Friday, March 18, 2011

comfort food for funeral services & spanish class

this is a warning up front...
this post has no pictures.
i kind of forgot to take advantage of the photo ops available,
mostly 'cause i did not think about taking any.

my cousin passed away this week.
i did not know him particularly well.
i saw him more than i saw my own nuclear family over the past few decades.
that was more by choice than chance.
my family requires a whole slew of therapists to touch the surface of the prickliness.
for the purposes of this posting,
i shall refrain from telling the tales of any of their antics.
it is hard enough for me to stay on topic as you must already know.

so i was able to see so many of my cousins in attendance at the memorial service.
it really was very very nice.
as these things go.
there was no religious service.
instead, there was music.
live honest to goodness beautiful music.
music provided by his friends and fellow musicians.
most of these folks were "amateurs".
Many of these people participated musically in their lives in the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra.
nope, they were damn good musicians,
not fly by night hacks .
only one woman committed to being a professional.
other professions covered by these musicians and guests were
and other widely flung interests
(at a very accomplished level).
Phil was a lawyer.
and his best friend was his law partner, as well.
this fellow spoke so deeply from the heart that i felt as if i had been privileged enough to
feel his pain in eloquence and palpability.
the relationship that was described with such tenderness,
was not the one i had with my pain in the ass cousin.
i learned a lot about his many other relationships tonight.

about two months ago, phil had a quadruple bypass.
people including his bff, argued with him about his love of eating happily to sate his
joy of foodstuffs.
knowing he had dodged a bullet so recently, he argued for his love of flavor
over other sensible foods... you know, vegetables.
regardless of his advisors,
my cousin eventually chose his lifestyle.
it was "quality over quantity".
he had pretty much made his peace with his love of heavy cream, butter, chocolate, honey, and other
gorgeous, silky, full figured rubinesque flavors.
i guess a memorial is about how you get to acceptance as a part of grieving.
mostly, this remains still as disbelief on my part.
time will sort this out better than rational thinking right now.
i will have to try to be a little patient.


as a topic discussed in our truck on our way to this event,
my youngest daughter was trying to make a deal with the devil.
that was me.
i seem to be the devil these days.
she is a stupendous kid.
goal driven
she has had all good grades to easily land her in a special group within her school.
unfortunately, she is a very white girl.
she is not gifted with any distinct ethnicity within her school of enormous diversity.
she is in a constant state of struggle to achieve some tiny toehold of favor
with her spanish teacher.
this woman does not under any circumstances like my kid.
(she penalized her for not coloring in a white wing on an angel at christmas time on an exam.
some "exam" requirement!
tess' thoughts on the subject were that the paper was white,
so she did not color the wings as she had no white pencil to do it with. )

i have never interfered with this teacher or spoken to her in any manner.
tess will have to deal with people her entire life that are unpleasant.
i just seems so flawed that it has happened for the past 3 yrs. with the same woman.
she does all of her assignments and tries to do some extras.
i hate to tell my kid that this is just one of those circumstances that she is meeting with a brick wall.

at this school, there is an important award at graduation.
as the end of her middle school years is in sight,
tess is driven towards achieving this school's acknowledgement
of her commitment to their program.
kids with all a's for the past 3 years are celebrated.
they do deserve this recognition.
it is not easy to perform at this level all along.
fer pete's sake, no one is truly balanced in middle school. that is why it is in a totally different place than elementary and upper schools.

this teacher gave tess a B+ this last quarter.
it was the first one of her middle school years.
NOTHiNG i say consoles tess about this.
absolutely NOTHING.
i cannot help really.

in the post funereal situation... having driven to and from a Bostonian suburb ... time chewed up...
and not made profitable. ...
i made some comfort food.
and in spite of my guilt about embracing cream and sugar in their most basic combination with rice...
tess now has absolutely delicious,
restaurant ready-to-serve
(this ain't no supermarket Cozy Shack brand.)
Arroz con tres Leches
to serve at her spanish class food fair tomorrow.

i know phil would have freaking swooned over it.
lots of delicate flavoring,
great mouth feel,
silky texture
demonstrably grade "A"quality.
the girl worked my last nerve... as she knew she had to.
she deserves this little boost to get the attention of that horrible teacher.
if nothing else, her classmates will thank her.

i hope she is happy.
everyone needs a cross-cultural comfort food.

since you have hung in for this long, you shall be rewarded with its recipe.
i often double it, triple it, or even quadruple it.
it used to be served at the Down City Diner in Providence RI:

