Last Saturday proved challenging in so many ways. The 20 qt. mixer at work fell ill, giving new meaning to the term ‘small batch baking.’ Holiday cookies were spinning out of control, fellow bakers were coughing and sputtering and most alarming was my sudden aversion to caffeine. When I returned home a little after 5 o’clock, it was clear to me that I was moments away from succumbing to my own version of The Plague. The last thing I saw as I headed up the stairs was a perfectly blind-baked pie shell sitting on the kitchen counter. It would be days before it would receive my attention.
I am quite certain I am battling a touch of the dreaded Spanish Influenza. Maybe not the exact same strain that wreaked havoc in Season 2 of Downton Abbey, but sufficient cause for me to take to my bed. I know I am gravely ill because not a single shot of caffeine has passed my lips in over five days. Not even a thimble-full. My head throbs too loudly for reading or Netflix and it is a huge effort to pluck a tissue from the box of Kleenex on my bedside table. Everything seems so terribly Carole King-y, So Far Away. "What I really need, " I complain between coughing fits to Blondilocks on the other end of the phone, "is a frozen beverage, like a Slushee or a Slurpee, but not as sweet. And not as cold. And maybe some softer tissues. Aren’t there softer tissues? And what about Colorforms? Does anybody make Colorforms, anymore?”
Blondilocks is sympathetic, but unconvinced that my malaise is truly Spanish Influenza. She has heard this before, the last time I had the flu; despite getting a flu shot. As predictable as a fine Swiss timepiece, there is a very small window between Thanksgiving and New Year’s when I succumb to my classic holiday plague. "You work too much. You work in a small space. You also happen to be a germ magnet. Just sleep for a few days." I remind her that poor Lavinia fought her influenza, sadly in vain. “Lavinia slept for quite a few days, and then some.”
"Spanish Influenza is no longer something you can catch," Blondilocks assures me from her safe distance at the corner of 41st Street and 6th Avenue. I'm not so sure. If I need to affix blame, I choose the woman at REI who cough/sneezed on me as I was looking at winter parkas. It was a vivid yet horrifying moment, when the sneeze landed directly on my shoulder. I knew it would be just a matter of days and it was. There is a nano-second at the very beginning of The Plague when you swallow, and there’s something unmistakably wrong with your throat. There is no turning back at that point, despite the Vitamin C and the Echinacea and the Zinc. It’s too late, baby.
On Day 4 of my rebound tour, I directed my slippered feet down the stairs. The world seemed strangely colorized, the way the I Love Lucy Holiday Special had looked on Sunday evening. I knew what I wanted and since there was no one to make it for me, I was goin' in- to the kitchen. Bolstered by two cold and sinus tablets, and armed with a freshly opened box of Kleenex, I felt fairly capable. On the savory side of things, I desperately wanted warming soup and delicate dumplings from Judy Fu's. Unfortunately, Judy's Dumpling emporium is situated in Seattle, eliminating that option. Something that wouldn't bump into a terribly sore throat seemed appealing. Something along the lines of butterscotch pudding. No, no, not the kind that comes in a box. The real thing.
Draping myself in a blanket and a quilt, I gathered together my favorite pie books for consultation. Maida and Fannie and the Farm Journal were practically identical. Patty Pinner's take on Butterscotch pie was equally straightforward. The fellow in the bow tie and glasses had a few pointers, but he was getting a little too wordy. I took pudding matters into my own ice cold hands.
For a moment the thought of donning a mask of some sort to cover my crimson nose seemed considerate. Until it dawned on my throbbing head that I was going to consume this spoonful by spoonful until it was gone. Solo. Abandoning the blanket (fire hazard) and streamlining the quilt beneath an Ithaca sweatshirt, I began browning some butter, added brown sugar and a good dose of salt, then some cream. Whisking milk and cornstarch, then yolks, the mixture landed in the top of a double boiler. I sat down and let the pudding cook itself thick. Every once in a while, I gave it a stir but from the chair to the stove seemed So Far Away. Straining the whole kit and caboodle at the end would have to suffice. For medicinal purposes, a healthy tablespoon of bourbon found its way into the mix. As I prepared to divvy up the goods into individual dishes, it was clear I had little left to devote to this project. It was too much effort at this point to cross the room and dig through the cabinet for Jessie's Pyrex custard cups. I was fading fast. The filling found a home in Saturday's abandoned, but well wrapped, pie shell. Satisfying my need for butterscotch by scraping the top of the double boiler clean with a teaspoon, I tucked the pie into the fridge, and myself back into bed.
Master/Master checked in from a snow squall in Boston to get an update. "I'm midwable,” I told him. “I'm so duffy and my dose is red and whatever I took to help my dymptoms and let me sleep is not working."
Pause on the Boston end of the line. "Is it expired?"
"Yes, I'm tired but I can't sleep."
"No. Is it expired, the night-time stuff you took?"
"I think it's fairly current. I don't know. "
"Last spring you were sick, and you took cold medicine that had expired in 2010."
"I don't like taking any of that stuff. But the Echinacea and the C and the Zinc didn’t do any good."
"Check the date."
“Fine. It says, November. Two-thousand-thirteen."
"Right.” And then some parting words to consider- "Mom, you really have to stop taking expired medicine.”
“Stay hydrated. Rest. Feel better. And remember, a lot of thought goes into that expiration date.”
Duly noted, Master/Master. My immediate plan is to feel better. Which leads to my secondary plan of summoning enough energy to wobble down the stairs and retrieve my butterscotch pie. And a spoon.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm