Monday, January 31, 2011

The Deep End of the Pool

I rush into the house, drop the car keys onto the table, and run over to my computer to check the evite again.   I am definitely going to be a little late, what with gathering up all the supplies, but it can't be helped.  I head into the garage and start hunting through the shelves.

My husband:  So where are you going without me tonight?
Me:  (mumbling on purpose):  Oh, it's a god *muffled* ss party.  
Him:  What?   I didn't catch that.
Me:  (much more loudly):  Do you know where we keep the little candleholder things?
Him:  No.  Why?
Me:  OK then, can you go outside and pick me a few lemons?  With leaves on them?
Him:  Um, I guess so.  Why do you need leafy lemons?
Me:  Thanks, honey!  

Having found my candle, I throw it into the bag on the counter.  I go back to the evite again.

You are invited to A Goddess Party!  Please bring:
  • a favorite dish or drink (it's a potluck)
  • an inspirational reading material
  • flowers/foliage from around your home
  • gently used gift item you love but can't use anymore (may be wrapped)
  • photo of loved one(s) and/or crystals
  • pillow for your toosh & small wrap/blanket
  • candle
Dress comfortably!

Even as I read it for the tenth time, I have to resist the by-now-familiar urge to either run away and hide or to double over with laughter at the absurdity of the whole thing.  Photo of loved ones and/or crystals?  [Pause for effect.  Look out at audience.] "Are those, like, interchangeable in Goddess-land?"  [Crowd roars in appreciation.  I move on to witty riffs on "toosh" and "foliage"].

But, no.  I am not only going to the Goddess Party, I am leaving my cynical, snarky self at home and taking my toosh pillow and poetry off to Calabasas.   I even arm myself with a warm-from-the oven bread pudding as an offering to my fellow Goddesses.

Walking in the door of my friend's home, my fears flare up again.  I don't know a soul, with the exception of my hostess.   The living room floor is covered with different fabrics, scented votives twinkling everywhere.  Baskets full of lavender, rosemary, and birds of paradise form a circle around the candles.  I feel my eyes rolling involuntarily, and have to check myself.  Framed photos nestle in the ring here and there, in front of a variety of pillows clearly meant for all of these strangers and me to sit on.   And do what???  God, please don't let there be chanting.

I stroll into the kitchen, shaking hands and meeting the other guests.  A few are chatting away like old friends, others look almost as nervous as I do. One woman leafs through well-worn paperbacks, dog-earring pages for inspiration at the last minute.  Looking around in vain for a glass of wine*, I begin grazing the appetizer spread in a show of "This isn't weird at all" bravado.

After a few late arrivals, including (hooray) one more familiar face, there are eleven women sitting cross-legged in the candlelit room.  The solemnity of the burning sage ritual** is marred somewhat by us falling into fits of giggles when our leader is outside.  But we compose ourselves and settle down to listen, as one by one, each tells about the people in the photo, about her story, about herself.

The awkwardness vanishes.

A marriage is breaking.  
A relationship is holding on by a thread.  
Cancer has been beaten.  
God has been found.  
A brother has died unforgivably.  
One 89 year old mother refuses to rest, my 71 year old mother refuses to live.  
A grandson shines. 
A younger sister is gone three days after a joyous moment in the sun.
A sibling struggles and a family falls apart.
Lost love returns with a vengeance.  
A husband accepts her unconditionally, and she adores him for it. 
There is the miracle of a son.

And we are, collectively, suddenly, massively grateful to be able to speak these things aloud, without judgement. To women who have their own, different but somehow terribly similar, struggles and triumphs going on, and so understand every word completely.   The unburdening is cathartic, the release intense and unexpected and draining and energizing, all at once.  

A flurry of buoyant support comes back from the group.   Passages and poems and, at the end, voices from all around.   Information and emotion flows around the circle.  We feel we know, a little.  We know enough.

We say to each other:

You are gentle. 
You are kind.
You are a bridge, a path, the glue.
You are infectious.
You are gorgeous.
You are smart and creative and wise.
You are fierce.
You are crazy sexy cool.
You are so strong.  Even when you bend into seemingly impossible shapes, you get stronger.
You are a poetess in disguise.
You are a teacher, a giver, a mother, a muse.
You are a great and true friend.
You are a force of nature.
You are the deep end of the pool.  

