there are people in this world who roll out of bed on saturday morning, pour some milk over stale cereal, and watch morning cartoons until their eyes hurt. when the cartoons are over, they microwave some pizza rolls just long enough for them to stop being frozen, eat them, and then go back to bed for the rest of the day.
then there are those people who wake up with the sun, make coffee, bake a batch of bread pudding, and head out to the farm by 9:00 a.m. those people are more my style.
last saturday, my lovely girlfriend and i woke up nice and early, had some breakfast and a few cups of coffee, and set to work making something to bring to the bamboo forest. she mixed together all the ingredients required for an excellent bread pudding, poured the magical slurry over our leftover shredded bread, and popped the whole ensemble in the toaster oven. while we waited for the pudding to bake, we scurried about gathering our necessary supplies: a few frozen bottles of water, some sweat towels, the bamboo saw and cleaver, a little bit of money, a sweater for each of us, and a few sweets we had laying around the house (i.e. gingersnap cookies made with sweet potato).
as soon as the pudding was done, we wrapped the whole thing (pan and all) in two layers of foil and two tea towels, then gently nestled it into the backpack. after we made the ten minute trek over to my collegues apartment, we drove out to the farm and met up with okazawa-san and friends.
at this point in the story, it bears mentioning that saturday was, beyond the shadow of a doubt, one of the most exquisitely beautiful days we have had so far this autumn. it was cold, but the sun was warm. there was a slight wind, but it wasn’t strong enough to be a nuisance. there was not a cloud in the sky. from the farm just outside the suburbs of mishima, we could see the entire city below us. to the southwest, our line of sight went all the way to the suruga bay.
but honestly, we weren’t even looking at the city of mishima. or the ocean. because to the northwest, in all of his snow-capped majesty, was none other than mount fuji. we could see him clear as day.
so we set up a picnic table and five chairs on the high ground next to the potato field, washed some plates and forks, and put the kettle on the fire. while our compatriots readied the tea (an excellent breakfast tea which our resident yoga instructor had brought back from her recent trip to taiwan), my girlfriend and i sliced and served the still-hot bread pudding.
by 11:00 a.m., we had finished all our preparations. everybody had a seat, we poured some tea, ate a slice of bread pudding each, and chatted about all kinds of things for an hour or two. all the while, fuji watched over us as if he was the sixth member of our crew.
it was, in a word, paradise.
but as the saying goes, all play and no work make the poor man a dull boy. so when we finished our brunch, we started chopping veggies and assembling the broth for our communal hot pot. first, we put the massive ceramic pot filled with water onto the fire. to the boiling water, we added a big chunk of kombu, a sliced onion, three or four small potatoes, a little bit of soy sauce, half a cabbage, three or four large fillets of salmon, and a few spoonfuls of miso.
the result was what the japanese call ishikari-nabe. it was the perfect autumn food to have on such a perfect autumn day. we had a few beers while we ate and a bottle of high-quality japanese sake for dessert. when lunch was over, we descended into the bamboo forest. there, we examined some stag beetle larvae, cut down some bamboo maimed in the last typhoon, and took some cute photos.
the rest of the day was spent sitting around, roasting sweet potatoes over an open flame, and talking about the aesthetic merits of mount fuji.
breakfast bread pudding
- 4 slices of bread (stale is best)
- 1 apple
- 1 tablespoon of butter
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup white sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- a little bit of oatmeal (for garnish)
- tear the bread into small pieces and toss into a mini loaf pan. this might take a little while, so if you wittle hands get tired, you can take a break.
- core the apple and then chop or slice the flesh. mix the apple chunks in with bread pieces.
- melt the butter in a double boiler (or over super low heat) and drizzle it over the bread/apple combination.
- in a medium bowl, beat the eggs, the heavy whipping cream, sugar, and spices together. when you are finished, pour the delicious mixture over the top of the bread.
- press bread pieces down with a fork until submerged under the liquid mixture. it may be in your best interest to poke your fork through to the bottom of the pan and wiggle it a few times. you need to make sure the liquid gets all the way through or the top of your pan will end up bread pudding and everything on the bottom of the pan will end up toasted bread.
- sprinkle some oatmeal (and maybe a little bit more sugar) on top of the contents of the pan. bake the whole ensemble at 175 celsius for 30 minutes (or until the top springs back when touched).
- slice and serve on tiny little plates with dessert forks, or just eat it right out the pan. it’s okay, no one will judge you.
note: this is technically a dessert, but it is just on the mild side of sweet, making it an excellent choice for a brunch of having some friends over before noon. paired with a little bit of coffee or a good breakfast tea, this recipe can’t be beat.