I remember once, at a dinner party, J. was laughingly telling of how when L., her husband, was growing up in Germany, he always loved the smell of grilling sausages at the stands he passed on his way home from school. We all chortled joyously at the idea of him as a young schoolboy, sniffing ecstatically at the air scented with bratwurst and bockwurst and weisswurst and whatever kind of sausage they had. I can sympathize, though, because the summer I turned twelve I went to Europe for the first time, and one of the things I discovered (along with down comforters, buffet breakfasts, and wiener schnitzel, as well as that fiery Hungarian concoction known as goulash, which I have not had since) was bratwurst, which was as unlike the American hot-dog as foie gras is compared to the still-thawing liver that falls out of your chicken as you attempt to wrestle it into the pan. I never liked mustard until I encountered it served alongside a pale length of what must have been weisswurst (I can't remember for sure), and a hot-dog never tasted the same to me again (although I still love hot dogs, which is another story in itself).
Back home, sausage was for breakfast, fat little links that sizzled away on Sunday mornings, or came as one of three options with your eggs-any-way at the diner you would ordinarily never eat at unless we were on vacation somewhere exotic, like Disneyland. Ham, bacon, or sausages? Pig, pig, or pig? Outside the home sausages came in round, flat patties, which reminded me of the Little House on the Prairie books (Little House in the Big Woods, with its extensive descriptions of hog-killing time, and Farmer Boy, with its extensive descriptions of, well, every food imaginable). I swear I never bought a chub of sausage - my mom bought those about as often as she made buttercream frosting, that is, almost never - until I was in college, or even just a few years ago when I first discovered the joys of biscuits with sausage gravy. (But, again, that is another story).
Later, in college, I discovered Italian sausages, split and grilled and smothered in sautéed peppers and onions, served on a roll. Like Buffalo wings and potato skins, they belong to that time. I would not eat them now. Now I can go to the market or the supermarket and be bowled over by the choices - chorizo and Italian sausages and wurst of every kind imaginable, seasoned with anything and everything under the sun. Most often I buy spicy Italian sausages from Whole Foods that will go in an easy lasagne or sautéed with onions and mushrooms and finely shredded escarole, tossed with orecchiette or farfalle and loads of grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano. Or, like tonight, I fry some sausages up in a pan - my favorite little frying pan which is just the perfect size for two big sausages, or a small omelet, make some toast, pour myself a glass of juice. I have bought 20-grain bread by mistake. It feels as though I have swallowed a loofah sponge. But the sausages are crispy on the outside, spicy within, and I am grateful to the butcher who convinced me to try the chicken sausages. It is an experiment, as dinners alone usually are. What will I try next?