Monday, December 31, 2012

Goodbye, old year.


I am so glad it is the last day of this year. The image above pictures perfectly how it felt. In one word, it was hard. And it went so, so slow. It was like torture: trying, struggling and not getting anywhere. I started the year full of hope, with patience. I guess you could say I got better at the waiting game because of it. When we came back from Mexico in March: a very thick sadness hit me like a train. I of course tried to fight it with all my might, and just kept on going through it. I thought a lot about what a succesful life really means, about happiness, about what matters. I wrote my first guest post for Fiona's bravery files, on some tough stuff we're dealing with (and you're probably familiar with).

From April through August I was pretty much sick, or on the-verge-of-getting sick all of the time, feeling tired, weak, restless. Then, in June, I hit a low point. It was my birthday month, and this is the year I reached 32 (though I am still an advocate of never growing up). Between the I-don't have-a-career-and-I'm-not-going-anywhere stuff and the things that I seem to have no control over (no matter what I do, or not do) I really felt lost. And I always thought I would have a baby by 32, never mind the fact I had been taught that, statistically, if you haven't had your first child by 32, it will get harder. (This is not supposed to be the case if you already had a child before 32).

At the end of August I finally left a job that was making me unhappy. Let's just say I was in a closed, toxic environment that was killing my soul, messing with my mental health and making me physically ill  (I know that now, because I felt better almost right away). In October we finally took the jump and were allowed to start fertility treatments (IUI's for the time being). Our first 2 cycles didn't work, but if anyone wants to read how it has been for me, I laid it all down here. It was not at all like I expected it to be or like other people said it would be. It was not that bad either. When I was looking into it, all I found was horror stories and I was scared and angry that I had to go through it. In reality it is not that hard (the physical part at least). It's the emotional rollercoaster that will attempt to destroy you inside, if you let it, and that will happen with or without fertility treatments.

In November, when we came back from Mexico (for the 2nd time this year) I finally started to feel better, I turned a page. Mexico was like vitamins, like a high on happiness and it really helped me settle down. And though I did not get the PhD position, I was this close and I got feedback that will lead me in the right direction (whatever happens). In the end I confirmed that it's not me, it's them. My CV is perfectly apt, I am doing the right thing, I have the right background, knowledge and experience. It's just that, they have to know you personally (I could write a whole rant about that, and about how the educational system  obeys economic and neoliberal interests and segregates people, but sadly that is just the way the World works as of today).

It was not all bad, 2012. For one, we travelled quite a bit. There was my sister's wedding in February, and my brother's in November, so that makes 2 over-the-ocean journeys to Mexico. We celebrated our 2 year anniversary both in May and in September. We went to Guanajuato, Ixtapa, Mexico city, Cacahuamilpa, Istanbul, Lille and Paris. That is without including day trips to Haarlem, Noordwijk aan zee, Gouda, Utrecht, Leiden or Amsterdam exploration missions. We got involved in protests to express our wish for a better Mexico.

I have also been experimenting in the kitchen quite a lot  and my baking skills are improving. I made macarons yesterday and they look and taste perfect, on the first try (don't worry, I will write a full post on that). I am also incredibly grateful that we are able to pursue treatment. I have also learnt that hope is a gift, and that together with faith it will keep us going through the hardest storms. There is always a new day. But also, even if I will sound like a greeting card, joy is there, within our grasp, every day, and choosing to be happy is a task for today (not something to expect of the future).

*Image credit. Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia from Lars von Tiers.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A day at the Teylers Museum (Haarlem)


 As you do on the second day of Christmas, we headed to Haarlem to visit a museum. And boy were we in for a surprise. We went to the Teylers Museum (Spaarne 16, Haarlem) to see an exposition on Rafaël, the florentine master from the Renaissance. What we did not know was that the Teylers museum, which happens to be the first and oldest public museum of the Netherlands is so much more than an art gallery. It turns out that his founder, Pieter Teyler van der Hulst, a silk merchant, financier and philantropist from the Enlightment period, believed that knowledge enriches humanity and so he set up a foundation and museum to stimulate the sciences and the arts.

