M and I started our friendship in a class full of disagreement. It was one of those discussion-based classes, but instead of no one doing the reading and leaving the 50 minutes after a lot of awkward pauses, we filled the time with questions and thoughts. M and I met up once or twice, but until we went on a road trip 8 months later to a conference together, we didn’t grow close. For a month or so, we would hang out every day – going to plays on campus, eating at the dining hall, staying up late doing craft projects and getting up early to drink coffee together.
Then she transferred to another school. Since then, our years-long friendship has been mostly digital – we visit when we can, but our conversations are a long, LONG reminder that we have so much in common. I rely on her whenever I happen to be online researching or writing, because she often has something new and interesting for me to think about.
She sent me a recipe which she later pointed out “has very little significance, it was just something that we made and enjoyed.” I tried it, though in a lazy way, but discovered that 1. I’m not a big fan of brussel sprouts and 2. sage is one of the strangest flavors ever.
Shopping for this recipe was hard, and I didn’t even manage to remember mushrooms. I found sage at a local mega-mart after shopping for a lot of other odd foods (spaghetti squash!) as well as fresh brussel sprouts. I recently learned that brussel sprouts, col rabe, broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, and kale all come from the same plant – though when I say same plant, I mean species, not literally the same bush or vine or whatever it is. The genetic variation within it is nothing less than amazing. Sage however, was a thing apart – fuzzy leaves with a thick, floral scent. The mega-mart sales associate I asked about polenta looked at me like I was crazy and Husband cracked a joke that polenta was “what comes out with the baby.” Still, I persevered, and located Polenta straight from Italy in the Italian food section, hidden between other ethnic food sections, quite a distance from the pasta and sauces.
I made the recipe on a very very cold night, and I realized that all this actual cooking (very little take-out pizza lately) has me taking comfort in chopping things. A good song on the radio, a pile of fuzzy leaves, a few well-quartered brussel sprouts – all were reassurances that I was where I needed to be at that moment. M has often encouraged me to believe I am good enough at things, not somehow lagging behind everyone else in the human race because it takes me a while to learn my lessons. Cutting up brussel sprouts and sage does something similar.
The brussel sprouts probably needed a little longer in my oven, and I have no idea how much better they would have been if I had cooked them with olive oil and mushrooms (I cooked them in a cream-of-mushroom soup, which was still savory and mushroomy but not nearly as light as I expect real mushrooms would have been). Still, after a minute in the microwave with the much-faster-to-cook polenta, they were tender but firm. Sage was a flavor that I felt I wanted to smell more than I wanted to eat, but at the same time the whole dish felt like something utterly different from anything else I cook.
Another friend told me recently that The Simple Veganista, a food blogger, had made her “look at vegetables in a whole new way.” Trying recipes that were recommended to me but which I wouldn’t have picked out for myself is doing the same thing for me: sending me deep into the fresh herbs aisle, having me quarter fresh brussel sprouts, making the regular shopping adventure into a new thing. M has had that effect on me: when she visits, I see my regular life in a new light, or we meet up in places that neither of us know well and we find something extraordinary about them. Perhaps one of the things I find most amazing about M is that she persistently looks for the best: not just in a very-sunny-and-positive way, but that she doesn’t delude herself that something is the best if there is some new possibility around the corner.
I tried the leftover sprouts and polenta today – I appreciate the mixing of flavors more today than I did the first day. I recommend that you save at least a serving to try post-refridgeration, if you aren’t making this for a big group. 🙂
This recipe, beautifully photographed and described, is on Oh My Veggies, so check them out to start your own veggie adventure: http://ohmyveggies.com/recipe-sage-polenta-bowls-with-roasted-brussels-sprouts-wild-mushrooms/