I've been wanting to say or do something regarding the disaster in Japan, but haven't known what. Mostly, I feel quite helpless, with a heart full of sadness for those who have lost their lives, their homes, or loved ones on the other side of the pacific.
But an unexpected opportunity to do something has arisen, and I'm very happy to share it here.
Bernal Yoga has been my place of mental, spiritual and physical comfort for the past 5 years (well, not always physical...). No matter how difficult things have gotten in life, walking into the studio always gives me the feeling of finally being able to take a deep breath. I cherish the sense of community at this studio, with students of all different shapes, sizes and ages, classes ranging from restorative to vigorous, and teachers who, even when encouraging you to contort your body into a pretzel, speak their words with loving kindness.
To help foster this sense of community, the assistant manager, also a yoga teacher and accomplished violinist, Ann, asked Jay and I whether we wanted to participate in a music salon this Saturday. We jumped at the chance, and have been gearing up our ukulele swing band, The Sugar Shakers, for our first real-ish show. Last week, Ann decided to turn the salon into a benefit, with donations going to the Red Cross' relief efforts in Japan.
If you're in the Bay Area this weekend, please stop by to hear us play and donate to this worthy cause; and wear your dancin' socks. Here are the details:
Japan Relief Benefit Music Salon:
At Bernal Yoga, 461 Cortland Ave. at Andover, in the Bernal Heights area of San Francisco
Saturday, March 26, from 8pm to 10pm
Admission: by donation (all proceeds go to the Red Cross for relief efforts in Japan)
Music by Ann Lam, The Sugar Shakers, and a reading by Bernal Yogi Erin O'Briant of her newly published novel Glitter Girl
If you're not able to attend but still want to give, you can donate directly to the Red Cross.
At our rehearsal last week, Jessa, harmony genius and craftstress extraordinaire arrived carrying a warm bundle in her arms. Peeling back the tea towel revealed two beautiful, bouncing oat baguettes, still warm from the oven, emitting the most tantalizing aroma. One got sliced into rounds and slathered with soft goat cheese. I had more the next morning, toasted and drizzled with honey, which made a comforting breakfast when I couldn't sleep and, uncharacteristically, got up before dawn to bake a loaf of beer sourdough. Jessa, on the other hand, gets up every morning before dawn - another of many reasons that I admire her!
These baguettes aren't your typical, crusty-chewy french breads; rather, they have the pleasingly pillowy texture of a good American-style pan bread, light yet dense, and flecked with nubby bits of steel-cut oats. I reckoned they'd make a killer bread pudding.
So for rehearsal last weekend, I sauteed some apple chunks in a skillet, tipped out the apples and deglazed the pan with light cream steeped with vanilla bean, then whisked in eggs, brown sugar, nutmeg and brandy, and tossed everything with the cubed baguettes. As per Cook's rich bread pudding recipe, I added some extra bread cubes and topped them with melted butter and cinnamon sugar. The pudding baked up flavorful and moist, dotted with pockets of soft, caramelized apples, with crunchy bits of cinnamon toast on top. A pour of cool crème anglaise rounded out the flavors nicely.
As we chant at the end of yoga class: Lokah samastha sukhino bhavantu, or "may all beings everywhere be happy, healthy and free of suffering. May the thoughts and actions of my own life contribute, in some way, to happiness and freedom for all."
Hope to see you all this Saturday!
Comfort me with:
(Gluten-Free) Apple Crisple
Über Apple Upside-Down Cake
Apple Rhubarb Crisp
Caramelized Apple Bread Pudding
Makes about 10 servings
A few notes:
- This recipe requires several steps: cooking the apples, steeping the dairy with vanilla bean, making the crème anglaise, and (if you are totally hardcore) baking Jessa's fabulous oat baguettes. Many of the steps can be done ahead: you can bake the bread weeks in advance (double-wrap and stick in the freezer after a week) and cook the apples and steep the dairy with the vanilla bean up to several days ahead (store both in the fridge).
