Seattle New Year Celebration

A Seattle couple rings in the New year, and toasts old times, with a dinner party as dazzling as the fireworks outside.

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Judy Hawkins admits to three addictions: coffee, cooking, and open markets. Lucky for her, she lives in Seattle. A cup of dark roast in one hand, a sand-colored shopping bag in the other, she navigates her way through throngs of tourists in the halls of Pike Place Market. Here, Judy knows just about everybody-the man at the fish stand where she buys her salmon, the woman whose head peeks from behind a rainbow of baby vegetables, the ladies who run the corner flower shop. She fills her bag with necessities for the New Year's Eve party she's hosting tonight with her husband, Ron. "I honestly can't imagine throwing a dinner party without having the market at my back door," says Judy, who lives only a few blocks away.

Seven years ago, when she and Ron were considering a move to Seattle from Chicago, his future employers took Judy for a look-see at this market. "That was all I needed," she recalls. "And now that I'm here, I don't know which I enjoy more, shopping at the market or entertaining at my house."

Judy's house is a 26th-floor corner apartment with a view of Elliot Bay and the 605-foot Space Needle, where every December 31, the city sets off fireworks that draw tens of thousands of celebrants downtown. Tonight, the Hawkinses won't be fighting the crowds on the street. They'll watch the display over dinner in their apartment and ring in the New Year with longtime friends Richard and Wendy Wessels of Chicago, and Bill and Carol Filbert of Amelia Island, Florida.

"We've got front-row seats for the best show in town," says Judy, who is more accustomed to being the show. As cooking demonstrator for Sur la Table, the gourmet kitchen store founded in Seattle and now thriving in that city and 28 others, Judy is no stranger to pleasing crowds.

But when she and Ron sold their large home on Whidbey Island, Washington, and moved downtown a little more than a year ago, Judy realized she'd have to downsize. She sold 1,000 of her cookbooks (cutting her collection in half) and has scaled back the number of dinner guests she invites.

But paring down didn't cool the couple's conviviality. "We love the camaraderie you find at smaller gatherings," says Ron. "Especially on New Year's Eve, because it's the longest lasting party of the year."

After completing her afternoon shopping, Judy brews a pot of coffee and gets to work chopping prosciutto and fresh thyme for the clams she'll serve first. "I'm all about prepping before the guests arrive," she says, her backdrop a wall of copper pots she's collected over the years. "And I keep my entrées elegant yet simple." Tonight's presentation includes Mango-glazed Salmon with Coconut-Ginger Rice and Pan-Asian Vegetables.

"Judy perfects the menu, and I perfect the dinner soundtrack," says Ron, who has almost as many CDs as his wife has cookbooks. Tonight, he's selected Billie Holiday, whose soulful voice fills the room as guests ring the bell.

"Judy's parties are legendary," says Richard, who walks in, hugs his hostess, and peers into a pot full of clams.

Richard's wife, Wendy, agrees. "Judy and Carol and I were in a gourmet club once, and Judy was teaching us how to cook and entertain," she recalls. "The only reason I was allowed to stay in the club was because I brought over takeout. I can't compete with Judy."

The guests gather around the windows, where the skyline blinks with white lights and the Space Needle looms large. "Can you imagine a better place to have a countdown?" says Bill. "Or a better reason to get together?"

It's still a while until midnight, and Judy has a diversion in mind. She retrieves a chilled bottle of champagne and pours each guest a glass. "That's Judy for you-the spirited one," says Carol. Here's to good friends, grand food, and great memories.

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