Recipe: arroz con leche

This recipe is one of my winter favorites. Warm, milky, cinnamony. Mmmm. You can make it how you like it. Sometimes, I add more milk. Most times, I skimp on the sugar.

  • 1 c. (200g) white rice
  • 4 1/2 c. water
  • pinch of salt
  • 6 c. hot milk
  • 1 1/2 c. (320g) sugar
  • 3 cinnamon sticks or 1 tsp. ground cinnamon (Cinnamon sticks come in varying sizes. Use 3 of the ones that fit inside spice containers. Use 1-2 of the long sticks.)
  • pinch of salt
  • 6 egg yolks, beaten
  • ground cinnamon
eggs and cinnamon sticks with dishes

Bring rice, water, and pinch of salt to a boil and then reduce heat. Cover and boil gently about 20 minutes, or until water is almost absorbed.

Add hot milk, sugar, cinnamon and second pinch of salt to cooked rice.

Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture is thick but still soft and moist. Remove from heat. Remove cinnamon sticks.

Slowly pour in egg yolks while rapidly beating them. (Note: you can use a whisk here, but I prefer using my hand-held blender which also smooths the rice and froths the milk. It’s your preference.)

Sprinkle with cinnamon and serve warm or chilled.

Recipe fail: mousse au chocolat

We tried. Twice. And then I tried by myself a third time. I am still determined. Every time I think of mousse I had in France, I begin stockpiling chocolate and cream.

The first failure was completely my fault. My roommate and I had even purchased precious raspberries to garnish the mousse. But then I tried to whip the egg whites in the same mixer that I had just whipped the cream… without cleaning the bowl.

Yah, so I didn’t know.

We tried again. In the meantime, we watched the cream and chocolate mixture slowly sinking. What should we do? We decided to stick the chocolate mixture in the refrigerator to preserve it. Wrong choice. When we finally folded in the egg whites, we discovered that the chocolate had chilled into ribbons.

We still ate it and it was still amazing especially with luscious raspberries, but we knew we could do better.

So we tried again about two months later. This time, it would be perfect! Instead, we over-whipped the egg whites so that they settled into little pools in the bottoms of the ramekin dishes while we ate dinner. Plus, the chocolate had sat too long and so, although it was warm, it wasn’t warm enough, and beaded as we folded it into the cream. So the mousse was grainy and watery. But somehow still amazing.

small dish of chocolate mousse with chocolate shavings

But I knew we could do better. So one afternoon, I had a guest and decided to try a third time. I felt fairly confident even though I was on my own this time. I would whip the whites into perfect elf hats and whisk the yolks into the chocolate while the chocolate was still warm enough.

Instead, the chocolate stiffened when I whisked in the egg yolks. I tried heating it again, but you probably know how that goes. In the meantime, the egg whites began to sink.

With nothing to lose because it all was a failure anyway and I would just have to serve my guest snack mix and pretend I had never tried, I whisked the globby chocolate mixture into the cream until it was 100% incorporated (forget the 10 folds limit!). Then I folded the sagging whites into the chocolate and cream, poured rather than spooned it into ramekin dishes, grated some chocolate on the top and stuck it in the fridge for time out.

I pulled it out before my guest arrived, just to sample it. Heavy instead of fluffy. A little like mousse meets fudge. Before I realized it, I had eaten the entire dish, but don’t worry, there were 3 more dishes to share with my guest. 😉

If anyone has a mousse au chocolat recipe that is easier than what I’ve tried, I would love to have it! (Note: none of the chocolate pudding and cool whip stuff. I love that too, but it will never transport my taste buds to France.)

Or maybe you have your own mousse story…

A different world: another quick update

Besides deliveries, the doorbell has rung only once or twice since March 15. Last night, it rang.

I answered the door. The neighbor girl beamed up at me, her fuzzy pigtails sticking straight out from her head: a North African Pippi Longstocking. Adorable. 

“This is for you. My mom made it.” She thrust out a plate with two orange wedges of dessert, probably on the menu for the night’s breaking of the fast. 

She continued to beam while we chatted. Last week, when I took chocolate cupcakes to her door, she gasped and did a little dance. Now she was delighting my day as I had delighted hers. That’s why she was beaming.

Indeed, it was delightful to chat with her before she marched across the hall with a cheerful “¡Adiós!”

This morning, the world feels different than it has in months. There was abundant life.  And cars everywhere. I was hesitant to make them stop for me at the crosswalks… or, if I’m honest, maybe partially afraid that they were out of practice stopping for pedestrians.

Many businesses are back, not to full capacity, but back. I grinned as I passed a café. Andalusians are loud when they’re in a pile. Now imagine them sitting several meters apart in the cafés. 

But the throbbing of their voices is the heartbeat of a town that’s beginning to live again.

Grandma

Grandma imagined a pump of cold, running water in heaven. She told me so as we sat side by side on the couch just before I left for Spain.

“What do you imagine?” she asked.

Heavenly mansions were on our minds, not the frailty of human life.

When I said goodbye, I hugged Grandma and then Grandpa. My voice was still cheerful as I said, “If I don’t see you again here, I’ll see you in a much better place!”

They both smiled.

But I couldn’t control that rush of grief. The memories, joys, sorrows, and love just landed in a heavy heap on my heart. I started to cry.

