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 its warm familiarity around myself like a 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 good friends?
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, an 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 a while 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 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 a while before serving to allow the flavours to develop and deepen.