Started cooking on Thursday morning—rereading the recipe with an eye to getting the ingredients we haven’t got.
Initially intimidated and confused by all the options at the end, had to read a few times before I understood they were options.
They seem like a list of instructions it would be ruinous to follow.
My son is helping so we get the listed spices out of the cupboard, find the vanilla essence (which I’m surprised we have) and the cinnamon and the nutmeg, and smell each in turn. He gets into this so brings me other bottles one by one which we uncap and smell and line up on the table. I keep reading the recipe thinking how relaxing it will be at which point he uncaps the garlic granules and shakes the bottle across the kitchen floor.
I decide to do the pudding option, to keep it plain and warm and gloopy, that’s the version he’s most likely to eat, and I can always bake the leftovers after. We’ll do it for this afternoon’s tea at 4. We spend the rest of our cooking time washing and drying. I miss the slot to make it in time for tea.
Next day, quarter past five. Rice is steaming in the sieve. Milk set to boil.
Not sure about rice measurement. I measure by eye, checking the weight of the packet and working out what fraction I need to leave in there. I don’t think the recipe allows for enough rice… I put in what I imagine is double. I measure the milk with a measuring jug (twice 400ml).
Put on the oven light to look at the elephant skin of skin coming up.
Soon followed by a very satisfying froth-bubble that reminds me of making milk for coffees in hot silver jugs.
I think I nutmegged the boiling rice rather than the milk.
The milk boils up a few times more than I’d like and starts to stick at the bottom of the pan I’ve got in on the strongest hob at its lowest point.
I take it off ten minutes before the recipe says.
Get my son to help (standing on a chair) as I put in the vanilla (two globules of paste) and the sugar, not much, stirring, it smells good and isn’t too hot to taste from the spoon.
I begin to think I made the wrong choice about my rice measurement as there isn’t much ‘milk to stir’.
C and I prepared the eggs before, this is the yolk and this is the white.
We make an omelette with the whites eaten with shaksuka before pudding.
Mix in the yolk with some of the mixture—worried about curdling/cooking but it’s fine.
Mix in bit by bit, goes a lovely yellow.
Find bowls and spoons.
It’s really good. It’s a cliché but it does remind me of the pudding my mother made—which always had a skin we all tried to avoid. It’s calming. I realise eating it how ragged we’ve all been feeling. I have seconds.
C sits up with us and wants to feed himself, looking at his reflection in the back of the spoon as he does. Reiz kuggle.
Whenever we make something good at the moment we talk about making it for other people. As though before lockdown we were always holding dinner parties. We anticipate some kind of careful communal future where we will have the time to prepare splendid meals and spend time with our friends. I have these thoughts about C too, imagining cooking for him and his friends in the future. Imagining imaginary children liking my cooking! This seems so terribly egotistical and needy I am ashamed. But I remember being afraid of the cooking in other peoples homes, and I know my friends balked at things my mother gave us, stake and kidney pie, tuna à la king. I remember being shocked and dismayed when my mother told me she didn’t like cooking. Now I can barely believe she managed to keep us all alive, five children happily fed, healthy enough, desperate for sweets and biscuits, uncomprehending of how other families managed to keep stores of chocolate without it all getting eaten in a single sitting. I see something of her pleasure and pride in a dish like tuna à la king (tuna in a white sauce, baked and then grilled with a cheese top, served with white rice and peas) in a dish like this kuggle. It is good to have something you know everyone will eat.
The pan I burnt the rice and milk to is still soaking.
Made on a Sunday, back door open, while watching Nadiya’s Summer Feasts on iPlayer on my laptop. (She cooks in a show home that’s much bigger and brighter than her real home, where she filmed her documentary Nadiya: Anxiety and Me.)
Had to pick up eggs and vanilla essence in my Rubik’s Cube-patterned facemask. (Got the fancy Taste the Difference Madagascan Vanilla Extract stuff).
Used the new sauté pan I got in a lockdown Ikea order. (I mainly made the order to get the two plush toy food sets I didn’t already have. I find them really relaxing to squeeze and hold, and I thought now would be a good time to have more of them. These sets included hot dog buns and little pink sausages, an aubergine, a slice of water melon, a spring onion, a bunch of purple grapes, a block of cheese with a slice attached by Velcro that you can peel off… )
Used soya milk as we don’t drink cow’s. (We’re pescatarian, currently still eat eggs and cheese, never liked milk in tea).
Soya milk’s already sweetened, so I only used half the required sugar. (It’s like when I’m translating a piece of German literature and I have to do some rebalancing—if the translated text is already turning out pretty sweet in the process, you might downplay the natural sweetness elsewhere to avoid over sweetness. We might also alter a recipe, like a translation, due to ethics and tastes, consciously or unconsciously. Cooking a written recipe is always translation, it needs interpreting).
Added (double) the vanilla extract. (Mixture smelled floury from the soya milk. Later, I’ll put even more in).
Weather kept going from overcast, to sunny and hot, then cold and raining. (Cold milk, boiling milk, cooling rice pudding).
Smashed one of the eggs by not concentrating and hitting it too hard against the bowl. (I clean up where it ran down the drawers and blobbed on the dirty floor).
Used the leftover egg whites to make a parmesan omelette and eat it while the mixture cooled down. (I sat down to eat it while watching Nadiya visit chef Claudia Roden and her daughter, who make posh ice lollies in West London. Wanted to make really sure the mixture wasn’t hot before adding the yolks. Curdling at that point would have been really annoying).
Mixture went a nice creamy colour. Mixture took ages to thicken to a runny custard consistency. (I was bored of stirring, but glad I was patient).
Filled two ramakins with the rice pudding and topped them with a sprinkle of cinnamon. (The velvety brown spice made the puddings look like soft, plush crème brûlées).
Keep thinking of the tin of Ambrosia Rice Pudding in the cupboard that we bought on our last big shop. Maybe we can do a taste test later when we eat the puddings for pudding. (We still have tinned sweet stuff when we go to my parents’ house: custard, peaches in syrup, fruit cocktail in syrup. Saw my parents for the first time since November last week. My dad had ordered soya milk and vegan cheese for our visit. He tried really hard to make a vegan cheese sauce for the ratatouille, boiled potatoes and boiled fish he’d carefully made us, but was disappointed that it took ages to thicken and then tasted floury).
Put the remaining rice pudding in a little coffee cup our friend Milo made and mixed in strawberry jam and ‘did a Nigella’ by going to eat it out in our little back garden. (Always looking back in case the cat was licking the pan in the kitchen).
Tasted very nice, though I ate it too quickly to appreciate it because it was windy and the sun was in my eyes.
Probably wasn’t as creamy as it would have been with cow’s milk.
(Should I allow the Ambrosia Rice Pudding to have an unfair advantage, after all that work?)
Monday 1st June, 8pm
Listening to: Federico Campagna talking on ‘Prophetic Culture’
The mediterranean basin offers a plethora of examples of what happens when the world ends. I doubt how much rice I made, and whether it can really soak up all this milk. Greater catastrophes are always in store. I think it needs a little more milk to become custardy. I will allow it cool and see if it sets.
Time has appeared and come to an end. Many many futures have come to an end before. Ate cold; a vague recollection of collapsed cold Mac and cheese. Cake like consistency.
Monday 8th June, 10pm
Been for a walk to watch the sunset. Accidentally bought expensive wine. One of the world’s more enjoyable accidents. Smoked hash and cooked stoned, simultaneously with pasta and tomatoes. Added a star anise into the milk. Can’t wait for that custardy deliciousness. Cooked on a low heat, more milky, ate hot, fantastic.
