I can still remember the first two times I was startled by plants. I was about nine years old, and we had just moved to a new house. I was exploring the yard, when I stumbled into what must have been an old vegetable patch, bursting with red-veined rhubarb. I thought it was an extraterrestrial visitation. The second time was in the last decade, I'm only a bit mortified to admit; I had never seen Brussels sprouts anywhere but the supermarket, so I stopped in my tracks, astonished, when I was confronted by the field a nearby farmer had planted for the first time. They, too, have an alien quality. I always wonder how anyone ever first thought to pick off the buds and eat them...but I am often mystified by human ingenuity in response to plants. Anyway, the last of the sprouts are for sale at local farm stands, and until I eat them, I'm using them to spruce up the look of my kitchen counter. They're majestic, standing in glass cylinders. This is the first time I ever noticed that their leafy tops are simply large versions of their small side buds....Sometimes I feel like I am the last person to know what everyone else knows...

Plants are on my mind not only because of Thanksgiving feasts, but because I am enjoying my favorite holiday gift (well, I haven't actually given it away yet, but my intentions are good)--40: A Doonesbury Retrospective by G.B. Trudeau. I have been laughing aloud as I pore over this massive book, which is propped against pillows on my chair. After we left Texas in the mid-eighties, the New York Times became my "local" paper, and of course it was too gray to carry comics (big mistake.) I only caught up with the Doonesbury gang when I was traveling.

Now that I'm going straight through the years, I feel like I am reading a modern day Trollope novel, in cartoon form. It is that acidly funny, trenchant, and loud-mouthed; the cast of characters swells with the times.

And it is taking me back (as a baby boomer) through my entire adult life, too. The seventies: I remember, as a teen, reading about how we were supposed to talk to houseplants, as it would help them grow stronger, and how they especially responded to classical music and jazz. Mine were never as verbal as Trudeau's, though. A friend of mine--who is 61 years old-- just attended his elementary school reunion (have you ever heard of such a thing? that could be straight of Doonesbury) and as the current principal was addressing the august alums, one of them, at the back of the room, lit up a joint and started puffing away. Zonker! We want Zonker! And sweet Boopsie. And there's Joanie Caucus, discovering her feminist heart, and holding consciousness raising sessions with the little girls, in the sand box at the day care center where she worked before attending law school (a really unusual thing for a woman to do, in the seventies--Joanie already having run away from husband and home.) There's the insane Duke, wandering into high level government positions around the world, gobbling amphetamines as he negotiates international relations.

And my all-time favorite politician, the elegant, genteel Lacey Davenport. We could use a few more of her--to say nothing of her devoted husband--around these days.

Dudes. This book is marvelously trippy and if you don't buy it for everyone you love, you can only hope that someone loves you enough...

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!


Tonya said...

Brussels sprouts are funny things, no? I remember growing them awhile back and was pretty shocked at how large the plants grew. Asparagus is another interesting plant. Happy Thanksgiving!

Bruce Barone said...

I love Brussels Sprouts. It is one of the veggies for our Thanksgiving Dinner--roasted with sun dried tomatoes.

Anonymous said...

Dominique, As a child, I hated br spr's and thought they should only ever be cooked in an outbuilding. Now, I make a great br spr hash, with pancetta and caramelized onions. Saute the br spr in olive oil and add a dollop of balsamic syrup. Yummy! This will be one of my contributions to tomorrow's dinner. Happy Thanksgiving! Polly in Salem.

Deana Sidney said...

I saw brussels sprouts on the hoof for the first time in the flower market in NYC. I loved the way they looked in vases... like monster plants, yes it's true.. but in a good way. The often swooped and turned in the best way. Once I started growing them I was hooked on taste... the little ones left after a few frosts put the supermarket specimens to shame... a little lime and brown butter and I was in heaven!

Happy thanksgiving to you, Dominique.. thanks for your blog that always makes me slow down... for a few minutes at least!

david terry said...

Dear Ms. Browning,
No kidding....I just (five minutes ago, with about 28 hours left until twenty people start showing up for their Thanksgiving dinner) pulled a huge roasting pan full of brussels sprouts out of the oven.

So, it's delightful to read your post (and the above responses, all of which sound G-O-O-D...particularly the one from Miss/Mr Pancetta-carmelized-onions-&balsamic)).

Brussel's sprouts are among those vegetables (parsnips & beets figure largely in this group)I enjoy serving with the announcement "I already KNOW.....you HATE _____....but would you please just try them?"

Somewhere along the line (my good guess is that this occured during the 1960's and 1970's heyday of frozen "convenienence" foods), most Americans seem to have completely forgotten how to prepare winter vegetables (salon.com just ran an article on "how to cook" winter squash.....the article was as breathlessly enthusiastic as the first announcement of the Polio vaccine).

Bascially, most Americans hate brussels sprouts, turnips (etc) because they've enountered them only when they've been frozen and subsequently boiled to death. I'd hate them, too, if that was the way they'd been cooked.

As for boiling things to a stogid, pulpy mess?.....

I've long found it amusing that the French (with NO degree of irony whatsoever) do, indeed, refer to a certain method of cooking as "a l'Anglaise". Cannily enough, they serve stuff cooked "a l'Anglaise" to infants, invalids, and the elderly.

