Monday, November 22, 2010

Enough Food to Feed the World

Enough Food to Feed the World
by guest blogger Debbie Brown

Young child in Greya Village; Katete District; Eastern Province; Zambia
photo courtesy Debbie Brown

One billion people will not get enough to eat today.
Twenty-five thousand children will die today of starvation or easily preventable childhood illnesses.
There is enough food in the world RIGHT NOW to feed every single person 3500 calories per day.

Debbie Brown recently returned from a month-long trip to Zambia, Africa

Today I want to talk about food in my family. I am 50% Irish (my mom is 100% Irish), 25% German, and 25% British (the name “Brown” is British; it is my paternal grandmother’s maiden name). While, as Jill pointed out, the Germans have some delicious food, the Irish and the English aren’t exactly known for their cuisine, which mostly consists of “boiling everything to death.”

My mom is no exception. She was never a good cook. She had a few recipes and cooked straight out of the Betty Crocker cookbook. I do admire her though; she had four kids, my dad was disabled, she worked full time and still had dinner on the table every single night. And this was before microwaves, “instant” anything, or any type of “fast” or “prepared” food.

But the thing about food in my childhood isn’t about about my mom being a horrible cook. It is about the reverence and respect my parents had for all they were given, and the knowledge that many people around the world don’t have dinner on the table every night, let alone breakfast or lunch.

I did not grow up wealthy. My dad is a disabled veteran (WWII) who is a theologian and writes books that the other five Calvinist theologians in the world read. My mom went back to college when I was little and became a school teacher who taught in Christian schools, where teaching is considered a “ministry,” and therefore, comes with very little pay. There were four kids in my family. So we didn’t have a lot to start with. But our parents never let us forget how blessed and fortunate we were.

My parents, since the time they were married in 1958, and continuing on to this day, give 50% of their income to charity. Some goes to the church, but the majority of it goes to people who need it. They have sponsored numerous children through World Vision, even putting some of them through college. They give to “Samaritan’s Purse,” an affiliate of the Billy Graham ministry, which brings wells/water to villages around the world. They support many individual volunteer workers in so-called “third world” countries. It would take an entire blog in itself to name all the places my parents give money to. Diane, you may be happy to know they even give monthly to the Humane Society because as my dad says “God loves all animals.”

In Greya Village, women walk twice a day to the borehole, approx. 2 km away, to fetch water.
Photo courtesy Debbie Brown

We were made very aware of this growing up. Monday nights were “meatless” nights at our house. My parents had a piggy bank. Every Monday night around the dinner table, they would put on a little show. My dad would say, “Mother, how much money did we save tonight by not eating meat?” Mom would say “a dollar fifty,” or something like that, and then they would put that much money into the piggy bank. At the end of the month, we would “vote” at a family meeting on where our “meatless Monday” money would go. There were also two other piggy banks (actually, “kitty” banks) that sat on the buffet by the dining table. One was for church and one for the “deacon’s fund.” The deacon’s fund was a fund in our church where people would voluntarily donate money and then if someone in the church had financial problems, the deacons could give them money out of the fund to help them out. As kids, no matter what kind of jobs we had, we were required to give 10% of our money to the church bank and 10% to the deacon’s fund bank.

My parents never let us forget about “the starving kids in Asia” (starving kids in Africa didn’t come ‘til later). And we sacrificed. This money wasn’t coming from some extra trust fund or something. We literally had a much lower standard of living—not that it wouldn’t have been that great anyway—because my parents gave 50% of their income away.

I was really resentful of this as a teenager, and even into adulthood. We either got used clothing, or ordered it out of the Sears catalog—death for a teenager! We had one car, a Volkswagen bug, and all four of us kids had to sit in back! We ate really, really cheap food, and had the “meatless Mondays.” Mom gave us our haircuts (and she was worse at that than the cooking!). As teenagers, there were no new cars—we walked or biked it. We were never allowed to “waste money.” Even though we had to donate 20% of our money, we still couldn’t just spend the rest like we wanted. We were always reminded “a lot of people don’t even have food or a home! And you want the new Queen record??” It really began to irritate me.

As a young college student I was extremely jealous of the things the other kids had. I was embarrassed that I lived in a trailer park. A trailer park! My parents both have advanced college degrees and yet I was called “trailer trash” in high school! Everyone else (it seemed) had a car. Cool clothes, like Gloria Vanderbilt jeans or Levis. I had Sears wranglers, if I was lucky. Why did WE have to give so much, when we didn’t even have that much to start with! NO ONE else I knew gave 50% of their income to charity! The Biblical 10% preached by our church was considered on the high side for most of my friends. I really resented my parents for years, feeling they had somehow “cheated” us out of things in my younger years.

In Africa, even young children literally “carry the weight” of family chores
Photo courtesy Debbie Brown

But you know what? Today I could not be more grateful for my upbringing. My parents were right. We were fabulously wealthy compared to almost everybody else in the whole world! I had food every single day. I had clothes that were clean. I had a roof over my head. I had a wonderful education. I had the opportunity to go to college. What did I really miss out on? Wearing a bunch of stuck-up clothes like the stuck-up kids I didn’t connect with anyway? So I had a few bad haircuts and had to ride my bike everywhere. My parents gave us everything we needed and more. We didn’t go to movies or out to dinner or to any type of “paid entertainment.” It was just us. We played tons of board games around the family table, from Scrabble to Monopoly. My parents read to us every single night, even all the way through high school. I have such fond memories of that, and of hearing the great classics read in my parents’ expressive voices. We played “balloon volleyball” in the house and even staged plays for each other. We had love and joy and warmth and each other. I missed out on nothing.

But there are hundreds, maybe over a thousand, people elsewhere in the world who directly benefitted from my parents’ generosity. There are college graduates doing work in so-called “third world” countries who would be poverty-stricken or dead if not for my parents. There was the family in Seattle who had their heat turned off one winter; my parents paid the $900 back payment (which was a huge amount of money in 1975!) and that family had a warm winter season. We always had 20-30 people at our house for Thanksgiving—people my parents just invited off the streets or the mission or wherever they found them. People constantly lived with us—the homeless, the downtrodden, many refugees from Viet Nam and Romania and the Ukraine. My parents are people who have actually made the world a better place.

