The oddest conversations crop up in newsrooms when editors are debating proper use of the English language.
“T. and I were just discussing how many woes you need to be woeful,” a co-worker said to me yesterday, “and I said I think it varies and someone who is small, like you, might not need as many as someone like me.”
“I feel woeful,” I said. “And I’ve had four woes lately.”
“Really? Did it take all four? Or would just a few have been sufficient?”
I thought a moment. “I think I felt woeful after the first two.”
“Or maybe just one would do it? If it was big enough?”
“Maybe,” I said. And I thought, how do you measure the size of a death?
There have been four. My grandmother and G.’s father died in January. On Monday, our family friend M. died of cancer at age 34. Then Thursday, mom’s boyfriend B.’s dad died.
I didn’t know M. well, but her death hit me hard. I had been following her treatment on CaringBridge, and I got an email saying there was a new post. I clicked on it, and there was her obituary. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. She was young, and she was really fighting the disease. She had just started a new treatment. I hid in the locker room for a bit and cried. Then I talked to a manager, and she let me go home early.
I think M.’s death is harder _ more woeful? _ than the others because she wasn’t ready to die. My grandmother, G.’s dad and B.’s dad lived full lives. They were ready to die. G.’s dad even wanted to. But M. wanted to live. She told my mom about all the things she hadn’t done yet: fallen in love, had a family, traveled.
Her death makes me sad, and I realized this week that when I’m sad, I make rice pudding. The night G.’s dad died, I made a simple rice pudding with pomegranate seeds. This week, I made an Indian version with coconut. It had added appeal as a comfort food because my grandmother liked coconut, and since she died, I’ve been very drawn to old recipes that remind me of her.
Rice pudding was one of the dessert options at the lunch we had after her funeral. I didn’t order it because my mom told me to get my dessert to go, but my cousin M. did. I was sitting next to him, and I kept looking at it, and he said, “Do you want a bite?”
I did, and then my Aunt L. sat down across from us, looked at his dish and said, “Let me try that. I love rice pudding.”
Of course she does. It’s essentially sugar, fat and starch. Can you imagine anything more comforting?
I got turned on to rice pudding last winter while reading Elizabeth Bard‘s Lunch in Paris. She spent a winter making rice pudding while trying to decide what to do with her life. She said stirring the pudding soothed her while she pondered her future. I decided to try it because I thought then that I was having a bad winter. Now, of course, I can’t even remember what was bothering me. It wasn’t four deaths.
Bard must have done a lot of stirring because her version of rice pudding is essentially a sweet risotto. I usually make one that’s based on a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, and it too requires some slow cooking and a lot of stirring.
The Indian rice pudding I made this week does not, and so I am offering it here for those of you who may be filled with woe and short on time. I know what that’s like too.
Basmati Rice with Coconut Milk
From “A to Z Puddings” by Marie Simmons
3 whole cardamom pods
1 whole cinnamon stick (3 inches)
1 whole clove
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup basmati rice
1/4 cup raisins (I used golden)
1 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut
Up to 1/2 cup heavy cream
Combine 1 1/2 cups water, cardamom, cinnamon stick, clove and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir in rice, turn heat to low, cover and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain any excess liquid.
Meanwhile, place raisins in a bowl and pour 1/2 cup boiling water over them. Let sit 15 minutes and then drain.
When rice is cooked, add coconut milk, milk and brown sugar. Stir. Add raisins. Bring mixture to a boil, then turn heat to low, cover and cook until pudding is very thick. This takes about 20 minutes. Stir pudding occasionally as it cooks.
Stir in coconut. Add enough heavy cream to thin pudding to your taste. It will thicken as it cools, so add more heavy cream or milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, to thin as needed. Serve warm or at room temperature, Indian-style with whole spices still in it.
You can drizzle saffron cream over the pudding when serving it. To make that, heat 1/4 teaspoon saffron in a pan until it just begins to darken, about 10 seconds. Add 1 cup heavy cream and 1 tablespoon sugar. Heat until cream boils, then immediately remove from heat. Cover and steep for 15 minutes. Strain to remove saffron. Refrigerate cream until chilled.