Hostess with the Mostes’

Pearle Mesta, the real Hostess

As part of the Encores! series at City Center, I saw Call Me Madam, a revival of the 1950 musical that starred the incomparable Ethel Merman.

I saw the original and, even as a young teen, recognized Merman’s talent, especially her ability to belt out a song and completely dominate the stage. This is a link to her –with Donald O’Connor in the 1953 movie– singing the counterpoint hit, You’re Just in Love

 In the original stage production the young attaché’s part was played by Russell Nype. The show’s music and lyrics were by Irving Berlin; George Abbott directed.

Madam was built around the doings of Pearle Mesta, Washington DC socialite, party-giver and Democratic fundraiser, who had been appointed as Ambassador to Lichtenstein. When the idea was first broached to Merman (who had no interest in politics) she reportedly said “who the hell is Pearle Mesta?”

This Encores! version has terrific choreography, great costumes that neatly summoned the 50s with ball gowns and fluffy skirts and, of course, that wonderful score with numbers like The Best Thing for you Would be Me, It’s a Lovely Day Today and even They Like Ike performed with panache by Adam Heller, Stanley Wayne Mathis and Brad Oscar, as two Representatives and a Congressman. There’s also a number set at the faux Mittle European “Lichtenstein” town fair complete with guys in lederhosen, girls in pseudo dirndls and ocarina music that’s a hoot. What the production lacks is Merman or a performer of her ilk like Tyne Dailey who handled the role in another revival. In this version, the lead is Carmen Cusack who looks great but can’t come close to matching Merman’s chops. The performance was fun but Merman’s oversize personality and great song styling gave the original a lot of pizzazz that’s missing.


Poodle Skirt

Ah the 50s, when no one was gluten-free, girls wore poodle skirts and spinning was something kids did to make themselves dizzy. (Of course there was also the Civil Rights movement, Cold War and a lot else.) Before nostalgia overtakes, here’s a recipe for something I actually served for h’ors d’oeuvres way back when:

Salmon Ball

1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1 Tbls. lemon juice

1 Tbls. horseradish (from a jar)

1 /4 tsp salt

Dash of liquid smoke (It came in a bottle and was likely a carcinogen. As a friend once said, “a bottle of this will last a marriage. Mine did. )

1 can of pink salmon

Mix it all together, trying not to wince, and shape into a ball. I vaguely recall rolling it in chopped nuts. Serve with Ritz crackers and a lot of alcohol (Did we drink wine then? I recall Scotch.) In fairness, the salmon ball tasted pretty good but what did I know?

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Land of Lavash, Chess and Christianity

Armenian Flag –bottom color is technically ‘apricot’

As a kid I was a very picky eater.  The adults around me inevitably urged me to clean my plate, saying that my uneaten breakfast/lunch/dinner would be sent to the starving Armenians.  I had no idea who these people were but they were welcome to the food.

Fast forward to the wonderful (and closing January 13th) exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, somewhat oddly titled Armenia! (note exclamation point). As Jason Farago, who reviewed it for the New York Times said, “It is not an exhibition that favors razzle-dazzle.” This is a link to Farago’s review:  I thought the artifacts deserved an A although the didactic material, hard to grapple with both because the exhibit is, of necessity, dark and also as it’s filled with unfamiliar words, was closer to C.

Reliquary said to contain part of the arm of St. Gregory’s last male relative

Prior to my museum jaunt my knowledge of Armenia was scant –I thought that the country was the home of Mount Ararat of Noah fame. In actuality, Ararat isn’t one peak but two and is located in eastern Turkey.  Armenia, the first Christian country, has a long, incredibly complex history and a language related to Greek and Iranian, spoken by 96% of the population. Chess is compulsory in Armenia schools and more Armenians live outside the country than in it.

Chess in school (Wall St. Journal)

Among many notable Armenians are painter Ashile Gorky, the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof, tennis great Andre Agassi, and yes, the Kardashians.

A cursory search revealed that travel to Armenia is considered relatively safe although there are ongoing tensions with Turkey and Azerbaijan.  It’s not yet on my must-visit list but looks interesting with ancient churches, a deep history of wine-making, the world’s longest passenger ropeway, beautiful scenery, and much else.

