Ham It Up

You know how they say that inside every heavy person is a thin person waiting to get out?Well, inside of this person (me) is a three-year-old who flat-out hates to wait.  Who wants to know when it’ll be over.  Who thinks this is stupid and it’s gonna take forever.  Who don’t wanna…Who’s done and will now sit and pout and probably cry dramatically.

That inner three-year-old is the reason why I make a ham for each and every ham-eating holiday.My mom used to order one of those honey-glazed, spiral-sliced, straight from central casting holiday hams.  They were gorgeous, and delicious.

But.They cost about a thousand dollars per pound.  And, Jason had an easier time getting his mitts on the golden fleece.  The hams must be pre-ordered in advance.  The stores are usually at some random strip mall in the middle of nowhere. And pickup is its very own circle of hell.  I’ve seen the lines.  They are so long that while in it, time moves in reverse.  Folks at the head of the line check the time by glancing at their phones.  In the middle of the line, they rely on sun dials.  At the back of the line, time frightens and confuses them, and they entreat the sun to ensure a good harvest.That little impatient three-year-old inside me just couldn’t let my mother subject herself to that porky purgatory one more time.

I decided to do some research, talk to good cooks, and learn how to prepare a ham.So, I am now the family pig preparer.  Each year I make a different flavored glaze, then crust it with chopped nuts that go, flavor-wise.  This year it’s watermelon rind preserves and pistachios.                                                          &But we always have a ton left after the holiday meal.  And everybody’s got their favorite ham dish.

I love my Dad’s ham salad:

Dad’s Holiday ham salad

ham salad 2

2 cups leftover ham pieces

1 small yellow onion

Put ham and onions into food processor and blitz until it’s fine and of uniform size.

Stir in:

2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish

Enough mayonnaise to make spreadable consistency. 

Season with salt and pepper.Refrigerate for at least an hour, then serve on bread, or use as a dip for crackers or crostini.

Petey likes ham croquettes.

Petey’s ham croquettes

ham croquettes

1 cup finely minced ham

1 cup leftover mashed potatoes

2 finely grated carrots

2/3 cup Swiss cheese, diced

¼ cup melted butter

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Salt & pepper to taste

1 egg + 2 for breading

2 tablespoons flour + more for breading

½ cup milk

2 cups Panko breadcrumbs

Oil for frying

Gently mix together all the ingredients except for 2 eggs, extra flour, breadcrumbs and oil.  Set aside.Make three-part dredge.  Put seasoned flour in one vessel, beaten eggs and milk in another, and Panko in a third.

Roll ham mixture into 3-4 inch long logs.  Roll into flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs.  Place into fridge for at least one hour to set and for coating to adhere.

When ready to cook, put enough oil into heavy pot to go up about 1 ½ inches, and heat to 350 degrees.  Working in small batches, fry on each side until golden brown.  Makes 8-10.The Kid?

The Kid (and me too) loves this sandwich.

On the freshest baguette you can find, slather on way too much mayo, sliced tomato, and provolone cheese.  Add sliced ham, and season with salt & pepper.

We first had it at Jersey Mike’s.  It’s a gestalt thing; the whole is tastier than the sum of its parts.Thanks for your time.

Three Views On A Holiday

It will come as no surprise to a student of the human mind, or frankly, anybody with a lick of sense, my view of Christmas was informed by the first one I remember.

It is a saccharine, nostalgic, romanticized vision of the holiday.That earliest Christmas memory, when I was five or six, was spent on the couch.  I had pneumonia, and just enough energy to observe.  My holiday was whatever went on around me.  I had a Disney Christmas anthology book and many seasonal Little Golden Books, including my favorite, “The Night Before Christmas”.I watched all the Rankin/Bass shows of Santa, Frosty, Rudolph, and the Island of Misfit Toys.  And of course, Charlie Brown’s Christmas.  The Peanuts gave me an appreciation for jazz, in the form of the Vince Guaraldi Trio, and the beautiful, majestic Shakespearian language of the King James version of the nativity.In 1973 I was nine, and it was all about my brother Homer’s wedding.  He was marrying Kelly, a very sweet young woman.  Mom told me she’d sew my outfit for the wedding and it could be whatever I wanted.  She probably regretted that promise when she found herself stitching together a purple velvet skirt and vest, with a coordinating lavender frilly-fronted shirt.

Yeah, I wish.

I looked like a cross between a Vegas pit boss and a Victorian couch.

In 1975 we were in in Puerto Rico.  Most gifts were shipped in.  To place a catalog order, one had to fill out a complicated order form and calculate price and fees.  Then write out a paper check, and mail the whole thing in.  Once Mr. Sears and Mr. Roebuck received it and the check cleared, a box would be packed and shipped.Mom was panicked because the order she’d placed in mid-September for my gifts hadn’t yet arrived.  My little brother’s presents had been received and wrapped weeks ago.  I knew nothing of this drama.

After unwrapping a spectacular haul, heavy on Barbie and Donnie Osmond, (the original catalog order had finally come), I was about to start opening each box and removing the dolls from their twisty-tie manacles.  Then I planned to dress them in their new duds and have a fashion show.Until my dad asked me to go into the kitchen and fetch him a cup of coffee.  I was more than a little grumpy.  C’mon, I had just opened my gifts!

