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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

brussels sprouts with mustard & caper sauce


mad mamas

I haven’t posted a story in a while, partly because I’ve been busy, but mostly because I wasn’t ready to write this story yet… I was still too embarrassed. I can truly laugh about it now, though!

A few weeks ago, dark and early, we were puttering around in the kitchen getting breakfast together. Dan peered out the window and said “Oh no… there’s a MOOSE in the backyard!” It’s not overstating the case to say that I freaked out; we just had a big tall fence built this summer to replace our flimsy welded wire fence, because the moose kept getting in and eating my trees and shrubs. But the fence only works if you CLOSE THE GATE.

I had spent a lot of time showing five-year-old Meredith how to latch the gate, because it only takes ONE hungry moose to destroy years of crabapple and apple tree growth, not to mention flowering shrubs. But I knew immediately that this was not Meredith’s mistake. I had spent most of the previous day cutting down my perennials and carting the waste over the edge. I had THOUGHT I had carefully latched the gate—but obviously I hadn’t gotten it closed, and the wind had blown it open overnight.

The moose had already eaten half of my trees and shrubs down to the nubbins, and was taking a little break lying down in the middle of our little lawn. I felt sick to my stomach—and ANGRY! Angry at myself, mostly…  but also at the moose.

Dan noticed, too, that there was a moose calf outside the other gate. We agreed that Dan would open the gate, and I would make lots of noise and scare the mama out after her calf.

Dan was getting his clothes and boots on when Meredith suddenly shouted “Mom! She’s eating your trees!” Sure enough, she was gnawing another crabapple tree; quick as a wood chipper and much more nimble. I just had to stop her from eating everything before Dan got out there! So I went out on my deck and started hollering. She didn’t even flick an ear—she just increased her pace. I yelled to Dan to hurry—where WAS he? And then I started shrieking at the top of my lungs, giving vent to my desperation and maternal protectiveness toward my poor plants.

That at least got the moose’s attention. She turned around, looked at me for a moment, then went back to her meal. I dashed at her in a rage, trying to distract her from destroying the rest of my tiny orchard before Dan came out. Then I heard Dan at the glass side door, nowhere near the calf, “Alison! Stop it! You’re scaring Meredith!” and I looked around; sure enough, I could hear poor Meredith wailing. Then Dan yelled “Run! RUN!!” The mama moose was charging me! (You could hardly blame her.) I leaped back on the deck and ran inside, and poor Meredith was a wreck, crying and terribly upset. I held her and hugged her and apologized, and Dan ran around to open the gate.

I went back outside despite Meredith’s protests, this time armed with a shovel and a rake, and, banging them together, shooed the mama out to her calf. Then we carefully latched BOTH the gates, and I came back inside to comfort Meredith. I felt terrible to have upset her so, and to have lost every speck of composure… but we sat on the couch and read “B” is for Betsy and got us both calmed down.

Then the phone rang, and Dan answered it, and walked outside. I didn’t think too much about it, but when he came back inside I realized he was talking to the neighbors. I looked out the window, and parked at the top of our driveway were TWO police cars. Oh NO! I pulled my coat on and walked up to apologize. I was absolutely mortified, explained about the moose, and told them I was so sorry to have disturbed the neighbors and to have wasted their time. Our neighbor through the woods had heard my shriek from inside her house, hadn’t seen the lights on in our house, and when she went outside, wasn’t sure where the noise had come from. She thought that it might be a bear attack, since it was garbage day and her husband had been chased inside the house by a black bear a few months ago. So, good neighbor that she is, she had called the police! The police officers were very kind—they said “Don’t feel bad! We like this kind of call, where nobody is hurt!”

After that, I spent some more time snuggling Meredith. Then we did some drawing together, and I asked her if she would draw a picture of the moose adventure. She drew a great one—complete with angry mama moose chasing me, and Meredith standing at the glass door with tears streaming down her face. I wrote a thank-you and apology letter to our neighbors on the back of her drawing, and we walked through the woods to deliver it, with a couple of loaves of bread. It’s great to have neighbors that are watching out for us! They were sweet and understanding, and we had a good talk about neighborhood wildlife sightings.

It’s embarrassing to admit that my maternal instincts for protecting my plants made a mockery of my maternal responsibilities toward my daughter! She doesn’t seem to have been permanently scarred, though, and at least this little setback has made us all VERY careful about latching the gates.

