By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area
“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.”
—President Abraham Lincoln
One of America’s favorite holidays is almost upon us. What does it mean to you? Is it an historic look at how this country came to be? Is it new worries about losing our freedom in this unusual geopolitical climate, when our Constitution is contested at every turn? Will freedom ring on? Do most of us ponder these scary thoughts or are we celebrating a national holiday because we don’t need to go to work and can take an extended vacation without using up precious time off?
Alas, I think the latter is the more common path. I, too, have been guilty of glorying in time off from work and slowing down for the summer instead of focusing on the amazing freedoms we Americans have.
When I owned my two shops in the Detroit area, Bonnie’s Patisserie and then Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering, July 4th meant rest after two solid months of catering for Mother’s Day, graduations, Father’s Day and weddings. My staff and I were beat. So I closed a few extra days around the Fourth for R&R. What that meant to me was several days at our Northern Michigan lake cabin. Our family of four plus dogs would make our usual 2 ½ hour drive to West Branch.
West Branch, a town of 2,500 mostly farm people, happens to have a splendid fireworks display. When I was a kid, it was held at the county club golf course. In more recent decades, the township officials began having them in open fields just on the outskirts of town. It was very exciting for all of us, weaving through the dirt roads, finding the perfect spot to lay out our blankets, slather on bug repellent, and set up our snacks. The warm, humid air was so thick that you couldn’t tell the difference between the air and your skin. The smell of the vegetation, the pine trees surrounding us, the singed sparklers, and the bug spray was unmistakably a Michigan summer night. Throw in the hand-to-hand combat with the mosquitos and you’ve nailed it!
This will be an unusual 4th of July for my son Ben and his family as they will be celebrating our American holiday in Bosnia. Yes, you heard me, Bosnia. Truth be told, when I reread that sentence, never in my life would I have imagined that phrase coming out of my mouth. Who goes there anyway?? Ben is a filmmaker and is directing a movie in Bosnia, Slovakia, Croatia, and Hungary. Because of the strong unions (DGA and SAG-AFTRA) they are entitled to have their holiday off wherever they are, which happens to be Bosnia. I doubt they’ll be dining on grilled hot dogs and watermelon!
I love the buildup before the July 4th holiday. Businesses and store fronts are draped in stars and stripes bunting. The retail shops display red, white, and blue products ranging from tableware to home decor. There are sparkler and firework stands dotting the rural roads. People begin to gather their standard fare for their barbecues and picnics.
I’m going in a different direction with my meal plan for this freedom day. Instead of a dinner barbecue, I’m hosting a red, white, and blue brunch. Feed ’em and street ’em, get on with your day at the beach, laying in a hammock, or a round of afternoon golf. What I love about my Breakfast Bread Pudding with Blueberry Sauce is that it’s a festive brunch entrée with some variation possibilities. Also, you make it the night before and pop it in the oven about an hour before your guests arrive. I’m baking it with seasonal strawberries and toasted pecans topped with fresh blueberries in Vermont maple syrup. What could be bad? Feel free to substitute different fruits in the casserole or in the syrup.
I hope this July 4th finds you and yours healthy, happy, and free. Let us know here at The Insider what you plan to do (and cook!) to celebrate our liberties.
Breakfast Bread Pudding with Blueberry Sauce
Yield: 10-12 servings
2 baguettes (long enough to cut 24 1” thick slices)
6 lg. eggs
3 c. whole milk
3/4 c. packed golden brown sugar, divided
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. fresh grated nutmeg
2 oz. unsalted butter
1 c. chopped pecans, toasted
2 c. sliced strawberries
1 c. fresh blueberries (@ 6 oz.)
1 c. blueberries
1/2 c. pure maple syrup
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Spray a 9”x13” glass or ceramic casserole with pan release. Arrange the 24 1” thick bread slices in one layer in baking dish. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, 1/2 cup brown sugar, vanilla, and nutmeg. Pour mixture evenly over the bread. Cover, chill, until all the liquid is absorbed by the bread, at least 8 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 400°. In a small saucepan, melt together the butter and remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar. Swirl pan until butter and sugar have melted together.
Sprinkle pecans, blueberries, and strawberries all over the top of the bread. Drizzle on brown sugar mixture. Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until set.
Make the sauce while the pudding is baking: In a small saucepan, cook blueberries and maple syrup over moderate heat until berries burst, about 3 minutes. Stir in lemon juice. Serve blueberry sauce separately.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.