About milk

THE BEST thing about being in the Air Force was the endless supply of milk. If there had been an equal supply of green grapes or flan, I likely would have been a lifer, a career man.

milkThe Air Force mess halls always had big stainless-steel contraptions where you only had to lift a handle and milk came out. It was like a cow or a new human mother. And I did love milk.

My mama, when I was a youngster, always complained about the quantity of milk I consumed, and once I made myself sick by eating green grapes. But the Air Force never held back on the milk supply and for that — if little else — I loved it. If only there had been grapes or flan.

There was no flan in my childhood. That came later.

When I arrived in Mexico, the milk situation surprised me. Though you can find chilled milk in cartons in the supermarket coolers, just like above the Rio Bravo, almost no one purchases it that way. It’s a specialty item. Customers buy milk off the regular shelves where it sits unchilled in sealed cartons.

The first time I spotted this, I thought: Yuck! But since this is by far the most common way to buy milk in Mexico, I bought it. I keep two in the fridge and the others on the kitchen shelf. After you chill it, it tastes just as it should.

I drink far less milk these days because Mexicans don’t drink much milk, even kids. My wife, my other new relatives, would look at me and giggle when I poured a glass of milk to accompany, say, a lunch. But it wasn’t the giggles so much as it was that the environment is different.

Nowadays, I drink milk with cereal and the occasional pastry at night, but normally I drink water. I still love a good mound of green grapes, however. They’ll never convince me otherwise.

And there’s less good flan here than you might think.

* * * *

(Note: I was a grunt in the U.S. Air Force in the early 1960s.)

29 thoughts on “About milk

  1. I used to love milk with peanut butter sandwiches. Now drinking a glass of milk sounds disgusting to me, though I still like a little in coffee. That boxed milk was a lifesaver when we were cruising, once we got the nerve to try it.


    1. Bliss: Peanut butter sandwiches? But where’s the jelly? I loved milk with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and with banana/peanut butter sandwiches too. Sandwiches of slices of canned pineapple plus mayo were great too. Didn’t go as well with milk. However, now I eat none of that stuff. I still like milk.

      Yeah, initially, the idea of that non-chilled milk is off-putting. But not anymore.


  2. I never had a bad meal when I was in the Air Force. Everyone in the service eats the same meal no matter where they are stationed. The menu is standardized. Sometimes they vary according to local supply, but basically, they are the same.

    In Vietnam, we used to get canned butter from New Zealand. I remember watching the cooks sift big rat turds out of the flour. Nobody died from the food.

    When I was young, we never ate fish unless it was something we caught. It always tasted of mud. In the chow hall, I discovered how good fish can be. Every Friday, we had fish. I loved it.

    I had never even heard of pineapple pie, but once I ate it in the chow hall, I wrote home to my mother about it. She found the recipe and made it. She loved it.

    Sometimes in difficult circumstances, we had to eat the boxed rations. They were made up sometime in the 1940s. The scrambled eggs were laid before I was even born.

    As bad as they were, the Vietnamese loved them. They ate things that even I cannot stomach.


    1. Señor Gill: It’s been so long that I remember little of Air Force grub in general, but I do not recall being unhappy with it. I even liked SOS.

      Funny you should mention eating fish at home as a child, the only fish I recall were frozen fish sticks. We did eat seafood in restaurants, however, because we lived in Florida.


      1. And now I know how you stood on the war. Those involved spelled Viet Nam, those against spelled Vietnam. The style books said “Vietnam.” That is akin to Northdakota and Southcarolina.


        1. Señor Gill: Ah, you check back. I often wonder how many people do. I routinely edit comments, but never for content, just to make it pretty. Sometimes just to make it coherent. I consider it a favor to them. After decades in the newspaper business, I am addicted to the AP Stylebook, which does say Vietnam, one word. However, my editing fixation is not cast in stone, and I know that many people write Viet Nam as one word, and I was going to leave it that way until you got to Viet Namese, and I cringed. I have seen Viet Nam, of course, a million times, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen Viet Namese as two words even though it makes perfect sense if you write Viet Nam one word.

