Catching The Torch

Trials by Fire in Hostessing, Motherhood, Life


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A Room of One’s Own: The Guest Quarters

A Room of One's Own - The Guest Quarters

When we moved to the South, we looked for a home that had a room reserved for guests.  We knew we’d be hosting family, friends, and pilgrims on their journey to Disney World.  Our guest room is in the basement, and it was my job to fit it out in preparation of our first booking.  I blocked a week off of my schedule, and hopped over to Restoration Hardware to purchase everything I would need.

Bwahahaha!.  No.  I had a budget of $0.00 and one week worth of naptimes to complete this project.  If you are not familiar with Mom-time, this was between 0-10 hours.

This, like scrappy dinners, is my favorite kind of project:  It takes creativity, ingenuity, and using what you have.  I loved this challenge.  And I must say, no one has complained.  The best thing I had on my side for this was boxes of random pictures, knickknacks, and other accouterments of life tucked away.  My dad has this axiom regarding “stuff”:  When in Doubt, Throw it Out.

My axiom is: When in Doubt: Stuff it in a Box and Put it Away For Later.

If you don’t have boxes of stuff, use your imagination!  Steal things from other rooms that are crowding or just don’t go. I’m sure you can fit out your guest space in a way that will make everyone proud.

A Place to Lay Your Head:

We had inherited an old king bed that I insisted on carting around with us from house to house.  It quickly became our guest bed.  When our old master-bedroom comforter tore and we wanted to buy a new one, I sewed it up, threw it in the washer, and up-cycled it as guest linen.

I did not have extra sham pillow inserts for the old bedding set, and buying new ones did not fit into my budget of $0.00.  I did, however, have several old regular bed pillows.  I stuffed them into the sham covers and wiggled and beat them until they looked respectable.

I also borrowed a few extra couch pillows that matched-ish to make the bed pretty.

Furnishings:

I brainstormed what might be the barest of necessities I might enjoy while sleeping away from home.  I came up with:

  1. A place to put my glasses and book
  2. A reading light
  3. A trash can
  4. A place to put my clothes

I decided our guest room would provide:

  1. Old, mis-matched lamps were spray-painted and put in appropriate places
  2. Side tables came in the form of one hand-me-down actual bedside table and an old, particle board couch side table from my husband’s bachelor apartment.
  3. Done.
  4. An old dresser and a spare giant ottoman from a very old chair to use as suitcase holder.

Next I brainstormed what I might love in a fancy hotel:

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  1. Room service
  2. A claw-foot tub
  3. Chocolates on my pillow
  4. Bottles of water
  5. Information about the place I was visiting
  6. Laundry service
  7. A Butler

Here’s what our guests will enjoy based on that list:

  1. No.
  2. Wouldn’t it be great?
  3. There are M&M’s in the cupboard.  Go crazy.
  4. Yes!!  In a wicker basket that I found in the basement and pulled some Christmas felt thing off of
  5. Back issues of Southern Living, our latest town newspaper, and any novels I have that are set in the South.  With the water bottles in the wicker basket
  6. A laundry basket and a tutorial about how to use the washer/dryer
  7. No.

Decor:

Irish Blessing

  • Pull pictures and posters from your life and lay them all out on the living room floor.  Cobble together a set that goes with your linens
  • Take pictures of the native landscape or flowers.  Print and frame them in your best 8×10, black, repaired with black Sharpie frames.
  • Any little sign with welcoming words or blessings.  You can always print and frame one!  My favorite is the Irish Blessing:

May the roads rise up to meet you,

May the wind be always at your back,

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

And the rain fall soft upon your fields.

Until we meet again, my friend,

May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

“Headboard”/Statement Piece

If a bed is in the center of the room, everything looks better with a headboard or a giant picture.  I do not have a spare headboard.  I also did not have the budget to DIY a headboard out of plywood and stuffing like they do on HGTV.  I didn’t even have a giant picture – all my big stuff was already in the main living space.

