I made pudding while trapped in the sailboat during the monsoon floods.
It’s not actually a sailboat, in reality it’s a tiny house on a trailer bed that I imagine to be other things.
In my free-range imaginings it is sometimes a sailboat, sometimes a safe house for a semi-retired spy, sometimes a fierce dragon, sometimes a lair, a place for some light sorcery (do you love a double meaning too?), sometimes a cowboy bunkhouse.
What are you up to? Some light sorcery, and pudding.
No small miracle
It has its flaws, as a structure. Many, actually. Not the least of which being that it is not the tiniest bit climate-controlled. Brutally cold in winter (icicles on the inside, remind me to share pics), it becomes a glass box of sweltering heat in summer. Good times.
Meanwhile, the hot water heater has been broken since February, and the only person in the area who knows how to fix things broke his hip and also stopped responding to my texts. Showering is a distant sweet memory.
However, during a flooding event, the sailboat that doubles as a cowboy bunkhouse turns out to be quite the cozy, snug and rain-proof hideaway in which to cry and make pudding. So there’s that. No small miracle.
Pudding du jour (ask your server)
So much crying, so much pudding. Each day a different pudding.
I used to work in a bar in south Tel Aviv, there was a chalkboard sign on the wall by the bar that said:
Pasta of the Day (ask the waitress).
And over the course of the two years that I worked the bar five nights a week, people would ask every day what the pasta of the day was, and it was always, but always, pesto gnocchi.
Then why do we need to ask, they would ask, reasonably.
Anyway, this was my joke while trapped by the flooded roads: Nu? What’s the pudding of the day?
Ask your server.
The important part
So, in the end, the important part, all that matters really, is this:
I was held in safety, kept safe, warm and dry, and I had pudding.
Blessings upon the baseline good
Blessings upon the simple pleasures, the baseline good: enjoying a ramekin of delicious pudding while cozy, dry, safe. A thankful heart for this.
I want to tell you that I made pudding each day because sweetness was indicated, and that’s not not-true.
Sweetness is practically the definition of light sorcery, sweetness has a generosity to it, sweetness is healing.
Yes. Pudding is good medicine for a hurting heart and a confused, tired, struggling brain, and I am in possession of both, or they are in possession of me.
But mainly, and more to the point, the larder was bare and I was out of most non-pudding options.
Pudding was the answer because there wasn’t another answer.
No one expects the expected, I guess, unless they do
(They probably do, it’s right in the name)
I keep flashing on the Monty Python line, No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.
To which I must say, “Too Soon?” Yes. Absolutely. Very much Too Soon, my people aren’t over it.
But in much the same way that no one expects the Spanish Inquisition even though they might have and should have, and, generally speaking we too might expect or at least anticipate the possibility of [things we would prefer not to happen], I somehow did not anticipate being flooded-in for a week.
Nor did I expect to lose signal in the storms and be unable to reach anyone.
I mean, yes, of course I definitely imagined the possibility of potentially being stranded for a day or two.
And then, in an unlikely spell of a limited and impaired imagination, our protagonist, usually quite imaginative, sometimes known to be overly-imaginative, stopped there and didn’t imagine beyond that.
Add extenuating circumstances and stir.
Or, since we are making pudding, whisk constantly.
In my defense, there is a somewhat reasonable reason I was not stocked up on food and supplies, the backstory is boring, though possibly I will tell you about it anyway.
Either way, it happened the way it happened, and I found myself not only stranded, but out of most forms of food, subsisting mainly on green chile rice with pistachios, which is delicious actually, though perhaps somewhat less so when it’s the only option, and you have no way to replenish the ever-diminishing supply.
The road was flooded in both directions, nowhere to go, the rain thundering away relentlessly.
But I had plenty of rolled oats and shredded coconut that, combined in a blender I never gave back to an ex, with cold water from the well, yield, briefly, a liquid that approximates milk.
And I had thickening agents too: tapioca starch, and sahlav.
Sahlab / Sahlav
Sahlab or Sahlav is orchid flower flour, I love saying that, flower-flour!
It sounds redundant but it isn’t; it sounds poetic and it is.
And of course, the scent is intoxicating.
