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Float

shadow I’m writing to you from the kitchen table, next to a tumbler of water and a clutch of overripe bananas.  The windows are open and Seymour is barking ferociously at the mailwoman–who, I’ve noticed, has taken to wearing headphones as she makes her way down our street.  When I see her cross the yard I toss him a tennis ball, and for a beat his barks are soft and muffled.  In that moment of quiet I breathe and the mailwoman breathes and I feel the baby kick at the walls of the snow globe in my belly and the mailwoman reaches for the rusty box by the door—

And the dog comes uncorked.  Like a jazz musician taking the mute from his trumpet, he drops the tennis ball and begins to wail again, and the poor mailwoman adjusts her earbuds and heads to the next house, where she will be greeted by a Rottweiler.

It’s a funny thing, to look down and see this bump in my middle.  It’s as if I’ve swallowed something I shouldn’t–like a porcelain teapot or a Cornish hen.  It’s not a huge belly yet, but it’s big enough to catch little flakes of breakfast pastry and the crumbs from dinner rolls.  Yesterday it even caught two pennies that fell from my wallet at the grocery store, and I had to fish around for them in the folds of my shirt while the teenage cashier stared.

I joined a swimming group for pregnant ladies last month.  We don’t do much swimming, to tell the truth–we sort of bob up and down in the warm pool like a bunch of rubber buoys.  Technically the class is taught by a physical therapist, but with all the splashing and chatting we can barely hear her so we just float and stretch and talk about the weirdness of things.  I try to float next to a woman named Patricia.  She’s nervous about giving birth because she can’t stand the sight of blood.  She’s a phlebotomist, but she passed out routinely in phlebotomy school, and she passed out on her first day at her first job at the hospital, right after she stuck a needle (perfectly, she would add) into the arm of her first patient.  Her husband is nervous too, and has taken to cooking her a pork chop every night to keep her strength up.  It’s driving her crazy.  “Why can’t he make me some chicken?” she howls, as we rock back and forth on our styrofoam pool noodles. “Or some rice?”

So tomorrow we’re each bringing a recipe to class for Patricia.  This is my contribution:

riceIt sounds boring–who needs a recipe for rice?–but this rice is special, I promise.  It’s webbed with mozzarella cheese and creamy with a touch of butter.  It’s sort of like risotto without any of the work.

saltAll you have to do is boil some Arborio rice, drain it, and stir in mozzarella (the real, soft kind) and butter and Parmesan.  The result is a bowl of rice so cheesy and creamy that you could lift a forkful of it 4 feet in the air and it would still be connected to the bowl by warm, shimmering threads of mozzarella.  It’s satisfying like polenta or risotto, and goes well with meatballs and marinara, or sauteed bell peppers and onions, or even just grilled vegetables with a balsamic drizzle.

cheesy rice

P.S.  I wrote a little humor piece that ran on McSweeney’s this week.  If you’re interested, you can read it here!

Marcella Hazan’s Mozzarella Rice {Download & Print Recipe}
from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan. This rice takes 30 minutes start to finish. Plan to serve the rice right away when it’s done.  I often make things in advance, but this is one of those times when you’d truly be missing out by not serving the dish immediately. It’s great reheated, but the mozzarella won’t be as supple and you’ll miss out on the experience of rice suspended in melty, cheesy threads of cheese.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 c. Arborio or Carnaroli rice

1 Tbsp. salt

4 Tbsp. butter

6 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese (the real, soft kind that comes in a ball)

2/3 c. grated Parmesan cheese

6 fresh basil leaves, ripped into pieces (optional)

Directions:

Bring 3 quarts of water and the salt to a rolling boil in a large pot. While you are waiting for the water to boil, cut the butter into a few pieces and leave it on the counter to soften.  Cut the mozzarella into tiny chunks.

When the water is at a rolling boil, add the rice and stir immediately for a few seconds.  Reduce the heat to a moderate, constant boil and cover.  Cook 15-20 minutes, stirring once or twice during this time, until the rice is cooked to your liking. (The recipe recommends cooking the rice until al dente, but I haven’t ever managed to catch it that early enough, and my rice has been deliciously soft.  So, either way.)

Drain the rice and transfer it to a large bowl.  Immediately add the mozzarella and mix it so that it melts and strings out in the rice.  (This step always reminds me of making Rice Krispie treats.)  Add the Parmesan cheese and stir well so that it dissolves. Add the butter and stir until it, too, is melted.  Add the basil leaves, if you’re using them.

Serve immediately. Seriously. The rice is delicious reheated but the mozzarella will have lost its suppleness and you won’t get the long, melty threads.  It really is quite something to eat it right away.

Thunder napping in the sunThunder doesn’t bark at the mailwoman; she barks with Seymour for moral support.  If she’s in another room and hears him, she’ll come careening down the hallway, “sympathy barking,” we call it, until she figures out what’s going on.  Then, finding herself on the couch by the window for no reason, she’ll plop down and take a nap.