- The pudding can also be baked in advance, left at room temp for up to 2 hours (or refrigerated for up to 4 days), and reheated in a 350º oven, or cut into individual squares and reheated.
- I love the flecks of steel-cut oats here, and these baguettes have the perfect light-dense texture for bread pudding. Lacking them, I wouldn't use a typically crusty baguette, but rather a firm, white sandwich bread (with a bit of whole grain in it, if possible) such as challah, brioche, pan de mie, or Rudi's Organic Country Morning White. My multi-grain loaf would probably work, too; though I might leave out the flax seeds.
Adapted from Good to the Grain (from the Apple Graham Coffeecake recipe)
3 large, tart, baking apples (such as Grannies, Pink Ladies or Fujis)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Bread and custard:
Inspired by Cook's Rich Bread Pudding
2 1/2 cups half and half
1 cup whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
3 large eggs
1/2 cup light or dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons brandy (or whiskey, or dark or gold rum)
12 ounces bread (such as Jessa's Oat Baguettes; see headnote for more suggestions), in 1" cubes (about 6 cups; 1 cup reserved for the topping)
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
crème anglaise, for serving (below)
Caramelize the apples:
Peel the apples, cut them off the core and into 3/4 - 1" chunks. In a heavy-bottomed 10 - 12" skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the sugar, cinnamon and salt, stirring until the mixture bubbles, then toss in the apples to coat them. Let the apples sit, undisturbed, for 1 minute to sear a bit, then toss them again, and let them sit another minute. Repeat this for about 10 minutes, until the apples are deeply golden and tender. Remove from the heat and scrape the apples and their juices into a bowl; don't wash the skillet - you will use it to make the custard.
Make the custard and assemble the pudding:
Pour the half and half and milk into the caramelly-appley skillet. Add the vanilla pod and scrapings and heat over a medium flame, stirring and scraping up any good stuff the apples left behind, until the dairy is steaming and small bubbles form around the sides of the pan. Turn off the heat, cover the pot (with a lid if you've got one, or use a large plate or platter) and let steep for 20 - 30 minutes.
When the dairy has finished steeping, in a large bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, salt, and nutmeg to combine. Whisk in the brandy. Remove the vanilla pod from the dairy and slowly whisk the warm dairy into the egg mixture, including any vanilla seeds which may have sunk to the bottom.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325ºF. Brush a 2-quart gratin dish or casserole with some of the melted butter.
In a small bowl, combine the tablespoon of sugar with the 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon.
Place 5 cups of the bread cubes in the buttered dish and pour the custard over the top. Let soak for 20 minutes, pressing the bread down occasionally to moisten it. After 20 minutes, scatter the caramelized apples and their juices over the bread. Scatter the remaining cup of bread cubes over the apples and press them to partially submerge in the custard. Brush the exposed bread cubes with the rest of the melted butter, and sprinkle evenly with the cinnamon sugar.
Bake the bread pudding until puffed all over and golden, about 1 hour. When you peek into the center, there should be no wet custard. Remove the pudding from the oven and let cool and settle, at least 30 minutes. Serve warm with crème anglaise or vanilla ice cream.
The pudding can be cooled and stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days; reheat in a 350º oven until warmed through.
Makes 2 cups, or 12 servings
1 cup whole milk or half and half
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
4 egg yolks
6 tablespoons sugar
In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the milk and cream with the vanilla pod and scrapings until steaming and small bubbles form around the sides of the pan, swirling occasionally. Cover and steep off the heat for 20 minutes.
Place a fine mesh sieve over a large, metal bowl and set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the yolks, salt and sugar until well combined. Reheat the milk until steaming, then dribble it into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Pour the mixture back into the pan, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a heat-proof spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture reaches 175º and thickens to the consistency of heavy cream, 5 - 10 minutes.
Immediately pour the mixture through the strainer and into the bowl to stop the cooking. Place the bowl in an ice bath, stirring the custard occasionally, until well-chilled. (If you overcooked your custard and it is lumpy, just whizz it in a blender or with an immersion blender until smooth.)
Store the creme anglaise in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.