Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Bacon and Apples

Eating well during nine long months of pregnancy can be a tricky thing.

The first trimester for me was a breeze. As someone fortunate enough to experience no nausea, the only challenge I faced was an overwhelming desire to sleep at least 13 hours a day.

Farmer Dan, who loves to cook and experiment in the kitchen, would lovingly allow me to crash on the couch after work, waking me up from my comatose state only to eat whatever he had prepared, then allowing me to fall right back to sleep without so much as washing a dish. In the beginning, this meant eating his favorite meals – a lot of sautéed kale doused in lemon and garlic, roasted vegetables and grilled meats, which was a perfect way to start off a pregnancy. This was an arrangement I happily agreed to, and I dutifully ate whatever was placed in front of me without argument.

Then pregnancy insomnia and heartburn hit, and suddenly I was awake enough to realize that take-out Mexican, carbs and heaps of cheese sounded a whole lot better than kale or lean meats. And the baby in my belly seemed to agree.

Still, despite my aversion to anything green, I knew how important it was to eat as healthy as I could, so I sought out recipes that could be quickly and easily made on a weeknight and didn’t make me want to go running to the nearest basket of chips and salsa. And while it may sound surprising to those who remember only bad experiences with boiled, overcooked Brussels sprouts, it turns out that Brussels sprouts have been the only green vegetable I’ve been able to get excited about my entire pregnancy.

Now, the key to really amazing Brussels sprouts is to roast them at a high temperature so they caramelize and become crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. The other secret – which is really no secret at all – is to add thick, slightly salty bacon and sweet roasted apples to the mix and toss in a bit of acidity with either red wine or balsamic vinegar. It’s a fast, easy way to prepare a healthy side dish that makes you want to eat your vegetables and head back for seconds.

A few tips: When selecting the bacon, spend the extra money to get the really thick-cut, good-quality bacon at the meat counter. It’s worth it. I like to bake the bacon on a metal rack over a tin foil-lined baking sheet so the fat drips to the bottom of the pan, leaving the bacon crisp and evenly cooked. Watch the bacon closely as it bakes, because the timing really depends on the thickness of the cut. After it’s cooked to your liking – we like it to be crisp but not overly crisp or burnt – simply chop the bacon into large half-inch slices and toss the tin foil for an easy clean-up. No mess, no fuss. When the Brussels sprouts have finished roasting, just toss the bacon and apples on top and heat until the bacon is warm and the apples are softened.

For this recipe, I prefer to use Gala or Honeycrisp apples, but really any apple you have on hand will do. You can easily tailor this recipe to suit your tastes by adding yellow onion and minced garlic, adding honey to the vinegar or replacing the vinegar with freshly-squeezed lemon juice or a sprinkle of smoked paprika.

With only 48 days to go until my due date, I’m prepared to eat as many Brussels sprouts as I can to keep my baby strong and healthy. And when prepared right, that’s really no hardship.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Bacon and Apples

Ingredients
4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces
4 pints Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and halved
Olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 red apples, cored and cut into ¼-inch slices, each slice halved crosswise
2 tsp. red wine or balsamic vinegar (or to taste)

Directions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Arrange bacon in a single layer on a rack over a large, tin foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Bake until browned, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, add Brussels sprouts to bowl with generous drizzles of olive oil and toss using hands to coat thoroughly. Once bacon is browned, remove the bacon from the oven and chop into ½-inch pieces. Remove rack and discard tin foil, adding new tin foil to baking sheet if desired. Add Brussels sprouts in a single layer; sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast until they begin to brown, about 10-15 minutes.

Remove from oven, and toss in apple and cooked chopped bacon. Return to oven; roast until Brussels sprouts are browned and tender and apple has softened, 10 to 15 minutes.

Toss vegetables with vinegar, and serve immediately.

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Farm Winter Wonderland

There’s nothing quite like the beauty of a white winter wonderland when you’re out on the farm.

For me, waking up in the early light to snow-blanketed fields and tree branches glistening, heavy with morning frost, is pure magic. On these days, the only sign of even the slightest disturbance is from the tracks in the snow made by our Australian Shepherd, Bodie, who paces around the farm during the night like a diligent watchman, guarding us as we sleep.

It’s the kind of morning where you lazily relish a steaming cup of coffee by the window, snug in your flannel pajamas and slippers, watching as the snow whirls in the air, as though you’re part of your own private snow globe.

At least, that’s what happens when you’re 30 weeks pregnant, on holiday vacation and under strict instruction from your husband not to go outside lest you fall and go into early labor. When you’re a farmer, on the other hand, even on a holiday, the work has just begun.

Though you won’t hear him complain, Farmer Dan and those in his profession are undoubtedly weary of the mundane and unappreciated work that comes hand-in-hand with heavy snowfalls. For the past few weeks, he’s been diligently clearing snow off our gravel roads, making sure the cow yards are dry and bedded with fresh straw, and scooping the cement bunks where the herd eats its hay and grain. So far, it’s been the type of winter when as soon as the snow is cleared, more is already on its way, and it’s back to putting on the heavy coat and flannel-lined jeans that are still slightly damp from the last time my farmer was outside.

When you’re a farmer, on the other hand, even on a holiday, the work has just begun.

While the monotony of snow removal and the discomfort associated with South Dakota’s stinging cold weather may be enough to make some complain, the farmers I know seem to have the uncanny knack of seeing the positive in every trying situation – especially Farmer Dan. Ever the optimist, he chooses instead to focus on the much-needed moisture the fields will get from the snow – an ever-present thought on our minds since experiencing record drought conditions during our first full year of farming in 2012.

And though the days may seem long, cold and gloomy now, it won’t be long before springtime is upon us, and it will be time for calving and for the seed he just ordered to be put into the ground. South Dakota weather may be temperamental, unpredictable and inconvenient at times, but it always brings something new with each season, and nobody appreciates that more than a farmer.