Who says people don’t know their neighbors anymore? Most people think that city dwellers, in particular, simply coexist in parallel and faceless existences. But we've got some great neighbors, the kind who'll even share secret recipes.
My husband and I moved to our unfashionable “inner city” San Francisco neighborhood 14 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.
Unlike our friends in tonier neighborhoods, we know almost all of our entire block of neighbors by name, and exchange greetings, holiday cards, and neighborhood gossip.
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.
This brings me to the pudding. Teresa, the honorary grandma, makes a fabulous and decadently rich rice pudding. The pudding shows its Mexican origins in its use of tres leches (three different kinds of milk, as in the cake). 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 the tree of another neighbor, Jack. 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 lucky 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. Try this pudding for a taste of this goodness. —Beautiful, Memorable Food
Test Kitchen Notes
Here's what I really like about this rice pudding. The only sweetener comes from the sweetened condensed milk, so you can actually taste the cream and the rice. Folks, comfort food just doesn't get any better than this. And I love that the lemon zest, with its beautiful brightness, sits on top, so you can see and smell it, as well as taste it. I halved the amounts (which worked beautifully). I'm looking forward to playing with this, substituting orange zest and adding nutmeg or cardamom, or perhaps both. —AntoniaJames
cooked and cooled long-grain rice
1 1/4 cups
2 1/2 cups
half and half
14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
zest of 2-3 Meyer lemons, preferably locally foraged
splash or 2 of vanilla extract
In This Recipe
Combine milks and beaten eggs, then slowly warm together over a low flame.
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.
May be served warm or cold. If it gets too thick when set, stir in additional cold milk to desired consistency. Sprinkle lemon zest just prior to serving. Share with your neighbors.