It happens to the best-laid plans -- and often on New Year's Eve.
The sitter you booked two months ago can't make it at the last minute. No matter what the excuse, the result is the same: You'll greet 1994 at home with the kids instead of out on the town.
The question is, how to turn the disappointment into a memorable evening?
Patrick and Deborah O'Toole have a singular solution to New Year's Eve at home with the kids (Katie Rose, 4, and Patrick, 2).
"We call friends in the same situation, tell them to load up the kids and sleeping bags, and have a potluck house party," Mrs. O'Toole says.
Everybody spends the night. The kids are free to fall asleep when they get tired, and nobody has to worry about drinking and driving.
"We have two parties at once," she says. "I set up a dinner party for the kids in the kitchen and then set the dining room table with the best china, run out for beef and a bottle of wine and light the candles."
New Year's Eve calls for some extravagance, but no one wants to ring out the old year doing dishes. So dinner should be #F elegant but easy.
For the O'Tooles, a tenderloin of beef is the centerpiece of the menu. Guests bring vegetables, good bread and balloons.
"Flowers are harder to put together at the last minute, but balloons tied on the backs of the chair make everything instantly festive -- and the kids like it, too," she says.
"The point of all the food is to cook as fast as possible with as little prep work as possible. We marinate the beef in red wine left over from Christmas dinner, season it with garlic and black pepper and roast it in the oven. We try to use the oven a lot because you don't have to stand over it and cook, and we just line the pans with foil to make clean-up a snap."
The beauty of the menu is that most items can be presented one way for adults, another for children.
The tenderloin is served whole, with its own sauce, for the grown-ups, or sliced and put on toasted hamburger buns for the kids.
xTC Halved new potatoes are roasted in a separate pan; kids eat theirs with ketchup.
Baked apples go in the oven when the beef comes out, "so you have this great smell wafting through the house while you eat."
Of course, there's champagne or sparkling wine to toast the New Year. Kids get their own "bubbly" -- ginger ale -- in plastic champagne glasses.
The next morning, the O'Tooles may eat out, or they may make a simple breakfast at home while the kids watch the Tournament of Roses Parade.
1 whole beef tenderloin (4 to 4 1/2 pounds)
8 cloves garlic
freshly ground or cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Tuck the thin end of the tenderloin under so the meat is about the same diameter its whole length. With the point of a sharp knife, make slits all over the tenderloin and insert the cloves of garlic. Pour the wine over the meat and let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Put the meat in a foil-lined roasting pan and coat the top thickly with black pepper.
Roast meat, uncovered, for about 45 minutes. An instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part should read 132-135 degrees. Remove the meat to a platter, cover with foil and let it rest for 15 to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, reduce the cooking juices by half over medium-high heat. Swirl in 2 tablespoons butter, season with salt and pepper to taste and pour over the meat.
Per (4-ounce) serving: calories: 333; fat: 19 grams; cholesterol: 114 milligrams; sodium: 131 milligrams; percent calories from fat: 52 percent.
Lemon new potatoes
Makes 8 servings.
2 pounds new potatoes, as small as possible
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon cracked pepper
juice and grated peel of 1 lemon
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Wash potatoes and drip-dry on paper towels. Cut in half if small; quarter if large. Combine everything but the lemon in a roasting pan and cover with foil. Bake for 20 minutes, then uncover and bake 15 minutes, until golden brown. Sprinkle with lemon juice and peel.
Per serving: calories: 127; fat: 6 grams; cholesterol: 17 milligrams; sodium: 63 milligrams; percent calories from fat: 42 percent.
Baked cinnamon apples
1 apple per person (preferably Granny Smith or Winesap)
1 or 2 (5-ounce) bags of red cinnamon candies
1 (15-ounce) box raisins
1/2 cup butter
vanilla ice cream (optional)
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Core the apples.
FOR KIDS: Fill the core with 1 tablespoon cinnamon candy and 1 tablespoon raisins (more if the holes are large). Dot each one with 1 tablespoon butter. Loosely wrap each apple in double thickness of foil.
FOR GROWN-UPS: Stuff each apple with 1 tablespoon brown sugar and 1 tablespoon raisins mixed with chopped pecans. Moisten the stuffing with a few drops of port and dot each apple with 1 tablespoon butter. Wrap as described above.
Bake the apples for 45 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream.
Another option: For children, skip the apples; instead, top a scoop of vanilla ice cream with red cinnamon candies for a cinnamon sundae.
Per serving (grown-up variation, no ice cream): calories: 314; fat: 18 grams; cholesterol: 33 milligrams; sodium: 127 milligrams; percent calories from fat: 48 percent.