Happy New Year! And what a new year it could be. It is once again that time of year when most people start their several week journey toward self improvement - one that often fades at the end of those several weeks.

Of course, there is always one near universal resolution taken on this time of year - to lose weight - and while I could give you a pile of healthy recipes, I'm not going to do that.

Why? Because it's downright pagan (or maybe I'm just using this column as an excuse not to make resolutions this year).

Detail from an Assyrian wall relief of a winged genius, old carving panel from Middle East.
Detail from an Assyrian wall relief of a winged genius, old carving panel from Middle East.Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

New Year's resolutions are a very old tradition, dating back 4,000 years to none other than the Babylonians. Back then, the city of Babylon would celebrate New Year's over a span of 12 days in a holiday called Akitu. In the Assyrian calendar, New Year's was April 1 and the celebration coincided with the annual flood of the Nile River, which was responsible for the fertile croplands of that area.

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That meant traditions of ringing in the new year could include much warmer practices. The celebration included planting crops, renewing pledges to the king or crowning a new king and, ultimately, making resolutions.

Resolutions often included paying debts and returning borrowed items. People made a promise to do these things to their gods, thinking that keeping these promises would make their deity look favorably upon them for the year, and that broken promises would cost them that favor.

The irony was, if you paid off your debts it would definitely feel like someone was looking favorably upon you, and debt often feels like a curse, But I digress.

Our Jan. 1 celebration of the new year started in the 46th century B.C., when Roman Emperor Julius Caesar revamped the holiday to celebrate the deity Janus (for whom January was named). Janus looked back to the previous year and forward to the new year. The Romans made sacrifices to Janus as well as promises.

In the Middle Ages, knights renewed their vows each new year by placing their hands on either a live or roasted peacock, which, admittedly, isn't particularly religious.

New Year's didn't have much for Christian involvement until 1740, when the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, started the Covenant Renewal Service held each year on New Year's Eve or Day. It's also called the Watch Night service. It is a church service alternative to the otherwise carefree New Year's parties held everywhere else.

So, in resistance to this ideal that really started with the Babylonians, let's all stay fat together. Though, I guess I'll still give you a healthy recipe option.

Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo
Chicken Fettuccine AlfredoPhoto illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo

  • 2 tablespoons butter, margarine or oil
  • 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into thin slices
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh grated pepper
  • 10 ounces chicken broth
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1 pinch nutmeg

Sautee the chicken slices in the 2 tablespoons of butter. Try to brown each piece on one side slightly before flipping and repeating until cooked through.

Set the chicken aside and melt the remaining butter in the pan followed by the flour, salt and pepper. Stir these together to form a roux. Cook until the mixture is smooth, bubbly and no longer smells like raw flour before removing from heat and stirring in the chicken broth. Try to loosen any burnt pieces of chicken on the bottom.

Once you have mixed everything well, stir in the cream and then return to medium heat where you will bring it to a boil, stirring constantly. Once boiling, stir in the cooked chicken, followed by the nutmeg and cheese.

Serve this sauce over fettuccine noodles cooked according to the directions on the package.

French Silk Pie
French Silk PiePhoto illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

French Silk Pie

  • 1 9-inch prepared pie shell of your choice
  • 3 squares unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • Whipped cream (optional)
  • Mini chocolate chips (optional)
  • Chocolate syrup (optional)

In a saucepan or microwave, melt the chocolate and allow to cool slightly. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with the chocolate being added in last. Beat this filling and add one egg and then beat for five minutes before adding the next egg. Repeat until all the eggs have been used.

Add the vanilla and then pour the mixture into your prepared pie shell and refrigerate 4-6 hours until it firms up. You can top with whipped cream, mini chocolate chips and a drizzle of chocolate syrup if you want to really stick it to those Babylonian deities.

Diced Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Diced Chicken Lettuce WrapsPhoto illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Adapted from ifoodreal.com

  • 1 1/2 pounds diced chicken breast
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2-inch knob of minced ginger
  • 1 small diced zucchini
  • 1 small bell pepper, diced
  • 1 cup cashews, chopped
  • 2 chopped green onions
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 head of butter, iceberg or romaine lettuce with leaves separated
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Over medium heat, cook the cashews until toasted, stirring constantly, then set aside in a bowl.

Return the skillet to medium heat and add the oil, swirling around to coat. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the chicken and cook for 10 minutes while stirring.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine the cold water, soy sauce, honey, vinegar and cornstarch. Add this dressing to the chicken with the zucchini and bell pepper before cooking one minute or until the sauce has thickened. Add the cashews and green onions and mix well off heat.

Serve this mixture scooped onto individual leaves of lettuce, similar to a taco.

Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Travis.