Arroz con Tres Leches

1.c. Arborio Rice
1 stick cinnamon
3 strips of lemon peel. no pith please
1 split vanilla pod
1 can evaporated milk ( i substitute 1 1/3c. of heavy cream, half and half or milk your choice. the heavy cream version makes this sublime however. it is your choice should you like to make one that is different than the evap. milk version. )
1 can condensed sweetened milk
1/2 c. raisins( i like to put these in a bowl and pour hot water over them while i prepare the rest of the recipe. this allows you to wash that weird gritty stuff out of the raisins and not grind your teeth on some odd thing later in the eating component of this recipe. if you let them plump up in this way, when it is time to add to the pudding part, it is good to rinse the raisins again... clean raisins are more delicious in my opinion.let drain on paper towel please.)
1-2 T. sugar to taste
ground cinnamon for pretty dusted finish

1.} In a bowl, wash the rice in cool water. pour through a sieve and re-rinse until you get almost clear water running through it. perfectly clear water takes a while, and in the long run is not absolutely needed. this is a sweetened risotto for lack of a better description.
2.} put the rice after draining it, into a large saucepan ( i doubled my recipe and it came up almost to the rim of a 4 qt. pan when finished cooking. use a larger pan if you are doing more than one recipe full. )
to the rice, add 2 1/2 cups of cool water. also add your vanilla bean which you can split and scrape the vanilla seeds from. thirdly, add in the lemon peel.
3.} Put this on high heat until it boils. At that time, place a lid on the pot with a small space cracked open. just enough to let some of the steam escape. simmer this GENTLY until almost all of the water has been absorbed. this may take about 20 minutes. keep an eye on it so that it doesn't dry. It ought to be pretty wet still.
4.} Add the cream(or evaporated milk or whatever milky product you choose...) to the rice, stirring to combine. Simmer gently, uncovered until most of the liquid is absorbed. Stir occasionally. (one of the things valued in this recipe is to have whole rice grains, not parts of them... it makes for a better texture).
5.} The final addition phase is when you pour the sweetened condensed milk into the saucepan. This is only truly successful if you have not eaten all of this with a spoon while waiting for all waters to be absorbed. If you have chosen to add the raisins, now is the proper time to do so. hopefully, you have rinsed and drained them on a paper towel while waiting for this all important moment. Again, you should stir only occasionally while it has almost absorbed the liquid.
At this point, it remains a VERY moist pot full of temptation.
6.} Please fish out the lemon strips and vanilla pod. Their infusion of flavor has occurred.
I tend to like a sweeter flavor and add some of the "optional" sugar to taste.
This is the best part. you get to taste and adjust the flavor.
sometimes i add some vanilla extract (off heat) or more cinnamon to the pudding. i like a full figured flavor.
7.} This ought to be really wet still. Since it is also very hot, you need to control yourself and let it sit to cool off.(regularly, i have been the victim of impatience and burned my mouth for my lack of control).
i like to stir it often enough, to prevent a skin from forming. although this is a legitimate goal, goal i like tasting it and getting a head start on enjoying it.
when it is cooler, it will thicken admirably. then you can go at it without fear of burning your tongue, mouth roof or throat. (yep, i have burned all three!)
It is good to refrigerate if you are tired and are unable to leave it alone to cool completely.

this came originally from the cookbook called "MIAMI SPICE".
i think it was one of Steve Raichlen's books. it has been in my recipe box for so long, and made so many times, that my memory may be faulty on this detail. forgive me please. i intend not to steal but to praise this fine recipe to the max.

eat in good health,
or when you need some comfort,
or you want to show the effort to get a good grade,
or share to impress anyone who loves rich & simple comfort food.
it is a valuable weapon in my foodie arsenal.
i swear by it.
As one of my favorite food writers, Laurie Colwin used to say...
stand back and admire your accomplishment.

(you too phil!)


  1. You have inspired me to cook.....and knowing me the is a huge accomplishment! Loved reading this and thanks for sharing!! Miss you sooooo much! xoxox Kim

  2. YUM! I may have to make this soon.

  3. I am sorry for the loss of your cousin. You gave him a lovely farewell. I had a French teacher in high school that hated me- Mrs. Brown. She was old and tired of teaching, I'm sure. She held her face in a rather pinched expression when she strolled the aisles gazing upon us doing our work. If possible, she became even more dour when she reached my chair. Having taken French since the fourth grade and being use to getting A's, I pretty well knew what I was doing. Not once did I receive an A from her. Her pickiness knew no bounds when it came to my work. I was grateful to bid her adieu at the end of the year. I hope that your Arroz con Tres Leches melts the heart of your daughter's teacher. If not, let the sugar and cream do as it will. ;)