          I never heard that one-worders were antiwar and two-worders were pro, so that does not reflect my take on the war. I will tell you my take on it, however. During the war, I was, of course, young and dumb as most young people are. At the time, I considered the conflict a civil war, which it was, among other things. For that civil-war reason, I was against it but not vociferously because I was too busy being married, having a child and earning a living.

          Looking back on it, clearly it was an error because we did it badly, and we lost. We lost not because of the military but because of inept politicians. Furthermore, what many people these days do not understand is that the “domino theory,” which is now poo-poo’ed roundly, was a very legitimate concern in those times. There WAS an international communist movement, and they controlled a huge chunk of world real estate, and they made no secret of their desire to expand, and they were expanding. There was much cause for worry in the non-communist world.

          It was this legitimate worry that caused the U.S. to support right-wing dictators, especially in Latin America. It made sense at the time, but it looks bad now.

          But that’s all behind us. I am extremely pro-military, and we have to worry about Mohammedans now instead of communists even though there remain, astoundingly, a good proportion of the human race who embrace communism/socialism/social democracy, etc., because they are ignorant. These people usually are poor or they are folks who gather in university campuses, and they vote for people like Barry Obama.


          1. While I was in the war, I wished we would win it. I sure didn’t like the thought of them wanting to kill me.

            We could have bombed out the Red River Dikes and mined the harbors. That, I think, would have done it.

            Sadly, we are repeating the mistakes we made in the past. War is best done by the military. The politicians should stay out of it.

            Liked by 1 person

  3. I was introduced to box milk in Greece in the early 1970s. I suspect the process had not yet been perfected because it always tasted a bit like the powdered milk we used on Boy Scout outings. Not so tasty.

    But you bring back some good memories about Castle AFB. One of my officer duties was to periodically taste and rate the food in the dining hall. My early attempts at playing Craig Claiborne were not appreciated.


    1. Señor Cotton: I imagine that putting you in charge of food tasting was akin to putting our Don Cuevas in the same position. I doubt either of you would have ever been happy with the options provided.

      I had forgotten that you too were at Castle AFB after me. Of course, you — ahem! — were no grunt.


      1. I rarely drink milk any more. I do drink a lot of coffee, but my latest love is freshly squeezed tangerine juice. But it’s so sweet that I have to add a shot of water.

        By the way, for 6 years, I was a cook, eventually Spec 6th, in the Mo. Army National Guard. I helped lift the quality of the chow served to the troops in my unit. I could tell some stories, but I’ll save them for my blog. (Sample: Froot Loops in the meatloaf.)

        Don Cuevas


        1. Don Cuevas: I’ve become quite the tangerine fan since moving to Mexico. I liked them before, but the tons available this time of year here are great.

          But … Froot Loops in meatloaf? Good Lord! Sounds ghastly.


  4. I’ll take the shelf-stable milk (cold) over powdered milk every time! Canned milk is popular in Latin America but I’ve never tried it except mixed in pumpkin pie.


    1. Carole: By shelf-stable I assume you mean the typical supermarket milk in Mexico, the one that’s in the sealed, unchilled carton on the shelf. Oh, yeah, far better than powdered or canned. Once you chill our shelf milk, it tastes — to me at least — just like the stuff sold in the U.S. in the supermarket coolers.


      1. Yes, that’s shelf-stable milk, in a box on the unrefrigerated shelves. I had my first real introduction to it in Berlin when my daughter was there. While there staying with her, I was able to buy quart size refrigerated milk for myself which I prefer and she drank no-fat which was all she had (yuck.)


      2. I used to buy cases of the shelf-stable milk at Costco. Not to drink, but for cooking and baking. But it was bulky, so I switched to powdered whole milk. It’s amazingly good, as in cream soups, biscuit gravy and, of course, in baking breads.



  5. I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that your appreciation of boxed, shelf-stable milk is due to not having had the “real thing” in a long time. To my taste, fresh milk is superior to the boxed stuff, though the boxed is not bad. But fresh is better, and I seek it out whenever I can in Mexico.

