Get the Brussels right

Get the Brussels right

I remember my grandparents, both a part of the “lost generation” born around the turn of the last century, referring to the upcoming holiday as “Decoration Day,” the day when we decorate the graves of the fallen in the many wars fought to end all wars.

The number of men and women to commemorate through the years since the Civil War is staggering. Just to shed a little perspective on things, the tally of still unaccounted for/missing in action service people from World War II is about 79,000 people. Those are largely young men just coming of age and pining for sweethearts back home when it all ended in explosions and flying dirt.

Their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, wives and sweethearts never knew what happened to the person they waved goodbye to at the rail station, never to be seen again.

So Memorial Day isn’t just about discounted used cars or lakeside picnics. Grandpa told me he was set to board one of those trains for WWI in 1918 when armistice was declared, and he didn’t have to go. Standing in that small living room as he told the tale, his relief was palpable, more than 60 years later.

You could spend the rest of your life studying the first world war and never come close to understanding what it was about or why so many young people had to die. No one who participated gained an inch, and everyone lost a great deal. It may not have lived up to its slogan, “the war to end all wars,” but it was the last of the endless territorial conflicts between Europe’s monarchies.

We now honor all those who have served and fallen for our country on Memorial Day, the descendant of Decoration Day, and we rightly get together with our surviving family members to share some good food and memories. I think that’s the right way to solemnize their sacrifice. I can’t imagine any of them wanting us to sit and mope, but rather to enjoy the fruits of their bequeathed freedoms.

If you’re invited to a cookout this year, you may find yourself having to conjure up some kind of dish to take along. Something you can be fairly certain will be popular is an item now found on many swanky restaurant menus, Brussels sprouts in one iteration or another.

Like many of us, I hated Brussels sprouts growing up, partly due to a juvenile palate and partly due to the horrific way they were served. The only Brussels sprouts I had until well into adulthood were frozen jobs in some kind of gross sauce, enough to turn anyone off. They’re widely available fresh now and are so much more delicious than their sodden ancestors.

To prepare them, remove any browning outer leaves, trim off the end and cut each into halves — quarters if they’re really large. From that point drizzle them with olive oil, add salt and pepper, and roast in a 400 F oven for 25 minutes or so, until they begin to brown and are tender.

The other way to cook them is in a sauté pan on top of the stove. Here, I like to use a little neutral oil such as grape seed oil and toss them over medium high heat with salt and pepper until they’re done.

Once you have the basics cooked, you can add several things to make magic. Crumbled feta, pomegranate seeds, candied walnuts and some dried cranberries are all good additions. For some spice, add red pepper flakes or diced chilies.

Get the Brussels right, and no one will pay attention to the taco dip or seven-layer salad found elsewhere on the picnic table.

This Memorial Day, remember those who are the cause for the day off work. Celebrate them with good stories, by saying their names, and by sharing good food and drinks with those you love.

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