Vanessa Chang
(A Glutton with Brains)


a glutton with brains

Baked Rhubarb with Ginger


Rise and shine sourly. That's my unspoken morning motto. I'm not a morning person. Though I often pretend/try to be. Pretend because morning-people seem a happier lot. They get more done. Walk the dog before the parade of rush hour traffic threatens the route. Soak in that special sunshine I've only managed to glimpse after an all-nighter (studying or partying, I leave that to your judgement of me).

But try as I might, very few things, let alone two alarms—a Zen chime alarm for my chi and a cell phone trill for my lazy ass—manage to get me out of bed. Food, though, seems to work. Typical. Brunch is a no-brainer. I get my sleep and a reason to stuff myself with some of my favorite foods. But during the weekday, it's a bit more difficult. I need to look forward to sustenance that's quick and what I crave. And, yes, even healthy. I consider it my redemption for not getting up when I was supposed to and going to the gym.


Given my sporatic schedule of cooking, eating, dining out, more often than not I end up feeling like a fat lard five days out of seven. Detox is constantly on my mind. Though, a girl can take so much leek broth. To rev up my system from a week's worth of crazy eating or a day of work ahead, I need stimulants. Of the edible sort, of course. I've never been one for prescription drugs. I like to find my cures and get my highs from something I can eat. Satisfaction never comes from something you simply pop down with water. How boring.

Ginger is one of my favorite flavors. It's warm, it's invigorating, rejuvenating. It clears nasal passages in a pleasant almost storybook kind of way. It can go sweet. It can go savory. I smelled it on my mother's hands (along with garlic) anytime she cooked something Korean to alternate with my steady diet of Happy Meals and mac and cheese. To me, it's always welcome.

Rhubarb came later in life. And I love it for its smooth ruby stalks, its crisp resistance to my knife, and its astringent performance on my tongue. As a fan of sour candy, I thought I had found a very organic excuse for loving Sour Patch Kids.


So, inspired by a bit of Nigel Slater, I brought the two together in a roasting pan. Something substantial and beautiful like the oval monstrosity I picked up from a clearance rack but that has never let me down. Chopping the rhubarb and slicing the ginger on a Sunday afternoon in early summer was theraputic. Sound, mindless tactile work, the scent, and the promise of something to eat. Even haphazardly dumped, they looked elegant, randomly shingled. A good dusting of sugar completed the look.

A hot hot oven is required. 425 works for me. You may prefer a gentler heat. But I enjoy hearing the hiss of the sugar and rhubarb juices when I pull it out of the oven, the heady ginger wafting up at me. It's what I hear and what I dream I smell when I'm half-awake and half-asleep ten seconds after the alarms have gone off. And chances are, it's probably the only thing that'll get me out of bed on a Monday morning. Rise and shine. Sourly. But, at least, I've got something good to eat...


Baked Rhubarb with Ginger

5 to 6 stalks of beautiful, smooth rhubarb * a knob of ginger, about 1-inch long * granulated sugar for dusting

If you're lucky enough to still have some rhubarb in the produce aisle, at your farmer's market, miraculously in your vegetable bin, wash, trim, and chop the smooth stalks into 1-inch pieces. Place into a baking dish. Slice the ginger into discs. Don't bother to peel the root—you just want the aromatics, no fibrous chewing here. Dust with plenty of granulated sugar if you like things on the sweeter side; less if you enjoy a good pucker. Place into a preheated 425 degree oven and cook for about 15 minutes, until the rhubarb collapses under the barest touch of your wooden spoon and the melted sugar sings, hisses, and pops at you.

Let cool slightly and fish out the sliced ginger. Enjoy warm with cake, quickbread, muffins, toast, or anything that sounds good at the moment. Cooled it's a great topping for a simple tart of a prepared short crust and sweetened, whipped mascarpone (a shot of booze into the fruit at this point never hurt). Or store in the refrigerator and serve as needed, in the morning with thick, plain yogurt, and a dusting of wheat germ if you feel like you really need to make up for the night before.