As one year ends and an­other be­gins, it’s the per­fect time to eat to­gether

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Feed­ing a crowd

Re­gard­less of faith or cul­ture, an­nual tra­di­tions like Christ­mas and New Year play a big part to help us feel an­chored and se­cure in the world. Christ­mas brings us fir trees and sparkling lights, the ex­chang­ing of gifts and a req­ui­site gar­gan­tuan feast.

The scent of pine nee­dles and lilies al­ways makes me feel like it’s Christ­mas. There are so many par­tic­u­lar smells, tastes and ex­pe­ri­ences that de­fine it and make this par­tic­u­lar cel­e­bra­tion mem­o­rable.

The ring­ing in of the New Year is an­other, even more uni­ver­sally cel­e­brated, oc­ca­sion. All over the world, hun­dreds of good luck ri­tu­als are wo­ven into New Year cel­e­bra­tions. As we step into the un­known and uncer­tainty of a new year, ri­tu­als like these would once have been prac­tised in the name of ex­er­cis­ing a lit­tle con­trol over fate to en­sure a good year ahead.

For the Dutch, where the cir­cle is a sym­bol of suc­cess, it’s all about mak­ing and eat­ing donuts. Greeks bake spe­cial vasilo­pita cake with a coin in­side, be­stow­ing good luck in the com­ing year on who­ever finds it in his or her slice. The Ja­panese hold New Year’s bo­nenkai, or “for­get-the-year par­ties”, to bid farewell to the prob­lems and con­cerns of the past year and pre­pare for a bet­ter new one. In Scot­land, tra­di­tion dic­tates that the first per­son to cross your thresh­old on New Year’s Day must bring you an as­sort­ment of sym­bolic gifts: a coin, salt, bread, coal and whiskey.

The thing I love most about Christ­mas and New Year cel­e­bra­tions here in New Zealand, is the way a ran­dom as­sort­ment of peo­ple will get to­gether to cel­e­brate. Away from our ev­ery­day lives and com­mu­ni­ties, whether tramp­ing or camp­ing or hol­i­day­ing at the fam­ily bach, peo­ple who may not other­wise know each other will come to­gether to cel­e­brate. There’s a won­der­ful sense of in­clu­sive­ness that I have never found any­where else.

Even if you’re knee-deep in Christ­mas prepa­ra­tions now, it’s worth think­ing ahead to the New Year too. For sev­eral years now, we have opted to party on New Year’s Day, rather than pulling out all the stops on New Year’s Eve. I think it was the hang­overs that did it — the idea of spend­ing the en­tire fi­irst day of the New Year feel­ing shabby grad­u­ally came to lose all ap­peal.

Our New Year’s Day party is def­i­nitely a sharethe-love af­fair. Every­one brings a shared plate and a bot­tle or two for the bar. My lovely neigh­bour Belinda and I set up ta­bles and dec­o­ra­tions and she al­ways makes her fa­mous potato salad.

In­vari­ably I will cook a ham and raid the gar­den for flow­ers and salad greens. Peo­ple ar­rive with their own stash of cut­lery, plates and glasses, and pop their food and booze on to the com­mu­nal ta­ble. More of­ten than not there will be recipes swapped. I know that I’ll meet new peo­ple, as well as catch­ing up with oth­ers I might not have seen all year. And best of all, there’s very lit­tle mess to clear up af­ter­wards.

Whether it’s a New Year do or a last-minute Christ­mas, this week’s recipes are a great start­ing point for a spe­cial oc­ca­sion when you need to feed a crowd in a hurry.


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