I wish I could say today that I give 50% of my income to charity. I don’t. I try to be like my parents, try to be generous. I do give to my church, and I support one child through World Vision. I serve meals to Tent City on occasion. I try to volunteer where I can. I would like to live up to my parents’ standard because I truly believe they lived their lives the right way. We don’t need all the crap we have! When I was in Africa earlier this autumn, I found out what is actually a “necessity” and what is “luxury.” And guess what? Stuff like refrigerators, hot showers, soap, more than one change of clothing, transportation other than walking, even toilet paper…not a necessity! We are so rich. There isn’t a person I met in Zambia who wouldn’t trade places with me in an instant—my little basement apartment is far beyond anything they can even conceive of.

I occasionally spend a lot of money on food. I generally spend pretty frugally on food—making big pots of chili or soup and freezing it and eating it for a month. But sometimes I like to take a friend or two out to a really nice dinner and just enjoy an evening with friends and some really really great food. On the other hand, there are times when I have sacrificed something I would have wanted in order to help someone else out who needed it more. It’s a journey, and I’m not there yet.

These children may look relatively healthy, but actually are quite malnourished due to lack of protein
Photo courtesy Debbie Brown

So…to bring it back around to food. In my house we had “meatless Monday” spaghetti (noodles with tomato soup!), sponge-like pancakes, casseroles with only the tiniest hint of meat or cheese in them, milk made from powder (usually served room-temperature warm), and some pretty gruesome “lasagna” made from noodles (not lasagna noodles—too expensive), cottage cheese instead of ricotta, maybe 1/3 lb of hamburger, and tomato soup. When we had food in the garden, that is what we ate, even if it meant we had squash as our main dish twenty days in a row!

But looking back, I wouldn’t trade the horrible food for the books, games, and family fun. There IS enough food in the world to feed EVERYONE adequately every day, and if we were all like my parents, it could really happen. I want to thank my parents for never neglecting to remind me that I am one of the lucky ones.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Condensed Holiday Memories

Posted by Theryn

My mother and I had a secret tradition while I was growing up. During what were High Holy Days in my family (which were Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years), as our family slept, I would get up and keep my mother company while she prepared food for the day. I felt honored she would let me keep her company while she chopped, sliced, minced, peeled, ground, mashed and stripped onions, potatoes, celery, sage, thyme, giblets, eggs, peaches and yams. I would be the first to sample the sweet potato pie, dressing, giblet gravy and potato salad, and first to smell the hot sweet steam that rose from the browned crust of the peach cobbler.

“Stacey, pay attention to what I am doing,” she would say exhaustedly, amid the scents of fresh herbs, her fifth cup of Folger’s coffee, and smoke from her gazillionth cigarette. My mother used to tell me that if I did not pay attention to her cooking, I would not remember the recipes once she was gone. She was right about this! Well, sort of. I do not remember how she made her dressing, with that incredible balance of cornbread texture, turkey broth, finely chopped celery and onions that remained crisp but melted on your tongue underneath a creamy layer of giblet gravy. I do not know how to duplicate her earthy red sweet potato pie, nor her al dente potato salad. Though I did manage to graduate from the school of peach cobbler, and execute it with supreme perfection, according to my siblings.

Instead, what I take from all those years of High Holy Day overnights with my mother is a deep sense of connection to the foods that shaped my palate, not only for flavor or texture, but for what I understood to be American dietary staples and brands. In my household, the standard “holiday food” mirrored the national standard of “traditional” holiday cuisine. Turkey, dressing, gravy, potato salad, and pie were fine-tuned to our family’s sense of flavor and sat alongside grits, pigs’ feet and ears, collard greens, salmon patties, blackeyed peas and hot-salt-water-bread (cornmeal, salt and hot water, deep fried); but they were still reflective of an American identity centered around holiday food.

Jiffy Cornbread/Muffin mix, Quakers cornmeal, Morton salt, C & H sugar, Arm & Hammer baking soda, Clabber Girl baking powder, Dole canned peaches, Pillsbury pie crust, S & W candied yams, Saran Wrap, Reynolds Aluminum Foil, Folger’s coffee, Lipton tea, and Viceroy cigarettes were the brands that cluttered our cupboards, refrigerator and large freezer (that was locked and kept in the garage with loads of extra brand-named meats). This was only just the tip of this brand-name iceberg known as holiday Americana that laid the foundation for what I would come to know as the “common sense” of holiday food preparation, preservation, presentation, and consumption.

However, at the core of this inspired reflection on my family food practices at this time of year is not only the approaching holiday season, but remembrance of food from my childhood causing an onslaught of memories of my mother and condensed milk. Her diligence in feeding her family “homemade” goodness predates the Nigella Lawson’s glitzy meals made of pre-prepared canned, frozen, and dry foods mixed with fresh ingredients for sumptuous dinning. My mother has Ms. Lawson beat hands down!

One Smith family classic that both my mother and father got in on was banana pudding. Between the two of them we would get banana pudding at least 3 times a year, and no holiday was needed for this special occasion. When I asked my brother what he remembered about banana pudding, he literally sounded like a Food Network promo: “Banana pudding was the one thing you could look forward to. No matter what mood you were in, it would bring a smile to your face.” When I asked my father what he remembered he told me he’d loved it since he was a child and that whenever he returned home from service that his “mother would have a big bowl of fresh pudding waiting for him as he walked through the door.” He recalled times that when Jason and I would get super excited, all in the kitchen getting in the way, trying to help make the pudding from scratch.

My sister Michelle, on the other hand, hates bananas, always has, and remembered dreading its preparation because “the whole house would stink of bananas!” She recalled one time watching my brother begging for the spoon from the cooked pudding. “When he finally got it, he licked the pudding off like it was his last meal. I thought, ‘GROSS!’” she said. She also recalled that our mom would make her a special dessert, often something like lemon meringue pie, as a consolation for her exclusion from the family banana pudding fest. Of course, she pointed out that since it took longer for the lemon meringue pie to set up than it did for the banana pudding to cool off, she still felt cheated out of the whole “DIG IN!” fun.

Central to my family’s banana pudding recipe was Carnation’s condensed milk. It seemed like it was always present in our pantry. It was the “special” milk from a can that we used to make thick sweet fruit pudding. When I asked my dad for the recipe, he offered this version:

• Some bananas
• Vanilla Wafers (Nabisco Nilla Wafers, of course)
• Vanilla Pudding

When I asked for more specific details, my dad said:

Layer the vanilla wafers with slices of bananas in a thick glass bowl (use any clear Pyrex cookware here or a very sturdy ceramic bowl). Cook the pudding. Then pour the pudding over the sliced bananas and cookies. Then bake at 350 ‘til you think it’s done cooking.

