It's not like we haven't had any snow at all. Early December saw a few inches, enough for several snowballs and a 4" snow man elf named Fred. But it all melted within a few days' time. Another few inches fell the week before Christmas. Enough to kick up, but too powdery for brass tacks (by which I mean, of course, Calvin-worthy forts and proper Frosty's). And in fairly short order, it melted, too.
Then, right after Mamo left, we got another good dusting. We walked with our toes pointed in, like this. We walked with our toes pointed out, like that. We made shallow pale angels, big and small, and cobbled one respectable castle together. Never mind the naked lawn we left behind. We fashioned snow balls around pine cones, for wont of enough of the packing-grade stuff. We caught insta-melt fluff on our tips of our tongues, and kicked ice 'soccer' balls all the way home, and went on thrilling, short, shivering walks around the block.
And then, this week, well, see above. Highs in the mid-30's. Bare grass. Rain.
We've made the most of what we've had. We've had paper flakes posted on the windows for weeks. Friendly pleas (please, oh please!).
But I'm hankering for more. Inches. Drifts. Accumulation.
Part of me knows that I'm pouting, here. I hail, after all, from the Pacific Northwest. (I first typed Northwets, which I'm pretty sure proves Freud's slip theory, absolutely.) I've passed many a winter with nary a flake. Three separate snowfalls, not yet half-way through winter? You'd think I'd be dancing the snow jackpot jig.
What can I say. Complacency comes easy.
It's just that I'm so very fond of the stuff.
I appreciate the way that snow settles the score with winter's commitment to steady, stinging cold. A fresh fwooosh of powder, and abra cadabra!, abandoned backyard becomes rip-roaring playground. It is hard to over-state what sweet relief this is for the cooped-up and the cabin-fevered among us.
And at the risk of re-stating the obvious, did you notice the free home delivery program? It's not like the Northwest lacks snow altogether; the Cascades have copious, glorious piles. But Ohio delivers it right to your doorstep. The genius of this plan is so under-rated. No car rides! No snack packs! No rest stops! Ad infinitum! Just suit up and step out and play away. Just as soon as the snow sticks around, anyway.
And then, there's the minor matter of aesthetics. I'm a little dumb-founded by winter's stealth beauty.
I love the silhouettes and the soft muted colors. The way colors pop in a gone-grayscale world. The irrepressible squidge-squeak of fresh inches underfoot. A sorbet sunrise, stunt-doubled in the snow. I love the way the entire landscape transforms, powdered and frosted and leavened by white. It looks like Currier and Ives: The Reality Edition, or my kitchen the day I dropped ten pounds of flour on the floor.
I love the way every last leaf, pod, and cone dons a jaunty white cap when the first flakes fall. I love the crisp quiet, the silent eloquence. The miracle of birds, somehow surviving. The old foliage of fall, gone suddenly festive.
I love how, when the cold stays and the skies clear — sunny and sixteen is no paradox, here — the whole landscape lights up like a Christmas tree. I remember the structure of snow is a crystal, which multiplied by a billion throws off some serious twinkle. It's a little like Tinkerbell's Pixie Dust-stuffed semi over-turned on I-670 and lost its load all over town. Dazzling. Fancy Nancy's got nothing on this glitter.
This is not to say snow doesn't come with drawbacks. Car doors freeze shut, ice lurks treacherously, runny noses freeze into icicles en route. Inconvenient heaps of wet clothes go viral. I bought extra baskets and boot trays, this year. I'm losing the battle, anyway.
But still, I've got the hardly waits. I want six inches. Oh, heck, twelve! And I want it to stick around, awhile.
(Does anyone else have the hardly-waits? The phrase, I mean, irrespective of snow politics. It occurs to me, just now, that I don't know it's reach, whether the hardly-waits are ours alone, or part of the general lexicon. It's one of many wonderful tidbits I acquired when I married, along with a taste for chili and a duplicate copy of Racine's Phaedre. The Penguin French/English edition, with a Mucha on the cover.
Maybe the hardly-waits are like the geebie drawer, which is what my family always called the junk drawer, and which no one else has ever heard of. If the hardly-waits are unfamiliar to you, let me attempt a definition: hardly-waits (n.): an earnest, fervent, ever-so-slightly immature desire for some thing or some event to occur A.S.A.P. Preferably sooner.)
Very good. Now that we've got our definitions straight, can we talk rice pudding, already? Because I've had rice pudding hardly-waits for about forever, and snow or no snow, I can't wait another week.
I don't know if it's true, but I've long suspected that a person is either a rice pudding lover or loather. I count myself firmly in the former camp, and am pleased (and relieved) I've got compatriots in my home. Otherwise, I might eat the entire (double) batch by myself. We have a greedy history, rice pudding and I.
I'm sure I ate this nursery staple as a child, as I carried a fondness for it away with me to college. But my first concrete memories of rice pudding date back to two months spent in Paris, my last year at University. We'd travelled there together, to wrap up our studies, and lived in a tiny broom closet apartment a few blocks from the Pont de l'Alma.
