I spent a fair bit of today making our Easter dinner. The easy part (and the only really expensive part) was the ham: I bought it from a really good place-that-sells-meat here in Wollongong (Illawarra Smallgoods I think they're actually called something like Illawarra Meat & Deli now), and when the time came I trimmed off the bits I didn't want, chucked it in a big ol' roasting pan, and turned the heat on. So that was easy. I didn't bother glazing it or anything, because it doesn't really end up flavoring the meat very much, does it, to have a little bit of sticky stuff clinging to the outside layer of fat, which I for one refuse to eat anyway?
Instead, I made a raisin sauce. Except I forgot that in Australia (unlike amongst my own people), supermarkets are all closed on Easter! All of them! And I had no raisins. And no dry mustard. So off I went after church to see if any of the convenience stores had either product. The only thing I could come up with was a bottle of "American-style mustard," the kind you squirt onto your hotdogs if you're into that sort of thing. Oh well, okay. The raisins were still a bit of a problem. But I remembered! We had grapes! And a food dehydrator! Yay! So I cut up a bunch of grapes (so they would dry up faster) and started them in the dehydrator. Then I got stuck into the alchemy that would make this sauce great: cloves, cardamom pods, juniper berries (yes! I'd just bought some at the really-good-place-that-sells-cheap-vegetables-and-lots-of-ethnic-food, and I was dying to try them out), black pepper, and salt. I boiled these up in a little bit of water and let them steep for, oh, a long time, maybe even an hour. Then I took the bits out and replaced them with a bunch of brown sugar, two squirts of mustard, and a splash (just a tiny one) of additional vinegar ("American-style" mustard already has tons in it). Then I added the grapes-that-weren't-quite-shriveled-enough-to-call-raisins, and a little bit of cornstarch-and-water slurry and let it simmer for a while. I pretty much invented this recipe based on about a dozen I read on the Internet, and I'm happy to say the spicing was incredibly subtle and absolutely inspired. I HATE mustard as a rule, but this sauce came out aromatic and piquant and sweet and just exactly what I wanted for the ham.
Then came the mashed potatoes: two different kinds of potato, don't ask me what they were because I grabbed them from the bottom shelf of the cupboard and didn't think twice about it. I boiled them and mashed them with garlic-and-herb butter left over from making garlic bread the other night, a ton of fresh parmesan (grated, of course), a bit of salt, and a splash of cream.
The veggies were just plain, steamed veggies have to have some white space in a meal, after all.
The breads were of two kinds: some AMAZING whole-wheat soda bread (my Ulsterman husband reliably informs me that this is referred to back in the Old Country simply as "wheaten") that Margaret made, and a stunning loaf of rye bread I made WITH caraway mark me, Australia, this is how it should be done: WITH caraway. Went fabulously with the ham, as Americans have known for generations.
Dessert was a plate of strawberries, apples, plums, cheddar cheese, and some (homemade) candied walnuts and almonds.
I am full of food that not only tasted good, but had subtle and sophisticated (and maybe some not-so-subtle) flavors, top-quality ingredients*, and careful (if somewhat innovative) preparation. If there's one thing I learned from my few days in France and Belgium a while back, it was to appreciate this sort of food. It really, truly does make a difference. There's food that tastes pretty good and that's all. Then there's food that just brings it to that next level. That's the food that's good for your soul.
And making a meal such as this for my family doubly good for the soul.
*Please note: top-quality does not have to mean expensive all the time. The only item on that menu that I really had to shell out the bucks for was, as I mentioned, the ham. I even got the almonds on sale. I will admit, however, that I would have preferred to use dry mustard rather than that bottle of "American-style." But it all worked out in the end.