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.

Monday, October 25, 2010

El Dia de los Muertos Artist Reception- Nov 5, 2010

YOU'RE INVITED: Friday, November 5, 6–7:30 pm

Join us at the Olympic Sculpture Park for a special celebration of el Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead). Festivities will include music, art making, food and more! We will be joined by the artists who created the annual tapete display and Banda Gozona.

Please click here to RSVP.!%20D&WHEN=

This event is FREE!

Partial support for el Día de los Muertos is provided by the Consulate of Mexico in Seattle.

Date: 11/5/2010
Time: 6–7:30 pm
Location: 2901 Western Avenue

Monday, October 4, 2010


Posted by Mandy


how to write silence to the page?
leave it blank-
let it sit there?
eso es todo
rectangle of whiteness
undisturbed by the black pen
held by a brown hand

¿cómo escribir el silencio a la página?
you know all the words
but if there's just one thing
this world don't need
it's another one
immortalized in ink

they weren't our words anyway
the words that took our words away
maybe just leave half the page blank
let the other half speak
find the silence in
the contrast

*This poem is part of a series completed as a large portion of my Master's capstone-- please let me know your suggestions. Poetry is always in motion :)

Recuerdos de las Mujeres | Women Remembering Women

Posted by Mandy

Recuerdos de las Mujeres | Women Remembering Women
October 14th, 2010 6:00 PM through 8:00 PM

So, Profesora Gutiérrez y Muhs is going to be doing a public poetry reading! If you have not had the pleasure of hearing her beautiful word stories, you are in for a real treat. I was fortunate enough to take a class with Profe at Seattle U-- she is truly an inspiration to all and is kind enough to let all the poor Latinitas flock around her for a mentor. Honestly, this woman is responsible for getting me into grad school and inspiring me to work harder on my poetry.

I am definitely going (assuming I can get in!)-- this is a great event to celebrate Dia de los Muertos and Latin@ culture in the area as well, so please come enjoy the evening if you have the time.

In preparation for Dia de los Muertos/Day of the Dead, ArtXchange Gallery hosts a reading by Wendy Call, Catalina M. Cantú, Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, and Christina Montilla , four women writers from La Sala Seattle. Come enjoy literary remembrances and hear live music by Japanese/Latin fusion duo Miho and Diego. Dia de los Muertos-related activities, art and food will round out the event. Attendees are encouraged to bring a photo of a woman they would like to honor for a remembrance altar. Music begins at 6pm, reading begins at 7pm.

RSVP Requested, but Drop-Ins Welcome.

512 First Ave South
ArtXchange Gallery
Seattle, WA
United States
Phone: 206-839-0377