I grew up hating this tiny tightly-wrapped stinky green vegetable. I didn’t like cabbage either, and Brussels sprouts were often described as little cabbages. When I was a child, my mother put Brussels sprouts in a pot of hot water and boiled the life out of them. After they died, they were fished out of the pot with a slotted spoon and plopped on my plate where they rolled around, ignored, until the rest of my dinner was eaten. Sometimes I could sneak a few under the table for our dog. He had no discrimination whatsoever when it came to food. Sometimes I could tuck the remaining few sprouts under the rim of my dinner plate.
I’d be excused from the table having cleaned my plate (which, regrettably, was required back in the 50s because “CHILDREN ARE STARVING IN EUROPE.”) I’d be long gone by the time my mother picked up that plate to wash it.
My friend Penny challenged her father’s claim about those starving children in Europe. She looked him in the eye and demanded: “Name two!”
Penny and I have since discussed this bygone parental cliché and we still can’t figure out how one single starving European kid was going to benefit if we ate all our disagreeable vegetables.
With maturity, I developed a taste for Brussels sprouts. It depends on the preparation, I discovered. Instead of boiling the little critters to shreds, people tried grilling them and roasting them and steaming them. They started adding good stuff like cheese and bacon and balsamic vinegar and bread crumbs and butter and spices. I’ve included an excellent recipe for Brussels sprouts that I stumbled upon, by chance, while dithering around one morning on Facebook. It’s at the end of this blog. I tried it and it was delicious.
2. “Because I said so.”
When I was a child, this answer to the question, “Why?” was standard. Everybody’s parents said it. I bristled when my mother said it. Why couldn’t she give a reason? Why couldn’t I cross that four-lane busy highway by myself? It’s not because she said so, it’s “Because you’ll get run over by a car and die a bloody, painful, horrible death and I’ll really miss you.” Why did I have to come inside the house while a low-flying plane dusts our entire neighborhood with DDT? Not because she said so. “Because if it kills insects, it’s poison and I’m sure it’s not good for children.”
I swore I’d never say, “Because I said so,” to my daughters.
But of course, I did. My children also bristled. Often it was the answer I needed -- pronto -- and it was right there on the tip of my frontal lobe, transferred genetically to that spot by an X chromosome that passed unchanged from mother to daughter. “Because I said so” put me on a pedestal, too. I was the wise adult, the all-knowing mother who was smarter and more experienced in the ways of the world.
Most of the time I was no such thing. I was winging it, just as my mother was.
3. “I’m an old woman.”
I’ve reached the age where the phrase, “She died so young” will not be verbalized at my funeral.
I never intended to be this old. It couldn’t happen to me. Apparently, most young people don’t think they’ll ever be old. They should pay closer attention to their parents and grandparents. This, too, will happen to you, kids. Ready or not.
I didn’t have much sympathy for the hardships encountered by my parents as they aged. They couldn’t open jars, they cherished afternoon naps, they had appointments with dozens of different doctors, each one ministering to a specific body part. They had an impressive lineup on the kitchen counter of their various pills and potions.
I will never be such a sissy, I thought. I’ll never be an old woman. I ignored the signs of their aging until they were really, really old.
Now I can’t open potato chip bags or cereal packages or those frustrating sealed packets of almonds flight attendants pass out on airplanes. I can’t unscrew jars, can’t sit on the floor with any expectation of getting up again without help, can’t climb up on a chair to get the Crock Pot from the top shelf, can’t carry the Christmas tree up from the basement. I can’t see or hear without hearing aids and reading glasses.
I know how exhausting a day packed with too many activities can be. How good it feels to fall into bed. Early. I have a plastic pill container with compartments labeled M,T,W,Th,F,S,S, just as each of my parents had.
My hair is thinning. My skin is dry and wrinkly. The hip that hasn’t been replaced yet hurts sometimes, as do hands and shoulders and neck. And lower back, always. Sometimes I can’t remember a name or a place or the title of a movie that should be right on the tip of the aforementioned temporal lobe. I hope I’m never in so much of a hurry that I have to actually run. I don’t ice skate anymore. Don’t ski. I don’t leave home without some Tums in my purse. Don’t drive after dark in unfamiliar territory.
It’s OK, though. I’m not complaining. I’m very fond of living. My life is full and rewarding. At my funeral, I hope people say, “She was old. She was a really, really old woman.”
SMASHED BRUSSELS SPROUTS
2 lb. Brussels sprouts
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. chopped thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
1 C. shredded mozzarella
1/4 C. freshly grated Parmesan
Fresh parsley, chopped, for garnish
Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or spray with Pam. Fill a large bowl with ice and water.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add Brussels sprouts and cook until bright green and tender, about 10 minutes. Add to ice bath to cool, then drain.
Toss blanched Brussels sprouts with olive oil, garlic and thyme and spread on baking sheet. Using the end of a small drinking glass, press down on the sprouts to smash them into a flat patty. Season with salt and pepper, then sprinkle cheeses on top.
Bake until the bottoms of the sprouts are crispy and the cheese is melted and golden, about 20 minutes. Garnish with parsley and serve warm.
These are too good to pass off to the dog or tuck under the rim of your dinner plate.