Monday, June 28, 2010

Lessons from La Yaya

My fellow exchange student (and host cousin) Sarah, grandmother Yaya and I at Yaya's birthday fiesta

Sometimes in life you are lucky enough to come across those rare, beautiful people, who affect your very core with their kindness and their tranquil spirit that radiates from their mere presence in a room. During my time in Chile, my life has been graced with the special aura of such a person in the form of my Chilean grandmother, la Yayita. Her name is Sonya, which I think is beautiful and fits her lovely demeanor well, but everyone and their cousin refers to her as la Yayita. La Yaya has spent the majority of her life teaching English in a British school here in Viña del Mar and at times throws in an expression or command in English (with a touch of a proper British accent) just to mix things up a bit. One of my favorite Yaya moments, for example, happened during a big family lunch one Sunday afternoon. As we all sat around the table talking and laughing, she suddenly exclaimed "Gee whiz!" in response to a funny story. My friend and I exchanged amused glances and burst out laughing. She is just that precious. So, when Sarah and I learned last week that we'd be having a big party at my house in honor of La Yaya's 76th birthday, we decided to make her a little something sweet.

After some thinking, Sarah suggested we make homemade Nutella truffles! We decided on a recipe by what we knew we could find at the grocery store close to my house. Don't get me wrong, Chileans do love their sugar and desserts, but people don't make brownies or fudge pies here, and chocolate chips are about $4 or $5 for a small bag of cheap chocolate. Yes, that means they don't do chocolate chip cookies. Ever. Only if corporate America is selling them in a shiny packaged sleeve in the supermarket. So as you can imagine, the baking aisle as you know it certainly doesn't exist. They do have roasted hazelnuts, cream, nutella, butter and chocolate here though...which is basically what this recipe required! So Sarah and I had a truffle-making and movie night the day before the party :)

Although these babies required several steps and hours, there is alot of down time inbetween stirring and cooling that you can use to do other things, such as watch a good movie on your laptop, and eat a Nutella sandwich with the leftover Nutella, of course. If you're curious, the recipe is here. We used milk chocolate bars for the filling and the coating because it's the popular choice here, but I plan on repeating this soon with dark for the coating. Highly reccommended! We alternated with shredded unsweetened coconut, chopped hazelnuts and sifted cocoa powder as toppings.

Yaya's party started at 8 PM Sunday night in the usual Chilean manner, the staggered arrival of 30 or so relatives, the cheek-kissing and greeting of everyone, and the mingling and drinking of pisco and mango sours. Appetizers included cheese and crackers, peanuts and golden raisins, olives and crackers with various mayonnaises. They loooove mayonnaise here, which is unfortunate since I've never been a fan, but the mayo we eat for parties is homemade and typically garlicky or flavored nicely with cilantro, so I've become accustomed to spreading it on my crackers, tortilla chips, and lays... yep!

Eventually the main course was brought out-lots of meat, some baked potato balls, rice, salad and tomato slices. So I ate salad and rice and potatoes, accompanied with a couple glasses of Chilean wine-a Cabernet and a Carmeñere (Chile's unique grape). After much more social time, the cake came out at about midnight and we all sang Feliz Cumples. The touching toasts that Yaya's daughters did as the night went on made me smile gratefully that Yaya is my grandmother. A few people left at 1:30 AM or so after presents, but most stayed until 4 AM. We spent the wee hours of the morning singing karaoke to various Latino hits as people drank Coke and pisco and then topped off the night with Pisco cream-which after one sip I decided was better than Bailey's. I found out that singing along to karaoke with the rest of the room was an excellent way to improve my pronunciation and work on the rolling of my r's. At 4:30 when I finally went to bed I laughed at the fact that yes, that crazy party was for my 76 year old grandmother! Chile knows how to have a good time, no one can deny that!

After Yaya tried a truffle, she told Sarah and I we had the "manos de las monjas" -the hands of nuns :)

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