Nostalgia and Bread Pudding
A fuzzy blur of noise, a steady stream of burdensome work. 'I need a distraction' I thought. I retreated to my browser bookmarks and scrolled down to This American Life hosted by Ira Glass. The archives are heavy with audio. I click October, The Book That Changed Your Life.
Listening...act one. Listening...act two...and I hear a familiar voice. I've heard it before. About a month ago, maybe. It sounds like a retired caberet singer. In my minds eye I see a perfectly kept silver head of hair, short, but poofy. Just hours before, washed and set, curlers tight. 'I've got a radio show in 2 hours doll, make this old dame look good!' she bellows. A roar of laughter erupts from the salon.
Awkwardly she pays the girl at the front of the salon. She tries not to stare, but the girls lazy eye is mesmerizing. 'Thanks kiddo', she whispers. The liver-spotted, spandex-wearing stylist is waiting off to the side. Smiling and anxious for a tip. The old woman, uncomfortable, shuffles through her purse. She pulls out a few wrinkled dollars and hands them over. The stylist turns, waves, and shouts 'Toodles'. The old woman turns for the door, rays of sun create a halo around her silver helmet of hair. Cat hairs glisten here and there on her black sweater set. Her ass looks like a down pillow that needs to be shaken out and fluffed.
In the booth at the radio station she pulls out a bedazzled compact, the bobbles on her wrist dangling and clinking, she reapplies a shocking pink lipstick. She doesn't notice or care that it's bleeding out into her drawn smokers skin surrounding her thin, aged lips.
Knee deep in laughter and stories, the host takes pause and announces the name of the program and his guest, David Sedaris. There go the image built up in my head. 'That's a man?' I turn and look at Roberto in shock. He's in the passenger seat and we're headed to the wine store. 'You didn't know that was David Sedaris?' he said, almost laughing. 'Oh my god, that's not what I pictured at all. That sounds like some old woman' I say.
Sitting at my desk, that voice emerges once again. I smile.
Mr. Sedaris goes on to read an exert from his book Naked. The backdrop of music and the words spilling from his mouth are curious and nostalgic, so very nostalgic. I feel transported.
I had already made up my mind to make my mother's bread pudding that night. At this point I was also feeling pretty compelled to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies. I called out for voice of reason. It responded with a most logical response. I would replace white sugar with light brown, add chocolate chips, and delete the cinnamon completely. A chocolate chip bread pudding, if you will.
I was eager to get baking. I wanted to have the bread pudding in the oven the moment the pasta hit the boiling water. Luckily mom's recipe requires few ingredients and only minimum attention. I sliced off the crust of the ciabatta I had purchased during my lunch break, cubed and and tightly packed two cups worth. I then whisked together 2 cups whole milk, 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar, 2 eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. I spread the bread into an 8x8 pan, sprinkling a little less than 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate on top, in between, nestling chips wherever a spot revealed. Finally I poured the wet ingredients into the pan and made sure to squish the bread down with my hands so that everything was properly soaked. While the oven preheated, the bread stewed.
When the oven beeped and I was sure that the temperature was correct, I slid the pan in and set the timer for 60 minutes.
After 60 minutes, the top was golden, the chocolate melted, the bread fused. We couldn't help but give it a try, still hot from the oven. After all, it was time for coffee. Note, it is sort of silly to make bread pudding when you still have half an apple cake sitting under the cake dome. I admitted this even before I started to bake. Sometimes it just can't be helped. Nostalgia and monotony had inspired this invention.
And while it tasted good last night, it tasted even better when I tried the tiniest of pieces this morning. The flavors had truly married. The density and moisture content was right were I wanted it to be. I think mom would like it.
Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding
2 cups tightly packed ciabatta (without crust)
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 cups whole milk
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
In a bowl whisk together the milk, eggs, vanilla and brown sugar. Set aside.
Remove crust from ciabatta and cube 2 cups, tightly packed. Spread bread into pan, sprinkle chocolate chips in and around until evenly distributed. Pour wet mixture over bread and chocolate chips. Squish everything tightly down with hands or back of wooden spoon until bread is soaked through. Let sit while you preheat oven to 350°. When oven is ready, bake for about 60 minutes.
Let cool for about 20 minutes. You can eat at this point, but it really does pay to wait until the next day. I ended up covering with foil and placing in the fridge while it was still warm. This kept the top from drying out.
Enjoy with a glass of ice cold milk if you're so inclined.