What I did have was a few yards of extra curtain material and a hideous print of geraniums in a pink plastic frame that was left behind at our old house.  It was huge.  It was ugly.  I got a ton of grief from everyone because I insisted on dragging in across the country.

Boy am I glad I did!  Here’s how I made my “Statement Piece”:

Statement Piece

  1. Got out my kids’ finger paint and mixed until I got a nice brown.
  2. Used a dinosaur paint sponge to apply paint to ugly pink plastic frame
  3. Let frame dry
  4. Cut fabric to fit inside frame, leaving enough on the edges to “fold” so raw edges weren’t exposed
  5. Fit fabric inside of frame
  6. Hammered a few nails and stuck it on the wall.

If you have a big frame, or several smaller ones, fabric is cheap and very easy to work with.  My only tip is never go to JoAnn’s without a coupon – there is always a coupon.

My guest room is a work in progress: projects down the line include paint and curtains made from old curtains.  However, we’ve loved hosting guests in their own little space, and sharing with them a bit of our lives and the place we call home.

Truly, with some spare furniture, a budget of $0.00 and not a whole lot of time, you can make a cozy, welcoming space for your guests.  This can apply if your guests are sleeping in guest suites or on air-mattresses in the office or on the couch.  Let’s summarize:

The Necessary:

  • Pillow
  • Sheets
  • Blanket
  • Sleeping surface
  • Towels
  • Place for iPhone, book, glasses, etc
  • Place to tuck away personal belongings and clothes

The Niceties:

  • Bottles of water or glasses and a carafe
  • Extra iStuff cord and the WiFi password
  • Reading material, especially pertaining to your slice of the Earth
  • Trash Can
  • Laundry Basket
  • Place to hang anything they might need to hang
  • A welcoming verse, poem, or picture

For extra fun, here’s scrappy dinner recipe to go with the scrappy guest-room.  A few fridge ingredients are gussied up for a dinner that is lovely for guests or as a personal reward:

Lovely Tarragon Pasta

Lovely Tarragon Pasta

 

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Lovely Tarragon Pasta

Lovely Tarragon Pasta

Here’s a delicious fresh pasta dish to celebrate the first day of spring!  Tarragon is an interesting herb that gives an otherwise heavy dish a pop of freshness.  Try something new and clean out your veggie drawer at the same time!

Total Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • Bunch of fresh tarragon, chopped (or 2 TBS dried)
  • Olive Oil
  • Leftover veggies (I like mushrooms, zucchini, and onions)
  • Minced Garlic
  • 1 lb bacon
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream (or sour cream or cream cheese)
  • Your favorite pasta
  • Finely chopped roasted pecans or pine nuts (optional)
  • Shredded parmesan cheese for garnish

Method:

Boil water for pasta.  Heat pan and cook bacon on low heat until crispy.  Cook in batches.   Dump grease as necessary.  While bacon is cooking, chop vegetables, and make salad and bread if you like.  When bacon is cooked, drain on paper towel-lined plate.  Pour all but a bit of remaining grease from pan.  Toss in minced garlic and cook for no more than 1 minute.  Do not let it turn brown.  Add a bit of olive oil and the vegetables.  Cook until soft.  Add chicken stock and tarragon, bring to a boil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add heavy cream and cook on low, stirring until well-mixed and at a nice consistency.  Add crumbled bacon.  Stir in pasta.  Serve and enjoy!

Want more Clean-Out-the-Fridge dinners?  Try Lemon-Garlic Pasta with Leftover Chicken or Ooh La La Frittata!


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Ooh La La Frittata

Ooh La La Frittata

Truly, there is no kitchen creativity I love more than transforming miscellaneous ingredients into a fabulous meal.  This has resulted in brilliance and disaster.  Ask the Hubs about the infamous Brown Sludge… Luckily, the following recipes lean more toward the delicious side of the spectrum.

This one may not please some who don’t enjoy having “breakfast” for dinner, but it has protein, veggies, cheese, and you’ll serve it with salad and bread, so I say it counts.

