by Ali Berlow
Mon petit choux…’ Did he just hear the waitress whisper in his ear “My little cabbage” in French? She was reaching across him, filling up his wine glass. No, she must’ve said something like, “Excuse me sir,” when his eyes followed up her arm and settled on the porcelain sheen of her complexion. Or maybe she asked, “How is your Christmas dinner?” He nodded with a mouth full of duck confit, mumbling, “Yes—very good—and thank you,” and turned back to his plate.
He finished off the duck—slipping the last bit of meat off the bone and swirling it in the saffron cream before putting it into his mouth. “This is the way to enjoy a Christmas meal,” he thought to himself, “Alone.”
A tidy pile of Brussels sprouts was all that remained on his plate, besides the duck bone. He eyed them with some regret. They tainted, ever so slightly, the gratification he felt from the meal.
Brussels sprouts were not his favorite. Haricot verts would’ve been his first choice or maybe asparagus for something green. Even though he was quite full and looking forward to dessert, he felt obliged to eat them.
Some of the sprouts were halved—revealing beautiful pale green layers of tender leaves—and they were cooked in a simple brown butter. Mid-chew he realized he’d never really tasted a Brussels sprout before. It was nutty and light—a sweet, subtle mix of earth and musk—and not at all like its oversized cousin the cabbage or the vulgar little Brussels sprouts his ex-wife used to make. Hers were always undercooked, and she mixed the dry, bitter balls with chestnuts and pearl onions and served them beside an equally dry Christmas goose. Every forkful felt like a fistfight in his mouth. He’d only have to bite his tongue and taste blood to affirm the brawl going on between his teeth.
He was so pleased with his newfound appreciation of Brussels sprouts that he had the waitress wrap up the last of them. They’d be perfect for his breakfast omelet. She returned with an aluminum foil swan of leftovers and his dessert—a slice of Bûche de Noël, complete with meringue mushrooms, a spun caramel veil, and even a little marzipan ladybug. The next morning the Brussels sprouts sat stuck in coagulated butter sauce. They’d taken on a gray pallor and looked shriveled and diminished. But with the pleasures of the Christmas meal still fresh on his palate, he was determined to nurture this latest object of his culinary affection. He sliced the sprouts into quarters and gently folded them into fresh eggs and cream. It was with that lingering, morning-after-holiday feeling—the one that leaves you satiated, but never content—that he picked up his fork and heard himself say to no one in particular,
“Oh my, mon petit choux.”