In honor of both mad mamas, I’m including a recipe for Brussels sprouts. When I was a child, my parents didn’t particularly care for sprouts, but they would plant them along the edge of the vegetable garden, in the hopes that if a moose got in, it would eat the sprouts and leave everything else. I happen to love Brussels sprouts, especially the local ones that have been coming in our CSA boxes! They are so sweet and delicious!

brussels sprouts with mustard & caper sauce

This is my favorite recipe for brussels sprouts, and I love it so much that I make it all winter with sprouts from the grocery store after our Alaskan season is over. This sauce is great on vegetables other than Brussels sprouts, too! I’ve used it with great success on broccoli and cauliflower. It’s based on a recipe from Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors.

I love to use a micro-plane zester for the lemons—it’s very easy, and the pieces of zest are thin and fine and perfect to eat, even in a raw dressing like this.

I invented this recipe as a way to use some of the garlic oil left over when poaching the garlic for our Alaskan cheese and garlic bread. If you don’t want to make garlic oil, you can use plain extra-virgin olive oil or butter.

2 garlic cloves
sea salt and fresh-ground pepper
2 tablespoons garlic oil (see following recipes), extra-virgin olive oil, or softened butter
1-2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
¼ cup rinsed and drained capers
grated zest of a lemon
¼ cup chopped parsley
2 pounds brussels sprouts

1. To make the sauce, press the garlic (or mince very fine) into a large bowl and, using a fork, mash it with ½ teaspoon salt. Then stir in the oil or butter and add the mustard, capers, lemon zest, and parsley.
2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add salt. While the water is heating, trim the bases of the sprouts and slice them in half, or, if large, into quarters.
3. Add the brussels sprouts to the water and cook for 5-8 minutes, testing every minute after 5 minutes, until the cores of the largest sprouts are tender but not mushy. Pour the sprouts into a colander, shake off excess water, and immediately spread them out on a baking sheet spread with a dishtowel. (This allows the extra water to evaporate, so the sauce doesn’t get watery, and the sprouts stop cooking almost immediately, ensuring a perfectly-cooked sprout.)
4. When cooled a bit, toss the sprouts with the mustard-caper sauce. Taste for salt, season with pepper, and toss again.

simple garlic oil
Mash or mince 3 or 4 garlic cloves and cover with ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil. Let steep for 30 minutes if you have time. Strain out the garlic and store the oil in the refrigerator.

olive oil infused with sweet, slow-cooked garlic
This is a recipe for the garlic and olive oil that I make for our Alaskan cheese & roasted garlic bread. The garlic is sweet and soft and luscious, and the resulting oil has wonderful, mellow flavor that is intensely garlicky at the same time. Keep it refrigerated. It’ll solidify in the refrigerator, but just scoop out a spoonful and let it come to room temperature, and it’ll be perfectly good.

In addition to making this recipe with the Brussels sprouts, what I usually do with this oil is preheat the oven to 400 degrees, toss a couple of tablespoons of garlic oil into a big bowl of diced vegetables: raw potatoes, or broccoli, or mushrooms, for example, add a little salt, toss well, and then pour them in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet that I’ve coated with cooking spray. Roast until brown and crispy and tender and wonderful. The timing will vary depending on the vegetable. See specific recipes for roasted broccoli, roasted potatoes, and roasted mushrooms on the South Anchorage Farmers Market website.

And then, what do you do with the garlic? Well, just use it in anything that calls for roasted garlic! Spread it on toast, put it in salad dressings or hummus, or mash it with a fork and add it to a soup or a stew that needs a little perking up. I keep it in a pint jar in the freezer or refrigerator, ready to use anytime!

several heads of garlic, cloves peeled
olive oil (you don’t need extra-virgin olive oil for this—the garlic imparts so much flavor that you can use regular olive oil)

1. Put all the whole peeled garlic cloves in a heavy pot. Cover the garlic cloves completely with olive oil.
2. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Give the garlic a stir, and then turn the heat down to the absolute lowest possible heat, cover the pot, and simmer just at a bare bubble. Stir the garlic occasionally and continue to cook until the garlic cloves are completely soft and tender, and you can easily squish them against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. This will probably take an hour or more, but check after 45 minutes.
3. Uncover the pot and let cool. Strain the garlic from the oil. This garlic can be used in any recipe that calls for roasted garlic. You can freeze the garlic indefinitely (I keep it in pint-sized canning jars in the freezer), and just take it out when you need it.

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