This one will get rid of your spare half-cut veggies.  Peppers, mushrooms, peas, and/or onions will all shine in this dish.  Celery, carrots, lettuce, maybe not.  Tomatoes will get mushy, but maybe you like that sort of thing.  The original recipe calls for bacon and perhaps you have some left over.  However, you can chop up any extra lunch meat and substitute that as well.   Technically, this is a breakfast or brunch item, but as I stated in Some Like it Hot: Breakfast Solutions, I never would have time to make it in the morning.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 TBS butter
  • 8 slices bacon, ham, or other lunch meat (chopped)
  • 1 cup chopped veggies
  • A few basil leaves, torn
  • 8 large eggs, beaten
  • 5 oz goat cheese (thickly sliced)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Grated Parmesan (or other hard cheese)
  • Large handful of arugula leaves (or leafy salad)
  • Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing

Method:

Preheat your oven to Broil.  Melt butter in a large (preferably non-stick) skillet.  Cook the meat until brown and crisp.  Toss in the veggies and cook for another minute or two, then add the basil.

Beat the eggs and pour them into the skillet.  Gently shake skillet over medium heat.  Frittata will begin to set at the bottom.  Top with goat cheese.  Arrange your slices nicely.  Season generously with salt and pepper.

Sprinkle grated parmesan over frittata and place pan under the hot broiler for a minute or two until the eggs are set on top.  PUT AN OVEN MITT ON YOUR HAND.  Remove pa and oh-so-carefully slide frittata onto a large plate.  Lightly dress arugula leaves with vinaigrette, then pile on top of the frittata.  Cut into wedges and serve with crust bread.

For more ideas, see Leftovers: Scraping Together the Scraps of Your Party


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Lemon-Garlic Pasta with Leftover Chicken

Leftovers Lemon Garlic

Truly, there is no kitchen creativity I love more than transforming miscellaneous ingredients into a fabulous meal.  This has resulted in brilliance and disaster.  Ask the Hubs about the infamous Brown Sludge… Luckily, the following recipes lean more toward the delicious side of the spectrum.

This recipe will use any leftover chicken from Chicken SlopOrange Chicken, or Thai Chicken Salad. Of course, you can cook chicken, but that adds time and effort, and who wants that?  It also uses any lemons you bought for drinks, or hard cheeses you bought for your cheese board appetizer or Ploughman’s Lunch.  The obsequious green bottle of parmesan you probably have in your fridge works perfectly.

Prep time: 5 minutes   Cook time: 15 minutes   Total Time: 20 minutes.  Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • Box of spaghetti noodles
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 T lemon juice (or juice from 2 lemons)
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • Left over chicken breast, shredded (or shredded rotisserie chicken)

Method:

Cook pasta.  Combine oil, lemon juice, and garlic in a bowl; mix well.  Season with salt and pepper.  Heat in microwave 2 minutes.  Warm up chicken in microwave.  Combine pasta, flavored oil, and chicken.  Stir in parmesan cheese.  Serve with leftover salad.  Tip, this goes very well with a good green salad with blueberries, roasted pecans, and poppyseed dressing.

For more ideas, see Leftovers: Scraping Together the Scraps of Your Party

 


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Leftovers – Scraping Together the Scraps of Your Party

Leftovers Lemon Garlic

It’s over, you’ve done it.  You’ve cooked the last meal, cleaned the last dish, and waved the last guest on their way.  You shared fun, conversation, experiences, and of course, great food.  Your home was warm, simple, friendly, and welcoming.  You navigated any unexpected drama with ease and grace (or went to scream quietly in another room). Time to relax in bask in the sweet feeling of success.  Enjoy it.

Time’s up – people are hungry again.