This is the skull of a Phorusrhacos, ancient, giant, terror birds from the Patagonia,.

There is a little bit of everything and a little bit for everyone: from natural history, to geology, to physics, to ancient medical instruments, microscopes, telescopes to art. And not just any art. There are Rembrandt's, Michelangelo's, Rafaël's and representatives from the classic Dutch artists (Nederlandse Romantiek, Haagse School). I am so, so happy we decided to go, but you know I do have a soft spot for Science museums.

 The oval room reminded me of the library at the Beast's castle (except it wasn't filled with books)
Source


Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas

 I wish you all love, happiness and joy. I hope you enjoy the time with your friends and family, the baking, cooking and sharing. The board-game playing. The lights in the street, the candles by the windowsill, the snow if you wish for some.
I hope 2013 brings light and fulfills our deepest wishes. And I hope there will be peace in the World too, that we understand that we are all here together on the same journey.  Thanks for being here :)

Friday, December 21, 2012

The tree

 There is a lot of talk of blending Holiday traditions and creating new ones when you start your own family. This piece by Kirsty explains it more eloquently than I could have ever put into words. Being Mexican, most of the traditions I grew up with heavily intertwine the religious with the more ancient traditions of the pre-columbian civilizations that flourished in Mesoamerica. In our particular family, there were more elements to the mix, my dad being an agnostic (skeptical?) swiss guy who wouldn't go to church* but was happy to introduce us to the glory of cheese fondue (that's an authentic recipe), Caran d'Ache coloured pencils and Calida pijamas that would arrive in parcels from afar. My mom was raised catholic, and even when we didn't really practice, we were believers at heart, if that counts. To top it off, we were sent to a very catholic school for 5 years, which was enough to confuse my 5th year old mind and be the source of internal conflict and all kinds of complexes that I fought hard to get rid off (but that would be a story for another day). It was at this school that I learnt about the lives of the saints and I finally figured out why the official setting-up-the-christmas-decorations day was on the 8th of December: it's the day of the Immaculate conception of Mary. It was also there that we were taught about the sacred time of advent, a time of waiting, hopefully, amidst the darkness, and also of spiritual preparation. The beautiful words of Fiona on this subject really touched me, she carefully articulated the reasons why this year I did not feel ready for the holidays to come. I like to know that even before Christian times these holiday traditions arose from ancestral beliefs, how it is all about being in contact with nature, about the (pagan) Gods' promise that the winter, the cold, and the darkness will not linger forever, that life will return, that there will be crops again, and like Adrini said: "that no matter how dark it can get I am  we are not alone in this life".
 Anyhow, I wanted to talk about how all of this blending is slowly taking place in our family. You see, since the beginning of the month (and at the latest by the 8th, see above) I'm always eager to set up our christmas decorations. But the boy wants nothing to do with any of it until after his birthday: that is the way it was always done in his family, and that's how we've decided to keep on doing it. Another big dilemma is the tree. Last year we had a small natural one. I love the smell of pine spreading around the house, even if I don't feel 100% comfortable about the ecological implications of cutting off a tree just for us. However, the boy hates the mess left behind when all the needles inevitably start to fall. We tried to find an artificial one but even the medium ones were out of the budget we were willing to invest.  The original plan was to keep the one from the boys' childhood, but the box where it was got thrown away by accident when the house got sold.
That's a hint to our bucket list for the next year
 Anyhow, we do not have a lot of space for storage, so our decorations should fit a small box. That's why I was so happy when I found the perfect compromise: a pretty wooden tree with miniature hanging decorations and tiny bells that will do the trick without taking much space. Last february, my mom also got us a foldable, aluminum, hand painted Betlehem from San Miguel de Allende so now we are all complete. Do you have any special holiday traditions? A special date by which all the decorations have to be set-up?  When does the christmas mood starts to kick in your family? And have you blended, added or adopted new traditions?
 * the fact that my dear dad wouldn't go to church was my main concern during our weekly cathechism classes, for, according to what they said he would be going to hell for sure. Luckily I have been able to distinguish faith and religion as separate (and often contradictory) entities.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pandan meringue kisses

