Christmas has come and gone. The gifts have been thought out, purchased, wrapped, received, unwrapped and put away. The guests have come and gone. What remains, however, is a lot of leftovers. Fred and I have done all sorts of things imaginable with all of the leftovers in the fridge - the most creative being a shepherd pie of sorts. We took the leftover prime rib, chopped it up with some carrots, celery and red wine and turned it into a boeuf bourguignon. Then we took the scraps leftover from the domino potatoes, boiled them and made a mash. We put the remains of the winter greens gratin in the mash and stirred it all together. Then we put the bourguignon in a casserole, topped it with the mash and baked it. That was dinner one night. And a snack the next day. The funny thing is that now we have that leftover in the fridge.

I feel like Sisyphus, but my rock is leftover food. Actually, my rock is the ham. We weren’t entirely certain we would have enough food to feed our seven, possibly eight, guests for Christmas dinner (a thought, that in hindsight, was absurd) so we asked Fred’s mom’s boyfriend to bring a ham (he had offered). Needless to say, the ham never even saw the dinner table on Christmas as we had an over abundance of food.

So I sent everyone home with some ham that night. And the next day there were ham sandwiches. And some ham biscuits the day after that. We even had ham and eggs for breakfast the next morning.

But even yesterday, when I opened the fridge, the ham was still there. And a lot of it. I wanted to get the hock to make ham and beans, but there was still so much ham left to use. So, I did what I often do in these situations; I called Mom. You see, my mom makes a killer ham salad.

My mom is also moving back to Virginia in less than two weeks. So right now, any excuse to see, or talk to her is welcomed. In fact, lately, we’ve been talking about five or six times a day. Yesterday it was about ham salad. She told me her recipe and her technique, and while Fred watched football in the den, I took every last shred of meat on that ham, got two chefs knives, and went cray cray on some ham salad. My mom told me Uncle Dougerton especially loves her ham salad, so I delivered some to him today. I also took some to my girls at Lindy & Grundy, since they love anything my mom makes.

Today is New Year’s Eve, and I’m sitting on the sofa, writing this, completely swaddled in the blanket my mom knitted me for this Christmas. She has been working on it for well over a year and it shows. It’s huge. It’s like twenty feet long huge. It’s bright and colorful and filled with different textures and shapes. I know it will be in my life forever. My kids and grandkids will love this blanket. I look at the blanket and I know she touched, and thought about, and poured love into every thread, every millimeter of it. Did she know what she was giving me right before she is moving away? My favorite leftover of them all. An heirloom.

And this recipe for ham salad.

Kathy's Deviled Ham Salad

2 cups ham, really finely chopped
1/4 cup sweet onion, finely diced
1/4 cup celery, finely diced
1 large dill pickle, diced
3 tablespoons mayo
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
Dash of sherry vinegar
Salt and black pepper to taste

Mix all the ingredients together until blended but not too smooth as you want a bit of texture. Taste and adjust any seasoning or add more mayonnaise if you like. A little drizzle of pickle juice is excellent as well.

Yield: About 3 cups. Keeps in the refrigerator for a few days.

Printable recipe.

One year ago: Domino potatoes

Two years ago: Linguine with pancetta mushroom cream sauce
Three years ago: 2009: The Year of the Food Truck


Lighting Up My Life.

I very recently went on a mini vacation to New Orleans. Fred and I were celebrating our one year anniversary. We had a really wonderful time - ate A LOT of food. I had fully intended to write and tell you all about it. I even started on the returning flight.

But then I returned home to some staggering and devastating news about someone very significant to me: Breeda had finally succumbed to a long battle with Cancer. And then Newtown happened. And then my trip really didn't seem relevant, interesting or important anymore.

And so I thought. I thought and I felt. And I cried. Mostly by myself, in my studio.

And here's the thing: I have decided that my trip to New Orleans is actually very relevant right now. New Orleans embodies and exudes a spirit that I have rarely seen anywhere else. Interestingly, here's the only paragraph I had written about my trip on the day I was returning home. Before everything.