Not bad for a seventy-five year old retired army sergeant, but I think there are maybe some other details to pulling off the best banana pudding for your family, if you should feel so inclined. The following recipe is from and sounds familiar, without the oven part. For the lemon, I would go for fresh-squeezed Meyer lemons if you can find them, or a least a fresh lemon of any variety. And only Nabisco Vanilla Wafers will do. Bon appétit!

• 1 (14-ounce) can Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk (NOT evaporated milk)

• 1-1/2 cups cold water

• 1 (4-serving size) package instant vanilla flavor pudding mix

• 2 cups (1 pint) Borden Whipping Cream, whipped

• 36 vanilla wafers

• 3 medium bananas, sliced and dipped in RealLemon lemon juice from concentrate
• Vanilla Pudding

In large bowl, combine sweetened condensed milk and water. Add pudding mix; beat well. Chill 5 minutes. Fold in whipped cream. Spoon 1 cup pudding mixture into 2-1/2 quart glass serving bowl. Top with one-third each of the wafers, bananas and pudding. Repeat layers twice, ending with pudding. Chill. Garnish as desired. Refrigerate leftovers.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

A recipe for collective identity in the food photographs of Magnum

Posted by David Ryder, guest blogger.

Above image: Martin Parr/Magnum. New York City.

"Milk is more than a food, it is an embodiment of the politics of American identity over the last 150 years." -E. Melanie DuPuis, Nature's Perfect Food. Page 8.

Milk is not just something that provides sustenance; it is a location for the manifestation and (re)production of collective identity. As DuPuis says, milk embodies American identity and the politics that are a part of that. There is a multitude of reasons for this and one is that food, power and culture go hand-in-hand, especially when talking about milk. But of course, it is not just milk that embodies collective identity. Recipes, traditions, restaurants, brands, and food in general - all of these things emobdy, produce, and reproduce collective identity. The goal of this blog post is to show how this happens, visually, through a critique of a selection of images from photographers of Magnum Photos. Magnum is home to some of the world's best photographers, many of whom have shot food at one point or another in their careers. Some food photographs of Magnum's are famous, while others are not.

Beginning with the opening image, we can see that the gratuitous use of the American flag shows the 'Americanness' of the food on display. The photographer, Martin Parr, is a British photographer who photographs Western culture in a way that is often funny or critical. He often shots food, which for him seems to be one of the easiest targets of critique in the U.S. and the U.K. Here, the sausages and the bright colors mix with the harsh on-camera flash to create a stale, unnatural snapshot of American eating habits. We see collective identity and it is not pretty. Of course, many Americans do not eat meat and even the notion of 'collective identity' is problematic in that regard, but nonetheless the 'Americanness' of the photograph is easily read and comes across visually without the need for a caption.

Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum

Above we see an image by the co-founder of Magnum, Cartier-Bresson, who made this photograph for a journalistic story on the lives of workers in France. In the image, working class people enjoy a meal by the River Marne. Cartier-Bresson gives us a sense of the life of the working class French through the picnic setting and the placement of the river in the background. Clearly for them, sharing meals is a nice way to come together and relax. The moment that really makes the photo is the pouring of what looks like wine, and this decisive moment also helps us to see that wine is part of the subjects' life.

Gueorgui Pinkhassov/Magnum. Uzbekistan.

Above is an image of a market in Uzbekistan. What is different about this image is that we see the potential for social interaction and the sharing of ideas and friendships at the location where raw food supplies are purchased - in this case the raw food supply is a live chicken. Instead of identity production through the sharing of a meal or the still life of a processed meat product, we see the location of the market as a cultural hotspot. The image clearly shows multiple people at the market, albeit silhouettes, and we can make out several other chicken silhouettes, too. The chicken is in color, with the red attracting our attention, and it is placed centrally in the frame. The humans, secondary in the image, are in the background, and it feels like they are surrounding us as the viewers, giving the photograph has an almost three-dimensional feel. The food commodity - the chicken - is here in the image as the central point around which the people can congregate, interact, and build connections.

Alex Webb/Magnum. Istanbul, Turkey.

Finally, we see an image from Alex Webb, which is the cover image for his book, Istanbul. The image has a beautifully soft interplay of color, typical of Webb's work, and in this case the complementary reds and greens are adding depth and a mysterious comfort to the frame. The look of the boy adds mystery, as does the cotton candy, which seems absurd in this almost medieval setting. The image was made during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month in which one must fast during the daylight hours. We can see by the color and qualities of the lighting that it is nighttime, and the fact that the boy is eating means that the fast for the day must have ended. The draw for me in this photo is the cotton candy, for something would be lacking if the image only included the boy with nothing in his hand. Of course the scene is captivating and the boy and his sweater are intriguing, but it is the cotton candy that is what takes this photo from being good to being great. And it is the connection that I have to cotton candy, and the meaning it has for me, which makes cotton candy work well in this context. I do not doubt that it was the cotton candy that made Webb snap the picture in the first place, because Webb's interest in Istanbul is rooted in its mixed characteristics of East and West. For Webb, and for me, the cotton candy has a meaning that says 'West,' while the rest of the environment in the photo says 'East.' It seems that the boy is standing in a setting that could be anywhere in the Middle East, while he is holding a snack that looks like it was purchased moments ago from a vendor on Coney Island in New York.

As we can see, food holds meaning for all of us. It can represent many things, from being all-American, to being working class and French, and it can be the central part of a social hub like a market in Uzbekistan. Food can also house the idea of the West, even if that food is being consumed during Ramadan in a supposedly Eastern geographical location like Turkey. Food is much more than sustenance; it is full of meaning and that is why we as humans can shape our collective identities through it.

Change the Picture

by guest blogger Ruth Gregory

Change the Picture from Ruth Gregory on Vimeo.

Change the Picture compiles moments of violence against women from 10 of the films from the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Films of All Time. It is not the only moments of violence against women in these particular pictures or the only films that feature such moments from the list as a whole. The images are interspersed with excerpts from film reviews about each of the films and then coupled with the song “Smack My Bitch Up” from The Prodigy (a song that was popular when it was released in 1997, but eventually banned from MTV for the controversial visuals that accompanied it). Together, the piece is meant to heighten the effect of these instances of violence that permeate some of the most critically revered films in cinema history.

