March 14, 2010

Pudding Comforts

My darling goddaughter DeDe, a California Girl if there ever was one. Life’s circumstances have transplanted her to Washington D.C., which has seen one of the more spectacular winters in many decades. Now, this morning, she calls me in tears, it is pouring rain, and she cannot possibly endure another week of this. I did not dare tell her, that I just returned from Kauai, where showers were frequent but gentle and warm, and I did not have the heart to share with her the forecast for Los Angeles.

What I did remind her off was our penchant for long walks on the beaches of Southern California in the rain. She recalled. And our reward when we came home, the delicious puddings her grandmother always prepared for us.

Oh yes, she remembered.

Her grandmother was very fond of pudding, and as I recall now, it crossed my mind that she was always happy when we announced our rainy day walk on the beach. Rainy day beach walks were the occasion for her to greet us back with a tray crowned with something warm and wonderfully scented. DeDe’s parents lives were such that much of her girlhood was spent in her grandmother’s house in Santa Monica-lucky us. Born of the children of pioneers in California’s Great Valley, her grandmother was a woman whose cooking was the perfection of American plainsong. We thrived on it.

My memories of Grandmother’s pudding are intertwined with recollections of the books we were reading after we returned from our walks. Resting against a tumble of pillows we read “Five Little Peppers and How They Grew,” spooning up creamy, golden rice pudding with rose sauce. The rice had simmered in milk in the oven for hours and hours, which gave it a honeyed glow. And the color and fragrance of the sauce were reminiscent of Reine de Violettes, an old French rose.

Then there was raspberried bread-and-butter pudding with nutmeg sauce. In keeping with her saving ways, we half-expected when we turned a page of “Little Women,” to find Marmee had made one as well.

There was a feathery chocolate pudding. Although few cooks steam puddings nowadays, grandmother knew that steaming keeps a pudding moist. Spooning up clouds of ephemeral dark chocolate and whipped cream, we liked to imagine that if Aunt Polly had made such a treat for Tom Sawyer, Tom might have stayed home instead of dashing off after Huck Finn and making everybody nervous.

Delmonico pudding. Grandmother sliced fresh peaches over soft custard, slathered them with meringue and baked the concoction just enough to color the meringue and warm the pudding. At that point, we were devouring “Gone With the Wind.” Oh my, yes. If Scarlett had had her wits about her and had baked Delmonico pudding with Tara peaches for Captain Butler, he might well have given a damn.

Time passed and darling DeDe found herself in her sophomore year of college, in Paris. Around March she called, telling me, how homesick she was and how she longed for one of Grandma’s comfort puddings. I called up DeDe’s landlady, a lovely woman who ran the pension (she was both a grandmother and a wonderful cook), and ask her if she knew how to cook pudding. In a trice she presented DeDe with one of the most satisfying puddings imaginable: plump prunes steeped in port and caught between crisp, puffed, brown layers. As this pudding is traditional in the Limousin, I wondered whether Emma Bovary would ever have tasted it. Poor thing; it would have soothed her frazzled nerves.

And now, here we are Sunday morning, pouring rain in Washington D.C. A homesick California Girl on the phone, but wait she has cheered up and is on her way to the kitchen to retrieve Grandma’s cookbook and prepare one of her pudding comforts. I ask what she was reading, she said “War of Necessity, War of Choice” (CFR President Richard Haass’s Memoir of Two Iraq Wars) no comfort pudding came to mind for this.

March 4, 2010

Bas Bleu (Bookseller-By-Post)

bas bleu [Fr., blue stocking] a literary woman; a bluestocking.

But, you don’t have to be to like their book selections. Bas Bleu is a well-tended deli stocked with marvelous and nourishing goodies and not a bestselling Twinkie in sight.

Arranged in no particular order Bas Bleu offers uncommon reads in fiction, travel, mysteries, language, humor, and children’s reading among others. However, its greatest strength is their spirit of discovery of literary delights, both forgotten and actual that animates every page.

El Nino season is my favorite season to read and I have stocked-up with some delightfully spooky choices for reading aloud by a roaring fire (take note Glenda).

I am reading...

  • scribble, scribble, scribble, Simon Schama
  • Julia's Cats, Patricia Barey and Therese Burson
  • London, Edward Rutherfurd
  • I'll Drink to That, Betty Halbreich