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Betsy Block


(Almost) Irrelevant

Almost Irrelevant

This summer, E spent a week at "rock 'n roll camp." This was good because he likes to drum, and BD and I want to encourage the musician in him. But when I found myself on that Friday at 7 a.m., the day of the big concert, discussing hair with E - should he have me spray on green dye? Should he have me braid it? - I was suddenly transported back to Washington, D.C. in the '80s, when a renowned local hardcore punk used to drive to his fancy private school in his mama's BMW, or so they said. Suddenly, overnight, I had become the "Mom" in this scene, and I wasn't happy about it.

That afternoon when we arrived at the cafeteria of a local high school for the show, Bad Betsy emerged in full force. At first BD was with me. "Are we in a Chrisopher Guest film?" I murmured with an evil laugh, rolling my eyes, and BD smiled. But once the music started, my husband became a turncoat and took me to task: the concert was cute, the kids were trying hard, they were doing a great job, blah blah blah. Good Betsy totally agreed, but Bad Betsy couldn't stop smirking.

The whole scene just didn't sit well with her. There was something unsavory about 'tweens and young teens whose parents had paid for them to "rock out." Why are they - we - doing it? Is it about fulfilling our own dreams? Do kids really need this much attention at this age? For BD and me, it was more about finding anything that would help fill in the large black hole of summer, and in this way, rock camp fit the bill perfectly. I was very happy that on the five days of camp, E bounced out the door excited for the day ahead. But as for the concert itself ...

I decided to put aside my cynicism and try to look clearly at what was actually in front of me. What I found surprised me. The young people arrayed on the stage were like a bouquet of possibility. The hope and pride were almost palpable, although so too were the angst and uncertainty. And I couldn't help noticing that in just five days the kids already seemed to have settled into their predetermined roles of cool kids and geeks; I'm pretty sure I also spotted a freak or two. I definitely wouldn't want to go back, or at least only sort of --

E had spent the week before rock camp making jewelry at a local museum. He gave our friend M one of his bracelets, but I got all the rest. As he enters his teen years, I know this ratio will be reversed: I'll be lucky to receive one of his creations while some girl will totally score. Of course that girl used to be me, only I didn't know it at the time. I know we start letting go (and growing up) as soon as they're born and that cord is cut, but just knowing doesn't make it any easier.

In other words, that silly, embarrassing rock concert got me thinking; no, it got me down. Fortunately, we went right from the show to my friend R's birthday party. Five-year-old P and I had spent the afternoon making R her favorite dessert: bread pudding. BD and my kids won't eat it - too mushy - so I arrived at the soiree thinking that no one else would like it either. I've kind of been beaten down over the years by BD's pickiness, and after the concert I was feeling middle-aged and irrelevant. But much to my surprise, when I got to the party I found out that every adult there didn't just like bread pudding, they loved it. I dished out big, sloppy servings of the stuff, all warm and soft, to the delight of pretty much everyone there. I felt much better.

White Chocolate Challah Pudding
Adapted from "The Figs Table" by Todd English and Sally Sampson (Simon & Schuster, 1998)

Here's the thing: I'm just not sure where the recipe-tester was on this one because this recipe calls for a brownie pan (8 by 8"), but this makes far more liquid than will fit in such a small pan. You can either halve the amount of eggs and milk/cream (you can also just use whole eggs instead of yolks if you won't use the whites another time), or else use a bigger baking pan, or else make one 8 x 8" pan and then a second smaller one, which is what I did when I realized what was going on here. But you'll need more bread than called for - about six cups, I'd say; most challah loaves will be big enough to yield that much anyway.


7 large egg yolks
2 whole eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
cup sugar
10 ounces white chocolate, about 2 cups chopped
4 cups challah cubes (I'd say 6 is more like it)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the eggs and vanilla extract in a small bowl and mix to combine. Set aside.

Place the cream, milk and sugar in a 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat and cook until scalded, or when bubbles begin to form around the edges and it has not quite come to a boil, about 7 minutes (depending, obviously, on your stove). Add the white chocolate and mix until fully melted. Gradually add the egg mixture in a slow steady stream, whisking all the while.

(The trick here is to incorporate hot cream into eggs without scrambling the latter. You can wait a bit until the cream is cooler or add a little bit of the cream into the eggs to bring up the temp of the eggs. What's essential is that you whisk hard and fast as you combine the two, and that you really do add the hot cream in a slooooooow stream so it won't curdle the eggs.)

Place the bread cubes in a buttered pan (see discussion above), cover with the egg-cream mixture, press the cubes down and let sit for 15 minutes.

Cover with foil and place in a larger pan filled halfway with very hot water. Transfer to the oven and bake until firm, about an hour and 15 minutes, or else until still a little sloppy, about an hour and 5 minutes. I prefer the latter, but to each her own. After 30 minutes check to see if you need to add more water.

This is great served with raspberries and an ambivalent sigh.