It’s funny, but I seem to be really in the habit of posting. It’s been nagging me all weekend, that I should post something – although I’m just as glad I don’t have any more Jell-O recipes that I have to do.
The Freak Mountain furnace issue continues to drag on. Last Sunday, it turned out that we did have a frozen pipe somewhere in the downstairs radiators, so there was no heat at all down there. Local plumbers were overwhelmed because so many people were getting frozen pipes in the unusually long stretch of extreme cold weather, and we couldn’t get anyone to help us. After staying up all night to monitor the pipes and a couple of space heaters, Bryan and I stayed home from work on Monday and were there to quickly handle the situation and minimize damage when a pipe burst in the afternoon, although we did have to spend that night in the house with no heat at all, and no water. (Luckily, there was plenty of snow in the yard to melt for toilet flushing.) On Tuesday, we were able to get a plumber to replace the broken pipes, and the January thaw made the situation more manageable, but our furnace specialist proved elusive. We had to go over his head to the distributor, and that got him to finally return my calls. He came over on Saturday, diagnosed the problem with the furnace – and said he would need to get a part and might not be able to complete the repair until at least next Wednesday.
Sigh. The plumber did show us a little magic trick, which involves turning the hot water in the kitchen sink on and off a few times, to get the heat going when it cuts out for no apparent reason well shy of the target temperature. So the furnace is limping along under our careful ministrations, keeping the pipes warm so that they won’t freeze again. The house is topsy-turvy because we moved furniture and brought books, record albums, and electronics upstairs to prevent damage from burst pipes. The television is sitting on the kitchen island. My office upstairs is the warmest room in the house, so we’ve been using it as a living room, watching videos on my computer in the evenings. Our routine has been upended, and we’ve been spending a lot of quiet time in the house, listening for the ticking of the radiators as the heat comes on, ready to do the hot-water-tap trick again if it’s too quiet for too long.
What’s that got to do with joy? Well, over this MLK Day weekend, I’ve been thinking about the African-American struggle for equality and justice – not that I claim to be the most “woke” middle-aged white lady around, but these things do cross my mind, and in the context of this blog it’s because a lot of the joy in the New Joy of Jell-O Project has come from the music of some great African-American artists. As regular readers might remember, for quite some time as I’ve been cooking I’ve been listening to my “Galaxy News Radio” Pandora channel, which features artists like the Ink Spots, Roy Brown, Billie Holiday, the Mills Brothers, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat “King” Cole, Louis Jordan, Count Basie, Ray Charles… and on and on. I listen to those artists, and I think about what their lives were like under Jim Crow, and I am awed that they were still able to put so much joy into those recordings.
When I’m feeling beat down by circumstances, like I am today, I wonder how they did it. I wonder at the resilience it must take to work to have a good and meaningful and joyful life despite systemic oppression. I recognize that my tale of woe at the beginning of this post comes from a privileged place. What I really want to say is that I have great respect for the struggle, and profound gratitude to the people who have undergone it and managed to share the joy they’ve found within themselves…
I am having a weirdly hard time posting about the final recipe from The New Joys of Jell-O. First, I procrastinated for a few days. Then, I wrote up a draft last night. This morning I was up hours before the crack of dawn because something in the heating system at Freak Mountain crapped out last night, and we’ve been trying to figure it out, doing what we can to prevent pipes from freezing, and monitoring the situation (downstairs is literally refrigerator-cold as I write this) – and during the “monitoring” phase I thought I’d edit and upload the photos and finish off the draft. I started having some technical difficulties, so I logged out and logged back in again, and while my photos were there in my WordPress store, the draft I wrote up yesterday had vanished. It figures.
Orange Pineapple-Glazed Ham is also my last Orange Boycott recipe, which I am, again, glad to do after the utterly ridiculous week the U.S. has just had. I made this on Wednesday, just as excerpts from Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House were coming out in the media, following closely on the heels of the infamous “my button is bigger than his button” tweet. Enough already!
Anyway. It seemed weird to just, like, bake a ham on its own, so I decided to build a meal around it. My vague recollections of the ham dinners of my youth mainly involve potatoes and cabbage (I only ever got to experience the most boring aspects of my Irish heritage), and I didn’t want to do that because it’d stink up the house, so I thought I’d head in a southern direction and do hoppin’ john for New Year’s, with a side of corn bread. That would have made a great New Year’s Eve post, which is partly why I was so cranky about being sick and not being able to do it. Still, better late than never…
I got started a few hours before I expected Bryan to be home from work so that dinner would be ready when he was (a rare instance of me being a good wifey), and began with the corn bread. I used the basic recipe from my 1980s-vintage Betty Crocker cookbook, and aside from a little difficulty incorporating the shortening into the batter (we bought a can of Crisco specifically for this) it went well. As I greased the baking pan with Crisco, something I had done many times when baking things from mixes as a kid, I was struck by how familiar the motion felt, although I hadn’t done it in many years. Muscle memory is a very interesting thing.
