Friday, February 8, 2013

Flirting with Flan

I am part of the Latino Mental Health Program, and my first class in the program is Introduction to Latino Culture.  Our first assignment is to create a group presentation on the term "latino."  The challenge: we only have 60-seconds to present.  How in the world do you define an entire group of rich and unique cultures in one minute?  Here's the other difficult part: my group is the only one in the class that is entirely Caucasian.  I thought to myself, "this is going to be impossible."

Of course, my super-liberal Wesleyan education sent up a ton of red flags.  For the last four years I was challenged to break down the societal constructs of race and ethnicity, reconsider stereotypes, and examine accepted norms from opposite perspectives.  When I told my fellow Wes-alum housemate about my assignment, she said, "you can't do that.  Shouldn't that be up to latinos to define themselves?"  She's right.  I feel very uncomfortable presenting my definition of the word "latino" to a class of people that identify themselves as "latino" or "latina."
So what do we do?  We have to complete the assignment, so we tried to approach it in the most culturally-sensitive way possible.  Another student in my group felt as uncomfortable as I did, so she decided to ask a few friends that are from Latin American countries what being latino means to them. We decided to make a powerpoint of the flags of countries that are considered to be part of Latin America.  And then I chose to include one of my favorite YouTube videos: Qué difícil es hablar el español.  It's a song about how complex the Spanish language is because it changes so much between different cultures.  I thought that really encapsulated just how complex and different each country is.  We also decided to include the Merriam-Webster definition, as well as the one from the Real Academia Española.  Lastly, I made flan.  I know- it sounds super cliché and you are probably thinking, "why on earth would you do that if you are trying to avoid stereotypes?"
Well, for what I know of latino culture, food is very important.  It is a way of coming together, sharing, and giving.  Food is a vehicle through which culture is passed on within families and between friends.  And food is especially important to the culture at MSPP, where most meetings, labs, and clinical seminar classes happen with a meal or snacks.  So I asked my friend from México what his grandmother's flan recipe had in it, found a similar one online, and decided to share it with the class.  
I have never made flan before.  This was my first go-around with the beautiful caramel custard, and it was a very interesting process.  As an experienced baker, I have tried to replicate baked goods from many other regions.  And every time I ask myself, "would this come out better if I was GalicianItalianSpanish, etc.?"  The answer: probably.  I don't always know the stories behind the desserts from my travels that I attempt to recreate, and so I feel like I can't get the right emotional spice into them.  So now I've been researching the history of these desserts before I try them out.  Here's what Wikipedia says about flan.

And you know what, for being a chica americana, I'd say I made some damn good flan.  I think most of the class would agree that it was pretty awesome.  And it was muy fácil (very easy)!

Homemade Flan
Recipe adapted from Involving Color
Yield: 1 9" pie plate of flan (or 16 small servings)

1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, beaten
1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 12oz can evaporated milk
1 Tbs vanilla extract

Only five ingredients!
First, melt the sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally until completely liquified.
Remove from heat and immediately pour into the bottom of a glass or ceramic baking dish
 In a separate bowl, beat the eggs.

Then add all other ingredients and beat together until completely smooth. 
Pour onto sugar in baking dish.
Place in a 1/2 - 1" water bath and bake at 350°F for 50-60 minutes until the top is golden.  The center should still be quite jiggly, but not look like pure liquid.
Cool completely on a wire rack
Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.  When ready to serve, slide a knife around the edge to loosen the flan from the dish.  Then invert flan onto a plate with rimmed sides, so that the caramel sauce does not leak everywhere.  Flan is nothing but an absolutely sticky mess to serve, so be careful when handling it.

The flan was creamy and smooth and sweet and everything I want in a dessert.  So go ahead, make some flan or whatever other dish you choose, and immerse yourself into other cultures through their foods.  You never know what language or new food you might fall in love with.

Amor y galletas,

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