Panda loves to linger on these walks of ours. To him, everything is interesting. The night watchman was a menacing spectre, to be barked at from a safe distance, the grass he'd bury his nose into was full of riveting smells, and the light bouncing off a tarpaulin was... well I don't quite know what he thought it was, but considering he spent a good two minutes staring at it, frozen still, I can bet it was fascinating.
Through all this, I stood by, my teeth lightly chattering and telling myself, "It's not cold if you don't think it's cold, it's not cold if you don't think it's cold," but positive thinking was getting me nowhere. So, I began thinking of rice pudding.
Then a pack of stray dogs ambushed us, blocking our return route and barking in challenge. These dogs are a regular part of our walks, indeed Panda for one would feel rather lost, if we didn't have these little encounters every once in awhile.
They stood in line behind us, their barks growing a little uncertain. Having cut our retreat off, they didn't quite know what to do next. Panda huffed and puffed at them, but he couldn't blow them all away. It took a decided "Shoo! Shoo" from me to scatter them, and we made our way back. Panda marched through them triumphantly, his tail as high as it would go, as I glared at any dogs that tried to come too close.
When we reached the last but one lamp post before home, by tacit agreement, we broke into a run. Panda loped ahead of me, doubling back every so often and getting us both terribly tangled in his leash.
We finally burst in through front gate and sat on the steps, laughing. I laughed -because I finally wasn't cold anymore, because with my dog, even an evening walk is an adventure, and because I was happy- in short breathless giggles. And Panda laughed with his tongue out, in huge pants, like a tiny, very amused dragon.
We finally went in and Panda soon collapsed on his bed. With him tucked in and the house quiet, I got out my pot and made rice pudding. Specifically, caramel rice pudding, which turned from white to a sticky looking beige upon the addition of caramel syrup. I watched it bubbling on the stovetop, big lazy brown bubbles rising to the surface and then exploding, releasing caramel scented vapour that I sniffed as avidly as Panda sniffed the grass.
As a final touch of decadence, I topped it with a sprinkle of demerara sugar and bruléed the top in the oven. More bubbles, more scents. Then I curled up in bed, with a good book and my pudding, and the cold was a distant memory.
Caramel Rice Pudding
Sugar: 2 tbsp
Rice: 2 tbsp
Water: 2 cups
Milk: 2 cups
Demerara sugar: 1 tbsp
Heat the 2 tbsp of sugar and a splash of water in a pan. Once the sugar has melted, avoid stirring. Watch the pan closely as the sugar begins to brown. It will begin to brown along the edges first. Once this happens, stir gently to allow it to brown evenly. Once it has reached a pale amber colour, pour in half a cup of water. Stir this vigorously, the sugar will tent to clump for a while, under the cold water. Once the lumps of sugar are dissolved again, remove the syrup from heat and pour into a bowl for later use.
In the same pan, now heap in the rice and add the remaining water. Allow it to boil until the rice is almost cooked and the water absorbed. Now add in the milk and cook it down, till the starch from the rice thickens the milk. Once it is sufficiently thick (the ideal thickness varies with taste. I like mine positively clumpy), add the caramel syrup, stir and turn off the heat.
Pour the pudding into heat-proof dishes and sprinkle demerara sugar over the surface. Turn the oven to broiler more at the highest temperature possible and place your dishes as close to the top of the oven as you can manage. My oven went upto 270 degrees C, and it took about 8 minutes for the sugar to broil.