My father’s culinary repertoire included four dishes: Fideo, a tomatoey soup of angel hair pasta and garlic, hamburgers, spaghetti topped with a jar of Ragu, and Dulce de Leche. I grew up in restaurants, and my beloved aunts could cook from scratch for armies of guests. His menu was a family joke, but secretly I loved it.
He and my much older brother lived in a garden apartment in Ravenswood, and entering their always-humid lair was heaven. I’d throw my things down and set myself in my brother’s room with a stack of Playboy or Penthouse magazines and paperback books and listen to them as they did their manly, Saturday things. Soon my brother would be gone, and it was just me and dad making food in a velvet cocoon of quiet and calm, so different than my frenzied life with the aunts and hordes of cousins.
Each week the big question was: Would he make the Dulce de Leche? His method--questionable and arcane and to me a form of magic--was to slowly simmer a can of condensed milk for hours, until the time came to cool it and eat it. Was anything more sublime? A deep mahogany if left a little too long, a rich hue like that of damp sand if not, either way, it was the sweetest, creamiest, best thing on earth. When we opened the can and spilled out the gooey innards the kitchen was always dark (never) and the apartment silent (hardly ever) and there was just me and him, sampling the sweetness.