It’s 8:15am on Christmas Eve morning, and I am making the damned Brussels sprouts. This was my mother’s Christmas dinner assignment, her lot in life. No sooner had we unwrapped the presents, polished off breakfast, and poured a second cup of coffee, Mom would abruptly stand up to announce: “It’s time to make the damned Brussels sprouts.”
MAKING THE DAMNED BRUSSELS SPROUTS
Mom’s use of the invective did not stem from some Scrooge-like malady. The problem was that the Brussels sprouts –a traditional dish with chestnuts— were somewhat controversial at my family’s Christmas dinner. Of the 40 guests, roughly half were strongly in favor of said Brussels sprout while the others were opposed. Both parties were particularly vocal.
Still, year after year, Mom made the Brussels sprouts and plunked them next to my aunt’s “damned twice baked potatoes.” Once you’ve been assigned to a role in a family, it’s nearly impossible to switch parts.
Since Mom has been gone, I have played the part of the Brussels sprouts. In an attempt to skirt controversy and update our menu, I have experimented with various other dishes, my favorite of which is Brussels Sprouts Hash with Caramelized Shallots from Bon Appetit. However, this year I felt compelled to go to The Jeanne’s dish.
That’s because, after over forty years of hosting Christmas dinner, my aunt is passing the torch to my cousin Christine. This is hardly a sad occasion. Christine is a magnificent entertainer and talented interior decorator as well. I’ve loved consulting with her on the menu and various guests. (We like to take in randoms for dinner). I am really looking forward to ushering in the next generation of family Christmases.
Yet, as a child, Christmas at Aunt Pat’s house was not to be believed. She decorated every crevice of her gorgeous Victorian house, complete with two Christmas trees. There was an endless supply of passed hors d’oeuvres (You know how I feel about those!), three meat entrees, and bowls of chocolate candies strategically placed throughout the house. Because it’s our family, these Dickens-inspired scenes came with a healthy dose of farce. There was the year the cat hopped onto the table and its tale caught fire on one of the candles. Yes, that actually happened.
I once thought these parties were conjured out of air. Of course, that is hardly the case. My Aunt Pat poured countless hours and unbelievable amounts of creative energy into our celebration. Beyond the actual work, opening your home to 40 people for an entire day is a lot to ask. So while it’s hardly enough, I shall make the damned Brussels sprouts. It’s a meager thank you for all of those magical years
Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts
1 pound of Brussels sprouts, trimmed
1 ½ cup beef broth
2 Tbsp of butter
1 teaspoon of sugar
1 cup cooked or canned chestnuts
Put the Brussels sprouts in a pan with the beef broth. Simmer for about 8 to 10 minutes or until tender; drain. Melt the butter and sugar together in a pan, stirring unti golden. Add the chestnuts and cook until they are slightly brown. Add the sprouts and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes more. Season lightly and serve.
About Amy Kover
Amy Kover and I worked together for over five years at Fortune Magazine. She's great at spotting stories, and she knows how to keep readers interested in complicated topics.Bethany McLean, Author, The Smartest Guys in The Room and All the Devils Are Here