Saturday, December 12, 2020

Anna Sultana’s Rice Pudding and Bread and Custard Pudding / St. Lucia Customs / The Geminid Meteor Shower

Tomorrow is Saint Lucia Day.
It’s a very popular holiday in Sweden and, even if you’re not Swedish, a perfect time to do a bit of celebrating.
Of course it has its own traditions, as mentioned in the story below.
Yes, they require a bit of work… buns in the middle of the night, candles, poetry.
Rice pudding is an easier traditional Scandinavian winter dessert.
If you want to make some instead of the Lucia Buns I’m sure St. Lucy wouldn’t mind.

This has been a stressful holiday season, calling for comfort food, like puddings.
If rice isn’t your favourite then Bread and Custard could make you feel warm and cozy.
It’s also a great way to use up a stale loaf of bread.

Back to Santa Lucia… here are some traditional recipes:

Cardamom / Sugar & Spice Christmas Blend

Swedish Cardamom Wreath for Saint Lucia Day

Anna Sultana's Santa Lucia Cookies

Anna Sultana's Cinnamon Buns

Anna Sultana’s Almond Cookies

The Geminid Meteor Shower peaks tomorrow night and will continue until dawn.
The actual new moon is on Monday night, so the sky is very dark.
It will be perfect for enjoying 50 to 100 shooting stars per hour.
Make a pot of Apple Cider Hot Toddy and enjoy the heavenly show!


If you don’t like raisins in your rice pudding you can leave them out.

If you would like a thicker pudding make the following changes:
Increase the rice to 1 cup
Decrease sugar to 1/4 cup
Reduce milk to 3 cups

Be sure to use a baking dish that’s deep and large enough for the recipe you’ve chosen.

About the bread pudding…
If your bread is too stale to cut easily, wrap it in a damp kitchen towel, set it on a pan and heat it in a 350º F oven for 5 to 7 minutes.
Worried about cholesterol? Use 4 eggs instead of 5 egg yolks and 1 whole egg.

                       Rice Pudding

Heat oven to 350º F
Butter well a deep baking dish.
Set the buttered baking dish in a large pan that will comfortably hold it.
Place in the buttered baking dish
1 Quart milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Stir well to blend, then stir in
1/4 Cup rice, uncooked
1/2 Cup sugar
1/2 Cup raisins
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Fill the large pan with boiling water to the half-way point.
Bake uncovered for 2-3 hours, stirring every 30 minutes for the first 2 hours.
Bake until the rice is soft.
Serve the pudding hot or cold.

                       Bread and Custard Pudding

Heat oven to 350º F 
Butter well a 2 to 2 1/2 quart casserole                     
Cut baguette-size French or Italian bread into 1 inch slices.
You’ll need about 8 pieces.
Place the slices in a bowl.

Place in a small pot and heat to the boil
1 Cup milk
Pour the milk over the bread.
Set aside.
After 5 minutes drain the excess milk and reserve.

Place in saucepan
3 Cups milk
Heat but do not allow to boil.

Place in a large mixing bowl
5 egg yolks
1 whole egg
Whisk until lemony yellow.
1/4 Cup sugar
Continue beating until the mixture falls in smooth ribbons from the whisk.
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Gradually beat in the heated and reserved milk.

Set the buttered casserole in a large pan that will comfortably hold it.
Pour the mixture into the casserole.
Do not fill casserole more than 3/4 full.
Float bread on top of the custard and sprinkle on top
2 Tablespoons sugar
Fill pan with boiling water to the half-way point.
Bake for 40 to 50 minutes.
Before serving dust top lightly with confectioners sugar.

Along with being a co-host for the CKUW radio show ‘2000 & Counting’ from 1999 to 2007, I wrote stories and essays, which I then read live on air. 
Back in 2000 I wrote this for our show. 
No, I don’t do any of these seasonal feast celebrations anymore.
At my age I have to conserve my energy for Christmas!

My parents and I immigrated to New York in 1950. A few years later, when I was in school, I asked why we didn't have anything pretty to eat for Christmas. My Ma told me that in Malta, Christmas was a religious celebration. The focus was on God becoming man, not on cookies.

Maltese desserts are simple - fresh fruit and cheese with an occasional cookie. One Maltese cookie, the biskuttini tar rahal, could be described as hardened library paste with a hint of lemon and a dash of royal icing. A variation on the biskuttini cuts the sugar by half and replaces the royal icing with a sprinkling of sesame seeds.  
Both cookies are wonderful teething rings.  

