black and white food ::::
Neurologist and prolific writer Oliver Sacks immortalized the case of the colorblind artist in his case-study book An Anthropologist on Mars. He recounts the history of this man: a seemingly mild concussion after a car accident, his inability to first distinguish letters and colors, then the progressive development of the inability to distinguish any color at all, relegating any color in the world to grey scale by his sight. He did not confuse the colors as a person with congenital colorblindness would, but did not see the colors around him. His brain was unable to perceive color, and therefore, not see it. The medical term for this is achromatopsia.
If one’s sight is relegated to only shades of grey, I can imagine one could develop a deft ability to distinguish between varieties of greys like grey-blues, grey-greens, grey-browns as well as grey scale spectrum. Grey is an inbetween of sorts, the blending and balance of the expansive black and the virginial white. Literally, the word grey means “without color.” It is a color of humbleness, of modesty, of simplicity. It can also represent magnitudes of the good and bad, ambiguous morality, or even a middle ground. It can be a limbo, a fog between light and dark, a sadness. This grey, it is everything.
This everything, was how I felt during the time that I first made this pudding. I was on maternity leave last summer, experimenting with as many recipes as I could before the somewhat impending doom of work was upon me. Post-partum hormones made my usual sunny days with Sky-Girl seem gloomy at times, my body weary and my every thought sighing. Days were sometimes simple with my infant daughter; sometimes they were twisted in palpable fog. It seemed to be slow moving, like tangles of seaweed pulling me underwater at times. It was some overcast thought that darkened some event that would normally bring a smile to my face. Grub telling me joke or Peach drawing a picture of me and Baby Sky-Girl seemed glib sometimes, when these things were absolutely constructed to make me deeply happy. This grey, it was everywhere.
It first was a flat grey permeating my life. Slowly, I began to see the nuances of the blues and greens, a few browns. The grey-blue color of the morning light. The grey-green flecks of sequoias and redwoods. The deep grey-brown of Sky-Girl’s eyes. While this grey is ubiquitous even now, its crinkly edges are more brightly colored. I prefer to think of my clouds without a silver lining, but one of colors. Peach’s brightly colored red hair. The color of Grub’s tongue after eating a bowlful of blueberries. Sky-Girl’s luscious pink thighs. Throw in some grey food once in awhile, and we’re still okay.
And so I give you this black sesame pudding, a dessert on my grayscale, though I argue this is no middle ground dessert. Black sesame is a typical flavoring in Japanese desserts, this flavor being one of my favorites. Black sesame ice cream, panna cotta, candy, milk, whatever it is, I will taste it. Don’t let your culinary monochromia get in the way of trying something new. Sit down with this dessert and a good Oliver Sacks book: your understanding of color or lack thereof may suprise you.
NOTE: I used the agar agar more effectively than gelatin for this recipe. The pudding sets up faster at room temperature with the agar agar, compared to the refrigerator for the gelatin. It tastes better at room temperature, in my opinion. You could also make this a vegan recipe by replacing the milk and cream with full-fat coconut milk or cashew milk.
Three years ago: cannellini bean dip and buckwheat salad with mushrooms, fennel, and parsley oil
Recipe adapted from http://www.lafujimama.com/2012/03/black-sesame-pudding/
- 2 teaspoons of powdered agar agar (The original recipe called for 1 packet (0.25 ounces) powdered gelatin.)*
- ⅓ cup black sesame seeds, toasted**
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 2½ cups milk***, divided (you will need about ¼ cup reserved to soften agar agar)
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup whipping cream***
- IF USING AGAR AGAR: Put reserved ¼ cup milk and agar agar into small saucepan on medium-low heat, while concurrently working on the pudding step.
- IF USING GELATIN: Put 1½ tablespoons of cold water in a medium-size bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the top of the water and set aside for about 10 minutes.
- Place the sesame seeds and 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar in a spice grinder and grind until well ground.
- MAKE THE PUDDING: In a medium-size saucepan, mix the ground sesame seed mixture, remaining milk, and ½ cup granulated sugar together. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly to prevent the milk from burning.
- As soon as the mixture comes to a boil, add the warmed agar agar/milk mixture OR softened gelatin and stir to melt and combine. Remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk in the cream.
- Whisk the pudding briefly, then leave it to cool slightly for 10 minutes. (Agar agar sets up at room temperature; gelatin sets up when chilled.)
- While waiting for the milk mixture to cool, prepare eight clean pretty serving cups to set the pudding.
- After cooling, whip the pudding for about 5 minutes (this whisking will produce a lighter pudding, per the original recipe), then equally divide the pudding between the prepared cups. Cover the containers and place in the refrigerator to set up for about 4 hours, or until firm. Serve cold, garnished with whatever you like. I like mine with a few sesame seeds sprinkled on top.