Opopanax (Les Néréides)

Yesterday I tasted a revelation.

We'd gathered in the conference hall for our department winter-holiday party. Each of us brought a dish to the communal table. Most of the librarians I know are foodies, so the menu alone made our mouths water: Lobster Bisque. Spanish Rice with Sausage. Mushroom Quiche. Lemon-Rosemary Cookies. Fresh Berry and Beignet Kebabs.* I opted to bring my Merry Monte Cristo-mas Strata... but what I really was looking forward to was the dish our newest librarian planned to bring.

Being somewhat of a fanatic on the subject of bread pudding, I make all my comparisons with a fervor born of lifelong obsession. Show me any bread pudding variation, whether sweet or savory, and I'm a goner. I love the standard recipe, with its rich egg custard, plump raisins, and lashings of cinnamon sugar. I retain a strong partiality towards Mexican capirotada, drenched in clove-imbued piloncillo syrup and studded with nuggets of molten queso fresco. I'm also highly susceptible to a pan of good ol' American turkey stuffing moistened up with rich stock and a truckload of butter. (This qualifies, surely?)

But I've never had anything like Shazia's bread pudding. It defied all definition.

First of all, missing (at least to the naked eye) were the standard, uniform cubes of bread. This bowlful of opalescent cream -- garnished solely with a minimalist sprinkling of slivered almonds -- resembled a straightforward vanilla pudding arrived at by cooking sieved breadcrumbs in milk, no more than that. The result appeared homogenized and perfectly smooth; expecting blandness, I spooned some up...then had to either sit down or fall down.

Satiny, bewitching, and unbelievably sensuous on the tongue, possessed of a mild yet enthralling flavor (orange-blossom water? cardamom?)-- this food seemed worthier of the gods than of a mere mortal like myself. Its texture and weight was undeniably delicate; yet it both filled me up and fortified me. Barely half a cup left me spoiled for any other sweet on that table. (Okay, except maybe the Lemon-Rosemary Cookies, of which I enjoyed two.) And when the party ended and we all headed back to the office, I kept accosting coworkers to demand, But the bread pudding! Did you try the bread pudding?

Remember when I likened Eau Lente by Diptyque to angelfood cake on a white plate and declared that I preferred the more flavorful fare promised by Shalimar or Sacrebleu? I still would, if you handed me Eau Lente. But if you hand me Les Néréides' Opopanax, all bets are off.

Yesterday I tasted a revelation. Today, I wear one.

Scent Elements: Citrus fruit, opoponax, amber, benzoin, vanilla, sandalwood