As for my brussels sprouts (which folks adore)?...I cook them as they'd be cooked in Perigord (where I've spent a lot of Summers). Blanche them, and then braise them for a very long time in goose fat with lardons (basically, bacon chunks). Then?...pour salted butter over them and bake them for about 45 minutes. Afterwards, top them with roasted, chopped hazelnuts and drizzling of walnut oil.

They are VERY GOOD when prepared this way.

Of course (and to be honest) I'm aware that, probably, you could prepare sheets of cardboard this way, and they would taste really-really good.

I'll also admit that, the last time I made these for a dinner party and was asked for the recipe, the response was "Wait... let me guess....your family owns a company that MAKES pace-makers, right?"

Bemusedly yours as ever,

David Terry

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Oh, I'm trying to remember who Lacey Davenport was modeled after!! This is going to run me nuts. Do you remember??

I too was startled when I saw brussels sprouts in their natural state. Truly fascinating. And don't you adore their name?

Best wishes for a lovely, peaceful Thanksgiving!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Millicent Fenwick!?

david terry said...

Dear Ms. Terry (also of North Carolina),

Yes, that would be Millicent Fenwick (the quite-justifiably admired four-term NJ member of the House of Representatives AND "Vogue" maven, among the other 1001 things she did well)...who was what Sarah Palin would ("should"?) want to be if she had either the sense, education, or just plain-old-background (as my mother would politely understate the matter)if Palin knew about such things.

As far as I can recall,though, G. Trudeau always claimed he had no idea of what anyone was talking-about when Fenwick's name was brought up.

Of course (and as someone who's been in the business for twenty-something years), I can promise you that drawing well and lying well aren't, by ANY means, necessarily mutually-exclusive talents.

----david terry


quintessence said...

Just adore brussels sprouts - and so does my entire family!! I've always thought they were certainly the most adorable vegetable. I've never seen them growing - nature is indeed a wondrous thing. And I was never a comics fan - but a friend of mine has designed all the Doonesbury products over the years and has always told me I would appreciate his humor - so perhaps now it's finally time!

mary said...

i was shopping in Trader Joe's a couple of days ago and stopped dead in my tracks: I could not believe that brussels sprouts grew on stalks all up and down the stem like little soldiers. Yours are so much more beautiful and petit; they look yummy.
Happy Thanksgiving.

Folkways Note Book said...

Ahh great book for a holiday gift. So is Trudeau still active or has he retired or what. I read him in the past but he sorta faded off my compass. He certainly can make one smile. -- barbara

Ashling said...

Oh my--what a treat your post was! While I just ate my first brussels sprout Tuesday night and remain undazzled, your comment about their alien-ness made me laugh. I often look at fabulous but unlikely foods and wonder "who was the first person to look at a lobster and think 'there's good eatin' in that ugly critter'"???? And the brief walk down Doonesbury's memory lane has me lusting for that book now! Happy Thanksgiving to a writer whose blog gives me such pleasure!

karenleslie said...

i give thanks to you, dominique browning, for your inspired and deeply pleasurable blog. have a great day.

Thea said...

I, too, saw the generous branches of brussel sprouts at Trader Joe's - and the huge stalk went for only 3.49 - aren't they just the cutest little veggies? Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone!

sam n. said...

i'm trying to be grateful today, on thanksgiving. i realize i have never, in all these years, actually sat down and written to say Thank You for all the beautiful, goosebump-inducing editorials back in the H&G days...and now for your amazing book and this blog. i count your work and your powers of observation and expression as a huge gift in my life.

ha! now i am no longer imagining that i thanked you. i have finally done it - and thank you again.
happy thanksgiving.
sam nichols

Vivien said...

Being brought up in the city (London) I didn't know how brussels sprouts grew. I imagined they grew singly, with little roots, in fields, with sweeping perspective lines of these tiny vegetables. Then at about 20 I saw brussels sprouts growing on the stalks of what seemed like big cabbages - amazing! You could say how remote we've become from the natural world but I'm rather glad I can get them from the supermarket and don't have to go out digging them up.

In England in the past they were boiled and lost their vitamins, I think. Now they're usually steamed, which is much better. Very good with bread sauce (bechamel with bread crumbs and cloves). Sorry not to be more philosophical - I enjoy your blog and thoughts.

Unknown said...

Plenty Of Good Days Remain.
The Point Of Washing Dishes Is-- Washing The Dishes.

Maria Petrova said...

I too find the sight of a brussels branch exotic... Thank you for this delight!

Dominique said...

And I'm still washing dishes! But no longer wondering about the point of it....thank you to all....d

Warren said...

For some extra YUM: trim, cut in half. Put cut side down in an iron skillet with bacon grease. Spray the top side with a little olive oil. Quickly sear on a hot stove top. Steam and toss with a splash of chicken broth, dash of paprika, and pancetta bacon bits. Place the skillet in a hot oven to finish cooking. Serve slightly crunchy (mushy is BAD). I've even converted my teens with this.

ABT your soft-boiled egg. My chef friends at Sitka and SPruce serve perfect 6 min eggs but trying to save energy I am working on the cold water start. Any suggestions for time?

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