Southern Maryland stuffed ham: A local delicacy


We’re known for a few things in my small but proud home state of Maryland. One is blue crabs, of course; our seafood — and affinity for it — are legendary. If you’re into sports, you might respect the University of Maryland’s men’s basketball team (and lots of other sports, too). Perhaps you’ve been to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor or admired the waterfront in Annapolis, our capital.

But if you’re from down my way — Southern Maryland, as opposed to the richy-rich northern areas or the Eastern Shore — you might know us for our ham.

That’s right: ham.

I was first introduced to the delicacy that is Southern Maryland stuffed ham by a friend from work. Sandy invited me to join she and a group of girlfriends who gather each year to “stuff hams” for Thanksgiving.

After I got over my initial confusion at the phrase “ham stuffing,” which always prompts a raised eyebrow or two, I went. And had an awesome time.

The premise of a stuffed ham is simple: you take a big ol’ piece of corned ham, typically deboned, and create a “stuffing” consisting of cabbage, kale, crushed red pepper, onions, dry mustard seed, pepper and salt. Once that thing is stuffed, you bake it — and then enjoy. Recipes vary from cook to cook and county to county, but this one is pretty close to the handwritten one I photocopied from Sandy — as far as ingredients go, anyway. Based on preference, they can be mild or spicy.

However you choose to prepare or purchase yours, Southern Maryland stuffed ham is a delicacy you won’t soon forget — and it tastes even better the next day with spicy mustard. I love kale and all sorts of “disgusting” vegetables, so this sort of thing is right up my alley. It’s a delightful addition to our Thanksgiving table, and if no one else in the family likes it, well . . .

More for me. (How tragic, right?)

From my pumpkin-pie-eating face to yours, I hope y’all have a wonderful holiday. Enjoy the day, stuff your face and then get ready to plunge into Black Friday shopping. I’ll be out at 6 a.m. (or thereabouts) before heading into the office, so wish me luck!


Happy Thanksgiving!


Healthier green bean casserole

Of all the side dishes I crave during the holidays, nothing tickles my fancy quite like green bean casserole. If I had to guess, I’d chalk it up to the delicious French fried onions — a food I couldn’t tolerate on anything else, but can’t live without on this holiday treat.

But as I try to get more into shape (in theory, anyway), I’m looking for new and healthier ways to prepare the dishes I already like. In a recent edition of the health magazine I edit, I was looking for “healthy twists” on seasonal classics — and that’s how I came across this recipe for a lower-fat, lower-sodium version of my beloved casserole.

Spencer and I made it a few weeks back when I was taste-testing all the recipes included in our fall issue (a horrible, terrible job, I know), and I was very pleased with how it turned out! Though I missed the salty over-the-top cheesiness of the classic one my mom makes, this was a great alternative that I didn’t make me feel totally guilty after doing an hour of Zumba.

Because I’m as obsessed with mushrooms as I am with cheese, I added a can of sliced mushrooms to this baby, too. If you’re not a fan, just leave them out. No harm, no foul. And though the recipe decidedly does not call for any cheese, I added a little shredd parmesan beneath the french fried onions. But don’t tell anyone.

Though we cherish our beloved family recipes, this verison might be a good way to cut down on a few calories this season . . . though I know it’s a drop in a bucket. Still, every little bit(e) counts, right?


Healthier Green Bean Casserole

Recipe from Allrecipes.com

Ingredients:
1 (10.75 ounce) can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1/4 cup milk (2% fat or skim)
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 pound cut fresh green beans, cooked and drained
2 tablespoons French’s French Fried Onions

Directions:
1. Mix the soup, milk, onion powder, black pepper, soy sauce and green beans in a 1 1/2-quart casserole.
2. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes or until hot.
3. Stir the green bean mixture. Top with the onions. Bake for 5 minutes more or until the onions are golden brown.


Green bean casserole

Wishing you a happy Thanksgiving

I’ve always kept busy. I like schedules, plans, lists; I enjoy regimenting out my day, even when I complain of being tired and stressing. Staying busy is my way of attempting to control life, I think. It’s my way of keeping the power. I control the calendar, you see — not the other way around. I make all the decisions. I dictate life.

That’s not true, of course. Life has a way of doing what it will and taking you down its own path, regardless of what you thought would happen or planned to happen. And on days like Thanksgiving — days filled with pies, green bean casserole, my extended family and awesome boyfriend — I’m reminded of how fortunate, and thankful, I am for the many things in my life. And that I need to slow down and stop structuring everything. That I can, in fact, relax. (. . . Sometimes!)

On Thanksgiving 2009, I was preparing for my first column to debut in our local newspapers and traipsing over to my grandparents’ home for Turkey Day. This year, we’ll be welcoming everyone to my family’s house for the first time ever. Spencer and his parents, in town from New York, will be joining us, too — and I’m so excited everyone will be together! I’ll be baking today and tomorrow with Ciara, my darling cousin, and my little sister, Kate; we’ll be watching the Thanksgiving Day parade while writing out Christmas cards (want one?), an annual tradition.

