My mom and I made this breakfast bread pudding, laced with wilted arugula and bits of Nueske‘s bacon and held together by a gruyère custard, last Saturday morning. As I’ve already mentioned, we were up in Northern Minnesota, visiting my grandparents for the weekend. There were people all around the house, which we’d rented for the weekend, some still in their beds (here’s looking at you, Ali), some catching the sports highlights, some staring out at Lake Superior, which happened to be glittering fiercely under the big winter sun that morning. But my mom and I were the only ones in the kitchen.
The kitchen is a good place for us—my mom and me, but that hasn’t always been the case. It’s a place we spent a lot of time together when I was growing up, my mom cooking, me watching from my perch on a kitchen stool, my chin cupped in one hand, my elbow resting on the counter. In college and, especially, in the years immediately following, I began to learn to cook and wanted, more and more, to be on the other side of the counter, but it wasn’t the smoothest of transitions. I could cook in my own college kitchen in Evanston or, later, in my first apartments in D.C., but things were a little rocky when I ended up in the kitchen I grew up in. We’re both pretty willful, used to running the show. I’m not proud to say I was touchy, defensive, up-tight when we started cooking together—not that much fun.
In truth, I’m not all that good at sharing the kitchen. It sounds so lovely in theory. I love the kitchen; I love to cook; I love to talk; I love to hang out. Why can’t this all happen at the same time? For some people, I know, it does. It doesn’t for me, though, and it’s too bad.
This past Saturday with my mom was different, though. As we made breakfast, we slipped into what felt like a well-practiced dance—one in which neither of us had to lead, neither of us had to follow. In part, it’s a sign of how far we’ve come. We talk by phone almost everyday and what we’re making for dinner is nearly always a topic of the conversation. And, thanks largely to my mom’s patience, we’ve learned to cook together pretty well these days, too, both in her kitchen and in mine.
On Saturday, we were also making a new recipe, in a new kitchen, with new-to-us equipment stored in the last places we’d look, and I wonder if all of this had something to do with it, too. Neither of us knew what we were doing, had no expectations. And so, together, we made a beautiful breakfast, as everyone slowly drifted to the breakfast table.
Whatever the reason, it felt really good—very right—to be in the kitchen together.
Arugula, Bacon & Gruyere Bread Pudding
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
5 large eggs
6 bacon slices
1 large shallot, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
7 ounces baby arugula or baby spinach (6 1/2 cups)
6 cups cubed (1-inch) country-style bread (1 pound)
5 1/2 ounces Gruyère cheese, coarsely grated (1 1/2 cups)
Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in middle. Butter a 2-qt shallow baking dish.
Whisk together milk, cream, eggs, and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a large bowl.
Cook bacon in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, turning occasionally, until crisp. Transfer with tongs to paper towels to drain, then coarsely crumble.
Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from skillet. Increase heat to medium-high and cook shallot and garlic, stirring constantly, until golden, about 1 minute. Gradually add arugula and cook, stirring, until it wilts.
Stir arugula mixture, bacon, bread, and cheese into custard. Transfer to baking dish and cover with foil. Bake 30 minutes, then remove foil and bake until golden in spots, about 10 minutes more.