In the early 1950s my mom was a child living in Toronto. During this time, her parents (my grandparents) were looking to make a few extra dollars to help pay the monthly mortgage on their house. To achieve this they welcomed tenants into their home, setting up a basement apartment. The first tenants were folk musicians, often having their musician friends who had come to the city to play various clubs come stay with them. On one weekend no different or special than any other, the musical tenants had a new friend come stay at the house. This particular weekend that friend was Johnny Cash.
That weekend, Johnny Cash visited with his tenant pals, my mom, uncle, and grandparents. Cash, being a great showman, thought the family would like to hear some of his music. So, he played for them. My grandpa said he didn’t “care for” the music, saying “he wasn’t very good,” that it wasn’t for him [insert hyperbolic grandparent scowl here].
After this, Johnny Cash quickly rose to stardom. Nevertheless, my grandpa still didn’t “care for” his music, retelling the story of the time Johnny Cash stayed and played at his house. The time Johnny Cash stayed and played at his house and “…wasn’t very good,” that is. My grandpa was an unwavering Frank Sinatra fan. All Frank, all the time. When I learned how to drive, I would take him out in his perfectly kept, gold Honda Accord, and couldn’t help but notice the ‘Siriously Sinatra’ Sirius satellite radio channel was programmed on 90% of the dashboard buttons. Wherever we went, Ol’ Blue Eyes was right there with us. When I was seventeen…
Much like those unassuming little life moments that later turn into classic stories you hear again and again (and again, if being told by grandparents), there are the recipes that become classics that you return to again and again (and again, if it’s rice pudding). Classics are tried and true. They make us feel comfortable and allow us to reminisce about the simpler times of yore.
However, not everyone agrees on classics. Some find them too Plain Jane, boring, outdated––maybe even overplayed. Rice pudding, a classic recipe, fits this definition. It’s not loved by all, and has been seen as “The World’s Most Boring Dessert Choice” for the last century or so. It doesn’t make quite the splashy entrance that say, a cake pop makes, I suppose. I think what I’m trying to say is that rice pudding is not the Justin Bieber the of the dessert world. But, rice pudding is loved by me (and I don’t listen to Justin Bieber).
Rice pudding is one of the first desserts I learned to make on my own and I still whip up a batch a few times a month in the winter. Sometimes I’ll go just totally insane and add––you guessed it––raisins. To keep things out of the texturally mushy category, I add slivered almonds, a trick I picked up from my Danish great-grandmother’s (now talking about my dad’s side of the family) recipe. This pudding here is similar to Danish risengrød, otherwise known as rice porridge (a decidedly less slinky name). And, while it is simple and doesn’t stray too far from its traditional rice pudding roots, I couldn’t help but be a wee bit trendy and use vanilla bean paste and some seasonal citrus to garnish.
I think Johnny Cash may have even liked my rice pudding. You see, it’s a lot like him: Archetypal yet distinctive. My rice pudding blurs the line between traditional and modern desserts, and Johnny Cash walks the line between country and rock. To wrap things up in an analogous SAT-type statement, I will leave you with this: Rice pudding is to dessert as Johnny Cash is to music: A classic––but not for everyone.
- 4 cups unsweetened plain almond milk, divided
- ¾ cup arborio rice
- 1 cinnamon stick
- ¾ cup slivered blanched almonds
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- Fresh fruit, for garnish (I used blood oranges; berries would also be nice––you want something tangy and acidic)
- In a large, high-sided saucepan or large pot, stirring constantly, bring 3 cups almond milk, rice, and cinnamon stick to a boil, reduce to medium, and cook uncovered, stirring often, for 10 minutes. Reduce to low/medium-low and cook for 10 minutes longer, stirring often.
- Remove cinnamon stick. Stir in remaining 1 cup almond milk, almonds, maple syrup, vanilla, and salt. Cook uncovered over medium-low, stirring often, for 10 minutes longer until thickened. Serve warm or chilled, garnishing with fruit.