It is an impressive thing, how productive a person can be whilst procrastinating. At least, this person.
Why, in the past ten days, I've read my way through three books, start to finish! Granted, they were all three quite brief. And two were aimed at the 10-and-unders. But I count Roald Dahl an all-ages author. And in this particular life stage, three per quarter is a feat.
We've hosted houseguests! Two!! Though really, when your guest brings a suitcase filled with talking bellies; and a 5-year-old niece for your Five to play with; and teaches your peeps how to make the much-admired Starburst; and bakes you homemade yeasted laminated butter-drenched caramelized pastries, well. You have to ask who's hosting who.
I've finished three more pairs of pants for Miss Z. Maybe four. And cut out, oh gosh, another few?
You know you're in deep when you lose count.
I actually made my way into the garden, Saturday, to pull the tomato cages and tidy a bit. It was a hack job, as it always is when I am wielding the clippers. And a half-done hack job, at that. But.
There's a certain joy in the whacking back. The finding small piles of tomato droppings. The out-with-the-old, in-with-the-bare exhale. The great stands of deadwood collapsing in heaps. It's not unlike hoovering up a turnip-sized dust bunny. Weirdly satisfying.
We made a wee snowgirl! Complete with carrot. When it snows in November, it's obligatory.
Although, also, when it snows in November, one must, it turns out, pluck one's snowballs. Leaves poke out at all angles, like feathers. Who knew? This Winter-in-Fall (Fwinter?) business is new to me.
I jotted down a Thanksgiving menu! Made serious, uncharacteristic Christmas headway! Ordered calendars for 2014!
Mind: you'll usually find me, mid-February, trolling the look-what-my-cat-can-do clearance calendars. And here I am, all over 2014. Now, to be all over this week...
I've spent untold hours staring, slackjawed and stupid-faced, up into all manner of trees. It's a miracle, really, I didn't draw a crowd. Or ingest a stink bug. Or both.
(Your fault, Ohio. You're utterly shameless.)
But I knew they would all blow away, any day. Turns out Sunday was any day. Life looks nothing like this, now. Our oak lost four thousand leaves, overnight. Everything now is overgrown sticks, save the pear and a few stubborn truculent maples.
I finally, finally mastered the paper crane. It only took some 41 years. There's been a major origami revival, around these parts, and I was fortunate to learn at the knees of a master. I tried not to let our 33-year age gap impact my learning. Or pride.
My sideboard is currently home to a paper gorilla, dolphin, lobster, goldfish, balloon, box, boat, turkey, alligator, dog, plus a few dozen others. Fingers-crossed my Thanksgiving guests won't mind the menagerie.
I spent the better part of last night, filling seven yellow-lined pages with eighth grade algebra. I adore algebra, but after 10 p.m., even well-balanced equations start to look a little tipsy.
Then again, when I'm hard in pursuit of distractions, X's and Y's start to look pretty good.
I've caught up on the laundry.
All the proof you need right there, really.
Though if you need more, there is the pudding. There were two pots, this past week.
The first was strictly necessary, made while making dinner, last week. The second pot was sequel to the first. Because one pot of pudding is never enough.
(How can pudding be necessary, you ask? Friday. Friday is how.
Friday, Zoë was feverish and achy and clearly coming down with something. Friday, the boys were spent, and exhausted, and tired, and also extremely weary. Friday, I was on day 3 of a 4-day migraine, not yet knowing its endpoint. Friday, I had phone in hand to order pizza, only to remember we'd played that card, the night prior. Friday, I lifted our informal suspension on plain buttered noodles, and boiled up an entire box. Friday, we all needed to be swaddled and wrapped in cotton and tucked into happy.
Friday, pudding was necessary.)
Maybe it's just me, but it seems that plain old pudding's been booted by posher meal end parens. Budinos. Pôt de crèmes. Flans, custards, crème caramels. Mousses. Possets. Messes. Excellent, all. In fact, I'd elbow you aside for any of the above. But there is something spot-on about plain old pudding.
I'm sure there exist 27 fine chocolate puddings. (And if you possess one? Please, do share?) So I'll refrain from any claims that this is The Best. It is just, of the half-dozen I've tried, and over the ten years I've been stirring pudding pots, the very best of a very nice bunch, fast, simple, excellent, and dependable as an old friend. I've leaned heavily on its shoulder, off and on, this past decade. It has never flagged. It has always delivered. Usually with a debonaire bittersweet moustache.