 Some days ago, for some reason I now have forgotten about, there was a glass of egg whites waiting sadly in the fridge. I had to do something with them, and it struck me that I had been waiting for a chance to make meringues (as a first step training for project macarons, to be attempted during the holidays). I was inspired by a simple recipe from Peggy Porschen's book "Boutique baking, delectable cake, cupcakes and teatime treats."
Source
 I adapted the recipe by giving pandan flavour to the meringues. As you know, I am obsessed with the beautiful green color and sweet, subtle flavour of the essence of Pandanus amaryllifolius, common in South East Asian cooking, and easily available from Asian supermarkets. Maybe you remember hearing about it from the time I made Pandan cake and Pandan coconut sandwich cookies. Anyhow, I was actually surprised about how well they turned out (thanks Kitchenaid), so here goes the recipe:

What you'll need: 
-100 gr. egg whites (from ~ 3-4 eggs).
-a pinch of salt.
-100 gr. sugar
-1 tsp. (or more) Pandan essence (or the flavouring + colouring of your choice, feel free to be creative here)
-100 gr. icing sugar
-a piping bag with a star nozzle.

What to do:
Preheat oven to 80ºC and prepare two cookie trays with baking paper. Clean your mixing bowl with lemon juice or vinegar and dry very well to make sure it is immaculate (and more importantly, grease free) before you start beating (otherwise your egg whites might not rise as well). Put the egg whites and salt in the bowl and start whisking on high speed. As the egg whites start to get stiff, add the sugar, little by little, waiting for the sugar to dissolve between each addition. It is important not to add the sugar until the egg whites have started to stiffen (to make sure enough air is incorporated into the mixture). If you do it this way, the sugar will actually help stabilize your meringue. Stop mixing when your meringue becomes stiff and glossy. Add the pandan essence and icing sugar and carefully fold them in with a spatula. If you are not using pandan essence, you can divide the mixture and give it different colors. Now you are ready for the fun part: pour the meringe in your bag and pipe star forms onto your baking trays. Bake for 2-3 hours, or until the meringues have completely dried out. Mine were ready after about 2 hrs. If you store them in an airtight container, they can last for 3 months, but in our household they did not last 4 days. And that's it, enjoy.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The busiest weekend of them all

