Dulce de leche

Today, as the title gives away, I made dulce de leche.  Dulce de leche is enjoyed by many countries, sometimes by different names.  In Mexico, for example, it’s called cajeta and it’s made with goat’s milk instead of cow’s milk, which makes it slightly less sweet.  It’s basically caramel and therefore incredibly delicious.  I used a recipe I cut out of Latina (it was on the same page as the habichuelas con dulce), but as I was cooking it and thumbing through another cookbook I found a different method.  Both have very simple ingredients but unfortunately I can’t tell you the difference between results since I haven’t tried both.

The Latina recipe uses milk, sugar, baking soda, and vanilla extract while the other one just uses condensed milk.  The second method is technically simpler since you just pour the condensed milk in a cake pan, put it in another pan with water (Maria’s bath) and put it in the oven at 475 degrees for about 2 hours.  I like the Latina recipe however because it’s more organic.  You have to stir the ingredients on the stovetop…and the results were delicious so I don’t see a problem.  I think I’ve heard of people going old school and putting a can of condensed milk in a saucepan with water over the stove but since this sounds like it might cause bodily harm (exploding can?  I don’t really know…) I’m not going to risk it.  Besides I could have just imagined this rumored method, who knows?

Either way it’s time consuming.  While the milk mixture was simmering on medium on the stove I thought it was never going to turn that caramel color.  I kept adjusting the heat but staying in the medium range.  You can’t let the milk boil over the top of the saucepan so you can’t put the heat too high and you have to keep an eye on it.  In the beginning though it’s pretty low commitment.  I just watched tv and wrote, then every commercial break I went to stir it.  A film will form that makes little lumps which you should just stir away.  As it got darker though I stayed in the kitchen and watched it bubble, stirred it, let it bubble again, stirred it…until it eventually got thicker.  You can make it whatever consistency you prefer so I would stir it, take out the wooden spoon, let the spoon cool a few seconds, and see how the dulce moves when I tilt the spoon.

The recipe made two cups of this heavenly liquid, in which I promptly dipped Galletas de Maria.  Galletas de Maria are these delicious little milk cookies I found in Food Lion in the Mexican food section and they are great with the dulce de leche.  It would also be awesome on vanilla ice cream (if you haven’t had Hagen Daas Dulce de Leche ice cream, get up right now and buy some-or make your own ;P).  Honestly I think I would pour this stuff on anything, it’s so good.  Heck, I had a little in a bowl by itself.  However, now that I’ve made two sweet things in a row I’m craving a salty dish.  More yuca fritters sound great, or tostones…ooo, I don’t need to be thinking about this at 10:00 at night.  So much for getting back on the fitness wagon today.  I’ll just blame Monday fatigue and have another little spoon of dulce de leche. :D

Latina Magazine

6 cups whole milk
2 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. In large saucepan, stir together milk, sugar, and baking soda, place over medium heat and bring to a simmer.
2. Reduce heat slightly and simmer gently, uncovered, stirring occasionally for about 90 minutes.
3. As mixture thickens and turns a darker caramel color, stir in vanilla.
4. Continue to simmer about 30-45 minutes or until desired consistency is reached (it will thicken further as it cools). Store in seal container in fridge.

La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre

nytimes.com

July 28, 2008
El Cobre Journal

Revered by the Castros and Their Opponents

By MARC LACEY

EL COBRE, Cuba — The most bizarre offering that the Rev. Jorge Alejandro has witnessed at Cuba’s most cherished shrine came from the man who bent down and began clipping his toenails. One by one, the man deposited them at the altar, among the many other mementos left by the faithful for the Virgin of El Cobre, widely considered the mother and protector of Cubans.

At this shrine in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra, Cubans leave the Virgin locks of hair, baby clothes, baseballs, diplomas, letters, candles and bouquets. They offer snapshots, trinkets, lockets and pendants as well.

