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The dessert (or breakfast) that reminds me of childhood—no matter how old or jaded or distracted or far from home I get.
When you are ten years old, your sister refers to her trip back to college as "going home" and your heart endures a hairline fracture. Unimaginable.
But the first time you call the new place home, it slips out of your mouth like a piece of sashimi. You slurp the word up as soon as it comes out and hope that no one notices. You say a prayer that you are not in earshot of your parents.
You feel guilty for your disloyalty. You are a traitor when old names no longer conjure faces. You eat olives and capers and anchovies and raw fish and other unthinkables you used to shove away. You walk around a big city and pretend to know your way even when you are sweaty and lost. You forget what it's like to sleep in your childhood bed. You make fun of your parents and their habits even though you wish you were still small enough to hug their legs.
At least the rice pudding is a time capsule—a recipe that will exist on your mom's 3-by-5 in the acrylic box post-apocalypse. It's less complicated than anything you cook these days—no smoky spices or unusual "dairy" products or bain marie. It's pleasantly eggy and perfectly simple—all light and warmth, a knitted Afghan of a food.
You'll add a black sesame crumble with tahini and some macerated blueberries (that is: blueberries tossed with sugar and left to sit) because you can't un-learn the things you've learned—even when you know this uppity tweak will make your parents roll their eyes.
Still, the taste makes you think of your kitchen table. It tastes good despite the tear-ball that's surging in your throat.
You'll never grow out of homesickness. Because homesickness is not just about missing the place but missing who you were at that place—missing when you were calmed by a mug of warmed Hershey's chocolate milk; when you accepted a parent's hug with no detachment; when the most important thing was making sure your notes from pre-algebra were thorough; when you weren't worrying about pets or grandparents edging toward death or dodging roaches on the street or pulling out a hair for each What-the-heck-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life thought or...
The rice pudding. Eat the rice pudding. Put on the White Album, eat some rice pudding, and have a good cry.
Serves 6 to 8
For the rice pudding:
1/2 cup rice
1 quart milk
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup (scant) light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
For the sesame crumble and the blueberries:
2 cups fresh blueberries
1/4 cup raw sugar
1/2 cup flour
3 tablespoons (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 tablespoon tahini
1 1/2 teaspoons black sesame seeds
Second photo by James Ransom; all others by Bobbi Lin