This piece builds off the book From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies by Molly Haskell. It is one of the earliest books published from a feminist author on the topic of the cinema. In it Haskell hypothesizes that as women have mobilized in the real world for their own rights their depictions in film have gone from a revered status to something much less than: “As women represented real threats to male economic supremacy, movie heroines had to be brought down to fictional size, domesticated or defanged” (8).

In his work Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History Michel-Rolph Trouillot talks about how the lack of discourse or even mention of the Haitian Revolution in popular culture and academic texts is an act of silencing that produces a racist present: “What we are observing here is archival power at its strongest, the power to define what is and what is not a serious object of research and, therefore, of mention” (99).

My intention with this piece was to contend that the lack of discussion about the parameters by which we judge and create the cinema canon has a similar effect – reproducing issues of racism and sexism which speak more to the present than to the time period in which the films were made. And their continued adoration by critics and scholars alike is not neutral or unproblematic.

The scenes out of context may also spark controversy in how they are being used. Filmmakers spend a lot of time crafting narratives that justify and romanticize the violence in them. Thus, stripping away the synthesized saxophone playing in the background of the “romantic” moment between Rachel and Deckard in Blade Runner frames the way that he handles her in a new light. In the climax to Double Indemnity Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyk) shoots her lover Walter Neff in the stomach before he takes the gun away from her and kills her; thus justifying his violence against her. But the truth remains that he elects to kill her instead of any of the other possibilities one could take in such a situation. In Gone With the Wind Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) takes a swing at Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) which he dodges. Due to the force of her attempt Scarlett then goes tumbling down the stairs. The intent is comedic, but the inclusion of this moment minus the swing from Scarlett, is meant to bring up how women are trivialized in film narratives to the point that their pain is used for comedic effect.

The other thing that is so striking about the films used in this piece are the lack of people of color. Only Gus, the sex-crazed Black Buck, from The Birth of a Nation is remotely close; although Gus is actually played by white actor Walter Long who wore blackface make-up like many other characters in the film to portray an African-American character. In fact, in the whole list of 100 films, there are only a handful that feature actors of color – Pulp Fiction, Do the Right Thing, Westside Story, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, In the Heat of the Night, Gone With the Wind and To Kill a Mockingbird. Even then it is mostly in supporting roles.

Even for me, the piece brings up more questions than answers. Thus, I conclude this accompaniment with a list of discussion questions in the hopes that this work at least sparks conversation, if not easy conclusions:
  • What are the parameters in popular culture or textbooks to constitute what is or is not a good film?
  • What parameters should we use to judge films as great works of art? By their formal qualities such as cinematography, lighting, sound design? By the quality of their content – the characters, the storyline, the perceived audience?
  • Can there be exceptions to this list?
For further information see:
Haskell, M (1987). From Reverence to Rape: The Image of Women in the Movies (Second Edition). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
• The first chapter entitled “The Big Lie” encapsulates her point brilliantly.

This Film is Not Yet Rated. Dir: Kirby Dick. 2006.
• This documentary is ripe with discussion on the MPAA rating system and the differences in the way that they rate sex and violence in feature films.

Trouillot, M-R (1995). Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston: Beacon Press.

Maker’s Note: I realize the quality of the titles in this video are poor. I am working to make them better and will upload a newer version when it is available.

Typically American

posted by Luke Ware, guest blogger.

Ryan Casey over at the Argus Leader gives us a recipe for what it means to be a South Dakotian (and American.) Casey’s article, “My Voice: Let's rise above cynicism, racism of claims about food at voter rallies” is a response to claims by both Democrats and Republicans in South Dakota who have charged each other with buying votes with food during early voting for the 2010 General elections. Investigations are ongoing. State and federal law does not allow votes to be bought with someth

ing of monetary value (e.g, you can’t give someone money to vote). The debate started when members of the Democratic Party hosted three chili feeds on Indian reservations during a time when early voting booths were open. Republicans complained to the State Attorney General’s Office claiming the feed was in violation of federal voting laws. Meanwhile, the Republican party was hosting events that provided chips and hot dogs to attendees. Casey, advocating for a cease fire, argues:

“We don't need to be scared about Indians getting a bag of potato chips at an election rally. Instead, the constant and systematic effort to disenfranchise some of our fellow South Dakotans - and the subtle attempts to coax out the worst in us and play on our racial sensitivities - should elicit the true moral outrage in South Dakota elections.”

Here, Casey interrogates the discourse for what it is; party pandering and desperate attempts by both political parties to get in a few final blows. Casey goes on to say:

“In our state, we believe that every citizen is a child of God, a fellow American and a fellow South Dakotan. Wherever your ancestors came from, in South Dakota we're raised to believe that everyone who works hard and plays by the rules should have an equal opportunity to live, to work, to raise a family, and to vote.”

I applaud Casey for his interrogation of political discourses, but I’m concerned about his truth-telling. Perhaps Casey indeed believe that everyone who works hard and plays by the rules will be met equally in America, but it seems that South Dakota is proof alone that those words are wrong. Why? In a moment.

Certainly, Casey, your words are spirited, but they seem to be just as empty as the Republicans and Democrats bantering about election food. “We don’t need to be scared about Indians getting a bag of potato chips at an election rally”, I certainly agree. What we need to be afraid of is how many Native Americans are not getting any food at all on Election Day. According to the 2000 census, 61% of families living in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (one host of the chili feed) live below the federal poverty line while 63% are unemployed. Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and other reservations in South Dakota, are some of the poorest regions in the U.S.

On the surface, Casey seems to be interrogating political discourses of the American Politic. In the end though, he gives us the same hollow rhetoric on the American spirit. It would be lovely if success was just a matter of pulling up our bootstraps, but it’s not.

In honor of these hollow words, I offer a recipe. Great American rhetoric during election time reminds me of a rather entertaining dessert; the good old-fashioned American Apple pie. “As American as Apple Pie” is a slogan recognized worldwide and is often used in daily vernacular. The Cambridge dictionary defines it simply to mean, “to be typically American." I offer to you not the standard golden brown, cinnamon-infused gooey apple delight shown in magazines and on television. Instead I offer something much more devious, hollow, and fitting: The Mock Apple Pie.

It looks mouth wateringly delicious, and deceptively passes as the Real Deal when looked at from afar all the time. Something about its core is rotten, however. The missing piece? There are no Apples. Back in the day of the pioneers, this little gem had a simple saltine core. Now? RITZ crackers have cornered the market.

And there you have it. The Great American Apple Pie, without the Apples. To be fed at all political and celebratory occasions where your pie can be as hallow as your rhetoric.

