“I’ve been doing a ton of yoga, so gratitude is literally pouring out of my asana,” said the first line of an otherwise totally ungracious Thanksgiving post on my food blog recently. Very, very recently. Just to get a few things out of the way, I am truly and deeply thankful for many persons, places, and things this year. I really am. My loved ones and my home survived Sandy, for one thing. And I have loved ones and a home to worry about in a hurricane, for another. Now that I’m in the second half of my thirties, it’s basically just a matter of hormonal and genetic predisposition to be thankful, I’m pretty sure.
But just when you think it’s going to get all gooey, let’s say you jump in the shower and do not understand the import of the words “contains organic peppermint oil” on your new, stupid-expensive bar of soap. Let’s say that toward the end of your shower, just before you’re ready to rinse out your conditioner, you scream a little and spend the next 15 minutes composing a fake Open Letter to Peppermint Soap, signed Private Vijay Burns of The Netherlands. Or let’s say you kind of stopped posting on your food blog for a while after you decided that food blogs are hideous, hideous things, because there are too many of them, and some of them suck, and some of them are better than yours. And really, isn’t your time and intellect better spent raising your children properly, because thank God for your children, until they piss you off so royally both at the same time that thank God you have a food blog and don’t have to rely on the likes of your children for happiness. Or let’s say that after you wrote that last sentence, you stood up too quickly and somehow — improbably but apparently not impossibly — ended up with part of the printer inside your ear. Let’s just say, shall we?
Point being that just because it’s Thanksgiving and just because you’re a veritable cornucopia of love and gratitude and awe for the people who carried those newborn babies down emergency stairwells while keeping them alive with tiny manual respirators, does not mean that you can’t also hate absolutely everything just a little bit right now. I think it would be a good idea to talk more about how it’s a normal part of the human condition to feel like you could leap a tall building in a single, joyous bound, but also maybe want to kick the building’s doors in just a little when the card swipe machine fails to read your ID properly on the first try.
To tell the truth, my kid has been home sick for a week, and I haven’t been leaving the house a lot. (I hide it well, though, right?) I haven’t been singing, or going for runs, or meeting with friends, or flying around the tennis court like my usual star-shaped spaz of a self, all of which typically help to take the edge off the parts of me that are hateful and slightly murderous. What I have been doing a lot is standing on my head, because headstands are wonderful stress-relievers, except for the fact that it’s hard to drink wine from that position. Another great thing about standing on my head is that then when my kid asks me for three things at a time I can say, hey kid, can’t you see I’m standing on my head right now? And about half the time she’ll walk away for a minute or two, a little joyous-hateful, probably, and give me a tiny sliver of the space-time continuum all to myself. After that we’ll usually have a hug and get on with our day and not murder anyone at all.
So next week is Thanksgiving, and maybe some of you will be deeply thankful for the food on your plates but also not so psyched that even the green beans and Brussels sprouts have pork products in them. Maybe you’re even in the pro camp on the issue of overindulgence to the point of mild nausea once a year, but you’re anti on the whole “currently eating things that ever had a mom or a face” situation. Well. That’s where Chanterelle and Gruyere Bread Pudding comes in, and that’s why I continue to give thanks for my friend Jill Silverman Hough, who included this recipe in her 2011 book 100 Perfect Pairings: Main Dishes to Enjoy with Wines You Love Yet Also Slightly Hate. (Okay, yeah, italicized words added by Umami Girl.)
Chanterelles are in full force at this time of year but still pricey enough to be special-occasion food, so vegetarians will feel well cared-for with this savory, hearty dish at the center of their plates. If you can’t get your hands on chanterelles or the money to buy them, I’ve also made this recipe substituting two thinly sliced leeks for the chanterelles. It’s wonderful either way, and I liked both versions paired with the Chardonnay (upside down or right side up!) that Jill recommends for the chanterelle version.
Because the book is all about food and wine pairing, I thought about checking with Jill as to whether leeks would be an approved substitution. But then I thought to myself, Gratzer, you’re never going to get anywhere in this beautiful, annoying world if you can’t make an executive decision about leeks and chanterelles. Gratzer is my maiden name, by the way, and it’s what I call myself when I haven’t brought my A-game. I can just imagine what kind of a field day my shrink would have with that information if I weren’t too cheap and repressed and overconfident about my own worldview to have a shrink.
It’s a good thing my kids, my blog and I have so damn much real-world experience. That’s why I already know exactly how wonderful and precisely how exasperating this world of ours is, and why I can’t help but tell you all about it. Happy Thanksgiving, all. Hope it’s a great one. Even if it sucks a little, too.
Talk to you soon.
Chanterelle and Gruyere Bread Pudding
Adapted from 100 Perfect Pairings: Main Dishes to Enjoy with Wines You Love by Jill Silverman Hough. Can be made in a 2-quart casserole dish or six 1 1/2-cup individual soufflé molds or ramekins arranged on a rimmed baking sheet. If preparing for Thanksgiving, you can proceed all the way through step 4 as early as the day before, then cover tightly and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before baking, or add a few extra minutes to the baking time.
- 3 cups milk
- 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for buttering the pan
- 6 ounces chanterelle mushrooms, coarsely sliced (about 2 1/2 cups) OR 2 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise and then sliced thin
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 5 large eggs
- 12 ounces crusty artisan French or Italian bread, with crusts, cut or torn into 3/4-inch pieces (about 12 cups)
- 8 ounces Gruyere cheese, shredded (about 3 cups)
Butter the casserole dish or soufflé molds and set aside.
Combine the milk, chopped herbs, and pepper in a medium pot with a heavy bottom. Set over medium-high heat until the milk just begins to simmer. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a wide skillet over medium heat. Then add the mushrooms and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. (If substituting leeks, cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat if necessary to prevent browning.) Remove from heat and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, then whisk in the cooled milk mixture. Add the bread cubes, shredded cheese, and mushroom or leek mixture and stir until well combined. Set aside for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, to let the bread absorb the liquid.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375°F with a rack in the center (or one rung below center, if you have a teensy British oven).
Spoon the mixture into the casserole dish or soufflé molds. Bake until the top is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Serve hot.