At some point, early on, we discovered Nestlé Riz au Lait, and promptly fell for its sweet creamy calm. We probably ate our way through a case that quarter, but what I remember best is sitting alongside the Seine one Spring evening, partager-ing a yellow tub while the bateaux mouches sauntered by. I haven't sat by the Seine in fifteen years. But rice pudding's recently re-entered our lives.
Truth be told, I've "made" rice pudding for years, but it's been one of my longest-running, chronic kitchen disasters. Convinced it should be child's play, I'd ad hoc a recipe every few months. I'd use leftover rice, and random quantities of dairy, and startling quantities of sugar, to no end. The results were uniformly ghastly, starchy and loose and inedible. Looking back, it seems obvious I should have, oh, I don't know, looked at a recipe? But obvious has never been my thing.
It wasn't until I ran across Giao's recipe last year that I finally hit gold, unctuous, lovely white gold. I've made it at least a dozen times since, and intend to make it many dozen times more. It is exactly what I'd long sought after in rice pudding, simple, reliable, completely sublime.
A bit about that last part. There are, I believe, a few simple tricks that make this particular pudding tick.
You quickly blanch the rice at the outset, which I'd never before done, and which I suspect removes the starch, and which I'm certain is key to the gentle final wobble. Then, you pour in a good glug of heavy cream (or half and half), plus two good glugs of whole milk. The proportions are a little bit amazing: nearly four cups of liquid to one-half cup of rice. But here's the thing: there are no eggs or other thickeners involved. This means there's nothing at all detracting from the dairy's clean, clear sweetness. It's so easy to forget that milk and cream have a flavor. They do. And it's fine. And it shines through brilliantly, here. No egg also means there's no risk of scrambled bits suddenly appearing in your pudding and spoiling the whole lot. Every plush, silky spoonful is the simple result of evaporation and reduction, over an occasionally-stirred hour.
Then there's the kicker: two vanilla beans, scraped and deposited right into the slosh. I'll tell you right now I don't always include them, as they make this a bit of a king's ransom rice pudding. At the rate we go through rice pudding sometimes, a separate line of credit would be required. So, sometimes I stir in pure vanilla extract at the end. Sometimes I grate over ample dustings of fresh nutmeg. Sometimes I do both, or some combination; one bean is lovely, and better than none.
I'll also tell you you absolutely must try it, even once, because here of all places, vanilla beans sing. They are no background note, no distant whiff, but a full-on, intense, exquisite presence. And just in case their plump flavor's not enough, they bring a riot of tiny seeds that crunch faintly on the tooth, and polka-dot the finished pudding. Just don't blame me if you can hardly wait for more.
(And, by way of epilogue, and because I love a happy ending: When I began pulling together this post, the lawn was bare, the ice castle almost gone. But as I sit here tonight, there are five fresh white inches outside my window, and the prospect of more in days to come. And thanks to Henry (see below), our season's first snowman. Good things come, indeed.)
adapted from Giao, www.kissmyspatula.com, who in turn tweaked it from Guy Savoy, Simple French Recipes for the Home Cook
I've upped the sugar slightly from the original, and often add another Tablespoon or two at the end, after tasting. That said, this is by no means an overly sweet pudding. I suspect Guy Savoy's cows produce sweeter cream than my chain supermarket. Also, I prefer my rice pudding with a thin whisper of salt, a carry-over from my addiction to Thai coconut sticky rice. Think salted caramels. Try it. You won't regret it.
I have made this flavored all three ways below (bean, extract, and nutmeg), but there are countless other fine rice pudding accents. Try several bruised cardamom pods, or the generous curl of the peel of an orange, or a good length of fragrant, fresh cinnamon stick, or even a splash of almond extract. It is hard to go wrong with this fine base.
As to those royal vanilla beans, I've been picking up fantastic, fresh, plump beans at Costco. If your Costco stocks them, they're a screaming deal. Alternatively, Penzey's.
1/2 cup short-grain white rice
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/4 cups heavy cream or half and half
2 vanilla beans (or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, or 1-2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg)
1/3 cup sugar, plus more to taste
1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt
Place rice in a large saucepan, cover with cold water, and bring to a boil. Remove immediately from heat, and drain rice in a strainer.
Return rice to the pan, and add milk and cream. If using the vanilla beans, add them now: with a small, sharp paring knife, split vanilla beans lengthwise and scrape seeds with the knife's tip. Add seed paste and scraped pods to the rice and milk. Bring to a boil over medium heat, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 45-50 minutes, stirring now and again with a wooden spoon to discourage sticking. Milk will evaporate and thicken, becoming nearly one with the rice in three-quarter of an hour's time.
Stir in sugar and salt (and vanilla extract and/or nutmeg, if using), and simmer for 10 more minutes. Sample, and adjust sugar and/or salt, to taste. Pour pudding into a small serving bowl, discarding vanilla beans and storing in the refrigerator. Pudding will thicken as it cools.
We enjoy this warm from the pan, at room temperature, and straight from the fridge. It's all good.