It would not be an exaggeration to say that this weekend was the most fun, cultural filled and activity packed of the year so far. I guess it is quite obvious that by trying to do all-the-things we would end up missing some (or like my mom used to say: "El que mucho abarca poco aprieta", something along the lines of "Jack of all trades, master of none"). It is also kind of obvious that at some point I would have some kind of meltdown. On Saturday night, after dinner, there was a moment where I'd had it, and all I wanted was to collapse on my bed, immediately.
This weekend was the boy's birthday, so I spent Friday baking him a huge american-style birthday cake. My original plan was to cover it in fondant, but as the mascarpone frosting was delicious (and fondant - covering requires only a very thin layer), I decided to keep it simple. I used Ainhoa's wedding cake recipe, and it was so absolutely delicious (thank you Ainhoa). I only tweaked it by adding a pinch (well more of a pinch) of cinammon to the icing, because I just love to go crazy with it.
 Early on Saturday morning I woke up to decorate our apartment with car-sale bunting, balloons and garlands. Making a huge big deal of birthdays, including decorating all the house, is starting to be a tradition in our family. I made him his favorite breakfast (omelette) and gave him his presents (a tiny stack of books: he got this one and this one). Our dear neighbours (the ones with the young kids we babysit every now and then) are moving to a bigger house, and they asked us to take care of their 3-month old baby on Saturday, while they moved furniture out, which we were more than thrilled to do. I had made a reservation for high-tea in Amsterdam, but helping out and hanging out with the cutest little girl was for sure the best option. In the afternoon the boy's closest family came for tea, cookies and cake, and then we went for dinner at the Penthouse, a super fancy restaurant at the top of a skyscraper where you can enjoy the views of The Hague (well, because this country is so flat, you could see as far as Rotterdam).
On Sunday morning, we went to the airport to drop off mom-in-law, who is heading to sunnier latitudes, after which we went grocery shopping and cleaned the house in turbo mode (the boy vacuumed cleaned, while I trailed after him, and mopped), and then we set off to the American Book Center for a lecture by Professor George Saliba on the relationship between Science, the Arab / Islamic world and the European Renaissance.
Source
After that we rushed to catch a cloud, that is, watch how artist Berndnaut Smilde manipulated the temperature and humidity conditions in a closed room to create a fluffy ball of air. Alas, we missed it. The Q&A after the conference took a bit too long (and we could not just leave in the middle of it), and when we arrived at the art center, barely 15 minutes late, the cloud had just dissipated and all we saw was some steam still floating in the air. As a consolation prize I got a bunch of postcards with a photo of the magic phenomenon. I only hope I will figure out where he will do it again, but he's a Dutch artist, so it should be possible.
 Last but not least, after missing the cloud we drove back to Amsterdam for an authentic Mexican Posada party. A posada is a Christmas party that takes place everyday for 9 days starting the 16th  of December, and ending on the 24th, representing the 9 months of Mary's pregnancy as well as the pilgrimage of the Holy Family on the days prior to Jesus' birth where they travelled asking for lodging (the word "posada" means accomodation). I just found out this is yet another sincretic tradition starting in the 16th century and combining  Spanish Catholicism with the December Aztec celebration of the birth of Huitzilopochtli. In these parties typical mexican food is served (there were tacos dorados, tamales oaxaqueños and tlacoyos); piñatas with 7 points (representing the 7 capital sins) are destroyed by hitting them with a stick to release their fillings: normally candy and fruit (oranges, mandarins, sugarcanes, jícamas). During the party 2 groups are formed, one goes outside, carrying a small Betlehem, representing the pilgrims (the holy family) asking for lodging, and the second group stays inside, pretending to be the hosts, and repeatedly refusing to let them in until they recognize it is Joseph and Mary, by singing this song. I was so happy to attend (I had not ben able to go to a posada in a very long time) and to be able to show a very Mexican tradition to the boy. How was your weekend?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

St. Lucy in Gouda

This year, the boy and I went to Gouda for one of the main festival of lights, Kaarsjesavond, which took place last Tuesday (and not the 13th) in honor of Saint Lucia.
I wrote about her story and the origins of this beautiful tradition here. It means something to me because I have always, always loved the name Lucía. So many characters of my favorite books have that name: Lucy of The Chronicles of Narnia, La maga of Julio Cortazar's Rayuela (Hopscotch), and, as annoying as she is, I have always liked Lucy from the Peanuts.
It really is a pretty sight: the main square and all the houses around it illuminated by candle light (as many as 6000 candles are lit), singing carols while waiting for the huge tree (brought all the way from Kongsberg, Norway) to be filled with lights, and listening to a short reading from the gospel of St. Luke, about the census of the Roman provinces of Syria and Judea.
We had hot chocolate, an oliebol, erwtensoep and gluhwein.  These celebrations are so necessary to beat the winter blues, like Fiona puts so well: "looking for the light, finding the positive, noticing the colour and the beauty despite the darkness". Let's be lighchasers.
The Virgin and St. Joseph register for the census before Governor Quirinius. Byzantine mosaic c. 1315. (Istanbul) Source

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Of books, nail polish and (more) suitcases.

They say a coffee table is a window to your soul. Here's what's on mine today. As I was taking the picture above I couldn't help but notice that I tend to pick up books with two girls on the cover, though that was not the reason I chose these. I just finished Angeles Mastretta's last book: "La emoción de las cosas", which I found at the airport on my way back from Mexico without even knowing she'd just released it. I have for the most part really liked the books I've read from her: "Mujeres de Ojos Grandes"('Women with big eyes'), "Arráncame la vida" ('Tear this heart out', maybe you saw the movie?), "Mal de amores" ('Lovesick'),  and "Maridos"('Husbands').

