Thursday, February 3, 2011

A new culinary tradition for snow days

We’ve long had a tradition that when the kids have a snow day, I make bacon for them. It’s a cozy and pleasing habit: they love the taste and I like the way it makes the house smell for the rest of the day. I’m a fan of food-related traditions in general, so I’ve always found it satisfying to have one special food dedicated to snow days. And true, bacon is not good for them from a nutritional standpoint – “salted fat,” as a friend of mine referred to it recently – but surely for a special treat it’s okay. After all, if they have it only on snow days, how often are they really going to get to indulge?

Well, once or twice a week this winter, it turns out. And yesterday morning, as we embarked upon our fifth snow day in three weeks, I told them we’d have to skip the obligatory bacon. “It’s just getting to be too much,” I told them. “Thirty years from now, your doctors will ask you how you developed such a bad cholesterol problem and you’ll have to say, ‘Remember how much snow we had in the winter of 2011?’”

The kids took it pretty well. Either they’ve grown mature enough to accept the occasional disappointment, or they’ve grown old enough to appreciate a nutritional hazard when they see one, or else we’ve actually had so many snow days that they’ve reached the previously unimaginable point of being tired of bacon.

But we needed some kind of gustatory observance of the day, some ritual to mark the special ambience of a snow day even if snow days feel more like the rule than the exception this winter. “How about chocolate mousse?” Tim suggested.

That gave me an even better idea. “I’ll make something for you that I used to love when I was your age,” I told them, and pulled out my mom’s recipe for Pots de Crème. I instructed Holly to fetch from the china hutch the tiny covered porcelain pots that are specifically dedicated to this particular dessert. They are the same dishes we used for Pots de Crème when I was growing up, and because back then it was my favorite dessert, my mother gave me the set of dishes once I was an adult. Holly uses them occasionally for tea parties, but I couldn’t remember ever making Pots de Crème in them for my kids.

It’s an easy recipe, and as I whirred the chocolate in the blender and heated milk to a simmer, I reflected on how much delight I had gotten from this dish when I was little. Ineffably rich and concentrated in its dark chocolate taste, it’s one of the few desserts that works perfectly as single servings in these miniature white and purple-sprigged dishes; it’s so rich that no one asks for seconds. And there’s just something so special about a dessert served in its own dish, topped with a little lid as if what’s inside is a secret until you’re ready to taste it.

Like everything my mother made when I was growing up, I assumed this recipe was standard special-occasion fare in every household – until, when I was in second grade, my class put together a cookbook with each child’s favorite recipe. Within days after we all brought our photocopied (actually mimeographed) cookbooks home, other parents were stopping me on the school plaza to tell me how much they liked my contribution. It was the first time I’d discovered the social currency of a really great recipe.

We ate our Pots de Crème after dinner last night. When I was growing up, my mother even had tiny spoons to serve with it; I don’t, so we used regular teaspoons and savored every bite. My guess is we’ll make this specialty again on future snow days. It doesn’t fill the house with an aroma the way bacon does, but it definitely makes the day feel like a special occasion.


  1. We have adorable spoons that you could have used. I wish I could have given them to you. This reminds me of Mom always making rice on early release days. At a dinner party a few years ago, I was telling friends about how my mother was THE BEST because she always made rice on early release days (which were weekly back in the day), and what a huge treat that was. They said, "Sarah, you've been duped. IT WAS RICE for God's sake." Nonetheless, Mom was -- and still is --so good at making certain foods special and celebratory, whether it was pots de creme or rice. It's all in the attitude!

  2. Ok, I may need this recipe, huge chocolate fan that I am! Will I need to buy cute little pots for the confection? Double bonus!!