Sometimes, even when I am not making pudding, I will open the jar just to induce a brief sensory catharsis.
In other miracles, I found brown sugar in the pantry, a packet of which I’d picked distractedly, up on a whim, for a recipe floating in my mind that day, a recipe I can’t remember and definitely didn’t make, at a market in Deming, on a day which at the time I would have described as more or less one unending disaster.
It was a day that both began and ended in unexpected heartbreak and tears (no one expects the Spanish Inquisition), but now we can see some saving grace, in this realization of surprise sweetness, and that’s poetic too.
Residual sweetness, I’ll take it. A new meaning to leftovers.
Flooded in both directions
The rains hammered away, the river rose and rose, I can’t see it from my place but I could feel it rising.
It crested at 15.26 ft (4.65 meters), breaking the previous and much lower record of 11.2 ft (3.4 meters), from all the way back in 1997.
I knew none of this at the time because wifi signal was knocked out, connection would vanish only to mysteriously and miraculously return every twenty four to thirty six hours for three to five minutes, sometimes as many as ten, during which I would frantically text a couple friends to say I was safe.
Checking the weather to confirm: nothing to hope for, just rain and more rain, if I was lucky, and fast, I could capture a screenshot of the forecast to pore over later.
Nowhere to go, nowhere to be but right the fuck here. Let’s make pudding.
Of grandeur (my favorite kind of delusion)
The heartache hit me again when I wasn’t ready, though what is ready when it comes to matters of the heart, and I cried until I hyperventilated, cried until I vomited, all previously un-felt heartache determined to land at once.
As if the sailboat was now also a landing dock for lost heartache.
Not sure if this is Delusions of Grandeur, or, alternately, could be hallucinating from not eating enough, I wrote, half joking, maybe a quarter joking, can something be an eighth of a joke, let’s call it that, in the captain’s log, aka the world’s longest text I was composing to Kathryn in case I ever got some signal to send it…
…but let’s just say it: I can’t stop crying and neither can the sky, what if I am turning into a piece of folklore, a scorned lover archetype who floods the earth with tears, god I hope not, because wow, how completely embarrassing for everyone involved…
The rain descended in sheets, not so much drops as collections of plops, and then just a vastness of rain.
An undifferentiated mass, loud and relentless.
Please stop, I begged the sky. I am not brave enough for an apocalypse. I am not brave enough for any of this.
The rain did not let up.
Every few days a reprieve, a spell of several hopeful hours of not-rain, and I’d bravely pack up the car to see if I could make it to town to do laundry, fill water, get provisions, maybe exchange a few words with another person to feel human again.
Do you remember the fires? They took out the topsoil, and now the ground has forgotten how to absorb the water (come on, ground, you had one job, be thirsty for monsoon season!), it runs off the mountains and there’s no room in the river, the water floods the road.
Honestly relatable, I too have forgotten how to do many of the things I am supposed to know how to do.
Anyway, I’d make it a quarter of a mile before the road turned into running water.
Turn around, unpack the car, cry and make pudding.
All roads lead to never mind, turn around and make pudding
One day I even tried the back road to town, not my favorite, there’s no center line, the road is narrow, tight switchbacks, sheer cliff drops, high elevation, surprise deer, and usually an impatient truck behind you.
I made it several miles, past a few dips I thought might be iffy, and was just starting to feel moderately hopeful when I rounded a curve at 45mph (72 km) and right in front of me, the road had disappeared, turned into a fast-flowing river.
No more road. Bye bye, road. You’re a river now, baby.
Never mind, let’s make pudding.
When life doesn’t give you lemons (okay, you forgot to buy lemons)
Would you like another miracle? Yes please. Keep them coming.
I was sure there were lemons in the bunkhouse, only to discover they were all already in the process of becoming preserved lemons, to be blended and used to enhance the next batch of zhug I planned make with fresh cilantro from the farmers market, except the market got rained out…
Where are those lemons when you need them most…
However, even though I never buy those plastic containers of lemon juice, in an unlikely plot twist, I’d picked one up last minute because of a reason I cannot remember (concussion brain and long-covid brain are dependable in one area, and that’s never remembering the reason!), anyway the lemon juice makes the well water tolerable.
