My Abuela makes this delicious desert that I remember my dad especially used to love. Natilla or Crema is just that, a cream. It’s the Venezuelan cream brulee. It’s made with eggs, sugar, milk, butter, lemon peel and cornstarch. My Abuela would put lots of Maria cookies crumbled on top to create a nice crispy top crust.
To make the crema, you first separate the yolk and mix it with the milk. Then you add in the sugar, cornstarch, lemon, and a pinch of salt. Bring to simmer and continue stirring until it starts to thicken. Remove from the heat, discard the lemon peel and add a touch of butter. Stir and it let it cool. Once it has cooled down, you add lots of Maria cookie crumble on top and put it in the fridge until it has set completely. This was the hardest part! The waiting! But if you didn’t wait and the Crema wasn’t cold enough, then you would regret it!
Abuela would make little ones in separate ramekins or a big one if we were going to a reunion or party. This was my Abuela’s signature dish. Everywhere she would go, people would expect she would bring Crema. And when she knew my dad there was no remekin that would satisfy my dad. He would always expect a large portion and just for him!
My Abuela moved a lot, within the same city, but to different apartment buildings. There are some apartments I remember more than others. There was one, in San Jacinto, where I would spend a number of summers.
She always lived in Maracay, the capital city of the Aragua State. Villa de Cura was a town in that same State. Villa de Cura to Maracay was about 45km or an hour drive.
San Jacinto was one of the first neighborhoods when you enter the city coming from the East. So the drive from Villa de Cura to Maracay always seemed short. I had picked landmarks along the way so to know how close we were to Abuela’s house. Once we cross La Encrucijada – the place where all the roads meet – we would enter a main avenue that would take us to Maracay. This was an alternative way to the highway. It had trees and it wasn’t as loud. It went through a number of neighborhoods part of Turmero. I knew we were getting closer because it would go from trees and open spaces to houses and shops, and more traffic. We would pass a big mall on the right and then a club on the left. Finally I would notify an amazing huge tree on the left. And this tree was not just any tree. It’s called Saman de Guere. The reason I remember and recognize such tree is because growing up we learned the story of Simon Bolivar – the Venezuelan-born South American liberator – would sit under this Saman to read and learn, rest and plan his dreams.
As we got closer to the left there was a very big park. Usually had fun rides or a fair going on. We would go the fairs to enjoy music, or buy from the artisans or to eat.
Across was my Abuela’s buiding. One summer, I remember I decided to continue my volleyball training. My uncle was a volleyball coach and he would run a summer training camps for older kids in the area. He figured I could train with them because I had been playing volleyball for a while in my school in Caracas. I must have been 9 or 10 years old.
One morning, my abuela had prepared me breakfast before the training. I got to the court and my uncle was raving about how good of a player I was in spite of being so young. So I started warming up and doing all boot camp-like exercises and I felt so sick! I had not digested my breakfast properly! It wasn’t pretty and I was so embarrassed! For the days ahead, I learned and I didn’t eat much before the morning camp!
My Abuela’s apartment I always remember being full of people. It always had two bedrooms but it seemed more than two people lived with her. There were cousins and uncles living with her and then there were us, the grandkids, that would come on holidays and we all managed to fit.
My Abuela is very religious, like most people are in Venezuela. She would pray the rosary everyday and light candles to saints. She had a huge painting of San Antonio – Saint Anthony. If you needed to find something, anything, she would go to the painting and light a candle and ask San Antonio to help find it.
I’ve never been a fun of the heat. And every time we knew we were going to spend some days with Abuela, my sister and I would suffer. Maracay is hot! Very hot! Most of the time in my Abuela’s apartments we would just sit under the fan or spend the day inside the one room that had the air conditioning.
Regardless of the heat, Abuela would always be in the kitchen. She would always be cooking to have food ready for anyone that walked through that door. And everyone who would come visit knew she or he would be well fed.