As I fly away, over The Big Easy, to return to the City of Angels, I am choked up. I am. Although always, when I visit other cities I very seriously consider whether or not I want to live there, and this visit to New Orleans was no different. I don't think this is where I will necessarily land but there is a love, a friendliness, a kinship and a spirit that I am extremely sad to be flying away from. And I rarely feel this sense of freedom and community, this spirit, in my town. Not as a city. 

Love, spirit, kinship, friendliness. We need those things right now. I really need those things right now. 

In the cab on the way to the airport, on my last morning in New Orleans, I had an extremely chatty driver. I had nary a sip of my coffee and was not exactly in the mood for the banter at first. But then I started to really listen to what he was saying. First he told me about the ubiquitous Cajun-French phrase all Louisianans are familiar with that is literally translated as 'Let the good times roll": "Laissez les bons temps rouler". He talked about the strength and power of the spirit, the joie de vivre, that exists in New Orleans. He told me about his wife and their kids. He told me he has been married for forty years and is still madly in love with his wife. He told me that the very night before, the two of them sat on their front porch and shared a bottle of wine. He told me they uttered only a few words to one another as the sun set, sipping their wine. And he told me that, "although it wasn't anything fancy, mind you, that was one very special bottle of wine". He and his wife were both career school teachers, had retired but lost their pensions during this economic downturn. So, with the kids long grown up and moved away, to make ends meet, his wife picked up a real estate gig, and he started driving a cab. And he was so damned happy.

And while clutching my too-hot-to-drink coffee, under my hat and sunglasses, I cried a little. That same guy that wouldn't stop talking and caused my eyes to roll out of my head in exasperation, now seemed a sage. I never wanted that ride to end. 

I forgot about him until I started doing all of my feeling and thinking and crying about other things. I am so glad I remembered, though. Because yes, there is loss and tragedy and darkness. But there is also so much love, and comedy and light. So, so, so much love.

This is for my Breeda, my third parent, and one of the brightest lights to ever shine: thank you so much for everything you have given me throughout my life - from the 8X10 portraits, to Fictionary and The Infamous Rum Cake, to The Runes, to all of my wonderful boxes, to countless hours of giggles, for your beautiful, lasting friendship with my mother, and for your song. I'm not sure if I ever told you, but you light up my life, too. Laissez les bons temps rouler…

While I was making dinner last night, I became fixated on a pile of pomegranates that have been hanging around since Thanksgiving. I'm not a huge fan of pomegranates, but I didn't want them to go to waste. And then it hit me; pomegranates are supposed to have Cancer fighting properties and are a key element in the Greek myth about how we got our four seasons. Hades and Zeus make a deal; Fall and Winter for Spring and Summer. The pomegranate seemed life-giving and death-dealing. And to top it all off, we can look to the stars, in the story of Orion. Hera, the supreme goddess of women, wears neither a wreath nor a tiara, but clearly the calyx of the pomegranate that has become her serrated crown. What then could be a more perfect item to top our main course, seared duck legs. Though she'd probably pour it over chocolate rather than duck, Breeda would dig it.

This reduction was lovely poured over seared duck legs, but would be beautiful with turkey or pork as well. It would just as nicely work drizzled over an olive oil cake or some creamy vanilla ice cream. Go figure!

Pomegranate-Sherry Reduction

Serves 6

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium shallot, finely diced
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1/2 cup cream sherry
3 cups home-made chicken stock
2 cups pomegranate juice 
2 tablespoons maple syrup
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat, and sweat the onion until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the peppercorns and cook another 3 minutes.
Add the sherryand cook, stirring, until most of it has evaporated. Add the stock, pomegranate juice, syrup, raise the heat to medium-high, and reduce slowly to a sauce consistency. The sauce will turn brownish red. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and add pomegranate seeds.

One year ago: Cassoulet
Three years ago: Aunt Babe's Mashed Potatoes