What constitutes Armenian food depends on who you ask and where they live. Apparently Armenians outside of the country see things in a more global manner, hardly surprising.  The cuisine has a great similarity with that of Greece with an emphasis on eggplant, lamb, tomatoes, yoghurt and bread. This eggplant-centric dish looks delicious:

Armenian Eggplant Casserole

1 eggplant

4 tomatoes (in winter I’d substitute about 1 cup canned Italian plum tomatoes)

1 green bell pepper, diced

14 cup olive oil

1 garlic clove, finely minced

1 ½ tsp salt; fresh-ground black pepper

1 medium onion, sliced

1 12 teaspoons salt

¼ tsp basil, chives, parsley, tarragon, oregano (recipe sketchy here; use whichever you have on hand—adding two or three won’t hurt)

Sour cream (served in a dish alongside). According to several recipes, this is what makes the dish.


Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Peel and dice eggplant.

Heat oil in skillet; add onion, green pepper and eggplant stirring over low heat until eggplant is soft.

Add tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Add whatever herbs you are using and simmer a “few” minutes (I call this 7-10 or until nicely melded.)

Turn into casserole dish and bake at 325 degrees F for 40 minutes.

Serve hot or room temperature with sour cream on the side.

The most popular alcoholic beverage in Armenia is cognac which sounds a little much for the meal. Perhaps beer or wine of your choice—Armenia is said to produce some good reds.  Kenats’y (cheers rendered phonetically as the alphabet is entirely different.)


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Christmas Comes to Kathmandu

Returning to Kathmandu, Nepal, after two weeks of hiking in Bhutan, a friend and I enter the lobby of the five-star Hotel Regency Kathmandu.

In contrast to the rough-and-ready guest houses we’ve been staying at in Bhutan, this place screams sophisticated luxury: the bar area has upholstered sofas and chairs, soft rugs cover the floor, and a long table is stacked with newspapers from all over the globe. It’s twelve days before Christmas and the lobby is festooned with holiday decorations, including several oversized Christmas tree ornaments suspended from the ceiling and a display of gingerbread houses. Five chefs in sparkling white aprons and traditional French toques proudly parade around carrying fancy layer cakes.

All photos provided by the author

Western holiday cheer seems a little jarring in Kathmandu, especially as the hotel is within sight of the Boudhanath Stupa we visited before leaving for Bhutan. This stupa has a gilded dome and eyes painted to see in every direction. It is a major pilgrimage stop for Tibetan Buddhists. Regardless of when you visit, there will be people circling the stupa, sometimes stopping to pray and turn prayer wheels.

We were easing back into the softness of civilization, which came in sharp contrast to several of the guest houses we’d stayed at in Bhutan. One had repeated power failures, another often ran out of hot water at peak shower hour, and two offered a DIY approach to heating with wood stoves that the guest was expected to feed every twenty minutes to maintain a semblance of warmth in frigid rooms. We had a fascinating time, but one of the few things we missed was a pre-dinner cocktail. As drinking can increase the likelihood of altitude sickness, we had steered clear of alcohol during the trip as neither of us wanted to risk feeling ill.

Still, my friend and I had clandestine chats on our trip about martinis which we both enjoy. Now, on our way home, we can finally relax and indulge.

Approaching the bartender, we explain exactly what we want – two martinis, one straight up for her; the other on the rocks for me with olives all around. “Please use dry, not sweet, vermouth,” we add. The man nods and repeatedly assures us that he understands.

A full half-hour later, our drinks emerge. My friend’s looks as a martini should, although she notes that it has an odd taste, like very sweet licorice. I’m handed a large cocktail glass with a tall mound of pulverized ice and little straws sticking out at angles. I sip and taste mostly water with the tiniest hint of vodka.
“Exactly what you ordered,” my friend says, “a vodka slurpee!”

Just then we hear a roar and look up to see Santa zipping through the lobby on a motor scooter.

He circles the room three times before exiting to cheers. On the far side of the room, a largely Nepali group of guests bursts into Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree followed by Joy to the World, entirely recognizable, although the melodies and rhythms are slightly off. I check out the singers to see who’s participating: mostly parents and kids, including a few babies. The adults drink mulled wine and everyone seems to be having a great time. Teen girls fluff each others’ hair while showing off fancy dresses that could have come from an American mall.