(Recipe Source:

What You Need

Pastry for 2-crust 9-inch pie

36 RITZ Crackers, coarsely broken (about 1-3/4 cups crumbs)

2 cups sugar

2 tsp. cream of tartar

Grated peel of 1 lemon

2 Tbsp. lemon juice

2 Tbsp. butter or margarine

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Make It

PREHEAT oven to 425°F. Roll out half of the pastry and place in 9-inch pie plate. Place cracker crumbs in crust; set aside.

MIX sugar and cream of tartar in medium saucepan. Gradually stir in 1-3/4 cups water until well blended. Bring to boil on high heat. Reduce heat to low; simmer 15 minutes. Add lemon peel and juice; cool. Pour syrup over cracker crumbs. Dot with butter; sprinkle with cinnamon. Roll out remaining pastry; place over pie. Trim; seal and flute edges. Slit top crust to allow steam to escape.

BAKE 30 to 35 minutes or until crust is crisp and golden. Cool completely.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"German" Food?

Posted by guest blogger Jill

Upon moving to Seattle, it didn’t take long for me to develop quite a jonesing for some home cooked food. About a year ago I did a quick Google search for German restaurants, found some names, and went to the one closest to my home. After blindly diving into this place (which shall remain nameless) I left quite disappointed. I certainly wasn’t expecting the food to taste as good as my grandma’s, but I naively assumed it would resemble it. Later I did a much more thorough search—reading the menus, seeing the dishes and what ingredients they entailed—and I discovered that they were all the same. This feeling of disappointment was not due to the quality of food, but rather what the food actually was—bratwursts, sauerkraut, pickles, pâtés, and mustard with EVERYTHING. This is nothing like the food I grew up with.

I’m German-Russian, meaning my ancestors immigrated to Russia but never became immersed in their culture. They kept their own recipes, and, as the food changed in Germany, theirs stayed the same. This explains why I did not grow up dunking sausage links in yellow muck, but there’s more…

My grandmother is a fabulous cook. As far as I was concerned she brought Germany to the table every Sunday with entrees like “Boreka,” “Cheese Buttons,” “Cream Noodles” “Chicken and Dumplings,” German Potato Salad,” “Kuchla,” “Strudel,” “Knoephla,” and “Kuchen.” Even as a young child I noticed a pattern of what we were eating—meat, potatoes, dough, and often times cream. I noticed, but I didn’t give it a second thought. Most of the people in that community have a similar heritage; perhaps there were alterations within the recipes, but the same overall concept. And it wasn’t just my hometown, but several of the surrounding towns as well. We all ate the same things, so I had nothing to compare my family’s food to, and no reason to think that German food was different anywhere else.

This casual state of mind followed me to Seattle. My knowledge and interest in food exploded as soon as I started working in restaurants and dating a chef, and I began to fall in love with the craft of the culinary profession as I slowly started to eat my way around the city. Until I lived in a major city, I was unaware of the culinary world. I was and still am trying so many new things, and the overwhelming variety of cultures and styles that are involved with the way food is made kept me away from the food of my childhood for some time. When it occured to me that I should find German food in Seattle I didn’t even give it a second thought; I simply entered that restaurant ready to dine on grandma-like dishes and some good beer.

So why such a drastic difference? The combination of working in restaurants and going to school has really helped me to think this out. In class my cohort, professor, and I have discussed extensively the “whys” behind “what” we eat, how our nation thinks about food, and the actions and processes within how this food is sold and presented to us. These discussions have obviously gone in several directions with several opinions, but I am going to dwell on just one--the choices that people make about what they eat are sometimes a financially based choice, whether they like it or not. I’m not going to pretend that I know what “eating right” is (for both ethical and health related reasons) or that even if I could afford any diet of choice, that I would make all the “right” choices. I CAN say that it is expensive for me to shop organically, that the reason I don’t usually buy meat is mostly because of the price, that I have given up certain foods due to morals, that not all restaurants buy according to their morals but because of the anticipated questions of those consuming the food, and that if pushed I would probably get into a fight with a vegan (for the first 18 years of my life I knew the source and treatment of all of my meat—my father and my uncles.)

I could go on, but I think I’ve made the point that what we eat is a big topic, and the list of whys is even bigger. But I digress, and return to the topic of finance. So back to my dwelling—what can one afford? The fact that my grandma’s food has only three ingredients (meat, potato, dough) has another explanation—there was no money. In Russia the dishes rarely even included meat; if they had any livestock they sold it. Once in the states, cattle were eventually able to provide sustenance. (This is not complete fact, but it is the generally consistent information that has passed through my family.)

So I will now offer my grandmother’s recipe, and conclude with a comment about my hometown. There a unique quality to the food I grew up with. It began in Germany partly due to poverty, moved to Russia and remained the same as Germany shifted, then moved to America (largely in the Dakotas) and has kept this originality. The intimacy, sense of community, and sharing of ancestry within a small town can all be quite impressive. All food issues aside, this is part of my culture, and it is ALL delicious. Here is the recipe, exactly as my mother emailed it to me:

Fleischkuechla – Deep Fried Meat Cakes – Boreka

The first name is German – fleisch means meat and kuechla means dough

The last one is how Grandma thought it would be spelled for what the Dewalds call it. I have never known anybody else to call it this. She doesn’t know if it is a Russian thing or Catholic?!?

This recipe came from Aunt Jennie (this is Edmund and Ralph’s mother) which was passed on to me from Grandma Annie.

1 lb. ground beef1 lb. ground pork1 onion – cut fine Salt and pepper

2 ½ cups flour2 tablespoons salt in 3 cups cold waterMix into a stiff dough – let dough rest a few hoursCut into small portionsRoll into a small round portion like a pan cakeFill with meat and chose with a saucerFry in deep hot fat until brown on both sides – drain on a paper towel

As I told you on the phone, the dough dishes were very popular because people were poor. They were labor intense but cheap. Actually this recipe is not one of the cheaper ones since it has meat.

Hope this helps you. If you need to know more, Dad or Grandma would be a better source since they actually grew up with the German food.

Take care of you - Love you – MOM

Monday, November 8, 2010

Native American's & Milk by Mona Halcomb

Recently, while talking to other cultural practitioners the topic of food came up. Many of us had just read the book, “Nature’s Perfect Food: How Milk Became America’s Drink” by Melanie Dupuis. It was a very comprehensive history of how milk was transformed from “white poison” to being the “most complete food.” It was disappointing to me as a Native American to not be included in a book about “America’s” drink; once again I am a member of the invisible Indian populace. In Ms. Dupuis’s defense she does not include a lot of information on diversity in her book. In a section entitled, “Milk, Race, And Nation” she only compares immigrant families to an “American child” who is obviously of European white racial ancestry. Perhaps not being included in this book is more revealing for Native Americans, as it speaks volumes about National Identity.

