Sunday, March 23, 2008

The proof is in the biscuit pudding

People deal with grief in different ways. Me? I eat. These past two weeks, I’ve gone through countless casseroles, half a ham, pints of homemade pimento cheese (which a very sweet woman from my grandma’s church made for my family because I had written that it was funeral food), a five-pound brisket I smoked myself (more on that later), jars of salsa, bags of chips, loaves of bread and countless cheeseburgers. My appetite has been voracious. But one of my favorite things I’ve eaten is something I hadn’t had in a long time: biscuit pudding.

When you leave unexpectedly for a trip, you don’t plan ahead. So when I went to Texas, I had fresh homemade biscuits and a new quart of milk, which by the time I returned a few days later were both nearing expiration. I hate to see things go to waste, and I most certainly didn’t want to throw away biscuits, so I decided that making them into a sweet pudding would not only make good use of them but be satisfying to eat as well.

There’s something about bread puddings that makes me feel cozy and warm. Biscuit puddings are no different. They’re easy on the mouth—each bite soft and slightly sticky. But the occasional burst of tart dried fruit, crunchy nuts and bittersweet chocolate keep things lively enough that you don’t get completely bored. I don’t make bread puddings often, but when I do it always reminds me of college when we’d eat pans of it while pretending to study for exams.

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Grandpa's special pancakes

I made an unexpected trip to Texas last week: it was to attend my grandfather’s funeral. And while words can’t express my sadness, I know that Grandpa would much rather have me smile than cry, so I’ll share with you one of my warmest memories of him: his special pancakes.

When I was little, I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ house in the Dallas neighborhood of Oak Cliff. Sundays through Fridays, my grandmother ruled the kitchen. But on Saturdays the stove belonged to Grandpa. Every Saturday morning, you’d walk into their house and the smell of smoky bacon, spicy sausage and sweet syrup would waft through the air, inviting you to take a seat at the table and dig into a tall stack of Grandpa’s special pancakes.

When cooking his pancakes, he’d always mix his batter with an eggbeater in a large 32-oz. glass measuring cup, which made it all the easier to pour the batter into the skillet. And while his pancake recipe is pretty simple, because they were made with both expertise and love they are still the best pancakes I’ve ever had.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Cajeta: A Mexican sweet treat

I looked out the window today and saw that it was raining—a good sign as grey skies, umbrellas and brightly-colored slickers mean one thing: it’s March. It’s not my favorite month—the weather is erratic, leaning mainly towards wet. But it does mean spring is almost here, and the warmer, longer days make me feel as if I’ve awoken from a deep sleep.

The one and only time I’ve been to Mexico was in the spring, and so my first-hand impressions of that country are based around what was in season—namely strawberries. We couldn’t drive a mile without seeing a roadside stand selling overflowing baskets of the fresh berries nestled under large signs boasting, “Fresas frescas.” I was too scared to eat the strawberries not knowing if they’d been washed in contaminated water or not—but as we were in the state of Guanajuato, each stand also had fresh jars of cajeta—which is the specialty of that state.

You could say that cajeta (pronounced kah-Heh-tah) is Mexican Spanish for what other Latin American countries call dulce de leche. The word means “little box,” which is what the confection was stored in back in the 1500s. I’ve heard that cajeta is vulgar slang in some other Latin American countries, which is perhaps why it’s known as dulce de leche elsewhere. But beyond the names, there is another difference between the two.

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