    It’s a little like when in Mexico during my road trip I ended up drinking the water I had used to make ice for my cooler. I rinsed out some 1-gallon milk bottles, filled them with water, and then froze them. When I got to Tehuacán, we ended up drinking them and I realized then that Boston tap water is better than bottled water in Mexico. But without the nearly side-by-side comparison, I wouldn’t likely ever have noticed.

    We humans are nothing if adaptable.


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we still normally put the tap water through a filter before drinking it, though we are considering giving this up, considering the above.

    In Mexico there is (or at least was) a line of clothing for young men called (amusingly enough) “Milk Fashion.” Perhaps you should try to find some to show the world your love of milk.


    1. Kim: You may be right about my not having sampled the “real thing” in a long time. It could also be that I’m not picky at all about that sort of thing. And water tastes pretty much the same to me regardless of the source … as long as it’s not polluted, of course.

      As for “milk fashion,” you point out that it’s for young men, so I hardly would qualify. I’ll keep my eyes peeled, however.


    2. We could get raw milk, fresh from the cow here on the rancho. But other than in cooked foods, we never have had any. (If you had seen those cows and their befouled hineys as they womble down the road, you would probably not want their milk, either, no matter how fresh it might be. It’s best to be ignorant of some things.)


      Liked by 1 person

  6. Unpasteurized milk is called “Leche Bronco.” At least, that’s what I hear them call it in Chipilo Puebla. We use to buy it and boil it ourselves. It forms cream or Nata when you do that.

    I had a friend whose wife was from ‘Nam. She was amongst the last of the civilians to leave on a boat. She told me mortar shells were landing all around them as they departed. Nice lady. Her husband asked me to give her Spanish lessons. She knew French, English & Vietnamese but no Spanish, so I’d give her lessons twice a week. We would practice dialogues about shopping in the market, going to a movie, buying a bus ticket, eating at a restaurant, etc. One day I went to give her a class and her husband, Steve, was sitting in the living room. I asked, Where is Sally Ho? He said, she went to the bus station and bought a ticket to Houston and said she would never come back. So I guess my lessons worked.

    Which reminds me, I saw a sign in a restaurant in the states that read: FLAN, the Mexican dessert. I know better than that. Flan, which is egg custard, is a French dessert, everywhere the French went, you can find flan. It’s in Mexico, Morocco and Vietnam, and I guess other places. We can also thank the French for teaching the Mexicans how to make sweet-bread pastries.

    As for water, I always buy bottled water in a 5-gallon “garafon,” and I check out the bottling plants where it comes from. Mexico has a strict regulations as to how water is bottled. This code is called a NOM. The bottles have to be washed. The water is run through a chlorine filter, then run through a charcoal filter, then sealed. Water is tested once or twice a year and posted in plain sight. Heavy fine for deviating from the code.

    Any business that is a possible danger to the public has to follow the laws of the NOM. As a tourist guide I have to follow a NOM regulation in order to be accredited by the Secretary of Tourism (SECTUR). Legitimate guides have to take 140 hours of various courses a year, amongst which are first aid courses, in order to upgrade their credentials. In spite of what you may have heard or believed, you can’t just go out and do something just because you want to do it.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I liked to have boxed milk on hand for the convenience when I lived in Honduras. Most milk in
    the dairy case, most expats there would agree, tasted grassy. Then, I found a small outfit putting out bags of milk from the local ag university. Very good when I could find it. I suspect, as others have said, you like boxed milk because you have lost your taste for good fresh milk. Since moving back here, I appreciate milk and meat. It’s something we are renowned for consuming too much of in the U.S. I know why after living in Honduras where both commodities were often too expensive and not tasty.


    1. Laurie: One of the great things about boxed milk is that you never have to run out. You can buy lots, and you don’t have to jam up the fridge with them. For years I bought entire cases at Costco, but I’ve stopped doing that. As not remembering what fresh(er) milk tastes like … probably. No matter. I’m in Mexico for the duration, and that’s what I have here. I’m happy.


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