normalcy and predictablity in my life. We all are, and we all deserve it.
So with that, I bid you all a Happy New Year, and let's hope that 2010 is a good year for all of us. It's about time!
Chicken In Ginger Sauce
- Package of 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2" pieces
- 2 tablespoons of canola oil
- 6 scallions, chopped
- 4-5 white mushrooms, sliced thin
- 1 - 2" piece of fresh ginger, chopped fine
- 2-3 garlic cloves, crushed, chopped fine
- 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons of Garam Masala (middle eastern markets or Cost Plus/World Market)
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup of water or chicken stock (I used stock)
- 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat
- Saute the onions for 2-3 minutes, stirring
- Add the mushrooms and saute another couple minutes
- Add the chicken, stir to coat, brown on all sides, about five minutes
- Add the garlic, ginger, Garam Masala, salt & pepper, stir to coat
- Add the lemon juice and water / stock, stir well
- Cover, simmer on medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally (chicken will be tender)
- Serve over plain rice or rice pilaf. I made a simple pilaf and it was perfect with the chicken dish. If you have access to Indian naan (flat bread) at your market, it also goes great with the meal.