We thought it would be interesting to compare if milk has influenced our traditional cooking. I knew this would be an impossible task to find a “Native American recipe” that would be representative of over 500 Native American tribes and therefore, settled on a recipe that would be familiar at lot of Native gatherings. This would have to be the infamous “fry bread”. If you attend any pow wow you are likely to find a long line of people waiting to buy some.

My colleagues had the pleasure of asking their mom’s for family recipes for their dishes.

Since my mother’s recipe consists of a pinch of this and a tad of that…and my husband (who is a far superior cook than I) never uses the same ingredients twice to cook with, but relies on the, “hmm, that seemsabout right…method”, I was forced to look up recipes for fry bread.

This proved to be another enlightening exercise in it’s own right. Here are two unedited recipes just as I found them:

The earliest recipe we have for modern fry bread dates to the early 1930s:

"Squaw bread..2 tablespoons Royal baking powder, 1 quart like warm water, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon compound, flour enough to make about like biscuit dough. Roll and cut any shape desired. Fry in kettle of boiling compound. Recipe from Nancy Rogers Ware (Cherokee)"

---Indian Cook Book, The Indian Women's Club of Tulsa, Oklahoma [1932-33] (p. 7)[1]

A more modern recipe was:


1/2 Cup DRY Milk

2 Tbls. Baking Powder

1 Tbls. Salt

6 Cups Unsifted Flour

2 2/3 Cup Warm Water

Lard for Frying.


Mix together dry ingredients 
Mix in water & knead on floured surface 'till it isn’t sticky anymore. 
Then I usually put the dough in a plastic bag or wrap with plastic wrap to keep the dough from drying out. Heat lard in cast iron frying pan, but don’t let it smoke! 
Pull off a piece of dough about the size of an egg & shape into about a 9 inch round. 
Poke a hole in the middle & add to hot lard & fry on each side until golden. 
Drain on paper towels (I use pieces of brown paper bags, it's cheaper & works just as well!!) 

Note: Don’t ask me why this recipe has dried milk in it!!! It’s great so I have never questioned it!! I always use lard, though if you are worried about how healthy this is, you could use oil.[2]

The very first thing that jumps out at me is the term Squaw bread, as it is often offensive to most modern Native American’s. Secondly, in the more modern recipe we have the inclusion of dry milk. Native American’s don’t even rate the real “white poison” and we are given a substitute that is given as aid to third world countries. Nestlé is one of the primary dry milk companies. There has been some controversy over the stability of dry milk in certain temperatures and recently in China there where there was Adulteration of dry milk to fake higher protein content and the result was thousands became ill and some children died after using the product. [3]

Another very interesting discovery I made in my search for recipes was the Native American food pyramid! Here is the wording from the food pyramid: “The native American Food Pyramid Food Pyramid Comparisons:

The Asian Food Pyramid is very different from the American Food Pyramid. It has recommendations for what you should eat monthly, weekly, and daily (optional). It also has a separate group for seeds & nuts, as well as, vegetable oil. The Asian pyramid has recommendations for daily beverage (saki, water, and tea) intake. However, they also show that daily physical activity is just as important as food nutrition.

The Native American, Italian, and Mexican food pyramid are similar to the United States’ pyramid. They have all the same serving sizes. They all suggest eating grains (6-11servings), vegetables (3-5 servings), fruit (2-4 servings), and meats
(2-3 servings), milk (2-3 servings), and using fats and sweets (sparingly).[4]I didn’t even know that one existed. Let alone one that recommends 2-3 servings of milk. Many Native Americans are lactose intolerant! How can a Food Pyramid make this kind of recommendation? When it is coming from the United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Library! [5]They are the Government. They have to have Native American’s best interest in mind right?

A study from the University of Arizona on Native Nutrition and Foods Initiative Research conducted in 2005/2006 states:

Concerning milk, Native American hunter-gatherer tribes did not domesticate animals for milk purposes. Further research supports that 80% of the global population is allergic to milk after a young age due to the lack of specific enzymes to break down the milk lactose (sugar). An individual’s enzymes naturally decrease with age. Therefore, milk is best suited for babies and youth, preferably mother’s breast milk (ibid.). Native Americans consumed calcium nutrition found in berries, leafy plants, stems, and roots. Today, most Native people report milk intolerance and subject to physical ailments as a result of taking in milk and milk products. Studies have shown that Native Americans were strong people in body, mind and spirit. Their Native ancestors were lean with well developed bodies, sound teeth, dense bones and healthy before the introduction of cultivated and processed agricultural and diverse dairy foods (ibid).[6]

Native Americans health has suffered from the poor nutritional quality of Government rations. One in four Native Americans has diabetes today for example then before they relied on these rations.[7] Food rations that were part of treaties where land had been given in exchange for promises by the Government; promises that only one part of the bargain was kept, to take the land, but in some cases Indian Agents would choose who they felt deserved these rations.[8]

The simple task of comparing how milk has influenced our cooking has really made an impact on me. I see how the intercessions of large corporations like Nestlé continue to supply questionable products to the populations who are least likely to have the time, resources, or strength to look into any controversies surrounding their product. In this great nation where our Declaration of Independence boast, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” I must ask where is the equality? Where is our Government using their “just power” to secure that all are treated equally with the same nutritional food to ensure the Life of all who are protected by this document?




Saturday, November 6, 2010

Is it Possible to have New Orleans and Healthy Food Mentioned in the Same Phrase?

Guest Dude Blogger: Paul R. Johnson

I was born in New Orleans many years ago and my family moved to Seattle when I was very young, but I mention it because food (rich food) is a very essential part of New Orleans cuisine and Louisiana culture. I’m not trying to make an excuse for my largeness, but I firmly believe that my love of food and my girth are a direct legacy of my New Orleans roots. Yes, I do love Gumbo, Crawfish Etoufee, Jambalaya, Po Boy Sandwiches and probably Red Beans and Rice most of all. I could go on and on, talking about Beinets, Pecan Praline, Muffalettas, and King Cakes.

I gain a few pounds every time I visit my cousins, aunts, and uncles down home, but I also get sad when I think about the legacy that has disproportionately affected African Americans.

