Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Bread Pudding on a Rainy Day

It rained nearly all day last Tuesday. Rain and baking go together for me. Something about a dreary sky and a pouring-out from that sky makes me want to stay in and see what creation I can come up with.

But that was not the only reason I felt that warm cozy desire to make bread pudding. The main reason was milk. 2% in a half-gallon container.

After making a cup of Earl Grey, I got the milk out of the fridge, saw that the sale by date was July 22nd and it was the 23rd. I took a whiff. No worries, the smell was fine. I poured some milk into my mug of tea. Tasted fine, too. But I knew the milk wasn't going to smell okay for long. And there are few things worse than brewing a nice mug of tea only to find that the milk you used has separated in your mug because it's sour.

As the expression goes, been there, done that. Not fun.

There were over three cups in that milk container and to use it up, it would need more than just half an ounce per tea consumption. I knew something had to be done with the milk. Or it would end up like the last bit in the gallon jug we'd bought a month ago----down the drain. I've used milk that I wouldn't put in tea for recipes that call for buttermilk. That's worked. But I wanted to use the milk in a recipe that didn't need buttermilk. And as the rain hit against the kitchen windows, it came to me: Bread pudding.

We had slices of bread in the freezer.---those lonely slices and bits that get stuffed into the freezer because there is no other use for them. I pulled out about five bags of old bread and let them thaw on the kitchen counter.

Next, I looked for a good recipe. Carl, my husband, suggested using one from the old cookbook his father owned. Carl says he's never had a recipe go wrong from using that book. I looked online too, read through a couple of recipes and comments from bakers. Those comments helped, especially the one that said to make sure you let the egg mixture soak into the bread. For me, that was a life-saver, or recipe-saver. So when looking online, read the suggestions other bakers have made after they've made the recipe. It's like getting the answers for a test before you have the opportunity to fail.

I can easily see how bread pudding came to be. Someone had bread she didn't know what to do with, and milk. Possibly eggs. Voila! The recipe happened! Actually, according to this article, bread pudding came about largely because of what to do with stale bread. It was once the poor man's dessert. Since the 11th and 12th centuries, it has become a fancier dessert, now served in trendy restaurants.

My rule for baking is: Find a good recipe, make it once, and then add to it the next time you create it. With this recipe you can add chocolate, bourbon, cranberries, apples---the list is long.

Bread Pudding (serves 6)

4 to 5 cups cubed stale bread (I used what we had----white bread slices, buttery dinner rolls and oatmeal bread)
2 TS butter
3 cups milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 ts cinnamon
1/2 ts nutmeg
1 TS vanilla flavoring (use less if it's real vanilla extract)
pinch of salt
3 eggs
1/2 soaked raisins (I soaked mine in water. It plumps them out and they don't crinkle and dry out while baking)
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

In a greased 2-quart baking pan/casserole dish, place the bread cubes.
On the stove over low heat, mix in a saucepan, the butter, milk, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Stir and let it come to a boil. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla. Let it cool.

Add the eggs. Whisk.

Gently toss in the raisins and walnuts. 

Pour the milk-egg mixture over the bread. With the back of a spoon, press the bread down. It is important to set this aside and let the mixture sink into the bread. Set aside for an hour at least.

Bake at 350 degrees F. for 30 to 40 minutes or until the middle is done.

This is a delicious custard-type pudding that can be served warm or cold. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream. Store leftovers in the fridge.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Cooking With Author Jennifer Hallmark!

Today at the Patchwork Quilt Blog, I welcome author Jennifer Hallmark. She has a recipe for us as well as a new novel. It's Southern, and being from North Carolina, I love Southern Fiction.

 Welcome, Jennifer! Tell us about your recipe.

The recipe I’d like to share came from my husband, Danny’s grandmother. We call them Mama Landers tea cakes. In my novel, Jessie’s Hope, Jessie’s Mamaw, Martha cooks a lot of down home southern dishes such as pinto beans, cornbread, fresh apple cake, and fried chicken. Although her husband Homer normally loves anything chocolate, he also enjoys tea cakes hot from the oven. Rolling these delectable cookies in sugar before baking gives them a crispy, sugary texture and loads of goodness in every bite. I hope you find these little bites of heaven as wonderful as Homer and Jessie do . . .

Mama Lander’s Tea Cakes
Yield: 2 ½ dozen
1 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
2 cups self-rising flour
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
Melt shortening and let cool for five minutes. Mix all ingredients together in order. Take a teaspoon at a time of the dough and roll into small balls. Roll in sugar. Add to cookie sheet. Press the top of each cookie with a fork. Bake at 325 degrees until lightly brown on bottom.

Alice: Sounds wonderful! Makes me want one of those tea cakes with my cup of morning Earl Grey.

Here's more about Jennifer's new novel.

Jessie’s Hope
Years ago, an accident robbed Jessie Smith’s mobility. It also stole her mom and alienated her from her father. When Jessie's high school sweetheart Matt Jansen proposes, her parents’ absence intensifies her worry that she cannot hold on to those she loves.

