I was airing the house yesterday morning when the doors, front and back, began to shake. It happened so quickly I never saw the movement, but my ears immediately caught the rattling, a noise unlike any our house usually makes. I assumed Miss Lola, our psychotic cat, had gotten into something and I issued an invective directed her way, but, otherwise unconcerned, went about my work. I was about to close the doors when I saw a few of our neighbors gathering in the driveway. One was still in his bathrobe, so, I knew something was up and I ducked out to find out what was going on. Californians all, they were waiting for an aftershock from the 4.2 earthquake that I had heard but not seen. They couldn't understand my nonchalance and were sure I'd have been more concerned had I experienced earthquakes before. Little did they know.
In 2008, the Silver Fox and I were on a train belonging to one of China's older more provincial railroads. Our final destination was Chengdu, but our immediate goal was Xi'an and a prolonged visit with its famed Bingmayong (terracotta warriors). It was a rough ride, and we were on a train that lacked the amenities and comfort of China's more modern rail system. The train bumped and swayed as its wheels clicked, mantra fashion, over the tracks. It was bumpy ride, or so we thought, until the train hit what seemed to be a particularly rough patch of track and began to shake violently. I do mean violently. The engineer hit the brakes and brought the train to an abrupt and screeching stop. When the porters and conductors disappeared, our tour guide pulled out her satellite phone and tried to find out what was going on. She was able to determine there had a devastating earthquake in Sichuan Provence, and, as best she could gather, we were about 300 miles from its epicenter. We were in no immediate danger, but the train ahead of us had derailed and aftershocks signaled the beginning of one of what seemed to be the world's longest wait. Hours after the initial shock, about 300 hundred soldiers swarmed the rail bed and began an inspection and repair of the tracks that allowed us to inch toward Xi'an. Once in the city, we found ourselves packed into crowds that were afraid to enter buildings, and instead of an air conditioned coach ride to our hotel, we waked the distance dragging our luggage behind us. Once the hotel was deemed to be safe, we were allowed to enter our rooms, though our room assignments had been changed from the top floor to rooms just above street level. After quick showers and a mandatory evacuation drill, we went out for a steamy, and I do mean steamy, hot pot, that even dragons would approach with caution. It was a perfect meal to end a long, long day and we were secure in the knowledge that if the earthquake didn't kill us, the hot pot surely would. We never made it to Chengdu, but we got to see the outpouring of charity from ordinary Chinese citizens who, by the way, are no where near as inscrutable as you've been led to believe. We were also able to witness the first open communication of a tragedy by a government that usually hid such things. Chengdu has become my excuse for another trip to China. Of all the placed we have visited, it is one of the few to which I would return. I love the country, its people and what it taught me about earthquakes and coming together when it's needed.
Now, if you have a sense of humor, the perfect dessert in the aftermath of an earthquake is something that shimmies and shakes. My first thought was lime jello, but I know you all too well for that. You, unequivocally, deserve, something more sophisticated, and I thought Tembleque, a Puerto Rican pudding would be the perfect recipe to share with you today.
Tembleque is a famous Puerto Rican dessert that usually ends meals prepared for special occasions and celebrations. It is a rich and creamy pudding that is easily made and enjoyed by all who love sweet endings and the flavor of coconut. If you count yourself among that legion, I think this pudding, whose name actually means "wiggly", will appeal to you. I used the recipe on the Goya website as my bible, but deviated from it a bit because I thought the pudding needed more flavor than the coconut milk provided. My change was a no brainer. I simply added coconut extract to the pudding at the end of cooking. Coconut rum could also be used, and had I any in the house, I probably would have gone that route instead. Lovers of really sweet desserts will like this pudding. It is easy to make, kind on the budget and brimming with the fresh flavor of coconut. If your tastes run to barely sweet European desserts, run do not walk to the nearest exit, but if you have an insatiable sweet tooth, do give this recipe a try.
Tembleque - Coconut Pudding...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite inspired by Goya Foods
2 cans (13.5 oz. each) coconut milk
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup corn starch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
1) Combine coconut milk, sugar, cornstarch and salt in a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve cornstarch. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil and thickens, about 5 minutes . Stir in coconut extract, if using.
2) Pour into six 6-oz. molds, or one 3-cup mold. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until cold and firm, at least 3 hours, or up to 48 hours.
3) To unmold, run thin knife around edge. Invert mold (or molds) onto serving plate. Top with toasted coconut ans sprinkle with with cinnamon, if desired. Yield: 6 servings.
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