Another favourite is the anise biscotti. The big thrill with a biscotti is seeing how much milk it can suck up before breaking in half and falling into your glass. 
It's like eating the sinking Titanic.  
For the holidays, we borrow from the Sicilians and make kannoli tar-rikotta (ricotta in a fried pastry tube) or a qassata (vanilla custard shmeared over a sponge cake).  
How lame is that?  

I knew my German classmates ended their meals with more oomph. Our parish, St. Fidelis, was a cookie heaven. The most amazing homemade cookies were brought to every church and school function by my friends' Moms. They were rich and gorgeous - the cookies, I mean. They were loaded with spices, fruits, nuts and jams, and were covered with thick layers of frosting and all sorts of sprinkles.  

When my Ma saw the competition she admitted defeat and took over the job of bringing coffee. I was free to eat whatever caught my eye. While I gushed, my friends' Moms all beamed. My friends thought I was nuttier than the cookies.  

My husband is a third generation American - half Swedish and half German. Okay, I was marrying into the Cookie Big Leagues. I thought, along with the change of name, I'd return from my honeymoon a changed woman able to make cookies with a capital ‘C’. To paraphrase the biblical story of Ruth, I believed, "What thou eatest, I will eat... thy cookies shall be my cookies..."

Well, you get the picture.  Thanks to the movie ‘The Sound of Music’, I just knew we'd celebrate Christmas a la von Trapp: sitting beneath a huge, glowing tree,
singing Edelweiss and munching beautiful cookies, my favorite things. Ethnic things.
The ethnic bit nearly ended my marriage.

There's an old German saying: ‘That which really tastes oft us trouble makes’.
Now, there's truth in advertising. Clear as a bell, they were warning me to not even go there. If I'd had half a brain I'd have just thrown in the mixing bowl and placed a huge order at the local German bakery for a deluxe assorted cookie platter, with some stollen on the side.

Nope, I didn't take the hint. I studied every German and Swedish cookbook I could find. The biggest surprise was that there were other days that had to be celebrated. Okay, I thought, practice makes perfect. Maybe it's like opening a Broadway show in Boston. I learned about their holiday customs.  

The first Advent biggie was December 6. St. Nicholas' Day. That called for small presents in Paul's shoes and some hot chocolate and buns for breakfast. No problem. The morning went without a hitch.  
Huzzah!! One day I'd bake cookies that looked like jewels!  

I spent more nights baking instead of sleeping. My next goal was an authentic Swedish Saint Lucia Day for our first December 13.
Maybe the lack of sleep was affecting my mind.  

According to one big fat book, a good Swedish wife got up at four a.m. to start tossing her cookies. God forbid any sunlight should shine on the dough or disaster would befall the household. Every hefty housefrau hoped a crescent moon was hovering on the horizon to bring good luck to the baking.  

No kidding. Without that sliver of light she could get killed, stumbling around in the dark like that. I really thought that if I followed the customs, my baking would get better. I got up at four a.m. and baked. Okay, I cheated. I used electric lights.  

Then I ran into a slight problem. According to tradition, saffron buns and coffee were served between three and four a.m. by the eldest daughter, who was dressed as the Lucia Queen. We didn't have children and I couldn't borrow a neighbour's kid for that ungodly hour. I had to make some changes in the sacred customs. I, as an eldest daughter, became the first Maltese Lucia Queen. Ever.

I stitched up a long white robe and tied shining red balls to our Advent wreath. I memorized the traditional poem. Then, when I saw how much saffron cost, I made another teeny change. I made cinnamon buns. What harm could it do?

The days flew. Finally, it was December 13, 3:45 a.m. Show Time!
I was clad in white, balancing an advent wreath with bouncing red balls and gleaming white candles upon my head. I was a glowing, flaming cherries jubilee, clutching a tray laden with coffee and cinnamon buns and walking ever so slowly to our bed.  

Hovering over Paul, I chanted: "Night goes with silent steps..."
Hmmph... No answer. He was snoring. No Swedish genes were making him wake up to behold his Lucia Queen.  
Well, after all that work, this Lucia Queen required an audience.
Creating my own liturgy, I ad libbed. "Wake up, Paul."
Still no answer.
I set the tray down, gave him a push and repeated: "Night goes with silent steps... Damn it, wake up."
He snorted, turned and faced me. It took him a while to focus.
Okay, finally, I, the Lucia Queen, was getting the respect I deserved.  

I went back to chanting, my voice building to an impressive boom.
"Night goes with silent steps round house and cottage.
O'er earth that sun forgot, Dark shadows linger.      
Then on our threshold stands white clad in candlelight,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia."

He looked. He blinked. He screamed.
He said something that no one should ever say to a Lucia Queen.

I blamed the cinnamon. Maybe the Swedish mojo just doesn't work with cinnamon.
Look, if my Ma can blame religion, I can blame spices.

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