Damn. This is the 22nd time I’ve watched Casablanca on New Year’s Eve, and I still cry when Rick tells Ilsa good-bye at the airport. (Spoiler … I’m sorry.) Even though my husband and I can recite many of the lines (“I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here”), I still hold my breath to see if Victor gets on that plane alone.

I still cry when the camera lingers on beautiful Ingrid Bergman, memories of her life’s love flitting over her face, as she listens to Sam play “As Time Goes By.”

I still laugh at Louis (“Round up the usual suspects”). Cheer with Victor (“You might as well question why we breathe”). And wait in anticipation for the movie’s climactic battle of the anthems: “Die Wacht am Rhein” vs. “La Marseillaise.”

“Are you crying?” my 18-year-old asks. “You’re crying!”

Yes, I am.

I was 17 the first time I saw Casablanca. I’d just come home from a new friend’s house, where I’d spent the night. (She became my best friend, then a year-and-a-half later, seduced my boyfriend, which is a totally different story but which I’m still a little upset about.) Sleep-deprived and heady from finding a teenage soul mate, I lazily flipped through channels and happened upon an old black-and-white movie where German soldiers were belting out their patriotic song as a very handsome Paul Henreid fought back with the French national anthem.

I was hooked.

Years — decades, actually — passed. But when the man who’d become my husband asked me what I wanted to do the first New Year’s Eve we spent together, I suggested a movie.

“Can we see Casablanca?” I asked.

We saw it. And we’ve watched it every year since.

Oh, we’ve missed a few years. Once we went to a party on the beach. A couple of times, we rang in the new year at a neighbor’s house. We’ve tried other movies, too.

But if we don’t watch Casablanca on New Year’s Eve, we invariably turn to each other a few days later and say, “It doesn’t seem like a new year.”

Then we pull out the DVD, load it up and watch a few days after the ball has dropped.

Our boys do not share our enthusiasm.

“Doh!” the little one says. “This movie is so boring!”

“I’ll watch it with you,” the big one offers, then spends the next hour and 42 minutes on his Droid.

We don’t care. We laugh. We cry. We recite the lines we love.

I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

A Dish To Ring In The New Year

shortribsEvery New Year’s Eve needs a tradition to ring out the old, and every New Year’s Day needs a dish to mark the beginning of another 365 days. This is ours: Short ribs slow-cooked in the Crock Pot, then simmered with sun-dried tomatoes, olives, capers and chard. It’s hearty. It’s easy. And it stands up to time going by.

  • 2 pounds beef short ribs, bone-in
  • Assorted fresh herbs
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1 onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 fennel bulb, coarsely chopped
  • 2 large carrots, scrubbed and coarsely chopped
  • 1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained
  • Sherry wine vinegar
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard, tough stems removed and roughly chopped

The night before you plan to make this, slick the ribs with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place them in a zip-top gallon bag with a variety of crushed fresh herbs (I used the thyme, sage, oregano still lolling in my garden) and the crushed garlic cloves.

The next morning, pour the red wine and beef broth into a Crock Pot. Place the ribs and whatever else you can get out of the zip-top bag into the liquid.

shortribs-raw1

Bake on high for 3 hours.

shortrib-veggiesAdd the chopped onion, fennel and carrots and the can of tomatoes with their juices to the pot. Bake for an additional 2 1/2 hours.

Test the meat to be sure it’s falling off the bone. Once it is, remove it from the Crock Pot and coarsely shred it. Refrigerate.

Cool the vegetables and broth in your refrigerator for an hour.

Spoon the fat off the veggies and broth, then place the mixture into a large saute pan. Stir in the tomatoes, olives, capers and shredded meat. Add a glug of Sherry wine vinegar (1-2 tablespoons or to taste).

Boil the mixture until it’s slightly reduced. Stir in the chard until it’s wilted, then season with salt and pepper and more vinegar if needed.

Serve this as is or over potatoes, polenta or pasta.

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