“You remember things that never happened.”
Isabel Allende’s granddaughter said this to her one day, to which she responded, “Don’t we all do that? I have read that the mental process of imagining and that of remembering are so much alike that they are almost indistinguishable. Who can define reality?”
While reading her vividly pieced together portrait of Chile, an autobiography titled My Invented Country, I found myself mulling over the evolution and re-characterization of my own memories since traveling and moving to a foreign country. My reality has become decidedly split between two worlds, meeting only for fleeting, surreal instances, like when my parents came to visit or when M and I got married in Minneapolis. I can understand the difficulty of recognizing “what really happened” when events are so fragmented and separate from each other. My childhood love of puzzles seems to have turned me into my own kind of puzzle, made up of pieces from the places I’ve traveled and people who have influenced me.
It appears that changing location and learning to call a new city home both romanticizes and complicates our memories of wherever we were in the past. I often feel as if a ghost of myself is left in every country I have spent a decent amount of time- a static copy of the person I was back then. My memories are therefore projections of selves and when I return to that particular place again, these ghosts try to haunt me with nostalgia, the memory of naive bliss, or a bit of embarrassment. Revisiting places and projections makes me wonder who I would have been had I simply stayed in Minneapolis these several years. How does being displaced change us? Allende writes,
“There’s a certain freshness and innocence in people who have always lived in one place and can count on witnesses to their passage through the world. In contrast, those of us who have moved on many times develop a tough skin out of necessity. Since we lack roots or corroboration of who we are, we must put our trust in memory to give continuity to our lives… but memory is always cloudy, we can’t trust it.”
It is hard to go back and imagine who I could have been had I stayed- would I have been more “innocent?” Had less of a tough skin? Or does fate take its evolving course wherever you are? Obviously we all change in some way or another as we grow up and mature, but there is something about having had the experience of being the “foreigner,” being uprooted, that causes the path of our lives to turn into what Allende describes as not a straight line, but “a plate of noodles.” All we can do is sift through the memories and choose which ones we want to use to quilt together our stories.
This is exactly what Isabel Allende has done beautifully in this book in sewing together her life in Chile with plenty of color and vivacity. It not only inspired in me that similar kind of bittersweet nostalgia and reflection, but also a deep wanderlust to discover more unknown cultures and countries. Time to plan a trip to Chile.
There is one type of memory that we are all guilty of romanticizing: memories of food and flavor. Family dinners, your grandmother’s home cooking, holiday feasts, etc. I would venture to say that almost everyone has at least one memory that centers around food. In My Invented Country, I love the description of Allende’s Sunday luncheons at her grandfathers house,
“A typical luncheon began with stick-to-the-ribs fried empanadas, meat pies with onion… then came a cazuela, a raise-the-dead soup of meat, corn, potatoes, and vegetables, followed by a succulent seafood chupe that flooded the house with its delicious aroma; and to end … a tart of dulce de leche, a milk-based caramel— all accompanied by our fatal Pisco sours and several bottles of good red wine that had been aged for years in the family cellar.”
After reading this, I found myself longing for flavors that are not even familiar to me. All I knew was that I immediately needed to make a batch of dulce de leche. I remembered that a couple years ago I made some with coconut milk via a recipe by Renee Byrd that was amazing, so coconut dulce de leche it was. This sweet, creamy, addictive stuff is not exactly healthy breakfast fare, but Allende also happened to say, “I never heard the word cholesterol mentioned. My parents, who are over eighty, consume ninety eggs, a quart of cream, a pound of butter, and four pounds of cheese per week. They’re as healthy and lively as little kids.”
I figured that making some decadent + adorable muffins and smothering them in extra dulce de leche for breakfast was completely called for if I was really going to honor this book. These little beauties are moist, soft, have the perfect kind of muffin crumb and a lovely balance of caramel + coconut flavor. ¡Buen provecho!
Coconut Dulce de Leche Muffins
Makes one dozen muffins. Adapted from Pretty. Simple. Sweet.
- 1 1/2 cups (200g) all purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- pinch of salt
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup (110g) granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup canola oil or melted coconut oil
- 1 cup coconut cream (spooned from the top a separated can of full-fat coconut milk, set in the fridge for a couple hours or overnight)
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup (200g) coconut dulce de leche
- Extra shredded coconut for decoration
Preheat the oven to 350º and grease or paper line a muffin tray. In a medium bowl, sift the flour and mix in the baking powder, cinnamon and salt. In another bowl, using an electric mixer, whisk up the eggs and sugar until light and frothy, then beat in the oil, coconut cream, vanilla extract and dulce de leche until fully combined. Fold in the flour mixture and gently mix until you have a smooth batter, but be careful not to over-stir. Spoon the batter into your prepared muffin tray until each cup is 3/4 of the way full. Sprinkle some extra shredded coconut on top and bake for about 15-20 minutes or until light golden brown and/or a toothpick comes out clean from the center. Let them cool, sprinkle with a bit more coconut and serve with an extra indulgent spoonful of dulce de leche for good measure.