The novel Winter Cottage by Mary Ellen Taylor is set in Cape Hudson, a coastal town in Virginia. I have never visited that part of the US, so reading descriptions of the landscape was one of the book's attractions. I also liked how the three connected stories unfolded chapter by chapter. In the present, Lucy Kincaid, still grieving for the recent death of her mother, Beth, inherits Winter Cottage and upon arriving discovers that it is actually a mansion. In a relatively recent past, Beth, then a senior in high school, interviews Mrs. Buchanan, the owner and only resident of Winter Cottage, as part of a history project. The story the elderly lady recounts is set in the early part of the 20th century.
The threads are spun in parallel and as the novel progresses we learn the secrets not only Mrs. Buchanan, but also Beth and other people kept until they died. Lucy's main objective is to find out who her father is, a piece of information Beth never revealed to her daughter. As usual, I feel that if I say more I will ruin the reading for anybody whose curiosity about the book is piqued by my post, so I will stop here.
Shortly after her arrival at Winter Cottage, Lucy acquires a house mate, Natasha, a bright girl who, like Lucy, has recently lost her mother. Before Lucy's arrival, she would take refuge in the house to escape her alcoholic father. Lucy tries to provide the girl with a stable household, which includes a stable food supply. The book mentions sandwiches, take-out pizza (compliments of Hank Garrison, also determined to keep Natasha safe and in school), cupcakes. How about something different, healthier, my inner voice kept asking?
While I was reading the book, my husband and I had dinner at a restaurant2 that offered chia pudding as dessert. Tasting a spoonful reminded me that: 1) I like chia pudding 2) I used to make a version of it for my husband's breakfast when he first started a ketogenic diet, using hemp milk. I decided to work some more on my own version. Also around the same time I enjoyed eating fresh blueberries, so I knew whatever I made would have blueberries.
Chia pudding makes itself: you add the milk of choice and the seeds absorb it—all the more reason for Lucy to adopt it as a breakfast item for Natasha. She can prepare a couple of portions in the evening and they will be ready whenever the girl opens the refrigerator the following day.
My preference goes to unsweetened cashew milk (latte di anacardi)—just cashews, no other ingredients—which makes a luscious pudding. I have also tried using unsweetened coconut hemp milk, which has a lower calorie content and already includes vanilla extract. It makes a slightly less firm pudding. Feel free to try other milks, avoiding products with a lot of additives. My next step will be to try making cashew milk at home, which a friend of mine told me is an easy task. To sweeten the pudding I add some monk fruit3 (frutto del monaco) sweetener, a sugar replacement I have been using recently after a friend of mine gave it to me to try.
Ingredients (per portion, to be multiplied as needed):
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds
- 2 teaspoons monk fruit sweetener, golden or classic (the brand I use contains erythritol)
- 1/3 cup / 80 ml unsweetened cashew only milk
- 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Fresh blueberries, to taste
- 1/2 tablespoon sliced almonds, toasted in a dry skillet
The evening or several hours before you plan to eat the pudding, place the chia seeds and sweetener in a ramekin or serving glass. Add the cashew milk and vanilla extract and stir well. Let stand for 5-10 minutes, stir again, then cover and refrigerate.
Take the pudding out of the refrigerator ahead of time so that, by the time you eat it, its temperature will be of your liking. (For me that is a good hour.)
Wash a handful of blueberries, then spread them on a clean kitchen towel to absorb the water. Decorate the pudding with the blueberries and sliced almonds and serve.
This is now our household's favorite breakfast.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the budino ai semi di chia con mirtilli audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]
This is my second contribution to the 38th edition of Novel Food, the literary/culinary event that Lisa of Champaign Taste and I started 12 years ago and that I continue to host.