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

By Paige Porter

Judy Hawkins admits to three addictions: coffee, cooking, andopen markets. Lucky for her, she lives in Seattle. A cup of darkroast in one hand, a sand-colored shopping bag in the other, shenavigates her way through throngs of tourists in the halls of PikePlace Market. Here, Judy knows just about everybody-the man at thefish stand where she buys her salmon, the woman whose head peeksfrom behind a rainbow of baby vegetables, the ladies who run thecorner flower shop. She fills her bag with necessities for the NewYear's Eve party she's hosting tonight with her husband, Ron. "Ihonestly can't imagine throwing a dinner party without having themarket at my back door," says Judy, who lives only a few blocksaway.

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

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

"We've got front-row seats for the best show in town," saysJudy, who is more accustomed to being the show. As cookingdemonstrator for Sur la Table, the gourmet kitchen store founded inSeattle and now thriving in that city and 28 others, Judy is nostranger 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, Judyrealized she'd have to downsize. She sold 1,000 of her cookbooks(cutting her collection in half) and has scaled back the number ofdinner guests she invites.

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

After completing her afternoon shopping, Judy brews a pot ofcoffee and gets to work chopping prosciutto and fresh thyme for theclams she'll serve first. "I'm all about prepping before the guestsarrive," she says, her backdrop a wall of copper pots she'scollected over the years. "And I keep my entrées elegant yetsimple." Tonight's presentation includes Mango-glazed Salmon withCoconut-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 fillsthe room as guests ring the bell.

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

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

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

It's still a while until midnight, and Judy has a diversion inmind. She retrieves a chilled bottle of champagne and pours eachguest 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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