excuse me, ahem. we interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you the following emergency broadcast announcement: you must, i mean must, go directly to there in your corner, where you keep your bread that is old, that is galloping swiftly toward stale.
you must grab it before it goes furry and green. that is a color not to our liking, not here in the emergency announcement department.
now rip it in bits. big bits are fine, if that’s the bit of your choosing. little bits work as well. so do bits somewhere, sort of, there in the middle.
we are en route, people, to bread pudding, that soft mushy pillow of comfort, the one with the cinnamon-sugary crust, providing just the right edge to your puff. the pudding that one spoon of, turns us all back to babies. yes, cooing and all, it is the original reversion equation.
you’ll have, if you’re so inclined, visions of nurseries and prams, and old english nannies, with considerable bosoms, leading you on with a ladle. if you’re not so inclined, you’ll simply swallow and hum.
either way, people, get rippin’.
the reason we’re rushing is this: the recipe i concocted the day before last seems to have cast a sort of a spell. i think it’s a pudding possessed.
so much so, i tell you, i can’t keep it just to myself. i must proselytize, attempt to persuade you, so hold onto your seats while i tell you the tricks that it played.
the little one, who spooned it up for dessert, then again before bedtime, and then, not 12 hours later, once more for breakfast, looked at me dreamy-eyed from under his curls, and inquired: “will you make it for christmas?”
and the man-child, one not in the groove of sending me love notes, sent this email in the dark of the night, yes, he did: “the pudding was great. i needed it today. i know we get grumpy at each other sometimes, but life wouldn’t be worth living without such a supportive home to come to. i really mean it.
“love, love, love.”
he then signed his name, and sent off his dispatch, down the stairs, round the bend, to here where i found it next morning.
excuse me while i sigh a few sighs.
what i want to know is who mixed the elixir in with the eggs and the butter and bread-on-the-verge-of-bread-crumbing?
i saw no one there in the kitchen, but surely some little elf was messin’ with me and my bits.
what happened is this: there i was minding my start-of-week business on one of the days when i’m not due at the keyboard. the red bird had just flown by the window, and that alone can get me all weak-kneed. the leaves from the trees, all golden and glowing, were raining like stars from above. and the air was unseasonably warm.
suddenly i heard a whisper from there in the corner, from there in the basket where old bread sits before dying.
“come, come,” it called. i swear that it did.
and before i knew it, i was off to the bookshelf, hauling my friend, good old mark bittman, he who claims to know how to cook everything. well, of course, braggart that he is, he was right on the money. right there, page 662, bread pudding, in three easy pieces.
i know, i know, some of you are snickering, thinking now why in the world did she need to look up something as simple as bread-ripping and bathing in butter and milk. well, yeesh, when you hear the bread calling your name, you do what you’re told, and besides, here’s a confession, i’d never before ripped bread into pudding.
i could have vamped, which is my usual style. but this here baking and rising, well it had me thinking there might be a chemistry i’d not want to disturb.
so i followed instructions, then i vamped. i grated some apple into my pudding. i tossed in whole fistfuls of raisins. oh, yum.
and the results, as i mentioned, were utterly stunning. revolutionary. never before seen.
you see, most of my kitchen inventions are heavily vegetable-loaded. and so, i am more used to these sorts of reactions: screwed-up little faces, hiding under the table, lots of “um, i’m fulls,” and, of course, that age-old attempt to forever hide the braised cabbages and all of their cousins there under the fork. it is a sad fact that we have hauled out the napkins, a day or two after a particular meal, only to find semi-mummified broccoli there in the folds of the mouth-wiping cloth.
so to come up with, on a whim really, a something that had my boys starry-eyed, all goo-gooey even. well, heck, that is a red-letter day in my not-so-fat book.
i can see now, why so many bakeries stay in business. there is nothing so sweet as tickling the sweet and the soft spot deep down inside the ones who you love. there is a pull, is there not, to try it again. to concoct the concoction that fills up their bellies, but more than that, stirs oozy thoughts in their heads. it is, for the baker, i tell you, rather addictive.
i come late, i suppose, to the notion of comfort food. i’ve spent so many years denying and fighting with food, i’m only just starting to know, deep inside, that to be fed is to be joined in a holy communion where worries are lifted, at least for a while, like some sort of host held up to the heavens.
the irony there, as i see it, is it’s taken so long to arrive at that knowing, as it applies to feeding myself. all along, my one aim in mothering, in life (the two are somewhat indistinguishable really, at least as i aim to do both), has been to ladle great heaping dollops of something divine into hearts and to souls all around.
now it seems i’ve stumbled on a fine way to fill tummies. and, to stir googoo-eyed looks from the children i live just to baste in a knowing that life, at its best, is mighty delicious.
here, friends, is the sure-fire route to what we now know as elixir pudding. may the coos and the starry eyes at your house be many.
elixir pudding,with a little help from mark bittman
3 cups milk
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, plus some for greasing the pan
11/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar, plus 1 Tbsp.
best old bread you can find. (mr. bittman calls for 8 slices, i went with the remains of a hollowed-out challah)
1 apple grated
fistfuls of raisins, or cranberries, your choice in the dried fruits dept.
1. preheat oven to 350 degrees. over low heat in a saucepan, warm milk, butter, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 cup sugar, and salt, just until butter melts. meanwhile butter 1-1/2 quart baking dish, or 8-inch square pan. cut and tear bread into bite-size bits.
1. place bread in baking dish. pour hot buttery milk over it. sigh as you pour. let milk sit for a bit, occasionally dunking any recalcitrant bits not willing to tread milk. beat the eggs, and stir into bread mixture. add 1 cup grated, drained apple. and raisins. mix remaining cinnamon and sugar, and sprinkle over the top. set the baking dish into a larger baking pan, and pour hot water, into within an inch of the top of the dish.
2. bake 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until thin-bladed knife comes clean from the center; center should be just a bit wobbly. run under the broiler for about 30 seconds to get that yummy golden brown crust. serve warm or cold. with whipped cream. keeps well for 2 days. but i don’t think it’ll stick around even half that long.
do you have some elixirs tucked in your old recipe files? ones certain to draw out the deep satisfied sighs? do you have someone nibbling out of your palm, following you starry-eyed when you whip up this thing of their dreams? did your mama, or papa, make some sort of elixir for you? or a beloved? do spill the story….