First: You lovely people, you!
Thank you, truly, for a rollicking book back-and-forth, last week. I've discovered new authors. Received great recommendations. Heard them seconded. Thirded. More. And generally, had bolstered my whole fledgling resolve to make it from front to back cover. Thanks for that.
Second: Happy Spring! I forgot to mention that, last time we spoke.
Can't you tell?
Between the snowflakes, there? See that wink of purple? Those bulgy daffodils-in-waiting? They're as patient as they are determined, pushing through despite it all, then biding their time until real Spring.
No word, yet, on when that might be.
It has snowed twice, this past week. The first was Tuesday, around 3:40. I know this because at 3:30, it was bright, if a bit chill, and sunglasses-sunny. I stepped outside to greet my eldest as he rounded the corner toward home, from school. Ten minutes later, as we sat catching up on the day, I looked up and out the window and saw this:
Only, that doesn't quite capture it. Yes, they were almost white-out conditions. Yes, visibility was, like, ten feet. Yes, the snow was blowing so sideways it shellacked the entire North side of our oak. Snow doesn't really stick to the sides of trees. Nor ordinarily, anyway. (This wasn't ordinary.) But all this, all this is somewhat evident. What is absent is just how absurd it was, the complete about-face, the full switcheroo.
It also doesn't capture the fact that, not twenty minutes later, the sun was back, bright, full-force and shiny.
Welcome to Spring in Ohio.
It all melted the next day, of course.
And snowed again, Saturday.
Spring snow is never enough to amount to anything, more spectacle than plaything. The only snowmen around here are the peanut butter playdough sort. (Yes, I know it screams penguin. it's Olaf. Trust me. That's a carrot, not a beak. And sticks, not wings. And mighty tasty sticks, too.)
And so, we've been walking that fickle little line between inside and out, as the weather whipsaws. When the highs breach freezing, the kids flow to the dirt like ants to melon, the high-summer sort. The mop water's mahogany. The laundry's a mess. The kids, pink-cheeked, aired-out, filthy, giddy. And on the "off" days, we dance our regular build/make/draw/puzzle/play tango. With the slight, seriously obsessive new diversion of this. Simple. Brilliant. All-consuming.
We're forcing Spring, when and where we can. Popcorn planted weeks ago is now well ahead of the weather, strong and growing. Sunflower seeds taped to the windows are blissfully, ignorantly, sprouting away. Nowhere to go but the garage, for now. All in due time. Knock on (snow-slicked) wood.
Last week, I snuck out for a late-night walk, hoping to see blossoms, or buds, or beginnings. There wasn't much, save the lingering light, still fading away at almost-eight. I suppose that's a beginning of sorts. Let there be light. Seems like there's precedent.
When we cleaned house, Saturday, I took time to check off a few extra chores. Tackled that enemy territory, otherwise known as Under The Kitchen Sink. Dusted the ceilings and corners and lights. Vaccuumed the vents. Didn't make a dent. The Spring Cleaning list is long....
Still. We're on Spring Break, this week, no school and three extra sets of hands! Unlike breaks past, we're here, this year, no big road trips in the works. So I've seized the moment, started the conversation about washing walls and windows and switch plates, what fun! (Who says hope isn't a plan?)
And we've pushed the Spring envelope, just a little, in the eating department. Saturday's cod shared a plate with (California) asparagus, and hollandaise, and these glorious words: "Mom, I love asparagus! As long as you always make holiday (sic) sauce for dunking!"
This, from two of my three asparagus-loathers. (It's always two out of three. Always. Though a different two, every time.) And, so, yes! You bet! Every day's a holiday! At least now through asparagus season's end.
But notwithstanding the odd imported treat, we're mostly still eating Winter, around here, crucifers and roots and brassicas, oh my! Which for me, weird bean that I am, somehow just never gets old. This doesn't mean I'm not up to teaching old cabbages new tricks.
I've never been part of the roasted brussels booster club. Brussels, I love; but roasted? No way. They would cook terribly unevenly, I knew. Burn on the outside. Stay tough-nasty, within. The whole charcoal-harsh exterior meets strident-mean-mustard interior combo just wasn't working for me. In my imagination. I'd never actually, you know, tried it. Bad me. Don't emulate.
Or do! New me, anyway. Because if you're one of the other twelve people who've not yet roasted brussels, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? They roast like a dream, reliably, quickly, and eat even better. A hot oven helps. As does a low rack. As does a little trick I picked up from Tara Mataraza Desmond (yes, again; that broccoli and these brussels are rocking my world): toss your sheet pan onto the cold rack, and let it preheat right in the oven. Then, when you add your oil (sizzle on impact!) and your veg, you get a head start on that mission-critical caramelization, right out of the gate. Brilliant.
They're immensely snackish, straight from the oven, melting-sweet inside; curves and flats, bronzed and caramelized. I could eat a pan as is, oiled and salted. However, if the past two months are any indication, I can eat several pans when you then drizzle the whole mess with maple syrup-spiked browned butter.
The barely sweet, deeply nutty, mapled brown butter works its way into every last cranny and nook. Darned if those little brussels don't act just like sponges, soaking up the elixir and spiriting it away. I say, let 'em have it. I can't imagine any edible place else that's more fitting, or deserving, or flat-out devastating. They taste as if each little half-head's been personally anointed, nay, bathed in the stuff. This doesn't really pencil out, seeing as there's only five Tablespoons' sauce, amortized over two pounds of brussels. The impression endures. I don't complain. Except when the platter's too-soon empty.
I know some of you will ask after bacon. (See? You! I knew it. Smart cookie.) A few strips, good, thick, smoky, diced and tossed amongst the raw brussels, perhaps halfway through cooking time? Well, we both know you can do no wrong, following that lead.
That said, I've not yet tried it myself, because two full pounds of these brussels are always insufficient, just as is. They make me deeply, deeply happy we're not quite to Spring, not just yet. Calendar notwithstanding.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts + Mapled Brown Butter
adapted from Choosing Sides, by Tara Mataraza Desmond
How did I not know, until recently, that Costco sells clean, well-trimmed, two-pound bags of brussels? As to the syrup: Grade B is the darker, more deeply flavorful stuff. We use it on everything, including these.
2 pounds brussels sprouts
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp. kosher salt
3 Tbs. salted butter
2 Tbs. real maple syrup, ideally grade B
Place rack 4" from bottom of oven, place a rimmed baking sheet (half-sheet pan) on the rack, and preheat oven (with pan) to 425°.
While pan pre-heats, wash and trim your brussles. Remove any truly decrepit outer leaves; generally shabby are fine. Trim ends, then halve sprouts, quartering any that are particularly large, leaving alone any that are particularly small. Your aim is for roughly even-sized pieces, for even roasting.
When oven is hot, pour one Tablespoon of oil on the sheet pan, and tilt to distribute. Add trimmed brussels, drizzle with remaining oil, sprinkle with salt, and toss and tumble to distribute oil and salt. Shake into an even layer, and place in oven. Roast 10 minutes, then shake pan well, nudging with a spatula if necessary to flip sprouts bottoms-up. Roast another 10-15 minutes, roughly 20-25 minutes total, or until outer leaves are crisping and caramelized, and your largest sprouts are tender and sweet to the core. (Test a few).
While sprouts are roasting, brown your butter: place butter in a small, light-colored pot, and cook over medium-high heat until butter is melted, milk solids at the bottom are caramelizing, liquid turns a rich amber, and the whole smells nutty and wonderful, 5-8 minutes. Remove from heat, and immediately add maple syrup, stirring well to combine.
When brussels are done, remove to a serving platter, then drizzle with mapled brown butter. Eat immediately.