Sophie’s Choice: Strawberry Bread Pudding

Really, the only decision you need to make today.
Really, the only decision you need to make today.

The start of things is always challenging.

Especially when the thing you are starting is somewhat of a secret, kept that way so it can be a big surprise when it’s all done.

But it starts today, no foolin’, and already I am stuck.

Anyone who reads even a blog or two of mine knows that motivation and I have not always walked well together.

This reminds me of the story about Jesus walking with someone on the beach (two sets of footprints) and when times got tough there was only one set of footprints because Jesus was carrying the person. This story makes me a little nauseous (and only a little nauseous because I would like to have a long conversation with Jesus, for real, not praying, like hang out with the man and say what the fuck, Jesus.), but it would be super awesome if motivation would just swoop down and cradle me in loving arms.

Motivation for me is more like a sharp, pointy stick. Or a cattle prod. And that’s no day at the beach.

Especially perceptive people who have read even a blog or two of mine might even recognize that this here blog post itself is really just a clever avoidance tactic. Or maybe not so clever.

Regardless. Here we are. At an impasse.

Sometimes, as right now with The Secret Thing, the issue is just too many choices.

I could literally go in 100 different directions with This Secret Thing, but if I commit to one, 99 of them fall away and become impossible.

And I am on a deadline, so I have basically this weekend to commit.

And anyone who knows me well knows that commitment and I are also not always walking together on the beach either. And commitment is too fucking lazy to pick me up. And super heavy for me, even with all of the yoga.

The answer to this is very, very simple: off to market.

Not only does this allow me to procrastinate, but it also gives me a great excuse to check out the new MOM’s that opened up this very morning in The Rotunda in Hampden. It was, as expected, a madhouse, so much so that any designs of leisurely strolling the aisles looking for inspiration fell away when the doors opened.

The samples. And the fresh mozzarella. And Greek yogurt. And bulk section. And the sheer number of people who really should all be at work and not shopping right now so that I can have the store to myself. #OtherPeopleRuinEverything

But THE STRAWBERRIES.

If we were still in Georgia, I would have already been harvesting the first tender shoots of asparagus and small, juicy strawberries, but here in Maryland not much is coming out of the ground beyond greens and brassicas, and even then only for really good garden planners.

These strawberries weren’t local, but they were organic and sweet and deep, ruby red and sexy as hell.

And on sale.

I bought two clamshells, planning something with the aforementioned Greek yogurt (so thick like vanilla-scented crème fraiche) but then came home to other choices.

Quickly staled gluten-free bread, optimistically baked a couple days ago and not consumed. Four egg yolks leftover from the bread’s mother, also still quietly growing delicious in the ‘fridge. Vanilla beans to spare. Almond milk, bought for another purpose and then forgotten, but still good and unopened.

Sophie’s choice: strawberry bread pudding. Christ on a bike, this was good. The perfect bridge between the sunny, spring-like weather of this morning and the 30-degree temps and flurries forecast for Sunday night. Dollop of the Greek yogurt on top.

Perfect for ignoring the other choices I am avoiding. You’re welcome.

Strawberry Bread Pudding

Hey, man. This is totally unfussy. I am putting amounts here, but really, go with what you have. Leave the strawberries out, or add chocolate chips and a touch of cinnamon. Or maybe dried fruit. Or no fruit. Or whatever. Regular milk. Less sugar. Two eggs instead of just yolks. Whatever. No real choices need to be made until you are damn good and ready.

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups milk (cow, almond, soy. Whatever. Whole milk is the more reliable choice, to be sure, but don’t let dairy hold you back.)

1/3 cup sugar (or more. Or less.)

1 vanilla bean, scraped (or 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract)

pinch of salt (or 1 teaspoon if you like to measure)

2 T. butter

2 eggs (or 4 egg yolks if that’s what you have in the ‘fridge)

one leftover loaf of gluten-free bread, cubed into maybe 3 cups (or stale, gluten-filled french bread, brioche, challah, or….)

1 cup chopped strawberries (or a handful of chips, or nothing)

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter a ceramic baking dish big enough for your bread and berries. Set aside.

Heat milk, sugar, vanilla bean scraping, salt, and butter until the butter is just melted. Cool if you have that kind of patience, or, if not, slowly, slowly, slowly – whisking constantly – drizzle the hot milk into the eggs in a large bowl. If you do it too fast, you will have vanilla-flavored scrambled eggs. Drizzle slowly, slower than you think, while whisking frantically.

Place bread and strawberries in the buttered dish (I used a high-sided white ceramic baking dish). Pour milk-egg mixture over the bread, soaking thoroughly.

Allow the bread to sit in this mixture for 30 minutes in the ‘fridge. Longer, if you like. This is to soak up some of the liquid so the custard does not “break” (scramble the eggs) in the heat of the oven.

Bake for 30-45 minutes (seriously. Big range), until the custard is just a little tiny bit wobbly (but not raw. GROSS). For more gentle cooking, cook the pudding in a bain marie.

