Tag Archives: holidays

Virgin Recipe: (Not Orange) Pineapple-Glazed Ham

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!

a canned ham, brown sugar, pineapple Jell-O, whole cloves

(Not Orange) Pineapple Glazed Ham ingredients

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.

black-eyed peas, veggies and ham chunks over rice

Hoppin’ John á la Freak Mountain

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.

rectangular hunk of canned ham with cloves stuck in the top and coated with brown sugar/Jell-O glaze

(Not Orange) Pineapple Glazed 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.

table set with meal

Ham dinner with hoppin’ john and corn bread

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…

Holiday Musings

the god Saturn under attack by the Grinch and Robot Santa

“The War on Saturnalia”, by Me

My editorial calendar gave me a “free week” before another savory Jell-O this weekend, and I happened to have some extra free time because MIT gave us a relatively generous holiday schedule, an extra day each for Christmas and New Years. Woo! (I’m a little bitter because Harvard gives Bryan the whole week off. Yes, I’m a churl. We’re both really lucky.) Anyway, I figured I might as well fire up my “Holidazed” playlist in iTunes and do a  holiday post.

To tell the truth, I’ve been procrastinating badly since I started this post. I even blew away a whole afternoon wading in the swamp at the heart of YouTube where Millennials with millions of followers create drama with each other to get more followers, which gets them money somehow. I was simultaneously appalled and baffled. It probably would have been a more productive afternoon if I had hit myself over the head repeatedly with a blunt object. The point is, I did it to avoid working on this post, because I am not into the holidays, to say the least.

short-needled pine tree, white lights, assorted ornaments

Freak Mountain Holiday Tree 2016

It’s not that I dislike the holiday season. I’m not into the widely decried (and yet widely indulged) crass commercialism, and as an atheist, Christmas has no spiritual meaning for me, but I dig all the pagan trappings, which make a lot of practical sense to me. The evergreens and lights and decorations really help in getting through the darkest part of the year here in the northern hemisphere. (Summertime Christmas in Australia must be so weird…)

But I’m from what used to be called “a broken home”, and it was broken well before my parents officially separated when I was 14, so my holiday memories are not all that merry and bright.

When you’re a little kid and you don’t know any better, whatever is happening to you at the time seems normal, but with time and perspective, some of our holiday practices don’t seem so normal. For instance, when I was maybe five years old, my father got a super-8 movie camera (perhaps because some dumb kid, probably not me, put Vaseline in the still camera) and from then on he was the Cecil B. DeMille of our family holidays. We kids couldn’t come downstairs, not even to peep through the living room doorway at the tree and whatever was under it, until Mr. DeMille had taken out the camera and the bright light, plugged in the light, and got himself situated on the landing. Then, on cue, we were allowed to pad down to the bottom of the stairs in our footie pajamas – where we had to stand waiting while Mr. DeMille moved the camera setup to the far side of the living room, from which he could film us pouncing on our presents. The camera work probably took longer than the resulting three-minute silent holiday film reels, and it’s a good thing they were silent, because there was usually a fair amount of scolding and crying during our childish orgy of greed and disappointment – but they mostly looked festive, and that was what counted.

Not long after the introduction of the movie camera, I think between the second-to-last and last children, Santa gave up on wrapping our presents. Maybe he’d needed to let some elves go during the economically-depressed 1970s and had to cut corners. Instead, he arranged the gifts in piles, and our stockings (fleecy red ones with our names written in glue-and-gold-glitter on the fleecy white cuffs, lumpy with the old-fashioned stuffing of oranges, nuts and chocolates) were placed on top to indicate which pile was meant for which child. I should note here that my mother did not work outside the home, so maybe if Santa wasn’t so proud he might have asked her to help out.

ceramic letters with elves frolicking on them, meant to spell out NOEL

LEON, an old family tradition

When I was a kid, I thought my uncles were funny, but now I suspect that they may have helped shape my sarcastic and rather dark sense of humor. They were all military veterans, and some had served overseas in the Vietnam War. The grownups did what they could to shelter us from the damage that the war had done to the extended family (in part because my family mostly supported the war) and I still get a kick out of something that my uncles did that annoyed my grandmother. She had a ceramic NOEL set similar to the one in the photo above, and my uncles would rearrange the letters when she wasn’t looking. LEON was the favorite, but sometimes it would be LONE, or ELON. I have a couple of these sets now, which I call my LEONs, that are part of the holiday decor at Freak Mountain. This year, Bryan rearranged the letters to spell “LENO”, and the tradition carries on…

After my parents separated, the holidays started to fall apart in various ways, and not only because my siblings and I were getting too old to wear footie pajamas. At the same time, cracks were showing in the façade of the extended family, and the holidays just got sadder and sadder. That might be partly why, when I went off to college, I started dating Jewish guys. That kind of let me off the hook for celebrating Christmas if I didn’t feel like it.

My first holiday season living on my own, my boyfriend A– and I had a Winter Solstice party, and we continued to do that when we moved to Fandom House. Our Solstice parties were legendary. Friends would come up from New York and DC and crash on our floors or at the homes of other local friends, and a party would last a weekend. Of course, that couldn’t last. “The Original Series” of Fandom House moved out, and we got older and more responsible and less able to spare an entire weekend to party. Bryan and I moved into an apartment on our own, and the holidays were (and still are) awkward because Bryan was raised to think of himself as a Jew. We’ve had Chanukah bushes and solstice trees and no decorations at all, but have never settled on our own holiday routine, so I don’t really feel like the holidays are mine.

decorated spritz cookies shaped like trees, wreaths and ornaments

My Christmas cookies

It sounds stupid, but what I miss most are the cookies. One of my aunts did a ton of baking at the holidays, so there were all kinds of beautiful cookies – spritz cookies, chocolate and vanilla pinwheels, linzer tarts, snowball cookies, gingerbread cookies, and more that I can’t remember, but damn, being an adult sucks when you can’t have all the cookies you want. I don’t know how my aunt did it, because she also worked outside the home as some sort of medical technician and had a child. Even if I had a way to make sure Bryan and I wouldn’t eat all those cookies ourselves, I’d never have time to do all that baking. So I compromise by baking a batch of spritz cookies (which I love because they’re simple, buttery, and not too sweet), and I bring some to the Lab, and Bryan and I eat too many, but hey, it’s only once a year, right?

And now, as I finish writing this post, it’s New Year’s Eve, and I’m relieved that the holiday season is almost over. I have a weird Jell-O recipe firming up in the fridge, and stuff lined up to look forward to in 2017. I don’t think I’ll get all the way through The New Joys of Jell-O by the end of the year, but I’ll be pretty close. Meanwhile, I’ve got something very exciting planned for my 50th birthday, and then in April I’ll be doing a weekend crash course in becoming a rock star – so stay tuned!

If anyone’s reading this, I hope you had a joyous, or at least peaceful holiday season, and that you have something to look forward to in the coming year.

Oh, and 2016 – don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.