My brother thinks ham looks too much like human flesh to comfortably consume it so my parents never made it at home. I indulged in traditional glazed hams only at extended family functions. I remember my Uncle Ron preparing grandiose Easter spreads with scalloped potatoes, peas, and the side of all sides: cabbage salad. Wait. Let me explain: this cabbage salad, a recipe of my grandma Adeline’s, is so simple that you’d most likely wonder what the point was, until you pair a little of it alongside a forkful of other things on your plate and then an inner calm rushes over you and everything makes sense in your life, albeit, only for the duration of the meal. The problem is, this cabbage salad is cocaine-like in its allure: you finish your plate but you want more so you get another spoonful, but then you need more meat and potatoes to achieve that flavour combination you got high on earlier. It’s a vicious cycle that usually ends with me taking off my pants, and watching Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility on the couch while I drift in and out of consciousness.
This Easter I decided to do my own dinner –including all the accoutrements–for the Beast and me. I spent an embarrassing amount of time researching my glaze for the Rowe Farms bone-in 1/4 cut ham thing I bought. In the end, I pulled a jar of my homemade apricot jam out of my pantry, added a splash of bourbon, a little maple syrup, fresh thyme, a squirt of dijon, salt and pepper, and crossed my fingers. I must admit that my older, wiser brother is bang on; delicious as it is, ham looks like human. Emotionally, I had a difficult time removing the skin. And I also felt resentful because everybody says, “oh ham is so easy to make. Only a real idiot could mess it up so don’t worry.” But nobody has the courage to tell you about peeling off a layer of dermis that still has fucking whisker things attached to it. That’s messed up.
I had much more fun using my mandolin for scalloped potatoes. I decided to use a simple recipe I found in a Canadian Living cookbook that simply called for butter, cream, salt and pepper. My mom always adds thinly sliced onion as well, so I did too. The peas were easy. I dazzled them up with a little fresh mint and olive oil. That left dessert. Only the cover of Goumet would do for the Beast–and for his older brother and lovely fiance, who I invited over last minute when I realized I wasn’t really making a meal just for two, even if one of us is a savage. It was a port-glazed strawberry torte with a mascarpone filling, and it came out looking exactly like the photo in the magazine.
Everything was going off without a glitch so I decided to open up a bottle of Dolcetto d’Alba before the Beast got home from work and our guests arrived. I was feeling so pleased with myself having just spent a perfect Sunday in my kitchen cooking and baking. And then it hit me: cabbage salad! How could I have neglected this detail? I scooted to the corner store for an Ontario green cabbage, whipped up the dressing of mayonnaise, white vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper, and dinner was saved–fitting for Easter, no?
Our meal was completed by the old-fashioned white dinner rolls that our guests brought which I heated up in the oven. Personally, I thought it to be one of the best meals I’ve ever prepared. Everything came out to the table looking like it was prop-dressing: the ham was glazed to perfection and the scalloped potatoes got all brown and crispy; But it wasn’t just the food that made my first Easter dinner a success: our guests far outshone anything on the table, including that bottle of Côtes de Rhône I”d been saving for an occasion as lovely as this.
Foodie: ***1/2 Beast: ***