Yet another Christmas Day dinner has been enjoyed and with it, another year of marvelling at the seemingly universal hatred of Brussels sprouts. I am convinced that these baby cabbages suffer from bad press and that this has a lot to do with the rather unimaginative way in which they’re cooked – steamed or boiled. But if you check the myriad online recipes, you’ll find everything from stories of frying them in bacon and drizzling with cider vinegar to shaving them for a salad.
Me? I’d eat them hot or cold, by the pot load. I can’t get enough of them but for some odd reason, they are indelibly linked with Christmas and rarely get an outing any other time of the year. This is something I have to work on.
From a health perspective, they have some cholesterol-lowering benefits if you steam them. They also protect our DNA, stabilising the insides of white blood cells. And they’re big in glucosinolate content – important phytonutrients and the chemical starting points for a variety of cancer-protective substances. So really, what’s not to like about them? And they’re easy to grow.
From my favourite Christmas food, let’s move to one of my favourite presents this Christmas. A delicious Bourbon Barrel Cake from Kentucky. This caused great consternation when it arrived with both the postman and my dad marvelling at how much it cost to mail – a whopping $47. It had pride of place in the living room and doubled as a conversational piece all over the holidays. I was torn between lugging it back to Budapest or eating it before I left. I had it figured for a fruit cake but when I finally cut into it on Christmas even, was very pleasantly surprised to find that it was actually a moist brown-sugar cake with pure maple and chocolate cake topped with walnuts, chocolate, and caramel bourbon icing. [MM: there’s a lot of cake in there… ]
Every Christmas Eve, our neighbours come to call. They start wandering in about 10.30 pm (after mass) and then stay still the small hours of the morning. We’ve been doing this for more than 30 years and with each passing year, stories that haven’t been told before are aired and many old favourites are repeated. Before I cut the cake, I explained its history. Or rather my connection with the sender. When I went to Valdez, Alaska back in 1997, RB was in charge of the Ballast Water Treatment Facility. I worked for him for a few months, before the Rutz man took over. RB was transferred across the bay and we stayed in touch, both of us working on the Board of AVV, a domestic violence shelter in Valdez. When he retired, I was asked to be one of the speakers at his going-away do. It was my second public speech and one of my best. That was back in 2000 (I think).
Since then, we’ve stayed in touch as he moved to Tennessee and then to Kentucky. Always marching to the tune of his own drum, RB is one of a small group of men who have had a profound influence on my life. I’ve not seen him in 13 years, something I intend putting right in 2013. (how’s that for poetic alignment?) But miles and distance haven’t dampened my enthusiasm for him. He is, and will remain, one of those who made, and continues to make, a difference.
The cake would have received a standing ovation had there been room to stand. As it was, it filled the room with ecstatic sighs and questions from the cooks as to the ingredients. One neighbour even suggested that we all chip in for the postage next year!
So, between Brussels spouts and the bourbon barrel cake, my Christmas culinary experience was complete. Thanks RB – the neighbours send their love.