Some have even left banners criticizing Cuba’s Socialist government, which might be unthinkable anywhere else on the island. More…

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I had forgotten about la Virgen until I stumbled on this article on the Times website.  La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, as the article relates, is the patron saint of Cuba.  The Virgen first appeared off the coast of Cuba as a statue floating upon the waves, though she was untouched by the water and completely dry, to three boys caught in a storm in 1606.  She appeared as a beautiful mulatta woman, a mixture of black, Indian, and Spanish heritage–symbolic of the racial makeup of Cuba.   She told them she was the Virgin of Charity and guided them safely to shore and since then she has been worshipped as protector of Cubans who give her offerings in exchange for their prayers and to express their gratitude.  She even weathered the banning of religion by Castro’s communist government up through their easing of religious restriction in recent years.  Cubans have an enormous respect for la Virgen and exiles hold on to her as a vestige of their homeland and their protector in their new home.  She is also one of the central figures of Santeria, a Cuban religion derived from the Yoruba slaves that were brought to Cuba by Spanish conquistadors, only by the name Ochun, goddess of love and femininity.  However, as the article notes, both the Castros and opponents turn to la Virgen for help and she seems to be the site of the only acceptable dissent.

I’m not very religious, but I have an indirect relationship with la Virgen.  My grandfather on my father’s side has always been respectful of la Virgen.  When he was in Cuba, he prayed to her for a way to leave the oppression of Castro’s government safely and promised that if she answered his prayer he would buy a figure of her made of gold and give her offerings the rest of his life.  Of course, la Virgen answered his prayers and he kept his promise.  He had a statue fashioned and kept a shrine in his house to give her offerings away from the island he left.  I never saw her until in my grandparents moved into my aunt’s house in Florida.  There he kept a tiny shrine of her in the hallway on a shelf where he would leave little offerings like wine and rose petals and every time he passed he would make the sign of the cross.  I didn’t know what she was back then, so I didn’t pay much attention.  She was just abuelo’s weird statue.

My indirect relationship was a little more direct before I was born.  When my mom was pregnant with me, they told her that I may have all sorts of horrible problems such as Down Syndrome.  (When my brother heard this fact recently he said, “Oh my god, I almost had a ‘special’ sister!”)  My grandfather again prayed to La Virgen, keeping up with his offerings and strangely refusing to shave until I was born.  He got so bushey that one day when he was waiting outside the supermarket for my grandmother someone gave him a dollar thinking he was a homeless man.  La Virgen must have answered his prayers because I was born perfectly healthy (though she didn’t stretch too far because I was born with the umbilical cord around my neck…but I did live. ^_^)  So maybe I owe my life to this figure, to my grandfather’s faith in her, or maybe not.  It’s a cool story to tell and my fanciful side would like to believe it, but like I said, I’m not religious.  I do however respect her as one of the symbols of my culture, and in my imagination she’s sitting at my grandparents’ house partaking of her beautiful offerings and watching over my grandfather, and in turn, me.

Habichuelas con dulce – "Mom, Steph’s using a knife again!"

“I saw the best thing at Subway today,” I told Mom as I drove her home from work.

“What’s The Best Thing?” Mom asked, perhaps thinking it was the name of a new sandwich or god knows what.

“I’m about to tell you.”

“Oh,” she giggled.

“Well, I was standing in line at Subway and there was a Mexican guy in front of me who didn’t speak much English. He was answering with ‘Sí’ and ‘No’ while this young white chick pointed to different fillings. Finally he got to the middle aged Indian woman complete with nose ring and bindi who was putting the toppings on the sandwiches and she points to the lettuce and asks, ‘Lechuga?’ For a moment it didn’t register then I realized, Wait, she’s speaking Spanish! She points to all the toppings and refers to them by Spanish word, ‘Mayonesa? No mayonesa?’ How awesome is that? The guy looked slightly amused, but I think he appreciated it.”

“Indians are smart business people then,” Mom said. “And so are those Asians. It’s Americans who are stubborn and don’t want to learn Spanish.”

I thought this incident was pretty cool. Showing communion between minorities. (Perhaps an overly optimistic interpretation, but hey, let the idealist dream.) And good business sense. (Yo, Spanish is about to overtake English as most spoken in the US.) I won’t get into the “Why don’t they just learn [English/Spanish]” War my mother’s response implicates. Too messy for right now. I just thought it was pretty neat.