Near the singers, a group of monks in traditional crimson and orange robes enjoy the music, tapping their sandaled feet to keep time.

I return to my friend and we burst into laughter. Forget the royal palaces in Durbar Square. Never mind the Boudhanath Stupa, a UNESCO world heritage site since 1979. We were experiencing the –slightly unreal— joys of Christmas in Kathmandu. For the moment, Namaste had given way to Old Saint Nick.

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Alike Yet So Different: German, American and British Cemeteries at Normandy

This was published November 9, 2018 on Go Nomad. The link will take you to the full article with photos.

France: A General’s Tour of D-Day Sites at Normandy



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Another French Chef

Jacques at Cooking School

Unlike Julia, this one is actually French, male and does his thing in Cancale, Brittany.  Jacques Antoine, a chef/sommelier at La Cuisine Corsaire, speaks excellent English, a good thing as his menu was fairly intricate. My foodie group had a great time watching his demo of Saint-Pierre Retour des Indes, basically, John Dory (the fish) with seasoning reminiscent of India, a recipe created in the 80s by master chef and spice dealer, Olivier Roellinger, the fish accompanied by a green apple and mango puree and a toss of green cabbage.  We sat next to the area where Jacques worked, marveling at the stove top, a flat induction surface that someone described as “cooking as playing air hockey”  as the top enables the chef to slide pans around. Jacques claims the surface—to date a strictly pro appliance–allows for greater control. I was also awe-struck by his filleting skills.

After Jacques cooked, he served the end result for a delicious lunch accompanied by an appropriate wine, (of course, it’s France.)

Lunch after the demo

A demo/lesson at the cooking school costs about $80 pp which may depend on the size of the group. Here is the link to the school (in French only):

After lunch, we staggered across the street to Grain de Vanille, a patisserie, for dessert. I had a Florentine, while others opted for the Kouign-amann which was better in terms of more caramel at other patisseries sampled during the trip. Cancale, known for its oysters, is attractive: little streets and alleys; antique shops, some good, some filled with standard-issue thrift; a movie theater.  Behind the Roellinger spice shop, where every seed and powder is laid out as though on display in a high-end jewelry store, there’s a lovely little garden where I sat for a while for relief from the hot sun.

The day ended with a late afternoon sail in the Bay of Cancale. Jerome, the too-cool-for-school guy who sailed the boat also managed the food and drink while pointing out key islands. He handed out plastic glasses on ropes that go around the neck, and served a delicious, lethal cocktail of simple syrup flavored with vanilla, rum and cider.  To go with this, he set out containers of both duck and mackerel rillettes, bread, tiny shrimp, (you’re supposed to shell them but the crunch is delightful so I didn’t), and roasted pumpkin seeds.  The finale was oysters straight from the source, very salty and delicious with the bonus of throwing the shells overboard.  The oysters kept coming until we could eat no more.

Under sail in the bay

While we ate, sailed and watched the sunset, Mt. Saint Michel floated in the distance; up close was Poilane Island, a former fortress turned into a second home by the eponymous Parisian bread baking family whose son was killed in a helicopter crash. After the tragedy, the house was sold to someone who has revamped it in a sort of Japanese style. Huge and accessible only by boat, it’s probably wonderful but a little challenging to get to.

Apparently Brexit has had an anticipatory effect on British fishing for scallops in this bay which technically belongs to France. Some nasty encounters have taken place. Mon Dieu!

Personally, what I do with oysters is eat them. However, should you wish to, um, stir the pot, you could make Oyster Stew

Serves 4

2 Tbls. butter

1 clove minced garlic

2 minced shallots

½ cup dry sherry

24 freshly shucked oysters (reserve oyster liquor)

1 ½ c whole milk

1 ½ cup heavy cream

Sea salt


1 pinch Paprika

Oyster crackers


Stir butter and garlic in stockpot over medium heat until butter begins to brown. Remove garlic and discard.

Stir shallots into browned butter. Cook and stir until translucent, 5 to 7 minutes.

Pour sherry over shallots in the stockpot and bring to a boil while scraping any browned bits off of the bottom of the pot. Simmer until liquid is reduced by half, 3 to 5 minutes.