Of course if the electricity goes out, which has happened more than once in the recent storms, then the well pump is useless. I filled some extra jugs just in case.
Destroyed by Pudding
If you scroll through my recipe documents, you will find one called Destroyed By Pudding. It sounds like a fake band (just one guy), but it’s more of an ethos.
Basically though here’s the concept. Pudding is, on the surface at least, the most non-interesting dessert option available. Conceptually. It has no intrigue, no mystique.
So if I’m going to make pudding (and do all that whisking, for what, for what, convince me), I need the end result to bowl me over with lusciousness.
Make me cry. Make me mad. Be outrageously, infuriatingly, impossibly delicious.
Break my fucking heart, pudding.
Leave me a helpless puddle, nothing left. In the calm after the storm. I have been destroyed by pudding and its unexpected decadence.
I let love in
I want to feel about pudding the way I feel listening to Nick Cave: I let love in. I let love in.
As in: I know I shouldn’t have, but I had to. I regret this completely and also I have no regrets. You know how it is, no one expects the Spanish Inquisition. How else could this have gone down other than like hurting exactly this much?
No, I want to feel about pudding the way I feel listening to Rachid Taha and Jeanne Added redo Now Or Never.
Completely and utterly undone.
It’s now or never
What a shattering rendition of that song, pudding-worthy, truly.
I never even appreciated that song until that specific take made me re-hear it.
It’s now or never.
What a surprise (not a surprise), I said now (quietly, in my heart) and they chose never and disappeared. It is what it is and it was always going to be exactly like that, illusions and delusions aside, all sweetest dreams and sweetly hopeful hopefulness aside.
Never mind, turn around, let’s make pudding.
It used to be a road, what can I tell you
When the road is no longer a road, even though you really thought there would still be a road around the bend (and to be fair to you, there usually is), what do you do.
You give yourself all credit for coming to a stop just in time, for pulling off a complicated tight turn, for being hopeful, points for trying.
Points for trying. You let love in and you were brave, or maybe you were brave and you didn’t. You said yes, now or you said eh actually never. Either way. Now we make pudding.
I make a velvety rich chocolate-chili pudding, with the spicy drop-kick coming in at the end, unexpected, every time, even though you told yourself it’s coming.
You know, like heartbreak or the Spanish Inquisition. A pudding worthy of being destroyed by.
Sometimes chai-chocolate pudding, with mesquite powder and my cinnamon-sorcery blend. Or the most intensely-vanilla vanilla pudding with ginger syrup.
And sahlav, of course.
Which is my favorite? Whichever pudding I am currently making (whisking constantly) is my favorite.
I keep meaning to order one of those silicone lips that attaches to a pot, to help the pudding make its way into tiny jars. But then I forget, I have access to wifi so rarely, and my list of things to do once I have signal is so long.
So the only way to effectively coax the pudding from the pot into the jars is to say the pouring mantra, and if I forget to say it (and I do forget, every time), it spills everywhere.
That’s how I always end up spilling on the first pour, wildly, all over the place, but then I remember and whisper: PRECIOUS CARGO.
Saying the words, precious cargo, while I pour, is the only way to not spill. I don’t know why. It just is.
Cherish me on purpose
Once I said it out loud, by accident, we were tearing down the road from the mountain, rounding a curve at an improbable speed, and I blurted out PRECIOUS CARGO, meaning me.
Please tend to this precious cargo, cherish me. Keep me safe from harm.
I will never let any harm come to you, they said, and then a year and a half later, parachuted abruptly out of my life without a goodbye, leaving no trace, as if they’d been given a roadmap on exactly how to hurt me. Which of course they had.
No one expects the expected.
Fire season was long and arduous and enormously stressful. The two biggest fires in New Mexico history raged at once. I ran away and hid out in Arizona, disconnected from everything.
Hid out and did a lot of waiting. Waiting, hoping, worrying, making sorbet.
After two months of praying for miracles, the fires died out. I’d burned some bridges too, the metaphorical kind, and made my ragged way back to the sailboat on the back of a heat wave.
