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Monday, January 02, 2006

New Year's in our national capital

We are back from our week in Washington where we strained the good will of our generous hosts, Brian and Andrea. They hosted six different adults, three children, and one dog all under one roof for nearly a week. If they ever let us cross their threshold again I will have to hand it to their loving, open hearts, abundance of forgiveness, and the miracle of modern-day pharmaceuticals.

But we all had a lot of fun. First there was Brian's 40th birthday party, for which I contributed this 'twix holidays fruit and nut platter. The idea was that one consumes so much rich food and sweets that a healthier alternative at a party comes as a relief. So I layered crosswise-sliced pears with dried figs, pecans, dried cranberries, and pistachios.

Don't think you can just snack on dried fruits and nuts and still have a martini and a gimlet, both within one hour. That would be a terrible, terrible mistake. I really wish I could tell you more about the party but the only other thing I remember are the cupcakes with luscious strawberry frosting from Cake Love.

This was a real shock to me as I'm usually a very moderate drinker. I've never even had a hangover. So the recovery the following day was pretty severe. I found my cure in a huge plate of vegetarian stir fry with brown rice. Someone also suggested cola, and somehow that helped, too.

I marinated two chopped cubes of firm tofu in 2T soy sauce and 2T rice vinegar (whisked together with about 2t cornstarch). Meanwhile I chopped one shallot, about 3T fresh ginger root, three heads of broccoli, about a pound of green beans, two zucchini, and a bunch of scallions. I sauteed the ginger and shallot in sesame oil before adding the tofu mixture and vegetables, saving the scallions and some smashed peanuts as a garnish. It was rather plain food, but it felt so good.

Also while in Washington we got to meet a very new friend, little Olin. He's barely three months old and absolutely scrumptious.

We visited G Fine Art, where the current show is by a friend of Brian and Andrea's, Luis Silva. It's a fantastic installation of stuffed monsters and mushrooms. While there we learned that Annie had just sold a piece of Lane's. Just what you want to hear after the holidays, no? We're not running out to the candy store any time soon, but that was the kind of good news that makes you optimistic about the new year.

New Year's was a much simpler affair than the birthday party. Brian and Andrea ordered out Thai and set out goodies left over from the birthday party. Everyone was feeling tired from the week but somehow we all rallied after midnight to play two great party games. The first is American Idol. We take turns singing songs while others take turns playing the parts of Simon, Paula, and Randy.

The second game is a somewhat more exotic game from England: pick up the cereal box with your teeth. You must not touch the ground with your hands or knees. After each round about 1/2 and inch is torn from around the box, so it gets progressively smaller and more difficult to pick up. I'm amazed that I made it up until the final round, when we were reduced to picking up a flat piece of cardboard with our teeth. I couldn't do it, but amazingly enough four other people could! We finally all went to bed at around 4:30.

The next day Shar and Lisa hosted brunch, featuring their scrambled eggs with chopped cilantro and perfect bloody marys. Janet also brought her cinnamon rolls, which are smaller and denser than the usual pillowy sugar bombs -- a welcome change. Then it was time to go home.

Oh, but I'd let Lane talk me into taking the Chinatown bus. This used to be a great, cheap way to travel when we were young, spry, and childless. But when I found myself standing for an hour and a half on the sidewalk holding a sleeping child and wrecking my back I quickly spiraled down into a dark hole of despair and self pity. Being a Velez, I gave in to a dark vision of my life as the unemployed wife of an artist. Is this what it comes down to? The indignity of standing in this derelict part of town waiting for a late bus? Is this what my Mexican ancestors migrated for? Is this why I bothered to go to college? After a backpacker bumped me while moving past and we were faked out by the second not-for-us bus I had a nervous breakdown and started weeping openly. That's what the Velezes are here for: to make a bad situation seem much, much worse than it really is.

But it got better. When the bus finally arrived (45 minutes late) we managed to board without injury or altercations and then were granted the best holiday traffic ever witnessed between the Beltway and Manhattan. We arrived in just under four hours. Jasper was in a delightful mood the entire way and napped for the last hour or so. We came home to our beloved, tiny home with our absurdly fluffy surround-down bed waiting to welcome us in for a blissful night's sleep.

