Friday, January 8, 2010

vanilla pudding, or why mason jars are sometimes cuter than children

A few days ago, a little gift of a picture arrived in my email. The photo was taken at night, with dinner cooking on the stove in the background. On the counter stood 4 perfect little mason jars, filled with tapioca pudding. The sender of the photo had prepared the pudding with her son, and thought I would appreciate the image.
Of course she was right. I have a thing for putting delicious treats in unexpected packaging, and pudding in mason jars? Outstanding combination. Pudding is one of my favorite things, and mason jars are the building blocks of my world. Absolutely perfect.
I set about to recreate the pair immediately. One adjustment was necessary.Tapioca is not tolerated in my house. Although I adore it, it may be the only sweet that is met by groans and "Yuk! Eyes!" at my table. So for us, it would be vanilla. And in the spirit of the original photographer, I'd even make it with the girls.

Now for those of you who have been around here for a little while, you know that cooking with children is not exactly my strength. Yes, I write about cooking, and parenting, but parenting while cooking? Yikes. I know that there are moms out there whose children quietly peel the carrots for the salad every night, but somehow, things are just not that pretty over here.

I have all the right elements. I love to cook, that's first right? I'm at home, so we have time to work together in the kitchen. And most of all, my girls are Montessori kids. Their whole school is based on doing real work (to grossly oversimplify) and they even cook together at school.
So, I guess I must be the problem. I don't know. It just always seems to fall apart.

Take the whole vanilla pudding thing. I'll tell you how it went.

Come back there with me. It's Thursday afternoon. I picked the girls up from school, and when Sadie asked her traditional, "Are we doing anything special today?", I answered, "Vanilla Pudding!"
"Yay!" The girls hollered as they waddled through the parking lot in their snow pants.
So far so good, right?
We got home without incident, hands washed without complaint, and got to the business at hand.
Each girl got the stool she desired, and we were still happy.

Then there was some very attentive scraping of vanilla beans. She didn't get all those precious seeds out, but did I grab it from her to remedy the situation?

Well, maybe. But only at the end, and she was okay with it.

Then there was a great mess of cornstarch.

But that stuff just brushes off! No harm done, and all was well in the kitchen.

But then it came time to stir.

You see that face? That's the mean face. That's the, "why can't you just do it right" face.
Oh, you missed it?
Well, here it is again.

And this face? This is the "I give up- If my big sister says anything else to me I'm going to start rolling around on the floor and fake crying like a baby" face.

Downhill, friends, downhill from here.
And what happens in the mean time? The pudding burns, because the stirring is just not happening. And it gets that burn-y flavor that I secretly like, but my favorite pot might just be dead.
But I am done, done, done. And I have not made dinner yet.

At least I have pudding. In mason jars. Lovely, aren't they?

Vanilla Pudding
adapted from Mark Bittman's blog, Bitten
find the original post here

serves four (but feel free to double it- don't you always want more pudding?)

2 1/2 cups whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
pinch of salt
3 Tablespoons cornstarch

In a medium saucepan, combine 2 cups of the milk with the sugar and salt. Set it over medium low heat. Scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean- put them in the milk, and add the pod as well. Heat until just barely steaming, stirring occasionally.
In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the cornstarch with the remaining 1/2 cup of milk. Blend until there are no lumps. Take the vanilla pod out of the pot and discard or save for future use. Increase heat to medium high. Add cornstarch mixture and cook, stirring frequently until the mixture comes barely to a boil. Reduce heat back to low and stir fairly continuously for five to ten minutes, until the mixture thickens to something that looks like pudding. If it is a bit watery it is okay- it will thicken further as it chills. Pour into individual dishes (or jars!) and chill.


  1. Cooking with "helpers" involves a whole lot of deep breathing, yours (mine), not theirs. Sigh. I am partial to butterscotch pudding, aka budino, with a sprinkle of nice sea salt.

  2. You can't tell, but the words butterscotch pudding in my earlier comment are clickable and will take you to the recipe on the NYT. xx