Confessions from the Pantry Part II: Sibling Revelry

cynbrynisenaeSiblings b, c and I couldn’t be more different (pictured here with cousin Renae on the right). At least it seems so to us. While the outside world may see three self-reliant, factually careless critics, we see a decisive impatient, a gregarious persistent, and an unsure complacent. But we do have one or two areas of commonality beyond that pesky “why wouldn’t everyone want to know our opinion?” thing. Even after living apart for over 30 years, I can guarantee there’s a pantry in Jacksonville, one in Portland and another in Minneapolis that are genetically linked.

I can probably guess the foodstuffs I’ll find in my siblings’ kitchens with 90% accuracy. And we’re not talking eggs and milk, or even balsamic and soy. All families probably have this: a common peanut butter brand, an inexplicable fondness for Grape Nuts, galangal in the spice cabinet…. For us, it’s capers and Korean bean paste (kochujung). Red pepper paste and pickled peppers. Smoked oysters, sardines, chutney. A pound of herbes de Provence carried from Provence, a pound of oregano carried from Greece, a gallon of sesame oil. The peppers may be of a slightly different bent — one woman’s sambal olek is another’s sriracha — but there they are in various pasted and pickled forms.

Our spouses have managed to influence us slightly, so while b’s fridge may sport South African salted mango, mine holds sauerkraut, and c’s has three shelves (at least) dedicated to the pickled accoutrement necessary for getting one’s self pickled, usually with tomato juice and vodka, or lime juice and vodka….

It’s not just the condiments. Years ago at a family gathering I was handed some tomatoes and told to make a salad. At first bite, my brother’s girlfriend’s eyes grew wide. “Oh my god it tastes exactly like his!” Who knew? Apparently the taste memory of tangy/sweet, oily/salty, oniony/tomatoey lies deeply embedded. And perhaps we hold the same conviction that the point of a tomato salad is to saturate great hunks of bread with the remaining juice, and for that, the proportions have to be just so.

And though we grew up with mayo on top of the dressed tomatoes, we’ve each independently discontinued that practice. Similarly, when I shared with sis that I was making our family’s bastardized version of curry for j’s birthday (a lamb concoction topped with fruits, nuts, sweet and savory treats), she laughed and said she’d just made the same dish to use up leftover Easter lamb. Only, she confided, nowadays she adds coconut milk. Scary. Years ago I’d modified mine exactly the same. (Note to self: because the coconut milk mellows out the flavors, kick up the heat quotient. Made intentionally mild for the birthday girl, there’s got to be enough heat to give the apples, oranges, bananas, raita and raisins a raison. d’etre, that is.)

Today, gray salt, dijon mustard, truffle oil and wasabi are ubiquitous, so our genetically related pantries are less unusual than back in 1985. But there’s still some comfort in knowing that if we serve feta, it will be sliced, sprinkled with herbes de provence and black pepper, and drizzled with olive oil. That if you’re asked to cook dinner at someone else’s house, you’ll not only find toasted sesame seeds, anchovies and lap cheong, but you’ll find the “right” kind of mustard and plain red wine vinegar for the “right” vinaigrette.

Opinionated? Who, us?


  1. Jill Said,

    April 24, 2009 @ 9:20 am

    Uh oh…reading this post has me hungry for that lamb curry again. One serving just wasn’t enough! Like my mother-in-law’s crab louis on Christmas Eve, will this, too, be a much loved but only once-a-year dish? Ai yi yi!!!!

    And I, for one, didn’t think it needed one more spice – it was perfect! Thank you!!!!!!!!!

  2. KAB Said,

    April 26, 2009 @ 7:49 pm

    My (ours, BB?) upbringing on Spanish rice (canned tomatoes, hamburger, rice), tuna casserole (Campbell’s be praised!) and chipped beef on TV trays watching The Wonderful World of Disney could have boded ill had it carried over to adulthood. Perhaps in rebellion we have our contingent of Sriracha, Phu Quot fish sauce and tube of harissa, among (countless) others. Thanks for the hilarious “tour du condiments”…

  3. Cyn Said,

    April 28, 2009 @ 12:21 pm

    Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy to know there’s a part of me in Portland and Jacksonville:-) And, does WillIam look like Bry, or WHAT!?

  4. DadL Said,

    April 28, 2009 @ 12:36 pm

    There’s a reason for the lack of coconut dS recipe–I HATE COCONUT ( it was in Aunt Gertie’s original which she imported from Jordan.

  5. dds Said,

    April 30, 2009 @ 9:50 am

    JW: Anytime, just say the word. Next time we’re trying pork though. The dearth (and price) of the “cheap” (aka “right”) lamb cuts is killing me.

    KAB: Your childhood food makes your and BB’s culinary skills all the more incredible. (Though that spanish rice is sounding kind of yummy. “White trash” potluck, anyone?)

    C: I know! And thanks for arming me with the Facebook teaser that got me the most readers ever. I got a flood of, “what’s the URL?” I swear.

    b2: I never knew it was Auntie Gertie’s original recipe, cool! And coming from Jordan would explain why pork isn’t the go-to meat.

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