We believe each other.   

We blow out the candles, toss our cares into the fireplace***, open up the wine, and eat a pile of delicious food with so much gusto you'd think we'd been starving for weeks.  We do this together.  If not as actual Goddesses****, at least as new-found friends.

Bread Pudding of the Goddesses
Bread pudding is an incredibly useful tool of the leftover trade.  In this instance, I was able to make this sensational dessert using a package of stale hamburger buns that were just sitting around in my cupboard.  It may well be even better with bread you buy just for the occasion, but I'll never know.  It is NOT a useful tool of the dieting trade.    But it is sublime enough to be worth every calorie.

To line the baking dish:
1 1/2 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt

For the pudding:
About 6-8 cups of bread cubes, preferably from a rich, relatively dense type of bread, such as country french, sourdough, or egg bread*****
A little more than a cup of the add-ins of your choice, optional****** 
1/4 c. butter, melted   
3 c. heavy cream
1 c. whole milk
6 eggs, plus 2 egg yolks
1/3 c. sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
generous grating of fresh nutmeg
a couple of pinches of salt

Choose a heavy 9x9 square, round or oval baking dish.   Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a small bowl, then spread the mixture into the bottom of the baking dish.   This will magically form a caramel sauce on the bottom of the pudding as it bakes.  YUM!   

Spread a layer of bread cubes on top of the brown sugar.  Sprinkle half of your add-ins (if you are using them, and I hope you are!) on top of the bread.  Cover with another layer of bread cubes, and the rest of your add ins.  The dish should be nicely full but should not have bread above the edges.    Drizzle the melted butter on top of the bread, and set the dish aside.

In a larger bowl, whisk together the cream, the milk, the eggs and egg yolks, the sugar, the vanilla, the nutmeg and the salt until blended and smooth.  Pour the custard over the bread in the dish.  

Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and push down gently to make sure that all the bread is submerged.  If you have a heavy plate handy, set it on top, otherwise stop by occasionally to push the bread back into the custard.   Allow pudding to sit for at least 30 minutes, or put into the fridge for several hours if you like.   If you do that, remove from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature before baking.

Preheat the oven to 350.  Place the pudding into a roasting pan large enough to hold it comfortably, and add enough lukewarm water to come halfway up the sides of the baking dish.   Remove the plastic wrap.  Carefully put the pan into the oven.  Bake until pudding is set, golden brown on top, and a small knife inserted into the center comes out clean...about 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Let cool in the water for 20 minutes.

Spoon bread pudding into dessert bowls, scraping some of the luscious sauce from the bottom of the pan onto each piece.  Top with fresh whipped cream.

Click to Print this recipe!

* Goddess party rules say no alcohol before the ceremony.  You'd think that little piece of info would have been on the invite, but no.
** There really was this branch of burning sage that practically smoked us all out, used for the ceremonial inaugural "smudge" that we all received.   I had to bite my tongue.
*** Literally.  We wrote down seven things we wanted to leave behind us in 2011, then burned the list in my friend's fireplace.
**** I mean, come on.  I may feel a lot better, but I'm still me.
***** You will need enough to fill up your baking dish, so the exact amount may vary.
****** I HIGHLY recommend bittersweet chocolate chips and dried cherries, but you can use raisins or other dried fruit, fresh apples tossed with a little cinnamon, name it!


  1. Love that you opened yourself up to what sounds like a beautiful experience. (Spoken by someone who would have had the same snarky response to the evite.) And - bread pudding! I may have to make this for Super Bowl. Thanks, Sharon.

  2. It really was amazing. And I hope you do make this for the Super Bowl, but be careful, or all those lost pounds will be right back!

  3. Wow, what a delicious looking bread pudding. Sounds like a nice warm comforting dessert. I have a sweet treat linky party going on at my blog called "Sweets for a Saturday" and I'd like to invite you to stop by and link your bread pudding up.

  4. Will do, Lisa. Thanks for the invite!

  5. Great post. Sounds like an interesting party...I'm glad it turned out so well. Bread pudding is my go-to dessert...always have some old bread waiting around to become yummy, comforting bread pudding. I also always add boys would mutiny without it.