Anyway, today I finally cooked (or am cooking since it’s still on the stove) a new dish, one I’ve never had before, habichuelas con dulce. This is a Dominican dessert made from beans (odd, I know) that is commonly served on Easter (or when I need something sweet after an only slightly satisfying Lean Cuisine). Though it’s served on Easter it smells like Christmas because of the cloves and cinnamon, but I guess it still has Jesus in common. (So does that mean it smells like…Jesus?) It’s eaten hot or cold, sometimes with warm cassava bread or milk cookies. It’s a time consuming process so I definitely understand why it’s a holiday dish and meant to be made by old women who have nothing else to do. First you have to boil the kidney beans and also separately boil a peeled and diced sweet potato. Since we don’t have a potato peeler I attempted to use the knife to do it, but Mom got freaked out and took over, fearing I’d chop off my fingers. I’m known for being so clumsy that for the longest times I wasn’t allowed to handle knives. After Mom finished and left I had to dice the sweet potato so I picked the knife back up and Daniel yelled, “Mom, Steph’s using a knife again!” :p

You have to puree the sweet potato but since our blender was made in 1980 it sucks and I had to do it in batches in our tiny food processor (same with the beans). After you puree the beans you have to strain it, pressing the thick mixture so you squeeze out the liquid and eliminate the bean peels (which also takes a while). Finally once you have those set you combine it in a large saucepan with the other ingredients (which you can find under the Recipes tab) and heat it on medium for about 30 minutes.

I got the recipe from Latina magazine and compared it to one I found on the internet. The one from the magazine used Allspice berries but the internet one didn’t. In fact it used raisins. So I substituted but of course when I strained out the cloves and cinnamon sticks at the end the raisins had to come out too. But I ended up picked them out, making sure they weren’t stuck to any cloves since apparently biting into one is a frightening experience (according to Mom), and putting them pack into the mix. The consistency is soupy. Not too liquidy but pudding-y (what a word) either. The other recipe said to boil it to desired consistency so it probably could have stood to be on the stove a little longer. However, it’s thickening as it cools, like natilla. It’s somewhat flesh-colored (Jesus-colored?) like the beans sans skin of course.

I think it’s delicious. I think it’s great but Mom just tried it and wasn’t a fan. She doesn’t like cloves. It reminds me so much of Christmas. Kinda makes me wish it was winter (if the 95 degree weather didn’t already). So I guess my foray into Dominican cooking was a success. (As far as I know. I might get invited to a Dominican Easter one day and find that their habichuelas con dulce kicks mine’s ass.) Tomorrow I may (may because this will satisfy my sweet tooth for a while) make dulce de leche, well loved by several–if not every–Latin American country. Though funny how once you cook something and have a serving, even just a bite, you don’t really want it anymore. So…who’s up for habichuelas con dulce?

Latina Magazine; have a sneaking suspicion there is a better version of this recipe out there.

1/2 lb sweet potato (pretty much one sweet potato), peeled and diced
Pinch of salt
2 cups of cooked red kidney beans
1 cup of bean cooking liquid
1 can coconut milk
1 can condensed milk
1 can evaporated milk
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup of sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp whole cloves
1/4 cup of raisins (optional)

1. Boil the sweet potato with a pinch of salt until tender then puree in a blender with enough liquid to make purree smooth. Set aside.
2. Puree the beans and bean cooking liquid in blender and then strain through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing to get all the liquid out and remove peels.
3. Whisk potato puree, beans, milks, sugar, vanilla, salt, cinnamon sticks, cloves and raisins (if desired) in a large saucepan. Simmer over medium to medium low heat for about 30 minutes or until reaches desired consistency.
4. Stain out the cinnamon sticks and cloves. May be served hot or cold, alone or with milk cookies or cassava bread.

Check Please

I have an hour left at work and nothing to do.  I just finished another book, a delightfully girly summer read, Such a Pretty Fat.  (Is it sad that I’m too lazy to italicize it like good writing dictates?)  At first I wasn’t sure if I’d like it, whether she’d be annoying or amusing, but she was neither.  Actually she was HILARIOUS. (Not too lazy to caps, points for me!)  It’s a memoir by Jen Lancaster chronicling her efforts to lose weight and I knew that I liked her the moment she used the word “asshat.”  I seriously thought Ryan was the only person who used that term but I have been proven otherwise.  She’s quick and witty and her sense of humor is similar to mine.  A moment I loved was one of her responses to the old skinny-bitch insult, You have such a pretty face, it’s a shame you’re fat:  “You have such a pretty face it’s a shame you’re such a whore.”  XD There’s many more hilarious moments.  I checked out her blog which is pretty entertaining as well.