Pour reserved oyster liquor, milk, and cream into the stockpot; bring mixture to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and stir in oysters; cook until oyster edges begin to ruffle, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Stir in parsley; season with sea salt to taste. Ladle into bowls and garnish with sweet paprika and oyster crackers.

Champagne anyone? Beer would work fine also.



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Egalité, Fraternité and…Butter!

Normandy and Brittany

“Walk in, waddle out” was how a woman I met on my trip to Normandy and Brittany put it, referring to how we often felt after a particularly wonderful meal.

Looking back, it’s hard to single out one spectacular food or dish. Would it be the oysters eaten on a sailboat off the coast of the Cancale peninsula near Mt. St. Michelle, shucked as fast as we downed them by Jerome,  the boat captain, an “I’m too sexy for myself’ type?  The pudding-textured fresh, young Camembert, ordered and very kindly shared at Coeur Verte, a family-run restaurant near Mont Dol in Brittany—the cheese the consistency of Greek yogurt with a taste like heaven.  But I’m omitting my pigeon at the same restaurant, served with the feet sticking over the edge of the dish (very chic, très French) and cooked

sexy legs

to perfection.  Also overlooked, the ubiquitous Kouign-amann, (pronounced “queeen amon”), a classic Breton pastry whose name comes from the Breton words for “butter” and “cake.”  It looks unpreposing but that caramelized top is TDF.  Let’s not overlook a particular Grand Marnier soufflé or the

Kougn amann, a butter-lover’s delight

tiny fish packed with bits of pimenton we ate as part of a semi-impromptu picnic, as well as every really good croissant that was often part of a breakfast that might also include a special quiche and homemade preserves.

Lest this sounds like all I did was eat, I also climbed the three hundred fifty steps to the top of Mt. Sainte

Mt. Sainte Michelle

Michelle as well as the 17th century bell tower in Batz-sur-Mur complete with narrow, winding steps and a dubious rope handrail, walked around the Normany beaches and the Guerande salt marshes where the famous Fleur de Sel is produced, and hiked through various parks and around lakes.

At home I think of butter as something I occasionally use on bread and often cook with. In this part of France where La Brun, French Simmental and Jersey cows graze the fields, butter is a religion.  It has a totally different taste from American butter and I often ate more (delicious) bread then I’d planned simply to have a platform for the butter.  And why not?

Although I did not eat this lovely sandwich on this trip, I’ve enjoyed it many other times. It’s easy and looks as good as it tastes. If you can get French butter, by all means do so. Ditto something close to a real baguette.

Radish and Butter Sandwich

This makes enough for two servings as a nice hors d’oeuvre.

 2 tsp. unsalted cultured butter.  (The recipe suggests Plugra although real French butter has it beat every way)

14 tsp. sea salt (Fleur de Sel would be good)

2 slices baguette, cut on the bias (see picture)

2 large radishes, scrubbed clean and sliced into 18” rounds

Fresh ground black pepper

In a small bowl, with a small spatula blend together butter and salt until butter is soft and airy. Spread baguette slices with butter, arrange radish slices on top, and finish with a grind or two of pepper.

And of course you’ll eat this with a glass of good (preferably French) white wine.  Á votre sainté! Vive la France!



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Pack It In

Eiffel Tower at night seen from The Esplanade du Trocadero

Digressing big time…bear with me. I’m packing for two glorious-sounding weeks in Normandy and Brittany with a quickie three-day stop in Paris at the end. For someone who travels a fair amount, I should be used to packing, right? But I’m not. I insist on traveling with a very small suitcase, small enough to carry-on should the airline gods smile on me, and a backpack. After all, I’m responsible for toting my goods wherever I am. True, Vogue will not have its eye on me as a candidate for travel chic but I doubt if that was the editors’ plan anyway.

Lipault suitcase that weighs little and holds, well, enough

I realize my fear of packing is sparked by not having something I feel I should have brought. This is entirely ridiculous when going to France, not so much when I went to Bhutan last fall. But I like my own, broken-in clothes; even more, I like, make that insist on, shoes I can walk reasonably comfortably in. This is more of a problem than it may seem because I have narrow feet, a high instep and absolutely no fat pad on the bottoms. I’ve had this problem since I was in my twenties so it’s not strictly age-related. Recently I consulted a podiatrist who sent me off for OTC insoles which I dutifully bought. Of course, even cut down they don’t fit in most of my shoes… Anyone else out there with shoe problems will sympathize but with our country in such disarray and the climate situation, this is pretty small potatoes.

