The Ham Master

November 25, 2010: A Vero Beach man, Michael Conte, was arrested in Fort Pierce, Fla., on charges of stealing $400 cash and two pieces of meat from an Asian restaurant.

Officers said they had seen the accused riding a bicycle and carrying two Smithfield center pork chops in a recycling bin. Conte claimed the pork had been given to him by the restaurant, but a video tape showed this to be hogwash, according to police.

Witnesses, who have chosen to remain anonymous, claim to have heard Conte yelling, "Wee! Wee! Wee!" all the way to the police station.

Had I known Conte had a hankering for ham, I would have gladly parceled up some piggy and sent it south. I have an ample stash of the Sus domesticus in my freezer, a gift of sorts from a generous friend.

Actually, the word "generous" doesn't cover the matter. I mean, who gives an entire dead animal "just because?"

"I love you. Please, take my butchered pet Petunia."

I'm not one to question the intentions of the giver, however, and I gladly accepted the pig, all 200-plus parts of him, or was it her? I have pork chops, smoked hams, neck bones, loin chops, spare ribs and sausage patties. There are parts of parts, hocks and back bacon, and pieces that, frankly, I don't know what they are.

Nor do I know what to do with them.

I attempted a ham for Thanksgiving. It sounds easy enough, but for a gal who's used to buying cooked, sliced, tied and glazed to perfection, it was a big deal.

I thawed Porky in the refrigerator for four days.

I placed Porky on the baking pan, meat thermometer in place, oven set at 325 degrees.

I lit a candle, put on a bit of music and relaxed. I was, after all, the Ham Master.

It wasn't long before the aroma filled the air. Even my husband was impressed.

"It smells great! Was it hard to do?"

"It took a little research," I admitted, "but I think I have the touch."

After a couple of hours, I couldn't resist taking a peek. I opened the oven and there sat a big plop of cold pork, a thermometer stuck in its side, registering nothing but failure.

Lesson 1: When cooking a ham, it helps to turn on the oven.

"But what were we smelling?" my husband asked.

"What we were smelling," I said, "is candle, the other white meat."

It was a cinnamon candle, but we renamed it the Yankee Pork Candle.

I turned on the oven, and in no time at all presented the family with a perfectly dried out hunk of hard, gray
meat. It had pink edges, which is the only nice thing I can say.

Lesson 2: When at first you don't succeed, send hubby to market to buy a new ham.

It was 9 p.m., Thanksgiving Eve, when he left like a trooper to save the day.

He returned with a thing of beauty- a fully cooked spiral-sliced ham, cured in a secret marinade and covered with a sweet crackled glaze.

The Honey Baked Ham. It was only $60.

It was a steal.

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