The days before the snow came seem like a distant and unreal memory, almost as unreal as the idea that spring will arrive soon. As I'm writing now, delicate little flakes are starting to fall once again, muffling the steps of the few passers by. Yet I still feel the need for the long walks and photo sessions. On the streets, mountains of old snow are piled high at each side, and as you walk taking the smallest steps possible, there is the crunch of the gravel underneath your shoes and the cracking of the layers of ice. Coming back from the Autorenbuchhandlung, my favourite bookshop with yet another book to get me through the long evenings, the only colours to be seen were those of the traffic lights and the headlamps of the cars. These are the days for staying inside, baking and finally visiting all those cafés which have been on your list for so long.
The extra time in the kitchen is not only good for my cooking though but also for reminiscing about the past. Making rice pudding for example, reminds of those awful school dinners I used to dread and also how depressing and uninspiring I found schooldays. Whenever there was the slightest possibility of getting at least one day off, I used to take full advantage. Sometimes, I was actually ill but even then, there was nothing I loved more than to have time at home, watching films or reading books when everyone else was working. Perhaps that's why an afternoon off work gives me that same feeling. But rice pudding also reminds me of my Dad because it's his favourite dessert.
I don't think his parents were much into cooking. My grandfather died before I was born and whenever we visited my grandmother, the fridge and cupboards were empty except for some milk, bread and honey which always makes me nostalgic whenever I have that at teatime. She lived to be 100 despite smoking, drinking brandy and never dieting (though maybe that helped!). Apparently, my Dad's first cooking experience ended in disaster when he tried to prepare tomato soup. He simply took the can (unopened!) and placed it in a saucepan on the stove. When he removed the lid of course, the hot soup exploded and my somewhat unhappy grandparents had to redecorate their kitchen. A similar event occured many years later when my Dad made his annual batch of marmelade (one of his two specialities, the other is stewed apple) and forgot to put the lid on the blender, covering everything with orange peel. When my grandmother came to visit once, my Dad accidentally misprogrammed the microwave so that the hot cross bun he meant to defrost filled the kitchen with thick black smoke. Then there was the time he had to look after me while my mother was at work but unfortunately managed to drop a full litre bottle of lemonade on a hard floor which meant that both of us, as well as the pantry ended up seriously sticky.
Rice pudding is also something I used to have when I returned from a long weekend hiking in the mountains. There was nothing more wonderful than returning from a day out in the fresh air with aching muscles when the light was beginning to fade to have a bowl of potato soup topped with cheese, followed by rice pudding with apple compôte. The warmth and heaviness of the meal used to make me feel sleepy as I stretched out with a film afterwards.
At the Rebellion des Zimtsternes in Kreuzberg
I had wanted to make my own rice pudding for a long time but somehow, the version cooked in a saucepan never worked out; it ended up dry and burnt on the bottom while the rice was still a little hard. The baked version always seemed a lot of hard work but making it today, I realised how amazingly simple it is. Short preparation, no standing over the stove stirring constantly and a minimum risk of burning. Instead just rich and creamy; the way I remember it from home.
Baked rice pudding
Ingredients (serves 4)
450ml full fat milk
25oml heavy cream
100g round milk rice
85g brown sugar
a teaspoon of vanilla essence
some nutmeg to grate
1. Wash the rice and drain it. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
2. Pour the milk and cream into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Add in the vanilla, followed by the rice and the sugar. Stir well.
3. Pour the rice into a greased and shallow baking dish. Grate some nutmeg over the top and to finish add some flecks of butter on top.
4. Bake at 180°C for 15 mins then turn the oven down to 160°C and bake for an hour. When the rice pudding is done, it should be golden on top and thick and cream underneath.
5. Serve with the jam of your choice.