Stability was never a part of my childhood with my mother and sister. I moved from place to place, unsure of why. Most of the time, we would go from shelter to apartment, then back to another shelter, in Albany and Schenectady, New York, and at one point, a return to Puerto Rico, until Hurricane George washed away all of our possessions.
But what stayed consistent was the amazing Puerto Rican food my mother cooked for us. She had this magical way of making something taste like home with just her hands. Growing up without much money made her creative when it came to gift-giving, and nothing was in more demand then her famous flan—something she made for our friends, our teachers, and us. I would often watch her cooking, although rarely lending a hand, as I was the youngest.
She would blast her favorite salsa songs as she pulled ingredients from the refrigerator and cupboard. Although there would be a mess around the kitchen by the time she was done, she always made sure to clean up before sitting down to eat. With all of the turmoil in our lives, dinner was always a peaceful time. Since we moved so much, we didn’t have any of our own kitchen supplies, but the people at the shelter were always generous with whatever they had, and my mother was able to make do. Like many times in my childhood, the generosity of others enriched my life.
My mother recently passed away after a long battle with cirrhosis. She was a strong, stubborn, fierce woman who always told me to follow my dreams and never forget where I came from. With pride, I can say that I never will.
Leeane Melendez Schoener lives in Los Angeles and is completing her first album, “Birds Eye View,” under the moniker Reina Mora, the name of the exotic national bird of Puerto Rico.
1/2 c. sugar
3 medium eggs
14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
12-oz. can evaporated milk
4 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/2 t. vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Over medium-low heat, cook sugar, stirring, until it melts and and turns golden brown.
Pour sugar into a 9-inch round baking pan.
Put eggs, condensed milk, evaporated milk, cream cheese, and vanilla into a blender, and blend at high speed until smooth.
Put the baking pan with the sugar into a larger pan.
Pour the flan mixture over the sugared pan.
Add water to the larger pan.
Cook for 40 - 60 minutes, checking at 35 minutes, until a knife or toothpick comes out clean.
Let cool, then refrigerate overnight.
When ready to serve, flip upside down.