You’d think that after almost four years of living abroad, 30 hours by plane away from my family and friends in Singapore, I’d breeze through farewells and be all cool and calm when the time comes to say goodbye.
Well, I thought so too.
But the truth is that I’m not good at farewells at all. I’ve never been, and never will be.
I’ve always been an easy crier.
I cry at sappy movies, I break down when I hear that someone I’m not even close to has passed away (such as when the caretaker of my office building died), and in particular, I find myself giving in to warm, salty tears when I have to part from someone I desperately love.
When I had to part with Juan at the bus station in Paris that cold, winter day in January 2008, to head back to Mannheim before flying back to Singapore, I stood by the bus window, my face streaked with tears and complete agony. Even though I tend to be a person who cares what others think, that day, I honestly didn’t give a shit.
I was crying, badly, because there was no other way to express the sadness and separation anxiety I felt – I had no idea then if I was going to see the boy I’d fallen in love with again, and the thought that we’d met only to part was excruciating. (I know, this is the sappy, romantic side of me that I don’t usually show when I’m talking about food or recipes).
Later, when Juan and I decided to start our relationship, at a distance of almost 16 thousand kilometers apart, he in Argentina and me in Singapore, we’d see each other twice a year, when we’d take turns to fly and meet the other. And still, every time it came down to packing our luggage, loading it into the boot and finally driving to the airport, the same dreadful feeling would come over me, and no matter how hard I try to hold them back, the tears still came inevitably.
After two years of a literally LONG-distance relationship, we decided that one of us would have to move.
In the end, I did, because finance was a more portable skill than law, which Juan at that point had only starting practicing. Still, those sad farewells continued, but this time, it was my family that I would embrace at the Singapore Changi airport, where I’d hold onto them a little longer than we’re accustomed to, just because.
I take the 30-hour long, arduous flight journey back to South East Asia once a year, usually sometime near the Chinese New Year period.
During this time, I get to reunite with my much missed family and friends in a fully-crammed three week schedule, and I tend to stuff myself with New Year goodies such as my mum’s famous pineapple tarts and my granny’s deep fried meat balls. Unfortunately, because there are too many people to meet, I’ve had to spread out my time very thinly among all those I wish to catch up with. And because of that, when the three weeks is over, I feel like I haven’t had any time in Singapore at all.
This time that my mum and my sister came to visit me, my mum has literally squeezed every single day of her office leave, and I’m really appreciative of that.
Between our trip to Colonia and horse riding at Caballos A La Par, the 19 days that she spent here have flown by and escaped without my notice, and last Friday my mum took the flight back to Singapore.
Yet even though she’s no longer in Buenos Aires, busily shuffling around the apartment Val and I are renting, or cooking us breakfast, or playing her word search, it feels as if my mum is still here in Argentina.
There on the kitchen counter lies a large container of my mum’s pineapple tarts – small, bite sized pastries filled or topped with pineapple jam – the one snack that I’ve come to associate with her love and Chinese New Year.
You see, my mum always sends a few containers of these goodies whenever I travel, as a taste of home to comfort me when I feel homesick, or simply, because it’s her way of showing us love. According to my mum, the original recipe came from my tuition teacher, Ms Vanessa, more than a decade ago. But because my mum has made it so often, it feels as though the recipe were hers.
I’ve watched my mum bake these balls of buttery goodness countless times in Singapore – there were so many mornings that I’d come down the stairs to be greeted with the aroma of these pineapple tarts baking in the oven, a mix of buttery batter and sweet dried pineapples.
I’ve sat by the kitchen table watching her roll batch after batch of these tarts – first the dried pineapple filling, then wrapping them in a thin layer of batter (just the way my dad likes it, the thinner the better), and finally rolling them between both palms.
She’d then arrange these little perfect yellow balls (which look like full golden moons) on a parchment paper-lined baking tray, then paint them with liquid egg yolk until they start to shine like the sun.
I’ve seen her repeat these actions so many times, but it was only when I begged her to make these tarts here during her visit in Buenos Aires that I finally understood how tedious it is to make them.
First we had to have my brother take a photo of the old, faded recipe pinned by magnet on our refrigerator door in Singapore. Because we didn’t have the pre-packaged pineapple filling that is readily available in Singapore, we had to buy desiccated pineapple rings, cut them into small pieces, cook them with a bit of water and then mash them all together. Once the mixture was cooled and could be shaped into small balls, we rolled them with our hands, which became sticky as can be. (If you’re in Asia and can get the filling directly, I strongly suggest you do that).
The batter, a mix of butter, flour, sugar and vanilla extract, forms easily if you use your hands to bring it together, without fear. Take a small spoonful of batter, roll it flat between your palms, and wrap it around a ball of pineapple filling, making sure the batter covers the entire surface of filling. Then paint it with liquid egg yolk, bake it, and you’re done!
PINEAPPLE TARTS (Makes 6 dozen)
My mum’s recipe
For the batter:
1) 500 g of plain flour
2) 250 g salted butter, cut into small cubes
3) A pinch of salt
4) 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
5) 1 egg yolk
6) 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence
7) 3-4 tablespoons of chilled water
8) 2 egg yolk (beaten) for glazing
For the filling:
9) 600 g of dessicated pineapples
10) 1 cup of water
1) Chop up the dessicated pineapples finely and blend it in a blender with a cup of water
2) Pour the blended pineapples into a cooking pot and boil over low heat until it thickens and dries up into a paste
3) Leave the paste aside to cool and then roll them into tiny balls
4) Sift flour into mixing bowl and add in the pinch of salt
5) Cut chilled salted butter into small cubes and rub them with the flour in the mixing bowl with fingers until crumbly (work quickly so that the butter does not melt)
6) Add oil, vanilla essence and one egg yolk to the crumbly flour and mix with hands to form a smooth dough
7) Pinch a small lump of dough and roll it thinly on the palm of your hand and add pineapple filling to roll into a ball.
8) Place rolled balls onto a baking tray lined with baking paper
9) Glaze the balls with two beaten egg yolks before placing the tray into the oven
10) Bake for 25 minutes at 170 deg cel or until tops the tarts are golden brown
*Note: If pre-packaged pineapple filling is available, you can skip steps 1 & 2