Do you ever wonder what to do with those end pieces of bread nobody wants to eat?
Yesterday afternoon I cleaned out my freezer. It was a project long overdue, and as I made my children lunch when they returned home from spring break with their dad, I decided I could no longer look at all of those unfinished loaves of bread shoved haphazardly and misshapen among the chicken fingers and frozen vegetables for even one minute longer. With determined frenzy, I pulled out each of those tied up crumpled plastic bags of discarded bread and began opening them one by one, separating those useless ends no one wants from any middle slices mistakenly left behind.
As I headed for the garbage with the first two ends, I stopped mid-toss before throwing them away. I could not do it. They were still perfectly edible, and I hate to waste good food. Surely there had to be another use for them. So instead of disposing of them, I went through all of the abandoned loaves and placed each of the ends back in one of the bread bags. After sorting, what I was left with was a complete loaf of bread made up entirely of ends. As I placed the new bread loaf back in the freezer, I felt satisfied with my second-hand creation, even though I had no idea what I would do with it.
All day long I thought about that loaf of bread. Surely it had another life in its new form. I only had to figure out what it was. I pondered. I considered. Maybe the children and I could go to the park and feed the ducks. Of course, at 13, 12, and nine, I am not altogether certain how eager they would still be to do that. Perhaps I could turn the crust side inward and use the slices for sandwiches and hope the kids would not notice or complain. In truth, though, I know they would notice, and enduring their lofty protests would surely not be worth the effort. Possibly I could use the ends to soak up grease at the bottom of a meat loaf pan. But that is not really a dinner my children or I enjoy. All in all, none of these solutions seemed quite right.
I spent the remainder of the afternoon opening up suitcases and sorting through dirty laundry. The children were scheduled to go back out with their dad in only a few hours to enjoy a Mets game, sitting in his law firm’s seats situated close behind the dugout. The next day he would return home to Asia, and was not scheduled to see the children for another three weeks.
The kids had a great time, as always, on their trip, but I could already feel the tension growing that afternoon as they anticipated their dad’s impending departure. As I tried to get my kids back on track for school the next day during those few short hours at home, directing them to study and complete unfinished homework, my older daughter responded to my perceived nagging by telling me how she does not like to come home after a vacation with her father. Understandable. Home is reality. As I stood before her, I represented all of the responsibilities she has to shoulder at 13 and, in her defense, there are a lot. Between a rigorous academic schedule, extracurricular activities, and sports, her days are tiresome. I reminded her life is not a vacation, otherwise there would be no such thing, no way to distinguish between those indulgent pleasures and real life. Even more telling, coming home means coming back to a life without her father, an existence for which she and her siblings still pine.
As my daughter looked at me with annoyance, I suddenly felt unappreciated. Unwanted. No, I cannot regularly woo her with lavish suites at five-star hotels and extravagant gifts at the drop of a hat. Even if I could, I would not because that is simply not my way. I believe in living comfortably, but within my means, and I do not believe the finest of things automatically equates to a finer quality of life. In fact, I think exactly the opposite.
In the next room my nine year-old, who vomited on the plane after having had too little sleep and inner ear issues from the cabin pressure, lay in bed trying to stave off the nausea and fight a bad headache. He was already visibly worried he would be unable to attend the baseball game and spend the last night of spring break with his father.
When my ex arrived at four-thirty to pick up the children for the seven o’clock game, a nice dinner reservation awaiting them at the stadium beforehand, my son still felt too sick to leave. My ex offered to stay behind, skipping the game in lieu of a pizza and movie night with the children, but my daughters really wanted to go. I could tell my ex was torn and I felt for him. My son, not wanting to ruin everyone else’s night, gallantly sent them on their way. After the door closed he cried, so I promised him if he felt better in an hour or so, I would drive him to the stadium in time for the first pitch. Exactly one hour later, after the Advil kicked in, my son came downstairs ready to leave.
In rush hour traffic, I began making my way from my northern New Jersey home to Queens and, despite my normally accurate navigation system, still managed to get lost along the way. The trip took much longer than it should have, and my ex and I bickered a bit on the drive there as he criticized the route I chose. When I reminded him this was not an insignificant undertaking on my part, my ex condescendingly reminded me I was doing this for my son. Of course I was, and I was happy to do it (that is why I offered), but I also did this for him, which he refused to acknowledge.
Arriving a little after the game began, my ex stood outside the stadium at a distance and waved for my son to come out of the car, not addressing me in the slightest. As my son excitedly ran out, I suddenly felt like one of those discarded end pieces of bread back in my freezer, the piece everyone handles but no one wants to keep.
As I immediately turned my car around to head home, in even more traffic, I thought about my role as a divorced single mom. I am, in many respects, very much like those end pieces of bread. My husband left me, passed me by for what he seems to believe is a better, more appetizing, piece of bread. Out in the dating world, I oftentimes feel like those end slices when a man wants to date me but the relationship fails to grow into one I would like, in part because of my circumstances. So, yes, if I see myself in these terms, I am definitely one of those forsaken ends.
When I arrived home, three hours after I first left, I braced myself for the night to come, one filled with overtired children and harrowing goodbyes. True to form, the night played out as anticipated, and there I was, again, comforting my children as they integrated back into their world.
I realized at that moment I am similar to the heels of a bread loaf, but in a good way. Those end slices of bread serve a crucial role. They protect the softer pieces of bread, the slices more vulnerable to damage. Those end pieces are strong. They have a thick crust, and can withstand more than their soft counterparts. They stand steadfast and tall, hugging either side of the bread loaf, holding it together, with their backs to the wind.
Those who have been divorced–those who struggle to keep their family united, balanced, and safe–know how weighty it can feel to be an end piece of bread. Caring for and protecting a whole loaf is a big responsibility, and the job may sometimes make us feel lonely, unappreciated, and exposed. But, the truth is, those ends serve a vital purpose and the reward for holding such a position can be most gratifying. So, today, with my new loaf of forgotten ends, I am going to bake a bread pudding, knowing full well that it is those stale crusted ends of bread that help bind us together.
And tonight when I serve dessert, I know it will taste ever so sweet.
Traditional Reduced Fat Bread Pudding (as adapted from allrecipes.com)
Approximately 22 slices (1 loaf) of frozen or day-old white bread (crusts welcome!)
1/4 cup melted margarine
1 cup raisins, blueberries, walnuts, or chocolate chips, or any combination thereof (optional)
8 eggs, lightly beaten, or comparable egg substitute
4 cups non-fat milk
1-1/2 cups granulated white sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees Celsius).
2. Cut bread into 1×1 inch squares and place into greased 9×13 inch glass baking dish.
3. Pour melted margarine over cubes. Add raisins, blueberries, walnuts, or chocolate chips if desired. Toss lightly with a fork.
4. In a large mixing bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Stir until smooth.
5. Pour mixture over cubes until completely covered. Let stand for a few minutes until bread soaks up the liquid. Not all of the liquid will be absorbed and will congeal upon baking.
6. In preheated oven, bake for 45 minutes, or until top is lightly browned and bread feels spongy to the touch.
7. Allow baking dish to cool slightly from oven. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream on top.