Nina Mingya Powles
Coconut & Honey Mango
The day I cooked rice pudding was the second day of my period and the first day of a heatwave.
this simple and appealing comfort food
I saved the last mango from Sunday’s trip to the shops to make a version of the Southeast Asian dessert, mango sticky rice, the only form of rice pudding I can really imagine myself making. Mango season is almost over, and I don’t know when I’ll next be brave enough to go to the shops.
it is very good, plain as it is
The time of day that feels most suitable for rice pudding is breakfast. I picture a sweet, milky congee. I’m a bit lactose intolerant, so I replace half the milk in the recipe with coconut milk.
until the rice is tender
I rarely cook rice the Western way (risotto, etc) and rice pudding as a concept feels very British. But, a quick search reveals that there are variations from all over, especially the Middle East and South Asia. I remind myself not to make assumptions about food.
Do not let it boil or the yolks will curdle
I crack a cinnamon stick and drop it into the pot, which smells sweetly of coconut, and begin to stir. I feel certain my yolk will scramble as I stir it in, just as Claudia Roden warns may happen, but it doesn’t: it turns the rice a beautiful pale gold. I like recipes that prepare you for the worst.
simmer on very low heat, stirring occasionally
Falling into a rhythm of slow stirring, I become more aware of my body in the space of the kitchen, my bare feet on the tiles, my left palm resting on the cold counter.
Serve hot or cold.
I hold my honey mango in one hand, slicing lengthways following the curve of the seed, the way P. taught me last summer, which now feels like another world. I have my rice pudding outside in the morning sun, the flavour much deeper than expected.
I don’t think I’ve eaten rice pudding since I was a child, and I’ve never made it. Cooking the pudding, measuring the ingredients, stirring, making sure the yolks don’t curdle and the heat is right is, if I’m being honest, stressful. It’s new and, being a simple recipe, I feel precision is called for even more than usual. I never bake, or really bother with cooking sweet things, so this is new territory—I don’t want to fuck it up. A little bit burns in the bottom of the pan and I start to dislike the recipe, accuse it of being too vague, undetailed. But then, when the final stage is complete— it’s perfect. I feel like I’ve achieved a tiny something in these odd and often frustrating days. Unable to get my favourite Polish fruit compote to have with it, I use Tiptons black cherry jam, and it works perfectly. Sweet, but with a kernel of sharpness. My boyfriend and I eat it in companionable, comforted silence.
Edwina Attlee is the author of two pamphlets of poetry, the cream (Clinic, 2016) and Roasting Baby (if a leaf falls, 2016). She teaches history of architecture for a living.
Jen Calleja is the author of the short story collection I’m Afraid That’s All We’ve Got Time For (Prototype, 2020) and the Man Booker International Prize-shortlisted translator of Marion Poschmann’s The Pine Islands (Serpent’s Tail, 2019). Her pamphlet essay Goblins is forthcoming from Rough Trade Books.
Huw Lemmey is a novelist, artist and critic living in Barcelona. He is the author of three novels:Unknown Language (Ignota Books, 2020), Red Tory: My Corbyn Chemsex Hell (Montez Press, 2019), and Chubz: The Demonization of my Working Arse (Montez Press, 2016). He writes the weekly essay series utopian drivel and is the co-host of the podcast Bad Gays.
Nina Mingya Powles is a writer and zinemaker from New Zealand. Her first full-length poetry collection, Magnolia 木蘭, was published by Nine Arches Press in 2020.
Rebecca Tamás is the editor, with Sarah Shin, of ‘Spells: Occult Poetry for the 21st Century’, published by Ignota Books. Her first full length collection of poetry, ‘WITCH’, came out from Penned in the Margins in 2019. Her new book, ‘Strangers: Essays on the Human and Nonhuman,’ comes out in October with Makina Books. She teaches creative writing at York St John.
TENANCY is a MAP project in twelve parts, presenting new work considering what it means to occupy somewhere–or something–temporarily. The project is curated by Helen Charman, MAP Commissioning Editor.