To Friendship (and Fondue)

Happy New Year! May 2012 be filled with love, happiness, good health, good food, good friends and prosperity.

And there’s a hand my trusty friend!
And give us a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.

–Auld Lang Syne, Robert Burns

I have always loved traditions, and I am so fortunate to have a very special New Year’s Eve tradition: Dinner with the same two couples every year since the early 1990s. In a world where so much has changed, six friends have kept a commitment to spend New Year’s Eve together for eighteen years, give or take a couple here and there. We could be an HBO series about stable, married people, if there was ever a market for such a thing.

Back in his grad school days, Ed had the good sense to befriend a couple guys who married women I truly liked as real friends, not just husband friends. When it comes to friendship, I am more of a cat than a dog. I usually don’t instantly love everyone I meet. (Ed, on the other hand, is a dog, a friendly Golden Retriever, happy and loving to all. I am a scrappy stray cat who thinks she belongs on a Fancy Feast commercial). It’s not you, it’s me, and simply my reserved nature which I’ve come to accept it over the years. No hard feelings.

So while I may not have tons and tons of friends, I fiercely treasure the friends I have. Like my mother, I am loyal to those I love, and loyal people have friends for life. The funny thing about my NYE friends is that we really don’t see each other all that much throughout the year. Lunch and a party or two, but definitely not weekly or even monthly. However, I know I could call or text either one of them at any time, and they would be there for me in a heartbeat. They are both prettier, smarter, thinner, better mothers and better human beings than me, but instead of feeling threatened and perhaps a wee bit bitchy like I normally would with anyone else, I only feel admiration instead. If that’s not true friendship, I don’t know what is. Just being around them a few times a year rubs off some goodness by osmosis, and then I’m set for the next few months.

As you can imagine, we have shared some memorable meals over the years. My friends always set the bar high, so it’s a little harrowing whenever it is our turn to host. For the second (third?) time, I will be playing the sushi and appetizer card. We all enjoy sushi, and who doesn’t love a meal comprised entirely of appetizers? If I ply everyone with enough wine and limoncello, I might once again convince them to play my favorite game, Balderdash. We will talk about our children and our parents and our jobs (and my lack of a real job) and our household projects and kids today. We will forget for a few minutes we have nine children between the six of us, three a piece, and reminisce about the good old days when we were young and just starting out our lives. We will eat too much and drink too much and vow to see each other more often next year, and then I will go to bed overwhelmed, once again, by my good fortune to be surrounded by such wonderful people on the last day of another good year.

Even if we are occupied with important things and even if we attain honor or fall into misfortune, still let us remember how good it once was here, when we were all together, united by a good and kind feeling which made us perhaps better than we are. – Fyodor Dostovevsky

To all of those I call my friend, thank you.

Edited Jan 1, 2012:

As always, we had a wonderful night of laughter and friendship. I nodded off for a few minutes between 11 and 12 (surprising absolutely no one who knows me), but I was awake in time to ring in the New Year.

My friends make the best fondue I have ever tasted, and we demand it each and every year. Lucky for you, they left behind the recipe. I know fondue recipes are a dime a dozen, but I cannot speak highly enough about this fondue. Seriously, THE best, ever. There is no better end to a good year than dipping things in cheese.

Classic Cheese Fondue by Ryan Hardy, Food & Wine

Ingredients

  1. 1 pound Gruyère cheese, coarsely shredded
  2. 1/2 pound Emmentaler cheese, coarsely shredded
  3. 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  4. 1 garlic clove
  5. 1 cup dry white wine
  6. 1 tablespoon Kirsch
  7. Salt and freshly ground white pepper
  8. Crusty bread cubes, hard salami and small dill pickles, for serving.

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a bowl, toss the Gruyère and Emmentaler with the cornstarch. Rub the inside of a cheese fondue pot or medium, enameled cast-iron casserole with the garlic, then add the wine and bring to a simmer. Add the cheese mixture all at once. Using a wooden spoon, stir over moderately low heat just until the cheese is melted and smooth, about 5 minutes. Stir in the Kirsch and season with salt and pepper. Serve with the bread, salami and pickles.
Make Ahead The fondue can be refrigerated overnight and reheated in a microwave oven, or on the stove over low heat.

 

 

 

 

Julie’s Sausage Strata

Have you ever known someone for just a brief time, yet their impact on your life remains constant? I first met my friend Julie when I starting working for discount broker Brown & Company in Philadelphia. I had left the cushy mahogany row of Janney Montgomery Scott for a gritty, mostly male trade desk, and aside from my boss, Julie was the only other female in the room. In typical Dawn fashion, I just assumed we would be friends, because why not?

Julie was a tough nut to crack. Quite frankly, she scared me a little. She probably made me cry once or twice, too, during the early weeks. And I’m sure I was a tad bit annoying to her, if for no other reason than our circumstances. I was just about to get married, and she had just gone through a devastating divorce. I am sure my prissy, wide eyed enthusiasm got on her nerves, as well as some unintentional insensitivity on my part.

