New Year’s Eve, 1997: Sitting cross-legged on the couch in a plaid flannel nightgown and white stretched-out-around-the-ankles tube socks, watching Casablanca, with a fire crackling in the sun room of my childhood home. I was asleep well before midnight, but I remember my parents enjoying frosty glasses of champagne and little mounds of caviar spooned atop tiny boiled new potatoes, the lot of it purchased at Sutton Place Gourmet, where my mother always huffed about the price of melon. I strained to discern why New Year’s was considered a holiday: no gifts were exchanged, no costumes donned, no holy days of obligation required non-Sunday trips to Church. My parents’ ritual of caviar, Casablanca, and coupes of champagne signified something I couldn’t quite unpack.
New Year’s Eve, 2007: Wobbling in 4″ heels and a sequined minidress, huddled in the corner of a bar with my girlfriends, nibbling tasteless chicken wings and sipping rail cranberry vodkas. Mr. Magpie was there, downing G+Ts with the straw bent to the side (“men shouldn’t drink out of straws,” he informed me) and wearing a bow tie and oh my gosh did I want to marry him. I was a year out of college, but I’d known for the better part of three years that he was The One and the rest was just a matter of time. On very rare occasions — late at night, usually; the bleariness of midnight making way for admissions that would never see the light of day — I would tell him, in a whisper, “I want to marry you.” He was zipped up on the topic, and his silence smarted. (Just two months before he proposed — when he had already ordered the ring! — he would persist in his reticence on the subject matter.) I was one semester into my Master’s program and feeling very liberated thanks to the winter break — no reading! no classes! no T.A.-ing! — but also knew that it was just a matter of time before the assignments would stack up and I’d be back to working into the wee hours of the morning, sitting at the small white wood desk under the window that looked out onto the courtyard of the first floor of the R Street townhouse my best friend and I rented from an elderly French lady. So, it was all very much a matter of time then: I was vigilance personified, waiting watchfully for the next thing. The new year lay in front of me, full of potential.
New Year’s Eve, 2017: Sitting with my legs tucked under me on the couch of my new apartment on the Upper West Side wearing a Haute Hippie sequined dress I’ve worn for the last four consecutive New Year’s Eves, my bestie to my left, and our husbands flanking us. We ate little mounds of caviar, this time served on tiny blinis, the lot of it purchased at Citarella, where I now routinely huff at the price of melons. We play “Versace on the Floor” one too many times, excess permissible given the frivolity of the evening and the parallel surfeit of champagne poured, and we count down to midnight and I am overcome, as we kiss each other at 12:01 a.m., with a feeling of peace. What a difference a year makes: I am now a mother. I am now living in New York, just a 15 minute door-to-door subway trip from my best friend, and, in the words of Big Sean in his mega-hit from this year (also played one time too many): “If you a real one, then you know how to bounce back.” It’s 2018 and I feel a rebound coming on. But mainly, I realize 20 (yes, 20!) years later, I now understand the ritual of champagne, Casablanca, and caviar, these sometime festive markers that herald the start of something new, the opportunity to reimagine ourselves in ways big and small, the nontrivial gift of bidding adieu to years too hard or too long or too slow or too fast.
Cheers to the new year — we’re just three days in, but it’s been a beautiful one so far, aided in part by a couple of new resolutions and new purchases:
Le New Cookbook, to Spur Culinary Improvement.
Mr. Magpie has become quite the devotee of the Italian cook Tony Mantuano over the past year or so. He’s made dozens of his pasta recipes and every single one has been a home run (something about the use of pasta water?). I’d like to take on more of the cooking this year; whenever it’s my turn, I tend to opt for basics: a simple roasted salmon with a mustard sauce, steamed vegetable, and wild rice, or something equally delicious but pedestrian. (Basically, anything that requires no recipe is up my alley.) I decided to pick up this cookbook of Mantuano’s — it’s exactly how I like to eat: a small plate and a nice glass of wine. If you need more inspiration — these are LES BEST cookbooks ever in my opinion.
Le New Book, to Inspire More Reading.
On the whole of it, I think I read more books this year than many years past, but the last few months have been abysmally slow on the lit front. My sister and I stalled while trying to read Shakespeare’s Kitchen, and it took the wind out of my sails. While visiting us in New York, my father raved about Ulysses S. Grant’s memoir, and then left it, in classic Dad format, on the steps leading upstairs with a little post-it affixed to the top: JEN. So I’m starting my way through it. It’s epically long and written in that quaint, over-loquacious way of the 1800s, but memoir is easily my favorite genre, so I’ll abide. Lighter fare for the new year: this and this.
Le Carafe, So I Drink More Water.
I’ve written about this elsewhere, but I’m obsessed with my bedside water carafe. I also keep it at my desk throughout the day. At night, it makes me feel like I live in a luxurious hotel and it prevents the inevitable middle-of-the-night-water-fill-up. During the day, it’s a visual cue to hydrate. Strongly recommend. While on the go, I love my Klean Kanteen with the sports nozzle. Mr. Magpie is very picky about sports nozzles (#formerathlete), but he raves about this one — it lets out just the right amount of water. Also very convenient when you have a baby on your hip or are rushing around pushing a stroller. One handed wonder! Also, a quick aside on hotel living: every few years, I’ll snag a new set of towels around the first of the year. I love all-white towels. I’ve learned the hard way that the rest fade or start to look dated or you just get bored of them. White towels can withstand bleach and always look so inviting and tidy folded on a rack or stacked on a shelf. My absolute favorite towels are Yves Delorme’s Etoile. They are the plushest, softest towels in the world. I first discovered them while staying at the gorgeously appointed Carlyle Hotel, where they are stocked in every hotel bathroom. They made such an impression on me that I immediately looked for the tag and promptly ordered two sets. Caveat: the colored ones lose their color very quickly (see earlier note); I’d go with good old fashioned white. (Someone recently also recommended these less expensive ones!)
Le New Perfume, So I Feel Pulled Together.
Mr. Magpie gave me Byredo’s Gypsy Water perfume for Christmas. I’d been talking about it for awhile, and he thoughtfully surprised me with it. I’m obsessed. It’s a totally different vibe than I normally go for — I’m usually a fan of major florals; this feels woodsy and minerally (a word?). I feel sophisticated when I put it on in the morning, and it always reminds me to take a minute to put myself together.
Le New Shampoo, So I Keep My Hair Game Going.
I’m going in for a much-needed cut and color on Friday — a girlfriend of mine referred me to Bumble and Bumble down in Meatpacking and I’m anxiously awaiting my appointment. But I’ve already upped my haircare routine with the introduction of Christophe Robin’s Delicate Volumizing Shampoo, which is specially formulated for color-treated hair.
Le New Routine: Daily Alarm Reminder.
A very kind reader wrote me a sweet email after I mourned some of the happenings of 2017, and in it, she shared some of her own struggles over the past few months, finishing with: “Let us go boldly into the decisions we make.” I loved that — go boldly. Or, do not go gently, to quote Dylan Thomas. I decided to update my daily alarm label so that it’s the first thing I see when I wake up and roll over to turn it off. It used to read: “Be thankful.” Now it says: “Go boldly.” It felt like a poetic transition; those aspirations could well be the tent-poles of my burgeoning philosophy on life, hanging as it does somewhere between grateful and daring.
Finally, a couple of new additions to my cosmetic bag: this liquid blush, this concealer, and — a gift from my mom! — this incredible foundation brush. I AM OBSESSED. It blends so well, and without absorbing a lot of product! And it’s well-priced.