This past week has truly been one filled with gratitude. As many of you already know, I’ve been teaching a Sociology course on Sex and Relationships at a local university this semester. I had never designed and taught my own course before, and after just a few days on the job, I quickly realized it would take over my life. Designing the syllabus, preparing for class everyday, creating assignments, grading said assignments, not to mention the barrage of student emails that flood in daily—it has literally been a full-time job just to teach this one three-unit course.
But returning to class after Thanksgiving break on Monday came with the acute realization that the semester is almost over. I have five more sessions with my students before final exams, most of which will be spent talking about how the cultural meaning of marriage in mainstream America has changed over time. And even though I’m ecstatic that I’ll soon have more time to devote to cooking, blogging, and actually finishing my Dissertation (I said it here, so this is happening…for real), I can’t help but feel a little saddened that it’s all coming to a close.
I can honestly say I’ve never seen a group of students so engaged and excited to learn. They’d frequently stay after class to chat about the lecture, many saying they were amazed at how taken-for-granted some of the cultural myths were around sex and relationships. How excited they were that they could now use scientific evidence to refute those cultural myths. It was like having a class full of sociological MythBusters. So inspiring.
Of course, the semester also had several less-than-ideal moments. Moments when I would come home and cry on my husband’s shoulder because I felt like I’d failed as their instructor. When my thought-provoking (to me, at least) discussion questions were met with a room full of blank stares. Or moments when I felt my teaching was just plain ineffective. Like the time I tried to teach them how to interpret regression tables and it took me three times longer than I’d anticipated. They’d moaned and groaned the whole way through, assuring me that they could never possibly understand. “I’m never going to get this,” they’d mutter with hopelessness in their eyes. (Really, though, is learning statistics fun for anybody?!) I promised them they would. And a week later, it finally clicked. I could see it in their eyes. I’d point to a coefficient, call on a student, and they’d interpret it correctly. Now that was a special moment. And yes, I realize this officially makes me an über-nerd.
But with the holidays rolling around, I suppose I’ve just felt grateful to have had this opportunity at all. To inspire (or at least try to inspire) the young minds of America at a moment in history when injustice seems ubiquitous is truly a gift.
This feeling of gratitude carried through to my Thanksgiving holiday weekend. And, incidentally, it was accompanied by an abundance of Brussels sprouts. My dad’s side of the family was in town visiting and, in addition to stuffing our faces like total pigs on the big day, we dined out. A lot.
At two separate meals, we ordered brussels sprouts to share, my absolute favorite rendition arrived to the table after being fried in hot oil and tossed with a healthy dose of fish sauce, called “Saigon Brussels Sprouts.” That probably sounds utterly disgusting if you’re not a big Asian foods person. But please trust me on this one! Slightly charred Brussels tossed in a mildly sweet and savory fish sauce vinaigrette is worth finger-licking, even if you’ve recently sworn off eating after consuming your weight in turkey meat and cranberry sauce. (Yes, I did swear off food after Turkey Day, and, no, it did not last more than two hours, thanks to these green balls of heaven.)
I also tear off some of the leaves before halving and roasting the sprouts. The crunch of the stray leaves is particularly satisfying when accompanied by the tenderness of the halved sprouts.
And, yet again, as I sit here in front of my computer, I find myself feeling grateful. Not only for my students who have inspired me for the last sixteen weeks, but also for the pairing of two seemingly strange ingredients and the moments spent sharing meals with loved ones.
Saigon Brussels Sprouts
- ¼ cup of fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon of rice vinegar
- Juice of ½ lime
- 3 tablespoons of brown sugar
- 16 ounces of Brussels sprouts
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
- 3 tablespoons of grapeseed oil (or canola oil)
Whisk together the fish sauce, rice vinegar, lime juice, and brown sugar in a small bowl to create the Saigon vinaigrette. Set aside.
Slice sprouts in half. Peel the leaves off of 5-6 sprouts by halving them, removing the choke, and then picking the leaves off the stem. This means you’ll have a mix of halved sprouts and loose sprout leaves, which will result in a mix of tender and crunchy when you eat. In a large cast iron (or other ovenproof) skillet, heat the oil over medium heat until you notice it begin to shimmer, about 3-5 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Place the sprouts and leaves in the skillet in one even layer, cut side down. (You don’t want to be steaming them here by piling them up on top of one another. If your skillet is too small, work in batches.) Once the face-down part begins to brown, about 5 minutes, toss them with 3 tablespoons of the saigon vinaigrette and place the skillet in the oven and roast for 10 minutes or until tender.
Remove from the oven and serve immediately. The rest of the vinaigrette can be refrigerated (for up to 1 week) for later use. I used mine recently as the sauce in a stir-fry and it was phenomenal!
Recipe adapted from Crepes of Wrath.