I like this time of year, I really do. I like shadows in the morning and the metaphors of failing and falling light. I spend whole minutes noting how the early morning fog blurs the edges of the birch trees and evergreens in my backyard. Even with a life filled with good friends, great books and health, the darkness crawls into my mind and wraps my thoughts with this shadowy feeling of “ugh.” Or “blah.” I hate blah. So for this post I’m playing my own devil’s advocate by centering on the good foodie elements to fall which includes antiquated desserts, cooking divas I love to hate and cookbooks that inspire me.
Maybe pudding is a little 1970’s but it’s my favorite fall dessert. Baked pudding. Stove Top pudding. Low, flat, French style pudding that is formally referred to as La Crème Brulee.” The custardy warmth of pudding beckons back to childhood in Eastern Washington State when my mother, a non-cooking type cooked chocolate or butterscotch pudding on the stove. It might have been from a box but it still tasted good to me and the film that formed was one of my first weird food revelations about textures and small pleasures to be experienced at the table. There are a few secrets to a good pudding experience. The first secret is the careful application of heat during the pudding cooking process. Careful, slow application of heat allows the eggs to thicken the custard without bubbles forming. This is primarily an issue with baked puddings, and why you would use a low temperature and a water bath. Of course the issue with a stovetop pudding is different though not unrelated. With the stove you’re worried about the thickening custard adhering to the bottom of the pot.
The second secret involves whipping cream. Freshly whipped cream elevates the pudding to a whole other level. Once you’ve cooled the pudding, once you’ve whipped the cream and added the shavings of whatever it is that you want–cookie crumbs or salt or chocolate shavings– you’ve got a parfait thing happening–a multi-layered, homemade anti-depressant. Forget about those serotonin reuptake inhibitors, those expensive biofeedback people with their mealy empathy and those anxiety specialists with those coping exercises. Have pudding.
This recipe is inspired by the recipe on the back of the package of Bob’s Red Mill Small Pearl tapioca. I didn’t like the instructions to beat the egg whites and there weren’t enough eggs, so I added some egg yolks and the recipe is silkier on the tongue.
1/3 cup Bob’s Red Mill Small Pearl Tapioca
¾ cup water
2 ¼ cup 2 percent milk
¼ teaspoon salt
2 eggs, plus two egg yolks
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons Singing Dog Vanilla Bean paste, or vanilla extract (What the hell is Singing Dog Vanilla bean paste? Well, it’s a gooey vanilla bean paste that is the closet ingredient to vanilla beans. It’s expensive because vanilla beans are expensive but I’ve had my little jar for 6 months now as a teaspoon goes a long way. I found this at Whole Foods.)
Soak small pearl tapioca in water for 30 minutes in a 1 ½ cup quart saucepan. Do not drain after soaking. Add milk, salt and ½ cup sugar, the lightly beaten eggs and egg yolks all together and stir over medium heat until simmering. You want to go slow and be standing there, as you don’t want the mixture to thicken too fast and adhere to the bottom of the saucepan. Mixture will be pudding-like consistency if runny and will thicken later. Once the heat is turned off add the vanilla and pour into your serving dishes. Cool and serve warm or chilled. Eat within 24 hours as tapioca pudding thickens, and in 48 hours it’s got a thickened, gelatinous texture. Makes 3 ½ cups, or 6 good servings.
Whipping Cream This is an emergency cheering technique. This is for when you can’t make the pudding, or the pudding frightens you, or whatever the deal is with you and pudding. If you can’t make the pudding you can always whip cream into soft mounds and serve this with whatever. Cookies. Cookies you made or cookies you didn’t made. Below I have included an image with whipping cream, and some store bought cookies, and then another picture of whipping cream crowning the tapioca pudding. Whipping cream is a like a psychic heating pad. I know it’s fat and cholesterol-filled. I know (believe me I know) that when you enter whipping cream into you’re Fitness Pal app, there’s going to be the hellish little text rising up to incite The Guilt. Sigh.
