Closing out this week’s series on Mother’s Day, here is a recipe by one of the mother figures in my life, my neighbor Teresa. This was also a previous Salon Kitchen Challenge entry. In case you missed my previous posts from this series, please read the next paragraph.
Over on Salon.com, food writer Francis Lam, formerly of Gourmet, hosts a weekly food writing and recipe challenge, the Salon Kitchen Challenge. Francis announces a theme as broad as “a meal for someone you love” or as narrow as “egg salad,” and entrants are asked to write a story and a recipe fitting within the theme. The prize is the honor of being selected by such a talented food writer, as well as publication in the Food section of Salon. I’ll be posting my upcoming weekly entries here, and reposting some of my older ones, including this one from January, on the theme of “puddings.”
Who says people don’t know their neighbors anymore? Most people think that city dwellers, in particular, simply coexist in parallel and faceless existences.
My husband and I moved to our unfashionable “inner city” San Francisco neighborhood 12 years ago, primarily because it is firmly outside of the city’s fog belt. We also fell in love at first sight with the house, which we first rented from the owner. She had painted it in outrageously vivid colors after a lovestruck trip to Mexico, and it radiated warmth. But few of our peers would follow us in making a home here, for various reasons. It is far enough on the outer fringes of the city that people questioned if we were still in the 415 area code, like in that Seinfeld “212” episode. It is also adjacent to one of the city’s supposed ghettoes. But we loved the house’s aesthetics and feeling, and were too young and debt-ridden to heed the adage of location, location, location. By the time we could have afforded to move, it was our home, not a house, and we had already decorated it beyond the point where we could consider abandoning it.
Unlike our friends in tonier neighborhoods, we actually know almost all of our entire block of neighbors by name, and exchange greetings, holiday cards, and neighborhood gossip. We know more neighbors than I did growing up in a small semi-rural town. It’s such an urban village of its own, I can almost see why people would question if this was still in “the city.”
The neighbors on one side of our house are pretty much family now. They’re an elderly couple who basically function as our kids’ third set of grandparents. They took care of them as babies, and are our emergency contacts if one of them needs to be picked up early from school. They share their wisdom and dole out advice. I have called over many times to borrow the proverbial cup of sugar that I overlooked and needed in a hurry to finish what I was baking.
We don’t know the neighbor next to them, Jack, quite as well. He’s a young retiree who lives in his childhood home and spends a lot of time playing golf. But he is kind, and we give him a friendly wave on the rare occasions that our schedules match. He also has a bountiful and ravishingly fragrant Meyer lemon tree:
This brings me to the pudding. Teresa, the honorary grandma, makes a fabulous and decadently rich rice pudding. She usually tops it with lots of bittersweet cocoa powder, but a more recent variation uses the zest of Meyer lemons. This is the best rice pudding there is. Its custardy richness is cut just enough by the fragrant scent of the Meyer lemons, which come from Jack’s tree. When Teresa started her family here 50 years ago, her best pal and next-door neighbor was Jack’s mother, who passed away long ago. Jack is way beyond needing a neighbor to care for anything but his mother’s garden, and so Teresa, with her green thumb, tends it. Before we got to know our neighbors, my husband used to risk falling over the fence and breaking his bones to forage for the forbidden fruit. Now that we know our neighbors, we acquire our Meyer lemons more honestly, simply by asking.
We are so blessed to be living in this urban village, where we know our neighbors, advice and recipes are dispensed freely, Meyer lemons scent the air, and the rice pudding is rich and creamy.
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“It Takes A Village” Meyer Lemon-Scented Rice Pudding
6 cups cooked and cooled long grain rice (separate grains so it’s not clumpy)
Tres leches: 1-1/4 c. whole milk, 2-1/2 c. half and half or cream, 14 0z. sweetened condensed milk
6 eggs, beaten
Zest of a 2-3 lemons, preferably Meyer lemon, preferably locally foraged
Vanilla, a splash or two
Optional: raisins, cinnamon
1. Combine milks and beaten eggs, then slowly warm together over a low flame.
2. Add in cooked rice and stir, but not too much, at barely a gentle simmer. Add vanilla to taste. When thick “enough” (still saucy), take off heat.
3. Sprinkle on lemon zest.
4. May be served warm or cold. If it gets too thick when set, stir in cold milk to desired consistency.
5. Share with your neighbors.
© Linda Shiue, 2010