The only room cool enough to exist in was the bedroom, which really is just barely big enough for a small bed and me on top of it, so I’d get up early, work out, make a meal, clean up, be back in bed by noon.
Close the doors, close the shades, pour water into the chiller, turn on the fans. If it was 89 degrees F (31 C) outside, I could get it down to 77 inside (25 C). Siesta mode. More waiting it out.
I didn’t have a refrigerator and when I tried to write a list of wishes, the only thing I could think to put on it was ice. What do I want? Ice. What else? I don’t know. Just ice.
(What do you call this form of heat-induced blank slate?)
I don’t know how to explain who I was or what I did during those weeks of Siesta Mode.
It was like a blankness, a nothing, but different somehow than the blank nothing of depression or concussion recovery, or the brain fog from long covid, and I don’t know that I can quantify the distinctions between any of these.
Too hot to think or plan or do, too sluggish to be tactical or strategic in any way, or even to remember what that mode of being is like. Hope wasn’t gone, and yet it also wasn’t around. I wedged myself between two fans, read bits and pieces of recipes and stared out the window a lot.
The animals were equally mystified by the extreme heat. The bunnies took to flopping dramatically on the dusty patch of ground beneath the awning, bellies snug against the dirt, doing their best PAINT ME LIKE ONE OF YOUR FRENCH GIRLS poses.
The birds hung out on the porch a lot, doing not much, occasionally peeking in the windows with an expression of “what the fuck is this”, and I would have to agree.
Everyone said it was coming. The barometric pressure headaches confirmed it.
We all thought monsoon season would be an especially rough one.
I just figured I had more time to prepare.
I said PRECIOUS CARGO while funneling well water into bottles, while crying myself to sleep, while hyperventilating, while lighting the last tea light.
And I watched nature television (the bunnies gathering to play in the dirt beneath the awning, through the window) while standing on a balance board.
Bunnies, precious cargo, balance, light, light sorcery, listening to the endless rains.
The snake (or not a snake)
It was small, dark grey, I think, and moved very fast. Slithering and fast across my rug. A legless lizard possibly, or a New Mexico blind snake.
I don’t know how it got in but I did not like that it was in my house. I took several days off of yoga to hide in bed because I did not wish to find myself face to face with a snake. But then I didn’t see it and eventually I braved the floor again.
It must have left, my friends reassured me. But that was not particularly reassuring: if it can leave, then it has egress. If it can leave, it can come again.
So many things are like this, do you see. I just want to know. And there is no way to know.
Each day that I was stranded a hummingbird came to the door or kitchen window and paused, eye to eye with me, a short entrancing visit, a majestic mini-hypnosis.
One morning the monsoon storms took a break, so imagine how confused I was when I heard the startling sound of thunder very near me.
That’s odd, I thought, the storms stopped storming.
Then something flashed past my front door, absolutely enormous, incredibly, breathtakingly fast, a thundering blur.
Turning my head towards the window, I saw the massive elk bound over my fence like it was nothing and disappear, almost flying, off into the hills.
The two hawks
The two hawks made circles in the air in front of my porch for a very long time.
“Hawk!” I shouted, to warn the bunnies, much in the way that we used to shout “Car!”, as kids playing in the streets in the 80s.
The hawks did their circling and soaring, so graceful. I admire them. Powerful and fierce. Unhurried, unbothered, patient. They know exactly how much effort is needed for everything.
The two deer
Four baby deer have been playing in the field the past couple weeks, but two of them came right up to the gate and poked their heads in and played for a while. I love their goofy enormous ears.
Remind me and I will share deer pics.
Ghost ninja bunny
My favorite of the bunnies is the one I call ghost ninja bunny, my mourning companion & morning companion, always there before the others.
You know how cats sometimes act as though they are fighting invisible spirits? Ghost ninja bunny does that but with impressively fierce pugilistic moves: athletic leaps, incredible flips in the air. A fighter.
I get it, ghost ninja bunny. Everything is scary right now.
My friend suggested that nature was maybe trying to make it up to me for the snake invasion, with all these charmed visits from animal friends.
