(Slight interjection: When I told this story to my students just after it happened, one student, a student who though intelligent and creative, never looked much like he was paying attention, raised his head at this point in the story and blurted out, "Gives new meaning to the phrase 'exotic bird'!")
This bird loved RWW the whole time we were there. Finally, when it came time to go, SWW reached up to remove the parrot from RWW's shoulder. "No!" the bird shouted. SWW's hands flew back in surprise. She tried again. "NOOOOOO!" even louder, the bird cried.
Before this visit, none of us knew that the birds had words that they could use to really communicate, not just imitate. Here we were just stopping to get our animal-fix, and this small animal so clearly used our language to tell us what it wanted, and in this case, it wanted RWW. We got more than just the cute factor on this visit, but a reminder of how little we understand the creatures that surround us. How much underestimating do we do when we don't understand?
We asked him about the flavors of his fruits, which ones were his favorites. Clearly a lover of tropical fruits, he firmly declared that he loved all papayas and he couldn't get enough black sapote. He showed us which fruits he eats on his daily cereal due to their prolific bounty, and which he cradles carefully until they are ripe, since he gets so few.
We purchased a Tainang papaya and a Keitt mango from him to grow on our little mini-farm. When he found out we were from Altadena, he declared, "You guys are so lucky; you can grow anything in such an exotic climate."
Exotic? It's hot every day here right now, sunny, dry; it's exotic to him, I guess. His clouds and July-green hills were awe-inspiring to us.
Now, there are three ways to get cajeta/dulce de leche. First, you can buy jars of it at the store, which is what we usually do. Most Latin groceries sell it. Second, as we occasionally do, you can boil cans of sweetened condensed milk for an hour or so in a large pot of water and hope the cans don't explode. That gives a decent product, but it is hard to monitor the consistency and color of the caramel. And the third way is to make the whole dang batch from scratch, which I did a few days ago with some of the goats' milk I had received from a member of the produce exchange to which I belong. It takes forever, but requires almost no work, and it is the richest, most caramelly dulce de leche I've ever had. Will I make this every day? No, but it sure won't be unusual in this house.
Cajeta/Dulce de Leche/Whateveryouwannacallit
I found this simple recipe at Vanilla.com. It's worth the time, and it will make a lot, about a pint and a half, so you'll have plenty for a while.
You will need:
2 quarts of goat’s milk, cow’s milk, or a mixture of the two
2 cups sugar
1 large, plump vanilla bean, split open
1/2 teaspoon baking soda, dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
To make the caramel:
In a large, heavy pot (not iron), combine the milk, sugar, and place over medium heat. Scrape the contents of the vanilla bean out and stir the tiny seeds into the mixture. As well, drop in the vanilla bean pod to further flavor the caramel. Stir regularly until the milk comes to a simmer and sugar is dissolved. Remove the pot from the heat and add dissolved baking soda; it will bubble up at this point, especially with goat’s milk. When the bubbles have subsided, return it to the heat.
Adjust heat so that the mixture is simmering. Simmer for a long time. For me, it took a total of about two hours. Occasionally stir the pot, making sure to swipe all along the bottom of the pot to prevent scorching or sticking. As the mixture begins to thicken and turn a caramel-brown color, you will probably need to stir more frequently.
If you take the pot off the heat and allow the cajeta to cool, it should be a medium-thick sauce. If it’s too thick, add hot water, 1 tablespoon at a time until it is the proper consistency. If it is too thin, return to the heat until it thickens.
When the cajeta is cool, remove the vanilla bean, let it cool, then lick off the caramelly goodness. The cajeta tastes great warm on ice cream, but also tastes fantastic cool, eaten off a spoon. Oh now, here I go, making myself hungry again.
Have a meaningful 4th of July.
(And, I have an updated version of Cajeta, very similar, but with an important addition, here.)