Thursday, March 8, 2012


Let this be a lesson - not everyone belongs in the kitchen. Emmy's end of the season basketball banquet was held on Saturday. All attending parents were asked to bring a dessert or appetizer and their own drinks. We signed up for desserts. Rick being from Georgia was an expert on banana pudding. I was presumptuous enough to think I could handle making the pudding; the recipe comes right on the side of the Nabisco Nilla Wafer box after all. The thing is it isn't in just having the right ingredients; it's really in having all those Southern puddin' makin' techniques at your fingertips. That's why I'm more like Lucy in the kitchen and Rick is a lot like Martha Stewart with a dash of Paula Dean, the good Paula Dean. When Rick got a stomach ache that put him in bed before seven o'clock on Friday nigh, the night before the banquet, the baking kind of fell on my shoulders. I thought, "what the heck" I had all the ingredients. How hard could it be?
Here are the ingredients for a single batch:
3/4 cup sugar (1/2 cup for the custard and a 1/4 cup for the meringue)
1/3 cup flour
Dash of salt
3 eggs, separated
2 cups milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
45 Nilla Wafers
5 bananas, sliced
We rarely make banana pudding for ourselves so when we make it we go all out and triple the recipe to fill our big 12 inch vintage Bauer bowl.
Lesson One:
Read the directions thoroughly, don't skip reading them and don't skim them. Then read them a second time to make sure you understand everything. I had all my ingredients laid out. I had separated the eggs into yolks and whites which was quit an accomplishment for me. I dare anyone to find a speck of yellow in my whites. I got out the double boiler, filled the bottom with water and set that thing to boil, a roiling boil. Here's where panic snuck in and where not having a firm grasp on the directions was my giant step into disaster. The directions said to mix the flour, sugar, salt and egg yolks in the double boiler. It didn't seem right but I was too busy measuring to look at my directions one more time. If I had I might have seen that I was supposed to add the milk as well. It's amazing how fast egg yolks will congeal when there's no liquid in the pot. By the time I realized my mistake it was too late to salvage the mix. The problem with starting over was I was out of eggs. A ten o'clock run back to the grocery store was now my only option.
Lesson Two:
Know your equipment. Fortunately, the big box grocery stores are open 24/7. I picked up another dozen organic free-range eggs and went back to work separating my yolks from my whites. The directions said to do all the mixing in a double boiler. Those directions don't say a thing about how big a boil you should be using. I chose to set my fire on high. The directions said I should have real custard in ten to twelve minutes. I started with the milk this time, which wasn't quit right but not a big enough mistake to make me throw the custard out. I was going strong now stirring, scooping up the flour and sugar, adding the eggs one egg at a time, and stirring them in. In about four minutes my mixture was starting to thicken and then thicken some more. I had the sense enough to pull the double boiler off the oventop but my custard was starting to get pretty lumpy. The unfortunate thing about eggs is they continue to cook in a hot mixture even after you've removed them from the flame or in my case the electric coil. That's when I looked at my utensils. There was the half-cup measuring cup with a trace of sugar and a drop of milk floating around its bottom. Damn. I'd used the half-cup rather than the full cup. That meant I'd only used half the milk and half the sugar I was supposed to have put in the mix. No wonder my goose (or in this case custard) was cooked well before its designated ten-minute time frame. That was it. I'd have to wait until the morning and admit my ineptitude to my partner and beg for assistance and a demotion from chef to trainee.
Lesson Three:
Go to the expert to learn. At seven the next morning Rick got up refreshed and we began anew He set the boil at a low simmering boil, better for making custard. I had separated the eggs and put them in the refrigerator. Not a major mistake but I was told eggs blend better at room temperature, cream whips better cold. Who knew? He then set me to measuring out all the ingredients and putting them in separate bowls. What a brilliant idea. Have everything ready before you start dumping things in, I always thought the tv chefs did this because they had limited time to put their concoctions together. I didn't realize they did this so they wouldn't make stupid mistakes like I did trying to read a direction and measure an ingredient at the same time. He started with the flour, sugar and salt and then slowly blended in the milk and the eggs. He had me stirring the mixture with a figure eight motion. This way I could get all the stuff hiding in the crook of the pot. In ten minutes he had the creamiest, smoothest custard I'd seen in the past twelve hours.
We lined the bowl with Nilla Wafers, the flat surfaces facing out. Then we layered sliced bananas and custard, layer after layer until we reached the top of the bowl.
Rick then whisked up the meringue from the egg whites and remaining sugar. We baked the mixture for 15 minutes until the peaks on the meringue turned a golden brown, set the bowl out in the snow to cool it down and voila, a beautiful banana pudding.
We like to serve it cold. Some people like theirs served heated up. Either way, if Rick makes it, it's delicious.

We're living in a rental apartment about a mile from my mom's house in  order to look in after her as she travels through her journey with Alzheimer. The apartment is on three levels, the top two carpeted. The carpeting extends to the stairs leading from the ground floor to the main level. Wisconsin winters are harsh and the ensuing spring is brown and muddy. In March, when the weather is unable to make up its mind about being either icy and wet or soggy and muddy, our stairs tends to end up cluttered with debris dragged in on the bottoms of our wet and muddy shoes. No matter how many times you try to tell a fifteen-year-old to take their shoes off before coming up the stairs your plea usually falls on deaf ears, and since our dog, Buddy, has yet to learn much of the English language beyond" sit" and "get your ball" it's of very little use trying to get him to wipe his feet before he lumbers up the steps with his dirty paws. Our solution to this was to find a runner to mask as much of the ground-in dirt as we could. We searched high and low from our Home Depot box store to Ballard's catalogue but with no success.
Then about a week ago we were in another ten-acre hardware superstore looking for a bathroom vanity when Rick spotted a display of rag rugs. Made in India these rugs had enough color and pattern to hide a multitude of sins and the price was right: $2.99 a rug. We left our social consciousness at the door knowing full well these were probably made by Mumbai children working for ten cents a week but environmentally they were over 80% recycled cotton. The environment won out over our social issues this time around.
I'm sure the customers at Menards must have thought us completely insane as we took over a full aisle in the bathroom plumbing section laying out one dark and one light stretch of ten rugs each switching them around until we had the exact color mixes we were looking for. We bought a box of 1 3/4" roofing nails and we were set to have at it.
The rugs measured approximately 30" x 18", enough if laid lengthwise across a riser  for one rug to cover one whole step. Within an hour we had a country inspired runner made by a group of international artisans for under fifty bucks. Now, if a rug gets damaged it's out with the stained one and in with a new one at the extravagant cost of $2.99 plus tax. Not bad.

The Three Charmers, Holi, India
Poras Chaudhary, photographer

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