A comforting dessert for uncertain times
Our column this week is going to be about a lot of things. It may seem to ramble at times, but I promise to tie it together by the end. At any rate, I think it reflects our collective human experience right now: many emotions, thoughts, and experiences all happening at once and then changing moment by moment. What remains constant at Gather is witnessing our community’s strength, generosity, thoughtfulness, and resilience. We have seen all of these great characteristics in our customers and fellow business owners, and we thank them from the bottom of our hearts for continuing to support us through this crisis.
The COVID-19 closure has leveled all of us, but many continue to rise up to help others in need. We recently learned from Katie Leao, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Nevada, that although the Club has been temporarily closed due to COVID-19, she continues to work to provide meals for families in our community. These families depend on these meals, which the Club would otherwise provide if not for the closure. The Club was not funded to provide kids with meals over the Carson City School District’s Spring Break this past week. So, with the help of several private donors, Gather partnered with the Club to provide 250 kids and their families with a free spaghetti and meatball dinner. We are so grateful for these private sponsors whose generous donations helped to bridge this gap for folks in our community, and it warms our hearts to know that we were able to provide so many families with a warm meal.
All of us have unique stories to tell about managing the changes imposed on us by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of us have lost our jobs, been laid off, or furloughed. The restaurant/bar/retail/service industry has been hit especially hard, which means that a lot of folks in our community, which is largely a service economy, are no longer getting paychecks. While unemployment benefits help some, I don’t know anyone on unemployment who is receiving the same amount of money that they did while working.
Medical workers, first responders, and grocery store staff are all on the front lines working tirelessly to keep our community healthy, safe, and fed. Most small businesses have suffered huge declines in sales. This time has been a test of innovation and creativity for all businesses. I am thankful to have the help of Chef Howard Jachens, whose resilience, flexibility, and ability to understand what our customers want and need right now have kept Gather, and the quality food and beverage products that we offer, available to our customers during this tough time.
I wanted to write about some of the human experiences that I’ve witnessed from my front yard and learned about through telephone conversations as I have stayed home with my family these past several weeks. Nearly everyone’s habits have changed; from what they do when they wake up to everything in between before going to bed. Cleaning and shopping routines have completely changed. Before the COVID-19 pandemic invaded our nation, I would clean my home with vinegar-based cleaners. Now my go-to is the strongest substance that will kill COVID-19. Bleach is my new best friend. It kills that COVID-19 virus sucker dead in one minute. I just hope my sinuses survive all the bleach fumes. But cleaning habits are just part of how we’ve been affected. More than that, our human interaction with each other has altogether changed.
Now that we’ve had some sunny days, we’ve enjoyed talking with our neighbors, setting up our lawn chairs in our respective yards or driveways and speaking loudly across the distance. Everyone who walks by interprets the stay-at-home and social distancing directives differently. Some wear masks and gloves, some only wear masks. Some maintain the 6 foot distance, but breach it occasionally when their guard is down. Some disregard the 6 foot distance altogether.
Kids are some of the most resilient humans among us. My son has settled into our “new normal” routines. He remains happy and energetic, riding his bike all around the neighborhood and doing his online learning as he would regular school – sometimes with excitement and interest, sometimes with reluctance and boredom. He’s now used to Mom and Dad going through his online schooling with him and instantly becoming his “home school” teachers (yet another challenge for us parents). But sometimes he expresses sadness that he can no longer see his friends at school. He tells his grandparents that he misses hugging them. This part is especially hard. We all miss hugging each other. But we have all adapted to calling our friends and family and visiting on the phone or through Zoom.
We know from the reports released by Carson City Health and Human Services as well as Governor Sisolak that many in our community have fallen sick and tested positive for COVID-19. I know that some folks have fallen ill with symptoms consistent with COVID-19, but due to limited availability of tests, were not able to get tested. All of these people are directed to self-isolate within their home and to treat the symptoms with over-the-counter medications. They are advised to report to the hospital if their symptoms become severe. The sick are then exiled to a room, away from the rest of their family. The other members of their household become caretakers from a distance, leaving food at their door and taking away dirty plates with gloved hands. Checking on them requires a phone call or a question asked through a closed door. This is a sad and isolating experience for everyone within the household, with worries about whether the illness will worsen while being denied the simple comfort of being together during this challenging time.
I find that even with the stay-at-home directive in place, I am as busy as ever taking care of my household and businesses. But everyday I remind myself to take advantage of this time with my family. To take time to re-think what’s really important to us. And to enjoy a lot of fun times playing board games, watching TV, and playing with our dogs. Take good care of yourselves and those you love.
So much about our daily lives has changed that it’s important to look to our own traditions for comfort. The foods that we have always made, or that loved ones have always made for us, provide a source of comfort. Some of you may know that my Aunt, Dana Hastings, owner of Dana’s Desserts of Carson City, makes the delicious desserts served at Gather. Her baking has always been an integral part of our family celebrations, and it continues to provide a source of happiness and comfort. Our recipe for this week features Dana’s Croissant Bread Pudding With Chocolate Sauce. If you are not a fan of chocolate, or don’t have the ingredients readily available, you can top with a warmed jam or jelly of your choice or with warmed heavy cream.
Croissant Bread Pudding With Chocolate Sauce
1/2 stick butter, melted
12 cups sliced croissants (can substitute Brioche bread, cubed)
5 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups milk
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1 cup heavy cream
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons light corn syrup
4 oz bittersweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
In a 9×13-inch baking pan, toss the croissants with the melted butter in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla. This will make a custard mixture. Pour this custard mixture over the croissants and combine. Stir in chocolate chips. Let stand for 15 minutes until bread is softened, then pour into baking pan.
Bake uncovered in oven for 40-45 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
For the sauce, bring the heavy cream, butter, sugar, and corn syrup to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the chocolate and whisk smooth. Spoon the sauce over warm bread pudding and serve. Enjoy!
Angela Bullentini Wolf is Owner/Manager of Gather, a farm to table, fine casual restaurant located at 402 N. Carson Street in downtown Carson City. Gather remains open for takeout with curbside delivery Tuesday through Saturday, 11am to 7pm. Our menu can be found at http://www.gathercc.com/our-menu, or on Facebook @GatherCarsonCity. Call us at (775) 433-0200.