Raspberry Honey Tapioca
I’ve wanted to be a journalist ever since the 9th grade. My reasons then were few but passionate – I wanted to use the written word to uncover the truth, to change my community, to travel and inspire and burgeon forth with knowledge. My sense of direction grew stronger with every internship and workshop. When I left Seattle for Boston, I left as a journalism major.
But ever since I got here, I’ve been tainted with doubt. I ignored it for months and tried to enjoy my journalism classes. They sent me into the city for man-on-the-street interviews and to city hall for public records. I learned how to use cameras and microphones to record audio and video packages. And though I’ve loved hearing my voice on the radio and coming up with stories, I don’t like where I’m headed.
The reality I have to face is this – I don’t like hard news. Sifting through police reports, breaking essential details into short graphs, learning the broadcast aspects of journalism necessary to survive today’s newsroom… This isn’t for me. But when you’ve been so sure of your path for so long, the thought of starting fresh terrifies.
I scheduled a visit with my academic advisor. We looked over my schedule for next semester (which was limited, since I’m studying abroad in Europe in the fall). I was clearly less than enthused about the journalism class I’d be taking, the next step on the journalism major ladder. He folded his fingers into a triangle on his desk, leaned forward and asked, “What do you want to do with your life?”
“Well, I want to write,” I said. “I’m interested in freelancing for different magazines, maybe writing a column.”
“Yes,” he interrupted, tapping his pencil on the course catalogue. “Half the kids here want to write. But think about it, seriously. What are you really passionate about?”
That’s when I realized I already knew. Maybe I’d known all along. I flipped to a junior-level class – Creative Writing: Nonfiction Travel Writing – and declared, “This is where I want to be.”
He leaned back in his chair and shrugged his shoulders, like, that’s that. “Then maybe you shouldn’t be a journalism major, if you’d like to get into that class. You know, the only one you seem genuinely excited about.” He handed me a major change form and said, “Mull it over.”
I walked out of his office shaking. Daunted by the work that changing my major conjured. Scared of making the wrong choice. I headed to the mailroom to pick up a package that had arrived for me, trusting my feet to take me there while my head spun.
I don’t frequently receive packages, and at that moment I was unprepared for the lovely surprise that was Heidi Swanson’s (of 101 cookbooks fame) new cookbook, Super Natural Every Day. I tore off the paper as the elevator lurched, and I was already flipping through when I got to my floor.
The cookbook was a relief. This was familiar, well-traveled territory, a path I’d always know was right for me. This cookbook was like breathing.
I worked my way through the sections. Every page offered breathtaking photos, Heidi’s beautiful writing, and recipes that made me want to be a more wholesome eater. I was starved for cookbooks, having left my entire collection at home. This one satisfied a hunger sorely missed. The sides of the book became frilly with scraps of paper, marking the recipes I wanted to try first. I couldn’t bear to dog-ear the corners.
I settled on Heidi’s Honey & Rose Water Tapioca, and walked to the store.
I made the pudding using the stovetop in the common room. I left out the rosewater and used raspberry blossom honey, but otherwise stuck true to Heidi’s recipe. Everything about this all-milk, honey-sweetened dessert comforted. While the common room emptied bags of Fritos and put on a movie, I stirred constellations of tapioca pearls. The custard slowly thickened and the pearls grew plump and opaque. Sometimes people asked what I was making, and the floor taste-tested with plastic spoons.
As the dessert set, inspiration came. I grabbed a notebook and scrawled down the phrases that came to mind – “raspberry honey marries with a flurry of lemon zest,” “bright and wholesome,” “creamy pudding studded with chewy tapioca beads.” Writing and food are inseparable, and good food puts my pencil to paper.
I smoothed the pudding into some Tupperware and looked again at the notebook. Maybe my path has always been this obvious… It just took a little trial and error to figure it out.
The paperwork is official. When people ask what I’m studying, I don’t hesitate to say, “I’m a writing major with a minor in journalism.” And I swell with joy every time.
Maybe somewhere down the road, I’ll try to design my own major. I’ll combine elements of print journalism with writing and publishing and some solid English literature. It isn’t completely clear yet, but I have faith in myself. For now, I’ll enjoy my summer, spend a sleepless semester in Europe, and continue to write and eat.
[PS: I also have some incredible news to share! I've been invited to speak at BlogHer Food '11, on a panel with my Kitchen Generation co-founders about food blogging and the younger crowd. I'll finally get to meet my fellow teen food bloggers in person after a year of Skype chats. I'll get to meet scores of food bloggers I truly admire. I almost can't contain myself.
The conference is May 20-21 in Atlanta, Georgia, and there's still time to register. Maybe I'll see you there?]
This tapioca pudding brings back childhood with a decidedly sophisticated twist. It’s thick, creamy, and full-bodied, brightened with lemon zest. The flavor of the honey really shines through true, so pick a milk honey with a flavor you like enough to lick off the spoon.
Make sure to use small pearl tapioca, not instant tapioca. I found a box for $2.99 at Whole Foods (that’s also where you can pick up raspberry honey and rose water.) Bob’s Red Mill small pearl tapioca is a good brand.
The only thing I’d suggest is to make sure the lemon zest is very fine so the texture of the pudding stays utterly smooth.
Raspberry Honey Tapioca
From Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Every Day
3 cups / 710 ml milk
1/3 cup / 2.5 oz / 70 g small pearl tapioca
2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
1/4 tsp fine-grain sea salt
1/3 cup / 80 ml mild honey (I used raspberry honey)
Grated zest of 1 small lemon
1/4 to 1 tsp rose water (I left this out)
Chopped toasted pistachios or sliced raspberries to garnish
Soak the tapioca in 1 cup / 240 ml of the milk in a medium, heavy saucepan for 30 – 60 minutes. Whisk in the yolks, salt, honey, and remaining milk.
Bring the mixture barely to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring. This will take about 15 minutes. Decrease the heat so the mixture gently simmers, stirring constantly, for another 20 minutes or until the tapioca is fully cooked (this depends on how large your tapioca pearls are.) The tapioca is fully cooked when the pearls swell up and are nearly translucent – tasting is the best way to tell. The pudding itself will also thicken into a custard. Continue to taste and stir, preventing the tapioca from scorching.
Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the lemon zest, then let the pudding cool (it will thicken a bit.) Stir in the rose water, if using, and wait another few minutes. Heidi likes to eat it warm, topped with pistachios, but I liked it cold, with fresh raspberries.
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