New Year. (before and after).
Last night we headed to A.'s house, down a twisting, winding road, a steep, narrow driveway that curled like the ribbon torn from a Christmas present, to the house set like a wedding cake against the darkness of the lake beyond. The kitchen - acres of dark marble and wood, even bigger than my dining and living room combined - was curiously empty, until people started arriving and it became the usual bustle of activity. B. directed me to the pantry, where I found boxes of frozen mini quiches from the gleaming fridge, emptied them onto the gleaming expanse of dark granite countertops and lined the little quiches up in neat rows on baking sheets, slid them into the smaller oven (the giant commercial-style stove has two ovens and six burners, each one igniting with a roar like a jet engine's). Spring rolls are being fried in a deep wok, and I steal one as they begin to pile up like so many Lincoln logs on a paper-lined tray. R. arrives laden with salad fixings, and I rinse lettuces and (ineptly) spin them dry, tasting her dressing as she mixes away, suggesting lemon and orange zests to brighten the citrusy blend.
Dinners here revolve around a giant prime rib, roasted slowly with sliced onions and cracked pepper and served with a gravy boat of au jus on the side, a green salad, and a salad made of, among other things, fruit cocktail and Cool Whip. I mean Miracle Whip. I can never remember which is which. It is always the same meal (with occasional variations), the same people, a big family related by blood and marriage and love, the usual suspects. We meet again for New Year's day, as we did for Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Mother's Day and Father's Day and Labor Day, every other holiday and birthday in between. Sometimes we are at this sprawling wedding-cake of a house lined in marble, other times we are at D.'s house, smaller and cosier and with much less marble.
D.'s house is where we gather tonight, for New Year's day. The guests are much the same as the night before, with few exceptions. There are platters of shrimp cocktail, and dishes of lasagne, bubbling hot and spicy with Italian sausage, steamed broccoli and green salad and garlic bread on the side. A simple dinner. The lasagne has a brown crust on top, the way I love it most, and I keep eating more (alternating with broccoli, to alleviate the guilt) until I am so full I want to go lie down in the living room. But the living room is full of the click-clack of mah-jong players shuffling their tiles, and my ride is heading home, being one of those early-t0-bed-early-to-risers who gets up at five am to go swimming. We drive home discussing our route, and laugh over the peculiarity of Seattleites who spend all car journeys discussing the other possible ways of getting somewhere. It is a good way to begin a new year.