Happy New Year. I hope your year is starting out well, and fresh optimism is in your household.
I was glad to turn the calendar and ring in the new at the start of the 2015. While there was a lot to celebrate 2014―the launch of my new web design business, the ongoing great reviews for my husband’s published fiction, an enchanted trip to the Netherlands and each of my children’s successes at school―the last two weeks of the year were difficult for our family. We suddenly found ourselves in the hospital shortly before Christmas. As much as I would like to write more about it, in fairness to my children, I won’t go into all the details. They deserve their privacy. I will say that we are all well now and healing from the events we were faced with that dark night. It was a strange and surreal time.
While there is never a good time to have to be hospitalized, right before Christmas is a particularly difficult period. Good cheer was all around us while our hearts sank, not only for ourselves but for the family with whom we shared a cold hospital room. The space was state-of-the-art, with all the needed equipment, bells and whistles for patient care, but scant attention was paid to privacy. Through the thin sheet of green cloth that separated their world from ours, we could hear all the details of the health crisis they faced and no doubt they could hear ours. We were strangers but intimate partners in a fight for life at the same time. I’ll never know their names but I will always remember the fear in their voices despite their attempts to stay positive in a truly difficult situation. We made it home in time to celebrate Christmas Eve, but it was clear they would not. I peeked past the curtain to wish them well before we left. They wished us well, too. It is a moment I will always remember even as I have the urge to forget the rest of those 24 hours at the hospital.
A strength in our family is that we rally in difficult times. My husband and I do our best to talk with each other and the kids about what is happening in as honest a way as possible. When I asked my daughter what helped her to get through this painful period, she said it was our willingness to to talk about what we were going through even when we would have preferred not to. My quiet daughter found strength in words. She also said she found this quote―You've been given this life because you are strong enough to live it.―and she now uses it as a guide. I’ve adopted it is as my mantra, too.
We’re all back to school and work now. In the comfort of our usual routines, it’s becoming easier to let go of the sadness and fear we felt just a short while ago. The love and support of our friends has also been invaluable. There’s a lot of good to remember about our Christmas and New Year’s celebrations―the flavor of homemade blueberry muffins and bacon Christmas morning, laughter and popcorn while we watched A Christmas Story and a trip to Boston to see an exhibit of Goya’s art work at the MFA amongst them. I cherish it all.
The world outside is cold here in New England, so we bring light and warmth indoors in any way possible. This Savory Bread and Corn Pudding is a perfect comfort food for this time of year. Leftover bread is cubed and toasted then tossed with vegetables and herbs. Everything is covered in an egg and cheese custard then baked in the oven. This simple dish comes out of the oven oozing with fragrant aromas and the rich flavor of melted cheddar and Parmesan cheese. We ate ours by the fire with some grilled sausages and beer. It was a rich and satisfying meal―part of our loving memories. I hope you’ll try it, too.
I look forward to seeing you in my kitchen, gathering flavors, soon.
SAVORY CORN AND BREAD PUDDING
Yield: 6 to 8 Servings
- ½ loaf stale bread, whole wheat, sourdough, corn, gluten-free or a mixture
- 4 tablespoons olive oil or butter or a combination
- 1 small onion, peeled and chopped small dice
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 1 T. Herbes de Provence
- 2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels (if frozen, defrosted)
- 5 large eggs
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 cup freshly grated grated cheddar cheese
- ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup fresh herbs or micro-greens, rinsed and chopped as needed, for garnish
- 1 t. cayenne pepper, for garnish
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Slice the stale bread and then cut it into large cubes. (The cubes should be about 1½ inches square and total about 4 cups.) Place the cubes on one or two sheet pans and toast in the oven until golden, about 20 minutes.
- Remove the toasted bread from the oven and set aside to cool. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F.
- While the bread is toasting, coat a 9 by 13-inch baking pan with butter or olive oil or a combination of both. Set aside.
- Heat a medium-sized sauté pan and add the remainder of the butter or olive oil or a combination. Heat until sizzling then add the chopped onion and garlic. Sauté until translucent, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the Herbes de Provence and toss with the cooked vegetables. Leave in pan until fragrant, about one minute more. Put the vegetables in a small bowl and add the corn kernels. Mix. Set aside to cool.
- In a large mixing cup, beat together the eggs and milk.
- Put the toasted bread cubes in a mixing bowl large enough to hold all the ingredients. Add the cooked vegetables and toss together. Add the egg and milk mixture. Toss to combine. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Toss one more time.
- Pour the custard coated bread into the prepared 9 by 13-inch pan. Spread evenly and let sit for ten minutes. (This will allow the custard to fully soak into the bread.) Sprinkle with the grated cheeses.
- Place in the oven and bake until the custard is set and the top browns, about 40 minutes.
- Serve warm garnished with a sprinkling of cayenne pepper and chopped fresh herbs or micro-greens.
- This recipe was adapted from Huckleberry: Stories, Secrets and Recipes from our Kitchen by Zoe Nathan.
- For a richer dish, substitute cream for some or all of the whole milk.
- For a lighter dish, use skim milk instead of whole milk and choose low-fat cheeses.
- Clearly corn is not in season in January in New England. We had some on hand, frozen from our summer farm share. You can substitute frozen peas or slivered green beans if you do not have any corn available.
- For a full meal, serve with cooked sausage or roasted broccoli, a Winter Greens Salad and Mini Apple Cider Yeast Cakes for dessert.