lessons from flan

There is such a thing as eating too much flan.

This nugget of wisdom hit me like a rock to the gut early in life. I was six.

We were living in Caracas, Venezuela, and my mother had just made flan. The baked custard, dripping in caramel and flavored with vanilla, was a family favorite. Like all those things one holds dear, flan was a rare treat. When it happened, we celebrated. (With flan.)

Flan leftovers never lingered, and the rule of scarcity wielded its mighty influence over a little girl with big eyes. Dedicated to the ultimate win, I practically ate my weight in custard. After dinner, I went back for seconds. Then thirds. Next, fourths. The math on this wasn’t complicated, folks, only repetitive.

Can’t say that I felt greedy, only justified. Why eat more dessert tomorrow when I could eat it that very day?

It wasn’t long before I got my answer: An epic stomach ache. Quick learner that I was, I vowed to abstain from flan. Forever.

This was fine in Venezuela, where flan was as ubiquitous as rice and beans. If I rejected flan, it was like saying no to, like, oatmeal cookies in the U.S. No big deal. Just chalk it up to being a finicky gourmand.

But they say context is everything, and it was so with flan.

A few years and many flans later, my family found itself in South Florida, living in a ranch-style house amid a working class neighborhood where we were the first foreigners to move into our street. With unspoken agreement, we all decided to take on the roles of friendly ambassadors bridging two very different worlds.

Other families on our block ate cupcakes or baked cookies. We did flan.

When my brother’s friends came over, and we had flan in the house, our cultural exchange came in the form of custard. Ditto my father, who would invite friends from his office for dinner, marking an occasion that called for — of course — flan!

As I watched others marvel and admire our very own dessert icon, I tried to fit in. After all, how was I going to convince the gringos that flan was delicious if I couldn’t even stomach it? It was hopeless — the smallest bite induced a wave of nausea that tasted strongly of eggs. I remained an outsider in a household of outsiders.

Over time, things changed. It was a small collection of events that culminated into yet another discovery: flan is good.

Like that time I was in college and a friend and I went out to a favorite Cuban place, a family-owned restaurant where the food was so good I dared to try a bite of my friend’s flan. For our next visit? I ordered my own for dessert.

Then there was that class in pastry school, where I learned to make one of flan’s culinary cousins, creme brulee. Creamy on the inside, topped with a layer of brittle burnt sugar.

And the day I decided to make flan myself. From cooking the caramel to scraping up vanilla beans to releasing the final concoction from its mold, these were moments I could enjoy without taking a single bite.

That’s a lesson worth celebrating. With flan.

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