Last night we had the great pleasure of listening to Julia Alvarez read -- her poems! She said herself that it's been a while since she thought of herself as a poet rather than a novelist.
At our sonnet panel earlier in the day, we had talked about the value of bringing simple diction and earthy detail into contemporary poetry in form, and it was wonderful to hear her talk about her own early loves: many dead white guys. But how to insert a female, as she said, immigrant voice into that tradition? Well, she said, go into the poems -- go into the sonnets, and start to housekeep them.
She read a couple from the sonnet cycle 33, and some other wonderful pieces: "Naming the Fabrics," "El Fotografo," "Recitation," and gave the lovely image of wishing to be the bead in a necklace of a generation. If you haven't read her poems in a while, please go and find some; you won't be sorry.While I was sitting there, I suddenly remembered a very funny incident from long ago that involved Julia Alvarez -- or at least a recipe by her. Back in the happy days of being able to get the New York Times -- on paper! all those sections! O Sunday Joy! (kind of hard to do this in Rome!) -- I came across a wonderful-sounding recipe for bread pudding. The hilarity comes in with the guava paste.
This must have been around 1994/5, I don't remember exactly. I was living in Baltimore at the time, and it wasn't an era of great availability of "international" foods. We were having a dinner party and I HAD to make this wonderful-sounding bread pudding! But the guava paste! My mother and spent about 3 days driving from store to store, causing quizzical looks with our requests for -- guava paste. Finally, after a city-wide quest, we did find some in a tiny grocery store in a burgeoning Latino neighborhood in East Baltimore. Bread pudding joy at last.
This really is one of the best desserts I've ever made. It's rich and sweet but has that guava tang, that contrast. And last night, I was reminded by this poet of the homey nature of housekeeping, of taking care, room by room, and also of stanzas, of simple but earthy joys. This recipe embodies all of that. When it's cool enough to bake again, give it a try. And if you can't find the guava paste, let me know: there's an international grocery store in Rome that carries it. I'll send you some!
Julia Alvarez's Pudin de Pan (Bread Pudding) (from the New York Times)
- 1 loaf high-quality sliced bread, crusts removed and cut into 1-inch squares
- 6 cups whole milk
- 1 3/4 cups sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 stick sweet butter, plus more for greasing the pan
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/4 cup dark rum
- Grated peel of 1 lemon
- 4 eggs, well beaten
- 3/4 cup dried prunes, pitted
- 1 cup guava paste (available at Spanish groceries)
- 1/4 cup brown sugar (unrefined, if possible)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, warm the bread, milk, sugar, salt, butter, cinnamon, vanilla, rum and lemon peel. When warm, remove from heat and stir in the beaten eggs. Add the prunes and stir well. Pour this mixture into an oiled 9-by-12-inch baking dish. Slice the guava paste into thin strips and press into the top of the mixture. Sprinkle with the brown sugar and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the top is golden and the pudding smells great.