I need a long time to settle into a new place, like in some ways I’m adverse to change. I remember feeling devastated as a child when my parents finally sold our dinged up old red Toyota for a fancier, much newer Landcruiser. “Why do we have to change?” I questioned my Mum, distraught. What about all the precious family memories from road trips around Australia stowed deep within its worn seats?
Likewise, when I move city it takes me a long time to feel grounded, to stop feeling nostalgic about the place I left behind. I love the adventure and challenge of a new area, discovering it’s own unique daily rhythms and quirks, yet there’s also a small part of me that longs to curl up on the same battered couch each night, to live in just one place forever, wrapping it’s warm familiarity around myself like an comfortable old blanket.
Recently I clocked up a year of living in Spain and with the milestone came the realisation that I actually feel at home here, finally.
It took a lot longer than usual. I didn’t know anyone here at first. I didn’t know any Spanish. I had to adjust to a new culture. My loved ones felt so far away over there on the other side of the world.
Then, almost one by one, I found my people. I wonder if we all experience that same click of recognition when we find our tribe?
I feel comfortable around my people. I don’t have to try too hard or work to impress them. I can just be me. I can share my secrets and successes with them. They support me and make me laugh, challenge me and inspire me. They welcome me into their own lives, too.
A place that once felt lonely and foreign now glows with warm familiarity because I know my small group of people are here, tucked away in local bars, swimming the beaches, wandering the streets.
Alicante began to feel like home from the moment I began making genuine friendships. Perhaps, then, authentic human connection is one of life’s most important gifts? Perhaps happiness lies in a life shared with others?
Sometimes it’s not easy finding our people, the kind that just get us. The search can feel discouraging, isolating, unachievable. Sometimes, still, I hide myself away, lose myself in the solitude of mindless television, live vicariously through the happy characters on screen. After awhile I have to push myself to get back out there, or to invite “out there” into my own home.
It’s fitting, I think, that as I mull over these lessons of my first year abroad, I share a recipe from one of my dear new friends, Asia.
She popped around a few weeks back, shared her astonishingly good watermelon gazpacho recipe and followed it up with this experiment: a vegan version of Chlodnik. It’s a traditional chilled beetroot soup from Poland, Asia’s home country, which is usually made with yoghurt and often served with a boiled egg on top. We made a few recipe tweaks and feel pretty chuffed with our completely plant-based version. Perfect on a hot summer’s day, especially when shared with a good friend — or three.
What goes in:
6 medium beets
400g natural unflavoured soy yoghurt
Lemon juice or white vinegar
5 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
Pinch of sugar
How you do it:
Peel the beetroot and chop into small, half-centimetre cubes. Throw them in a pot with the bay leaves and add just enough water to cover the beets.
Bring to the boil, then add add a little lemon juice or vinegar. This is a sneaky little trick to make sure the beets retain their beautiful bright pink colour.
Boil the beets on a low heat until cooked but not too soft. Season with ground black pepper, salt, a pinch of sugar and a little extra lemon juice. Allow the mixture to cool.
Grate the cucumbers and add to the soup, along with the soy yoghurt. Give everything a thorough stir. You can serve the soup immediately but if you have a few hours to spare, pop it in the fridge for awhile before serving to allow the flavours to develop and deepen.