It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends. I can remember now, with a clarity that makes the nerves in the back of my neck constrict, when New York began for me, but I cannot lay my finger upon the moment it ended, can never cut through the ambiguities and second starts and broken resolves to the exact place on the page where the heroine is no longer as optimistic as she once was.
From ‘Goodbye To All That’, Joan Didion
Lately I’ve been (re)reading Joan Didion. I started with her wonderful book of essays Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and am currently on My Year of Magical Thinking. She is a remarkable writer, combining sparse prose and careful construction with incisive commentary that feels neither judgmental nor self-indulgent. She is one of my favourite essayists, and her seminal essay ‘Goodbye To All That’ – which the quote above comes from – is one of my favourite pieces of writing.
I’ve never actually been to New York, but ‘Goodbye To All That’ is more universal than the city in which it is set. From a particular moment in time, it is a timeless story. It is an ode to the intoxication of youth and the moment when it fades, to the making of memories, and to the way that certain places and certain times leave indelible marks upon the narratives of our lives and our selves.
“I could taste the peach and feel the soft air blowing from a subway grating on my legs and I could smell lilac and garbage and expensive perfume… I still believed in possibilities then, still had the sense, so peculiar to New York, that something extraordinary would happen any minute, any day, any month.”
Didion’s honesty and clarity and perfect encapsulation of the invincibility of youth in this essay make it hard not to read it through a personal lens. For me, it was the bitter-cold taste of a beer and the clanging of trams in the light breeze of a purple Melbourne evening. Writing essays late into the night and walking home through the silenced leaf-strewn corridors of university, falling in love over the clinking of pool table balls. I can draw a straight line between that young woman then and myself now and at the same time she is someone else entirely. It is both bittersweet and lovely.
These brussels sprouts have no relationship to Joan Didion except for the fact that I ate them while finishing Slouching Towards Bethlehem. This is the second post in a series that highlights simple ways to make a single vegetable totally delicious. Brussels sprouts are one of those foods that everyone loves to hate. And to be fair, boiled brussels sprouts do leave a fair bit to be desired. But brussels sprouts caramelised in butter and sprinkled with toasted nuts and sea salt? Seriously one of the better things I have put in my mouth lately.
This is a wonderful side dish as part of a medley of veges, or perhaps with fish or meat (if that’s your thing). It would also go really well tossed through a simple salad (I’m thinking steamed baby potatoes, fresh arugula, chickpeas, and a lemony dressing), or atop a bed of nutty buckwheat, which is how I devoured it for Sunday lunch.
Buttered Brussels Sprouts with Flaked Almonds
2 dozen brussels sprouts
50 grams butter
⅓ cup flaked almonds
Sea salt, to serve
Trim the stems of the brussels sprouts and cut in half, from stem to top. Set aside.
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan dry toast the flaked almonds, tossing frequently, until they start to brown (3 – 4 minutes). Transfer to a bowl and leave to cool.
Melt the butter in the same saucepan on a medium heat. Place in all the brussels sprouts, cut side down, sprinkling any stray leaves over the top. Cook until the sprouts are tender and the cut side is a rich brown colour, approx. 10 minutes. Once they’re nice and brown, toss to slightly brown the rounded sides and coat the whole lot in the butter, another 2 – 3 minutes.
Transfer to a serving dish and stir through the flaked almonds and a generous sprinkling of sea salt. Eat immediately.
Serves 4 – 6.