Thursday, 30 April 2009

Stopping for a moment

at Wisley

Yesterday, Sigmund and I sat by this pond for all of twenty minutes, maybe. Who knows, because neither of us thought to consult a watch. We talked, in a fairly loose way, about vague plans for the future. Moving to Oxford or London. Retiring to somewhere warm -- Madeira, perhaps.

Mostly, we just watched the ducks. What a mind-lulling thing it is to sit on a bench and gaze out on the water and admire the glint of sun on the silky emerald-jet of a duck's sleek head.

Today, we sifted through papers and pensions and met with a financial counselor. Tomorrow, we will work through our wills. Both projects have been on the long-term TO DO list for ages now, years even.

Perhaps we can make time for the future because our life is relatively stable -- for once. Although I shouldn't tempt fate by suggesting such a thing!

Monday, 27 April 2009

If it is raining: Butterscotch Rice Pudding

Throwing open my bedroom window to catch
the fleeting sun, peeking through wisteria
Within minutes, the sky was covered
again -- with black clouds

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
(T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land)

A day of storms -- outwardly and inward.

This morning, the gardener and I huddled under the porch as the rain pelted down. The daisies will live another day, because the lawn mower couldn't eat its way through the long, sodden grass. It's spring to the eyes, but not to the chilled skin.

After a week of sunny days and tempers, my teenage daughter had a miserable bout of Texas homesickness -- and a storm of weeping which could not be appeased. I made homemade chicken soup for my emotional invalid, and sent her early to bed.

Sigmund feels tired and blue, too. But there is butterscotch rice pudding bubbling away in the oven, and we will eat a comforting bowlful with some early raspberries.

Like many good things, this recipe comes from my mother -- who clipped it out of the newspaper and mailed it to me. It can also be found in Judy Walker's book, Cooking Up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found from the Times-Picayune of New Orleans.

File it under comfort food:

Butterscotch Rice Pudding

12 oz water
pinch of salt
5 1/2 oz short-grain or pudding rice
24 oz milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 oz unsalted butter
8 oz heavy or double cream
5 1/2 oz firmly packed dark brown sugar

Grease a 2 quart ovenproof (Corningware or similar) dish.

In a saucepan with a lid, bring the water to a boil, and then add the rice and pinch of salt. Reduce to the heat to low, then cover and cook for 20 minutes (or until all of the water is absorbed). Keep an eye on it, because it may not need the entire 20 minutes. After the rice has cooked, stir in the milk and heat for approximately 5-10 minutes -- just until the milk steams. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.

Preheat the oven to 350F/175 C.

In another saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat -- and then add the cream and brown sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then reduce heat to low and simmer for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Pour this cream mixture into the prepared rice. Stir well and spoon into the prepared dish.

Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until the pudding is thick and has a golden crust. Let cool for 15 minutes before serving. It is best hot -- but also delicious when cold, if you like that sort of dense gloopiness.

a delicious clump of tulips
one of the nicest things about April

(and because rice pudding isn't very photogenic)

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Sweet bluebonnet spring

Texas bluebonnets: as far as the eye can see

No matter where we have lived in the world, my family has always managed to visit Texas during the March/April bluebonnet season. While I realize that it is more happy coincidence than collusion, the British school system just happens to break up for several weeks during the very best bit of the Texas year. Like predictable homing pigeons, albeit with considerably more luggage, we make our way back to the original nest.

Although we land in Houston, I never really feel "home" until we embark on the long drive to my parents' house in central Texas. Outside of the city, I really begin to notice the vast blue bowl of a sky that characterizes my home state.

For Lucy, who enquired about bluebonnets last spring

The bluebonnets are always the most lush around the Brenham/Chappell Hill area -- about 70 miles northwest of Houston. We drove through on a sunny Saturday, and the sloping sides of the road were thronged by amateur photographers. As far as I know it isn't a law, but it is certainly the custom that all Texas children should be be photographed in the bluebonnets, preferably decked out in their new Easter clothes.

In Texas, you are never too far from a herd of cows

It is a 200 mile drive from Houston to my parents' house, and you can drive many of those miles without seeing anything but fields and cows. There are about five towns with population enough for gas stations and fast food restaurants. I know I'm in Texas when I can fill up the gas tank for only 25 dollars. Another tip: If you time your drive-by through Elgin just right, you can hit the Sonic Happy Hour and buy a lime slush for half-price.

If you look closely, you can spy
the state of Texas
branded on this cow's hide

It looks like this cow is eating bluebonnets, but she may be grazing around them. Blue Bell, the best ice cream in Texas, is made in Brenham . . . which is also the approximate location of this cow.

Look homeward, angel

This picture was taken on a day almost unbelievably perfect, yet only two days later a terrible storm brought five inches of rain and a brutal wind which uprooted trees and tore off roofs. Texas can be a bit intense.