On nativity sets and bread pudding with bourbon sauce

For those of you who landed here in the hope of finding a recipe for bread pudding with bourbon sauce, let not your heart be troubled. For indeed, there is one.

And since I know how irritating it is to have to scroll through an entire blog post when all you want is the freakin’ recipe–seriously, do we need a picture for every time they crack an egg?–I made you a jump link straight to it: Click to jump to recipe

(Gosh, it’s been so long since I did a jump link, sure hope I did it right. If not, I wonder where they all went to?)

Oh well. On my nativity set. Here’s a picture of it:

Nativity set

The set is from the Willow Creek collection and is ridiculously popular, but for the record, I bought it when it first came out. Before it was popular. Just so you know.

It’s the first nativity set I ever bought and the only reason I did so is that Mary is holding the baby.

Nativity set with mary holding baby

Most sets have her praying, like she wishes he’d go to sleep already…

Nativity with praying mary

Other times she looks surprised there’s a baby at all, which I guess is reasonable given the circumstances…

Nativity with surprised mary

Once I saw a set where Mary was holding up a cloth. I told Husband, “Look! She’s got a diaper!” He thought it was the swaddling cloth. Sadly, I never saw the set again.

Anyway, the reason I’m musing on nativity sets, other than it being Christmas and all, is that it recently came to my attention it was St. Francis who came up with the idea.

(For those of you who follow this blog and don’t just come here hoping to snag a recipe, you’ll know I recently started working at a Franciscan convent. Hence, my recently acquired knowledge of nativity sets.)

It was St Francis who created the first living nativity. He set it up in a cave in central Italy and it was so popular that for several years after it was reenacted throughout Italy. Eventually they created small replicas for people to keep in their homes.

His intent, St. Francis’ that is, was to have a scene where people could reflect on the event; no one cared if it was historically accurate or not.

Nativity and st francis

Even so, for a lot of us, it became gospel truth. The stable, the wooden manger filled with straw, the shepherds and wise men jockeying for space, the stingy innkeeper, the whole shtick.

Several years ago I saw a video of a theologian talking about the nativity story. It was quite entertaining, mostly because he talked with so much enthusiasm.

According to this theologian — his name was Dr. Bailey — it’s far more likely Jesus was born in a home, not a stable. The homes of that time and region consisted of one big room, a portion of which was lower and that’s where the animals were kept at night. Mainly to protect them from thieves, but also because they added warmth to the house.

As for the manger, it was probably a concave spot cut into the main floor for feeding the animals on the lower level. When the angels told the shepherds, “You will find the babe wrapped in bands of cloth, lying in a manger,” they would have pictured a home just like one they grew up in. The message was clear: “He’s one of us!”

There’s a lot more Dr. Bailey said, including specifics as to why they’d be in a house. If you’d like to read an article he wrote, you can do so here.

What I love about this rendition is that it becomes a tale of hospitality and family. A new baby lain not on scratchy straw but in a cozy nook, a young couple assisted by relatives they probably never met before, the nervous new mother comforted by wise and knowing women. And however poor the family, they would have shared their food as well.

It could be that this is where our present day Christmas gets it right. Families and friends getting together, sharing food and conversation, a extra room if needed.

And here’s where we segue into the bread pudding with bourbon sauce, because if you’re going to be hospitable toward your family, a little bourbon can’t hurt.

And if my jump-link worked, we’re now joined with our recipe hunters too.

Oh, hey there! Nice to see you again!

Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce

  • Difficulty: easier than you think
  • Print

This is a tasty, grown-up version of bread pudding, with cranberries because I’m not fond of raisins. But feel free to use whatever dried fruit you’d like. Also, if you’d rather not have bourbon in it, use apple cider instead. 

bread pudding

Ingredients:

  • 4 or 5 cups dry bread cubes
  • 2 cups half-n-half (can use milk or almond milk instead)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries, soaked a couple hours in  1/2 cup bourbon or apple cider
  • 1/8 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 Tablespoons butter, melted

Bourbon Sauce:

  • 4 Tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup bourbon whiskey (reserved from soaking fruit)

First off, put the dried cranberries (or dried fruit of choice) in a bowl and soak in bourbon (or liquid of choice). Let soak for a good 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour half-n-half (or milk) in a mixing bowl and add the bread cubes. Stir gently until all the liquid is absorbed. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, vanilla and spices. Strain the dried cranberries, reserving 1/4 cup liquid for the sauce. Pour the egg mixture over the bread cubes and add the cranberries, stir gently until combined.

Grease an 8×8-inch pan with the melted butter. Pour the bread and egg mixture into the baking pan; bake at 350°F for 35 minutes or until the liquid has set.

To make bourbon sauce: Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat; stir in sugar and egg and whisk until smooth. Slowly cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens a little. Remove from heat and stir in bourbon. (Note: the alcohol does not cook out.)

Pour the bourbon sauce over the bread pudding to serve. Enjoy!

Cookin’ With Grandma

Note: Beings how this is the week I’m moving, I figured rerunning an old post was understandable. With any luck, we should be up and running new material next week. Until then, I hope you enjoy this little visit with Grandma…

My grandmother was one of those “pinch of this, dash of that” cooks. She never used a recipe, even for baking, making things difficult for someone hoping to recreate a dish.

