Tuesday, January 03, 2006

A Saga about the New Year's Party and Other Events

And so as usual, Friday the 30th of December, was shaping up to be a slow day. Boss promised to let us go early. We were all in high spirits and I was making tons of cooking, cleaning, last-minute shopping, etc plans. And so as usual, I ended up working until just past 6pm! Worse yet, I was so tired and pissed off that I couldn't even think about the unfinished house chores. And so most of it was left until the next day.

I started my last Saturday of the year unusually early, stirred by the thought that the house was still not ready for the New Year and the food was not cooked. Now, it's not like we were hosting a party at our place, so what would it matter if the floors were clean or not. Well, it is more of a ritual than a necessity, I suppose, for me to clean every nook and cranny of the house right before the New Year. And so, with a lot of help from Chris, the house was sparkling like a New Year tree (which we didn't have this year because of Xander's tendency to tag on, bite, and destroy anything that's left out there for tagging on, biting, and destroying). What's a New Year tree? Well, it's a Christmas tree for people raised in the Soviet Union where Christmas and other religious holidays and their symbols were replaced with more secular ones.

I performed wanders of multi-tasking and not only finished all the cleaning (including washing the windows, scrubbing bathrooms, organizing closets, etc) and laundry, but also cooked some holiday dishes. When the question was decided as to where to celebrate the New Year, we pretty much had little choice. Our place was out of the question since we have only enough furniture for 2 people and only enough table ware for 4 people. Tanya's house would do nicely, with its comfy furniture, huge fireplace, a piano (for drunken sing-alongs) and a pool table (for those who don't participate in drunken sing-alongs). Unfortunately, Tanya was out of town. And so Albina's place became the most natural choice. Her condo, even though small, is on the 15th floor or a beachside condo tower with unobstructed views of both the ocean and the river. Most of the Port Orange and Ponce Inlet can be seen and on good clear days you can easily see the lighthouse and even New Smyrna. In short, it's awesome! And even though there's no room to fit a piano, she's got a karaoke machine and several DVDs with Russian karaoke. That's even better, since none of us can play piano to save our lives.

Well, anyway, since it was shaping up to be a traditional Russian New Year (poor Chris ended up being the only American at the party), the menu was appropriately traditional. Albina was going to make a couple of salads, including a huge bowl of the Olivier salad, meat and potatoes, and bought a Russian cake. And so I decided to make beet salad, called Vinaigrette Salad, and Herring under Fur Coat. Yes, that's the name of the salad. Many Americans, including my husband, find salted herring quite disgusting. But it's really dressed up (in "fur coat") and disguised very well in this salad. Chris didn't notice the herring until I told him that it was there. Basically, making this salad involves covering chopped herring filets with layers of boiled and grated vegetables (potatoes, carrots, and beets) and mayo. Follow the link for the recipe and a great picture. My only suggestion is go light on mayo - I only put two layers of it, one on top of carrots and the other one - on top of beets - and it was perfect. This salad looks really great and impressive, but takes time. Fortunately, here in America one can buy herring filets that are already de-boned and ready to be cut.

I decided to prepare Chris's favorite Pistachio Salad not only as an outlet for him, but also to bring something new and American to the otherwise purely Russian table. This salad is fun and super-easy to make. It doesn't require any chopping or any other preparations. Everything comes straight out of a box or a can. In short, it's so perfectly American, that I'm going to officially call it the American Dream salad (easy, sweet, smooth, and its light green color reminds one of American dollars). I got the recipe from Gradma Phyllis.

The original plan for the New Year celebration included stopping by a club or two on the way to Albina's. Unfortunately, I realized, belatedly as usual, that I had nothing to wear to a club (most can relate to this, right?). Even more unfortunately, I live in Daytona Beach, where we have one tiny shopping mall. But most unfortunate was the fact that our shopping mall NEVER has clothes are are both stylish, affordable and that fit me. I did go and honestly tried to find a nice dress or a top. Alas, after 3 hours of running from store to store, I gave up and headed home to finish my preparations. So the club thing got cancelled.

