celebrations

Birthday Bread Pudding

by Caroline

future bread pudding

It should come as no surprise, given all the baking I do around here, that my kids can order up whatever they like for a birthday dessert. But it was definitely a surprise, after a solid six years of chocolate birthday cakes, to hear Eli request bread pudding. And not just any bread pudding, but Chef Ric’s Bread Pudding.

So I went to school and asked Ric if he would share the recipe he makes for the school, only to learn that — talented chef that he is — he wings it. And of course, he’s making dessert for three hundred people, so even if he could give me the exact recipe he makes at school, it would have taken a bit of math to scale it down for our family. But luckily he has chef friends who do write down their recipes, and he passed on this recipe for a New Orleans bread pudding. It calls for more butter than any bread pudding recipe I have ever seen. I think it’s going to be great.

Bread Pudding

12 oz bread, cubed

½ pound butter

4 whole eggs

2 cups heavy cream

2 cups whole milk

Vanilla (to taste)

Ground Cinnamon (to taste)

2 cups sugar

Preheat the oven to 325. While it’s warming, put the cubed bread on a baking sheet and let toast it in the oven till just golden, about five minutes.

Lightly grease a 13X9 baking pan and put the toasted bread into the pan.

Heat milk and cream with butter and vanilla. Whisk eggs till pale in color and add sugar and whisk some more. Temper egg mixture with the cream mixture off heat. Pour the liquid over the bread and allow it time to soak for a few minutes.

Bake until set – approximately 30-40 minutes. Serve, if you like, with caramel sauce and seven birthday candles.

edited to add: I actually ran out of butter and sugar while making this (my pantry is usually better stocked than that!), so can report that this tastes just fine if you only use 1/4 pound of butter and 1 1/2 cups of sugar

Cake for my Mom

by Caroline


I really didn’t intend to write about cake again, but some weeks around here seem to occasion lots of baking and this was one of them: birthday cake for Tony, four batches of cookies for various events and finally, a delicious almond layer cake with sherry-lemon buttercream, just because. Just because my mother sent me the recipe, saying “Doesn’t this look good?” Just because my parents were visiting. Just because I like to try out new recipes when I have extra people around to eat the results.

It’s a delicious cake, best (I think) with a sprinkle of raspberries and three generations around the table to share it.

Birthday Cake

by Caroline

future cake!

Flashback: April 30, 2002

We are the new parents of a fussy, fabulous eight-week old baby. Tony heads off to work, as usual, at 5 AM so that he can put in close to the minimum ten hours his start-up expects before coming home to take a crying baby off my hands.

I’ve spent the day with that crying baby in my hands, nursing and walking laps around the house, occasionally sitting down for a minute to email one-handed with my Stanford writing students, who are working on their final essays with me while I’m on “maternity leave.”

We order in take-out from the local Chinese place and I sit on the couch in a stupor, eating bites out of the carton and watching a rerun of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” while Tony, holding Ben in one hand (the classic colic “football hold”) and a fork in the other, circles from living room to dining room, swooping over my shoulder occasionally to grab a bite of dinner himself. During commercials, I mute the TV for a moment and Tony pauses and I wish him a happy birthday, drowned out by Ben’s wails. I have no recollection of whether I bought or made a cake (I must have, I think, but I really don’t know) but I definitely remember feigning optimism. “It won’t always be like this!”

Today:

We have two boys who, happily, don’t cry nearly as much, but they still have their various impacts on birthday dinner. Today, for example, Ben has a 5:30 baseball game at which Tony is coaching. Since it’s a school night, and because my parents will be arriving, jet lagged, from the east coast at 3 this afternoon, we can’t really hold dinner until after the game. So we’ll eat in stages: Ben before his game; Eli, my parents and I during; and Tony after. But we will all sit down together, after school and before baseball, for a piece of birthday cake. This cake, which is our all-time favorite birthday cake.

Happy birthday, Tony!

For the Limoncello Ladies

by Lisa

Last weekend was the annual limoncello brewing party.  The ingredients were familiar: bags full of lemons…

a table of citrus drinks…

a pile of zesters, a stock of Everclear, a row of juicers…

a table full of food…

Friends brought panzanella, mortadella-wrapped grissini, fig covered bruschetta, lemon bars, lemon sauce, vanilla ice cream, fresh berries.  They brought daffodils. We had rice salad with mint and peas and lemon zest, and grilled pork tenderloin with capers. There was sunshine and prosecco and jars filled with curling golden rinds,  looking a lot like liquid sunshine.

But this year? Mostly I want to tell you about a group of women who can sweep into your home with delicious food, help you cook even more food, help set up your yard and house, pack gift bags, enjoy themselves all afternoon , and then? Before you know it, they have cleaned up the dishes, swept your floor, pulled down the folding tables, hand washed the dishes.

There is an art to this kind of generosity, to the gift of time and energy, to being able to pitch in, and do what needs to get done, and to knowing how to treat your friend’s house like your own.  It’s like this every, single time.   More than teaching my kids how to make limoncello, or a good tenderloin, or set the table or throw a good party, I want to teach them this: how to walk into a friend’s home and treat it like their own. How to be generous.

Ladies, thank you.

Grilled Pork Tenderlon with Mustard and Capers

  • Pork tenderloin
  • Cumin
  • Salt
  • Dijon mustard
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Honey
  • olive oil
  • Salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed

For dressing:

  • 2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons mustard
  • 1 smashed garlic clove
  • about 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon capers
  1. Light salt pork tenderloin, then season with a couple of teaspoons of cumin.  Cover lightly with mustard and about 2 teaspoons of honey. Put seasoned pork in a ziplock bag and sprinkle with about 1/8 cup vinegar, then cover with olive oil.  Add smashed garlic cloves to bag and let marinate a couple of hours in the refrigerator.
  2. In a glass measuring cup pour vinegar on top of the garlic clove and let sit to flavor vinegar for 20-30 minutes or longer. Fish out the garlic cloves, then add an equal amount of mustard and whisk together, then add olive oil slowly in a stream. You should have about 3x the amount of olive oil as mustard + vinegar. But do it to your taste. Whisk in capers.
  3. Heat grill on high, then turn down heat to medium high and grill pork until cooked, about 10 minutes total. The pork will cook very quickly. It’s done when the meat springs back nicely when poked. If it’s mushy or flabby when poked, it’s not done. Be careful not to overcook.
  4. Let the pork rest about 10 minutes, then carve in thin slices and serve with vinaigrette.

Key Lime Birthday Pie

by Caroline

A couple weeks ago, Ben and I spotted some Key limes at the market and it occurred to me that he — a fan of all things citrus — might like Key lime pie for his birthday dessert. I have to admit I was also trying to manufacture a desire: I was going to be out of town at a conference the entire week before his birthday, and pie is a whole lot quicker to produce than a layer cake (like last year’s lemon extravaganza).

It worked. We researched recipes. We talked about meringue topping vs. whipped cream, crumb crust vs. pastry. We decided to use this Epicurious recipe as our starting point, with this almond crumb crust. I got home from the airport the night before his birthday, finally read the recipe closely enough, after dinner, to notice it wanted to chill overnight, and had the cooled pie in the fridge well before my jetlagged self collapsed into bed at 10.

The only very slight problem with the dessert is that the whipped cream doesn’t really support the sweet candle holders a friend made for Ben when he was a baby. They settled deeply into the cream while we sang, Ben blew out his candles, and then I fished them out before we all dug happily into our pie.