“Kindness is my religion.”
— the Dalai Lama
Today is the day of gratitude, nationally. We could use more of these. But I’m grateful for this one.
This year, I am grateful for….
° the chance to meet hundreds and hundreds of you, in five different cities. You were once anonymous readers and are now indelible faces in my mind. Thank you for buying the book, for emailing me your kindness, for showing up in cupcake shops and swanky wine bars, bookstores and farmers’ markets. This time I will never forget.
° the dear friends who let us stay on their couches and helped us schlep our stuff up stairs and hailed us cabs. Cindy, Gabe, and Tea — you are amazing.
° Sharon, who flew into New York City from LA, just to celebrate the publication of the book. Sweetie, I’ve known you since I was fifteen, and you just keep getting better and better.
° the grand folks at Wiley, who published a beautiful book, and held my hand through the process, even when I occasionally grew petrified that no one would buy it.
° every radio show host, television announcer, and newspaper reporter who decided this story was worth noting. (And if a few more are reading, feel free to call.)
° the chicken and rooster from down the street, who stand beneath our bedroom window every morning about 10 and crow and shuffle until we open the back door and throw them feed.
° Elliott, who continues to delight me with every nephew daring do he performs. This year, he fell in love with the Rescue heroes, and learned to climb the wall outside (or pretend). He is irascible and hilarious, and he makes me happy every time I see him.
° the potato man, from Olsen Farms, whom I know has a name. But the Chef and I call him The Potato Man every time we see him at the farmers’ market, and we smile that he is in the world.
° the splash of purple flowers hanging over a wooden fence as I drove through the Arboretum in the middle of November.
° five fierce, amazing women at SuzukiChou Communimedia, who feed us with sarcastic comments about people who don’t get it and enliven us with their unquestioning belief in the yes, every time. Oh, and they set up some damned fine events.
° every one of the dear ones who came to our wedding, surrounding us with love in our own backyard. And the infinite patience of most of them (oh, one hopes!) with the absence of thank you cards, still. We have been a little busy, but still.
° Pat and Hubert, for driving us around Umbria, with Emma trilling her soothing tones from the GPS. (“Recalculating.”) Without you, we would have been lost, stuck in that small apartment, and walking down that scary hill alone, every morning. We bless the day you decided to go to Brigolante.
° the little boy in Black Oak Books in Berkeley. We were loitering, waiting to meet our friend Shuna for dinner. Tea had just asked if they had a copy of my book. They didn’t. They couldn’t even order it. (Go into your local bookstore and ask them to order the book!) I felt a bit disheartened. From out of the back came this five-year-old, in a tie-dyed t-shirt, hopscotch skipping across the linoleum floor. And as he skipped, he chanted, loudly, “Mr. Potato Head, I love you! Mr. Potato Head, I love you!” My mood switched. We have been repeating it ever since.
° the taste of French feta, ripe avocado, and sliced fennel with lemon juice.
° the fact that I write whatever feels urgent onto this blank screen, and people all over the world are reading. For you.
° living every day with the knowledge that I have to live gluten-free. It’s food that has healed me. What a dazzling life.
° my family, who put up with me, and still teach me, every day.
° the Chef. Oh love, all I do is exude gratitude for you.
Thank you, everyone.
Sweet cinnamon rice pudding, adapted from a recipe in Gourmet, December 2007
It makes sense that we celebrate the holiday of gratitude in late November. We need the reminder. This is one of the darkest months of the year. The sun is setting close to 4:30 here in Seattle, the horizon a tiny slice of electric yellow against the darkness pounding down. Oh Seattle, I love you, but these winter days are short.
Times like these call for pudding.
I’ve actually been pretty sick the past week, fighting off a pernicious infection that swarmed my system and left me pinned to the bed. With all that time in planes, smiling at everyone I met, and sleeping in strange beds nearly every day of the week, my body just shouted at me, “Slow down!” The last post I put up, about Thanksgiving? I wrote it in bed, the laptop propped up on my knees. And between nearly every paragraph, I set aside the computer and fell into a soft nap.
The day I knew the antibiotics were doing their work? When I flipped through the issue of Gourmet that arrived in the mail that day, and I wanted to make every recipe. The itch in my fingers to fiddle in the kitchen started up again. I have missed it, being in the kitchen. Music on, the smells simmering in me, dishes going from idea to chew — this is what I love. As much as being on the road made me happy, for the chance to meet you, I missed our home.
So I marked up the magazine, ripped out recipes immediately, and started dreaming of how to adapt the baked goods to gluten-free goodness. And then I began at the beginning of the magazine again, and found this new technique for rice pudding.
Simple as black numbers on a white clock face, this recipe takes about three minutes of preparation. I bounced out to the kitchen and found I had every ingredient in our cupboards. Stirring and pouring, I had pudding ready to bake in just enough time to lie down on the bed again.
This pudding tastes like comfort to me.
One word for those of you who are cinnamon skittish. I love a lot of cinnamon. The first time I made this, I used ½ teaspoon of Saigon cinnamon for each dish. The next morning, the Chef dipped his spoon more slowly with every bite. When I turned to him and said, “Do you like it?” with the eagerness of an untrained puppy, he said, “Yes, I like it.” But I knew he didn’t love it. He can’t contain his rubber face when he loves food. Finally, he admitted, “That’s a lot of cinnamon.”
True. So I cut back.
But if you love the sweet heat of cinnamon wafting to your nose, feel free to add more to this, if you wish.
2 cups rice milk (this makes the recipe dairy-free!)
½ cup mochi sweet rice (or just less. You need 20 teaspoons of rice)
8 teaspoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon Saigon cinnamon (if your cinnamon is not that strong, add a bit more)
Preheating the oven. Go ahead and turn on that oven to 350°.
Preparing the pudding. Gather four ramekins. Grease them generously, with either butter or your favorite non-dairy substitute. Pour ½ cup of the rice milk into each one. Spoon in 5 teaspoons of the rice, 2 teaspoons of sugar, and the cinnamon into each one. Stir.
Baking the pudding. Place the ramekins in a shallow baking dish or baking pan. Slide it into the oven and set the timer for an hour. When the timer rings, check the puddings. They should have caramel-cinnamon tops. Most of the milk will be absorbed. The ramekins in the back might be closer to done than the ones in front. Switch them. Bake some more, for maybe 15 minutes. (Pay attention to your own oven for timing on this.)
Finishing the pudding. Cool the puddings for at least one hour on your countertops before eating them. There will probably be a little skin on the top of each pudding (less so with rice milk than cow’s milk, however). Pull it off gently, relishing the sensory experience. Eat the pudding.
Better yet, pull the skins from the puddings and let them cool in the refrigerator for at least an hour more. (They are definitely better overnight.) Now eat the pudding.