Nature is reclaiming, I said, taking over. The monsoon rains grew the wild grasses up around my house, as tall as the porch, the sailboat is an island now. I can barely make it down the driveway.
You know that I am required by law* to wildly enthuse over etymology with you, and of course I also need another excuse to say flower-flour, because it feels so good in my mouth.
*by law = by autism, apparently
Okay, so this pudding-drink which is sometimes more drink than pudding and sometimes more pudding than drink, depending where you are in the Middle East and whose family tradition etc, is called Sahlab in Arabic, and Sahlav in Hebrew.
Both of these words mean orchid. The flower. Though also the flour. Made from orchids.
In Arabic, you say zaharat al’sahlab (or so I was taught, I am not an Arabic speaker yet by any means) which means The Flower Of The Orchid, when you are referring to the flower specifically, as opposed to just saying sahlab when you mean the drink-pudding-dessert made from the flower-flour.
In Hebrew you use the same word for both, but the flower gets the emphasis on second syllable. When you mean the dessert, you kind of give it that Ashkenazi eastern European first syllable emphasis, it feels a little slang-ey and casual…
Look at this beautiful orchid: Sah-LAV
It’s a chilly evening, you know what would be perfect? Yeah let’s have SAH-lav.
Tragically, the orchid flower-flour has been over-used to the point that it’s somewhat endangered, so these days it’s more common to use corn starch or a blend of starch and flower-flour, but yeah, there’s just something about that flower-flavor.
Anyway, it all works out, you flavor your pudding with rose water or orange blossom water anyway, and maybe dried rose petals on top if you’re feeling fancy, so whatever the thickening agent, you still get a full-flower experience, that taste memory of cozy winter sweetness.
Hot vanilla sounds wrong, but hear me out
This pudding is the middle eastern version of hot chocolate, except vanilla-rose-orchid instead of chocolate, and hot vanilla just sounds wrong.
But it fills the same form of warm and sweet, it tastes like cozy and contained. I am homesick for places I cannot ever be again.
Sometimes someone parachutes abruptly out of your life, and they take with them the place you want to go to be comforted.
Samin Nosrat talks about memory cards, a preserved sense-memory of a taste, and sahlav is a very intense memory card taste for me, a nostalgia moment.
Or you could say that pudding for me is a category of memory card, and sahlav a specific sense memory, sprinkled with cinnamon, coconut flakes, pistachios, comfort.
I want treating myself like precious cargo to be a memory card too.
Before I lost wifi, I was listening to a podcast interview with a baker who was talking about destroying nostalgia, taking a beloved taste-memory, breaking it down, starting over. I don’t know how to do this yet, but I’m going to have to learn.
How to drink
I was reading about a fancy mezcal while I had wifi, I don’t remember why, reading about it was a sort of necessary rabbit hole, and there was something I was looking for that was not this, but here it was:
How to drink: Neat. In small sips (like a kiss)
Okay, slay me, go ahead and break my fucking heart, booze copywriter. You have me now, shattered.
Like, there I was, like in the poem by Cameron Awkward-Rich: hand on my heart, hand on my stupid heart
No one expects the poetry
There is poetry everywhere, and especially where I don’t expect it.
In lines from my lost captains log updates:
…had some pistachios, the last of the pecans and raisins, making rice again, anxious (poem)…
And in a perfect tweet I saw before I lost connection: “Don’t touch that, it’s my load-bearing sadness!”
I am dealing with my load-bearing sadness in the usual ways: cooking, sorcery, cleaning, repetition of movement, talking to the bunnies, finding the poetry.
Or the optimism
I love this clue from Katie Anthony, who said, on an entirely different topic:
For me the question is not “Where can I find hope?” but rather “What will I do once I’ve found it again?”
I love the optimism in that, there is something immensely heart-warming to me in the idea that when speaking of hope, it is not a question of where. And if it isn’t about where, then it isn’t lost.
Here is someone who thinks hope is plentiful and the problem is not the how of finding it, or whether or not you will find it, because of course you will, that’s a given, for Katie, and I love that. Instead the challenge is to discern the course of action.
Let’s discern a course of action then.
Let’s see how this wants to end / Take it to the river
Eventually the waters cleared.
