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Here’s a quick New Year’s toast: “Life’s tough, eat sweet.” There is something sweet about the start of a New Year. Figuratively, there is the notion of a blank slate, resolutions, the promise of change, etc. But I am partial to the literal interpretation. A New Year should begin sweetly and New Year’s seems to draw out my sweet tooth.

I think it is because when I was a child, the best part of New Year’s eve celebrations was not the party itself, but the morning after. With luck, my parents and their guests would have been too tuckered out to do a serious cleaning up. The alcohol would have gone back into the bar and the dips and cold cuts or other perishable food would get put into the fridge, but the best part would likely be left till morning.

Dishes of chocolate or marzipan or small pastries or candied fruits and nuts would be scattered through the living room. My parents remained sound asleep as we engaged in early morning trolling. Ahh, a quick morning pick-me-up. How sweet it was.

What is it about sugar that makes it so tasty? There are four basic flavours: salt, sweet, bitter, and sour but sugar is the only one that people like everywhere. It is a hedonistic flavour. Maybe we crave it because it was in mother’s milk or whatever formula was substituted. On the other hand, maybe we crave this sweet milky fluid when we are babes because it has sugar in it. Whichever reason comes first, the taste for sugar is part of our makeup. What better time to enjoy it than at the start of a New Year? A new year should begin sweetly.

Raiding the chocolate box on New Year’s day was not just common to our house. It is part of a universal custom.

Spain, Portugal and the Philippines follow New Year’s Eve fiestas with a few grapes or raisins. In Poland the year begins with jelly doughnuts. Japan traditionally devotes 7 days to New Year’s celebrations and includes mashed sweet potatoes to keep away evil spirits. This morning Greek families will serve a sweet bread called vasilopitta with a coin baked into the bread for good luck. Rosh Hashonah, the beginning of the Jewish New Year for Jews (which takes place in the fall) has a tasty tradition of starting the year with an apple dipped in honey.

Perhaps the sweetest tradition of all belongs to the Swedes who finish the holiday partying on Jan 13, St. Knut’s day. That‘s the occasion for Julgransplundering or “Christmas plunder.” It is the time to take down the Christmas decorations and eat all the sweet Christmas decorations (candy canes, foil-covered chocolate Santas, etc.) as the tree gets undecorated.

Many of us like the flavour of sweet combined with sour or bitter. This is the yin and yang of the flavour spectrum. A few months ago I wrote about Angostura Bitters and received a wonderful recipe for a Yuletide treat from Robin Harding in Montreal. This is his family’s seasonal libation—the Christmas highball.

For each glass: lace 1 cube of sugar with 2 drops of Angostura Bitters, then add a
pudding spoon (1/2 tablespoon) of brandy and fill the glass with a very cold but not expensive champagne such as Cordoniu.

Here’s to a sweet year for us all.

© Barry Lazar 2000 Email Flavourguy

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