Like I am now.

Today is Grandma’s funeral and I’m an ocean away.

Grandma spent her whole life quietly serving others. She inspired almost subconscious admiration and love; she was the rock that we all leaned on but sometimes forgot was there. She always had time for her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren (and even our pets too!).

And yet, she loved to be alone, content to be still while the world marched by. She enjoyed life without needing to partake of all its luxuries, and contentment made her life richer. Her faith in God, her love for others, and her hobbies—collecting, organizing, couponing, gardening, reading— strengthened her for the hard things life threw at her.

On Friday, the hard thing was emergency surgery with very little chance of success. The family was stunned. We knew she was ready to meet her Maker, but we weren’t ready for her to meet her Maker.

And then she was gone. Before most of us had the chance to say goodbye.

It’s as if the book of some of my best memories has closed. No more melting plastic game chips on the threadbare carpet. No more sleepovers on crinkly pillow covers. No more poring over stacks of Berenstain Bear books. No more Keebler cookie snacks. No more tiptoeing around in the forbidden basement with cousins. No more strict “with soap!” hand washings. No more maneuvering the golf cart between the fragile fir trees at the risk of Grandma spotting us from the living room window. No more Grandma stories from when Dad was a little boy. No more of her French silk pie or other outstanding desserts and dishes. No more talks on the couch. No more phone calls or quirky, Grandma-style emails.

Her last email came the middle of October:

“Think I swept my time under the rug and now need to reverse that. All kind of things collect there under that cover up. That’s why some people insist on hardwood floors. Do you have hardwood floors or rugs with secrets?”

Her emails always put a smile on my face, no matter what kind of day I was having. Especially when they ended like this one:

“We don’t sweep love under the rug so you’re safe! Grandpa and Grandma”

On Saturday, I sat on the lonely beach, staring at the sea and trying to swallow the suddenness of her death. There’s just no easy way to say goodbye. No easy way to hurt. Friends from here and there and everywhere have decided to hurt with me and my family. Thank you.

Today we are grieving the loss of a beloved grandmother. And we’re also celebrating Grandma’s gain as she welcomes eternity.

I hope there’s a pump of cold, running water.

Hungry or not, here I come

How exactly does a one hour tutoring lesson turn into eight hours? Simple: I agreed to stay for lunch.

It was my first day of tutoring. I was nervous because I wasn’t sure how the protective father would view my method of teaching his 5-year-old son.

Exactly ½ hour before we had agreed to meet, the father came to pick me up.

He took me to his house where I met his family, extended family, the maid, and of course, his son. After a long conversation–some of it typed in google translate–we had breakfast (their first; my second). Then I spent exactly one hour teaching and reviewing with the little boy.

“Will you stay for lunch?”

Noting the family sitting around the salon table, I agreed. But I soon realized that I wasn’t sitting down to lunch; this was pre-lunch! After two breakfasts, I was expected to fill up on bread, cookies, and tea and then eat lunch a little while thereafter.

When we finally did get lunch around 3:00 p.m., it was several courses: a salad followed by a beef and plum dish with another salad on the side, and then a huge chicken stuffed with vermicelli noodles and resting on a bed of rice. Everything was eaten with bread.

And all of the while, if I wasn’t reaching my hand into the platter, I was being told to do so. “Eat! Eat! Please eat!” The extended family kept a calculation of how much I ate while persistently informing me that it was not enough. We finished with luscious fruits for dessert, of which I was too full to enjoy.

This story has no moral, except not to take a tutoring job if you’re on a diet!

In a dry and weary land

Right now, perhaps you are imagining me in loose desert garb astride a handsome camel under the blazing Saharan sun. Well, now you have pictured exactly how my trip wasn’t.

The Sahara trip officially started when eight of us girls piled into a tourist mini-bus. “Oh no! People will think we’re tourists!” It took a few kilometers of riding the tourist bus through my own city to realize that I was a tourist. I had just traded in my student identity.

The changing landscape sang the mighty power of God as we bumped along in our bus along paved highways and skinny mountain paths.

There were tree trunks covered in brilliant green moss, flat orange plateaus with snow-covered mountains beyond, and startling blue lakes.

shepherd with his sheep with looming snow-covered mountains beyond
valley with sheep grazing beside streams

We spent the night in a hotel on the edge of the desert. The next morning, a driver took us to the edge of the dunes. “Are these even real?” we wondered. The dunes looked exactly like the myriad pictures one might find anywhere. It was almost anti-climatic to see exactly what I had expected.

table and chairs perched on orange sand dunes

In the early evening, we started across the dunes on camels. The first 30 minutes may have been more enjoyable if a paparazzi hadn’t followed us to snap pictures of our camel train.

When we arrived at our desert camp, we ate a big meal and then strolled around outside of the camp to gaze at the expanse of bright stars that blanketed the dark sky. We contemplated the insignificance of man (Ps. 8) and then joined a group of other tourist around a campfire.

camel train

The next morning, we watched the sun rise over the dunes and then rode our camels back to civilization. On the way home we made several stops, one of them to have tea with our driver’s family who lived far up in the mountains. The scenery along the way was breathtaking.

white house among rolling hills
small shack among rolling green hills

But it was wonderful to come home again!