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Friday, 22 April 2011

Easter Rice

Today may be Hot Cross Bun day, but on Viernes Santo (Good Friday) in Spain, it’s traditional to eat Arroz con Leche (Rice with Milk). I have never liked rice pudding – really, not at all - but I was introduced to this when I lived in Cadiz and it is a totally different creature. There are many different versions, with different ratios of milk to rice and sugar, some with added egg yolks and some without. All have cinnamon as a star ingredient and can be eaten hot or cold.

The dish is supposed to be of Moorish origin (as are many Spanish recipes) - some versions include raisins and/or rose water, decorated with rose petals (no added egg yolks for this version) - but the version I like best was given to me by a friend from Malaga. It’s made with lemon and cinnamon, and for me is much nicer cold. It’s great for kids (makes a change from yoghourt), but it can also be used as a cool summer dessert, happily made in advance, when you have friends over. It looks good, too.

The following ingredients are approximate, depending on how liquid you like it and how sweet you like it. Slightly less rice to milk will be needed if you thicken with egg yolks:

Arroz con Leche


4 cups of full cream milk

¾ - 1 cup of round grain rice

Approx ¾ cup of white sugar (this depends on your taste – some recipes say as much as 1 ¼ cups)

The peeled rind of a small lemon (some recipes also include some orange peel)

A cinnamon stick.

To decorate: brown sugar mixed with powdered cinnamon (or rose petals, in the raisin and rose water version without egg yolks).


Wash the rice and place in a saucepan together with the milk, the sugar, the lemon (and/or orange) rind and the cinnamon stick.

Cook gently over a low heat, stirring occasionally at first, increasing to constantly as the rice gradually cooks and absorbs the milk.

When it is practically cooked and becoming creamy, remove from the heat and leave to stand.

If preparing the raisin and rose water version, add these now, and remove the citrus peel and cinnamon stick. Pour into a dish/individual ramekins and decorate with rose petals

If preparing the lemon and egg yolk version, place three egg yolks in a cup. Stir well and mix in a little of the rice mixture, then add this to the pan and stir. Return to the heat (very low) and stir continuously until it becomes silky and thickened. Remove the pan from the heat and leave for approximately ten minutes. Take out the lemon rind and cinnamon stick and pour into a dish/ individual ramekins. Decorate with a mixture of brown sugar and cinnamon, sprinkled in a lattice across the surface.

Leave to chill – and eat.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The Alhambra-Pad

“Libraries are the souls of memories” I recently came across this splendid if somewhat obscure quote in a paper called ‘Russian libraries, an indestructible part of national memory: A study guide for librarians’ by Victoria Spain from Hofstra University in New York.

I was reminded of this on Sunday, when I saw the TV Programme When the Moors Ruled in Europe by Bettany Hughes. For a large part of the programme she was in the Alhambra in Granada. I first visited the Alhambra in the late sixties when I was spending a term in Granada as part of my studies. Now visitors are severely rationed - because there have been so many visitors. But then you could wander freely around the rooms, sit in a stone window seat by a lattice window screen and listen to the sound of running water. It was a wonderfully calm, cool haven where we would go to escape from the baking heat of the city.

Apart from reminding me of this, Bettany Hughes also reminded me that the contents of the library were lost in 1499 when Cardinal Cisneros made a huge bonfire of Arabic manuscripts in an effort to obliterate all trace of the infidel. Thankfully he did leave the building standing, but destroyed a library of incalculably valuable documents in the name of the ‘true faith’. There are numerous examples of similar losses in history, some at the arrogant hands of ideologues, others through accident, indifference and negligence.

Of course, we all have personal libraries – which constitute our own personal histories - both physically and in our memories. A few years ago I had to clear my parents’ house. My father in particular had been a regular and enthusiastic book buyer from an early age. Apart from the crowded shelves, there were cupboards full of books, there were cases of books in the loft and even the garage had stacks of book-filled boxes. I couldn’t bring myself to throw them out or donate them to charity without going through them. They represented a life. It was a long job. Neither I nor my siblings could house them all. Some of the books had deteriorated badly, with brittle yellowed paper and spines, and had become unreadable. I made a note to buy replacements of some – after all, a book’s value is its content. Some, however, were irreplaceable because they were long out of print.

We took those we wanted to keep, our respective children filled some gaps in their own book collections, and a large number of boxes went to second hand book shops or charities. What was left was not burnt, but thrown away in sad black bags with the rubbish. And so a personal collection of books disintegrated and the memory of what they were and meant was on its way to being lost.

I am rather cheered by the thought that a lifetime’s reading can now be preserved on a Kindle or an iPad, well, a few Kindles and iPads.

Cardinal Cisneros would be furious.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Tweetering On The Edge

I have often said that I wasn’t up for Twitter and Facebook. I have a website and a blog and am signed up to Goodreads (a bit sporadic and behind with the updating), which all take up time, so how is there time for anything else in between writing and editing? And do I really want to tweet? However, my media savvy daughter told me I was missing the point – and I’m sure she’s right. She recently opened a Twitter account and set up a Facebook author page for me, and presented me with the done deal. I’m really just getting used to the idea – tweetering on the edge, I suppose you could call it. (Click here and here to follow or ‘like’ me)

One of the undoubted attractions of Twitter actually answers one of my misgivings – the time factor. Five minutes to spare can be used to check on tweeting activity, and even tweet. Blogging is different - and serves a different purpose. Another thing is that just as you don’t have to conform to what might be termed ‘blog style’, you are in charge of what you do on twitter. You don’t have to go in for the ‘I’m now waiting at the bus stop’ kind of tweeting – which isn’t really me. And you don’t have to tweet all the time.

With the London Book Fair coming up (11-13 April), I was checking out their website and came across this, which is a discussion of authors and social networking, their different attitudes and the variety of ways they use them. It suggests that, given the increasingly limited resources and overworked publicity staff of publishers, authors have to take responsibility into their own hands for getting their name and work known, and social networks are an accessible and cheap way of doing this. I agree with this.

But I also came across these articles, here and here , which bring home how a site like twitter can be used to keep in touch with news about the authors, organisations and other people you are interested in – all in one place. And that is a definite attraction.

I am still learning – with interest.