This is how I understood an adult was supposed to ring in the new year:
- get a babysitter
- go out
- drink a questionable amount of champagne
- go to bed at 1am
However, this formula never sounded particularly appealing to me. I had been out on New Years before and while I thought it was going to be festive and fun, it really was just a bombardment on my senses (too loud, too chaotic, too many sloppy drunk people) and around the ten o’clock mark I’d be ready to head home and watch he ball drop in New York and call it a night. I’m a fun person. I love a party. But New Years Eve was starting to feel like Las Vegas to me. A forced pass to do whatever you wanted without thinking of consequences. And that felt sleezy and bad, even if I wasn’t participating, it was all around me and I absorbed it like osmosis. Although I was young, so perhaps I wasn’t going to the classiest of places, so there’s that.
Even so, I noticed my kids were by far the most excited about the New Year’s holiday so I never wanted to leave them. Their joy was contagious and I wanted to contribute to the magic of it somehow and be a part of that, so I started a new tradition, a family tradition, that everyone looks forward to each year.
Here is what we do:
Step one- we invite people over. We have a large family in town with lots of cousins that we love being around so normally we just keep the invite list to that, but if we didn’t have family around we’d do family friends with kids.
Step two- this is the “event” part and it’s a little different so stick with me and envision this: I buy a bunch of balloons, however many people will be at our party, thats how many balloons I buy. Then I spend an afternoon and go through my bible and write down verses on slips of paper. If you are not religious you can do wishes or quotes instead. Now, this is where you can go one of two different ways, so pick whichever one you fancy:
We don’t always use animal print balloons, but when we do…
Way 1– along with your bible verse on the slip of paper, write a number (1, 2, 3..etc) then purchase several small gifts (however many people are coming to the party, this is how many “gifts” you buy.) I mix it up, and buy kid things for the kids (a hot wheels, gum packs, playdoh, markers, coloring books, pez, comic book, special drinks like chocolate milk or hot chocolate packets, etc) and then I buy adult things as well (I buy a mixture of some nice things and some very small things, like nice lip balms, a bottle of wine or tequila, a national geographic magazine, a book, a calendar, gourmet chocolate bars, a funny mug, a candle, gourmet tea, a kombucha assortment—we’re weird— Starbucks gift card, etc)
Once all the gifts are bought, I display them all on a buffet table.
Gifts displayed from 2016
Slip the pieces of paper with the bible verses and numbers in each balloon. Blow up, tie and then place in the Christmas tree. We always leave our tree up through Jan 1st to do this. Then, once everyone comes, they pick a balloon at random, pop it, get their bible verse and then whatever number they get, that’s the order they go in to pick a gift. So, if you get #1, you get to go first and take your pick of everything. The person with #2 goes next, and so on until all the gifts are gone. Hopefully, there’s enough prizes for each age group to be happy with something.
Way 2- Slip the pieces of paper with the bible verses in each balloon, then before you blow them up, put tinier treats in each balloon itself. So, some balloons will have ten M&M’s, and some with have a five dollar bill in them, or one dollar, and so on. Small chapsticks also fit in balloons well.
Which ever way you choose is lots of fun and just depends on your budget.
Then, you ask each family coming to bring an appetizer. We eat only appetizers on New Years, which is just the tradition we like. If all families bring an app, it leaves the host only having to provide 3-4 apps or so plus dessert. If you plan right, this is easy peasy. As the host, I almost always do a tray of shrimp cocktail because it’s easy, festive, and can be assembled on a platter an hour or so before the party starts and refrigerated until go-time. Then I do a hot dip of some kind, which again can be mixed up earlier in the day and held in the fridge and baked just before everyone comes. I normally chose a decadent homemade artichoke dip and serve with tortilla chips.
Then, for my last appetizer(s) I mix it up. Sometimes I do stuffed mushrooms. Other times, I assemble a cheese and cured meat plate with crackers and grapes, and other times I do a baked brie in a baking dish and top with homemade rosemary cranberry sauce. If I have an indoor grill handy, I like to do Ina Gartens chicken skewers with peanut sauce because you can serve these at room temperature or even cold on a bed of rosemary sprigs and it looks divine (one thing I’ve learned is that people bringing appetizers generally do not bring protein, so as the host, you should plan on having at least one protein based dish available, which is another reason I love the shrimp. So easy to just defrost, make up the cocktail sauce and then refrigerate. I make my own cocktail sauce, which also makes it special.)
