Cooking On A Budget: Ghosts of New Years Past

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ghosts of New Years Past

I have spoken in articles that I have written and have shared in this very blog about my mother and step dad owning a quaint tavern in the center of Chester, CT.  In thinking of where and with whom I shared New Years Eve moments, I immediately think back to "the good ole days".
The good ole days would be the 70's and early 80's when I was a young adult.  I recall that although I loved hanging out with friends my own age, there was a connection I had with people quite a bit older than myself.  Maybe it was due in part by the music I grew up with that was often playing in the background- Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Vic Damone, Glenn Miller and the movies like "Singing in the Rain" or "Anchors Away".
So, spending time with these older folks at the Pattaconk Inn (my parents tavern) listening to patrons belting out songs like Hello Dolly or Bye Bye Black Bird or a group of them singing Barbershop Quartet songs didn't annoy me; rather, I quite enjoyed it.  For me, going out on New Years Eve back then wasn't a big deal.  There was not much interest in going out for dinner especially after I had experienced some major flops in celebrating this particular holiday with people more my own age.
Besides, my parents took this particular holiday as an opportunity to say thank you to their patrons by putting out a variety of sandwiches and snacks throughout the day and evening.  I enjoyed helping my mother prepare the food.  The food was not elaborate, nothing "over the top"; just simple tea sandwiches and some hors d'ouevres.  They made deli sandwiches using grinder rolls from an Italian bakery in Middletown. The kind of grinder roll where the outsides were crusty and crumbly and the insides soft.
Mom would roast her own beef and use other deli meats from her purveyor to make some of the sandwiches. There was shrimp cocktail and tea sandwiches - simply tuna salad, egg salad, and pickle salad sandwiches to name a few.  She would stuff some mushrooms and make some "cocktail franks" wrapped in pastry. Like I said, nothing elaborate.
I recall one year in particular where they hired a down and out local piano player to come in and play the old songs on the somewhat rickety upright piano that was in the dining room of the tavern. They spread the news through their patrons and that night there was a "packed house".  As for the piano player, he didn't want much money - he took part of his salary for the night in the form of free drinks. This particular gentleman arrived somewhat late and unbeknownst to my parents already had begun celebrating early in the day.  By about 10 p.m. that evening (possibly later than that), one of the patrons said to my folks, "Stew is asleep at the piano."
It didn't seem to phase the patrons, they either put a quarter in the juke box to play three tunes at a time or made their own music by belting out some of their favorite songs from their era.
Many of those patrons and my parents included are no longer here and the ones that are have fond memories of the New Years Eves that were spent singing, laughing, drinking and eating simple food. It goes to show that your food doesn't have to be elaborate, it's the time that you spend surrounded by family and friends enjoying that food that makes the evening special. So whatever your food budget is, make the food as elaborate or as simple as you like - just be sure to share it with people you love.
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