 She has a way of describing mexican's society from a feminist point of view in a very acute manner: the hypocrisy of catholicism, mingled with a pseudomagic (or superstitious?) way of understanding the world (like knowing your dead grandma nods at you from the outer world and grants you miracles small and big when needed), vivid descriptions of the lovely landscapes of Mexico and the intricacies of its political life [for instance during the Revolution (in Mal de Amores / Lovesick)]. This was the most autobiographical of her books so far, it is more of a collection of memories and personal stories, I liked taking a peek into her life and feelings. And I also discovered she writes a blog, Puerto libre, which is a continuation of an online column she used to write for the Spanish newspaper "El País".  So much goodness.

I am now diving into "Reading Lolita in Tehran" by Azar Nafisi. I had been eyeing it for a while, and when I read this review at Worldette, I was totally sold. I am only in chapter 4, and I can't put it down. I'll tell you more about it when I finish.

In other news I am having tons of fun experimenting with nail polish. During high-school I was never into fashion or makeup. My sister, who's 6 years younger than me, was already better at it when she was 13. But lately, I have to say I like playing. Under normal circumstances, I had to be *forced* by my mom to put on transparent or very light pink / peach polish, so something so bright is really a (tiny) adventure out of my comfort zone. When I saw the bottle for 99 cents, I just thought I'd give it a go. Also, you may or may not have noticed that I'm obsessed with our new otomi pillow covers. In the photo you can also see little green meringues. I made those yesterday when I found some old egg whites abandoned in the fridge. They were begging to be turned into something fantastic. I'll share the recipe soon.

 Oh, and yesterday night we went to pick up some more vintage suitcases that the boy intends to turn into speakers... apparently this one was just a prototype. What I know is that I like the look of them in our living room, they give me the feeling that we are ready to go somewhere far away at any moment. If he does not pay attention I will have to take one of those and fill it with scraps, old train tickets, newspaper cutouts...

Monday, December 10, 2012

Boomcase: speakers on a suitcase DIY

 As you may remember, I was super thrilled when I found a vintage little  suitcase for the boy while walking through the small streets of Paris. He'd had this project in mind for quite a while, but whenever we went to flea markets, second hand shops or searched marktplaats (a Dutch sort of craiglist) we did not really find anything suitable, or else it was crazy expensive. So when I found the green number above for 12 EUR I was super happy, jumping up and down and doing a little dance, knowing I was going to be able to surprise him with something he really wanted. My only regret is not having gotten the 2nd suitcase on sale at the small antiquary shop, it was beige and green, and slightly larger.
 The last few days he's been busy with this DIY project, and now we can finally show you the final result. Other than the coffer you will need some tools (scissors, a saw, pliers, screws) and of course the speakers. We got a pair of those at the second hand shop for 10 EUR. What the boy did first was open up the speakers and take out the drivers (the part that makes the sound by converting electrical energy to sound waves). He then used the other part of the speaker as a template and marked the circles of the corresponding size in the suitcase. After cutting this part out, he procceeded to fix the drivers in place with some screws and then connected everything back together. He tested it with a remix by Dirty South. It works. Yaaay.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

First snow

 I smiled and did a happy dance this morning when I saw everything covered in white. It had already snowed a bit last weekend, but it was that watery kind of snow that melts immediately and does not stay. There is something magic about the first real snow of the year, before it becomes a soggy-muddy mess and you can't stand the cold and the slipperiness anymore. Or after it freezes and as you try to bike on it you fall flat on your face.

 The sky was blue and the air was crisp as we walked outside. We found the cutest Shiba-Inu, whose name, coincidentally was Sneeuw. He must have been as happy as I was to see the white stuff. These japanese dogs are known for loving it.
 I am finally feeling the season, we entered a flower shop and I felt myself wanting to get an advent wreath, complete with its 4 candles. If I have to be completely honest I don't want the year to finish. I feel like as much as I run, as hard as I try, I stay in the same place, so I feel pretty much like Alice:

<<—"Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”
“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”>>

But the year is not over yet, so I refuse to get all fatalistic and will from now on proceed to enjoy every day that 2012 has left for us.
Source