Here’s the thing.  Your refrigerator contains nothing but the cast-offs and crumbs of your beautiful feast.  Random vegetables, half-used hunks of cheese, a spare chicken breast that wasn’t used, a whole lot of eggs.   Making another meal means another trip to the grocery store and nobody wants to go:  your bank account doesn’t want to go, your car doesn’t want to go, and your exhausted self doesn’t want to go.  Luckily, you can whip up a few pretty delicious meals with the scraps of your hostessing achievement.  These are great dishes to treat yourself, save grocery budget, and put off the dreaded store trip for a few more days.  The following recipes use ingredients that will most likely be left over from the recipes given in this series, but I’ll include easy substitutes for every day.

Truly, there is no kitchen creativity I love more than transforming miscellaneous ingredients into a fabulous meal.  This has resulted in brilliance and disaster.  Ask the Hubs about the infamous Brown Sludge… Luckily, the following recipes lean more toward the delicious side of the spectrum.

Lemon-Garlic Pasta with Leftover Chicken

Leftovers Lemon Garlic

This recipe will use any leftover chicken from Chicken Slop, Orange Chicken, or Thai Chicken Salad. Of course, you can cook chicken, but that adds time and effort, and who wants that?  It also uses any lemons you bought for drinks, or hard cheeses you bought for your cheese board appetizer or Ploughman’s Lunch.  The obsequious green bottle of parmesan you probably have in your fridge works perfectly.

Prep time: 5 minutes   Cook time: 15 minutes   Total Time: 20 minutes.  Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • Box of spaghetti noodles
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 T lemon juice (or juice from 2 lemons)
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • Left over chicken breast, shredded (or shredded rotisserie chicken)

Method:

Cook pasta.  Combine oil, lemon juice, and garlic in a bowl; mix well.  Season with salt and pepper.  Heat in microwave 2 minutes.  Warm up chicken in microwave.  Combine pasta, flavored oil, and chicken.  Stir in parmesan cheese.  Serve with leftover salad.  Tip, this goes very well with a good green salad with blueberries, roasted pecans, and poppyseed dressing.

Ooh La La Frittata

Ooh La La Frittata

This one may not please some who don’t enjoy having “breakfast” for dinner, but it has protein, veggies, cheese, and you’ll serve it with salad and bread, so I say it counts.

This one will get rid of your spare half-cut veggies.  Peppers, mushrooms, peas, and/or onions will all shine in this dish.  Celery, carrots, lettuce, maybe not.  Tomatoes will get mushy, but maybe you like that sort of thing.  The original recipe calls for bacon and perhaps you have some left over.  However, you can chop up any extra lunch meat and substitute that as well.   Technically, this is a breakfast or brunch item, but as I stated in Some Like it Hot: Breakfast Solutions, I never would have time to make it in the morning.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 TBS butter
  • 8 slices bacon, ham, or other lunch meat (chopped)
  • 1 cup chopped veggies
  • A few basil leaves, torn
  • 8 large eggs, beaten
  • 5 oz goat cheese (thickly sliced)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Grated Parmesan (or other hard cheese)
  • Large handful of arugula leaves (or leafy salad)
  • Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing

Method:

Preheat your oven to Broil.  Melt butter in a large (preferably non-stick) skillet.  Cook the meat until brown and crisp.  Toss in the veggies and cook for another minute or two, then add the basil.

Beat the eggs and pour them into the skillet.  Gently shake skillet over medium heat.  Frittata will begin to set at the bottom.  Top with goat cheese.  Arrange your slices nicely.  Season generously with salt and pepper.

Sprinkle grated parmesan over frittata and place pan under the hot broiler for a minute or two until the eggs are set on top.  PUT AN OVEN MITT ON YOUR HAND.  Remove pa and oh-so-carefully slide frittata onto a large plate.  Lightly dress arugula leaves with vinaigrette, then pile on top of the frittata.  Cut into wedges and serve with crust bread.

And there you go.  Brava and Bravo, good friends.  You are brilliant.


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Downton Review, Episode 7

Downton Review Episode 7

A Desire of Suitors: Downton Abbey Episode 7

Here we are at the penultimate episode of Season 4.  Le sob – it’s almost over!!

