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On Hergest Ridge and Cheesy Welsh Bread Pudding
Here's To A Dream or Two Coming True
As part of my 60th birthday surprise celebration, my oldest, Paul, presented his gift:
“Next spring, you and I are going to Wales.”
I nearly exploded from my socks (and I wasn’t even wearing any). Aaaannndd I was crying (again). “But Paul, that’ll cost so much money! I can’t let you do that.”
“You have to come. I’m not gonna visit Hergest Ridge alone.”
Then I really cried, all the way down to my non-existent socks. Paul and I share a mutual adoration of all things Mike Oldfield, whose follow-up to his multi-platinum Tubular Bells was named after a hill near Kington county, on the Welsh-English border, near to where Oldfield was living at the time. The album-length composition evokes the pastoral scenes I’ve ogled in many pictures but only dreamt of visiting. Oldfield concluded his next album, Ommadawn, with an ode to Hergest Ridge that fills my soul:
So if you feel a little glum
To Hergest Ridge you should come
In summer, winter, rain or sun
It's good to be on horseback
It’s likely to rain a bit when we go at the beginning of April, but I don’t want to visit in high-tourism season. I want to go and just be. To sit with my good son and best friend, Paul, even in the rain. I plan to visit Llyn Tegid, the lake tied to the mythos of the Welsh goddess, Ceridwen, and to ascend Glastonbury Tor, as well as Snowdön. But mostly, I want to sit, to eat, to drink—all in judicious amounts, as I want to savor instead of binge.
Since Paul told me about this unbelievable gift, I’ve been researching the ins and outs of touring Wales. I’m a mix of Welsh, English, and Italian. I’ve been to Italy, where Assisi is my idea of heaven. I anticipate that Wales will be my idea of Earth. Good earth. The smell of rain. Walking paths. Places to be.
Yes, I can be anywhere I find myself, without setting back my son an enormous amount of travel expense. Yet, I want to be myself both where I am and where I’m called. And Wales has been calling me for quite some time. As my transition awakened me to my true self, so it’s awakened a hiraeth for Wales, like I’ve already been there and have been trying to get back ever since.
All of this may be a set-up for disappointment and letdown. I can’t imagine it’ll end up that way because I’ll be there with Paul. And me. And these days, where I find myself—anywhere, really—is where I’m most happy to be, even when I’m glum.
Which is why I got into the Welsh spirit this weekend and baked a Cheesy Bread Pudding. It’s not exotic. It doesn’t blow up my tastebuds. It’s just good. Like my son.
There’s so much I can lament and regret. Too much to worry about given the doom-scroll of events in our world. But behind the scrolling is life where it’s lived. With beer, cheese, and the smell of a westerly breeze. Sniff the air when you bake this. And thank your lucky stars you’re alive. Savor it.
Cheesy B*tch Bread Pudding
Prep Time: 15min Cook Time: 35-45min Total Time: 1hr Difficulty: Easy Servings: Serves 4-6
Pyrex pie dish, deep, 9in (23-25cm) dia (1.5-2L vol)
Cooking spray, for greasing
Lg mixing bowl
2 sm bowls, one ea for egg whites and yolks
Hand mixer w/ whisk attachment
scant 6T (60g) butter, unsalted
16fl oz (775ml) milk, whole
6oz (170g) breadcrumbs, plain
4 lg eggs, separated into yolks & whites
6oz (170g) mature Cheddar cheese (best w/ Welsh Penbryn Cheese, if you can get it!), grated
¼t mustard seed, powdered
salt, to taste
black pepper, fresh ground, to taste
smoked paprika, to taste (optional)
ancho chile powder, to garnish top (optional)
1a. Preheat oven to 350°F/180ºC (375°F/190°C, High Altitude).
1b. Grease pie dish and set aside.
2. On med-lo heat, warm butter and milk in saucepan, whisking till butter melts (try not to get mixture above 170°F/75°C).
3a. Pour mixture into lg bowl.
3b. Hand-whisk in breadcrumbs till thoroughly combined.
4a. Lightly hand-whisk yolks, then stir into mixture with mustard.
4b. Hand-whisk in half of cheese, plus salt, black pepper, and smoked paprika to taste.
5a. Whisk egg whites with hand mixer till stiff peaks form.
5b. Fold into the lg-bowl mixture with spatula till completely incorporated. (Do NOT over mix, as this will remove the air and fluffiness, leading your bake into sinful stodginess. You don't wanna be that chef that your family/guests politely smile at and grudgingly chew through the meal, fearing that if they voice a criticism, you'll get out the cutlery and later go to prison. Word to the wise.)
6a. Pour mixture into pie dish.
6b. Cover with 2nd half of cheese.
7. Bake 35-45 min till puffy, golden, and juuuuuust set in the middle (like your uncle's belly as he slips from six-pack abs towards senility).
8. Serve right out of oven, sprinkling some ancho chile powder over the top. Pairs well with a simple side salad of greens and a nutty brown ale.