With a wedding fast approaching, Jessie's grandfather Homer Smith, has a goal to find the perfect dress for "his Jessie," one that would allow her to forget, even if for a moment, the boundaries of her wheelchair. But financial setbacks and unexpected sabotage hinder his plans.

Determined to heal from her past, Jessie initiates a search for her father. Can a sliver of hope lead to everlasting love when additional obstacles--including a spurned woman and unpredictable weather--hijack Jessie's dream wedding?

Alice: And a bit more about Jennifer.

She writes Southern fiction and her website, Alabama-Inspired Fiction, and the group blog, Inspired Prompt, she co-founded, focus on her books, love of the South, and helping writers. She’s published 200+ internet articles and interviews, short stories in several magazines, and has co-authored three book compilations. 

Jennifer recently sold her first novel to Firefly Southern fiction (an imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas). She also signed with Cyle Young of the Hartline Literary Agency. Jennifer sends out a monthly newsletter, which you can subscribe to by going to her website. You can visit her on Facebook, Facebook author page, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Jennifer and her husband, Danny, have spent their married life in Alabama and have a basset hound, Max. When she isn't babysitting her grandchildren or gardening, you can find her at her desk writing fiction or working on one of her two blogs.  She also loves reading detective fiction from the Golden Age and viewing movies like LOTR or Star Wars. Sometimes you can even catch her watching American Ninja Warrior.

You can find Jennifer online here:

Be sure to get a copy of Jessie's Hope at Amazon.

Good to have you with us today, Jennifer!  Best of luck with your novel.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Does Pain and Suffering Make Us Better Writers?

This is how it happened for me. On a memoir-mentor's blog, a question was posed. I can't remember the exact wording because it was over a week ago . . .  or was it two weeks? . . . Perhaps a month?

Does Pain and Suffering Make Us Better Writers?

Anyway, her question prompted me to reply in the comment section of her blog. I wrote a lengthy response. The blog was the kind that comments have to be approved by the owner. An hour later it hadn't been approved yet.

I waited.  And I tweaked my response a bit. Editing is always a good thing.

A day passed.

My comment still had not been approved.

I wrote to the author.

She replied. (That's always encouraging.) No, my comment had not been banned or tossed aside, she reassured me. She would look into it.

Ten hours later my reply appeared on her blog.

So what was that question?
Oh, yes. Does Pain and Suffering Make Us Better Writers? Do you have to have gone through suffering in order to produce a believable story about suffering?

I wrote:
I know that the first part of my life was much easier than the last two decades have been. Before I think my writing showed stories of life on the “more happy, less sad” spectrum. Now my writing (fiction and non-fiction) reflects the suffering I have been through (death of a young son, bipolar alcoholic ex-husband, adult kids making a number of sad choices, etc.). I’d like to think that the longer I live, the more I’m able to incorporate suffering into my writing with it coming across as “reality” and not “woe is me”. I aim for being authentic. I don’t want to edge away from truth, which, I think is, that the world is a broken place with lots of hurting people carrying loads of baggage. I also believe it is a place where slices of beauty show up and where love abounds. I want to read the works of those who have lived through (or are living through) suffering and show the rest of us how it is done well. I don’t think someone who hasn’t suffered can write a story with hardships that will be believable. One of the reasons I feel this way is because I read a novel where a situation that was something I have been through was done wrong: A mother forgot the day her child died. She had to be reminded by a friend. That just doesn't happen. All the moms I know who have lost a child remember the death date. Always. I do. I think we need to be careful that we really know our subject, especially if we are writing about a suffering we have never experienced.

So now I ask you:  Does having experienced pain and suffering make us better writers?

How about better people?

Feel free to leave a reply in the comments below.  (And rest assured, your comment will appear immediately; no approval needed.)

Saturday, July 6, 2019

This is How You Eat Watermelon

This is how you eat watermelon.

Fully committed, no regrets, all in.

Daniel was three and had just been diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a malignant tumor in the left side of his neck. He'd had surgeries and a double-lumen catheter surgically-implanted in his body. His hair was going to come out, hence, the bowl-hair-cut, just to tidy it up until the inevitable happened.

Eight months later, he would die. His fun-loving and intelligent brain would suffer due to not enough oxygen. An infection was the culprit. That was the beginning of the end. The cancer wouldn't kill him; the treatments to get rid of it would.

But on this day in early June 1996, Daniel was happy. He was discharged from the hospital and there was watermelon waiting at home. He and his big sister sat on the driveway with their slices. Rachel picked hers up and took small bites. But not Daniel. He planted his face into his slice. Juice dripping down his chin, his cheeks, his neck.

Because that is who Daniel was. Full-throttle, energetic, silly, fun, not afraid to try something new. Enjoying our laughter.

In the twenty-two years since he has been gone, I've become extra fond of watermelon. Each time it is served to me, I feel I'm being honored with the memories of a precious kid. I want to remember; I want to dive into those special times he brought to our lives.

I miss you, Daniel.  Thanks for showing me how to plunge in---even into the unknown---and not be afraid.