Pie crusts and foreign supermarkets, Christmas carols and decorations, gift wrapping...and pie crusts. These are a few of my favorite things. Somehow we’ve found ourselves at the end of another year. They seem to go by quicker and quicker in recent years. I’m not sure if that’s a result of having kids or getting older or perhaps the combination of both. It’s been a full year and like most, with ups and downs, surprises and the mundane. There is much to be grateful for and as we cultivate this as a practice as a family, it seems during the merry season, it’s easier to feel on a daily basis.
But, today I have to talk about pie crusts and foreign supermarkets. The latter for me has always been a source of fascination on our travels. Since my first days abroad, I’ve been drawn to markets whether indoor or outdoor, mega superstores or mom and pop type bodegas. I’ve always been fascinated about the food, what it is, how it’s sold, the conversation between the cheesemonger or the butcher and their customers. Whatever the explanation is, I’ve always found the cultural interaction that takes place when buying food at markets is pretty unique.
Lately, I’ve been fascinated by one of the supermarkets I shop in. It’s a cultural menagerie and it’s utterly amazing how we all flow together. Most of us are expats, but from so many different parts of the globe that one can hardly keep track. And we all mingle and coexist in harmony in the onion aisle or the bulk nuts section. I’ve also been a bit surprised by my surprise (still) that I’ve become so used to the customs here that they are second nature now. The several different languages we hear around us from Arabic, to Hindi, from Urdu to Tagalog, from English to German, that’s all just part of our weekly morning shop. The woman standing to my right, dressed with a hijab and an abaya, the man standing behind me wearing a kandora with a kid in his cart, the other woman to my left with just a hijab, well, we’re all more the same than we are different, and we all shop at the co-op.
(Yes, I’m absolutely wondering what they’ll be cooking with those carts full of produce and more.)
Then, there are the pie crusts. My goodness the pie crusts. I didn’t necessarily grow up rolling pie crusts, (it was more rolling and filling empanadas), but it’s something that grounds me, rooting me into a past I can’t remember. When I mix the flour and butter, the ice water or vinegar and the dough comes together enough for refrigeration, I feel like I’m participating in an age-old ritual. When it comes time to rolling it’s not only therapeutic, it stirs nostalgia, it brings me home. Now, this is curious. During the Christmas season, a time of family and feasts, of celebrations and laughter, I miss home the most. I miss the Colombian-ness of Christmas. I miss the singing of villancicos (Colombian Christmas music). I miss my grandmother’s daily, usually religious, rituals. I miss the cold weather and the last-minute shopping with my mom or sister. And while we’re not “home”, the one I grew up in, we are indeed home. Raising your kids away from your families sits at the forefront of every single expat’s mind, and we talk about it most during holiday time. But, I can’t help but feel, like the rolling of that pie crust bringing me home, that home isn’t a place per se, but a state of mind, or even better a state of heart. Sounds trite, I know, but it occurred to me that it’s hard to say this aloud, especially because we miss so much. It’s almost as if saying it aloud makes it OK for all of us to be away, making our own traditions, so far away from what we’ve known. But, maybe it is OK and saying so doesn’t make us ungrateful for what we’ve left in another place. Maybe it makes us strong, even brave for bringing what we know and love and blending it with what’s available where we are so that it feels like home, in our hearts, where it counts. Maybe it’s OK to let go a little, even when the nostalgia moves us.
Speaking of being moved, I invite you to try this Butternut Squash, Caramelized Shallot Galette. I can’t tell you how hard it was for me to not stuff this galette with kale and oyster mushrooms, but something drew me to that squash. Lucky for all of us, I listened. I brought this beauty to the last class of a French club I belong to (because going to grad school isn’t enough) and was so pleased with the results, as well as the cooking abilities of my fellow Francophiles. What a feast and what a galette. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner would be happy to see this served. So family, wherever you find yourselves food shopping, stop for moment and see what’s going on around you, with whom you’re mingling amongst the greens. If you’re rolling a pie crust, cookies, or cooking a traditional meal, stop for a moment and feel your ancestors move through you.
Wherever you will be celebrating this merry season, at the home of your childhood or the other home you’ve chosen, may it be a full season for you. May we count our blessings and share them and may we cook and bake to our hearts’ content so we may spread joy. Happy New Year. In good health and with much love and gratitude, Nathalie
P.S. The recipe is lengthy, but please don't let this dissuade you from trying it. There are just a few different steps, but they are pretty easy and come together magically.