I’d poured the coffee and turned around before I saw the true motive for Dad’s errand.

A glorious dayglo orange 10-speed bike!  For me!  Convinced the presents would never arrive, she and Dad had gone to the base exchange and bought me a beautiful new pair of wheels.Later I proudly wheeled it outside for a ride.  Along with twenty or thirty other kids.  It seems the exchange had received a huge shipment of one particular model of cantaloupe-hued 10-speeds.  That day a horde of tween Mongols mounted on tangerine bicycles was released upon the streets.  We traveled in packs as wobbly as new-born colts on our brand-new, slightly too-big bikes.x14But it was that 1960s holiday convalescence on the sofa which deeply and irrevocably set a reindeer on rooftop, joyfully over-decorated, scary fruitcake, white Christmas in my heart.It made my expectations high, but my standards low.  In my head is a Currier and Ives print set to the dulcet tones of Johnny Mathis.  But to make me think, “Best Christmas ever!”, all I need is the sound of bells, a glimpse of ribbon and tinsel, a few thousand Christmas carols on a playlist, and the pure crystalline happiness when passersby smile back.x26The Kid calls this annual lunacy my Chistma-thusiasm.

Thanks for your time.

It’s Party Time!


This week’s Indy has a piece of mine that I’ve been working on for a while, had a great time with, and am pretty chuffed at how it came out.  If you’re in the area, pick up a copy because the art folks and my editor turn it into a really cool spread.

If you’re away, here’s the link so you can take a peak.

See you next week.cheeseball.jpgThanks for your time.

Nog me

I was pretty young the first time I had eggnog, and since the grownups didn’t want to deal with a bunch of inebriated preschoolers (kindergarteners can be ugly drunks), my glass came from the kids’ hooch-free punch bowl.The flavor reminded me of when Dad would make a vanilla instant breakfast shake and add vanilla extract.  Only the nog had a strong egg flavor, and it was very milky.  I had given up milk after getting a carton of malodorous, lumpy moo juice during snack time at school.  Yeah, no, egg nog really didn’t move me.

Then a million years later, I was working as a bartender at a country club in Raleigh.  This is actually where my culinary fire was sparked.  I was friends with the kitchen staff, and they were my patient, generous tutors.

It definitely wasn’t Bushwood.  I never saw Bill Murray, not once.

I began to learn the traditions, unwritten rules, and rhythm of a professional kitchen.  I picked up how to observe without getting in the way.  I became familiar with, and learned to appreciate, the black humor that is woven through the very fiber of the denizens of the cook house.

And I learned that one of the very best places in the world to be is on the chef’s good side; especially when he or she develops new recipes and recreates old ones.

One night in early fall, Chef Wes came into the bar office bearing gifts.  It was a tall frosty glass full of what looked like a vanilla milkshake.  I got excited.  He told me it was eggnog.I got bummed.He then informed me it was made using the recipe of George Washington.  Yeah, the father of our country, and evidently, enthusiastic imbiber of spirituous beverages, George Washington.

I got intrigued.

He handed me the glass and I could immediately smell the hooch.  It wasn’t teased by some lightweight eggnog-flavored liqueur, it was chockful of multiple types of hangover-inducing hard liquors.

So, practicing enlightened self-protection, I took a small cautious sip.

First of all, it was boozy.  But not the throat burn-y thing that takes your breath away boozy.  It was mellow.  The alcohol flavor kind of reminded me of one of those fat, hearty gentlemen from a Dickens novel like Mr. Fezziwig; boozy, but jovial and refined.  Does that make any sense?The texture of this egg nog was very different.  It was thick and creamy, like the milkshake I’d mistaken it for.  And it wasn’t too milky or too eggy.  This cold creamy glass of good cheer made me understand what the whole eggnog fuss was about.  When made right, it was really good.

So, below is what scholars and cooks believe was served at our first president’s table.  And since recipes from that era are notoriously skimpy when it comes to details, the directions are from both me, and Chef Wes (Thanks, Chef).

George Washington’s EggnogeggnogOne quart heavy cream

One quart whole milk

One dozen tablespoons sugar (that’s 3/4 cup for you and me)

One pint brandy

½ pint rye whiskey (bourbon works just fine)

½ pint Jamaica rum (Debbie here-no disrespect to the prez, but I’m partial to rum from Puerto Rico)

¼ pint sherry

12 eggs, separated

Mix the alcohol and set aside.  Place egg whites into mixer and beat until they’re glossy and stiff peaks appear.  Remove from bowl and set aside.  Make sure you do the whites first because if there’s any yolk in the whites, they won’t beat into stiff peaks. 

Place yolks and sugar into the mixer bowl and beat on high until it’s the color of butter and runs from the beater in ribbons.  Stir in alcohols, milk and cream.

Then very gently, fold the whites into yolk mixture.

George recommends at this point to let the egg nog rest in a cool place (fridge) for two days before serving. 

Makes one honking punch bowl’s worth.  Enjoy.I hope you enjoy this Colonial nog.  And I hope you get every gift on your list.

But more, I really hope that you, Gentle Reader, and all of your loved ones can spend a few relaxed hours together having fun, and remembering why these are the people that populate your world.

And to all, a good night.

Thanks for your time.