My siblings and I call my mother The Action Verb. It’s taken years to admit it out loud, but the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I’m not the kind of person who’s naturally methodical, or patient, or calm. I can’t really be described as anything in any way related to any of these adjectives. I’m a buzzer.
It’s the worst before noon. I can wake up on a Sunday morning and read a newspaper for one hour, but only if it’s a very, very good newspaper, with nice, dry corners and a juicy front-page photo of blood and guts and gore and tragedy or someone I really hate, and only if there’s very, very good coffee involved. And at sixty-one minutes you’ll find me rooting around in the refrigerator, or on the horn to a friend, or running out the door in search of something or other. And none of this happens if I wake up after 8 o’clock, which is a rare event in itself. I will never be reincarnated as a bottle of wine, or an aged cheese, or an elephant or a cow. Too still. I’ll be a hummingbird, for sure, or some strange Amazonian bug that goes through sixteen metamorphoses between each sunrise.
I’ve always been a little jealous of people like my friend John. Patient John. I’d never describe him as lazy or slow – quite the opposite, in fact – but his name always conjures up the time I watched him wait for an English muffin to toast. He just stood there, butter-loaded knife balanced in hand. Waiting. Still. Willing that muffin to pop up, and knowing it would. I can no longer make toast without thinking about this talent: Toast Zen. Others have it, certainly; it’s not just him.
I do not have it.
Here’s how toast happens in my house: I set my coffee on the counter, open the refrigerator, and grab the bread (Dave’s, if we’re talking pre-sliced). If I can make it to the toaster, four feet away, without getting distracted by something shiny or aromatic, I slide two pieces in, one for each of us. I get out the butter and jam, or whatever, and head to the bathroom to brush my teeth. When I sit down at my computer, my husband warns me we have five minutes until the allotted dog-walking time, at which point I launch into an article edit, or a long-delayed email to a friend (or to my mother, in which I will inevitably curse her for doing more than one thing at a time), or I start planning something that takes significantly longer than five minutes to plan. My toothbrush is dangling out of the corner of my mouth, toothpaste is possibly dripping down my chin, narrowly missing my keyboard (or not). The toaster pops up, and I jump. What the hell was that noise? The dog wanders out of the bedroom to see what’s going on. “Toast!” says Jim, and I obediently stop typing (or not, depending on the day). I finish brushing my teeth, and find my now-cold coffee on the kitchen counter. When I’m halfway through muttering about how I should really tape that cup to my hands in the morning, so I don’t forget about it like I always do, something in the mail pile catches my eye. My husband’s putting his shoes on already. “Wait,” I say, still opening mail, “I need something to eat.” I slather cold toast with something delicious, like our friends’’s strawberry jam Oh how did you make that so good?, hand a piece to Jim, and walk out, without my cold coffee.
I bet John always eats his English muffins hot, with coffee that’s still steaming. Or – I wonder – maybe he just practiced a lot of lazy afternoon toasting, to get the morning toasting thing down pat.
On Monday, when we got back from a quick trip to Napa to celebrate my mother-in-law’s 60th birthday, I put some toast in for a 4 o’clock snack, and honest to goodness, I really did just sit there. I don’t know how it happened, but it did. Elbows on the counter, chin in my hands, I huddled, like the rain outside was coming down inside, too, and any extraneous movement would cause a big river to run off the roof, into the kitchen, and down the back of my shirt. In the daylight, I could see all the little white seeds suspended in the jam. When the toaster popped up, I knew exactly what the sound was. I spread it with butter, and waited patiently – Hear that, Mom? – for it to melt. I jammed, and ate, just sitting there. Turns out the jam tastes even better in twelve bites than it does in five.
The thing is, for me, patience is highly correlated with actual laziness. Sloth. And sweatpants, for sure. No way could I have waited for that toast if I hadn’t been in my pajamas. And in such a state, I certainly had no interest in cooking dinner. We had rice and beans.
The next morning I was back to the usual Jess.
Of course, none of this has anything to do with rice pudding. Except that since Jamie Oliver’s recipe in Food & Wine got the idea into my head, I’ve been putting it off. You know rice pudding: It doesn’t take that much patience, but you sometimes have to stand there for a few minutes, waiting for the milk to simmer. Sure, you could leave if you wanted to, but don’t say I didn’t warn you about how it bubbles up and over onto the cooktop. I am the proud queen of the up and over. I wanted a whole grain variation of rice pudding but I didn’t feel like cleaning, that’s all. But oh, jeez, that strawberry jam got the rice pudding gears turning too fast to ignore.
Today, because I knew my husband wouldn’t be in the mood to come home and scrub the milk off the Amana a second time after my first, invariably insufficient attempt, I actually waited for the milk to boil. It really didn’t take long at all, and once I turned the heat down, I was free to meander the way I normally do. I wonder whether that one afternoon toasting experience helped me a bit. A practice session, of sorts. Training to be a passive verb.
Mom, I think you should start training. Next time we’re together, at Thanksgiving, I challenge you to a toast contest. Last person to leave the toaster wins.
Whole grains don’t usually make their way into rice pudding, but here, quinoa gives a brown basmati rice pudding the quietest hint of crunch. Add some walnuts and blueberries, and by golly, you’ve got health food.
If you’re not into cinnamon, toast the coconut by itself and top the pudding with a scoop of strawberry jam.
TIME: 1 hour 15 minutes, start to finish
MAKES: 6 servings
1 cup brown basmati rice
5 cups lowfat milk
1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup sugar
1 3” piece vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1 teaspoon cinnamon, plus more for serving
1/2 cup quinoa
1/4 cup coconut cream, from the top of the can
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Combine the rice, milk, and 1/3 cup sugar in a large saucepan. Using a small, sharp knife, scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean, and add them (with the bean itself) to the pan. Bring the mixture to a simmer, reduce heat to low, and cook for 30 minutes, covered, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, stir the coconut and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Spread into a thin layer on a baking sheet, and toast on the middle rack of the oven for about 5 minutes (watch carefully!), stirring once, or until evenly medium brown. Remove and set aside.
Add the quinoa to the rice mixture, and cook another 20 to 30 minutes on low heat, until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Remove the vanilla bean pieces. Stir in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and the coconut cream, and cook 5 minutes.
Serve the pudding hot, garnished with the cinnamon toasted coconut and additional cinnamon, if desired.