While the corn bread was baking, I got to work on the mise en place for the hoppin’ john. I used this recipe, but there are a lot of them out there, lots of variations, the main constant being black-eyed peas. Apparently the idea is that if you eat frugally on New Year’s Day, you’ll have a prosperous year. It is a fairly economical dish, and also hearty and tasty and easy to make. I chopped up an onion, a green pepper, and a few celery stalks, minced a few cloves of garlic; softened it all up in hot olive oil; added a quart of broth, a well-soaked pound of black-eyed peas, and the seasonings; gave it a stir and left it for a good, long simmer.
At some point, the corn bread was done (all nice and crusty and golden brown) and I left that on the stove top to keep warm. I won’t lie, one of the great things about making this dinner was that I had the oven going from beginning to end, and I was thrilled to get overheated without being feverish.
Next was the ham. Really, the hardest part about making
Orange Pineapple-Glazed Ham was finding the ham. The recipe calls for a two-pound canned ham. The first place we looked was the supermarket within walking distance of Freak Mountain. They had one-pound canned hams. A one-pound ham is an oddly small ham, and I thought I could do better. We went back to Freak Mountain, got the car, and drove to the Super Stop’n’Shop, where we found the shelf in the meat department where the canned hams should be, but there were no hams. Someone from the meat department came out to help us, and when we told him what we were looking for he said that if there were no hams on the shelf they were probably sold out. We thanked him, and while we were mulling over going to a third store, he came up to us with a ham he’d found in the stockroom. There was one problem – it was a five-pound ham. Did I want to buy a ham that was more than twice what I needed, or did I want to keep driving around looking for a ham of just the right size? Naturally, laziness won out. I tried not to think about what would happen to the other three pounds of ham.
When the time came, since I was making this a week after I’d planned on doing it, I thought I’d better be safe and check the use-by date on the ham. I needn’t have worried – it said “April 2020”. Not quite post-apocalypse survival fare, but not bad.
I cut what I judged to be a two-pound chunk off of the ham, placed it in a baking dish, studded the top with cloves, and doused it in a mixture of a quarter-cup ham juice, a firmly-packed half cup of brown sugar, and a three-ounce packet of Island Pineapple Jell-O. The directions say to bake it in a 325℉ oven until heated through, about a half an hour, basting frequently. There was quite a bit of sugar/Jell-O syrup in the pan, so that was not hard to do, and it meant I got to stay nice and toasty warm as it was cooking. Mmmmm, oven heat…
While that was happening, I set some Carolina rice cooking in the rice maker. Everything was done when Bryan got home.
The whole thing turned out well, better than my early Thanksgiving dinner. I was happy with the corn bread, and the hoppin’ john (my first, either making or eating) had a recognizably “southern” flavor to it. (That might have been helped along by the ham cubes I added to it.) I could see myself making it again, and I think I would play around with the seasoning a bit. One of the things I had to do was substitute a “smoke powder” for the liquid smoke specified in the recipe, and I may have used a little too much of that.
As for the
Orange Pineapple-Glazed Ham, when I took the first bite, I thought to myself, “This is what ham should taste like.” It’s just as well I didn’t do a video (recovering from the flu bug, I didn’t look or sound so hot) because there was no grimacing or groaning at all. Frankly, apart from being salty, canned ham is a pretty bland piece of meat, so the sugar and pineapple flavoring could only have helped. In fact, I would guess that pineapple-flavored gelatin is a better choice for this than orange, Trump or no Trump.
I ate a whole slice (not bad, considering I couldn’t finish my portion of hoppin’ john) and Bryan had two. Meanwhile, there was so much of the sugar/Jell-O syrup in the baking dish that, in hindsight, I probably could have just done the whole five-pound ham in it. As it is, we’re wasting less of the ham than I expected. Not only did I add some to the hoppin’ john, but also I think Bryan brought a ham sandwich to work on Friday, and yesterday we had fried ham with eggs for breakfast.
I’ll probably make the usual charitable donations anyway, once the current household crisis is over. Now that I’m done cooking through the book, I need to find another way to do this regularly. One thing I’ll say for this Project, it’s definitely helped me up my philanthropy game.
I’m not sure what I’ll be doing with the blog going forward, but in the near future, at least, I plan to post some New Joy of Jell-O Project stats – how much of each flavor, how much Cool Whip, an estimate of how much I’ve spent, that sort of thing. Just out of curiosity. I feel the need to sum up, somehow. Just not now. When I’m warm and adequately rested…