On dreary days like this when the sun is struggling to assert itself and the family is off on one of those ‘let mom rest’ outings, I am left alone with my feelings and the growing desire to cook something.
As I was sitting on the couch this morning, when it was drizzling outside and the kids were running around the house in their pajamas, I turned to one of my cookbooks (ad hoc at home by Thomas Keller), to a page with a gorgeous photo of bread pudding with bananas. Yes! I would make this today. Perfect.
My mom has been very much on my mind as of late. I can tell this by my need to make comfort food. I equate my mom with comfort food, and find I need it that much more when the loss of her is sitting heavy on my heart.
My mother was one of those souls who made this planet a better place to live. She was a true mensch. So revered by her friends was my mom, that my siblings and I sometimes wondered who they were talking about when she was described in such saintly terms. We were familiar with the many angles of her spectrum of light. What I’m left remembering though is the woman who loved me the most in the world (loving each of her kids ‘the most’, as mothers should); the woman who welcomed everyone at her table; the woman who told me that she wanted to be more like me if she had her life to live over (imagine that); the woman who would march for all right causes and fought all of the good fights.
She passed away four years ago, surrounded by loving family members singing folk songs, songs of protest, reading poetry, saying loving words through drenching tears, holding hands, embracing, holding each other up.
At first, it felt like I had lost my compass. I hadn’t realized just how much my mom anchored me to my life. It took time, but eventually I became my own compass, my own anchor. I have stepped up and become some of the mom that she was, as well as the mom that I would naturally become, given my unique take on the world. As my mom did with me, I cook with my children, I get impatient with them, and I tell them often that I love them. I laugh much more with Caleb and Sadie, and consciously infuse silliness, play, and physical affection into my parenting approach, much more than my mom did. It wasn’t so much her style.
From the moment I saw that photo of the bread pudding, I obsessed about making some with my kiddos. It would lift my spirits and give me an excuse to enjoy some time in the kitchen with them, while it filled up with sweet smells of melting chocolate and custard soaked bread. I was – as I usually am – intimidated by Keller’s recipes (needless to say, he’s not a full-time working mom with two young children), but I figured I could put my spin on it and add some dark chocolate chunks, which were missing from his version. I would also caramelize the bananas in butter and brown sugar, a departure from Keller’s instructions. How could I not?
While the family was out, I took a lone walk to the store and shopped for the bread pudding ingredients. Back at home, I prepared the custard, toasted the challah, and then combined the bread and custard so they could start soaking. A smile came to my face as I danced around my quiet kitchen doing my thing. I was already feeling better. Once Caleb and Sadie returned, we completed the recipe together. Caleb carefully sliced bananas with a sharp knife (while I breathed deeply and watched carefully as he followed the ‘tuck your fingers in like claws’ technique that I taught him).
The bread pudding was calling to us from the oven and we couldn’t wait for it to be ready for eating. This was a therapeutic recipe for me and I could feel my heart lightening and my smile growing as the pudding came out of the oven looking golden, bubbly, and gorgeous.
What better way to honor the woman who taught me how to cook and to love food as much as I do, than to make something she would have enjoyed immensely. The bread pudding was divine, and the addition of caramelized bananas and melted chocolate was off-the-hook good. I would make this again and again, when in need of comfort.
I love you Ma. ‘Wish you would pick up the phone when I call.
Bread Pudding with Caramelized Bananas and Chocolate Chunks
4 cups cubed (1 inch) day-old challah, or toast on a cookie sheet till golden if fresh
½ stick unsalted butter, melted
4-6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 cups whole milk or butter milk
1 cup of heavy cream
3 large eggs
¾ cup of brown sugar
2 tsp of vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
3 ripe bananas sliced (½ inch thick)
Accompaniment: whipped cream or chocolate ice cream (my preference)
Melt the butter in a large frying pan and sauté the bananas until golden brown. Add 1/4 cup of brown sugar and a pinch of salt, and then remove from heat.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs with the cream and milk. Add vanilla, salt, and remaining brown sugar. Add the toasted or stale bread, stir to combine, then loosely place saran wrap over the bowl. Place heavy plate or bowl over the custard and leave out for an hour. Add the chocolate chips to the custard, and then fold in the caramelized banana. Butter a large baking dish and transfer pudding to dish.
Put a rack in middle of oven and preheat to 350F. Bake until just set but center still trembles slightly, 40-45 minutes; do not over bake (custard will continue to set as it cools). Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream or ice cream.