This time of year, getting from one celebration to another is the heaviest social obligation of them all -- and paying your hosts back is a close second. So do yourself and your friends a favor: Have them over for a recovery brunch, and in one gentle, gracious maneuver ease the twixt-party transition and your social conscience as well.
New Year's Day is traditionally depressing, filled with headaches, hangovers, resolutions and dark economic forecasts. (Especially if last-minute credit-card Christmas shopping is your particular slay ride.) But good, not-too- rich food, a little hair of the dog -- not enough to bristle -- and a dash of sympathethic conversation can be a miracle worker. And for the serious champagne celebrators, warm hash is better than cold turkey.
The main course is consideration: Don't invite anyone too early (12:30 or 1 o'clock is sufficient), don't be too loud (send the football fans to another room) and don't ask too many questions.
Start with straight bubbly, or mimosas, screw bloody and simple marys and black velvets, those earthy and mysterious mixtures of Guinness Stout and champagne. (Straight champagners deserve true brut; but for the mixed versions, a Bouvet is quite acceptable.)
Coffee should be available -- something dark and rich, like a New Orleans chicory or a drip-style espresso. Be prepared to serve in two sizes, mugs for the medicinal and cups for the already conscious. Stock up on aspirin and Alka-Seltzer, but be subtle; keep it in the kitchen and spritz it up on request.
NO HOLIDAY MUSIC! If there is a soul who is not sick of the sound, lock him in the nearest elevator. Stick to classical or jazz, at least until midafternoon, when the Rx includes a little R&B.
The spread is spread in two acts, and the first can be laid out entirely before the guests are. Sugary doughnuts, danishes and the like seem to have little appeal on mornings after. Instead, serve fresh homemade bagels, cream cheese, pepper jelly and/or Pickapeppa sauce, anchovy paste or loxspread, a few celery or carrot sticks and a platter of green peppercorn gravlax.
The gravlax, which is more pungent than smoked salmon and retains a sinewy texture, takes about a week to cure, although the preparation is fairly simple. According to the secret recipe of chef Louis Osteem, maestro of the Pawley's Island Inn in South Carolina, a fileted side of salmon is sprinkled with a mix of 1/2 cup coarse sea salt and a hefty 3 tablespoons' sugar; wrapped in aluminum foil and left to cure (in the refrigerator, away from cats and other deadly bacteria) for 3 to 4 days. Then drain a 61/2- ounce can of green peppercorns and pound it into a paste with 2 tablespoons each of dried tarragon and thyme; spread the mix on the salmon, rewrap and recure, weighted down, for another couple of days. Slice thin and prepare for a heavenly ascension.
Loxspread is available at most bagelries, but oftentimes can be lox-low or adulterated with mayonnaise. It's easily made in a food processor: Two bars of cream cheese (warmed to room temperature) processed with a 6-ounce package of nova will lavishly handle a half- dozen bagels.
And for the hot food, set out Canadian bacon (less greasy than bacon and less strident than sausage); sliced tomatoes; kidney and mushroom saut,e; riced hard- boiled eggs beaten with mayonnaise, worcestershire and Tabasco over toast; and turkey hash. Your friends will love you forever, and so will the cats.
To make hash, forget the whole turkey: Buy one of those breasts instead. Cook according to directions, let cool and dice into whatever size you like. Saut,e similarly sized dices of celery, onion and leeks in plenty of butter; season to taste. Simmer diced potatoes in chicken stock to cover and combine with the other ingredients; add white wine or vermouth to thin if necessary.
This brunch may sound frightfully organized, but it's fairly offhand. After all, not even the host has to be too steady on New Year's. BAGELS 41/4-41/2 cups all-purpose flour 2 packages dry yeasts 11/2 cups warm water (110o) 3 tablespoons sugar 1 tablespoon salt
Combine 11/2 cups flour and yeast in mixing bowl. Combine water, sugar and salt; add to flour. Beat at low speed for 30 seconds, and then at high speed for three minutes. By hand, stir in enough additional flour to stiffen dough; knead on lightly floured surface until smooth and elastic (8 to 10 minutes). Let rest for 15 minutes.
Cut into 12 portions. Shape into logs and roll ends together; cover and let rise 20 minutes. Broil on an ungreased cookie sheet, 5 inches from the flame, for 11/2-2 minutes per side.
In a large pot, bring to a boil a gallon of water with 1 tablespoon sugar to boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook the bagels, four at a time, for 7 minutes, turning once. Drain and place them on a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 375o for 25 minutes.
You can skip the first broiling, but don't: that's what gives the sheen and ensures a crunch.