November 19

Make Holiday Reservations. Roast Duck.

Days Until. . .

Thanksgiving--9
Christmas--35
New Year's--43

Food Calendar

Today is National Whole Ham Day. I cannot imagine Thanksgiving without a turkey. But I also cannot imagine it without a ham. It's not just because I like ham. It's also because I love the way the house smells when this ham is in the oven. As it is all morning Thanksgiving. And I love the way the early arrivals fight over the black ham--the crusty stuff I cut off at the beginning of the carving, coated with the brown-sugar-and-mustard black crunchy stuff. And I like to contrast of color and flavor with the turkey, even though the two are sliced more or less the same. A whole baked ham is a joy far beyond the more familiar deli sliced ham. The texture and flavor change completely in the baking. I found this out the hard way, when one year I used a bigger ham than usual and didn't bake it long enough. Nor did I leave it out overnight to take the chill off. I had a temperature reading of over 150 degrees after four hours of baking (the ideal is 160). When I cut in, the difference in color and texture between the center and the outer two-thirds was alarming and disconcerting. The most common baked hams these days are those spiral-sliced jobs you find in specialty ham stores and supermarkets. I've had my share of them, but I haven't bought one for years. I like the ones I bake myself better. Not just because I have a good recipe, but because I'm starting with a better ham than the ham shops do. Those hams ate too sweet and sliced far too thickly for my taste, too. There's only one thing wrong with a baked ham: getting rid of it. (You've heard that Dorothy Parker definition of eternity as two people and a ham.) We have a lot of people over for Thanksgiving, and everybody who wants it gets a big chunk of ham to take home. But we do all sort of things with what we have leftover. Sandwiches and omelettes of course, but red beans and jambalaya, too.

Deft Dining Rule #5355

When buying a country ham, always buy the left leg. It's slightly smaller but more tender. [This is a matter of controversy.--Tom.]

Deadlines In Dining

This is Make Holiday Reservations Day. It really is. And it's a smart observance. With Thanksgiving dining on most people's minds, only planners of private Christmas parties have bothered to make reservations for the month of December. But after Thanksgiving dinner, people talk about how nice it would be to get together in a restaurant around Christmas. The weekend tables in the best restaurants fill shortly thereafter (they're already largely booked). Then the weekdays start filling in. Wait until a few days before, and you may be out of luck for restaurants you'd really love to dine in. There is no reason in the world to wait any longer. Do it today. By the way, we're not only talking about Christmas but New Year's Eve--the busiest restaurant night of the year, already completely booked in some restaurants. Having a table of six reserved on a good night in a great place gives you a valuable resource for celebration.

When you make your reservations, keep in mind the Reveillon dinners. Throughout New Orleans, forty establishments will offer these delightful, affordable holiday-themed dinners. The menus are already posted here.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Sweet Potato Creek is a short, pondlike, tidal drainage into the Bohemia River. That's the uppermost reach of Chesapeake Bay, up in the northeast corner of Maryland. It's seventy miles from Baltimore. Sweet Potato Creek's banks are lined with substantial homes, most of which have private docks on the Bohemia. It's an easy walk from the creek to the nearest restaurant, The Beach Grill Plus, a half-mile away in Hack Point.

Edible Dictionary

chess pie, n.--A staple dessert of the American South, chess pie is most succinctly described as a pecan pie without the pecans. It also resembles a custard pie, except that it's made without milk, and usually sweetened with corn syrup. It's also common for the crust to be made with cornmeal or corn flour instead of wheat flour. It has no top crust. Chess pie is usually very sweet; some bakers add a little vinegar to the custard to offset this. The origin of the name is something of a mystery. The story that rings most true (or it could be that it's just the most entertaining one) is that it's the expression "just pie" (as planin old pie) said with a Southern accent. It does not seem to have anything to do with the game of chess.

Deft Dining Rule #105:

Be a regular customer in at least one important restaurant. It comes in handy at busy times of year.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

The best stuffing for a small bird (Cornish hen or smaller) is a dense forcemeat of pork, veal, or chicken, with a little chicken liver in there, too.

Food Namesakes

Ann Curry, news anchor for the Today show for awhile, was born today in 1956. . . Benjamin Chew, the chief justice of Pennsylvania before the Revolution, was born today in 1722. . . Screenwriter Sam Hamm, who wrote the script for the first modern Batman movie, among many others, gave his first line of dialog today in 1955.

Words To Eat By

"Ham's substantial, ham is fat.
Ham is firm and sound.
Ham's what God was getting at
When He made pigs so round."--Roy Blount, Jr.