As we all breathe a sigh of relief, Anna tells Mary about her attack and reveals that the rapist was Gillingham’s valet, Mr. Green.  She makes Mary promise not to do anything with the information, citing her fear that Bates will kill him and then hang for the crime.  Mary’s reaction was wonderful: after falling backwards into a chair with an “Oh God,” and looking as if she would vomit, she immediately decides to cancel Gillingham’s upcoming visit and make him fire Green.  When it proves too late to get ahold of him to cancel (where are you when we need you, Victorian text messaging?), she plans to go to London to convince him Green needs to go.  Meanwhile, Gillingham and his evil valet make their visit to Downton and Mr. Bates uses the opportunity to ask Green where he lives.  Subtle, Mr. Bates.   And if I may say, pretty snarky asking your poor wife if she’d “gone off” Mr. Green since the last time, reminding her how much she initially liked him.

Mary is managing her “desire” of suitors quite well between avenging Anna and keeping the estate running.  I love that she has a cache of men again.  Her scene in London with Mr. Gillingham was a master class in productive flirtation.  Between the outfit, the eyes, the hand gestures, and her sarcastic admittance that she does indeed like him, it’s clear why the men of the series are so enthralled by Icy Mary.  “I find that both irritating and beguiling in equal measure.”   When she walked out of the restaurant; she didn’t saunter, simper, or strut.  Her exit was a perfect example of how to catch the eye and admiration of everyone around you simply with your self-confidence.

Also on her errand list for London, Mary breaks up Rose’s scandal.  Rose has gotten herself engaged to Jack Ross sort of out of love but mostly to irritate her mother.  She admits this to Mary who reveals this to Jack who in turn admits his mother already told him this and also he figured it out.  He says he was planning to call off the engagement and end his relationship with Rose, but wouldn’t if “the world were just a little bit better.”  Of course, if the world were just a little bit better, Mary “wouldn’t want him to.” And thus the Race plot-line is neatly resolved and wrapped in a pretty bow.  (Eyeroll.)

While Mary is breaking hearts, Branson continues to run into New Girl who has found some lipstick and is the village teacher.  Goading him at turns about being a socialist land manager for the aristocrats and allowing himself to be a “beast of burden,” for the Family, she is an interesting, though slightly irritating love interest for dear Branson.  However, she is a teacher, so more points to her side.  And not bent on ruining his life, which is a huge improvement over Braithewaite.  It is sweet to see Branson speak of the hard work the Family actually does when he defends Cora, calling her “another beast of burden.”  Also, it gives us hope for his happiness that he no longer falls apart at the mention of Sybil.  All in all, Branson will need someone to spar with, and this teacher might be just the one.

Downstairs, we have Steady Freddy returning to Downton after writing to Ivy to tell her his father has died, admit his love, propose marriage, and invite her to live in London where he will get her a job.  (Maybe we don’t need Victorian text-messaging after all…)

“He puts a lot in a letter, does Alfred.” ~ Mrs. Patmore

Ivy declines, and Mrs. Patmore gives Daisy the day off to avoid more heartbreak when Alfred does visit.  She spends the day with Mr. Mason (her father-in-law from her first marriage) at his farm.  It’s easy to forget she is to inherit this farm and has an open invitation to come live with Mason and learn to run it.  Mr. Mason encourages Daisy to go back to the House to say a final farewell to the man she has loved.

“There won’t be too many people who you love in your life, Daisy.” ` Mr. Mason

She does, in a very sweet scene.  Alfred realizes that he perhaps never saw what a great gift was in front of him, but Daisy gracefully refuses to settle for second best.  She tells him she loved him, but that now she must go her way and he must go his.  I really wanted Carson to eavesdrop and start singing Loch Lomond at this point.  Instead, we had an even sweeter scene in the yard in which Mrs. Patmore tells Daisy,

“If you were my own daughter, I couldn’t be prouder of you than I am right now.”