I made it to town, to the laundromat, acquired the most frivolous snacks because I very much needed something not-rice and not-pudding and not-well-water.
Forever in search of dopamine.
A few days passed. I took myself to the hot springs and it felt so good to immerse in the warmth of the water, and I cried some more. I cried and asked the Rio Grande to help me.
Specifically, I asked the Rio Grande how to heal my hurting heart sadness, and it said: Find something to be excited about again.
I asked it what I can be excited about, and it said: Healing your heart.
Stones in the river
We stan a wise river.
And, also: I don’t know how to be excited about (or to channel excitement towards) healing my heart. Generally I think of heart-healing as kind of a slog, a frustrating, mostly mysterious grief process that mainly requires a great deal of time.
Compassion and time, patience and time, sweetness and time, time and more time.
But the Rio Grande hasn’t lied to me yet.
So if my river friend believes that excitement is the answer, and that I can be excited about healing my heart, I am going to have to investigate that, skip some stones on what that might look like, where I might start.
Start where you are = start with what you have
Let’s take inventory. What do I have?
A load-bearing sadness. Plenty of pudding. Cookbooks. Dustpan and broom.
Clove oil that I made on the new moon. Loose incense (three versions) that I made and named. The first day of a new month. A shirt I am not giving back because it’s mine now. The color green.
New flowers after the rains.
How do I feel? What do I need?
Shell-shocked. I feel shell-shocked. Is there a word for shell-shocked but as it relates to matters of the heart? To be in heart-shock, a state of bewildering shakiness.
I have been trying to distract myself with small obsessions, making the perfect-for-me non-dairy milkshake, for example, or refining my pudding recipes, with notes upon notes for future experiments.
Anything I can obsess over that is not related to my personal situations is good.
What does the precious cargo of my heart need from me other than space, time, comfort and sweetness?
I will know when I know.
The poetry of repetition
Precious cargo. Precious cargo. Precious cargo.
Focusing on what I can craft in my compact kitchen, the art of destroyed by pudding.
Zeroing in on questions of what is exquisite and delicious, comforting and enticing, and how does it relate to this work of pouring without spilling, rehoming my concoctions into tiny jars.
New flowers after the rains
A small prayer: grant me the flourishing powers of bold yellow flowers, newness after the rains.
Come play with me, I love company
You are welcome to play with any of the concepts here in any way you like.
You can brainstorm experiments, practices or rituals you would like to play with whether for your own times of heartache/stranded/shell-shocked, or for whatever you might going through, People Vary.
And as always, you’re invited to share anything sparked for you while reading, themes you’re playing with, or add any wishes into the pot, into the healing zone, as a friend of mine said, who knows, the power of the collective is no small thing, and companionship is healing.
A heart-rooted thank you
While I was going through the [everything] of the past few months, I was mostly unable to look at email, either because I didn’t have wifi or because I was overwhelmed and having ten thousand panic episodes a day about the list of things that is waiting for me to attend to once I have attending-to-things energy again, I hope soon.
But it turned out that many blog readers were generously sending me money as well as the kindest words of hope & encouragement, and I was so deeply moved to discover that everyone has been rooting for me and my recovery. What treasure.
Thanks to this incredible warmth and generosity of heart from readers, I was able to outfit my tiny house with a small refrigerator which miraculously arrived the week before the floods. And my hopefulness returned.
So I cannot imagine how I would have made it through without you. Thank you. It means so much, and I am at a loss for how to express just how much.
If you received clues or perspective or just want to send appreciation for the writing and work/play we do here, I appreciate it tremendously.
I am accepting support (with joy & gratitude) in the form of Appreciation Money to Barrington’s Discretionary Fund. Asking is not where my strength resides but Brave & Stalwart is the theme these days, and pattern-rewriting is the work, and it all helps with fixing what needs fixing, currently focused on replacing three windows and installing a heater to make it through winter.
Or you can buy a copy of the my Monster Manual & Coloring Book if you don’t have it!
And if those aren’t options, I get it, you can light a candle for support (or light one in your mind!), share one of my posts with someone who loves words, tell people about this work, it all helps, it’s all welcome, and I appreciate it so much. ❤️