Real Cooking

Sunday evening found me in the kitchen cleaning up after having entertained at noon. Our family had spent most of the afternoon eating and catching up with our friends, Lynn and Alisa Jost, who had recently returned from a trip to India and Japan.

We had had too good of a time to take the time to clean up the dishes-yes, the Josts had offered to help, and no, I wouldn’t hear of it-so now I found myself bustling around the kitchen making my way through the debris.

It wasn’t too bad, actually. I turned on the kitchen television for distraction and there, on the Food Channel, was my old buddy Martha Stewart introducing the goodies she would be preparing for a Southern Easter buffet. The menu featured ham filled with stuffing, roasted root vegetables and sage biscuits.

“OK, Martha” I said to the flickering screen. “You cook and I’ll wash the dishes. We’ll see who gets done faster.”

I guess Martha took me up on my challenge because she launched right in by showing me the beautiful Smithfield country ham she was about to bake for her Easter buffet. The ham was lovely, but this type of ham isn’t going to be found in any market in Marion County, Kansas. Martha has expensive tastes. The 10-pound ham she was about to stuff goes for about $68.

I know. I looked it up on the Internet.

I wondered if one could substitute a Cook’s brand-on sale now at your local grocer-and get the same result. Who was I kidding? Smithfield hams are legendary.

Anyway, Martha wasn’t going to waste time debating which ham was better. (“Oh, please,” I could hear her say.) She was already on to mixing up the grits that would be the backbone of her ham’s stuffing.

“Grits, Martha? Really?” I asked.

She tossed her blonde hair and showed me how to spread the warm grits out on a baking sheet to cool until they reached the creamy consistency that would make the stuffing “So good.”

By now I had finished loading the dishwasher and was moving on to the dessert dishes that I like to wash by hand. Before her death, these gold rimmed plates had belonged to my grandmother.

Right then Martha peeked up under her bangs and smiled at me. I knew she was pleased to see that I don’t keep these heirlooms unused in the closet. That’s one of her pet peeves, don’t you know?

Stepping into high gear, Martha grabbed a bunch of greens and was about to show me the different types when my kids came in to get something to eat. Due to the distraction, I heard only that one of the varieties she was about to chop was “turnip.” I kept waiting for her to refer to the ingredients again, but she just kept saying “the greens.”

OK, whatever. She chopped up “the greens” and sauteed them with some extra virgin olive oil and a touch of white wine. Then she added the grits; some salt (“a sprinkling of coarse salt”), some pepper (“freshly ground, of course”) and some Parmesan cheese (“real cheese, not the kind in the green shaker”).

And when she got all the ingredients put together, she put this glop into the cavity of the lovely, legendary, $68 Smithfield ham.

“Oh, Martha-are you sure you want to do that?”

She just gave me a reassuring look and went on to truss up that meat using stitches and knots that would put a surgeon to shame.

She was wrapping the ham in a sheet of cheesecloth-“it’s own little Easter bonnet” (her words, not mine)-as I finished wiping the dishes.

We worked in tandem for the next half an hour. She peeled fat baby carrots and turnips and I took out the trash.

She prepared a copper roasting pan for the oven and I scrubbed the insert from my crockpot.

Martha mixed up the cake flour, the chilled unsalted butter and the freshly chopped sage for her biscuits as I tried to loosen the gunk that was stuck to my countertop.

“Oh, Martha,” I sighed. “Do you ever run a knife around the edge of your sink to clean out the crud that gets stuck there?”

She looked at me from over her shoulder as she lifted the succulent stuffed ham from the oven. I couldn’t really tell what she was thinking, but she did comment on the heavenly aroma the meat was giving off. I guess she didn’t want to talk about gunk and goo just right then.

The ham was magnificent with the creamy filling spilling out “just so.” The other offerings of roasted vegetables and golden biscuits looked delectable and were displayed on a beautifully appointed buffet table.

It was just so…Martha.

And I remembered the pictures that Lynn and Alisa had shown us earlier. The snapshots of people living in poverty; of people making pennies a day just trying to sustain their families. And then I thought of Martha’s ham, her $68 ham.

It didn’t look so appealing, anymore.

* * *

Here’s a recipe that’s “not Martha,” but fun for the Easter holiday. The recipe is easy enough for the youngest child to handle and quick enough for the busiest mom.

The nests are really cute arranged on a tray-great to take to grandma’s house or for a classroom treat. What a fun Easter surprise for your Sunday school class.

Just make sure the nests don’t get too warm before serving.

Easter Nests

(Makes nine nests)

1 (7 oz.) jar marshmallow cream

1/4 cup creamy peanut butter

2 Tbs. butter, melted

1 (5 oz.) can chow mein noodles

1 cup pastel plain M&Ms

Confectioner’s sugar

Peanut M&Ms

In a mixing bowl, beat the marshmallow cream, peanut butter and butter together until smooth. Fold in the noodles and the plain M&Ms. Chill until easy to handle-you may want to butter your hands. On waxed paper, form mixture into nine three-inch nests. (Use about 1/3 cup of mixture per nest.) Chill for 30 minutes and then place peanut M&Ms-or other egg shaped candies-into the center of each nest. Dust with confectioner’s sugar, if desired.

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