So we got the dreaded middle-of-the-night phone call. But let me hurry to say that I’ve given more thanks in the last two weeks than I do in most 10-day stretches.
My dear dad slipped away in his sleep after 10 years of sitting nearly immobile, following a stroke. The stroke took away Dad’s ability to move, but not his mind, his memory, his way with words, or his spirit.
This time the phone call came just after Merle and I had gotten home after two weeks away, and only hours after I had visited Dad to tell him about our trip. We had a wonderful conversation, and he left us that night.
When I called our daughters with the news, they were very sad and teary. But then they did the right thing. They headed out together for big dishes of ice cream—in Grandpa’s honor!
Among Dad’s jobs as sales manager of a local dairy (whose ice cream and drinks are sold nationally) was helping to choose the dairy’s ice cream flavors. Kate and Rebecca grew up with innumerable trial boxes of ice cream in their grandparents’ freezer. So what better way to celebrate Grandpa than a big dish in his memory.
Plus this man put food and good times together as long as I can remember.
After he retired more fully (he could never quite leave the dairy behind), he and Ma cooked great family meals together. Dad—a really quite modest man—developed a new practice. He’d appear in the dining room with a platter of food piled high, walk once around the table for each of us to see it, and then hand it off so we could serve ourselves. He loved the beauty of food almost as much as the flavor. And he often talked to me about how much he enjoyed planning meals, figuring out what foods complemented each other.
When my parents sat down—at their request—with my brother and me and our spouses six years ago to plan their memorial services, Dad was clear about one thing. He wanted a very good dinner to wrap up the memorial events. He seemed to be imagining himself as the host!
We had the dinner Dad would have wanted last Saturday noon, with a lot of family and friends, after we said our formal good-byes to him. We were a pretty sedate bunch, at least to look at, although some of us seemed to have firecrackers under our tongues. We told some good stories, and Dad’s spirit was certainly present.
Funny how food can bring someone very close. I’ve been eating homemade rice pudding this week—a gift from Rebecca. She remembered how much her grandpa loved it and knew first-hand, too, how food and Grandpa went together.
Here are two quick-to-prepare Rice Pudding recipes, each made in a slow cooker. The first one calls for cooked rice; the second for uncooked. So choose whichever fits your schedule and what you’ve got stored in your fridge or pantry.
Slow-Cooker Rice Pudding
Fix-It and Forget-It 5-ingredient Favorites, page 244
Makes 6 servings
Prep. Time: 5-20 minutes depending upon whether or not you need to cook the rice
Cooking Time: 2-4 hours
Ideal Slow Cooker Size: 2-qt.
2½ cups cooked rice
12-oz. can evaporated milk
½ cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
½ cup raisins, optional
1. Spray interior of slow cooker.
2. Mix all ingredients together in slow cooker.
3. Cover and cook on High 2 hours, or on Low 4 hours.
4. Stir after first hour. If rice seems to be nearly done, check again after another 30 minutes, and adjust cooking time accordingly.
5. Serve warm or cold.
Vanilla Bean Rice Pudding
Fix-It and Forget-It Big Cookbook, page 608
Makes 12 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 2½-4 hours
Ideal Slow-Cooker Size: 4-quart
6 cups fat-free milk
1½ cups converted rice, uncooked
1 cup sugar
1 cup raisins
1 Tbsp. butter, melted
½ tsp. salt
1 vanilla bean, split
1 large egg
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
8-oz. carton fat-free sour cream
1. Combine milk, rice, sugar, raisins, butter, and salt in slow cooker. Stir well.
2. Scrape seeds from vanilla bean. Add seeds and bean to milk-rice mixture.
3. Cover with lid and cook on High 2½-4 hours, or just until rice is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed.
4. Place egg in small bowl. Stir well with a whisk and gradually add ½ cup hot rice mixture to egg.
5. Return egg mixture to slow cooker, stirring constantly with whisk. Cook 1 minute while stirring. Remove inner vessel from slow cooker.
6. Let stand 5 minutes. Mix in cinnamon and sour cream. Discard vanilla bean.
7. Serve warm, not hot, or refrigerate until fully chilled.
Tip: If you wish, top individual servings with light, or fat-free vanilla-flavored, whipped topping, or with whipped cream.