Hello strangers. It’s been three weeks since my last post, and there are three reasons for my absence. The first is I’ve been gorging myself on summer’s bounty – tomatoes, squash, berries, peaches – so I haven’t felt like cooking.
The second is last week was restaurant week where anyone who pleases can enjoy a highly affordable three-course meal at some of the finer restaurants around town. I dined out three times. It was lovely.
The third is the world has seemingly gone mad, and when things that rock the foundation of my belief system and make me so terribly sad happen, I can’t quite find the sense in writing about something seemingly as silly as dessert.
Last December, I listened to Anne Lamott read her book Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers during my long drive home for the holidays. In a nutshell, Lamott breaks down prayer into three essentials: “I need help, thanks for the help, and wow…life.”
I have “help” and “thanks” down pat. I ask for help a lot. Even though I interpret most of my prayers as going unanswered, I say thanks anyway. But I struggle with the “wow.” I want all of the “wow, look at that beauty” and none of the “wow, look at that destruction.”
Last night, I told a friend that after all the destruction that has happened and is currently happening, I don’t know that I believe in God anymore. I am alone most of my free time, but the few days after that plane went down was the first time I really felt alone. Alone as in “we are on this planet and there is no hope” ALONE.
I went on to tell my friend that hearing someone say “God is Good” really pisses me off because I’ve always seen that phrase attached to good news like a pregnancy or pleasant surprise. If God is so good because He gives us good things like new life, is God bad when that life is taken out of world for a reason I can attribute to nothing other than an utter lack of respect for life?
My tiny human mind will never understand how a good God could let children crash to earth in an exploding airplane or get blown apart in a war. I will never understand how a good God would allow people to get shot and killed while strolling through a shopping mall or while sitting at their desks in a classroom. Or fail to intervene in a holocaust or genocide or let people who think up sick shit like flying planes into buildings continue to walk the face of the earth.
I will never understand or accept it. Ever. The random nature with which blessings and horror are seemingly bestowed scares the shit out of me. If you really want to get to the heart of it – not knowing what I’m supposed to do about it or not being able to do anything about it scares the shit out of me.
These are not popular sentiments to express. I imagine that is because they scare the shit out of anyone who has to listen to them.
I like Anne Lamott’s writings because she acknowledges these radical disconnects. As she put it, how could the same God that created kittens also be responsible for creating snakes? These past two weeks, I’ve been wondering why I get to buy ripe peaches and bake them into dessert when others are constantly searching for their next meager meal?
In Help, Thanks, Wow Lamott writes, “God can handle honesty, and prayer begins an honest conversation. After giving God the silent treatment for two or three days, my honest conversation began with, “What the hell was that shit?” Two curse words and a belligerent challenge, offered right up to the Lord before I even said hello. My form of prayer to a God I’m not sure I believe in anymore.
And that’s the rub. Even though logic leads me to not wanting to believe in God, at my very core I do. Naysayers may argue that my tiny human mind or giant human ego creates this need to believe in something, and maybe they are right. There is nothing like coming to grips with your own stunning helplessness to make surrender to God a viable option. As Lamott says, “…we are so ruined, and so loved, and in charge of so little.”
So there’s that. If I were on the Today show, this is the point where the anchors would utter the awkward, “on a lighter note…”
I spent last Sunday working with the bounty I’d been given that day. Bread pudding baked with southern-grown peaches and a healthy splash of bourbon is nothing short of a delight.
There are a number of reasons I bake. I bake because I like sweets. I like the process of creating something new out of something known. I like sharing the finished product with people nearby who can eat it and people far away who might like to make it too. I bake when I’m alone and there’s nothing else to do. I bake to celebrate and to cope.
In her book, Lamott notes C.S. Lewis once said, “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God, it changes me.”
Bourbon Peach Bread Pudding
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 1/2 cups sliced peaches
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 3 large eggs
- 1/4 cup bourbon or peach brandy
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup pecans
- 10 cups (1-inch cubes) French bread
- Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.
- Add the peaches, sugars, and spices and continue to cook until the sugars are melted, about 5-10 minutes.
- Add the cream and milk and cook until the mixture is hot to the touch, then remove from the heat.
- In a large bowl, lightly beat the three eggs. Very slowly pour the hot peach-sugar-milk mixture into the large bowl, whisking constantly as not to cook the eggs.
- Add the bourbon or brandy, vanilla, and pecans.
- Place the bread in a greased, 9x13 baking dish, and pour the liquid mixture over the bread. Allow to soak for 15-20 minutes, then bake at 325 degrees F for 20-30 minutes.
- Best when served warm with ice cream and/or caramel sauce.
Fresh peaches are preferred but frozen or canned peaches will work. I got 2 1/2 cups of peaches from two peaches that were each slightly larger than a baseball. The original recipe called for spooning the bread pudding mixture into the wells of a large (Texas) muffin tin before baking. I opted to use a 9x13 baking dish.