But the point is, I’m done with the book and still have an hour left of work.  (I think I’ll read Brideshead Revisited next since they’re making a movie and all.)  No one is calling which I have no problem with.  I’d sooner watch the minutes pass agonizingly slow like they like to do than get bitched at by angry customers…Ah, just talked to Ryan on the phone and killed 15 minutes and got interrupted by a flurry of phone calls that took up another 15.  Approximately 26 minutes til I can leave. 25.  I have a lot of financial stuff about school to deal with.  Oh, also I got stuck with the 8-meal per week meal plan because I missed the deadline so now I have to cook my other meals since my meal money will probably run out really fast.  Or I could hoard food, or not eat 6 servings in one sitting (ahem, Goldfish crackers, my kryptonite).

Also, I’ve recently restarted to contemplate whether or not I’m an interesting person, which is the fastest way to convince yourself you’re about as interesting as nail clippings.  I need to cook again, something new to get out this funk.  On the bright side I feel like writing again. (Oh god 15 more minutes!)  I do have things I can write about, especially my culture, which I should start doing since it’s the theme of this blog.  I think my new inspiration to write has been reading a couple of books that were so informal that I figured, Hey, I could do this.  And people might read it too.  Besides, if I want to get into one of the publications at school I need practice.  I’ve got time now, might as well utilize it.  3 minutes til I leave so time to wrap up. Yes!

Missin' Joysey Already

I’m back from Jersey and I brought a nasty cold with me. I got sick Saturday night and had a miserable Sunday and Monday. Then yesterday I consumed 5-6 liters of gatorade and various liquids, not including 3 bowls of soup, which I believe improved my condition. I’m feeling a lot better and even went back to work today (not that that is terribly exciting.) So how was the trip?

The first two plane rides to get there went really well. Daniel and I got a bit of a rush during takeoff because it felt a little like being on a rollercoaster. The flight itself was calm. No turbulence and the landscape of clouds was breathtaking. I just zoned out with a book and eventually it felt like I was just on a big bus. I looked up from my book one time expecting to see the road outside the window.

The first day we didn’t do much, just hung out with our Tia and Padrino and met our absolutely adorable 7 month baby cousin Hayley. She is the cutest baby I’ve ever seen. Seriously. She’s teething so she want to chew on everything which makes her even more entertaining to watch. She lurvved Daniel. She stare and stare at him and smile. His facebook status was that he missed her and I joked inwardly that it was because he had no one to stare up at him adoringly anymore. ;p I did leave a lasting influence however. To entertain her I had been making a popping noise with my lips and by the time we left she was crawling around smacking her lips trying to replicate the noise. So cute. And it was better than the wet raspberries she’d been blowing (spraying rather) at everyone earlier. I can’t wait til they visit for Thanksgiving. We also went to this ice cream/gelato place called Rita’s and had a “gelati” which is your choice of flavored gelato in between two layers of vanilla custard ice cream. Sounds a little strange but it was incredibly refreshing.

The second day we went to New York City to visit Daniel’s dream school, the School of Visual Arts. It’s in Manhattan, close to Greenwich Village in nice area. Honestly it was really cool. We toured all the departments which took a total of two hours and a ton of walking (the school isn’t all in one area). It made me want to go to art school. :( Seriously, it did have me seriously consider what I wanted to do with my future. Daniel has his dreams all set. Me, well, it’s more vague. I say I’ll go into the book publishing industry or become a professor but will I really like those? I really think if I could get serious about writing I would love to do it for a living. But wait? “Get serious”? Shouldn’t it be fun? That’s my problem, viewing writing, something I used to do for fun, as a chore. That has to change. Anyway, after the exhausting tour we had some New York pizza at Angelo’s. Then we went to the MoMA, which I must say was pretty awesome. They had a great exhibit on Salvador Dali which included his handwritten notes and films.

The next couple days we chilled and visited my grandfather and his companion (girlfriend, but that sounds weird), who came back from her Florida vacation reupholstered in leather. When she saw me she told me in Spanish, “You were thinner when I last saw you. Oh, but you’re fiiine like that.” Lovely, isn’t she. That’s the thing with old Cuban people, especially the old women. They have no sense of tact, a chronic case of verbal diarrhea, and the women are always fixated on your weight, no matter what size they are. I was called Gordita for several years of my adolescent life. Not exactly wonderful for ye olde self-esteem.

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