Louisiana is one of eight states in the U.S., where more than 30% of its residents are considered obese.

In September, "Let's Move!" Anti-Obesity Campaign kicked off in New Orleans by First Lady Michelle Obama.

So, while I still love the food I mentioned, I also know that it is contributing to poor health amongst my people. I'm contributing a recipe with a New Orleans groove, but without all the extra calories. It is not my original recipe, but a recipe that I hope will help people, especially big people (like myself), so we can learn to enjoy and lead healthier lives (and look more like I did in this picture seven years ago).

Crawfish Cakes With Horseradish Sauce

It is from Clegg's "Trim & Terrific Gulf Coast Favorites.

2 tablespoons light mayonnaise

1 teaspoon hot sauce

1 bunch green onions, chopped

1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley

1/3 cup shredded, reduced-fat sharp cheddar

1 pound crawfish tails, rinsed and drained

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon olive oil


Horseradish Sauce (recipe follows)

In a medium bowl, carefully combine all ingredients except oil and flour. Cover and chill 30 minutes, if time permits. Shape into 8 patties.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil. Lightly dust patties with flour and cook over medium heat 3-5 minutes on each side, or until browned.

Serve with horseradish sauce.

Horseradish Sauce

1/4 cup nonfat sour cream

2 tablespoons light mayonnaise

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons prepared horseradish

Pinch sugar

In a bowl, combine all ingredients. Mix well.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dulce de Leche/Manjar Desde Cero

Posted by Mandy

In her article on "Rebozos: Our Cultural Blankets," my former teacher, Profe Gutiérrez y Muhs speaks of the rebozo as a Mexican cultural icon:
But the rebozo is much more than this, an at least five hundred year old icon is a symbol of resistance and inscription of a culture into various others. It is a boundary of one's body; it is a space uncrossed by others. A rebozo has been, and to some Chicanas/Mexicans or their immediate relatives continues to be, one or more of these: a belt, a coat, an apron, a garment, a cover, a shield, a purse, a pre-Columbian slinky, an insignia, a tie from mother to grandmother, a sign of womanhood, a shelter, a hiding place, a wheel barrel, a roof, an altar, a clothesline, a bandage, a string, a song, a kerchief, a tablecloth, an adornment, a tool. In our anthropological cultural quest we find that it is the umbilical chord with which every generation has been tied even to pre-Columbian times. Most importantly it reminds us of the mother image that many of us carry in our hearts with tenderness. But, because this is the most obvious use of a rebozo as a cradle for culture, Chicana/Mexicana culture, and womanhood it sometimes reminds us of the stereotype of indigenous woman/mother/rebozo. (138)
Since originally reading this piece a few years ago, I began wondering what might be a cultural icon of Chile. When I think of Chile, the motherland ("land from which my mother came"), so many images float through my mind. I think of Chilean exports: bronze and pottery, wines and grapes. The literature of Pablo Neruda, Isabel Allende, and Gabriella Mistral's "Besos." Ceramic good luck pigs with only 3 legs, tv's in the mother's rooms, and café con leche as a descriptor for shades of skin.

Three-legged Chilean good luck pig

When it comes to food, though, there are really only two things Chilena I know how to make: arroz con leche and dulce de leche: rice with milk or sweet of milk.

A few weeks ago, we discussed an article on condensed milk in the New York Times by journalist Julia Moskin. This piece explained how condensed milk has always been treated as "inferior, if useful, substitutes" by "food snobs" who favor fresh milk. Yet the article goes on to describe how condensed milk (and evaporated milk) are important if not essential to the cuisines of many non-European countries, such as the Philippines (halo-halo), Jamaica (cream punch), and Brasil (pudim de abacate).

It is also the only essential ingredient for dulce de leche.

Dulce de leche suposedly came to Chile in the seventeenth century, brought by José de San Martín when he crossed the Andes. In case you don't know, San Martín is also known as one of the Liberator, for he, along with Simón Bolívar, are national heroes in Chile (and throughout South America) for leading many countries of the continent to defeat Spain in their wars for independence.

When I first thought about making dulce de leche (aka manjar) with my mother, I pulled up some other peoples' recipes, particularly those that either said they were from Chile or authentic. You might imagine my surprise to find that many of these dubious recipes failed to include sweetened condensed milk among their lists of ingredients.

For example, the Food Network's Alton Brown calls for whole milk, sugar, a vanilla bean, and baking soda. A purportedly "authentic" recipe of Chile from includes similar items in its recipe list, with the addition of vanilla extract and subtraction of the single vanilla bean. Apart from the ingredients, cooking times and methods also vary quite considerably.

But it is more the Alton Brown recipe that rubs me the wrong way. Recipes, like this one, generally do not include cultural studies-y explanations of why a certain ingredient might have been substituted in. Yet, as Alton Brown is considered a food "expert," and the first hit on Google for "dulce de leche recipe," his is probably the most likely recipe any new dulce de leche maker is going to find. Which is just annoying, because it's inauthentic. It reminds me much of the Fern Gully, Avatar, Dances with Wolves narrative, wherein the white man learns to do "native" things better than the "native." Alton Brown has became the quintessential dulce de leche maker whom people will depend upon for an accurate recipe.

Well, Alton. Let me give you a real dulce de leche desde cero recipe.

Waiting for Dulce de Leche to Cook

Dulce de leche Recipe from my Mama
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 3 hours


  • sweetened condensed milk (my mom clarifies that it cannot have a pull tab, but must be one that is opened by a can opener)
... and that's it. If you are making it for realsies, all you need is a can of sweetened condensed milk, water, a stove, and a cooking pot (no lid is needed).

Place can of sweetened condensed milk in water in a cooking pot. Place cooking pot on stove and bring to boil. After water begins boiling, bring temperature down semi-boil on medium for 3 hours.

And there you have it. Now you know how easy it is. Although, I must admit, this method is definitely not preferable to those of Alton Brown and friends in terms of safety. Every once in a while, the can will explode. But is is worth it for the yum factor.

Dulce de leche is tastier than it looks...

The thing that most strikes me about these other recipes are how much more they would cost. Dulce de leche is pretty cheap to make, generally costing about one USD. Yet the addition of whole milk, "one vanilla bean," baking powder, and sugar must bring up the cost considerably. I remember making arroz con leche once in Japan, and having an onlooker suggest I add salt, which sweetens without adding the non-nutritious-ness of sugar. We had a long discussion on why salt wouldn't be a part of the recipe (which instead calls for adding buckets of sugar to taste), and finally decided that either salt was not available or too expensive for the relatives from whom this recipe was passed down.