When Spencer gets here, I’ll be making goo-goo eyes at him and thinking about how lucky I am to have met someone so wonderful at a time when I wasn’t sure that would be possible. When I was smarting from rejection and hopeful, but wondering if that was foolish. It wasn’t. I am grateful.

I will be with my mom and dad, grandma and grandpa — my aunts, uncles and cousin. We’ll be talking and sharing, and I’ll be taking photos. Exhaustion will probably set in by 6 p.m., but I’ll keep moving — and soaking up every awesome minute.

For my friends in the U.S., here’s hoping this finds you all happy, well and enjoying the holiday with those closest to you! I’ll soon be noshing on pumpkin pie and Southern Maryland stuffed ham (the greatest!), and I hope you all have a very happy Thanksgiving.

Serving up a little Waldorf salad for the holidays

Growing up, I used to get really excited when someone would mention “Waldorf salad,” that creamy, delicious and fruity concoction that was a staple on the buffet where my family would often go for dinner. Growing up in Waldorf, Md., it was years before I realized that the side dish wasn’t named for my hometown but the Waldorf Hotel (later the Waldorf-Astoria) in New York City, where it originated.

Wednesday was my office’s Thanksgiving potluck, an annual tradition that serves as a warm-up for the main meal to come next week. All the staples were there: sweet potatoes with crunchy marshmallows; moist turkey; glazed ham; greens and potatoes and pumpkin pie. When I went to sign up, most of the foods we associate with Thanksgiving were already “claimed” by my coworkers — and I wasn’t sure what to bring.

“How about fruit?” Sandy, my friend and officemate, suggested.

Fruit. Fruit at Thanksgiving? I’m all about the rich, hot, creamy and fatty foods. Fruit seems like the unwanted distant relative who crashes the party and gets ridiculously drunk, you know? The one who then shares all the family secrets. “What is he doing here?” you think. “Who invited him?”

Well, I invited Waldorf salad — and let me tell you: it hit the spot. Awash in a sea of heavy foods, the Winter Fruit Waldorf Salad — courtesy of my main lady, Betty Crocker — was a highlight at our potluck, and I wound up giving the recipe to a few coworkers.

I’m actually embarrassed to call it a “recipe,” friends, because it’s nothing if not simple. The most challenging part of creating the salad was my having to get up at 6 a.m. to make it before work. It’s not something you want to let sit, so make it fresh — and have it ready to go. I cut all my fruit up first and let that sit until just before the main event, where I spooned my fruity dressing over top.

As we all gear up for family, friends and feasts next week in the U.S., consider adding a refreshing treat to your table. I had a tough time finding chopped dates at the grocery store, so I added way more walnuts than the recipe originally called for to compensate. It turned out delicious!


Winter Fruit Waldorf Salad

Recipe from BettyCrocker.com

Ingredients:
2 medium unpeeled red apples, diced
2 medium unpeeled pears, diced
1/2 cup thinly sliced celery
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup chopped dates
1/4 cup mayonnaise or salad dressing
1/4 cup Yoplait Original 99% Fat Free orange crème yogurt (from 6-oz container)
2 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate
8 cups shredded lettuce
Walnut halves, if desired

Directions:

1. In large bowl, mix apples, pears, celery, raisins and dates.

2. In small bowl, mix mayonnaise, yogurt and juice concentrate until well blended. Add to fruit; toss to coat. (Salad can be refrigerated up to 1 hour.

3. Serve salad on lettuce. Garnish with walnut halves.

Sweet potato pie — a worthy (and scrumptious) alternative to pumpkin

Sometimes in life, we have to improvise. Unexpected things pop up; detours must be taken. Our path is blocked. Recipes don’t go according to plan.

Like when you run out of sugar.

And you’re in the middle of baking three pies.

And you’ve already dumped in most of your (not inexpensive) ingredients.

In keeping with our new baking tradition, Spencer and I felt adventurous and decided to try our hand at a sweet potato pie. My friend Sandy, a talented baker, had dropped a sweet potato muffin on my desk earlier that day — and just saying “sweet potato” to Spence was inspirational.

After gathering together what we believed to be all the necessary ingredients, I began to measure the white sugar called for in our recipe. Since we’d decided to really go for the gusto and actually make three pies at once, I was tripling everything.

Unfortunately, there was no tripling that little mound of sugar left in the container.

“Why doesn’t this call for brown sugar?” Spencer scanned the sheet over and over. “Doesn’t it seem like it should have brown sugar?”

Yes, I agreed. It does. So let’s do this.

Taking the total sugar content down by a third, we substituted 1 cup of white sugar for 1/3 cup of white and 1/3 cup of brown — and the end result? Totally delicious. Sweet but not too sweet; warm; cozy; completely fall-like. An awesome addition to any meal this autumn, and possibly a substitute for all diners who find themselves a little pumpkin’ed-out.

