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Tag: comfort cooking

i’m-not-sure-who-it’s-comforting-more food

peach-blueberry bread pudding.3

in which we momentarily retreat to the comfort kitchen as the world wears us ragged, and sometimes our sphere of true influence has shrunken to a concentrated radius of one (maybe two on a good day…)…

the leftover challah called to me, as it so often does. every friday the braided loaf of eggy dough finds its way to our shabbat table, and every morning thereafter the mostly untouched loaf (for we tear off only a few shabbat chunks on most friday nights) whispers louder and louder from the basket where it idles in quasi-retirement.

it begs to be rescued from its shoved-aside status, to be transformed in miraculous ways. bread pudding, most often, is the solution.

this week, once i plunked the getting-staler challah onto the cutting board (my tangible reminder to do something with it) my getting-taller-by-the-hour almost-senior in high school chimed in. “oh, mom, could you make it with peaches and blueberries this time? remember you said you would?”

this was not such a radical advance, this seasonal iteration of the bread-egg-and-milk puddingy pablum. but it was a certain departure from the same-old, same-old in which i chop up apples, throw in handfuls of shriveled-up raisins or cranberries, await cloud-like perfection. this called for summery attention to be paid, called for a trip to the produce bin where i found white-fleshed peaches in all their colorless glory, and blueberries by the bushel-load.

wasn’t long till i was sinking into the familiar rhythm of this recipe i know by heart (though for good measure i nearly always pull mark bittman off the shelf — or, specifically, his “how to cook anything” bright-yellow-covered cookery volume).

once i sliced into the peaches, though, my grandma entered the room. there she was, in pure imagined vapors, standing just behind my shoulder, urging me to reach for the brown-sugar canister, where i would partake of one of my grandma’s signature summery moves: douse the sliced, moist peaches in spoonfuls of deep-brown granular sweetness, allow the peachy juices to swirl with the sugar; tuck aside while golden-hued syrup emerges, the taste of summer defined.

and that was precisely the moment i realized that this comfort food for my sweet boy was just as much comfort for me in the making. there i was alone in my kitchen — me and my bread and my cream and my summery peaches — when all of a sudden i was visited by my long-gone grandma, i was swooped back in time and in space to her cincinnati kitchen in the ivy-covered brick house as sturdy and ample as was my grandma.

i was, for one sweet interval, far far from the news of the day, far from the grown-up worries that some days so weigh me down. it was just me and days-old bread, and the alchemy of sugar and peach. who knew such potency lay just beneath the fuzzy-fleshed skin of the fruit?

it’s the one room where this summer i’ve found a joy that might make me hum. that and the porch where i read.

should you want to play along, here’s my roadmap to summery joy — the blueberry-peach bread-pudding rendition thereof….

teddy’s bread pudding, the peachy summer edition*

  • 3 cups milk (or cream)
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, more for greasing pan
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
  • Pinch salt
  • ½ loaf sweet egg bread like challah or brioche, torn into 2-inch cubes (about 5 to 6 cups)
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 3 peaches, sliced
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 cup blueberries
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Over low heat in a small saucepan, warm milk, butter, 1/2-cup sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and salt. Continue cooking just until butter melts. Meanwhile, butter a 4-to-6-cup baking dish and tear the bread into bite-sized bits. Place the bread in baking dish.
  2. Slice peaches into separate medium-sized mixing bowl; stir in brown sugar. Set aside (wherein magic ensues, and syrup emerges). Rinse blueberries, and allow to drain.
  3. Once peaches are bathing in their brown-sugary juices (anywhere from five to 10 to even 15 minutes should do it), dump fruits atop bread chunks. Stir gently.
  4. Pour hot milk over bread, peaches, and blueberries. Let it sit for a few minutes, poking down the occasional chunk of bread that rises to the top. Beat the eggs briefly, and stir them into bread and fruit mixture. Mix together remaining cinnamon and sugar, and sprinkle over the top. Set the baking dish in a larger baking pan, and pour hot water into the pan, to within about an inch of the top of the baking dish, effectively making a bath for your bake.
  5. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until custard is set but still a little wobbly and edges of bread have browned. Serve warm or at room temperature.

inhale the endless comfort vapors….

*thank you, mark bittman, for your endless guidance and your recipe on much-splattered page 662.

what foods bring you as much comfort in the making as in the consuming?

