Monday, November 2, 2015

#Microblog Monday: Food for the Dead (Arborio Rice Pudding)

Our road was thick with cars this weekend, even after the hordes of Halloween revelers departed, leaving streets littered with candy wrappers.  On Sunday, I wondered momentarily about the traffic as we walked up the block to the farmer's market before I realized: of course. All Souls Day.

We joke about the Catholic church on our street, the weekly parade of speeding SUVs in a rush to be saved, and in a rush to get to brunch afterward (no offense to my Catholic readers intended: I believe that this behavior is a particular feature of the people who go to this church).  But truth be told, even though I left the church years ago, I sort of like the proximity of this one; walking past on Sundays, I think about my father, who would never miss a service, and the weekly ritual of mass, and the children's choir, and after-church trips to the park to see the zoo and ride the miniature railroad.

I remember All Souls Day as one of those hard-to-breathe holidays, not because it affected me emotionally, but because the air in the church was heavy with incense.  My father loved incense-laced holidays.  Though I liked the drama of the incense-swinging, to me, holding my pre-adolescent breath and hoping that the smoke would clear quickly, it seemed like an oppressive way to celebrate anything, or to remember the dead.

Years later, I learned that the Day of the Dead had been previously celebrated in Mexico during the summer, and was changed by the Spanish conquerors of Mexico to November in an effort to convert the indigenous people to their beliefs and get them to celebrate All Saints Day and All Souls Day. The contrast between the incense-filled Catholic church and the colorful outdoor parades and altars of Mexican culture couldn't be more striking.  During my years in LA, I loved the Day of the Dead celebrations, with their parades and music and stories and food.  Now, as a veteran of loss, I'm glad to see Day of the Dead celebrations becoming more common, given what I think is our cultural ineptitude at talking about death.  We need a better language for public grief, one that doesn't wave away the holes left behind by loved ones, but brings us together over them, and lets us speak their names.

As my children and I walked to the market yesterday, noting the creative parking jobs of the larger-than-usual-crowd, I told stories about my father, joked about how he'd disapprove of my not going to church, remembered him as a talented artist, told my son that he would have been proud to have a grandson that just might be interested in architecture.  And though I didn't build an altar, I imagine that his departed spirit would have appreciated this adaptation of arroz con leche, similar perhaps in flavor to atole left for the dead in Mexican celebrations, to fuel them for the journey ahead.

Arborio Rice Pudding

1/2 cup Arborio rice
4 cups milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split
3/4 teaspoon almond extract

In a large saucepan, place all the ingredients, except the almond extract.

Bring it to a gentle boil and then turn it down to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally to keep it from sticking to the bottom, for about 30 to 40 minutes. Taste the rice to check for doneness. The rice should be very soft and plump.

Take the pudding off the heat and stir in the extract. Pour into dessert bowls and stir in some dried or fresh fruit. Serve immediately.

Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is?Read the inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.
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  1. I remember All Souls Day/All Saints Day celebrations similarly. A church filled with incense and a silent prayer to not pass out from it. It wasn't until I met Grey that I learned about rice pudding and now you have me craving it.

    I think your dad would more than approve of the tribute. That combined with the stories that were shared with your kids, it's truly a beautiful one.

  2. Thank you for this! I was trying to put together how these two very different but related holidays (I too left the Catholic church but am very much drawn to the Day of the Dead) came to be celebrated at the same time. Now it makes sense.

    But I have to add that I honestly think that this is a very appropriate time to celebrate the dead, in tune with the natural cycle of dying in preparation for winter. This is one of the reasons that Memorial Day doesn't feel right to me - springtime seems a more appropriate time to celebrate birth.

  3. Rice pudding is one of Josh's favourite things. I've bookmarked this.

    I wonder if anyone has done a study of how many kids grow up and keep the same religion as their parents vs. choose a different one.

  4. Sorry, but rice pudding was one of the only things that would make me gag as a kid! I'm sure yours is lovely though.

    The other memories and thoughts on All Souls Day and the Day of the Dead were - for me - a lovely peek into a completely different life.

  5. The bank I worked for had extensive holdings in Mexico & Latin America, and even in Toronto, increasing numbers of employees spoke Spanish and came from Latin American countries. One of the guys in our graphic design department came from Mexico & would bring in goodies every year on the Day of the Dead. I'd never heard about rice pudding, though! -- my grandmother loved it. :)


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