Pudding, of course, is nothing more than milk, flavored, sweetened, enriched and thickened. Which, of course, is sort of like saying leaves are merely carbon rolled flat. In fact, pudding—a good pudding—is to milk what velvet is to burlap: fiber, yes, but fashioned into something else entirely, fantastically smooth, nearly ethereal, essentially simple, unstintingly rich. Not a bad trick, if you can swing it.
As puddings go, this is a well-considered thing, gently thickened by egg yolks and cornstarch, both. The yolks add unctious; the cornstarch, stability; the two together, a money-back guarantee. It never scrambles. It always thickens. Its flavor is never oddly inflected. This thickening business is background stuff, really, the studs in the house that hold up the walls. But just as a house won't stand long on dry rot, no tempermental thickener will yield sublime pud. A pudding's only as good as its bones. And if a decade's eating's any indication, pudding bones don't get better than this.
The finish work isn't bad, either. The flavor is straight-up chocolate, by which I mean deep, intense, round and true. Cook's Illustrated bills this Double Chocolate Pudding, owing to the use of both cocoa and bars. As a rule, I add a little coffee to all things chocolate, liking the way it extends the rumble. It betters brownies. It swarthies up brownie bread. It is the third leg in the chocolate-vanilla- stool. Still, it is optional. Either way, this will read ALL CAPS CHOCOLATE. So many puddings are titled chocolate, and tinted brown, and taste like the color. Close your eyes on these faint-hearts, and you'd be hard-pressed to ID any flavor beyond sweet. Not so, here. Bring on the blindfolds.
Or don't. This isn't challenge material. No tests, no cross-examinations, allowed here. The point of pudding is to cosset, to comfort and coddle, soothe and calm. A proper pudding is to the tongue what a soft hum is to the ear. A lullaby, all shush and smile. Pat-pat, there-there, gentle business. Plush as Pooh bear's much-fingered ear; smooth as a dragged-about, threadbare blankie. It can mend a Friday torn at the seams, and launch a Monday off on the right foot. And if it stole moments from pressing projects, it didn't steal many, being a friendly fifteen-minute job. Pudding's good that way, too, asking little, giving oodles.
And in that spirit of offerings, here's a tidbit, gleaned from one last rabbit hole: turns out the proof isn't in the pudding after all, but rather, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I can only second that.
A Fine, Dependable, Deep Chocolate Pudding
adapted from The Best Recipe, from The Editor's of Cook's Illustrated Magazine
Yield: 6-10 servings
Equipment: fine-mesh strainer.
As to the dairy: I've recorded the recipe as written, but in practice, I use whatever I have on hand. Last week, this was 1 cup heavy cream + 2 cups non-fat milk (which, inexplicably, my kids prefer). I've used half-and-half and 2%, also. Both were grand. You get the picture.
Also? On top, the whipped cream? Technically, it is optional. In my opinion, it's mission-critical. Indeed, I prefer equal parts pudding and cream.
Oh, and those 3 extra egg whites? Problem solved.
2 Tbs Dutch-processed cocoa powder
2 Tbs cornstarch
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp instant espresso powder (optional; I use this)
1 cup light cream
3 large egg yolks
2 cups whole milk
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I use two 3.5 oz 70% Lindt bars)
1 Tbs salted butter, softened
2 tsp vanilla extract
whipping cream, to serve
Melt chocolate, and set aside to cool slightly, 10 minutes, while you proceed.
Place cocoa powder, cornstarch, sugar, salt and espresso (if using) in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, and whisk to combine. Still off the heat, slowly whisk in cream, followed by egg yolks, then milk. Whisk in the melted and slightly cooled chocolate. Don't mind the clumps.
Bring mixture to a barely-boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a whisk, scraping bottom and sides of pot. This will take 4-5 minutes. Pudding will darken slightly and thicken gently, as it heats. Once you see bubbles, reduce heat to medium, replace whisk with wooden spoon or silicone spatula, and continue to cook, another 1 1/2-2 minutes, until pudding thickens further and thickly coats the spoon. Cook's Illustrated says it will register 200°. Could well be. I've always used my eyeballs.
Remove pan from heat, then stir in vanilla and butter. Strain pudding through a fine-mesh sieve, stirring and pushing gently with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula. Pudding is ready to eat right away, or can be chilled and eaten cold. Warm, the texture is loose and lovely. Cold, it firms up enough to hold peaks. I love it best warm. Until I eat it cold. Then I switch allegiances completely. Eat at whatever temperature suits, preferably with thick lashings of cream, gently whipped.
Theoretically keeps, refrigerated, 5 days. We've yet to make it past 24 hours.