It is a quiet Saturday here in this old house. A good day for creative projects including baking and cooking. I freeze egg whites when the recipe calls for only egg yolks. Once I get 12 large ones saved (about 1 1/2 cups), I make an angel food cake from scratch using the high altitude recipe in an older Joy of Cooking. I substitute the Bella Gluten-Free multi-purpose baking mix for the regular flour since I am gluten-free.
When the recipe calls for just egg whites, I make pudding with the leftover egg yolks. Today, I was stirring the milk base and thinking, this is a meditative practice. If you have never made pudding from scratch, let me assure you it is well worth the time, which isn’t that much longer than making it from a box. The trick is to bring the milk, salt, corn starch and sugar SLOWLY to a boil, stirring constantly. You boil and stir one minute and turn off the heat. Then, you add half the hot milk mixture to the egg yolks (so you don’t end up with scrambled eggs in your pudding), return it to the pan, bring it back to a boil for one minute. Stirring constantly. Then you add in the last ingredients, cool and eat. (see the recipe below)
The meditative practice comes in the patience it takes to stand and stir while not rushing the milk mixture to a boil. Boiling milk is not the same thing as boiling water for tea! Milk cooked on too high a temperature and/or without constant stirring burns on the bottom. (Ask me how I know this.) I usually make pudding because I am making a recipe with the egg whites and hate to throw out the egg yolks. Most of my pudding making times are a spontaneous response to leftover egg yolks.
Over the years, I have learned to turn the milk mixture on a very low temperature and stir as frequently as I can while continuing to put the egg white recipe together. That is usually something that will go in the oven, giving me plenty of time to stir pudding with patience, if I time it out right and don’t have the milk mixture up too high. Today, I was making a gluten-free French almond pastry recipe with the egg whites. I especially did not want my pudding to burn because today I decided to make vanilla rather than my usual chocolate. (The dark chocolate pudding can hide a tiny bit of burn better than vanilla can.) I decided that blueberries over vanilla pudding would be lovely on this cold, snowy, in-like-a-lion first day of March.
While finishing the French pastry, I began the milk mixture on a very low heat. By the time I got the pastry in the oven, I had time to stand there and stir. I turned up the heat a bit and stood there, forced to stop by the milk mixture that needed my attention. I happened to have on a CD of American nuns beautifully singing Lenten chants and hymns that a friend had loaned us. It was a perfect way to focus on the music and to let the milk do its thing without being forced to heat too quickly, risking burning on the bottom. A meditation practice, indeed.
How much of my life is a multi-tasking dance, trying to force things to happen quickly, with only my divided attention given to each task? What do I miss by not focusing on the activity in front of me and giving it full attention? It made me realize that often having too many balls in the air really doesn’t save me time in the long run. All I do is feel rushed and frantic and like I somehow missed the full experience. Today, I stopped. As the snow fell and the music floated through the kitchen, the smell of the vanilla pudding developed slowly and smoothly. No hint of burn from rushing.
1972 Betty Crocker Cookbook Vanilla Pudding Recipe
1/3 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
2 Tablespoons butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla (use the good stuff!)
Mix sugar, cornstarch and salt in a 2-quart saucepan. Gradually stir in milk. (This is important unless you want to deal with lumps! Add a bit of milk, stir, add a bit more and when all the lumps are gone, pour in the rest. Another time for the spiritual discipline of patience!)
Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir 1 minute. Stir at least half of the hot mixture gradually into egg yolks; stir into hot mixture in saucepan. Boil and stir 1 minute; remove from heat. Stir in butter and vanilla. Pour into dessert dishes or one large bowl; refrigerate until chilled 4 servings.
Chocolate Pudding variation: Increase sugar to 1/2 cup and stir 1/3 cup cocoa into sugar mixture. Omit butter. [Note: I use a mixture of Dutch and black cocoa powders with about a teaspoon or so of espresso powder thrown in to make the 1/3 cup cocoa called for.)