Friday, October 19, 2007

A little Brother, a Box of Cheese, and a Cast-Iron Skillet of Ginger-Glazed Goodness

My little brother is not little. He is over 6’5. His shoes are big enough that he is lucky to find them even in specialty stores. He is, I’d guess, the human equivalent of a sequoia. Tall. Strong. Awesome. Sometimes though, I admit, I find myself fondly recalling his childhood years. Those adorable, dimpled, giggling years, when I could cajole him into being the “baby” while my friends and I played house. Oh, frivolous me, I once even persuaded an aunt to let me dress him up in girl clothes so that I could pretend I had a baby sister. (This occurred, I should caveat, during his newborn infancy and long before he had a voice with which to protest my antics. It hasn’t happened since. But I do, like any big sister would, have pictures of those short-lived times.)

Despite all this nostalgia for his younger days, my little brother has been - for years - the “man” in our family. He is the person that my mother and I call when a car might need a repair. He is the first person I call when I think the oil-change guy is ripping me off. He is the one I call when something big needs to be lifted, or a complex project needs to be overseen. Usually he has foreseen the need, and carries the big things and oversees the complex projects before I even realize it. I often call him simply to avail myself of his treasure trove of “how-to” – such as the first time I found myself faced with the task of cleaning a fish. He is the one I call when my heart breaks, or the world seems suddenly antagonistic. I call him when I need to borrow a dose of courage, or when I find myself keenly missing the father I didn’t get a proper chance to know. Likewise, I call him when I am keenly happy, when life is being deliriously kind and the Fates generously benevolent. He always has good advice. And, somehow to my great fortune, I accept, without struggle or ego, his opinions and advice. Indeed, over the years, my little brother has grown from that dimply giggle into a man I greatly admire. His opinion is precious to me. It is fair to say that he has become the man against whom I gauge and judge every other man. He is the man that will be walking me down the aisle at our wedding next year, and “giving me away.” (A task - he likes to remind me – that he’s been waiting years to accomplish and would be more than willing to do even sooner…the punk.) He is also wonderfully independent, and stubborn, and kind and compassionate and all those other stalwart, human qualities that indicate the wisdom of maturity and the experience of age. But I still – and shall - insist on calling him my little brother.

And today I write about him because J. returned from the post office with a big brown box.

We opened it and found a cheesemaking kit (!!!) – a gift to us from the man that is my little brother, complete with a reminder note that “cheese is the food of the gods.”

It is hard – nay! impossible(!) – to imagine a more perfect gift. And I thought a little childhood context about the gift-giver would be appropriate for this announcement that there is a little hovel on stilts stuffed with his family, their books and the various debris from his sister’s attempts to simultaneously learn watercolor painting and photography, taken-over by canine hooligans and apple-butter preserving equipment, and located at least 500 airmiles from the nearest store-bought options for real cheese, that is brimming – literally humming – with all sorts of excitement, and ideas, and culinary anticipations, the requisite cartwheels of glee, and just plain, old-fashioned, humble, utter gratitude.

Thank you, dear Bobby! We love the cheesemaking kit!

In commemoration of his generosity, I thought I’d highlight a recipe that we discovered this summer: Ginger-Braised Corn with Carrots. This may seem incongruous. My brother sends us a cheesemaking kit, and I counter with a corn and carrot recipe….It makes sense, however, because my little brother was the one that actually introduced us to the concept of cooking vegetables with ginger. He lived up here for a few months last winter. I didn’t think I could enjoy any memory more than the memory of dressing Bobby up as a little sister, but there is no sibling memory I treasure more than that winter of cooking and feasting together. I was amazed by all his culinary ideas and suggestions – how similar, and yet so distinctly different, his approach was to mine. I was especially impressed by his cooking tricks with ginger. Broccoli. Carrots. Mushrooms. He has a whole repertoire of gingered veggie recipes. After a few winter months with us, he moved back to the Lower 48. When I miss him, I find myself whipping up gingered veggie recipes…..Suffice it to say, we eat gingered veggie dishes pretty regularly.

And this summer, we did a long-distance toast to my brother with a particularly delicious and ginger-based concoction that we called Ginger-Glazed Corn with Carrots.

Please trust me - this dish is beautiful.
Much more beautiful than it may look in this picture. Indeed, I could even confess to signing-up for a watercolor painting class just to be able to better display its vibrant colors.

Ginger-Glazed Corn with Carrots

The introduction to the concept of this recipe came from my little brother. But the nuts and bolts basis for this particular gingered recipe came from my favorite cookbook, the Cast-Iron Skillet Cookbook by Sharon Kramis and her daughter, Julie Kramis Hearne. I love this cookbook. I think everyone should own a copy of it. I’m doing my best to bring about such a state of affairs. The official recipe in the Cast-Iron Skillet Cookbook is actually called Ginger-Glazed Carrots. It doesn’t contain corn. Only carrots. And I’m sure it would be delicious just so. But I have a hard time following a recipe verbatim. And ever since I discovered the incredibly good good-living of Iowa, I tend to add corn to everything. Maybe, perhaps, my tendency to add corn to everything is a bit like my brother adding ginger to everything. In any event, this combination of ginger and corn makes for a fine family tradition.

1.5 pounds of carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices
3/4 cup water

1/4 cup salted butter
1-inch piece fresh giner, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons sugar
A handful of corn (fresh off the cob or frozen)
Chopped fresh parsley

Plate the carrots, water, butter, ginger, and sugar in a cast iron skillet. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce heat to medium-low, simmer and cook for 8 minutes, stirring occassionally until the carrots are tender and a butter sauce has developed. Toss in the corn and continue to cook and stir for at least 2 more minutes, but ultimately until the corn and carrots are cooked (but still retain a crunch). Season with sea salt, garnish with parsley, and serve immediately.

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