My Pandemic Diary, Entry #28

Ham for Dinner, day one

My Pandemic Diary, Entry #28

Hello Fellow City Cooks,

It’s a gray Monday. No walk for us today as we’re both too busy.  Mark is in his last week of school and has deadlines.  My French lesson got moved from this afternoon to tomorrow which is a good thing since I still haven’t finished my homework. And there’s the usual stack of papers on my desk and calls to make.  We’ll walk tomorrow.

Today another week at home begins. So does Earth Week. It’s been fifty years since the original Earth Day, and the years since then have been such a challenge since we know what to do but can’t, or won’t make the hard choices. But now we’re seeing that the Covid-19 shut-down is, with rapidity, easing our global pollution. The canals in Venice have fish again! You can see the stars in the sky over Delhi! Is it possible that this tragic event we’re now in the midst of could have something good come from it? And can we keep any of it?

A few days ago there was a piece by writer Trish Hall in The Times about what we might personally learn from this experience.  She asks what is “the definition of a good life” and will it change, and will we change, when this isolation and this terror ends? And if we do change, how can we re-imagine our lives?

I, too, have been thinking about what used to be important to me and if that is still the case. To help with this self-therapy, I started making a list of what matters most in my daily life. Writing things down, even those that may seem frivolous, in fact can clarify and reveal. I know I really want to get back to the gym. I've missed that so much that it's palpable. Number two is taking the five-mile power walks I used to do with my friend Barbara through Riverside Park and along the Hudson. She sets a challenging pace, we're outdoors in a beautiful place, and our conversations are wide-ranging and wonderful.

Number three is my hair salon where I’ve been a client for decades. I’ve been in touch with my long-time stylist and colorist, checking on their health and restlessness, and the salon manager has been reaching out to clients, doing the same. It’s that kind of place that makes and keeps real relationships. By the time I am sprung out of Mark's and my hiding place, I may not be recognizable because I am not one of those women who ever wanted to grow out my gray hair. My husband has never known me as not a redhead and I will again be one when this is over.

I’ll share more of this list when I know what’s on it.  For now, I’m not missing much else. Mostly I just want to physically be with my friends and family, to know my city is no longer on fire, and for the dying to stop and the fear to end.

Groceries and Shopping

It had been a long time since I had roasted a ham but the nine-pound half-ham I roasted yesterday turned out beautifully and I was delighted with the result. It was a Cook’s brand spiral-sliced hickory-smoked “city” ham, meaning it was already cooked and just needed to be warmed through. I brought it to room temperature an hour before cooking, lined a roasting pan with foil so not to destroy the pan, removed the ham from its plastic wrapping and placed it cut-side down in the pan. I drizzled and brushed on about half of a jar of red pepper jelly that I had slowly melted in a small saucepan, covered the ham in foil, and baked it for 90 minutes at 300° F.  I then removed the foil, brushed the rest of the melted jelly on the ham, and returned it to the oven for another half-hour.

The low temperature and the foil helped keep the ham from getting dry, which is a risk with a spiral-cut.

This ham turned out so splendidly juicy, with just enough caramelization on its slightly crusty skin, and the glaze adding a touch of both heat and sweetness. I was concerned it would be too salty but it wasn’t. I served it with a new (for me) coleslaw recipe that was a perfect match with the ham – tangy, creamy, and crunchy. Don’t dress the slaw too far in advance or else it will wilt and get watery. And instead of shredding my own cabbages and carrots, I used bags of shredded white and red cabbage; I think both were from Dole.  

Since I ran out of time and energy to make a mustard sauce, I served the ham with jars of Dijon and grainy mustards and a couple of thick slices of just-baked bread which I made yesterday afternoon using a slightly more complicated version of the no-knead bread I usually made, which actually I think is Jim Leahy’s original recipe. It was so superior to other methods I’d used before – this one was like a perfectly cooked ciabatta -- that I’ll only make it this way in the future.  Here’s a YouTube video that is a great help.

And here's the recipe without The Times’ paywall

So Mark and I are headed to ham eternity – it’s just the two of us and we’ve got about eight pounds of baked ham in the fridge. Wish us luck.

Stay safe and have a nice dinner.

Kate McDonough




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