A funny, magical thing happened as I came up from the subway last night. I was gritting my teeth, burying my hands as deeply in my coat pockets as I could, in the midst of wriggling my elbows in an attempt to trap heat in the tinfoil-esque lining of my jacket. It happened right as my head poked up from underground into the slap of some seriously arctic wind and the fluorescent lights of the West Side Market. I might have been in a bad mood--tired, wondering what I had just stepped in, nervous about the impending cataclysmic weather, feeling like a schmuck for my failure to more readily come up with a comprehensive list of things I’m thankful for. In that moment though, if you were watching me hustle up the steps onto Broadway, you’d have seen me smiling like a lunatic, because at that precise moment...Freddie Mercury started singing in my ear.
My parents didn’t play a lot of music when I was growing up. My mom liked Elvis. My dad liked the Beatles. I don’t remember listening to either of these though. I do, however, remember being fascinated by the drama of Elvis’s death as it pertained to my mom. Did she forego food in lieu of mourning? Hitchhike to Graceland? Cover the mirrors with black velvet? No one will make the argument that I was a normal little kid...
There are two sort of weird conglomerations of music that stick out in my memories as feeling particularly homey, though. The first one is the soundtrack from the movie The Big Chill. It’s an awesome motown playlist--and a pretty awesome 80s movie, actually. When the family’s all together, it’s our holiday cooking music staple, blaring through the dinky little speakers my parents have stationed in the kitchen.
The other collection of music is also a soundtrack, from an a 1926 silent film about a futuristic world where the posh lifestyle of the rich is fueled by the slave labor of the proletariat...until a robot--disguised as a beautiful woman--turns everything on its head. The movie is called Metropolis, and some time in the 1980s they remastered the original silent film and set it to original songs by 80s superstars. We’re talking Pat Benatar, Bonnie Tyler, and Freddie Mercury.
I’ve never seen the remake. I have never been able to find it; it seems obscure, underground. The soundtrack is revolutionary though. Without exaggeration, I wore the CD out playing it on my boombox and singing along. I don’t know what made me think of it, but as I was walking to the subway I tried to put on the Metropolis album. When I went underground my internet cut out, I started reading instead (Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch--amazing. Read it now. I am now that guy sobbing into an open book on the train.) and then forgot I even had headphones in, until BOOM Freddie’s sweet angel voice pops up like it was the soundtrack to my own little movie. It was epic.
I smiled the whole walk back to my apartment, because I realized something I’m so thankful for, but that never dawned on me until just then. I’m thankful for having a family that never once asked me to keep it down when I was having solo karaoke sessions in our basement. I never entertained the notion that no walls could muffle Madonna played at that decibel. I didn’t think anyone could hear my renditions of Like a Prayer or Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves, but that notion seems ridiculous now. So, thanks for always letting me be me...even though it was probably really loud, literally and figuratively.
I hope that everyone has a marvelous and tastefully gluttonous Thanksgiving, full of 80s music and family and roasted winter greens. I made my first turkey the other day, taking this new stainless steel roasting pan for a drive. I was pretty excited about the artfulness of the stuff I stuffed with--apples and herbs and sweet onions and lemon. I had huge success with Alton Brown’s turkey recipe. I didn’t brine--because who has the time?--so the recipe was even more straightforward and painless. If you’ve got a turkey but are stressed about cooking it, I suggest you follow Alton’s protocol.
Roasted brussels sprouts with a balsamic, rosemary and shallot reduction. This is my family’s go to brussels sprouts recipe; the one we make on every holiday or special occasion. It’s ridiculously simple but has an air of high society because of the “balsamic reduction”.
- 1 lb brussels sprouts
- 1 red onion
- Olive oil
- Salt & fresh cracked pepper
- 2 medium shallots
- 2 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary leaves
- 1 cup balsamic vinegar
Preheat the oven to 400F. Trim the ends off the sprouts and chop any big sprouts in half. Slice the red onion into quarter-length slivers. Toss the chopped onions and sprouts in a baking pan with a liberal amount of salt and pepper and enough olive oil to coat them. I use my hands here to avoid cleaning another spoon. Roast the sprouts in the oven until they’re tender and some of the leafy bits are crispy and browned, about 30-40 minutes. Give them a toss halfway through the cooking time (sometimes I forget this part, and it always turns out ok).
Meanwhile, prepare the balsamic reduction. Finely chop the shallots and saute in olive oil with a hefty pinch of salt and pepper until they start to brown. Turn down the heat a little bit and pour in the balsamic. Stand back! It might pop and steam and release a balsamic vinegar cloud--which is kind of delightful, unless you inhale the whole thing. Also stir in the rosemary. Let the balsamic mixture bubble away until it’s reduced by about half, stirring often. Set the reduction aside until the sprouts come out of the oven, upon which time it can be poured over and mixed into the roasted sprouts and served.