7.17.10 § 12 Comments
For the past two weeks, I’ve been vacillating between feelings of terror, depression, and elation. Why the seesawing emotions? Just over two weeks ago, I found out I was losing my job. I won’t go into the whole sordid tale of how, after eight months as a temp who was motivated by the belief that hard work would lead to a full-time position, that position (when finally created) was given to someone else—because that would just be too frustrating to talk about. Instead, I’ll tell you how I decided to cope: pudding.
I guess pudding itself wasn’t what made me feel better. Rather, it was the inspiration behind the pudding, which was Maya Angelou. I know, very random. Let me explain. I have a cookbook written by her that includes both stories and recipes from her life. As I whisked custard into egg yolks, I couldn’t help but think of the satisfaction Maya Angelou felt when she made one particular batch of banana pudding. “Why was she satisfied?” you ask. Gather, children…I’ll tell you a story.
Well, to start, she was in love with a man. (Isn’t that how trouble usually starts?) She was rather young and new to the love game, but on the same two days each week, she’d go to his apartment to spend time with him. One fateful afternoon, she decided to stop by on a different day of the week than usual, and she ran into a much older woman leaving his apartment. The woman mentioned that they must have gotten their days mixed up before she breezed out the front door. You’re shocked, right? I know. I was too.
The man she was seeing told her to grab a fork, sat her down, and put a plate of banana pudding in front of her. He explained that once a month, Daphne brought him banana pudding. “You look all stove up like you’re mad. Wait now, I never promised you anything and I’m going to be with Daphne as long as she’ll have me. So just wipe that stupid look off your face.”
She doesn’t remember being mad. Rather, Maya looked down at her plate and noticed that it was poorly made: custard weeping pure water, bananas browning from exposure, and soggy vanilla wafers. In that moment, she did what any self-respecting woman would do. Without a word, she stood up and walked out. And on her way home? She stopped at the supermarket to collect ingredients for a batch of banana pudding.
No, my situation is not exactly the same as Maya’s, but when I think about how Maya might have felt that day, I’m pretty sure I can imagine it: Initial shock gives way to indignation. Then comes the anger at her own naïveté. This soon transforms into a feeling of great resolve to do more for herself than that man ever could. Then, a great sigh of satisfaction when she tastes that damned good banana pudding. And finally, a wave of relief that comes with the realization that she’ll be much better off without him.
“Hurt Me Banana Pudding”
from Hallelujah! The Welcome Table
sugar (1/3 cup, 1/4 cup, and 3 tbsp)
1/3 cup cornstarch
pinch of salt
3 cups milk
8 eggs, separated
3 tbsp butter
1 tbsp vanilla extract
3 cups vanilla wafer cookies
4 ripe bananas, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large saucepan, combine 1/3 cup sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Stir until blended and then stir in milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened and boiling. Boil for one minute and remove from heat.
In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Whisk in about 1/2 cup of the hot custard until blended (you can eyeball this, no need to measure). Pour yolk mixture back into custard in saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring, for two minutes. Stir in butter and vanilla until blended and remove from heat.
Place half the vanilla wafers on the bottom of a shallow two-quart casserole. Top with a layer of banana slices and a layer of custard. Repeat the layering, ending with a layer of custard.
Using an electric or hand mixer, beat egg whites and 1/4 cup sugar on low speed until frothy. Add cream of tartar; increase speed to medium and gradually bet in remaining 3 tbsp sugar. Beat until whites just hold stiff peaks.
Immediately spoon meringue over the hot custard, being sure the meringue touches the baking dish on all sides. (By doing it while the custard is still hot, you reduce sweating between the two layers. By making sure it touches all the sides, you make sure the meringue doesn’t shrink in the oven.) Transfer the casserole to the oven and bake until golden, about 20 minutes. Make sure that if your oven cooks unevenly you rotate halfway through. Remove from oven and cool 1 hour. Refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving.