Next time you want a quick, warm, good winter supper — or a dish for Thanksgiving — especially if you are a Southerner in the Upper Midwest, here’s what you do:
Go out in your garden and break off some Brussels sprouts. Brush off snow as necessary. Bring the individual sprouts cupped in your shirt hem or just bear the whole stem, leaves and all, into the house, and, once back in the warmth, pry from under the crook of the leaves the little green knobs that have sprouted there and now been sweetened by the cold. (You can also buy some at the co-op or some other place that will have good, fresh sprouts that frost has had a chance to get to; the flavor isn’t otherwise as good.)
Defrost some bacon and heat up your pan. Make sure it’s good bacon.
Steam the sprouts in a steamer basket inside a pan with a lid on top and about half an inch of water in the bottom. Once the water’s boiling, it’ll only take a few minutes. Let them get bright green and beautiful, as despite their humility Brussels sprouts genuinely are, but keep them just on this side of firm. Too many people who say they hate Brussels sprouts have only had overcooked mushy ones that were poor quality to begin with. Who wouldn’t avoid a vegetable like that? Even though it’s not the vegetable’s fault?
Meanwhile, lay your bacon in the hot pan and cook it, medium-high heat, not too terribly fast. Once it starts to wrinkle, scatter brown sugar on it, as much as your conscience will allow. Turn it over, then back again, letting it get nice and brown on both sides as you lean dizzily over the stove and breathe in the aroma now rising from inside your house on an ordinary winter night. Isn’t it wonderful?!
(Yeah, it’s bacon grease. It’s also your one wild and precious life on earth. And since you have been skiing in that brussel-sprout-curing first snow, you’ll probably not die of a heart attack just yet.)
Using tongs, lift the bacon out of the now-brown-sugar-infused bacon grease and lay it off to the side on a plate on which it will soon be joined by the sprouts. Drain the water away from the sprouts and put them right in the pan with the grease. Scoot them around with the ends of the tongs to save washing an extra utensil. Brown them up a little – again, not too long. Maybe 3 or 4 minutes? Let the bright green darken to an earthy olive-green with the occasional char-spot where one has rested against the hot pan for a little too long. They’ll soak all that brown-sugar-infused bacon grease right up, matching it with their own sweetness, which the pan heat has only deepened.
Eat your sprouts warm, taking a sip of that random Riesling on your counter every once in a while. Is Riesling right with Brussels sprouts? Who cares? It tastes great. Every so often, eat a piece of your brown-sugar bacon and shout for joy.
Be warm. Be well. Give thanks.