Such as my mom, who was always trying to find something of grandma’s she could make. One time in frustration she asked Grandma to write a recipe down in detail. “Don’t leave out a thing,” she said.

This is what Grandma gave her:

Open cabinet door. Take out your oblong glass cake pan.
Next, roll out graham crackers. Put layer in bottom of pan.
Thicken a quart of rhubarb sauce and pour over crumbs and cool good.
Take a tub of Cool Whip, add small marshmallows and put on top of rhubarb. Next mix up a box of instant vanilla pudding and then put that on top. Sprinkle graham cracker crumbs on top. Then when cooled good you can eat it.

Notice how Grandma mastered the art of crystal clear confusion?

I decided we needed to chat.

Beings how she was called to that great heavenly kitchen in the sky some 25 years ago, this proved tricky. Once again, my imagination didn’t let me down.

Me: Grandma! Oh my gosh, it’s so good to see you! (We hug.) How have you been?

Grandma: Where am I?

Me: In my blog.

Grandma: Your what?

Me: Never mind. Could you introduce yourself to my readers?

Grandma: You got readers?

Me: I like to think so, yes.

Grandma: (She looks around) There’s no one here, dear.

Me: Well, they’re kind of… never mind Grandma. Listen, I was hoping you could help me with this recipe of yours. The rhubarb one you gave Mom? I was thinking if we made it together, I could show my readers how it’s done.

Grandma: The readers who ain’t here, you mean.

Me: Let it go, Grandma. Now, I’ve already done the first part, see? I opened the cabinet door.

Grandma: Uh-huh.

Me: And then you write: take out your oblong glass cake pan. What size pan would that be, Grandma?

Grandma: I don’t know. Whatever size my oblong cake pan is.

Me: Right… so… would you say that was 13 by 9? Or 11 by 7? Personally, I like 11 by 7.

Grandma: (Shrugs) I don’t measure it. I just use it.

Me: Let’s say it’s an 11 by 7.

aprons 2Grandma: Fine by me. (Looks around) Where are your aprons? If I’m gonna cook, I need an apron.

Me: Wow, Grandma, you haven’t changed a bit. As it so happens, I have a few of your aprons over here. See? I made a little display of them.

Grandma: (Puts one on) Alrighty, now where do you keep your rhubarb? I hoped you canned plenty. Oh, and you better take the Cool Whip out of the freezer.

Me: Okay, first up, no one does canning anymore Grandma. And I can’t grow rhubarb in Phoenix.

Grandma: Kinda hard to make rhubarb dessert with no rhubarb.

Me: No, it’s okay! See? I bought frozen. Also, I was hoping we could use real whipped cream? It’s so much better than Cool Whip, and my readers have come to expect quality from me.

Grandma: Again, the readers who ain’t here.

MeGrandma

Grandma: Fine, only I ain’t gonna whip no cream. You gotta do that.

Me: I’m way ahead of you, Grandma. I’ve got the beaters right here. I’ll whip this baby up in no time.

Grandma: Okay, you do that. Now, let’s see… I’ll do the crust… Hmm… coulda swore I put nuts in this.

Me: WHAT’D YA SAY, GRANDMA? I CAN’T HEAR YOU OVER THE BEATERS!

Grandma: I SAID I FORGOT TO WRITE DOWN NUTS – I USUALLY PUT NUTS IN THE CRUST!

Me: THAT’S OKAY! I GOT NUTS!

Grandma: GOOD! WHERE DO YOU YOU KEEP YOUR… oh land’s sake, I’ll just find it myself.

Me: WHAT’D YA SAY, GRANDMA?!

Grandma: I SAID NEVER MIND!

Me: OKAY!

(Three minutes pass)

Me: Okay, Grandma, I finished the whipped cream. Now about that rhubarb. How do you make that?

Grandma: Hmm? Oh, that’s done. It’s in the fridge.

Me: Wait… what?

Grandma: And here’s the pudding. I made that too.

Me: Grandma! I wanted to see how you did everything!

Grandma: Time and dessert wait for no man.

Me: What’s that supposed to mean?

Grandma: This goes a lot faster if you use Cool Whip.

Me: Grandma!

Grandma: There, that’s done (hands me the finished dessert). Now, what are you planning for dinner?

Me: I didn’t even get a picture…

Grandma: How about bean soup? You got bacon, don’t you? And beans? Tell me you got beans.

Me: (sighs) Yeah, I got beans. I love you, Grandma.

Grandma: I love you too, sweetie. Now scootch yourself outta here and let me cook. And where’s your mop? Floor’s a bit dirty over here…

Merry Almost Whatever You Happen to Celebrate

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably pretty busy right now. Maybe you still have baking you want to do, shopping you need to take care of, oh-dear-God-you-forgot-a-gift-for-Uncle-Henry, or maybe you have guests coming over for dinner.

(Did you clean your baseboards? They’ll look you know. Better get on that.)

christmas table

This time of year always makes me a little nostalgic, so I’ve been thinking about past Christmases — actually Christmas Eves, because that was always the bigger holiday for my family. That was when the entire family would gather together. There’d be a big meal, the gifts would be opened, then we’d go to the candlelight service at church.

But now that I’m an adult, things are quite different. Continue reading “Merry Almost Whatever You Happen to Celebrate”