There were never such devoted sisters,
Never had to have a chaperone, no sir,
I'm there to keep my eye on her
Every little thing that we are wearing
When a certain gentleman arrived from Rome
She wore the dress, and I stayed home
All kinds of weather, we stick together
The same in the rain and sun
Two different faces, but in tight places
We think and we act as one
Those who've seen us
Know that not a thing could come between us
Many men have tried to split us up, but no one can
Lord help the mister who comes between me and my sister
And lord help the sister, who comes between me and my man
* This is the song mom used to sing to Sue whenever she would come into our bedroom to the sounds of us fighting. And it never failed to make Sue laugh no matter how angry she was and no matter how hard she tried not to laugh.
My sister never ceases to amaze me. Her talents unfolding at an early age, I would watch in awe as she slipped into her dance costumes at recital time, mesmerized by the glamour and glitter, the satin and pom-poms and sequins, dreaming of owning – and wearing – such things myself - but never daring to – then watching her tap her way to stardom up on that stage. She jumped into the Girl Scouts quite young as well and loved it! Unlike poor little old me who loathed everything about Girl Scouts except the S’Mores and skipped out after purging my minimum sentence, she proudly wore her uniform and performed those Scoutly duties, earning badge after impressive badge, until she graduated high school. And at school? Well, let’s just say that every time my foot crossed the threshold of another classroom on every single first day of school, the teacher would invariably exclaim “Oh, you must be Sue’s sister! Well, in that case I know that we can expect great things from you as well!” And I would shrink and slide down under my desk knowing that I could never live up to those expectations.
Rare was the girl popular with both teachers and students, but boy was she! Teachers were overjoyed to have her in their classes and she was president of a gazillion clubs and Valedictorian of her class. Whew! Her awards lined the wall of the Family Room, best student in the nation, best this, president of that, highest this and star that. Top not only of her class but of every class in the country. Accepted into Medical School (and 3 of them) right out of high school. You name it, she did it! Candy Striper in her sharp, crisp pink and white striped uniform, Sunday School teacher, youth group president, her involvement and acclamations endless.
But in the Big Sister category, the story wasn’t quite the same. We weren’t close as we were growing up, no basking in the warm glow of sisterly love, no confidences swapped about makeup and boys, no sharing clothes or giggling over movie stars. Our relationship boiled down to classic sibling rivalry, them (Sue and Andrew) against us (Michael and me), face to face across the dinner table or side by side, push quickly coming to shove, in the station wagon on those interminably long family drives up to New York every summer. The only thing that we shared as sisters was a bedroom, a very small bedroom, invisible boundary line traced across the floor. She had sole use of the dressing table and I would watch her, now in high school, sit and do her before-bed routine or getting ready to go out, fascinated by her grown up paraphernalia, the big, chunky hair curler, scary-looking eye lash curler, creams and lip sticks, and I would watch in envy and awe. Peak under the dressing table and I would come nose to spine with books too hard, too intellectual and grown-up for me to read, open up her closet and stare at such a colorful array of the coolest, grooviest clothes imaginable. And on her trips home from medical school she could easily chase me from the bedroom by simply spreading out her textbooks, each opened to a page with some gruesome photo of a diseased body or selected bloody insides, eyeballs or whatnot, and she had all the privacy she desired.
And in the kitchen, why you don’t think she would have an Achille’s Heel even here? She showed us how to make sesame candy, pouring out the sesame-studded shiny golden cooked sugar onto the baking tray effortlessly, or the Chicken Noodle Casserole she learned how to make in Girl Scouts that we would clamor for.
We finally started getting closer after dad passed away and I was living in France. She flew over and visited us for 2 weeks and it may have been the best 2 weeks I have ever enjoyed in France. We shopped and visited museums, we drank thick hot chocolate at Angelina’s on La Rue de Rivoli and ate Moules Frites in Dieppe. We saw where Jean D’Arc was burned in Rouen while sucking on apple candy and made deep, dark, sinful Chocolate Tartlets together at the house in Bois Colombes. We made homemade citron pressées and sipped them in the garden while having what may have been our very first heart-to-heart. And since this visit we have only grown closer, our relationship punctuated by marriages and births, travels, family reunions and, sadly, deaths. She carried me through our brother’s illness and death with her constant phone calls and her endless supplies of jokes, turning everything around and upside down and keeping me laughing through the worst of times, telling stories, bringing back memories and gossiping like nobody can. Now we find each other on Skype, still amazed at the Jetson-like form of communication, allowing us to laugh and giggle, talk and show each other our dogs. And thank heavens for our brilliant doctor, too: we have been calling her for diagnoses, prognoses, questions to research and her opinion for these past 20 years. And she pulls through with flying colors every time! And hasn’t once complained!
And we have discovered our common passion for food. She cooks like nobody’s business, trying to cook healthy, lower calorie, vegetable-heavy meals and nice rich, decadent desserts. She clips recipes out of magazines and collects them wherever she sees a tempting one. She is as brave in her kitchen as she is in real life, throwing herself with gusto into anything that intrigues her. She recently made homemade marshmallows which even have me scared and running, joyously chewing them for my viewing pleasure while we Skype. She made macarons for our Mac Attack and had fabulous results even though she doesn’t even own a pastry bag for piping! She has baked my yeast coffee cakes with grand success. And now I am waiting for her to send me recipes that she remembers from our childhood.
And she sent me this recipe for Chocolate Custard Bread Pudding about 20 years ago and I have decided to make this luscious pudding using my homemade Challah for our Monthly Mingle that I am hosting this month and whose theme is Bread & Chocolate. Luscious and dark, this is just the kind of dessert I love. And every time I open the fridge I sneak another spoonful of the Bread Pudding like a child stealing candy from mom’s purse. And enjoying every single guilty mouthful.
CHOCOLATE CUSTARD BREAD PUDDING
1 ½ squares (1 ½ oz/ 45 g) unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 ½ cups (600 ml) whole milk
½ cup (115 g) sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
2 – 4 cups stale bread cubes *
* I used homemade Challah and filled a glass measuring cup up to the 4-cup mark. Next time I will use 5 or 6 cups: less bread will give you more custard, more bread and you will have a breadier, denser, chewier pudding which I prefer.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter a 1 ½ quart (1 ½ litres) baking dish.
Heat the chopped chocolate and the milk together in a large, heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water, stirring, until all of the chocolate is melted.
Beat the eggs just until they are foamy then beat in the sugar and the salt.
Add the chocolate/milk mixture to the eggs gradually, stirring vigorously. Stir in the vanilla. Add the cubes of bread and press them down, stirring, until all of the bread is soaked in the chocolate mixture. Allow the bread pudding batter to stand for 10 minutes, stirring and pressing down the bread cubes occasionally.
Grease a 1 ½ quart (1 ½ litres) baking dish. Pour the pudding into the baking dish and place in a water bath** and bake 50 minutes until slightly puffed and the pudding is firm.
** I didn’t place the baking dish in a water bath but next time I will. Mine separated a bit.
Serve warm with freshly whipped cream or ice cream. Keep the rest in the refrigerator, the pudding gets denser and more satisfying, the flavor evolving into something like a wonderfully elegant candy bar.
And as Sue wrote on the bottom of the recipe: Yum Yum!