Are you relieved that it’s now a bright new year? I sure am. We ushered in 2018 in a way that has become a tradition. On New Year’s Eve we toasted friends and loved ones—past and passed—with Champagne and my own version of chili verde, chased with homemade polenta biscotti, nettle tea, and a shot of Fernet Branca.
Yes it’s true, as a wise restaurateur once told me, Champagne goes well with everything. And it’s the perfect choice with dishes that tend to resist the usual flavor pairings, such as a stew laced with green chiles, coriander, cumin, and topped with the bright, metallic notes of fresh cilantro. The neutral minerality of Champagne cuts through any opposing flavor. Well, OK, maybe it’s simpler than that. The pleasurable effects of a few sips of bubbly Champagne are probably what smooths the path to enjoying whatever comes next.
On New Year’s day we take our favored walk along the coastal cliffs—nothing inspires optimism like the sight, and sound, of billowing waves in the early morning light. At this point I give thanks that I no longer suffer through a New Year’s hangover, or wake up on some beach after a night of passing around a joint in front of a bonfire with total strangers, many of whom should have remained just that. No, that era of New Year’s mayhem spent in the company of fellow well-wishers who have similarly over-indulged in this or that food, drink, substance, (fill in the blank), are long gone.
Now it’s possible to begin the month of January by cleaning out the refrigerator—a symbolic act that helps remind me: 1. Never purchase pre-grated Parmesan cheese, 2. I do not need three jars of hot mango chutney open at the same time, and 3. Maintain a sense of humor as I examine expiration dates.
Last year our morning ritual included close encounters with elliptical striders and assorted free weights. That ritual stays in the act for 2018.
Last year we discovered how much we loved a few of our neighborhood restaurants, and will continue to love them in 2018. If you love a dining establishment, visit it often. That way it will be there when you need it.
Last year I renewed my love affair with my local farmers market. What a pleasure it is, on so many levels, to check out the latest harvests, gossip with friends too rarely seen, and come home with some new ingredients for a dish you love to make.
Last year I finally mastered selecting avocados at their very peak of ripeness. It’s not as easy as it sounds. I’ve spent more than a few dollars on avocados that 1. never ripened, 2. over-ripened before I cut into them, and/or 3. looked ripe but tasted … meh!
The New Year will find me revisiting local treasures that I just don’t visit very often. Shadowbrook is at the top of my perennial favorites list. This year I will succumb to my craving for the crisp, feather-light sopes at El Palomar. I will surrender on a regular basis to the trout at Gabriella Cafe and the lamb kebabs at Laili. I will decide that it is not too far to drive up to Pasatiempo for a fabulous meal at Hollins House. Ditto the drive out to Soquel to see what Brad Briske is cooking at Home.
This year I will try to visit more new places, in quest of worthy additions to my dining out game plan. Here’s wishing you dining surprises in 2018, and the perfect glass of wine to go with them!