No Thanksgiving is complete without a slice of pumpkin pie, I’ll grant you that, but for all those other days? Give sweet potato a whirl. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.


Megan & Spencer’s Sweet(ie) Sweet Potato Pie

Adapted from Sweet Potato Pie I on Allrecipes.com

Ingredients

  • 1 (1 pound) sweet potato
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 (9 inch) unbaked pie crust

Directions

  1. Boil sweet potato whole in skin for 40 to 50 minutes, or until done. Run cold water over the sweet potato, and remove the skin.
  2. Mash sweet potato in a bowl. Add butter and mix well with mixer. Stir in sugar, milk, eggs, nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla. Beat on medium speed until mixture is smooth. Pour filling into an unbaked pie crust.
  3. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 55 to 60 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Pie will puff up like a souffle, and then will sink down as it cools. Serve with whipped cream, if desired.


In which I give thanks

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.
— Albert Schweitzer



It’s easy to talk about Thanksgiving in abstract terms; this whole concept of being thankful should be simpler, but it’s easy for me to get ensnared in the day-to-day drama of living, picking up only the little issues and forgetting to step back, breathe deeply and just feel grateful.

First of all, I live in a free country — a place I can discuss anything like, befriend anyone I choose, love as I see fit and hold any job I desire. I’m free. In all the ways that matter, I’m free.

My loving, supportive family slings an arm around me anytime I’m down. My mom and dad have given me every opportunity to succeed, and the absolute last thing I’ll ever do is fail them. My sister is my best friend in the universe; I can’t wait to grow old with her at my arm, both of us laughing at ridiculous TV shows and running out to get Slurpees whenever we’ve had tough days. My grandparents, Maw Maw, aunts, uncles, cousins — everyone has a special place in my heart. I forget how lucky I am to have a happy, healthy family, but I want that to change.

I’m thankful for a sense of purpose — a tranquility that comes from knowing I have a job where I’m appreciated and validated. I love editing, design and my work for a newspaper, but know in my gut that I’m meant to write — and that passion guides me in everything I do. It reminds me not to take myself too seriously, and all the unpleasant stuff that happens? Yeah, it’ll all wind up in a novel someday. Everything that happens — annoying, awesome, frustrating, fantastic — is making me who I am . . . as a person and a novelist. So I can’t feel angry knowing all this nonsense? Great novel fodder.

And my friends! Whether we met in high school, college, at one of the various jobs I’ve held over the years or through the blogging community, I’m so grateful to share my life with such awesome people — and to share theirs, too. Once upon a time, I so feared being vulnerable to the point that I completely closed myself off, lying to myself by saying I was happier that way. Now more than ever, I see just how untrue that was . . . and am thankful to have learned how to be open to the possibilities of honest friendship. I can’t ever go back to how I was before!

Books make me feel grateful — the added experiences, the shift in perspective. A wonderful book can absolutely change your life, and I’ve found several this year that reminded me what it is to be human. Each one seems to find me at just the right time, just as in Sarah Addison Allen’s The Sugar Queen! There’s no better way for me to step outside myself than to grab a novel and settle in for change. It’s relaxing, invigorating, restorative — basically everything good in the world. Books are just awesome.

I’m thankful for music and the special place it has in my life; I’m thankful that my mother taught me to crochet as a kid, a hobby I love intensely! I’m thankful that I finally got my Etsy business up and running this year, and have so loved making scarves for orders this fall.

The travel I did this year was amazing — and completely put my life in perspective. I started out in London, found myself in North Carolina and recently traveled to California. A different lesson accompanied me on each vacation, and I’m definitely a different person for having gone. I’m thankful that I was brave enough to do what, a year ago, would have seemed totally crazy to me! And I’m very grateful for the friends who were with me on those journeys.

What else am I thankful for? Health. Food. Gainful employment. Love — both lost and found. Humor. Movies. Celebrity crushes. A beautiful sunset. Photography. This blog, and the book blogging community! And you, for sure, for reading this.


Wishing you all a very happy
(and thankful!) Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving weekend wrap-up

Although it’s still hard for me to process, Thanksgiving has come and gone — but it was great! As always, my family outdid themselves. I always wish I could have a fraction of that delicious food for later in the week, but somehow the magic isn’t quite the same after the holiday! We did have plenty of leftover potatoes, ham and turkey, though. And pumpkin pie, of course. My sister brought home an entire dessert from her boyfriend’s great family! In fact, that reminds me . . . I think there may be some left . . .

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Black Friday turned out to be pretty low-key at the store — I got in, cleaned up a bunch of stuff and headed on home.The bookstore wasn’t very busy at all, quite a contrast to years past. I know all retailers are afraid of what this holiday season will (or won’t) bring, and from what I could tell the shopping situation is pretty bleak. It didn’t feel like a major shopping day at all. Bad for the store, but good for me — I didn’t have to deal with many irritable customers. I did have a minor incident in the Kids department, but nothing to rank in my Top 10 Worst Customer stories!

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