There are some who despise Brussels sprouts and have nothing good to say about them.
To quote: "Brussels sprouts! Who can hear those words without a shudder? There are many who 'claim' to love this mangy product of the vegetable garden, but they may be suffering from gustatory hallucinations." This is from an Amazon review of Brussels Sprout Crisps, chili lime flavor, by James Kenney.
I have since heard rumors that Mr. Kenney has repented of his Brussels sprout bigotry, but there are plenty more out there who continue, ceaselessly, to revile and defame this splendid sprout. There are even kids' books promoting sprout paranoia (see opening image).
They have obviously never lived in the Alaskan bush as winter closes in.
At this time of the year we are staring down the barrel of salty, blanched and mushy canned veggies which have had all their nutrients drained out them, like something straight out of a B-grade sci fi/horror movie.
This is when the cravings start.
Our bodies start wimpering and trying to go to their happy place when they see the unending line of canned product coming at them, the theme for Jaws strumming in the background.
After much forebearance and suffering in silence, the bush-body finally rebels at the treatment and clamors for something fresh and real and packed full of nourishing nutrients, something that can be stored for more than a week without losing its goodness.
In a word (okay, two words): Brussels sprouts.
It's not always Brussels sprouts. One of my all time favorite treats to snack on are frozen green beans straight out of the bag. (Don't do this at home. Always heat frozen veggies to at least 160º F. I'm a trained bush person with a stomach inured to every insult that can be flung at it.)
One winter I drooled for turnips. My dad bought me several pounds, much the same way he bought my sister in Florida a bouquet of flowers. I'm pretty sure that of the two of us I was more deeply touched and excited about my gift.
My mom found a photo of turnips in a magazine and framed it for me at the height of my turnip obsession. It now hangs next to my grandfather's old fishing lures, a symbolic, never used umbrella (nobody in the bush would be caught dead or alive using an umbrella, despite our 170-plus inches of precipitation every year) and all-essential tidebook.
Turnips will always hold a special place in my regard.
Of course there are the junky cravings, too, such as donuts. Why is it that in every TV show known to mankind someone stuffs his or her face with donuts not just once an episode, but again and again? Just as if they are evil and they know how they are torturing us out here in the bush.
The worst, for those of us in the bush watching on DVD, and unable to gain easy access to the sugary treat, are those times when an actor takes a single, arrogant bite and then throws it away.
Or that horrible, psyche-scarring moment in the Monk TV show when Stottlemeyer smashes an entire box of donuts.
Most of us haven't recovered from that sight yet. It's best not to dwell.....
We always made homemade donuts, of course, when the cravings got too intense, but it's just not the same. SURE, they're probably healthier and better tasting, but one of the most attractive things about junk food is the lack of labor needed to gorge on them.
Winter or summer, we always crave ice cream. I read a statistic that said Alaska consumes more ice cream per capita than any other state in the nation.
I've wondered if that's because ice cream is full of vitamin D, which we are deprived of receiving naturally during our long, dark winter days.
In the summer we probably consume as much as anyone else, but I bet it's in the winter we outstrip those other, sunny states.
When we were kids we had an old-fashioned, hand-crank ice cream maker that we took turns cranking. But it was still an extremely rare treat because ice wasn't a constant--remember, this is SE Alaska where even the winters are fairly temperate--and we had no way of keeping it frozen. Not to mention the inability to keep the other perishable ingredients on hand.
Besides which, it was that whole labor-intensive thing again. How we dreamed--and still do--of blithely ordering an ice cream cone in our favorite flavor with our favorite toppings and having it handed to us with majestic casualness. We can dream....
Another common craving is pizza delivered to your front door.
This craving is so powerful in the dead of winter that our bush school managed to fund fieldtrips to Juneau, Haines, Smithers (British Columbia), and even Hawaii, by successfully exploiting it.
Every winter when the storms kept people from traveling to a nearby town, and the mail planes sometimes couldn't get treats out to us in our groceries, our calculating and scheming teachers planned Pizza Overnighters. All of the students spent the night using the school kitchen to chop, grate and cook mountains of toppings, put them on prepared pizza dough and then bake them. Finally we delivered them by foot and by skiff to the drooling villagers who shelled out unbelievable, frankly extortionate, sums for the privilege of eating a home delivered pizza.
Never underestimate the power of bush food cravings in the dead of winter.
But Brussels sprouts trump all other cravings. It's the one we always keep coming back to, men, women, children and even teenagers. My nephews came to live here at the tail end of their teen years and at first, in their town-living arrogance, spurned the sprout. But it wasn't long before they, too, became obssessed.
The Brussels sprout is worth its weight in gold out here. Just yesterday my oldest brother accepted, as a fair exchange, a quart of raw Brussels sprouts for having brought my groceries over in the skiff through a howling gale and torrential downpour.
My championship of Brussels sprouts wherever I roam has brought me into contact with far-ranging fellow fans. One woman has a home in Belgium, where they have a proper respect for this sprout that was named after one of their cities. They call it the Noble Spruitje.
Here is a recipe she has consented to share.
Hasselaar's Spruitje Dish
1 pound of tiny, fresh Brussels sprouts
1/4 cup bacon or prosciutto cut into small pieces with scissors
3 Tbs unsalted butter
4 ounces of the white part of leeks, chopped
2 shallots, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
cognac (for deglazing)
1 cup creme fraiche (or heavy cream)
1 cup roasted chestnuts, chopped into thirds
freshy grated nutmeg
Steam the Brussels sprouts until tender, but still green and fresh tasting. Saute the bacon (or prosciutto) in the butter until crispy and browned. Remove the meat bits to a papertowel-covered plate. Drain some of the fat. Add the leeks, shallots, garlic. Saute the veggies until soft and a bit translucent. Remove from pan and mix with sprouts.
Pour fat out of pan and deglaze with cognac. Add the cream. Stir and scrape bottom of pan until cream is bubbly and brown. Add the roasted chestnuts and season to taste with white pepper, salt and nutmeg. As soon as the chestnuts are warmed through, remove from heat.
Pour sauce over Brussels sprouts mix and stir very, very gently. Scoop onto each individual plate and sprinkle with bacon or prosciutto bits.
Now here's the most important part: Pretend that you're far off on the edge of the world, it's been storming for weeks and you haven't laid eyes on fresh produce in weeks. You're testing your teeth to see if scurvy has struck yet. Your body is fevered with cravings for anything green. Now...now take a bite of Brussels sprouts and tell me they aren't the best things you've ever eaten.