It’s Christmas in two days.
How are you spending yours?
Although I’d love to be sitting at a large table with my family members, and stuff myself full with Singaporean potluck goodies, I’m spending my Christmas here in Buenos Aires, as I have for the last three years. I’d like to think that next year, Christmas will be spent in a country much nearer home. Hopefully Santa hears my wish?
But because everything happens for a reason, and four years in Argentina has shaped me to be a tougher, more independent girl, I give thanks that we get to spend Christmas with Juan’s family this year.
More than anything, I give thanks that we get to celebrate Christmas together with Trini, Juan’s beloved grandmother – also one of the strongest women I’ve ever known, and one of the people I love the most.
Until about two years ago, when Trini’s unfortunate fall down the stairs left her bound to a wheelchair for most of her waking hours, she’d lived on her own since her husband, Juan’s grandfather, passed away about four decades ago.
When Juan first introduced me to Trini during my maiden voyage to Argentina in April 2008, I was astonished to be showered with her unconditional love – she’d welcomed me into the family as if I were her own granddaughter (despite my very terrible Spanish), and when I returned to Singapore to carry on the long-distance relationship I had with Juan, she decidedly took up English classes at the age of eighty, just so she could better communicate with me.
Once in a while when I was back in Singapore, a postcard with a picture of some Argentine tourist destination would make an appearance in my mailbox, and on the flip side of the postcard would be short lines scribbled in Trini’s distinct cursive handwriting. Often, the contents of the postcard would include something like “Como estas? Espero que estes bien. Te quiero mucho. How are you? I hope you are well. I love you a lot.”
Those postcards, which I received and read with enormous delight and pleasure, were her simple way of showing me that I was in her thoughts, even if she was continents away on the other side of the globe from Singapore.
When Juan and I finally decided that I would move to Argentina so we could have a normal relationship living in the same continent and city, I’d spend many an evening in Trini’s small but cozy living room sipping tea and snacking on some cake or biscuits she’d baked herself.
Despite our age and culture differences, Trini would listen to me as I poured out work troubles in my broken Spanish in between greedy bites of her delicious pound cake. In turn, she would give me wise quotes and tell me the latest celebrity gossip she’d heard on the early morning television program.
You can guess that before I started making friends on my own with other people nearer my age in Buenos Aires, Trini was one of my first friends ever in Argentina.
Needless to say, when the tragic fall happened in February 2012, rendering Trini unable to walk, talk or eat by herself, Juan’s entire family was devastated. I was shaken and sad, because seeing her the way she is now, so dependent on everyone else for her well-being, is such a stark reminder of the fragility of life, and of how suddenly life could change.
The only positive thing I’d say, is that during the moments that Trini is lucid, she sometimes seems just like the person she was before the incident. In those brief, precious moments, we catch a glimpse of who she used to be, and for that I’m thankful.
What are you thankful for this Christmas?
Are you too worried about preparing a huge feast and keeping your guests satisfied instead of trying to enjoy their company? Are you so caught up with making elaborate meals to impress your friends and relatives that you can’t relax this Christmas?
How about, take it a bit easier, remember that the occasion is more about the company and spending quality time together, with family and friends who deserve your attention, and whip up some simple snacks instead?
Snacks like this fiery-red roasted red pepper dip.
This is one of my favorite dips – for its taste, rich flavor, practicality and the fact that you can make it a couple of days in advance.
All that’s required is a few minutes of vegetable-chopping time, then roasting the veggies in the oven until fragrant and slightly charred, and finally pureeing them in a blender.
There’s not much you have to do for this dip to taste so rich and full of body. OK, perhaps there is one thing you could do. Serve it alongside freshly toasted pita bread.
Your guests will be happy, I’m sure.
Till then, Merry Christmas dear friends! Sending lots of love from Argentina!
ROASTED RED PEPPER DIP WITH PITA TOASTS
Adapted from Fearless Homemaker
1) 2 red bell peppers, seeded
2) 1 onion, peeled
3) 1 small eggplant
4) 2 garlic cloves
5) 3 tablespoons of olive oil
6) 1 ½ teaspoons of salt
7) ½ teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
8) 1 tablespoon of concentrated tomato paste
9) 6 slices of pita bread
1) Pre-heat oven to 200 deg cel (400 deg Fahrenheit)
2) Cut vegetables into evenly-sized cubes
3) Toss cubed vegetables with olive oil, salt and pepper
4) Place vegetables in a baking sheet and roast for one hour, flipping them around every 20 minutes
5) Once vegetables have been roasted, allow them to cool for a while before pureeing them in a blender together with the tomato paste (if necessary, split the vegetables into batches if they don’t fit into the blender)
6) Should the mixture be too dry, add a tablespoon of olive oil at a time, and pulse some more
7) Cut each slice of pita bread into 6 triangle pieces like you would a pizza
8) Toast the pita bread slices in oven for 5 minutes until golden brown and crusty