Saturday, December 24, 2016

A few ways to make Brussels sprouts: Prologue

Hello, what readers remain after my series of long hiatuses.

Not Brussels sprouts, but in the same family.
From my garden.
(If you're just here for the Brussels sprouts, scroll down to the next heading. Enjoy some plant and cat pictures as you make your way!)

I last wrote that I was starting a solo law practice, specifically a civil rights practice. I have not figured out how my blogs will continue and coexist with my new career. A long time ago, I decided this blog would contain as little as possible about law or politics and my opinions on those topics. I didn't want to alienate readers who might disagree with me about the law, but with whom I could still share valuable, meaningful conversations about gardens and recipes (and life). Even readers who did agree with me, I imagined, were not coming here for my opinions or politics, but for the pretty flowers. This is how I treat Instagram and wish Facebook would be for me — a place for everyday life updates and calming things, like botany and recipes. No matter how active we are, it's okay to want a refuge from the news.

It's frustrating when sad news or angry political opinions creep into those refuges (which happens with my Facebook timeline no matter how much I try to curate it.) Actually, it's more than frustrating; it's unsettling when I've tried to step away from sad news or things that make me angry, to remind myself what else is out there, to recharge, gain perspective, gather energy for the next battle, and that reflective time is interrupted by what feels like an angry shout. I don't want to give my readers that feeling.

New cat! More on that later.
Additionally, so much has become political that wasn't, and I argue, shouldn't. So as much as I'll try my best to stick to flowers, food, and everyday life, what I write about flowers, food, and everyday life might still take us out of the politics-free refuge. This is just where we are today. I'll do my best. (That said, I'll opine plenty on my law blog, when I regain the energy to write in it again. I tried to keep that mostly opinion-free, but I've decided that's unnecessary and difficult. As long as I respect others' opinions, I think it'll be okay to state mine.)

In the past, I strove to keep anything about law school or work off of this blog because of vague concerns about my professional reputation. I say vague because these concerns were tied to nothing specific and were probably overcautious. I'm pretty prudent when it comes to writing about work, and as soon as I finish my law firm website (which currently is—intentionally—a blank gray page), that business will be Google-able, just as this blog is. There's no secret. Potential clients will know how much I like flowers, and people who follow me for pictures of cats and flowers will know how strongly I feel about civil rights. And most likely, it won't hurt my professional reputation to write about my recent struggle to get my email client to stop crashing. (I initially wrote "my recent email problems," but then realized even those words are politically loaded right now!)

Writing about the adventures of starting a new business, separate from the law and opinion side of it, might be something people want to read. Even my weeks-long struggle to keep my email client to stop crashing and stop filtering important messages to spam, a struggle that made me feel incompetent, could be entertaining and maybe helpful to someone else in the same position.

For example, there's a post on my law blog that I wrote because it was assigned for my blogging class, a "personal reflection." I wrote about the self-doubt that plagued me during my second year of law school, how I was beginning to doubt I should be a lawyer at all, how I was initially turned down for my first civil rights job, but eventually got it, and then everything became clear to me—that I should practice law, and it must be something with a social justice focus. I hated that post. I hated making that part of myself public. But the response to that post has made me leave it up; readers, particularly second-year law students, thanked me for writing it, because they were experiencing similar self doubt. So maybe I will write about my e-mail troubles and impostor syndrome, in case it helps some other new small business owner or new lawyer out there.

I haven't come to any conclusion yet except that I still want to write. I need to write! When I've blogged regularly, I've been a better writer, especially professionally. I need to keep practicing my storytelling—how to be succinct, how to edit, how to turn a dull topic into an interesting narrative.  Two things in particular which have had a firm hold on my mind are topics that immediately put a listener into a state of boredom. Eyes glaze over the minute I say the words, "malpractice insurance" or "problems with my e-mail." But these have been the theme of my November and December. Since they've managed to keep such a strong grip on my mind, there must be a story here. Why are they important to me? That's where the story lies, and if I can figure out how to tell the story, I can figure out how to make any story interesting.