Cookbooks Looking at cookbooks creates momentary happiness sparks in my brain. Yeah. I know this makes me sound like a fruit cake, but when you’re feeling listless or anxious, there’s something to be said for heading to your nearest, independent bookstore and flipping the pages of a well-conceived cookbook. Not a cookbook written by a celebrity mind you, or even necessarily a cookbook written by a chef. A cookbook that has perhaps, (and by no means should you be limited to this) been co-written by a food writer and a chef is often a pretty good book. I bought a cookbook recently that I adore called “A Boat, A Whale and a Walrus,” by Renee Erickson.
Despite the fact that she’s sort of a big Seattle deal now, she wrote the book of a solid person, which makes me thrilled for her and us. This Seattle chef has combined her love of food and cooking and created a vision that feels unique, French-American, and oh so accessible. She’s got an oyster bar in Ballard, which is the epitome of coolness. She’s got a feminine and soulful approach to food
And she says things like, in this case it’s about walking into a New York deli, on page, 25, “It’s important to pay attention from the moment you walk in the door.”
Cooking my way through a well-written cookbook is like a psychic make over. There is something to reading lines like cut the carrots into little rounds, or cut the chicken along the bone, that allows me to surrendering to thought processes other than my own. While cooking is by no means a cure for heart sickness, illness, inclement weather, chemical imbalances, psychiatric issues, sick kids, and the like–what I do know is that during all of these experience, one still requires food.
Last but not least, little toasts. In a recent blog post from Whole Foods the owners of the empire remarked, “Wine is a way of connecting people.” It’s a share-a-bottle-share-a-life notion that I am wholeheartedly behind, and I think little toasts served en masse can also be the psychological connective tissue, so to speak, at a gathering. Everyone eating the same toast, the same crumbling goodness in a small bite. Nigel Slater’s food memoir is titled Toast. I highly recommend reading this food memoir as well. Slater’s mother burns the toast–his encapsulation of this experience and other food related experiences is one of the more poignant food memoirs on the shelves. Perhaps it’s not a good feel-good read but most of those feel good reads don’t read as true to me. Perhaps this makes me a depressive at heart, but I don’t care.
Back to toast, formally called Bruschetta in Italian cookbooks, the little toast is versatile. Toast can be buttery, cheesy, garlicky, seafood-covered, or just earthy with a little nest of garlicky mushrooms. I’m offering a simple recipe for toast here because the recipe is quick, easy, and satisfying enough to serve to company.
Sliced baguette. Heated oven, 380 degrees. Combine 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, one smashed garlic clove, one teaspoon of salt and herbs of choice. I put 1 tablespoon of dried Italian herbs because I usually have these on hand. Brush both sides of the sliced bread and place the bread in the oven for 5-8 minutes, or until the crust is lightly browned.
From here you can layer smashed olives, goat cheese, tomato sauce, left over meat ball trimmings, sautéed spinach, or anything else. Maybe just smidgens of cheese with a little honey and dusting of walnuts.
Martha Stewart Living Magazine My attraction to Martha Stewart is probably something I should take to my therapist. But I won’t. I love to love her, and I love to hate her. What do I love? She’s successful and rich and beautiful and privileged. I love it that society tried to tear her down and she stepped right back up to talk about holidays in her large East Coast home. That’s a riot. She’s snarky. She has soirees at her house that include a hundred people. I love reading about her gatherings, where wood-fired pizzas are pulled from her backyard pizza oven by an Italian looking character good looking enough to be male pizza prostitute. Yeah baby! At her parties there are waiters and little Parisian spoons and exotic dog breeds looking lovingly up, their twinkly brown eyes and panting mouths exposing pink lips.
She’s a pop culture archetype, an industrious and privileged queen telling us how to live, as though if we make the chocolate mouse pie in her magazine her level of success could be attained or briefly experienced. Looking at all of this I experience the weird mix of envy and nostalgia and desire and hatred. I’m alive. The mix of emotions Martha incites in me pushes me out of myself. If that’s all she’s good for it’s probably good enough. (I hope my therapist is not secretly reading this.)
In conclusion, I realized half way into this blog post that I am probably writing a book. So I will to stop now. But I love it that you made it this far with me, all the way to the end. Maybe the Fall Force be with you.