This is one of my favorite book titles ever for the journey it evokes, the emergence in intimates. It makes me think of how powerful remembering is and how memory is a form of resistance, healing and comfort.

In Petina Gappah’s recent novel Out of Darkness, Shinning Light, Halima is the cook in David Livingstone’s entourage. David Livingstone is the Scottish explorer who traveled all over East Africa in search of the sources of the Nile. When the story begins, he is dead, and Halima along with a band of loyal servants are undertaking a long journey to take his body back home to be buried.

In the course of the journey, Halima remembers her mother’s life in Zanzibar as a kitchen slave. She recounts vivid details of the sumptuous feasts the mother whips up for the Liwali and his family. She reels off mouth watering lists of spices: cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, and saffron. She talks about crunchy pomegranates, sweet meat, lemonade, cake and fruits. When I read these passages, I thought of the lure and gift of spice and scent and how they testify to the unrelenting power of memory. I also thought of rice pudding.

I make rice pudding once a year, randomly, not according to any calendar, not drawn to many memories besides those of deliciousness but always finding comfort, solace, healing and nourishment.

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And that too is the gift of a great book.

Ingredients

4 cups of milk

1 cinnamon stick

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

6 whole cloves

6 whole green cardamom pods, crushed

1 – 2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest

1/2 teaspoon edible rose petals

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2 cups already cooked plain rice

Sugar or sweetener, to taste

1/2 cup flaked almonds

Directions

  • Put the milk in a large pot. Add the cinnamon stick, coriander seeds, whole cloves, cardamom pods, half the rose petals and some grated orange zest. Simmer gently, stirring till combined and warm
  • Add the cooked rice. Bring to the boil then lower heat to a simmer and stir so it doesn’t burn at the bottom. Let it thicken and turn creamy, about 15 – 20 minutes – the rice should be soft
  • Add the sugar or sweetener, stir, taste and adjust accordingly. Add half the almonds, stir through and allow cook another 5 minutes
  • Take it off the heat and let stand for 10 – 15 minutes. Stir again and serve
  • Top with the flaked almonds, sprinkle the remaining rose petals and orange zest

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