Rice Pudding Nostalgia
My household has a sweet tooth as many households do, so it's commonplace to see one of us rummaging around in the pantry/fridge, hunting for any sweet prey hiding from our vision. Tonight the pantry and fridge were looking pretty bare - no chocolate, hardly any fresh fruit, no sweet baked goods, no candy. What I did see though was that we had only a quart of milk left and a small amount of long-grained rice, and I automatically thought of the rice pudding my dad used to make me back in my childhood. I had never personally made the dish before but I knew what it was comprised of, so I went to work.
Rice pudding is simple, it's a combination of milk, sugar, and rice. I added everything into a small pot, along with a whole cinnamon stick, star anise, and clove to add some nice flavor. It takes a while to cook as the rice needs to become borderline mush to get the right consistency, plus you need all the starch the rice will release to properly thicken the dessert. After baby sitting the pot for about an hour, sitting with it, and cursing when the starchy milk would foam up and dribble over, it was done. As my dad would traditionally do, I added ground cinnamon on top, gave a bowl to my S.O., and I sat down to take the first bite.
It's been a long, long time since I had experienced such a powerful level of nostalgia.
The first small bite I took rocketed me back to several moments of my childhood, moments and memories that I hadn't thought about for many years. Each memory came with their respected, acute senses; smells, sounds, visuals, touch, and of course, taste. Flashes of my dad and I eating rice pudding in our living room watching the Simpsons, the only lights on in the house being the kitchen, the TV being a very old TV from my early childhood (old enough where you would have to pull a knob to turn it on), the smell of the recently cooked rice pudding in the air while mixed with hints of cinnamon, feeling the old loveseat beneath me and the body heat of my dad, who was sitting beside me. Memories of me hearing him tell me, "the rice pudding is in the butter container" as I reached for the plastic Country Crock tub holding white treasure in its inside. Old memories of our first home. Memories of lost childhood memories that I never knew I forgot, memories of simpler times of my life.
This level of nostalgia was powerful, that of being hit by a car while riding on a motorcycle: instant, intense, and left me reeling (I know this from personal experience sadly). As all of these memories came crashing through my mind like a dam breaking, I got emotional. My voice was full of emotion as I described what I was thinking and feeling to my beloved S.O., and she was just so happy to see me so happy. I've been literally states away from my family for years, and the initial sharp homesickness I initially had when I moved away has longed been tempered into a occasional dull ache, but tonight that ache became fresh and feverish. I yearned to be back in the rolling hills of Missouri, back on the sheep farm where I was raised, to go fishing on our pond dam while feeling the warm breeze across my skin and the golden warmth of the setting sun. To go on the walks my dad enjoyed doing with us, walking down the road to an old ravine that we called "The Fossil Place" as kids as there were large boulders that contained fossilized remains of ancient shellfish. I wanted to be back at my dads simple dinner table, eating simple food that was created by hands that loved me.
Food is at the core of every single one of us. Throughout human history, food has been at the center of so many occasions of our society and culture, so much so that the ancient Romans created the god of agriculture, Ceres, to bless the fields of wheat that the Romans relied on so badly. That's where we got the name cereal from, Ceres, as wheat is a cereal grain. There was a point in history that black peppercorns were as valuable as gold, where empires rose and fell over spices. I would bet that the vast majority of good memories each one of us has involves food in some way. Food brings people together and as we eat we naturally become happy, and to cook for another person isn't just an act of nourishment. It's an act of love. Not only are you nourishing someone else's body, but you are willingly sharing your soul and intention with someone. Ever wonder why a dish your parent/grandparent makes is the best in the world, but if it was tasted by a panel of judges, it actually wouldn't? I like to believe that it is the best in the world not just for its taste, but it's because it's a moment of time you shared with someone you loved, and they loved you so much that they wanted to cook for you, and that love was imbued into the food you enjoyed.
All of these thoughts were inspired by a simple bowl of rice pudding, a bowl of rice pudding that will forever remind me of my dearly loved dad, even when he's gone and I've grown old. Eat well, and cook your loved ones good food from your heart.