"ANOTHER HO-HUM YEAR"

Happy New Year! This launches the 15th year of Cook's Humor - 167 columns (one got lost in the mail), wherein not only have I sung the praises of many fine recipes, but also of many fine (and some not so fine) people, places and things besides food. Plus, my life, in all its mediocrity, has been exposed like and open book over the years, as you were privy to various high crimes and misdemeanors of the many skeletons in my closet.

But nothing in these columns or my humdrum life can compare with the perfect families and exciting adventures extolled on colorful holiday letterhead form-letters tucked inside Christmas cards from those obviously "more-fortunate-than-thou" old friends and relatives, heard form only in the waning days of December. A relative of my husband's, whom he has seen only once since childhood, laments...

"Our lives have settled down some this year...a trip to Alaska to see the Northern Lights and learn about the history and culture of the Athabascan Indians. Short days, long nights and up to 25 below zero temperatures." They also "Rode the Alaska Railroad through beautiful landscapes of spruce and birch trees, frozen lakes and majestic snow capped mountains, went dog sledding, swam in the Chena Hot Springs with air temperatures at 18 below zero, and in her log cabin, were served tea and cake by the first woman to finish the Iditarod dog sled race,"

Settled down?? Almost makes you want to stand up and salute.

That was just their winter experience. In the spring they went to Hawaii, plane-hopped to five islands, visited the leper colony on Molokai, the temple ruins and taro fields, the Arizona Memorial, and the USS Missouri. They climbed to the top of Diamond Head, watched the Kilauea volcano spit out "washing machine size" boulders, while pouring flowing hot molten lava into the sea, and "Much, much more."

Yes, there is more. In June, they visited John and Gayle in their new home in Chicago. "Gayle is quite a gardener and her strawberry jam is delicious!" One question - who in blazes are John and Gayle?

Their children (whom we have never met) are "all doing well." "Jack was recently promoted to Captain on a fire engine instead of a medical unit," and his wife, Peggy (obviously with no professional accomplishments in the business world or they would have been listed), "Takes care of their home." Son Danny keeps busy with his wooden fence company and Barb enjoys her work with UK (whatever that is - the United Kingdom, perhaps?) and gets to travel around the state. I don't know if Barb is Danny's wife or a third kid, but she travels on the job and that apparently earns her a prestigious spot in the form letter.

Another old friend of my dearly beloved's - one he hasn't seen nor heard from since grade school, suddenly started sending us Christmas form-letters a few years ago when he retired to Florida (but has since move to Tennessee). He felt everyone would want to know that he went back to Florida on Super Bowl weekend, visited with some of his old buddies and played some golf. Also that he went to New York in August, saw the city, rode the subway and went to a Yankee's game. Wow! Tell us more! OK - In April, he and wifey went on a Bahamas Cruise for a "fun and relaxing five days." Aren't all his days fun and relaxing??? Sure they are, as he summed it up at the end of the form-letter: "Ahhh, life is good." Oh yeah, wifey still works (she's "in charge" of a bank branch,) probably to pay his country club dues, while he's out 3 or 4 days a week, "Playing golf and holding down the homestead."

So how way my year? While I've never set foot in Alaska or even on a golf course, my boulder-size washing machine died and he to be replaced. We traveled through beautiful downtown Dayton, watched people board the city buses, had breakfast at McDonald's twice in one month, and I found this great ham loaf recipe that will use up some of that leftover Christmas ham - not to be confused with the form-letter hams.

GLAZED AFTER-CHRISTMAS HAM LOAF

1-1/2 lbs. ground cooked ham 1 lb. lean ground pork

3/4 cup finely crushed soda crackers 1/2 cup low fat milk

1/4 cup shredded carrot 1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1/4 tsp. black pepper 1 large egg plus one egg white,

1/2 cup catsup lightly beaten

1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar 2 Tbsp. vinegar

1/2 tsp. onion powder

Mix ham, pork, crackers, milk, carrot, onion, pepper, egg and egg white. In a shallow baking pan, shape meat mixture into a 9x5" loaf. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour, drain off fat. For glaze, combine remaining ingredients in a small saucepan. Heat until sugar is melted; mix well and spoon half over the meat loaf. Bake for 15 or 20 minutes more until meat thermometer registers 170 degrees. Serve with remaining glaze.