pudding for heroes

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I wanted to bring my baggage and unpack it in front of you. — Joan Didion’s The Last Thing He Wanted

A few evenings before Sophie passed, I remember writing a cookbook review while listening to David Bowie’s “Heroes” on repeat. A kid jumping up and down on her bed and swiveling her sizable hips to the beat — this was a younger version of myself, feeling the lyrics out, trying the song on for size. We could steal time, just for one day. We can be Heroes, for ever and ever. What d’you say? My whole life I’d been hoarding clocks, hiding them under beds and smothering them under pillows, desperate to keep time still. Hold onto moments as they were, and feel them, completely. Did I know that an adult version of myself would harken back to that kid who wanted to be a writer, who viewed life as something one went out and simply took?

Did I know that I’d listen to the song as an adult and feel nothing but nostalgia, a feeling that resembled something like sadness, because all I could do was glance over at Sophie — as I’ve been training myself to do unconsciously, so much so that it’s become a tick, even now, even after she’s long gone. Much like how I wake every two hours expecting her small body to sieze and writhe. That doesn’t go away because the loved one does. Digressions, digressions, always, still — and wish that I could have her just for one day, and the next and the next. Until the days eclipse themselves, and in some arcane world, we’re together and she’s better again.

074926-FC50In Didion’s novel, there’s a scene where the hero, the survivor, has an ongoing dream that she’s going to die but they’ve given her an overnight pass, allowed her to spend one more day with her family. But they warn her that she’ll start to break apart, literally. Her feet will splinter and halve. The whole of her body will collapse and crumble to dust. But this is the risk our hero takes to spend one last day with her family. At one point, she inquires whether she can negotiate another day, two, to which they respond, sure, they can delay the process but our hero won’t get any better. Best to lay the botched hand down then try to play it out.

I think of that scene, I think “Heroes,” and I try to remind myself that sometimes being heroic is letting something go. Letting Sophie live out her final song, knowing that I have to think of a way of connecting her to that dancing teenager. If I connect the two, and somehow bring them here, right now, hold them close, at this moment, and find a way to love all of it for what it was, and the kind of woman I will be because I knew the greatness of those moments, then I might just be able to find my way home.

I might just be a hero in my own small way.

Last night, I fixed pudding for a new friend + my food editor. I’d spent the day in the kitchen tempering, whisking, reading, and for the first time in a while I felt normal. For four hours we talked about Goya, formalism, food, graduate school, Rosemary’s Baby and feminism, and I felt normal. And when she left, the waves of sadness returned.

So here I am trying to think about how, over time, I can change the shape of that wave to a heroic memory, of love.

INGREDIENTS: Apricot-Scented Rice Pudding recipe courtesy of Clio Goodman’s Puddin': Luscious and Unforgettable Puddings, Parfaits, Pudding Cakes, Pies, and Pops. My stellar review in Medium is forthcoming.
For the apricot syrup
1/2 cup sugar
12 dried apricots, diced (1/2 cup)

For the rice
3/4 cup long-grain basmati rice
1 1/3 cups whole milk
4 tbsp apricot syrup (sans fruit)
1/4 tsp salt

For the pudding
1 3/4 cups whole milk
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped out and reserved OR 3 tsp of vanilla extract
4 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
4 large egg yolks

DIRECTIONS
For the apricot syrup: Bring 1/2 cup water and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat, add the apricots, and transfer to a bowl to cool at room temperature. You can use the syrup right away, but the longer you leave in the apricots, the more luscious it will be. Reserve syrup and solids.

For the rice: Pre-heat the oven to 300F. In a small, ovenproof saucepan, bring the rice and 2 cups of cold water to a boil. Immediately remove from heat, drain, and rinse the rice right away under fresh cold water. This will stop the cooking process. Drain rice in a fine-mesh sieve.

Return the rice to the same pot and add the milk, apricot syrup and salt. Cover the pot, transfer the pot to the oven, and cook, stirring every 10 minutes, until the milk is completely absorbed and the rice is plump, 45 minutes. I’ll admit that I initially misread the directions, and cranked the heat to 350 and my rice cooked 25 minutes. If you’re adventurous, risk it. Remove pot from oven and let stand, covered, for at least 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork so the rice doesn’t congeal.

Make the pudding: Before I get started, I know some of you will be tempted to use low-fat milk in this game. Don’t make these moves. Don’t even attempt said moves. This is rice pudding. If you want a low-fat dessert, eat yoghurt and berries — don’t you dare sully this rich greatness with an inferior product. Will you get passable rice pudding? Probably. But why settle for anything less than extraordinary? JUST EAT LESS OF THE RICE PUDDING, PEOPLE.

BUT I DIGRESS. In a medium saucepan whisk together the milk and cream, then add the cinnamon stick and vanilla bean (or extract). Heat the mixture gently until hot but not boiling, 5 minutes, remove from heat, and let steep, covered, until milk comes to room temperature, 20 minutes. Chill in refrigerator for at least 10 minutes.

Add sugar, cornstarch, and egg yolks to chilled milk mixture and whisk vigorously. Return the saucepan to the stovetop and cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly (and I mean constantly), until mixture is thick, 5-6 minutes.

Strain the pudding through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl, pressing pudding through sieve with a spatula. Remove stick and bean and discard. Fold rice and remaining reserve apricots and syrup into the hot custard.

Cover surface of pudding with plastic wrap, cool for at least 2 hours.

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INGREDIENTS: Coffee Pudding recipe courtesy of Puddin’
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp light brown (or coconut palm) sugar
3 tbsp instant espresso powder (I also use delicious coffee grounds, which worked fine)
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp salt

DIRECTIONS
In a medium saucepan whisk together all the ingredients. Cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until mixture begins to thicken, 10-12 minutes. The pudding will seem loose, but it will thicken pretty significantly as it chills.

Strain the pudding through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing pudding through sieve with a spatula.

Cool at room temperature for 10 minutes, press a layer of plastic wrap onto the surface of the pudding, and chill completely in the fridge, at least 2 hours.

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