I didn’t go away quietly. Typically, I don’t bother with people if I don’t feel like they’re worth my time or energy, but I believed that Julie was worth it. I knew that sooner or later she would grow to like me, and I was determined to wear her down with my charm. It turned out to be our mutual love of animals which finally brought us together. She adored her English Springer Spaniel Miss Fergie, for whom she would cook dinners of lamb and rice. I adored our adopted stray calico cat Lulu, who I treated like a child. When one pet lover finds another pet lover, bridges are created, and through those fur covered bridges eventually grew a friendship.

Julie taught me so many things that I couldn’t begin to list them all. She never intended to teach me anything, but just by being herself, I learned a lot. In many ways, she was like a big sister to me. I loved the way she dealt with our difficult customers. It’s hard to explain, but the she always managed to show them who was boss and control the situation without ever being overtly rude. Overtly is the key word in that sentence. All of our conversations were recorded and frequently we would have to go back to the tapes to verify disputed trades, and one quickly learns to keep one’s cool on a recorded line. This skill never came naturally to me in times of high pressure, so I tried to imagine how Julie would handle the situation and just imitated her.

In no particular order, here are some of the things Julie introduced to me: embossed monogrammed stationery (in white, always white), Martha Stewart before she was a household name, the city of Burlington, Vermont, Beaujolais Nouveau, Kir, quilted china storage sets, high thread count sheets, trunk sales, Grace Kelly postage stamps, Scotch (which I still can’t drink), knitting (which I still can’t do), Talbot’s boiled wool jackets, and the notion that truly wealthy people drive old and modest cars. These are things which Mayflower descendents just know.

When it came time to host my first big brunch, naturally I turned to Julie. She quickly scribbled down two recipes: Amy David’s Sausage Strata and Susan Moore’s To-Die-For Potatoes. I have been making both of these dishes for eighteen years now, and I think of Julie every time I get out those recipe cards. I will share the sausage strata today, and the potatoes at a later date.

Sausage strata recipes are a dime a dozen, but this one is special to me since it came from my old friend. It’s not particularly fancy, but it’s easy, delicious, satisfying, and always a hit. Julie has also taught me to stick with the classics, especially if they work.

 

Julie’s Sausage Strata, courtesy of Amy David

6 slices white bread (crusts cut off)

1 lb. sausage meat (mild)

1 t. mustard (I always use Dijon)

1 cup grated Swiss (I am not a fan of Swiss but it works well in this recipe, trust me)

3 eggs lightly beaten

1 cup half and half

1/4 t. salt

dash of pepper

dash of nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease 13 x 9 Pyrex dish

Cook sausage, drain, and toss with mustard. Arrange bread in bottom of dish. Top with sausage. Cover with remaining ingredients. Bake uncovered for 35 minutes.

 

Ask Mom Mom: The Older Bridesmaid

Dear Mom Mom, 

I’ve been asked to be in my cousin’s wedding.  She’s getting married for the first time at 45 and is very excited to have the big shebang wedding she always wanted.  I’m happy for her, I hope it’s everything she dreams…but I’m 44 and I do not want to wear a matchy taffeta gown.  I do not want to pony up lord-knows-what for an unattractive, silly dress I’ll never wear again.  Part of me thinks “it’s her dream, help her live it, stop whining” and part of me thinks “pay your bills, decline gracefully, wear a dress you already own.”  What do you think?  Can I get out of it?  If so, how?
Too Old For This

Dear Too Old,

I absolutely understand the pain and shame of those sherbert colored monstrosities called bridesmaid’s gowns, as I have quite a collection of them myself. Most people over the age of 30 look ridiculous in them, even though the bride will tell you otherwise. Don’t believe her. Ugly bridesmaids = Beautiful bride.

But here’s the thing. Assuming this cousin is a special person in your life, you will have to suck it up (and suck it in) and deal. This day is not about you, my dear. Life only gives us a handful of very special days and very special memories that will last until our nursing home stint, and weddings are one of those days. To be a part of someone’s very special day is a great honor and not one we should brush off for the virtue of fiscal responsibility or the sin of vanity.

If money is really, truly an issue, do not hesitate to share this concern with the bride. Tell her you would be honored to be part of her day but can only spend $X on a dress. I know I would not have wanted any of my bridesmaids to suffer a financial hardship in the name of attending my wedding, and the bride will likely tweak her wedding budget a bit to help you purchase the dress. Of course, this is very different than you just not wanting to waste your money, and I would only have such a conversation if a true hardship existed.

On the bright side, think of the amusing pictures and great stories you can share with your friends. And perhaps Mom Mom is old fashioned, but taking part in a day which celebrates love and commitment really is one of life’s great pleasures. You are a special enough person to be included in such an important ceremony, and I hope you can take time to enjoy it.