Saturday, September 8, 2007

"And I can prove it."

Warning: this post discusses digestion. But also contains a yummy recipe. Sorry to complicate things.

Earlier this summer, I overheard a young boy tell an older relative, "I really like corn." To which, the older relative replied, "I like corn, too. [Pregnant pause] And I can prove it." This exchange is burned forever in my brain, playing over and over again, regardless of whether corn is on the menu or not.

I can't say that I had any feelings in particular about corn, for most of my life, except for summertime corn-on-the-cob, which, like the young boy mentioned above, I really like, too. But my like for the corn-on-the-cob was always offset by terrible memories of grade school cornbread, and horrific bowls of creamed corn which tasted far more like the can from which it came than anything that grows from our verdant earth.

Since then, society as a whole has learned a lot more about corn, a New World native (hooray for the New World!), including the processing, preparation, and long-term storage techniques of the vegetable, so hopefully more young children can say with confidence that they like corn, in all its forms. And older relatives can reply, "I do too, and I can prove it."

Well, Glen came home with what seemed like a freakin' bushel of locally grown ears of corn last weekend, and we had a lot of last minute, unplanned errands and visits which prevented us from eating at home much. And to make it worse, it's September: the days of fresh, local corn are numbered. I can see, too, that some of the food-producing plants in our backyard have seen better days, and I was hating this signal to the end of summer. I gathered everything I could, hoping my harvesting might encourage my own pepper, tomato, cucumber, and herb plants to keep on keepin' on. We'll see.

So, now, I had a glut of corn, tomatoes, cukes, jalapenos, and, oh yeah, squash before me, and no idea of what to do with it all. Glen was at work, and was in a meeting, and I could not disturb him, but I know that Glen, despite his overall nonchalance about eating vegetables, and his immense generosity, is EXTREMELY possessive of our homegrown goodies. If he found out I gave some peppers to a neighbor, for instance, without clearing it with him, there would be hell to pay.

The corn, however, was my biggest concern, since there's no way we could eat it all before it went bad. I watched Alton Brown's Good Eats*, and he roasts or grills his corn on the cob, in the husks, and we tried it a few times this summer. The results are a cornier ear of corn, and while the ears are stinkin' hot, the husks and silk come off so much more easily than if you were to remove it while the corn was raw.

So I knew that much: I would grill the corn in their husks, and then figure out what to make. I always come back to soup, because I'm good at soup; in fact, I make a kick-ass Thai-inspired corn chowder with coconut milk and cilantro and ginger and hot peppers and lemongrass and lime juice, and lots and lots of corn. But I'm so over that (for now). Plus it's something that we enjoy in the cooler months.

I got thinking about my other ingredients. How crunk it would be to be able to combine everything into one pot of righteous soup? But I wanted to use the squash, cukes, and herbs for different dishes, so I restrained my impulse.

Instead, I took the corn, tomatoes, a head of garlic, and two jalapenos (even though Scoville gives the jalapeno a fairly low rating for heat, ours are Ass in Space hot, for some reason), and drizzled 'em all with olive oil and put them on the grill. I cooked them until they were done, brought them in, and let them cool.

Glen called, in the meantime, and when he asked what I was up to, I told him that I had contemplated giving some of our produce away (because, that's what neighbors do, right?), and he became despondent. He bounced back a little bit when I said that it was just a fleeting thought, but he was still worried that the worst could happen, and made me promise -- even though I told him I already grilled most of it -- that I wouldn't give anything away.

So, after the phone call, and the veggies cooled, I took the damn seeds out of our killer jalapenos, shaved the kernels of corn off the cob, squeezed the garlic out of its paper, and simply tossed everything, along with the tomatoes, into the blender.

The result looked like baby food, which gave me hope: there are certainly worse baby-related things in the world.

I used my handy-dandy rubber spatula and scraped every last morsel -- for Glen's sake -- into a pot, and added some bouillon cubes, some milk, some water, and some cilantro, until the concoction started to resemble soup.

We ate it like pigs.

Other than the two jalapenos I used, I'm sorry that I don't remember how many of which vegetables I cooked up, but in the end, the mash filled my entire blender jug. I imagine you could replicate this technique for whatever it is you have on hand, and you could probably roast everything in the oven, too. I expected our results to be good, but this soup was certainly much better than the sum of its parts.

That voice in my head, the one that says, "I like corn, too. And I can prove it" was in overdrive while we ate this creamy, corny soup, and I suppose it should've bothered me or ruined my appetite, or something, but it didn't...that's how desensitized I've become. It made me want to see the little boy and his older relative again, and feed them too (if Glen would allow me to share), and defy that relative to prove it.

* Often, I am embarrased by some of the shows I watch on TV, but I'm never ashamed to say "I saw this on Alton Brown's show" or something like that, because he is just so damn smart. We live in a society that is all about instant gratification -- and I'm not knocking it entirely -- but it has caused us to lose a lot of our collective knowledge as a species. Cooking has suffered enormously because of our instant society -- we heat and eat, and have tons of junk food on hand, or go out to eat. It's not all bad, but it can make a person feel kind of disconnected, no? Cooking, we forget, is as much of an art as it is a science, and Alton has a gift for bringing the art and the science together in a manner that makes me want to run to the kitchen and get cooking.


Mr. Clean said...

Random thoughts:
1. Corn on the grill is DA BOMB. There is no other way.
2. Congratulations on finally using "crunk" in a post. You beat me to it. I am awed.
3. I thought "Ass in Space" was an adult film.

Brooklyn Bill said...

When my nephews were infants, my sister had a terrific au pair from Austria who wouldn't touch corn on the cob because she saw it as pig food. Her loss.

The mishmash soup sounds good, but the Thai soup sounds absolutely delicious.