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Monday, January 6, 2014

On rice and chagrin

When you grow up with a Chinese mother and an Indian father, you eat a lot of rice. Rice for breakfast (topped with an over-easy egg and a couple of pieces of turkey bacon or scrambled eggs and ketchup) lunch (fried in a skillet with chopped hot dogs and scallions or last night's leftovers), dinner (steaming underneath chicken curry or beef broccoli), and dessert (in all sorts of Chinese rice-flour pastries, or in kheer, a rich Indian rice pudding) wasn't unusual in our house. Rice is more than a food, more than a simple carbohydrate to me and to many other people who grew up in households with a rice cooker at the emotional center of its kitchen: rice is our culinary soul.

To illustrate: 

Last night Adam made these amazing tacos. He took chuck roast and black beans and put them in a cocotte with a little bit of canned San Marzanos, onions, garlic, lots of cumin, lots of ancho powder (from peppers he grew in the garden!), tequila, Worcestershire sauce, chicken stock, apple cider vinegar, bay leaves, and a couple of chopped pickled jalapenos from a jar our friends put up.

Then he made coleslaw based on a Peter Reinhart recipe: cabbage, mayonnaise, sour cream, scallions chopped down to the white part, cilantro, lots of freshly-ground black pepper, apple cider vinegar, a little bit of turbinado sugar, and lime juice. We thought as we ate it that adding a chopped pickled jalapeno would be nice too.

THEN he made fresh, from-scratch tortillas! is how Adam ate his tacos:

He ate them LIKE TACOS.

And here's how I ate mine.

Yeah. I got a bowl of rice and then I put taco components on it. With chopsticks. 

So you can imagine how intense my chagrin on discovering, day after day, that my child just doesn't like rice. Other mothers feed their children rice cereal right off the bat, and the kids love it. I know toddlers that love sushi, rice crackers, rice pudding, mochi--but not mine. No form of rice, thus far, has been interesting to him. When I share congee with him, he picks out the shiitakes and leaves the rice behind.
My own breakfast this morning was leftover Sunday morning congee topped with a tea egg. I offered some to Kamal, but as always, he ate the mushrooms out of it and nothing else. 

Then I remembered how when I was little my mother would let me top my plain congee with milk and sugar, and also how my father would cook what he called "milk-rice": essentially a simplified kheer made by simmering leftover cooked rice in milk, sugar and spices. Milk-rice isn't congee, but they're definitely in the same family.

I figured I'd make something similar for Kamal, but keep it really simple and not too sweet. I added some organic whole milk and a tiny bit of honey to a little leftover cooked jasmine rice, and simmered it all together on the stove for about twenty minutes. 

And then I gave a dish of it to Kamal along with a spoon, and then stepped back and tried not to look too invested. 

At first it was looking very promising.


But then the alchemy began. Lately Kamal's been doing his own elaborate culinary experiments in every cup, jar, and ramekin he comes across. These experiments involve lots of mixing. Also dabbing and patting, and also splashing. They do not involve any eating. 

I soldier on. 

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