Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Riz au Lait and Winter

The weather outside is frightful, as the song goes.  It's down right frigid with the wind chill reaching below zero.  Icy patches glitter in the sun but refuse to melt.  The leftover snow has frozen into a white, crisp sheet.  This morning was supposed to mark the end of winter break for the sprites, but schools are closed for the next few days as we wait for the earth to warm up a bit.  I, on the other hand, had to return to reality.  University campuses rarely close for changes in the weather.  So I bundled up to leave our lovely little holiday cocoon.  My cheeks felt the sting of the wind instantly. Within a few minutes of scraping ice off of the car my fingers were hurting through my gloves.  But the cold air felt amazing in my lungs.  I took deep breaths.  Personally, I love the cold.  I feel most alive when its freezing outside.  I would trade a snowy winter day for a steamy day in the summer every time.  

I got to campus safely, despite the ice.  Walking to class was a challenge.  I only slipped once, and recovered gracefully.  Well, as gracefully as one can when falling on ice.  I started the day full of optimism.  I had the cold to push me on and the knowledge that this is my last spring semester of school.  I'm so close, I can see it.  All I have to do is survive until August and I'll finally graduate.  And it only took me ten years longer than my peers.   Not that I'm that easily distracted.  It's just that I managed to squeeze in a lot of life between starting and finishing.   The one thing standing in my way at the moment:  French.  My fourth and final semester of french.  Three semesters and still, je ne sais pas le francais bien.   It's the class I'm fearing the most right now so, of course, it's the class I began my semester with.  

We began class by interviewing a classmate and then presenting them to everyone else.  After we got through the trivial things like names, majors, and hometowns, my partner told me in halting french that she had spent her break in France.  OK, I'm jealous.  Very jealous.  She stayed with family friends and while there she fell in love with something the hostess made.  Riz au lait.  With my minimal french, I mentally translated that to rice in milk and thought, really?  With all of the other french desserts I know of, you fell in love with rice in milk.  Then she started to describe it and I thought, she means rice pudding.  When I got home, I decided to look it up.  It is, in fact, rice pudding.  Now, I've had rice pudding and it's not particularly life changing.  Maybe there's something else to the way the French make it?  Based on the recipes I looked at, it seems riz au lait is a little sweeter and thicker, more like a custard, than what I've always known as rice pudding.  But then again, looking at a bunch of different recipes, I began to consider that maybe I've just had bad rice pudding.  

Luckily, I made way too much rice for last night's dinner.  So I decided to experiment.  I didn't like any one recipe that I found so I combined a few elements from various recipes for riz au lait specifically.   And what I got was something wonderful.  It was creamy and sweet.  The rice melted into a lovely custard.   We all agreed that it was a wonderful, warm desert for a winter's night.  I will definitely be making this again.  Especially if the weather stays wonderfully cold.  I know everyone else is eager for the return of warmth, but the cold doesn't bother me, so I say let it snow.    

Riz au Lait

2 cups of cooked white rice
1 1/2 cups of almond milk
1/4 -1/3 cups sugar
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
pinch of salt
1 tsp of vanilla extract (or 1 vanilla bean split open, if you have it)
cinnamon for sprinkling 

Combine rice, almond milk, sugar, butter, salt, and vanilla on the stove top.  Cook on low heat, stirring often to prevent sticking, for 30-35 minutes, or until thick and creamy.  The rice should be soft, almost melting, not al dente, and the pudding should be neither runny nor dry.  Spoon into bowls and sprinkle with cinnamon.  Best eaten warm, but it does make a lovely cold late night snack. Optional:  a handful of raisins could be added while cooking.  Unless your children, like mine, happen to think raisins should never be mixed into anything but rather eaten alone.  

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