Food, Family, and Memory

mattbreadpudding.jpgGrowing up there were just some things that this little pudgy boy would not eat. High on the short list of food items, along with sour cream and avocados, was this recipe called Capirotada. No matter how hard they tried I just wouldn’t move past the strange blend of ingredients that went into this Mexican bread pudding.

Now it’s the only thing I want to eat.

Capirotada is a Mexican bread pudding that’s normally served during Lent. Because of this it has always featured any ingredients that were on hand and someone on the humble side of desserts — a tad bit plain and not too sweet. And like most recipes coming from a country as diverse as Mexico, it’s also infinitely adaptable. It’s hard to find the same recipe for Capirotada when you begin to look around and speak with Mexican cooks.

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ice1-104After 3 days of steady rain the outside temperature on the ground was stuck at 32 degrees and warm air was still sandwiched aloft causing the precipitation. I was nervous and so was the Weather Channel. I checked the icicles on the wires outside my kitchen window regularly - they are my predictor. My lawn was covered with birds out heavily feeding - not a good sign.

Maine was on the verge of serious trouble - perfect conditions for a severe icing event. By noon on Monday ice was collecting on top of the wires but the hanging icicles were still growing longer. That changed by early afternoon. ‘It’ was starting just as they predicted. The temperature was dropping and the icicles started to flip-they no longer hung straight down. Ice formed on top of the wires, freezing instantly and no longer dripping. Ice was forming the minute it hit any surface. When ice forms just on the top of wires it grows quickly heavy and the hanging icicles weighing less, literately flip. My icicles had rotated more than 45 degrees. This is so not a good thing.

Everything became encased in over an inch of heavy, clear ice. The weight of that much ice is more than anything can tolerate; electrical wires break, trees bend, limbs snap bringing more limbs with them and roofs collapse. It was too dangerous to leave my home and too dangerous to stay, but it’s didn’t matter anymore. I was staying with the ship.

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STOCK chicken beakerA roasted chicken goes a long way in our house. It is one of those easy dishes that requires very little prep. Stuffing the cavity with a whole lemon cut in half, a whole garlic bulb cut in half, some thyme, salt, and pepper creates the simplest of flavors. Smear the body with soft butter, lots of kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, toss in the oven for about an hour and a half. Serve it with some roasted carrots and some sort of green and dinner is on the table for just a few bucks.

Rarely does all the chicken meat get consumed. Left overs get shredded, made into enchiladas, soft tacos, or thrown into soups. The carcass gets tossed into a big stock pot along with some chicken necks, lots of roots, vegetables, and herbs. Cover with water, bring to a boil, cover it and let it simmer for 24 hours.

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preserves lg There is a difference between jam and preserves.  Jam is sweet fruit you spread on toast.  Preserves are a frozen moment in time—a piece of summer that you can carry with you the rest of the year:  high grass, long naps, warm evenings, your front porch… 

My neighbor Mary Wellington makes preserves.

Mary is a farmer.  And not only a single-family farmer--a single farmer.  She works three acres of very diverse orchards of Glenn Annie canyon all by herself, on which she grows over fifty varieties of fruit. 

Her preserves were so treasured and ubiquitous at local farmer’s markets that many people came to call her “The Jam Lady.” Her Blenheim Apricot jam is intoxicating.  Her Blood Orange marmalade is insane.  The red raspberry is well… indescribable.  But Mary Wellington preserves more than fruit.

If you wander up Glen Annie you will find a two story clapboard farmhouse peeking out from behind the persimmon tree.  Mary will greet you with her typical burst of enthusiasm and a clap of her hands.  She will launch into an impromptu tour of her orchard and its latest bounty:  You will flit from tree to tree sampling God’s offerings in a feast of the senses that is literally Edenic.  (I know I get religious about food—but I was raised that way.)   Taste the Santa Rosas… Smell the outside of this blood orange… Look at the color on these apricots... Oh don’t mind the bruise—just taste it.

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clowncone.gif In Margate, New Jersey, there is an ice cream shop that time forgot. It is called Two Cents Plain and it has little white wire chairs with red and white striped seats, red and white wallpaper festooned with whimsical line drawings of flappers in long necklaces and gents in boaters, and a jar on the counter where customers can deposit tip money for the scoopers’ college funds. It looks just the same today as it did in 1979, when I had my fifth birthday party there.

We had the whole place to ourselves that day! What a thrill for a five-year-old. More thrilling still were the ice cream “clowns” (still on the menu) which were presented thusly: a scoop of ice cream on a plate, and a sugar cone inverted on top as a hat, point side up, and a face drawn on the scoop of ice cream with Red Hots. I had asked for a baby sister for my birthday that year and instead was presented with a baby brother, and the ice cream clowns went a long way towards placating me.

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