The commuter train comes in all the way from West Virginia. Some of the people who ride it spend three hours, each way, commuting. That’s more time spent with your fellow train riders during the week than with your significant other or family. DC is a crazy commuting city, with long-suffering government servants slogging in and out for 25 years so they’re eligible for their federal pensions. In the mornings, people count down the days until they retire, and sometimes, you’ll hear the pop of a champagne cork: friends celebrating someone’s last schlep into work.
Yes, you’re allowed to drink on the train. The Union Station liquor store does brisk business in the afternoon, tanking people up with mini-Chardonnays, beers, and airplane Dewar’s bottles for the train ride home. Every once in awhile there’s an exposé on the local news about a “party car” on the commuter train, usually an overblown account of some wildness that goes on while people are under the influence. At one stop outside DC, there’s a guy who will take pizza orders and deliver them into the arms of waiting passengers.
But I switched jobs, and the new job is in a different part of the District. I take a bus now instead of a train. It’s a quieter, more subdued crowd. They come from the ‘burbs instead of farms, little-ticky-tacky-box types of folks. We do not drink, at least not alcohol, and probably not coffee because everyone is off of caffeine and gluten. We aren’t allowed to eat. I no longer have a cute, cocky young conductor friend who lets me ride for free because I baked him cookies one time.
The changed commute reflects a changed schedule: I go into the city less often now; but for much longer days. Dinner is a real chore on those long days; I am usually ravenous and a little blinded by low blood sugar when I get home.
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Two of my favorite food people on the Internet are Amelia Morris and Tim Mazurek. Amelia interviewed Tim here recently and it was entertaining and thought-provoking, as they both are. But it was a quick little parenthetical that Tim slipped in that I’ve been thinking about a lot: “…am I the only 9-5 food blogger?”, he asked. And he’s probably not, but I think he’s one of the few successful ones. How odd, really, that the people who we trust to help us find ways to eat and cook realistically for our families and friends are those who make their living writing about cooking. It’s probably why I value Tim’s voice so much, because I know that he gets up in the morning and goes to kick ass at his full-time, non-food job and then makes time to share his writing and critical eye on recipes that work.
Food media rewards making really good food look effortless and accessible. I kind of think that really good food is the opposite of effortless and accessible. Like a lot of people, I’ve been digging into the highly anticipated Liz Prueitt‘s Tartine All Day: Modern Recipes for the Home Cook, but approached it with some trepidation. Prueitt and her husband, Chad Robertson, are at the helm of the San Francisco cult-Tartine empire, professional cooks who make Cali-cool, naturally leavened bread and café fare. Billed as a “hardworking cookbook that will guide and inspire home cooks”, you have to wonder if it actually will, considering the source.
Prueitt’s intro to the book is reassuringly grounded, though. “You see, there’s no way around it: cooking is work. Work in that it requires forethought, a modicum of skill, and time. Work in that you must use your hands, stand on your feet, and wash the dishes. (And, full disclosure: for my husband, Chad, and me, cooking is work. It is how we earn our living.)”
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I’ve been baking a lot of bread so I’ve been eating a lot of bread. I’ve written before that I think bread is a workhorse that can turn little scraps from the fridge into a meal very quickly, which is invaluable lately as I adjust to new rhythms. There’s no recipe for that kind of meal, though, it’s just foraging in your own kitchen for something that satisfies your hunger. It does feel like foraging, too, digging past Tupperware containers and shaking up old jars of vinaigrette and smelling leftovers to see if it’s still good to smash onto a piece of toast. In the end, I have not actually cooked, but I do have what feels like kind of a decent meal, and more importantly, I am fed.
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The types of train folks who eat Domino’s pizza, who drink Dixie cups of red wine, and who are bribe-able with homemade cookies are my people. You can’t cook on a commuter train, they won’t get home until 8 PM, and they are hungry. I like hungry people. Maybe, like me, they’re foraging around in their fridge when they walk in the door, smashing stuff onto toast, standing at the kitchen table to eat before they take off their coat. So here’s a recipe from Tartine All Day that is not a weeknight dinner by any means, but is still really good, and importantly, makes excellent leftovers. It is a bit of work, but as Prueitt writes, “Your simple hope is that while sitting around the table to share the fruits of your labor, the effort fades to memory.” We won’t always be, but all we can do is keep on cooking and feeding our hungry selves, and we might sometimes be that lucky.
Savory bread pudding with wild mushrooms & bacon
Several notes here:
1) I tried very hard to get a hold of Liz Prueitt/her people to get permission to share this recipe, which is essentially hers as written, but never heard back. This is what I normally do when basically reprinting a recipe, especially when a new book is out. So I’m sorry, Liz Prueitt! Before your lawyers send me a cease and desist, you can just kindly ask me to take it down, and I will.
2) I did not use wild mushrooms, and it was still very good.
3) It might seem like there’s not too much that’s special about this recipe from a first glance – technique is pretty normal, we’ve all had egg bakes before – but the flavor combination is great and the recipe is excellent if you follow it. I will be making it again, and to me, having those types of recipes in my back pocket is more and more important.
- Unsalted butter, for the baking dish
- 8 oz/225g country-style bread, preferably day-old
- 8 oz/225g thick cut bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
- 2 small or 1 large/110g leek, white and light green parts sliced 1.2 inch/12mm thick and rinsed (I used green onions)
- 2 Tbsp olive oil, as needed
- 1 lb/455g mixed wild mushrooms, sliced 1/4 inch thick (I used a mix of shiitake and cremini)
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/3 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
- 2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 6 large eggs
- 2 cups/480 ml whole milk
- 1 cup/240 ml heavy cream
- 1/4 cup/25 g grated Gruyere, Comte, or other firm cheese
- Ground black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F/108 degrees C. Butter inside surfaces of a 9-inch/23 cm square baking dish with at least 2-inch/5cm sides.
- Cut the bread into 1-inch/2.5 cm cubes. Spread them out on a baking sheet and place in the oven to toast for a few minutes, until lightly toasted. Set aside.
- In a skillet over medium-high heat, cook the bacon until slightly crisped but not yet bully browned. Transfer to a large bowl and pour off all but 2 Tbsp of fat from the skillet. Add the leeks to the skillet and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the bacon.
- If the pan looks dry, swirl in 1 Tbsp of the olive oil. Add about half of the mushrooms and saute, stirring occasionally, until crisp and lightly browned in a few places, 3 to 5 minutes Transfer the mushrooms to the bowl and cook the remaining mushrooms, adding as much of the remaining 1 Tbsp of oil to the skillet as needed. Transfer to the bowl and let cool.
- Add the cheese, parsley, thyme, and salt to the cooked mushroom mixture and mix well.
- In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, and cream until well blended. Pour over the mushroom mixture and stir to combine. Gently mix in the toasted bread cubes.
- Carefully pour the bread mixture into the prepared baking dish. The custard should come right up to the top but not cover the highest cubes of bread. (If you have extra, fill a buttered ramekin and make an additional, smaller bread pudding (note from Sarah: I had extra)). Scatter the additional cheese evenly over the pudding and grind a light dusting of pepper on top. Bake until the custard is no longer runny but still a bit wobbly in the center, 40 minutes to 1 hour (and about 25 minutes for a smaller ramekin). It will continue to cook as it sits before serving. Serve the bread pudding hot or at room temperature.
- Any leftovers can be stored, well wrapped, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days and reheated, covered with aluminum foil, in a 350 degree F/180 degree C oven.