My friend Lisa, the tall blond with the sparkling wit, seems to be good at everything she does, which is reason enough not to like her. But difficult though it may be to overlook her myriad talents and good looks, I can”t help myself. We go back. In our Colorado girlhoods we walked to school together through crunching leaves and snowstorms and warm spring breezes. We climbed countless trees. We saw our first concerts together (Barry Manilow and Andy Gibb. Cool, right?) At home, we choreographed dances complete with with hula hoops and trash can lids. See, the trash can lids keeps things in perspective for me. Once you”ve seen someone dance to Barry Manilow wielding a trash-can lid, you can”t really hate her for her relative perfection.
We’ve known each other since we still had our baby teeth. You feel a certain connection once you’ve soldiered through the gap-toothed first-grade smile, the indignity of braces, and the first root canal. (That would be me. Miss Perfect probably has no cavities.) If dental benchmarks are the measure of a friendship, then we’ll be guffawing through our dentures one of these days. She’ll probably look great in dentures, too.
I credit Lisa with shining a light on home cooking for me. When I moved to Portland, Oregon in 1998, I wasn’t much of a cook. I followed recipes to the letter. (Funny, that…) I had reasonable success in the kitchen. But I had little confidence and even less inspiration. All that changed once I settled in Portland, thanks in part to Lisa, who had years of experience working in sophisticated restaurants, and who is a natural in the kitchen (of course).
The first time my soon-to-be-husband and I went to her house in Portland, Lisa whipped up a savory bread pudding with gruyere and rosemary for lunch. I thought it was amazing. She shrugged and said it was missing something. Soon afterward, she and her husband had us to dinner and served gingered braised lamb shanks. I was duly impressed, and also inspired. She wrote down the recipe. I made it at home. And it worked! I, too, could make delicious food in my own kitchen! There was nothing to stop me from keeping fresh ginger and balsamic vinegar on hand at all times! It was a revelation. I was off and running. Watching Lisa in the kitchen helped me recognize that good home cooking was within my reach. The countless hours I’ve since spent happily chopping and stirring have anchored me through good times and bad. Along the way, Portland became home, and cooking became a touchstone.
Sunday dinner with Lisa and her husband has been an almost-weekly event for over a decade now. We”ve taken turns cooking for each other through celebrations and sorrows and lots of regular old Sundays. The men cook, too. It’s a family affair. The food remains good, even now that there are three young boys and an assortment of toys underfoot. Over hundreds of meals we”ve cut fingers and burned a few things and watched our kids melt down and bickered with our spouses. We”ve also eaten well and laughed a lot and shared all the generous affection an enduring friendship can offer.
For all the meals Lisa has cooked us, it’s seems odd that the first Lisa-inspired dish I’m posting is a humble side dish. But that’s okay. It’s worthy. She made it up herself when she was in a hurry and didn’t have enough Brussels sprouts. So she stretched them with kale, slicing the whole lot into thin ribbons, chiffonade style. Mine are probably different than hers. We never had an actual recipe exchange here. She made up the recipe, and told me what was in it. I took a stab at it.
Words cannot express how much I love this stuff. When I was down with flu and pneumonia last week, this was all I wanted to eat. I think I made it three times in one week. Maybe four. I’m not sure what it says about me that Brussels sprouts and kale are my comfort food, but that’s not important. What’s important is that you get to try yet another recipe involving Brussels sprouts. (Sorry, Jud.)
I have tried sprinkling these greens with balsamic vinegar, or a squeeze of lemon juice. Both were good. I’ve added some red pepper flakes. Also tasty. But really this dish stands on its own. It tastes like the essence of deep good greenness. It makes a great side for just about anything. Or, if you’re me, you can just eat a big bowl of it and call it dinner. Lisa reports it’s also great with radicchio.
SAUTEED KALE AND BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH BACON
serves four as a side dish
¼ pound thick bacon
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ pound kale (one bunch)
1 pound Brussels sprouts
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon kosher salt
fresh ground pepper
½ cup pine nuts
In a large skillet over medium heat, cook bacon, turning once, until done (about ten minutes total). Drain and chop the bacon. Pour off the bacon fat, but don’t wash the pan.
While your bacon cooks, trim the thick stems off the kale and Brussels sprouts, and chop them into strips 1/8 inch wide. You can use the chiffonade technique to speed your chopping along.
Heat olive oil in the bacon pan over medium-high heat. Add the greens and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the greens are slightly wilted, about five minutes. Add the bacon and garlic and sauté for another two minutes.
While the greens are cooking, brown the pine nuts over medium-high heat in a small, dry skillet, tossing frequently.
Salt and pepper the greens to taste, and sprinkle them with toasted pine nuts.