I’ve read or watched endless articles/videos on how to pack—roll or fold seems to be the biggest area of contention with fold winning (although I bet the companies that make packing cubes don’t agree.) My problem is acerbated a bit as I was married to a champion packer who returned home from every trip, be it a month in Asia or a week in Maine, with every single item of clothing clean and folded.  To no avail I pointed out that we had a washer and dryer but gave up. His suitcase was a neatness manual; mine he referred to as “the soup.”

Then there was the time I returned from a trip with my first husband, entering the US through Miami.  We were lined up to go through a customs line behind a Menonite family followed by two guy backpackers. The inspector donned latex gloves and carefully scrutinized the family’s belongings.  All clear.  Next she addressed the backpacks, trying not to wrinkle her nose at what must have been ripe belongings. Their stuff was also fine. Then I put my suitcase on the counter, she opened it and…out jumped the largest bug I’ve ever seen—several inches long, just missing the inspector’s nose. She went through my husband’s bag with care probably looking for the mate but only I was, um, carrying.

If anyone has packing strategies, I encourage you to share them. Meanwhile, I need to figure out my electronic cords and connectors and leave a piece of cooked chicken for my cat.

Fuji, 16 +

DYI Trail Mix

Excellent for on the road anywhere at any time. ½ cup of this sweet and salty mix is only 146 calories.

1/2 cup unsalted mixed nuts

2 1/2 cups multigrain toasted oat cereal

1/2 cup dried cherries

1/2 cup M&M’s

1 cup mini pretzel twists

1 cup whole-grain cheddar Goldfish crackers

Mix ingredients together. Portion into ½ cup plastic bags. Serve with the warmish water in your travel bottle.  And happy trails.



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Poor Edith

This gallery contains 4 photos.

As in Wharton. And, no, not poor in terms of her finances nor her talent but in aspects of her life. Yesterday I picked up a friend visiting me in Vermont in (relatively) nearby Lenox, MA; after  she arrived  we … Continue reading

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La La Land

This title has no relation to the film; it’s how I felt several times during last week at Chautauqua.  If anyone said a cross word I didn’t hear it; when someone dropped something, inevitably others swooped in to pick it up.  It was niceness on steroids, a far cry from snarky, sometimes cranky, always opinionated New Yorkers.

The Chautauqua population skews older, (read plenty of gray hair, walkers and scooters), although there are lots of families with kids and dogs everywhere. Many houses are privately owned but others are rentals where visitors return year after year for a dose of concerts, theater, dance, literature and lectures. Chautauqua was started in the late 1800s by Methodist ministers so there’s a healthy dose of God in many forms, largely Christian but Judaism and other spiritual practices are part of the mix.

Each week has a theme; the week I visited it was “The Ethics of Dissent.” Every day brings lots to do, so much so that many times a choice is required. I went to several concerts and a rehearsal by the excellent Chautauqua symphony; saw a wonderful production of Candide; went on a nature walk (learning that naturalist Euell Gibbons built up an

Nature Walk –no one ate poison ivy

immunity to poison ivy by eating small amounts daily until he could tolerate three large leaves –why bother? ); heard several poets and writers read from their works; visited the fabulous library; fiddled with my watercolors; did a little, mild shopping for sandals; went to a seminar on living wills; trotted around the 750-acre

Institution admiring the gorgeous gardens and took a daily Pilates class. (I could also have kayaked, sailed, played tennis or golf, gone to the art gallery, meditated in a class, baked challah and more.) One of the week’s highlights was NY Times reporter Barri Weiss discussing her take on the “new” seven dirty words, (the original ones were the creation of George Carlin, based on those that couldn’t be said on television.) This is a link to Weiss’ talk which I highly recommend:  She’s articulate, entertaining and knows how to address a crowd.

