Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Good Libations

By Cornelia

So it's the day after Boxing Day (eighteen minutes after midnight), and I'm in Syracuse. Since I'll be on a Jetblue plane back to Cali at midnight on New Year's Eve, I thought I'd throw in my favorite New Year's DAY libation recipe up here on the blog.

This is a fine thing to have on hand on any occasion. There are lots of different recipe variations available online, and people get all fancy with the schmancy, but here's the basic drill:

Black Velvet

Mix one part Guinness stout with one part decent champagne.


It's important that the champagne be dry. You can make this with Freixenet if you want, but if you go with a better bubbly you'll run less risk of hangover. Making it with Dom Perignon or something is overkill, however, IMHO.

Still, the bottle always looks nice:

Don't get all messed up with the foofy crap about pouring the champagne over the back of a spoon to keep it separate from the Guinness in a champagne flute. Drinks in layers are for pikers. The point is to mix the two liquids, so just pour each slowly to make sure you don't get foam everywhere (i.e. if you pour the Guinness first, let the head settle before you add the champagne).

I think the best way to make this is in a large chilled silver bowl, preferably Revere:

The (possibly apocryphal) history of this cocktail traces its origins to the Brooks Club in London, where it was concocted for the first time on December 15th, 1861--the day following the death of Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria. When a club member requested that the bartender serve him a glass of champagne, the bartender darkened it with stout, so that the wine would itself be "in mourning."

James Bond offers to treat Bill Tanner to a luncheon of "dressed crab and a pint of black velvet" at Scotts, after a meeting with M in Diamonds are Forever. Which just goes to prove that man does not live by martinis alone.

Meanwhile, here are some other New Year's traditions we've adopted in my family:

* Wear red underwear on New Year's Eve--an Italian tradition for good luck we took to after my sister spent junior year in Florence.

* Melt a piece of lead (like half of one of those chunks they use to balance tires) in a spoon over the stove and drop it into a bowl of cold water--the resulting shape is a prediction of what your year will be like. This is done in Germany, some Eastern European countries, and Sweden, apparently. I'm not sure who taught it to us.

* Fill a large bowl with water, and hang slips of paper with fortunes written on them all around the edge (about the size of papers you'd find in a fortune cookie). Make tiny boats out of halves of walnut shells. Light a birthday candle and stand it upright in the boat by dripping a bit of wax in the bottom. Let it float around the bowl until it gets close enough to the edge to light one of the papers on fire. Dunk the paper quickly into the water and read your fortune.

And don't forget to say "rabbit rabbit" first thing when you wake up in the morning (some claim it's important to put your right foot on the floor first, New Year's morning).

All of the above are good things to do while drinking black velvets, but no matter what you're drinking, I hope that 2007 brings you the best of health and happiness, and that it is a year in which there never is heard a discouraging word.

May you also get your wish card:

(If you have any other good New Year's luck practices, please share--we could all use a little nice juju in the coming year.)


  1. If you were in China for New Year's Day, you would see many kinds of paper cuttings on every family's windows. They are properly framed or simply pasted onto the windows. Traditionally, they were only made of red paper. Most elderly women would make them just with a piece of red paper and a pair of scissors. The Chinese believe that these paper cuttings can scare away the evil spirits, so they can't get into your house through the windows. The cuttings also bring you luck for the New Year.

    New Year is regarded in Japan as an auspicious occasion. As such, it is filled with traditional activities which, it is hoped, will result in a more successful year. They observe the age-old Japanese custom of not carrying-over any debts or tasks from the old year to the new. As the end of the year approaches, therefore, businessmen busily wind up their affairs of the old year. They try to pay all their obligations by New Year's Eve. Even non-businessmen try to clear the slate by the end of the year

    Spanish people [in Spain] have had a traditional custom to celebrate New Year's Eve. At the stroke of midnight, everyone has to have twelve grapes ready to eat , each time the clock chimes, they put a grape in their mouth. By the time the clock has finished chiming, everybody has to have finished their grapes and the New Year starts.

    And I think that the custom of kissing those dearest to us at midnight is done not only to enjoy the revelry of the moment but to ensure those affections and ties will continue throughout the next twelve months.

    I guess it is extremely difficult to kiss your significant other,while trying to eat twelve grapes before the chimes stop.

    However, I am able to pay off all my debts this week, before getting out the construction paper and sissors !!

  2. Apparently, this is a Black thing, but my Irish family picked up the have the whole house clean for the New Year habit. Dust bunnies are banished, all the corners are swept, and cupboards and closets gone through.

    I think my mom just liked the idea, and I've kept it up because it's nice to have everything clean before the house gets shut up for the winter months.

  3. Where are the black eyed peas in any of this?

    Dammit, it ain't New years unless you eat your black eyed peas.

  4. My family always celebrated New Year's Eve with menudo soup just before midnight and then the grape ritual that Jon describes.

    The grapes were fine. The menudo was highly overrated.

  5. I did that lead in the water thingie at a New Years Eve party I attended at the home of some Finnish friends. My main New Year's tradition is to stay awake until midnight.

  6. People all over the world are melting lead in boiling water, then pouring the water down the sink to poison the rest of us? Thanks for the tip. I will not be drinking any unfiltered H2O for several days after New Year's!

    I'm Southern, so it's all about food: collard greens, black-eyed peas and cornbread! The greens represent money and the peas for for luck. The cornbread is the sop up the pot likker. Which is not quite as tasty as black velvet...

  7. Can't contribute any New Year's Eve customs, it wasn't a big deal when I was growing up, and now I just hide out with a bottle of bubbly, some yummy naughty food, and bad movies on TV...

    Hope the new year brings you all sorts of good juju, Miss C ;-)

  8. Shopping list:

    black-eyed peas
    red paper
    naughty food

    I think I'm nixing the menudo and the housecleaning, except for pitching in here at the inlaws.

    Oh yeah, bottled water....

  9. from Jacqueline

    No new year traditions from me, although I'm with Patty regarding that great plan to stay awake. More about my eve of the new year rituals on Friday, but in the meantime, having the odd bevvy is what is generally called for - and a black velvet will do nicely.

    On the other side of the Atlantic, my senior citizen parents will probably be dancing the night away, as they do every new year's eve (and several times a week!). I don't know whose genes I picked up, but the one for "I could have danced all night ..." seemed to wither away about twenty years ago!

    Enjoy that black velvet, Cornelia!

  10. My only New Year's tradition is to go into it with very low expectations and still be dissappointed. Maybe I should try the lead thing. Or more drinking.

  11. My fave way to set expectations for the evening is to remember the motto of a friend of Mom's from Cincinnatti--"New Year's is for rookies."

    And I try not to drink the lead.

  12. How about we call that Plan B?

  13. i used to always write down all the things that upset me on slips of paper, scribbling frantically as the clock neared midnight, and then burn them as the ball fell...and then they turned into a glass slipper! no, seriously, it was supposed to help you start the new year afresh.

    do you remember loy krathong in thailand? it's in the spring. you send your sins floating down the river in little lotus boats with candles on them. only in thailand would your sins look so pretty.

    i hope you are having fun in syracuse and that the snot is not freezing in your nose. xoxo

  14. Yeah, I`m not sure that breathing in the fumes of melting lead over your stove is a great thing either...

  15. Sorry C, I never got past the thought of your red underwear in this post. xx