Speaking of daughters, Cora is clueless as ever to her middle child’s anguish and, um, pregnancy.  Thankfully, Edith has a wonderful Aunt in the form of Lady Rosamund, who comes to Downton to take charge.  Edith wants to give the baby to the new Pig Man to be raised on the Estate, but Lady Rosamund convinces her to go abroad and have the baby adopted by a couple in need.   This way, she says,

“They are happy.  The baby is happy.  And you are, well, if not happy, at least free.”

They announce first to Cora then to the collected company at dinner that they are going together for several months to Switzerland to improve their French.  Why not France?

“Ugh.  You know what the French are like.” ~Lady Rosamund

The Dowager Countess for one is not convinced and summons Rosamund and Edith to tea.  After seeing that she must “take the slow road” to get the story out, she finally gets Edith to admit

“If I told you the truth, you would never speak to me again.”

Counters the Countess,

“Then you have told me the truth.  Now I would like to hear it enunciated more clearly.”

As usual, Edith was wrong and not only will the Countess speak to her, she counsels her and offers emotional and financial support, including offering to help find the long-lost Gregson.

Finally, we come to the Bazaar.  After much wringing of hands and passing off of responsibilities, Cora successfully pulls off the Village Bazaar.  Robert returns in time to make out with her on the lawn and sing her praises to the family.  Hooray for one Intact Love Story.  Also at the bazaar, Molesley and Baxter cement their friendship/flirtation/alliance which has been sweetly brewing throughout the episode.  Molesley wins at a Feat of Strength game and finds the courage to tell Thomas to stop bullying his new friend.  It was adorable and those two are in trouble now.

We also discover that Mr. Green has met his death by falling into the street or in front of a train or something in front of a lot of people in London.  Did we mention that Bates asked for a day off to “go to York” the same day Anna was in London with Mary?  And Green died that day?  Shocking.  Bates, please tell us you learned something from your last non-murder and at least have an alibi.  Probably not though.

Now it is time to get ready for the last episode for an entire year – le sob!!  No, we mustn’t complain.  After all, to quote the Dowager Countess:

“My dear, life is a series of problems that we must solve.  First one, and then another and another and so on until at last we die.”

To buck you up and give you courage to face the End, I will leave you with this recipe for Bread Pudding:

Bread Pudding

Lady Katy's Bread Pudding

4-6 servings

Prep time: 15 minutes.  Rest time: 1 1/2 hours  Cook time: 1 hour  Total time: ~3 hours

Ingredients:

  • 1 loaf of English Muffin bread, cubed in thick cubes (4 cups) (You can substitute any bread; baguette, cinnamon raisin bread are also delicious.
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 TBS maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Method:

Preheat oven to 350*  In an 8-inch square pan, toast cubed bread in the middle of the oven until bread is crisp but not golden, about 5-7 minutes.  Mix melted butter in with bread, tossing to coat bread completely.  In a medium bowl, whisk together milk, cream, eggs, maple syrup, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and vanilla.  Pour over bread, stirring to coat.  Cover and chill pudding at least 1 1/2 hours.  Bake pudding in middle of oven until it just sets but still trembles slightly, about 50-55 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Adapted from “The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook” by Emily Ansara Baines


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Lady Katy’s Bread Pudding

Lady Katy's Bread Pudding

4-6 servings

Prep time: 15 minutes.  Rest time: 1 1/2 hours  Cook time: 1 hour  Total time: ~3 hours

Ingredients:

  • 1 loaf of English Muffin bread, cubed in thick cubes (4 cups) (You can substitute any bread; baguette, cinnamon raisin bread are also delicious.
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 TBS maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Method:

Preheat oven to 350*  In an 8-inch square pan, toast cubed bread in the middle of the oven until bread is crisp but not golden, about 5-7 minutes.  Mix melted butter in with bread, tossing to coat bread completely.  In a medium bowl, whisk together milk, cream, eggs, maple syrup, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and vanilla.  Pour over bread, stirring to coat.  Cover and chill pudding at least 1 1/2 hours.  Bake pudding in middle of oven until it just sets but still trembles slightly, about 50-55 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Adapted from “The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook” by Emily Ansara Baines