I stayed at The Englewood, a guest house located very near the Amphitheater. The house is

The Englewood Guest House

old, nicely renovated and cute; my little first floor apartment was perfect for one (two in a pinch—literally) and I ran into other guests who were fun to be with.  Olivia, who owns Englewood, is deeply invested in natural, organic foods and practices. One day’s breakfast were the lightest pancakes I ever ate; another morning she produced a sort of tart she says is based on Paleo zucchini bread. This is her recipe but it doesn’t have ingredient amounts because she’s an intuitive ‘dash of this, pinch of that’ kind of cook.

Breakfast Tart Olivia

A bag of Paleo zucchini bread mix

1 stick butter


Apples chopped into roughly ½ inch pieces


Maple syrup

Mix all together. Flatten into a circle on parchment paper. Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes.

And good luck. I’m not a Paleo person but this was delicious. With it, we were offered tea, coffee and oj. And the daily activity schedule.


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The Vendy Award is the Emmy or Oscar equivalent in the NYC food truck world. Thousands of people buy tickets to the taste-off held on Governor’s Island; winners are selected by them and a panel of celebrity judges that includes chefs,  comedians and city officials (what comedians, or for that matter, city officials, have to do with judging food beats me.) The award ceremony raises funds for the Street Vendor Project, which stands up for vendors’ rights while providing legal and small-business services. SVP is currently campaigning to get the city to remove the cap on food vending permits that has created huge barriers for vendors since it was put in place, at the urging of big businesses, in 1983.

There are several Vendy categories: in 2018 there will be awards for Best Rookie, Best Market Vendor, Best Dessert Vendor, and the Vendy Cup. There will also be a People’s Choice Award awarded from among the Vendy Cup category.

DF, 2017 winning Vendy

A friend and I had lunch at the 2017 Vendy Cup winner, DF Nigerian, run by Godshelter Oluwalogbon and his wife Bisola. (DF stands for Divine Flavor). It’s located in front of the Nigerian Consulate on Second Avenue between 44 and 45th streets on weekdays. Advancing to the cart requires a little attention as it’s set just behind a busy bike lane; it wouldn’t do to get killed by a speeding bike en route to your meal.  We both had one of the special entrees; for her, chicken, plantains and spicy sauce and for me the same thing with goat in for chicken. (I love goat; during my years at the City Hospital system goat was a frequent offering at Thanksgiving and other celebrations.) Sorry, DF but I won’t be back soon. The goat was so tough as to be almost inedible; the plantains bland and the spicy sauce greasy. Of course I spilled some on my white pants.  It’s not exactly cheap either; our meals cost $15 each.  But we’ll see what wins in 2018 and give that a whirl.

My goat dish

Since my goat has been gotten, I will turn to a summery dessert that’s been a long standing hit for years. I have no idea where it originally came from but it’s easy (really), delicious and can be made ahead.






Summer Pudding

1 c. raspberries

1 c. blackberries

1 c. blueberries

1 c/ strawberries hulled and quartered (I don’t like strawberries so leave them out; your call)

1/4-1/2 c. sugar, depending on sweetness of berries

2 T Cassis

Grated zest of 1/2 lemon

8 slices white (Wonder or similar) bread. Note: do NOT substitute good bread. The mushy quality of Wonder bread makes it ideal.

In saucepan combine berries (reserving a few for garnish), sugar, lemon zest and Cassis. (Don’t know what to do with leftover Cassis? Try some poured into vodka.) Bring to simmer. Cook until sugar has dissolved (about 4 minutes), stirring occasionally with wooden spoon, lightly crushing berries to release juices. Remove from heat and transfer to chilled bowl (or put in fridge for a bit)

Line 3-cup bowl with plastic wrap, leaving a 2” overlap. Cut circle from one slice of bread to fit bottom of bowl. Remove crusts; cut bread slices in rectangles to line sides of bowl making sure there are no gaps. Press lightly into place.

Spoon berries and juice into bread-lined bowl, cover top with remaining slices cut to fit. Fold plastic wrap over bread and top with small flat plate that fits snugly into bowl. Place a weight on plate, refrigerate overnight.

Unfold plastic wrap from top of pudding and carefully invert bowl onto serving platter. Remove wrapping and garnish pudding with reserved berries.

Serve with crème fraiche, ice cream or whatever you like as a topping. Serve rose wine, Cassis and vodka or lemonade and whistle your favorite song. This assumes you can whistle. Or hum.






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