For the newly incarnated soul, love begins being fertile in the kitchen. Shades of anguish will likely manifest themselves there as well but much of the following decades the fleshed soul will spend falling and standing in love, will be tainted and significantly propelled by the hugs, kisses, bowl licking, smiles, tears, and conversations about the hearth.
Rice around the World
Arroz con leche (international)
Arroz Congrí (Cuba)
Arroz con gandules (Puerto Rico)
Dolma — stuffed vine leaves (Greece)
Rice tart/pie (Belgium)
Next to the power of love in the nesting kitchen, is the ever ramificating one that we are bound to find in kitchens of other homes and cultures. Bread and rice are found in all, and are amongst the most culturally encompassing samples of love being given and taken. Nature invented grains, man invented bread. But love is love. It is pure, and purity could be natural, as well as cultural.
With fruits, nature freely adorns trees and foliage all year round, with which humans carefully compose magical delicacies. Combined, nature and culture provide food as essential paths in understanding the manifestation of our existence, inwardly and outwardly.
Grains are natural but once harvested, these will be destroyed under whichever process we choose — boiling, maceration, fermentation. Baking, however, is a creative construction.
A childhood with rice according to the Cuban and Puerto Rican cultures, a life in many European countries, a deep love for the Japanese way of life, and exposure to Ethiopian, and a number of African cuisines — with these influences I stand in my kitchen today. Preparing and eating food has become a total oscillation of palate, mind, and soul, in spheres that find even the heavens to be confining. Together, they bring about the birth of material and immaterial wants, beyond that which I can ever conceive. Under such circumstances, in order to maintain composure in the world I have been fortunate to taste, I keep increasing amounts of spices and oils at hand, and repeatedly aim for changes in taste and texture of what I already know.
In the kitchen I see sincerity, love, and liveliness towards all. If there is an existentially sound verge between flesh and spirit — besides in music, poetry and conversation — here is where I find it.
1 cup short grain white rice
1⁄4 cup sugar
3 cups milk
1⁄8 teaspoon salt
2 inches piece vanilla beans, split open (and/or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
1 cardamom pod
2 star anise
small cinnamon stick or ground for serving
2 tablespoons cream or cream cheese
A pinch of saffron
Thinly sliced fresh ginger (peeled)
1/2 cup alcohol towards the end
Similar in taste and texture to the Arroz con Leche of my childhood, is its German interpretation, basically carrying the same name — Milchreis (milk rice). I do confess: because in that first kitchen, goodness was a given, as a child I paid attention to nothing, except making sure that broccoli, cooked peppers, eggplant, eggs and okra did not come near me. Neither did I pay attention to how things were baked or cooked with secrets and tricks, nor to the ingredients used. This was the source of my troubles, whenever wanting to replicate those experiences. The Milchreis has been the basis for my present desires pertaining comfort with sweet rice, as I have been making it since the early 90s in Germany.
Basic differences are the tendency to start the cooking process with the rice in water. I thoroughly prefer the use of milk only. Adding cream cheese is an additional way to achieve creaminess and a more solid consistency, as opposed to the more fluid version from my childhood. Vivid in my mind is also the addition of lime peel, while in Europe I added a shot of orange liqueur or gin or white rum towards the end.
Variations will never reach an end. Newly I succeeded with the sudden impulse to add thinly sliced fresh ginger. That is better than the heaven I have been told about. The ginger stays crispy, thus creating a wonderful contrast in texture and in taste.
(to be continued)