Remember that Muppets song with the line “Keep Christmas with you, all through the year?” Well, that is exactly what we aspire to here in our household. Far from home, relatives, snowflakes, and last-minute shopping, December 25th – for better or for worse – is sapped of the giddy bustle, familial drama, and no-holds barred commercialism that typifies the holiday in the States. Thankfully, through, Mark and I can experience other calendar days filled with the heady anticipation of a receiving a gift you know you will love and welcoming friends who you haven’t seen for a week, or a month or even several years.
Christmas at our house in Zimbabwe? This holiday happens all through the year when a friend returns from a trip outside the country, or when far-flung visitors make the long journey to see us. And oh do we savor the gifts we receive, from the little luxuries (thanks for cheese and chocolate, A&M!) to the mundane necessities (you don’t know how happy I am to have a roll of paper towels on hand, D&A!). Last year, a friend of a friend lugged Marcus Samuelsson’s Soul of a New Cuisine halfway across the globe for me – I am still celebrating. And, last week, our friend Chris arrived. Chris oh-so-kindly asked Mark and I if he could bring us anything from the States. Usually we are quite modest about making requests – we don’t like to make our friends feel like pack mules, after all. Nevertheless, we barely paused before making a list of about 15 things it would be great if Chris could bring…if he had room, of course.
Chris, minus our gifts, would have arrived for a month in
Since you absolutely need dessert on Christmas, I decided that the first foray into my new cookbooks would be mhalbi, a milk-based, flower-scented custard from
Slightly adapted from The Vegetarian Table: North Africa
1/3 cup / 40 grams cornstarch (a.k.a. cornflour)
3 cups / 750 milliliters milk
¼ cup / 40 grams sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons / 30 milliliters orange flower, rose, or rose geranium water
½ cup / 45 grams almonds, toasted pine nuts or pistachio nuts, crushed
1 cup / 250 grams fresh berries
In a small bowl, dilute the cornstarch with ½ cup / 125 milliliters of the milk. Set aside. In a heavy, medium saucepan, bring the remaining 2½ cups / 625 milliliters milk, along with the sugar and cinnamon stick, to a boil. Add the cornstarch mixture. Whisk continuously until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and remove the cinnamon stick. Stir in the orange flower, rose, or rose geranium water. Pour into individual ramekins or parfait glasses. Refrigerate to chill.
Before serving, sprinkle with the nuts and garnish with fresh berries.