Slicing Bread for Pudding

On the rare occasions I engage in the kind of conversation that is to scroll through the participants' respective stores of Things to Talk About ($5 app), I find that I've already discussed in some gaudy blog post everything I would bring up. Yes, the person who would hear my recycled story probably hasn't read the blog post, but still I stop myself from bringing up the subject again. Nobody would know how limited my repertoire of potential entertainments really is, but I feel pathetic repeating what I wrote publicly. Like pulling something out of the back of the closet and wrapping it as a birthday gift. No, it's more than that; I'm preemptively ashamed of being that elder who happily and seemingly unwittingly repeats the same rotation of stories over and over. Except in this case over and over is twice. It also goes against this notion of mine that the dignified thing to do is to write one thing and live another, to forget what I've written when in conversation, or at least pretend to. And don't certain kinds of thought thrive in secrecy, or at the very least at an address the route to which is circuitous and indeterminate?

Having said this, I may as well reverse the phenomenon that causes me such egoic anxiety and say what I repeat everywhere but in writing. Which is nothing special, really, although clearly I'm excited enough by what it says about me (what?) that I tell everyone every time I cut my finger making bread pudding. It has happened twice, but I think it has happened thrice. As with all injuries that are minor but more than a scratch, when the knife slips (predictably by now--I know that this knife and I are bound to meet in exactly this way yet every time I begin slicing I think that somehow, through no tangible precaucion, I will avoid it) there is a rush not just of shock and blood, but the thrill that what's happening now I can later report.

It's quite simple, the way it happens. Holding together sliced bread, especially stiff, stale bread, is a precarious thing. I cube the bread with a serrated knife. First I cut it one way, then another, and finally a third way. It is this third angle, when I am pressing the shifting columns of bread down so that they may be sliced finally into cubes, that something slips. I'm not sure what, to be honest, so maybe it isn't so simple. This last time I screamed, not so much in distress as in frustration. That growling scream of things escaping your ridiculous designs of control. (Equally ridiculous: I sometimes take it upon myself to disagree with the maxims of advertisements. The other day a car ad said "the highest form of power is control," and I was like, yeah, as if!) Part of the scream was that--god damn it--things went exactly as I expected but refused to admit. I have a friend who engages in many semidangerous activities and his reort to his worried mother (I'm equally worried, but usually say nothing) is that he takes deliberate precautions. It sounds very rational, the way he explains it. There are somethings you can't avoid, he admits, but most things you can reduce your chances of by thinking about, devising habits or plans of action around, and making a point to carrying those out. Yeah, sure, I always say, resigning myself to the impossibility of safety. Dealing with the details of trying to control fate gives me a headache. Hence I continue to cube bread in the same manner.

When I tell this tiny story, the humor I'm so thrilled about is the irony that bread pudding, something so innocuous and not at all difficult to make, is the most consistent source of bodily harm in my life. (At the moment that's not true; there is work, which provides a generous helping of scratches, small punctures, torn nails, and callouses on my hands that I must say I'm not at all a fan of. Those rock climbers that intentionally sandpaper their hands for extra grip must be vain in an entirely different way than I am. But then it's less about the appearance of my hands than it is the feeling, or rather the lack thereof. I rub my fingers together and get a thick nothing. This is disappointing.) This sense of humor is almost immediately tiresome to me, yet I repeat it.

Just like my recipe for bread pudding. Despite my slight disappoinment with the results every time (a bit too goopy and the egg is not very well integrated), I never really change the way I make it. Every time I go back to look at the recipe in my previous blog post on bread pudding, letting it tell me the proportions of ingredients, although I never follow them exactly. It did turn out fairly well this morning, because there was no milk last night and I turned to condensed milk, which my father keeps cases of about the kitchen. I turn my nose at the use of the stuff in tea or coffee, but for bread pudding it is apparently superior to milk.

I was very happy with myself for thinking to soak it overnight to bake it in the morning for breakfast, but I must tell you, in case you become enamored of the same plan, that bread pudding takes a long time to bake. How long? Long enough that coffee on an empty stomach began to feel like a kind of implosion of the viscera before the pudding was done. You will open the oven door frequently. You will dawdle on the computer as if in an airport. You will salivate. You will look at the time obsessively, although you will not know at what time you put the pudding in the oven, nor for how long to bake it. You will worry at first that there is too much liquid for the bread to absorb, and that it will turn out inedibly soggy. Then it will rise like a cake, and you will know that all is well. Wait, though, until it browns on the outside, because you never know what's going on on the inside.

Bread is surprisingly resiliant; fingers are more fragile than you might expect. But fingers are not in any danger, really. It will only feel like danger, and though you will curse when something beneath the skin is torn, and every time in the future you make bread pudding you'll be afraid of it happening again, you also watch horror movies. (I don't, but not because I'm immune to their pleasures--after all I've stayed up in a terrified trance of episode after episode of the The X-Files until I finally fall asleep from sheer exhaustion. Which is another thing I repeat orally.) A hasty if self-consciously allusionary and untheorized explanation.

19 August 2012