Again, cool slightly if you can, or grab a spoon and eat IMMEDIATELY with unsweetened whipped cream, crème fraiche, or super thick Greek yogurt.

 

 

 

 

Spring Greening

The key to a clean house. #ForReal
The key to a clean house. #ForReal

My kitchen is filthy.

As I emerge, blinking, into the March sun from the deepest recesses of the hell that is February and look around, I realize that my house is decidedly not in order.

It happens this way, sometimes.

When the earth begins its long march away from the sun, starting in June but accelerating in earnest as we move through November, I can feel myself retreating, hibernating. I may join humanity for a holiday party or three, but fuck it.

Bears don’t clean.

So the house gets a basic wipedown to prevent it from looking like a truckstop and to keep us in clean clothes and toilets – a whore’s bath of housecleaning, if you will – but other than that the baseboards grow furry, as do the underneath parts of nearly every surface in the house.

I was gifted a year’s worth of cleaning lady for Mother’s Day one year, and after the lady’s first visit she remarked, “It looked good until I started cleaning.”

This is nearly every winter of my life.

But the other side of this is that I cannot function well in a house that is filled with dirt. Metaphorical or otherwise.

Everywhere I look there is grime.

#BadFengShui

I feel like Punxatawney Phil (the only groundhog. #FuckOffGeneralLee). Of course he is going to see his shadow. They wake him up at the crack of dawn and shine lights on him, and all he can think about is whether or not he has crumbs on his chest from lying on his ass all winter, binge-watching Nurse Jackie while eating dry chocolate Chex because milk is superfluous and they are GLUTEN FREE now. He just wants to waddle back to his hole and go back to bed for six more weeks until someone comes in and cleans his house for him.

Or maybe it’s just me.

So here we are, early March.

It’s time to clean up our act. My act.

Whatever.

I feel a massive wave of cleaning energy coming on. It’s slow, to be sure, but I have finally thrown out the Galentine’s Day flowers and the Christmas tree is near the back fence, ready for a kindly neighbor who may or may not be heading to the dump sometime soon (#TrueStory).

I have ordered new side towels from Amazon.

I have changed my sheets and located new ones so they can be changed more frequently.

I bought glass shower cleaner and two rolls of paper towels.

I am getting ready to take various books to the Little Free Libraries located around Hampden, and I am ready to give away and reorganize many of the various things we have accumulated over the less-than-one-year we have been in this house.

It’s time to go top-to-bottom, left-to-right on this bitch.

Usually when I clean like this, I leave directly afterwards so I have the wonderful experience of walking into a house that looks and smells good.

But sometimes people suck and I just don’t feel like venturing out into the world beyond a long walk in the woods, where food is to be found but not easily and not in quantity.

I can’t order pizza in, and although my gluten-free variety is easy, still too much effort after a day collecting ALL THE DOG HAIR IN THE WORLD.

Enter salad.

What the fuck, you say. Or WTF if you are a millennial and #JustCantEven.

Not just any salad.

This time of year the farmer’s marker basket is overrrun with hearty greens: arugula, kale, spinach et al. You can’t juice them fast enough. You can’t put them in soups fast enough. Your kids hate them sauteed, no matter how much you talk about Popeye who’s strong to the finish ’cause he eats his spinach.

Side note: My brother and I used to stuff wads of spinach in our cheeks, call them chew, and spit the juice out on the patio for hours after dinner was over, finally divesting out distended cheeks of the desiccated spinach remains when the novelty wore off. Maybe my mom thought we were absorbing nutrients through our cheeks, or maybe she was overrun with greens herself and didn’t give a rat’s ass at that point.

But back to salad.

This salad is delicious, easy, filling, and versatile as hell. The basics are there, waiting to be supplemented by what you have. Chickpeas leftover? Toss them in. Grilled chicken or steak? Yup. Other types of fruit? Have at it.

After hours of scrubbing walls, baseboards, and stainless steel, this salad makes very few dishes; I tend to eat it with my fingers out of the bowl I made it in.

Kale/Arugula Salad With Apple Cider Vinaigrette

Ingredients

Kale or arugula or whateverthefuck greens you have (but no iceberg. #KeepinItReal)

One small bulb of fennel, sliced (optional)

One crisp apple, sliced thin (optional)

One handful of blueberries (optional)

One handful of strawberries, sliced (optional. Are you sensing a trend? Do what you like)

Squeeze of lemon, if using apples

1/2 cup toasted pecans (or any other nut you like, or no nuts if they make you swell up)

1/2 cup apple cider

2 T apple cider vinegar

4 T olive oil (or other oil, whatever you have)

1 tsp. honey

grind of black pepper

squeeze of Dijon mustard (optional, but it helps the other ingredients emulsify and gives the dressing some heft)

pinch of salt

Method

Place greens and other additions (apple, fennel, nuts, etc) in a large stainless steel bowl.

In a Mason jar, combine cider, vinegar, oil, mustard, salt, and pepper.

Shake like hell.

Wait until you are ready to eat, then shake the dressing and pour it on the salad. Eat it all up.

And hey…don’t wait all winter to clean your house.