2014 is going to be the Year of No: no blurbing books, no reading anything I don’t want to read, no writing anything I don’t want to write, no drinking and eating too much, no spending so much time on the computer, no spending money on anything but necessities, the most important of which are Dingo, our house, the car, groceries, and books. NO NO NO. It’s also going to be a year of writing a new novel, a novel I’m starting to feel excited about, something new and different.
On December 14th, after two long, grueling days of driving back home from Iowa City, we crossed the Maine border well after dark (“Welcome to Maine: The Way Life Should Be”). We pulled into our garage that night at 8:00. Laden with stuff, we unlocked the door and walked into our house. I staggered around, my jaw agape: I couldn’t believe it. While we were in Iowa, I focused anxiously on all our house’s problems. I had forgotten how beautiful it is.
When the car was unloaded, Dingo walked and tucked away in his bed, we went straight to our favorite corner bistro and ordered the meal we’d been dreaming of for 1,000 miles: cocktails and lobster tail salad, then green salads and steak frites with a bottle of robust red wine. It was heavenly to be back there, eating our favorite meal; all the waitstaff remembered us and said welcome back. Walking home through the icy, snowy night, we had a silly fight, because we were as tired and cranky as two-year-olds after a birthday party. We laughed at ourselves, collapsed in our big comfortable bed, and corked off to the best sleep we’d had in months.
And then, in the week that followed, while Brendan got right back to work without missing a beat, I crashed into mornings and afternoons of long baths and spaced-out daydreaming. However, in a deeper sense, I also felt recharged, inspired, reconnected to my literary roots by my time in Iowa. I missed my students, the profound camaraderie we shared all those months. But it was good to be back in this ocean town with its briny winter air, softer somehow than the Midwestern bone-dry Arctic chill.
We spent Christmas in New Hampshire with Brendan’s parents, brothers, and grandmother, cooking feasts and playing games and walking in the icy snow. There was a tall, festooned pine tree in the library. On Christmas day, Brendan and his father made an Italian bolito, beef roast simmered with carrots and potatoes, then the fragrant broth used for tortellini soup and the tender meat served sliced with the vegetables alongside and a salsa verde of minced capers, anchovies, parsley, garlic, hard-boiled eggs, vinegar, and olive oil. We drank wine at the long table by candlelight as the sun went down and toasted one another – “To family.” This was Brendan’s and my fifth Christmas together and my third with his family. It was the best one we’ve ever had.
On the 28th, this past Saturday night, we threw a small cocktail party. It started at 5:30, as most evenings do in this town, and was over well before 10. About twenty of us drank two and a half bottles of whiskey, six bottles of wine, and three bottles of cava. We also ate a heap of food, a good-luck southern New Year’s spread: pulled pork (for health and forward motion), hoppin’ John (for luck), macaroni and cheese (for gold), and collard greens (for money) simmered with smoked ham hocks (for even more health and forward motion), plus doughnuts (for continuity, coming full circle) for dessert. We had decked the living rooms with pine wreaths and boughs (which we got for free because it was after Christmas, so the guy at the flower shop down the street was about to throw them all out), plus lots of lit candles and strings of old-fashioned colored Christmas lights, the 1970s bulb kind. The rooms were aglow and gorgeous, but of course everyone congregated around the food and booze in the undecorated, brightly lit kitchen and didn’t budge. And so it always goes… but it didn’t matter. It was so good to see our friends again.
We spent last night, New Year’s Eve, with more friends. My paperback editor and her husband, who are in town for the holidays, came over for a glass of wine and a couple of hours of bubbly, convivial conversation, and then we drove to South Portland to a dinner party with one of our favorite couples, Michael and Jeffrey, and some old, dear friends of theirs. First, there was smoked fish with flash-pickled carrots and beets along with Japanese roast pork wrapped in lettuce with hot pepper sauce. For dinner, they had made a Boston boiled dinner, corned beef with cabbage and potatoes, another variation of the good-luck traditional humble New Year’s meal – “Eat poor on New Year’s, and eat fat the rest of the year.”
We all laughed and talked all night on gusts of warmth and happiness. Our hosts’ charming, gamine seven-year-old daughter, Phoebe, performed magic tricks with aplomb, then brought out her whoopee cushion and remote-controlled flying sphere, to endless hilarity. The two dogs and lovely little tabby cat were charming and gamine, as well. We got home by midnight, went to bed shortly after that, and awoke to a bright new year, ready to let go of the old one.
Sauté in plenty of olive oil 1 chopped onion, 2 ribs celery, 1 green and 1 red pepper, and 8 cloves of chopped garlic. Add very generous dashes of cumin, paprika, salt, pepper, thyme, as well as 2-3 minced jalapeno peppers and a bay leaf. Add 1 package chopped turkey andouille (4 sausages) and sauté until everything is fragrant and soft. Add 2 cups of chicken broth, a can of diced tomatoes, several shots of Tabasco, 2-3 cans of lightly rinsed blackeyed peas, and ½ cup long-grained white rice. Simmer, covered and stirring every now and then, for 30-40 minutes. Add more broth if needed. Taste — adjust seasonings — cook until rice is soft.