Instead we arrived at Albina's place a bit earlier. Soon other guests arrived, 10 in all. Two that I must make a note of were Yelena and her daughter, Yelena. They proved to be the most fun, in sharp contrast with Alla and her "недоросль" son. We started off with a round of drinks and a buffet arrangement of all the foods. Both Yelenas, Albina and I were all in favor of karaoke. Eleonora and my husband chose wisely to be on our side. But Alla objected on the grounds of this kind of entertainment being rude, crude, and unprofessional (I think she's missing the whole point of karaoke). Since we all live in a democratic country, the issue was put to a vote and the majory ruled to start karaoke. For about an hour it was just me and one of Yelenas, since Albina was too busy running between the kitchen and the living room. We sang on, Alla's comments about our unprofessionalism and insufficient voice talent nonwithstanding. Eleonora joined us albeit without a mic (she's shy like that). And as more drinks were consumed, Chris began to read aloud some of the karaoke lines.

Of course, at some point we stopped to eat and generally catch our collective breath. And we did it just in time because it was 10 minutes to midnight. So we filled our flutes with champaign, switched TV to some news channel to watch the ball drop on Times Square in NY, and helped Reggis Philbin count down from 10 to "Happy New Year!". Afterwards we all ran out on the balconies (there were two) for a semi-panoramic view of fireworks over Port Orange, Ponce Inlet, and South Daytona. I secretly made a wish to win a lottery and buy a penthouse somewhere on the coast with a panoramic views just to watch sunrises, sunsets, and fireworks.

After the fireworks we started watching some Russian videos. It was fun, but not nearly as much fun as karaoke. I was tired and Chris was trying very hard not to fall asleep. And so we wished everyone happy New Year one more time and went home.

First day of the New Year was so perfect that it made me re-think my idea of moving away from Florida. Big blue sky and weather hot enough for sun-bathing is nothing to sneeze at! Having a job is great, having a beach to escape to is even better! We bought some Starbucks and walked on the beach, just talking and watching vacationers. Then we went to see "Chronicles of Narnia and it was just great - a perfect winter-time fairy tale that's not just beautifully filmed, but romantic and suprisingly mature in its themes.

The second day of the New Year was even more perfect. It was a bit less hot, but sunny and calm. We had no specific plans and so decided to explore Cassadaga. It's a very small town, rather a village, about 20-minute drive west from Daytona Beach. It is most famous for being a year-round camp for all sorts of psychics, fortune tellers, Taro readers, aura readers, and spiritualist. So if you need to get your palm read, drive to Cassadaga any day, walk into a small bookstore right across the street from the Cassadaga Hotel and use their courtesy phone to call psychics on-duty (their names and numbers are displayed on a dry-erase board in the store) to make an appointment. The day we visited there were only two psychics on call, but several places had the "Open" signs. It's always best to call ahead not only to discuss the rates, but to make sure that you wouldn't be interrupting someone else's reading.

We didn't get our fortunes read, but instead walked around the town for a little bit. The place is actually very tiny and can be seen in less than 2 hours of very leisurely walking. The houses are mostly old and traditional, not at all unkempt, except for a few, but wearing a mysterious patina of age. The gardens are all overgrown and promisingly charming with tiny fountains, sparkling globes, garden decorations, and "Psychic X-sing" signs here and there. The quietness of the sidestreets is interrupted with soft purrings of cats sunning themselves on porches and with sounds of wind chimes. There are several parks in this tiny town, the best one being Colby Park just a short walk from both the hotel and the bookstore. It's just a very serene and relaxing place, that's it. And DeLand, with all its bars and restaurants and nice little shops and historic buildings is only a short drive away. So sure, we went to DeLand afterwards, but most of the nice little places were closed for the New Year's. But it was a nice day nevertheless and a nice ending to our long holiday.