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JUST PLAIN, BUT SO SWEET
December 23, 2005
 
"What's this, now?" Q is trying to decipher my handwriting on the shopping list.

I lean over the table and peer at the list; I can barely read it myself. "Oh, that says evaporated milk. And then sweetened condensed milk. They're two different things. In cans. They should be near one another, probably in with the baking things."

"We have milk."

"Well, these are different. I'm making rice pudding. Do you want it with or without raisins?"

"I don't like it, with or without."

"Wait a minute -- you love rice pudding."

"Oh, that's right. I was thinking you said Rice Krispies. I don't like Rice Krispies."

I would never say Rice Krispies.

"And I'm going to need some more white flour."

"How much more baking would you say you have left to do?" Ever since Thanksgiving, Q has watched a steady stream of cookies, cakes and breads pour out of the oven.

"Oh, as much as I can," I say, wrapping up some nut bread in wax paper. It needs to settle down for a day or two after baking; it's much too crumbly if you cut right into it. Same with the fruit cakes: they need to sit and think for a week or so, and they need frequent drinks of port or brandy to aid their contemplation. They are ready to eat when they start to slur their words and stagger around the kitchen. "I don't really think about how much I need. I just think about what I want to make. I give most of it away. I just like to bake."

"I can see that." Q shakes his head and tries to look cheerful, but his depression upbringing makes him nervous when he encounters large quantities of food. He's afraid something will be wasted. But he writes "white flour" down on the list and goes off to the store.

Our kitchen at home wasn't beautiful -- I'm not sure anybody then thought a kitchen should be beautiful, only functional. It was large, though, and a lot of cooking could happen in it at the same time: my grandmothers were both wonderful bakers, one in Swedish and one in English. So there were tea cakes and shortbreads and bannocks and Eccles cakes, ginger cookies and delicious white-sugared balls flavored with cardamom and studded with nuts. A little girl could help and observe and lick the bowl. And then grow up and fill every other house she ever lived in with warmth, and wonderful smells that would carry her back in time.

Rice Pudding

Why bother with rice pudding at Christmas time? It's so ordinary. But isn't that what the Incarnation is all about? Nothing in the world is really ordinary, not now that Christ has come into it.

Bring to a boil:
2 cups water
1 cup rice

Reduce heat, cover and simmer until water is absorbed (12 minutes for white rice; I use brown, and it takes about 25-30 minutes).

Stir in: 1 12-oz can evaporated milk (both milks are available fat-free)
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup raisins
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
pinch of salt

Bring everything to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a smallish bowl, slightly beat

2 large eggs (1/2 cup EggBeaters can be used instead)

When milk mixture is at a boil, temper the eggs with it: take a small amount (1/4 cup) of the hot mixture and stir gradually quickly into the beaten eggs; this will keep them from being "hardboiled" by the hot milk mixture.

Then add egg mixture to milk mixture and stir with wire whisk. Bring to a boil and cook two minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in
1-1/2 tsp vanilla

Serve warm or cold, sprinkled with cinnamon or not. Great breakfast on a cold day. Great dessert, too: plain and wonderfully ordinary among all the sugar cookies.
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