I really feel like the New Year begins tomorrow, when Lane returns to the studio and Jasper and I return to our routine. We've put away the holiday decorations. I've always been amazed at how much January of the new year feels exactly like the last few months of the previous year. It's like Andie in "Sixteen Candles," when she says she was expecting some sort of great transformation but wakes to find her same self in her same life.

Is that a relief, though? Most of us don't evolve through bold New Year's resolutions; rather, we change slowly, incrementally, over time. I've been thinking lately how I and my friends are becoming more and ourselves. As we get older our most prominent characteristics become more pronounced and we seem less likely to change. But then Lane was telling me that I'd changed dramatically over the past two years, and apparently I've been the last to notice.

I don't make New Year's resolutions and I've long stopped praying. But this time of year I can't help reflecting on who I am, where I'm going, what shape my relationships take. I'm hoping to develop keener self-awareness and more grace to navigate the messiness of life. Unlike Paul on the road to Damascus, most of us do not have moments of elightenment forced upon us. Or do we? Do we learn some of our most profound lessons under dramatic circumstances? Or slowly and incrementally? I don't know. But here's to a year abundant in honestly-earned moments of enlightenment for us all.


Anonymous said...

Adriana, this was a wonderful post. It almost made it worth the wait for something new. Okay, okay, I know I didn't read while we were in Utah for Christmas, but the three days since we've been back have been excruciating!

I bought some juniper berries at my favorite gourmet market the other day, to go with all that lovely cleanly-butchered venison from my dad. I went down to the basement and looked at it the other day, and I've probably got at least 15 pounds. One bag even looked like it had some liver in it--got any ideas for that? If I were really ambitious I suppose I'd try to make some of my own pate. The aforementioned gourmet market has some venison pate with dried cherries and I think hazelnuts (I might be mixing it up with another pate that has dried fruit and pistachios).

Tonight we're having lemon chicken (from an old NYT Marian Burros 60 Minute Gourmet article I've kept for about 12 years) and some as-yet-undetermined preparation of potatoes (all blue or California red) and winter squash (buttercup? the label is long gone), perhaps with a little broccoli on the side.

shaunamama said...

I think it's so odd that you and I have the same hope for the new year: "and more grace to navigate the messiness of life." I think a certain level of grace makes our relationships we have with people in our lives so much richer.
This was a wonderful post by the way! I have friends in DC also...funny, huh?

Swizzies said...

I echo JA's sentiments - great post! And I was envious of the fun party. Scott and I have been sick, so we were in bed by 11 on New Years Eve. Alas.

I would be amazed if, having had a child and opted to stay home and be a full time parent, you had NOT changed in some significant ways. I just always assumed that Mothers somehow knew this and could see it, so I'm very intrigued. I am always clueless and caught unawares by my own growth/changes (aside from those which make my trousers a little tighter than usual), but I figured the lack of a 'shiny surface,' if you will, like a child, was what was making me not see it. In what ways have you changed? I'm so into this topic right now. Can we even have it here??

Janet M. Kincaid said...


It was so fun to see you, Lane, and Jasper and meet all of your fabulous friends. We really enjoyed Lisa and Shar (though I never really got a chance to quiz Shar on her "planning for the Royals at the Museum" adventure) and meeting David and Graham. Thanks for including us in the post-New Year festivities!


Co said...

Happy New Year, Adriana! Your New Year's post was indeed a wonderful reflection.

I haven't reflected much about the past year myself, although my friend has a fun New Year's game where you close your eyes, open up a monstrously huge dictionary and point to a word at random, which is supposed to relate to what will happen to you in the new year. Last year, my word was plaid and I must say, I didn't have a particularly plaid 2005. This year, my word was azumbre (spelling?), a Spanish liquid measure of between 2 and 3 quarts. Hmm... at least that one relates to math and possibly to cooking. Who knows?

Best to you and yours in 2006.

Swizzies said...

I like the random word idea, so I just tried it - I got 'orthography.' Hmm. I wouldn't put the prefix 'ortho' in front of just about anything related to me normally, so we'll have to figure out how I will carry out writing things down properly and according to THE RULES in 2006. Rules...yuk. Maybe I'll just take it to mean I should write a lot of stuff down this year. Now that's not a bad idea. Fun little exercise anyhow.