Not Brussels sprouts, but in the same family.
From my garden.
But today's story isn't about malpractice insurance or email. It's about Brussels sprouts. And why I rarely post recipes on this blog. When I actually create something, instead of following a recipe, I often don't measure, and I rarely test a recipe enough to feel like it's fair to post it here. I know from experience how maddening it is to try something from a food blog and have it go wrong. I'd hate to give that experience to anyone!

However, plenty of readers could read my lists of ingredients and approximations of technique and figure out what to do. So instead of waiting until I have time to track measurements and test recipes, I'll write up my non-recipes with a warning that they're imprecise.

 The Part That is Actually About Brussels Sprouts

While I couldn't find a picture of
my late 2007's Brussels sprouts,
I found this picture of that tiny kitchen,
with a de-sprouted stalk on the window.
It is the time of year for Brussels sprouts. At some point in the past nine years, I became known for making Brussels sprouts. In 2007, living in a very small apartment in a poorly insulated house in New Brunswick, New Jersey, I tried both making and eating Brussels sprouts for the first time. I can't find that first recipe I tried, but I recall taking a lot of unnecessary steps like cutting an X into the sprouts and blanching them, before pan-roasting them. So much extra work! But they were delicious; my roommate and I were sold. The Brussels sprouts obsession had begun.

At some point, I settled on Heidi Swanson's recipe for Golden-Crusted Brussels Sprouts. I made them for my family Thanksgiving and Christmas, and then my parents and grandparents became Brussels sprouts fans, too. Subsequent Thanksgivings and Christmases, my grandparents would request that I bring the Brussels sprouts. When I'd visit my parents, they'd request Brussels sprouts. Sometimes I broke away from the usual recipe. I found reference in this very blog to making Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Figs in 2009; I described it as "autumnal perfection." I have a memory of experimenting with a new Brussels sprouts recipe for my mom and dad, quartering them and frying them in with bacon, shallots, apples, and maple syrup. I can't imagine that was bad, but I don't recall ever making it again. The simple version is the best, so why make extra work?  Halved, pan-roasted on both sides, topped with Parmesan cheese—the perfect Brussels sprouts preparation.

In recent years, grew to resent being the bringer of Brussels sprouts. I grew to hate systematically halving them and laying them in the pan, making several pan-loads in order to have enough little sprout halves for everyone. I hated flipping them carefully with a spatula, only to have some mischievous sprouts excited by the heat of the pan, bounce in the air and flip themselves back over. Every year I'd think, "It's easy! Just cut them them in half, lay them flat, flip them, put grated cheese on top!" I can even buy pre-grated (but fresh!) Parmesan cheese from my neighborhood market. And every year I'm reminded that despite the low number of steps, even when the cheese is already grated, making these sprouts in volume is time-consuming.

This post is too long for me to include all of the ways to make Brussels sprouts that I planned to write about, so I'll end with just one, and save the other two for their own posts. The next two posts will be my own "non-recipes" for Brussels Sprouts Party Dip and something I have no better name for than Monday Night Brussels Sprouts. For today, I'll end by sharing my new way to make everyone's favorite holiday party Brussels sprouts—oven-roasted on parchment paper.

I will always be grateful to Susan of Farmgirl Fare for the gift she brought me in 2013, a Facebook update linking to Quick and Easy Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Lemon and Parmesan. This recipe changed my life, and if you are the friend or family member perpetually assigned to make Brussels sprouts in volume, this recipe will change your life, too. Something about the parchment paper makes the Brussels sprouts cook in the oven, on both sides, the same way they would cook in a cast iron skillet with babysitting and flipping. But on parchment paper, there is no flipping. No wicked sprout halves turning themselves over in the pan! You just cut the sprouts in half, toss them with your preferred oil and seasonings, lay them face-down on parchment paper on a cookie sheet, and bake them! Then toss them with lemon juice or Parmesan cheese or whatever you want.

No flipping! Life-changing Brussels sprouts! Give them a try! And I'll get my Brussels Sprouts Party Dip recipe up for you, readers, if not in time for Christmas, then in time for New Year's Eve. Thank you for reading, and happy holidays (each and all of them!) to you!

Koko under the tree.
All pictures in this post taken by me and CC 2.0.