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awash in grace

potpieon a cold winter’s night, after a long day in the hollows and dim-lit caverns of a hospital, where the smells are of ether, and the blinking and beeping and red-letter alarms leave you jangled and cored. on a cold winter’s night when your breath freezes in clouds as it puffs from your mouth and your nose, on a night as inky black and icy as that, there is nothing quite so heavenly fine as flicking on the lights to your dark old house, your empty house, and just as you’re beginning to stir about the kitchen, eager to feed your hungry, tired, shoved-aside child, suddenly the doorbell rings.

and there, wearing potholders as mittens, is your rock-of-gibraltar across-the-street neighbor and most blessed friend, a woman who since the night you moved in nearly 11 years ago has defined the art of being there. she is bearing hot-from-the-oven from-scratch chicken pot pie, comfort food enshrined in pyrex, comfort food the way the gods must have first dreamed it.

she is there with hot feathery islands of biscuit, floating atop an ocean of white-meat chicken and succulent broth. she’s chopped carrots, tossed in handfuls of garden peas and knobby pearl onions. she’s laced it with herbs snipped from her winter garden. and, as she stands there, ferrying the feast from the arctic blast at the door to the kitchen counter that moments ago had looked so forlorn, so empty, so begging for food, you feel a healing ooze deep down inside, deep down to where you hadn’t even realized it had all been emptied out.

only, suddenly, with this rock-solid, infinitely un-wobbable woman standing there, you realize that for the very first time all day you are leaning on someone, literally sagging your whole weight against her. you are breathing, exhale and inhale. you’ve just let out all your cares and your worries, your deep-down, tucked-away fear from that one awful moment when the breathing machine let out its shrill alarm of a warning. you have let it — all of it — whoosh right out of you, and as you lean into her sturdy down-coated self, you realize you are utterly, deeply letting her keep you upright. and she is providing.

and that’s how it is in those rare moments of grace, when the angels among us reveal their holy selves. when we are fed. when we are soothed. when we are reminded we needn’t bear it all by our lonesome, whatever it is that needs bearing.

and there is something especially otherworldly about the communion that comes with feeding, being fed, putting fork to lips, tasting deliciousness, feeling that warm lump slide down to the depths of our belly. it is surely sacramental. i’m guessing it’s why manna fell from the heavens, and not washcloths or soles for desert-worn sandals.

there are scant few times in our lives when we are so deeply hollowed. when we’ve been holding our breath for hours and days. might as well have been months. and someone arrives bearing food — that sustenance that takes flight where words fall off the cliff.

i remember those meals, will forever remember those meals, meals that bring me to tears, so deep a place did each of them feed me:  the salad brought to my hospital bedside, complete with china bowl, and silver fork and knife, after my belly had been sliced side to side, and i’d felt so emptied. the hot chicken pot pie ushered in with the arctic draft at my door the night before last.

these are the kindnesses, the graces, that serve as angel wings, that literally lift us and carry us. that prop up our wobbly selves before we fall splat on our faces.

this week has been a week of being awash in grace. every bend in a hospital hallway seemed to bring an unexpected, unscripted angel. the dear old man who ushered my brother and i from the waiting room to the tiny cubicle where my poor mama lay, caught in that netherworld of anesthesia and age. where she somehow mustered the presence of mind to lift her ring finger from amid all the tubes, and ask, scratchily, “can i have my rings back?” for they’d made her take off her wedding rings — hers and my papa’s — hers, for the first time since she’d slipped on that thick gold band back in october of 1954, nearly 60 years on her finger, that ring.

there was the kind-hearted friend who barely heard word of my mama’s surgery and wasted no time dropping off a plush polka-dot blanket, one lined in cardinal red. one that kept me wrapped while i waited, and now keeps my mama wrapped on the long hospital nights.

another cardinal-loving soulmate sent along a teapot painted with the scarlet-feathered breath-taker my mama taught me to love, the one i always think of as hope on a wing. in a gesture of kitchen sisterhood that melts me, two dear friends are huddling together at a cookstove tomorrow, and together whipping up a saturday night feast for me and the next brother who’s flying in to town.

the brother who drove five hours to be here. the one flying in now from faraway maine. the two even farther away who’ve been calling and texting as if we’re all on a string connected to juice cans.

weeks like this one remind you that deep down we don’t ever go it alone. angels huddle and plot out the game plan. whose kindness will come just when it’s needed. whose understanding — without words — will ease you over the hump.

the acts of compassion are infinite. their depth is immeasurable. they’re as essential as oxygen, as unexpected as lightning bolts in a winter’s storm. they keep us from withering. they take up the load that might otherwise grind us into swept-away piles of dust.

bless them, each and every one, through and through and forever.

dear chairs, i type through bleary braincells. and can barely wrap words around thoughts. i’m keeping one eye on the clock, on the arrival of u.s. airways flight 1991, carrying my beloved brother. the chair turned seven yesterday, 12.12. the chair seems to have grown into one of those gathering grounds for angels, who ALWAYS keep me propped upright. love to all. i’m off to the airport. xoxox

tell your favorite prop-me-up tales? what unexpected angels have landed on your doorstep? who’s graced you with kindness you would have dreamed of wishing for????