Sunday, December 15, 2013

Baked Ham (with recipe)

My parents used to bring me along to Uncle and Aunty Brown's home for their Christmas buffet lunch. There was the quintessential Eurasian spread that included Curry Devil.  But the highlights for me were the poached salmon and the honey baked ham from Cold Storage.

Last year, I had my niece's boyfriend courier back to Singapore eight pounds of expensive beef tenderloin and a chunk of ham that by comparison, cost less than US$20. The latter was the bigger hit and my sisters absolutely relished it.  They were in disbelief that the ham was reasonably priced because they usually bought one from the Cricket Club that cost a lot more.

Well, I stumbled on this brand called '"Cook's" more than a decade ago.  The ham was offered in shank or butt portion, already smoked and then shrink wrapped and tossed in the refrigerated area of The Food Emporium meat section.  Nothing fancy.  Since then, I've never been interested in the other types of spiral ham that come with a sachet of maple glaze.  These days though, I find it increasingly hard to find the "Cook's" label.  I once resorted to Smithfield's, assuming that Smithfield was the equivalent for ham as Bresse is for chicken in France - high grade provenance.....until of course, my husband explained that Smithfield was a big brand pretty much like Tyson's for chicken.  And recently, I discovered that Cook's is now part of Smithfield.  Oh well.  Virginia, needless to say, comes to mind when I think of ham.  I remember checking out the smoke house in George Washington's Mount Vernon, where he smoked the meat.

I used the recipe I came across in the New York Times - a simple one from the Shakers. A few years later, my friend's parents who lived in Kolkata, gave me the winning tip.  That I should soak the ham overnight in beer, like the British soldiers did when they lived in the military barracks in India.  Eversince, the ham has been a popular and almost-permanent fixture come Christmas and Easter.

Hopefully, wherever you may be, you will find a hunk of a ham for this recipe.


9 pounds partially cooked ham shank (preferred brand – Cook’s)
6 bottles beer
3 cups water, or more
½ cup honey
½ cup cornmeal
½ cup cloves  


The night before, unwrap the ham, rinse and pat dry.  Trim excess fat.  Place the ham in a large pot.  Pour beer into the pot and add enough water to cover the ham completely. Leave to soak overnight.

On the day of cooking, bring the pot to a boil, then simmer (15 minutes a pound).  Drain liquid and let the ham cool completely on a baking tray. 

Cover the ham with honey, powder with cornmeal and pierce with cloves, about 1 inch apart. 

Preheat oven to 370 degrees F and bake the ham for 30 minutes.

Serve at room temperature. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Meow Meow - An Extraordinary Journey We've Had

My sisters and I sometimes called my mother "Killjoy".  She pulled out our garden plants as if they were weeds, cleared out my father's large fish tanks, rejected freshly slaughtered chickens because they were too skinny, bundled my stuffed animals into large plastic bags and hid them high up the cupboards never to be touched again.  She was not a fan of keeping pets.  Her excuse was "Minatang ada kuman, nanti kena asthma" (Animals have dustmites, fleas and ticks and you may get asthma too). I once kidnapped a not-so-bright Pekingnese dog who had lost his way and named him Harry.  My mother soon called up my famous Kohpoh Beng Neo who swiftly hauled a cab and re-kidnapped my dog.  She came all decked out in her sarong kebaya.  She renamed the dog Brownie because 'Harry' sounded too much like Lee Kuan Yew.  Then the dog died many years later and Kohpoh cried like mad. Eventually, my mother revealed the reason for her steel-hearted attitude towards pets.  It hurts too much when they die.  She had confided in my sister Molly that she once had a fluffy cat and it saddened her when her pet died.

I've since understood this aspect of my mother, experiencing the same piercing sense of loss and devastation when an old companion departs.  It was a warmer day this past Wednesday.  I cleared my schedule of all my mundane routines - my cat deserved a special day and I wanted to spend it alone with him.  We went to Central Park, a place I always wanted to bring him after coming all the way to NY to join me.  Luckily, we had made it twice before but I knew that today would be his last.  We sat on a huge rock watching the ducks and the tourists and listening to the busker in the background.  "Why didn't I do this more often with you, Meow?", I thought to myself.  The kids are in school now and we could have done this more often.  Reluctantly, I packed up and walked an aimless wander through Fifth Avenue, revisiting the old building which had been our first home.  Lou the doorman comforted me.  (Coincidentally, we now live in a building that replaced the petshop we visited to stock up on his bowl and food when he first arrived.)  As we turned around the corner towards the vet, Meow Meow groaned.  He knew.  Tears streamed down my face and I was a blur of confusion for the rest of the day.

Our special day in Central Park

While working in China, I purchased Meow Meow for US$40 from a Beijing pet shop when he was a two-month-old kitten.   In August 1997, he flew to New York alone to join me. The next evening, I met my husband Tracy for a second time and his opening line was “You have a cat, I have one too!”  Thus began a friendship that ultimately led to a happy marriage and two wonderful kids.  That was Meow Meow’s best legacy.

As with any pet, MM had his unique antics.  He loved baths and would signal that he wanted one by knocking the bottles into the tub, chewed on roses (an excuse Tracy gave for seldom sending me flowers), learnt to roll on the floor and could somersault when we held him – much like his Chinese Olympic compatriots.  Our guests remember him for sneaking off with leftovers in the kitchen.  Yet, Tracy and I called him Howard Hughes for often being the recluse, hiding in the bedroom during our parties. 

A cat that loved Christmas trees and would notify us of the water level, he died two hours before the Rockefeller tree was lit up for the first time this holiday season. 

Meow Meow paced back and forth on the first night when we brought Lizzie home, not knowing what to do with a fellow little creature.  Lizzie turns ten this month and over the years, Meow Meow became her faithful companion.  We will always miss him.  Irreplaceable, memorable – my very best friend.  

Indonesia in Amsterdam

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