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June 8, 2009

Just Because

in sweets


[Milk chocolate pudding, June 2009.]

Sometimes I forget that I like sweets. I honestly do. This may seem an odd statement from someone who bakes as much as I do — a travesty, really — but I swear days will go by when I won’t have as much as a cookie crumb. Pints of ice cream can languish in the freezer for a month or more (unless my brother comes to visit) until I dig them out from under the freezer burn and toss them half-empty into the trash (terrible, I know). I do indeed bake often for friends, loved ones, and office-mates but for myself? Not so much. I’m usually the girl reaching first for the potato chips.

But yesterday — oh, yesterday. I woke up fairly early for a Sunday and skipped yoga in favor of reading the the paper and drinking tea. I put on a few loads of laundry. I felt the ocean breeze come in through the screen sweet and clean, and so laced up my running shoes and ran and ran until I’d run 8 miles in a slow meander through a sun-filled Golden Gate Park. It was marvelous.

Predictably I turned up home again sweaty and starving. I stuffed myself on leftovers (lentils with feta, if you must know) which didn’t really fill me up all the way so I also had a plate of blue corn chips and avocado topped with melted cheese and a tiny bit of sour cream. I drank a lot of water and sat in the park for a good half-hour until the wind pushed me back inside. I simmered vegetables for a vegetable soup and started mentally preparing for the week ahead.

Then I made milk chocolate pudding.

I’ve written about this pudding before and I make it every so often as a little treat for myself. It’s just for me, you see, because it’s not the sort of thing you can really pack up and bring in to work to share (though believe me, I would if I weren’t so absolutely addicted to the stuff I want it all to myself). And after running all those miles I figured I deserved a special something — needed it, really.

All you do is whisk cocoa powder, corn starch, a bit of sugar, milk, heavy cream, and milk chocolate together until it’s thick and bubbling. Then you stick in the fridge for a few hours, meanwhile whipping some cream, until it’s cold and fudgy and impossibly rich. If you have some strawberries from the farmers’ market those probably would taste quite divine strewn across the top, you know, if you’re into that kind of thing.

This is not particularly healthful. It’s not low-fat. Heck, it’s not even difficult to put together. But it’s also one of the most delicious, decadent ways to end an unexpectedly sunny Sunday — with plenty of leftovers for the grey Monday that’s sure to follow (and this morning did unfortunately dawn once again fog-filled and austere) — I can think of.

After dinner I ate my little dish of chocolate piled high with whipped cream while sitting in my comfy blue chair by the window so I could look at the moon (did you see the moon last night? It was so fat and full, shining out like a mad yellow beacon over Alamo Square Park.). I scraped my spoon very industriously against the glass to get all the last bits of chocolate and I’ll admit it: I may have gone back for seconds, thus negating all the good calories burned from my earlier run.

But sometimes I think that’s OK.

For a long time I cooked for two. I cooked for two because I enjoyed it and because that’s how my situation was and also have you heard? I really, really, really like to cook for others. I love the entire act of it, from planning even the simplest Sunday meal of tomatoes simmered soft and slow with white beans, roasted potatoes, and green beans from the market, to actually cooking it to then sitting down together. It’s the little ceremonies, you see. Food so often is meant to be shared.

Yet there’s also something infinitely special about cooking just for yourself. What would I really like tonight? I asked myself yesterday afternoon while looking at the vegetables crammed into the vegetable drawer. What would make me — just me! — happy to eat later? This may initially be a strange concept for those of us who are used to thinking of others first but trust me, once you start doing it you won’t be disappointed. It may even lead to nights of roasted cauliflower and bread spread with good cheese, homemade ravioli and garlicky tomato sauce you devour so quickly it’s good you don’t have worry about saving a lick for anyone else, or a sweet potato baked until caramelized and bubbling topped with a bit of black beans and salsa because that sounded good on the bus ride home — and these are quite fantastic nights, all told.

It’s actually not a bad life at all. In fact, it can get a little addicting. Me me me! I think now. I shall treat myself to as much feta as I can stand because I can! Sometimes I wonder if I shall ever be convinced to share again (oh, I know I will, especially if chard is involved). Of course I do and will still have dinner parties and cook for friends and and and, but this cooking for me just because? Right now it’s kind of nice, is all.

Last night, for example, was a perfect illustration. I was wishing for a bit of sweetness to end what really had been a very sweet, if simple, day and baking for once didn’t appeal. So instead I made a delicious and nourishing soup to soothe my muscles and contrary stomach (long runs sometimes do that to me), which was exactly right. And I filled up my apartment with the delicious scent of cream and melted chocolate and it was just the thing I wanted, even if I didn’t know it at first — oh, just because.

Milk Chocolate Pudding, adapted from Gourmet, February 2007

2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 oz. fine-quality milk chocolate, chopped (or whatever you have in the pantry)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whisk together sugar, cornstarch, cocoa powder and a pinch of salt in a heavy saucepan, then whisk in milk and cream. Bring to a boil over moderately high heat, whisking constantly, then boil, whisking, 2 minutes (mixture should be thick). Remove from heat. Whisk in chocolate and vanilla until smooth.

Transfer to a bowl and chill at least 2 hours, until cold (surface may be covered with wax paper or plastic wrap to prevent skin from forming). Can be chilled, covered, up to 3 days.

Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

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