It's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life bread pudding (& me)

June 01, 2011: the perfect day for a new beginning? It’s hard to believe that we’re just shy of halfway through 2011 already. Wasn’t I just making a resolution to perfect my cookie decorating skills? Wasn’t I just heading back to school for the most challenging semester of my college career? Wasn’t I just digging my car out of mountains of snow and fighting for a good parking spot in the barely-plowed lots? There is a feeling within me that all of these things happened not yesterday or even the more accurate 4-5 months ago, but that they took place in another lifetime. This part of me is screaming, “How is it only June 2011?” Yet it still feels hard to believe, somehow.

Today, on this balmy and overcast first day of June, I bring to you a recipe and a confession. A la the eat-your-broccoli-or-no-dessert mantra, the latter will actually come first. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this blog lately. Not that reader traffic and high prestige keep me in this game, but I have been focusing a lot of these thoughts on how to improve this blog to appeal to and reach more people. More specifically, I have been thinking about the things I haven’t done very well as a blogger, and in taking steps to improve my abilities, I hope that I will inadvertently open the Floptimism doors to new, wonderful people. If this doesn’t turn out to be the case, I will see myself still in good company, with the incredible few who support me now, and I will continue to enjoy this blog as a record for all of my culinary attempts.

So, then, what have I been doing wrong? More than anything else – and this is where my confession comes in – I have been a dirty hypocrite. It’s true. Let me explain. Anyone who has stumbled over here more than once will know that I am the Queen of Novel-Posts. Sometimes about a focused topic and others about little to nothing at all, my entries tend to go on and on before getting to the recipe at hand (this post, I confess, is already proving to be no different). In and of itself, I don’t find this to be a mistake or a black mark on my talents or success as a food blogger. However, when you combine my pension for length with this one little secret I have, it becomes a problem: I confess, I rarely read other blogger’s entries. There are a few, particularly the ones who have so graciously chosen to follow me, that I take the time to read from start to finish. I also never comment on an entry that I haven’t read. There are several others that I skim through. Most, though, are used solely for their pretty pictures and promising recipes. I realized that if I’m going to continue to be a story-food blog, a hybrid of soap boxes, memories, and recipes, then I need to re-examine the way I treat my fellow bloggers. If I will not devote the time to take a blog for more than its recipe – that is, if I am to treat bloggers and their posts as means to an end rather than ends themselves (this is very Kantian of me; L would be so proud), then I cannot expect another individual to treat me and Floptimism any differently. Either I need to apply the brakes and take the time to appreciate words as well as ingredients, or I need to forego my dreams of this being anything more than a personal chronicle of food.

In keeping with the theme of hypocrisy, I move on to my next transgression: despite hardly giving a second glance to entries that link to rather than internally post a recipe, I have resorted to this short-cut on numerous occasions. Now, on the rare occasion that I don’t touch a thing about a recipe, I find it important to redirect readers to the original post – after all, the original blogger deserves the credit and the extra traffic. However, I cannot possibly think that I will cultivate a personal, perhaps even loyal relationship with anyone if all I do is send them elsewhere. Similarly, in the situations where I do redirect without posting the recipe on Floptimism, I must acknowledge that there will be people, as I have done so many times before, who will simply “x” out of the tab when they realize there is no recipe to be found.

Last but most certainly not least, I confess that I have not treated myself, in the form of this web site, with the utmost respect. I write my posts in the blogger window and rarely look back. I do not edit, and I rarely plan a post. I throw an entry together on a whim, churning them out every other day in order to keep my presence up on feeds and websites like Food Blogs. Although I do try to take attractive, inviting pictures with my little Canon point-and-shoot, the process is still hurried, and I know in my heart that I will never master the art of food photography in this manner. Overall, if I am going to get serious about making this blog the best that it can be, presenting myself the best that I can, and hoping to virtually meet even more talented and enjoyable people, then I need to prove to you that I care. I have not done a good job of this up to this point.

This brings us to the moral of the story, then, the pinnacle of the script, the most important step in the road of knowledge: what am I going to do about it? Well, for starters, I am writing this as a word document, very properly, and will even pause when I finish to wash the dishes from dinner before returning to edit. I have been turning ideas for this entry in my head since yesterday.  And although I do not see a pricier camera or a dinner-turned-cold-as-I-stubbornly-create-the-best-ever-shot in my future, I will make an attempt to incorporate more of the advice I have read about photography into the photos I share with you. And, I will sit down and read the words of the blog entries upon which I stumble. There will be entries and perhaps even whole blogs that I continue to follow solely because the quality of the recipes far surpasses my interest in the story behind them (though likely, this is not the case regarding anyone’s blog who is reading this now) – after all, good food is why we’re all here, right? However, I will not take you for granted. I will not take myself for granted. And I will not take this opportunity for granted.

I believe in the first of June – I believe in it as a chance to start again, to make note of where we were six months ago and where we stand today, and to do something about it before another full year has come and gone. Second chances are what life is all about.

Earlier last semester, I gave a second – and third – chance to this promising Chocolate-Mint Pudding. I was in the throes of a madwoman trying to empty out her kitchen in preparation for The Big Move, and I was turning ingredients into dishes that only a partially insane person could dream up. That is where this pudding recipe was born, and it had the potential to be something great. But then, without thinking, allowing my emotional drive to rid my pantries of all excess foods, I dumped a bag of crushed mints into my pudding to melt them. And by dump, I mean quite literally just that – there were no measuring utensils or even estimated ratios. I wanted to use up a leftover bag of mints, and so that is precisely what I did. Unfortunately, my lack of attention to proportions resulted in more of a Toothpaste flavored pudding than anything else, and I looked upon the enormous bowl of chocolate tragedy with a heavy heart. After my attempt to use rather than waste my food, would I simply be throwing this in the trash? Over the course of a day, I periodically took a finger-full of the pudding, hoping each time that the refrigerator had mellowed it into something palatable, and each time the outcome looked more grim.

Frugality and stubbornness in full force, I refused to toss this pudding. I had slices of flourless chocolate cake on hand, and so one night I combined the two chocolate desserts and confirmed that the problem with this pudding was nothing more than an over-abundance of mint; adding the extra chocolate countered that flavor beautifully, and I finally had a way that I could enjoy the pudding. But soon, the chocolate cake ran out, and I was left with the pudding on its own once again.

Stale bread redeemed this pudding for a second time, in my first-ever attempt at a bread pudding. I eschewed recipes and ratios again (a bold move), tearing up the stale bread and pouring the last of the pudding over it. It marinated in the fridge for five hours, the hard bread softening under the rich cloak of chocolate and mint flavors, and then I baked it in the toaster oven for 25 minutes. Cautiously, I removed it and brought it back to my living room chair. I sat down and, with trepidation, I took my first bite…and suddenly, I felt the weight of a recipe-gone-wrong lift from my shoulders. This mixture of past-their-prime ingredients turned into the most beautiful, gooey, externally crunchy dessert I had ever thought up on my own!

If I can find a way to turn toothpaste pudding back into its chocolate-mint intention – twice! – then surely I can alter the course this blog is taking, too. I love writing in here, sharing what I learn and what I see with all of you. I love seeing what crazy, enticing, elaborate, and sometimes even perfectly simple foods you create, and yes, I love reading the stories and confessions that go along with them.

And so this was my confession and, I hope, the start of my redemption.

One Year Ago: Floptimism, Put to the Test (fittingly, a recipe-free post)

Mint-Chocolate Bread Pudding
Yield: 4 servings

The Ingredients
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons whole wheat flour
2 cups hot milk product*
1 teaspoon vanilla
3-4 tablespoons crushed mints**
8 slices stale bread, torn into pieces

The Method
Prepare the pudding***: Combine the sugar, cocoa, and flour in a saucepan over medium heat. Slowly whisk in the milk, looking for a smooth consistency. Increase the temperature to medium-high and cook, still whisking constantly, until the pudding has thickened and begun to boil, about 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat and whisk in the extract and mints, stirring until the mints have dissolved. Bring to room temperature and then chill in the refrigerator until ready to use for the bread.

Prepare the bread pudding: Place the torn bread in an oven-safe 9x13" baking dish and pour the pudding over it. Toss to coat the bread pieces completely. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for several hours. When ready, place the dish, covered with tin foil, in a preheated oven set to 350 degrees and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake an additional 10 minutes, looking for the bread to have warmed and the top layer to have turned just the slightest bit crunchy.

*The original recipe calls for low fat milk, but I like to make it when I have leftover whole milks or creams to get rid of; this time I used a combination of whole milk, half-n-half, and 1%.
**This is the adjusted ratio – originally I used an estimated 1/3 cup, so I’m guessing that a reduction to 3-4 tablespoons will help with the overpowering flavor I encountered.
***This pudding base is the same as the Chocolate-RumPudding I made a while back.

"A confession has to be part of your new life." -Ludwig Wittgenstein

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