Which leads me to question who Alton Brown is really writing for (recognizing that it probably is not the Latin@s who created this recipe in the first place).

Works Cited

Alvarez, Beatriz. "South American Famous Dessert - Dulce de Leche." Ezine @rticles. 1 Nov. 2010. Web.

Brown, Alton. "Dulce de Leche Recipe." Food Network. 30 Oct. 2010. Web.

Gutiérrez y Muhs, Gabriella. "Rebozos: Our Cultural Blankets." Voces 3.1-2 (Spr. 2001): 134-149. Print.

Makka. "Manjar (Dulce de Leche) from Scratch." 30 Oct. 2010. Web

Moskin, Julia. "Milk in a Can Goes Glam." The New York Times 3 March 2010, online ed. 30 Oct. 2010. Web.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Meri Maa's Ras Malai (My Mom's Ras Malai)

By Priya Frank

Our class discussion on condensed milk had me thinking about how it has been used traditionally within my own family. Truthfully, I had to look up what condensed milk actually consisted of in order to understand how it has the ability to be canned and preserved for so long. I found out that sweetened condensed milk is made from pasturized whole milk that has had 60% of the water removed. The removal process contains heating the milk, concentrating it, and then adding sugar. It can be stored in your pantry from 6-12 months unopened.

Condensed Milk in India
The use of condensed milk in Indian recipes began in 1912, when the Nestle Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Company (Export) Limited began trading as importing and selling finished products in the Indian market. Nestle was founded in 1867 in Geneva, Switzerland but after India’s independence and the economic policies in place at the time emphasizing local production, Nestle formed a company in India called Nestle India Ltd, and set up its first factory there in 1961. The Indian Government wanted Nestle to develop the milk economy in the area of Moga, Punjab. In Moga, Nestle “educated” and mentored farmers in basic farming and dairy farming methods, irrigation, scientific crop management practices and how to increase the milk yield of the cows. Thus, Nestle transformed Moga into a successful milk district, both for the city of Moga, as well as for Nestle itself. The factory in Moga is considered one of the most prestigious and hi-tech milk plants in the country. The plant receives dairy milk from the local farmers and provides executive, technical and blue collar jobs to the local population.Since 1967 Nestle has opened 6 more factories throughout India under the “Nestle India Ltd” name.

Questioning the "Help"
Although this seems positive, I can’t help but think about the history of Nestle in India, what kind of policies were in place that encouraged the “education” of the Indian people, and I related it to the “West is the Best” ideology. According to cultural studies theorist Stuart Hall, one of the effective concepts behind the “West” was that “It provides a standard or model for comparison. It allows us to compare to what extent different societies resemble, or differ, from one another. Non-western societies can accordingly be said to be ‘close to’ or far away from or ‘catching up with’ the West. It helps to explain difference.” Was it naturally assumed that the Indian people needed to be “helped” and that the Swiss company was the answer to their problems?

Exploitation by Nestle
In thinking along the lines of the kind of “help” being offered by Nestle, in 2005 Nestle was sued by a leading human rights organization for involvement in the trafficking, torture, and forced labor of children who cultivate and harvest cocoa beans which the companies import from Africa. The suit was brought under two federal statutes, the Torture Victims Protection Act and the Alien Tort Claims Act. That same year, Nestle Union leader Diosdado Fortuna was suspiciously and brutally murdered in a chain of politically-motivated in the Philippines. According to several blogs I found online, the Nestle Corporation is notorious for the consistent and international exploitation and repression of its own workers. In fact, for the last 3 years, Filipino workers have been striking against the Nestle Plant in Cabuyao, Laguna, Philippines for human rights violations. There was even a documentary made about it, called There’s Blood in Your Coffee (

My Mom's Dessert
Something I admire most about my mom is her ability to cook anything, Indian or otherwise, and make it taste amazing, and way better than the original recipe. Whether she’s throwing down some ribs for our summer bbq’s, cooking up 20 pound pots of chicken curry for work parties, or even baking good old American muffins, she can do it all. After chatting with her, I learned that one of her most popular Indian dessert recipes is Ras Malai, which uses condensed milk. Ras Malai is a traditional, northern Indian dessert consisting of ricotta cheese bathed in sugared milk. The milk can be flavored with pistachios, saffron or rosewater. According to my mom, it is usually eaten for special occasions, including weddings and celebrations such as Diwali. It is a very popular dessert throughout India. She says that her recipe is the modern version. “In the old days they used to make it the long way. The clotted cheese would be made from scratch, where as in the modern world we can use readymade ricotta cheese.” Ras Malai originated in the Indian state of Orissa, on the east coast of the continent, near the Bay of Bengal. This shows the migration of peoples across the continent, since my family comes from Gujarat, which lies on the opposite coast of India. Since my mom was actually born in Fiji, not India, the migration pattern of this dessert stretches even further, and the network from which this recipe comes from has traveled many thousands of miles creating a cross cultural and cross generational tradition.


One can condensed milk
Half gallon 2% milk
One 16oz ricotta cheese
¼ cut almonds or pistachio (sliced) (optional)
Half ricotta container full of sugar (or according to taste)
Half teaspoon saffron
Half teaspoon cardamom seeds (crushed or powder)
Half teaspoon of nutmeg powder

Heat milk on low to medium heat in a thick pot on top of stove for 1-1/2 hours.
Keep stirring. After 1 hour when milk is boiling, add the condensed milk and saffron and nuts. Keep stirring.
Let it boil for another ½ hour and let it cool.

In a mixing bowl add ricotta cheese and sugar and mix with a big spoon (Taste & add sugar according to taste)

Grease a flat Pyrex baking pan with (spray Pam)
Place the mixture of (ricotta cheese & sugar) into the baking pan and flatten the mixture evenly in the pan
Preheat oven 425degF
Bake the pan with the mixture for 50mins

Take out the pan of cooked ricotta cheese from the oven and let it cool for 15 mins. Cut up into 1” square pieces and immediately put them in the cooling milk mixture.
Add nutmeg and cardamom
Put the Ras Malai in fridge for 3-4 hrs
Serve it chilled

Recipe courtesy of Betty-Bharati Frank

Hall, Stuart. "The West and the Rest: Discourse and Power." Formations of Modernity. Oxford: Polity in Association with Open University, 1992. 276-295.