I’m not superstitious, not really. Black cats don’t worry me and the only reason I don’t walk under ladders is because it is just plain dumb. I wouldn’t knowingly break a mirror but if I did accidentally break one I don’t believe it would result in seven years of bad luck. Despite my pragmatism when it comes to superstitions and wive’s tales I have spent the last two months trying not to jinx myself. You see there was something really big and wonderful that I wanted to share, but I thought that if I told anyone it would no longer be true. This thing was so great (in my opinion) that I tried hard not to even think of it too often. Not once did I let the words slip past my lips. The amazing, fabulous secret I tried so valiantly not to jinx was this –
For the first time in eighteen years it seems as if I might make it through a New England winter without getting a single cold.
You see one of the things none of the baby books will tell you is that after you have kids you enter into what my friend Tom calls “a walking, talking petri dish of germs”. Kids have to build up their immunity systems. We send them off to school where they learn to read and write and share things and one of the lovely results of this societally accepted socialization is they share every germ they come in contact with. After decades of being fairly healthy adults my husband and I got the opportunity to rebuild our immunity systems when we had our two offspring. As our kids got older and better at hand washing and covering their sneezes I started teaching Sunday School to preschoolers, which meant I had to go through the whole cycle again (for the life of my I do not know how teachers or doctors manage this with their overload of exposure to germs). Just after I convinced the parents at our church that if they kept their sick kids home on a Sunday morning God and I would both be okay with it, my own body betrayed me with allergies. My allergist explained that it was a bit like peeling an onion. You take off one layer only to find another below it. He thought my constant colds were caused by my compromised sinuses which had been weakened by my allergies. Last year I finished a long, drawn-out series of allergy shots and was cautiously optimistic about the upcoming winter. I made it through the holidays, my birthday, even as far as Valentine’s Day. With March only a few weeks away I almost said it out loud but I held my good news in. I knew if I blabbed I would get sick. So I stayed silent and then got sick anyway. Not a bad cold, but my almost healthy-all-the-way-through-winter record was kaput.
Now aside from having to wait until next year to see if I can make it all the way through winter without a single cold I had to cope with the stupidest of cravings. My head was stuffed up and I wanted custard because everyone knows that a huge dose of dairy makes all that nasty icky stuff clogging up your nose go away. Problem was I wanted it anyway (I am such an illogical baby when I am sick – just ask my husband). I made do with the ready-made stuff from the store because I could grab a container, a spoon, and my box of kleenex then head back to bed, but when I got better I put away my kleenex and got out my saucepan.
This is a simple custard. The kind my grandmothers both made. I really don’t know why anyone would bother with the other stuff unless it’s because there is a cranky sick person in their house demanding pudding right now!!!
Pudding for After a Cold
2 cups cold milk, divided
1/2 cup sugar, divided
4 egg yolks *
4 Tablespoons cornstarch **
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
In a small saucepan combing 1 1/2 cups milk with 2 Tablespoons sugar. Gently stir then heat until the milk is quite hot and beginning to steam.
With the remaining milk stir in the rest of the sugar (1/2 cup minus the 2 Tablespoons), egg yolks, cornstarch and salt. Beat this cold mixture until thoroughly mixed and a bit frothy. You’ll want to temper the cold mixture (heat it up a bit before starting to actually cook it). Just pour a bit of the steaming milk into the milk-sugar-eggs-cornstarch as you whisk wildly. Why all the vigor? To keep your custard from clumping up into a mass of milky-sugary scrambled eggs. Once you’ve heated up the cold mix a bit you can then pour it back into the saucepan and cook until it thickens up into pudding. Keep whisking the whole time – it should only take a couple of minutes. Once it is thick, turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla and butter.
Let cool a tiny bit then pour into custard cups or small glasses (make sure the glasses can take a bit of heat or wait for the custard to cool more). If you are not serving immediately cover with a piece of plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming on the top and refrigerate.
In the future when someone asks if I am superstitious I’ll pick up the black cat strolling by and pet him as I stand next to a ladder and answer, “Maybe just a little.”
* Don’t throw away the egg whites. Freeze them and when you have enough they can be used to make an Angel Food Cake.
** Cornstarch clumps if you try to mix it into hot liquids without first mixing it into something cold. Once you’ve turned it into a slurry you can then add it to hot liquids to thicken them up.