Other ideas include a vegetable tray with ranch, or if you are like me, an assortment of quick pickled veggies like asparagus, cucumbers, okra, cauliflower and carrots. Alternately, a “cowboy caviar” salsa is always a hit and full of veggies. One year I even steamed homemade Asian shrimp dumplings and served with sirarcha. If you are not this fancy, you can buy potstickers in the frozen section of your grocery store and serve with bottled ponzu sauce. Deviled eggs always go over well. Flatbreads with carmelized red onion, bacon and gorgonzola is something we’ve done, but good crusty bread with a dish of good olive oil and balsamic and freshly cracked pepper works as well. You can also set out some slices of ham and Hawaiian rolls and some good mustard and people can make little sandwiches. Caprese is always a good idea. Oh! I almost forgot my absolute favorite New Years app…Devils on Horseback! We do that a lot. What’s not to love about bacon wrapped dates (or dried apricots) with almonds in the middle? Serve that with mango chutney.
Just try to get a good mix of homemade and pre packaged stuff if you can plan ahead. People appreciate homemade and it feels more special. I understand not being able to go totally homemade, but plan for some.
For dessert, I generally make a batch of cookies and freezer fudge made with butter and honey and nuts. Here is the recipe I use: http://theelliotthomestead.com/2011/12/homemade-fudge/ It’s delicious but has to stay in the freezer to hold it’s shape, which is annoying but just keep telling everybody it’s in there. Once they try it they won’t mind going the extra mile to open the freezer door for some. We sometimes do rice crispy treats (but with way more butter and marshmallows than the original recipe calls for…trust me) or a big GF cake of some sort. We set out frozen and defrosted cream puffs once, before I was gluten free. Boo.
Next, set out some bottles of wine or tequila or what ever your family drinks, and don’t forget the champagne and sparkling apple cider for the kids. Buy those New Years packs of horns and beads and tiaras and hats and set those down the center of your table. Put on Michael Buble and Frank Sinatra. Or Dave Matthews Band. Listen, when I can, I love curating my own music blends and enjoy folding in some Spanish or French or salsa stuff in there too.
And you guys, if the whole appetizer thing is way too much effort, just make a big pot of soup or chili, bake some cornbread up and call it a day. Crab legs on a newspaper table w/ butter cups and bread, or fondue night is another fun idea.
Eat, drink, pick prizes, and then download the game “heads up” to your phone or play another game…MONOPOLY ANYONE? until it’s time to watch the ball drop in New York, then get thee to bed before 11pm. Or if you have especially title kids, like we did one year, just look up a video of the ball dropping from previous years at 8pm and pretend it’s the real new year. The kids will have no clue. Here’s proof:
It’s a perfect plan. The best of both worlds!
To get you started, here are my two go-to New Years Eve Appetizer Recipes:
Notice the shrimp cocktail?
Shrimp Cocktail Sauce:
1 cup Heinz Chili Sauce (not Heinz cocktail sauce!)
1 tablespoon Horseradish
juice from 1/2 a lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
Mix ingredients together in a small bowl. Taste and adjust. You can add more horseradish to make it spicier, or more Heinz sauce to make it less spicy. This is a “to your taste” recipe. To serve, select a large pretty platter and scatter parsley along the edges. Pile defrosted and dried with paper towels, fully cooked, medium to large size shrimp all around the platter. Nestle the sauce in the center or off to one side. Cut lemon into wedges and scatter throughout the tray right on top of the shrimp. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until showtime.
Best Artichoke Dip Ever
serves 6 as an appetizer
2 14-ounce can of quartered artichokes (not marinated)
2 cups sour cream
2 cups grated parmesan cheese (the kind in the green cylinder can is preferable for this)
4 cloves garlic, minced
fresh squeezed lemon juice (a couple tablespoons)
paprika for sprinkling on top
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees
Chop the quartered artichoke hearts up a bit to make smaller pieces. Toss all the ingredients together except paprika and thoroughly mix. Spoon dip into a 8×8 inch glass baking dish and smooth the surface. Sprinkle the top with paprika and bake until heated through, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately with tortilla chips or fresh bread for dipping.
I wish you all a safe and healthy New Year, from our family to yours.