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My brother and I were in high school when our sister was born. Dad tracked us down at lunchtime, a clutch of cigars in his fist, to give us the news. We were thrilled. We held a family meeting to vote on a name: Diana Gretchen, nicknamed Dee. In the ensuing years my brother and I toted her around like a mascot to band practice, to the car wash, on errands and on dates. When she was 4, I took her to college for an entire weekend.
I gave her dollar bills when she got straight A’s, went to her grade school Christmas pageants and signed her up for a subscription to Ms. Magazine when she was just 14, to much eye-rolling from my mother. When Dad died, I helped with school clothes and college tuition.
I loved Dee even when she spurned feminism and joined a sorority. I babied her even after she had her own babies.
Now I feel gobsmacked that she has turned 50.
I held the family birthday party Sunday and let Dee choose the menu. My niece and her 12-year-old helped me assemble the Thai dumplings. While the family ate, I finished the Thai chicken breasts in coconut-curry sauce with toasted coconut and the stir-fried green beans. We carried the chicken to the table on two platters, along with a wide, shallow bowl heaped with steamed rice.
My brother raised an eyebrow. “Dee asked for THIS?”
My sister, my opposite in so many ways, is not a foodie. Thanks to Sue Fogle and Bangkok Gourmet restaurant, which I introduced Dee to in my restaurant-critic days, she does like Thai food. The Akron restaurant is long gone, but I have several of Sue’s recipes. Otherwise we might have been eating the hotdogs and canned beets Dee insisted on for her birthday dinners growing up.
My sister does not have my palate and she rarely cooks. We do not agree on politics or religion. She is sweet and easy-going; I am not. I love literature and art. She goes to reptile shows instead of museums. I’m a writer while she is a science teacher. How did we come to be such good friends?
In my closet, preserved in a box, is a present Dee gave me when she was 7. It is a cat made of construction paper, with according legs. In a house fire, it’s one of the few things I’d grab.
• 1/2 lb. lean ground pork
• 2 green onions, with green tops, sliced thin
• 1/4 cup carrots in 1/8-inch dice
• large clove garlic, minced fine
• 2 tsp. soy sauce
• 1/2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
• 18 Asian dumpling or won ton wrappers
In a bowl, combine all ingredients except wrappers and mix gently but thoroughly. If using won ton wrappers, separate into 3 or 4 stacks and cut off the corners with a sharp knife to form circles of dough. Place about 1 tablespoon of meat mixture in the center of a wrapper. Draw the wrapper around the filling, pleating at the top but not completely enclosing the filling. Place dumplings in a steamer basket sprayed with vegetable oil spray. Place over simmering water, cover and steam for about 10 minutes, until filling is cooked through. With a spatula, carefully transfer dumplings to an oiled platter. Serve with soy-ginger dipping sauce. Makes 18, enough for 4 appetizer servings.
SOY-GINGER DIPPING SAUCE
• 1/4 cup soy sauce
• 2 tbsp. sherry or rice wine
• 1 clove garlic, minced fine
• 1/2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and stir. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
This is my own version of Sue Fogle’s popular Bangkok Gourmet Chicken Curry.
COCONUT CURRY CHICKEN
• 8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
• 1 tsp. ground ginger
• 1 tsp. sugar
• 1 tsp. curry powder
• 1/2 cup coconut milk (see note)
• 3/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut
• 1 tbsp. oil
• 2 tsp. Thai red curry paste (available in Asian stores and many supermarkets)
• 2 cans (14 oz. each) hard-chilled coconut milk (see note)
• 2 tsp. nam pla (Asian fish sauce)
• 2 tsp. sugar
• 1/2 cup chicken broth
• 2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
For the chicken: Lightly pound chicken breasts with a meat pounder or other flat object to achieve an even thickness. Do not pound until thin, and do not use a meat tenderizer. Place in a bowl. Add ginger, sugar, curry powder and coconut milk (use milk that has been chilled, with the liquid part discarded). With clean hands, mix very well, massaging ingredients into chicken. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Spread coconut on a cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 2 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally with a spatula, until light brown. Remove to a sheet of foil or waxed paper to cool.
About 30 to 15 minutes before meal time, remove chicken from marinade and grill over medium-hot coals just until cooked through, about 7 minutes, turning once or twice.
For the sauce: While chicken grills, heat oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add curry paste and cook and stir until fragrant, about 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in coconut milk, nam pla and sugar. Simmer, stirring occasionally, while chicken cooks. When chicken is done, stir broth and lime juice into sauce and simmer 2 minutes longer.
Place a double breast on each of four dinner plates. Spoon sauce over chicken. Top with toasted coconut . Serve with white steamed rice. Makes 4 generous servings.
Note: Chill the cans of coconut milk for several hours or, preferably, overnight. The solids will rise to the top and become firm, like crème fraiche. Remove the top of the can with a can opener and use just the solid part in this recipe.
HELP U COOK
Duh. I keep forgetting that I can freeze leftover coconut milk instead of aging it in the refrigerator and finally throwing it out. After making my sister’s birthday dinner, leftover ingredients included a partial can of coconut milk and four cans of the clear portion of coconut milk after the thick, creamy white part is removed ( I doubled the recipe).
I transferred the clear stuff to a freezer bag and labeled it. Even though the rich part of the milk is missing, the clear part can still impart a delicate coconut flavor to soups and stir-fry sauces. I froze the partial can of mixed coconut milk in another bag. It will separate in the freezer and will be difficult to blend again after thawing, but that’s OK. I’ll use the white part like crème fraiche in sauces, a tip I learned from restaurateur Sue Fogle.
From Beth B.:
Jane, you will love this photo I took yesterday at Selfridges in London decorating one of its cafes. It’s real toast up on the wall. Similarly, how about the New York Times article today about broth restaurants?
Dear Beth: Hoo boy! A wall of toast. And thanks for the heads-up on broth restaurants, another trend I’ll avoid.
From Judy P.:
We enjoyed your cranberry, raisin, pecan bread. Would it be O.K. to mix it in a stand mixer?
Happy New Year and get well soon.
Dear Judy: Happy New Year to you, too. I’ve recovered from the flu and am now nursing my dog, who had a leg operation earlier this month. The vet says to keep him from walking for 8 weeks. Sure.
The bread dough may be made with a stand mixer, but beat it just until the flour, fruit and nuts are incorporated. If you beat it too much, it could overflow the bowl during the overnight rise.
From Charlene, Tallmadge:
I fixed your Parmesan wafer recipe for a family gathering, where the host fixed six pots of soup for everyone and invited others to bring a side. They were a BIG hit. Thanks.
Dear Charlene: They’re addictive, aren’t they? Luckily, they’re ridiculously easy to make. I like your friend’s idea of a soup get-together. Thanks for the note.