Presents or presence?
by MELISSA GORDON
Last Saturday I listened to Taff Roberts read Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” at the Winona Art Center. The story is lovely no doubt; yet what has hung in my mind since the reading is not wintry Welsh scenes of boys tormenting cats, uncles lazily dozing, or an overwrought woman in a cottage caught fire. What captured me was how the poem was introduced. Taff said the story is beloved because it recalls a Christmas that was about family and food. Sure presents were there, but they existed in a secondary way, insubordinate to presence and food.
If Taff is right, and the reason people love the story so much is because it evokes ideas of a simpler time with different priorities, what’s stopping us from creating that? What if we decided to minimize decorations and events and shopping trips and gifts, and instead spent time just being together with good food. What would that look like? How would we do it?
One way we could start is with this savory bread pudding. It’s no “blazing pudding” (whatever that is. Maybe you can ask Taff next time you see him), but it’s lovely and you can make it ahead. Just assemble it and refrigerate it until you’re ready to bake it.
A Savory Pudding for Christmas
• 4 eggs, beaten
• 2 cups milk
• 4 to 5 cups cubed whole grain bread
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1/2 cup diced yellow onion
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 4 ounces sliced shiitake, oyster or cremini mushrooms
• 4 ounces sliced button mushrooms
• 2 teaspoons dried thyme
• 1 bunch kale, washed, stems removed and chopped
• 1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
• Pinch each of salt and black pepper
1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Butter or oil an 8 x 8 inch casserole dish.
2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk. Gently fold the cubed bread into the mixture and set aside.
3. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté for five to seven minutes until it is beginning to soften. Add the garlic, mushrooms and thyme and sauté another few minutes. Add the kale and stir until it softens. Remove from heat.
4. Stir the cooked vegetables into the bread mixture, then add the shredded Gruyere, salt and pepper. Pour into the prepared casserole dish and bake for about 45 minutes until firm and browning on top. Remove from oven and serve warm.