Thursday, October 11, 2012

a white girl and white rice

Growing up, I didn’t eat much rice. If I did, it was fluffed into pilaf or doused with cream of chicken soup. (Is it shameful to admit that was one of my favorite meals?) White rice was completely off my radar until my older sister went away to overnight camp. When I was preparing to go for my first time, she told a story about how they served white rice one night, and since they strongly encourage children to try everything, even if it’s new to them, she had some. I was terrified by the white rice story. Would they make me eat it too? Would I gag, or worse, vomit? I even had a nightmare the night before I went away (ok, it was probably really about more than just rice, but that’s how it came out). My mom reassured me that I didn’t have to eat it if I didn’t want to. I stuck with bread and potatoes to fill my white-food quota that week.

I didn’t really begin to like white rice until I realized it was never meant to be served solo (was it?) or with variations on the chicken and creamed soup theme. Two of my housemates come from cultures that serve it under rich and spicy curries, in pockets steamed with meats, and with tasty stir fries, so it’s a staple in our household. Their daughter, who is almost 18 months old, repeats the word desperately before each dinner, like it is what she’s been dreaming about since before she was born. And maybe she was. She nods, points and tries to grab when she sees it. Once it’s cooled and on her tray, she takes it by fistfuls and shoves it into her mouth. What doesn’t make it in covers her face, hands and arms, and I wonder if she isn’t more satisfied by the idea of being completely covered in it (if only her skin could absorb it!). I don’t get quite as excited about it as that little girl, but it has its place.

Ironically enough, one of my most enduring and poignant arguments with roommates to date was over  a rice cooker. I found it soon after I moved to LA in a thrift store for $9. It was in decent shape, and it was large enough to hold rice that would feed a crowd. The lid was on a hinge and clicked into a locked position, so that very little steam could escape while it cooked. One roommate and I would keep warmed rice in it for days. (I questioned the sanitation of this habit at first, but then googled it: you can keep it in there for up to 72 hours, my friends.) A few years (and different roommates) later, after a trip away, I pulled the rice cooker from the cabinet to make some rice and found that it wasn’t working. When I mentioned it to my roommates, they said it had broken while I was away and they didn’t know what to do, so they prayed for it and put it away. One even admitted that she didn’t care about my rice cooker. At that time I was horrified — my precious, lid-hinging-and-locking rice cooker! How could anyone not care about it (or at lease care that I cared)? By chance, a woman at our church offered us hers for free, since she never used it. The thing had a removable glass lid that nervously jumped when the steam got going, and the first time we made rice it burned (how do you burn rice in a rice cooker?). It just wasn’t the same. 

We worked through it, but it took some time (again, the situation revealed much more than disappointment about or disinterest in a rice cooker). We still all know what we mean when we say, “remember the rice cooker?”

I’m not sure why I’m telling you all this except that I had some rice with pumpkin curry for lunch today and as I shoveled every last grain into my mouth, I thought, I love rice.

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