Somebody knocked on our door this morning, and Joe and I immediately guessed who it might be. We were right; our next door neighbours stood on our doorstep, faces wreathed in smiles, arms bearing pre-Christmas gifts. This is our sixth Christmas in our tiny, remote Spanish mountain village, and Paco and Carmen have brought us gifts in the weeks before this festive season every time. But there is a problem. They gave us a bag crammed with bright, shiny tomatoes, grown by their son who exports them to the UK supermarkets. No problem there. The tomatoes are delicious, perfect for all sorts of recipes, salads, or at this time of year, homemade soup. And they brought a nice bottle of wine. No problem there, either. Joe and I often have a little glass or two of something nice in the evening.No, it’s the plant that’s the problem. A glorious poinsettia, bursting with health and vitality, its crimson leaves a bright splash of Christmas colour. We know that the poinsettia is a traditional gift with a beautiful story, because Carmen explained it to us in our first year in Spain. She told us how two little orphans were too poor to give the Baby Jesus a proper gift and picked weeds from the roadside instead . The dull weeds burst forth with glossy green leaves and flaming red petals. The townsfolk, who had previously ridiculed the orphans’ gift, were ashamed, and suddenly understood the value of the gift of love.
So Joe and I gratefully accept the poinsettia, tomatoes and wine, but my heart sinks. I know that this particular poinsettia is doomed. Why? Because the minute Carmen turns her back, the poinsettia begins to fade. Within a week, the green leaves curl and turn yellow. The crimson petals fade, then drop off, one by one, until all I am left with is a bare, ugly stem.
I’ve tried everything: more water, less water, more shade, more light, more heat, cooler places. Nothing works, and every time Carmen calls, I have to shove the wretched plant into a cupboard and hide it.
Oh, how I envy the rows of blooming poinsettias planted on the roundabouts in town, and gracing every villager’s windowsill. If only my poinsettias would thrive like those do… What is the secret of tending poinsettias? I wish I knew.
But the wine is nice, and the tomatoes are very welcome. Perhaps I should buy a plastic poinsettia, and display that instead? Perhaps Carmen wouldn’t notice the difference? But I know I won’t do that. I’ll just try again and perhaps I might just discover the secret of the poinsettia.
Until then, cheers, and have a wonderful Christmas!
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Roasted Tomato Soup
(Recipe courtesy of Orce Serrano Hams)
A lovely, lazy way to make a tomato soup that is packed with flavour and colour. Everything goes in the oven. This is a rustic soup and is made with skins, burnt bits, and all – delicious!
6 large, ripe, vine tomatoes
2 large red peppers
2 large onions
1 litre chicken stock
Salt and pepper to season
1 ) Preheat your oven to 160C/325F/Gas Mark 3.
2 ) Slice the tomatoes in half, de-seed the peppers and slice into 4 pieces. Peel and slice the onion in half.
3 ) Lightly grease a large oven proof dish with olive oil and place the vegetables on the tray in one layer: tomatoes – skin side up, peppers – skin side down.
4 ) Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
5 ) Cook in the oven for about an hour to an hour and a half until the vegetables are soft. (Don’t worry if they blacken slightly – it all adds to the flavour!)
6 ) While the vegetables are cooking, warm up the stock (fresh made is best but prepared cubes are fine).
7 ) Once the vegetables are done, remove from the tray and place in a food processor, scraping off any bits stuck to the tray. Blend until you get a nice, thick sauce.
8 ) Place the tomato mixture into a pan and add the chicken stock.
9 ) Cook over a medium heat for 10 minutes to thicken slightly.
10 ) Serve with lots of fresh bread.
“a charming and funny expat tale” The Telegraph (UK)
“Weeks later you will be doing the dishes and recall some fleeting scene with chickens or mules or two old fools and laugh out loud all over again.” The Catalunya Chronicle