Monday, December 3, 2012

December is here

I can't believe how fast time goes. Yeah, yeah, we say it all the time, and every year we arrive at this moment wondering what we did and where it all went. But cliché as it sounds, this is really how I feel. Whoah. December, really? I noticed a few weeks ago, when I organized a dinner with friends for the 1st weekend of December and out of 22 people, only 4 could make it. Everyone was fully booked: either with family, or on trips to all kinds of places: Aruba, Cologne, Münich, Berlin. The busy season is here, and I have to say, I love it. I just wonder why we don't make time for friends and family more often during the year. I know we do, or at least, we try, but these days are just, well intense. For those of you who are reading in Holland and still have some free space in your agendas, I put up a short list of events to attend if you wish to get into the festive mood:

-On 11 of December, in Gouda, you should definitely go to Kaarsjesavond (Gouda bij Kaarslicht), in remembrance of St. Lucy. I was there last year, and it is absolutely beautiful, magical even. As was put beautifully by Ellie on a recent discussion abouth faith (or not) and its relationship to holidays in APW:

"I think of Christmas and other holidays at this time as part of a greater festival of lights, as part of a universal human experience – that when the days get short and the nights are long, we need the light, we need the cheer, and we need those feelings of peace and joy more than ever – and we yearn for renewal and growth that comes with each passing year.

-Then, on the weekend of the 15 and 16 of December, there is the Dicken's festival in Deventer. I haven't been there yet, but it really must be quite impressive, there is a market and Christmas festival with more than 900 characters from Charles Dickens' novels brought to life in the city center.

-From the 16 to the 23 of December, there is a Christmas market in Valkenburg that takes place in underground caves. There will also be a parade and a visit from Santa Claus. 

-And on the 23 of December, The National Ballet of Kiev will perform The Nutcracker at the Rijswijkse Schouwburg, in Rijswijk.

I am officially getting in the Christmas mood, and that means at the moment I'm listening to my favorite Christmas Carol. How about you? Are you some kind of Christmas elf or do you feel more like a Grinch?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Paris on the cheap

 As you know, I was in Paris a few weeks ago when out-of-the-blue I discovered that two high school friends would be there for some days, one of them who was visiting the city of lights for the first time. I thought it would be handy to put together a list of tips. First of all, if by the time you book all the low-cost airlines prices have sky-rocketed and you discover that trains are not cheap either, the way to go is by bus. These buses are comfortable, with lots of space for you to sleep (if you take a night bus) and reliable. The downside, of course, is that the trip will take a bit longer, and you will make several stops (for example: Rotterdam, Breda and Brussels, before finally getting to Paris), but for the price I believe it is totally worth it.
 If you are planning to stay at a youth hostel, I can only recommend you do your homework and read lots and lots of reviews, or else you might get some... surprises. We stayed at The Loft Hostel (70 rue Julien Lacroix), and it was clean, modern and included breakfast. Moreover, if you are going in a group you can get your own room with 4 bunk beds and its own private bathroom. The main downside was that they provide a towel the size of a hand towel... so knowing this, I suggest you bring your own. It is located in the neighborhood of Belleville (where Edith Piaf was born), and nowadays is quite hip. There were several bars with an alternative crowd in the streets surrounding the hostel, and some very cool graffittis to admire. By the way, if you are into it, there are street art tours whose meeting point is actually the Loft hostel. From the hostel you can take the metro to Châtelet, and from there you can transfer to the main lines, or else you can start walking.
 Yup, I strongly believe Paris (as most big cities, actually) is to be discovered walking. You will accidentally  find hidden places, stumble upon palaces, fountains, bridges, gardens, cute little shops and bakeries. If you are not that into walking you could also travel by bike, using a system recently put in place by the city (where you can take a bike at one point, ride it to your destination, and drop it off there). And if you really must take a bus, by all means use the public transport: for the fans of Julio Cortazar, line 63 takes you to some emblematic places like the Jardin des Plantes, Sèvres-Babylone and Saint Germain des Près. You can buy sets of 10 tickets (that are good for metro, bus, RER and tram) or a card for 1,2,3, 4 or 5 days. More info on the public transport system here.
If you have already been to Paris, you can choose to avoid the mandatory museums (Louvre, Musée d'Orsay), wait for your friends at a café while you read a book and sip a cup of tea, and proceed to spend all your money on books and vintage suitcases.  Oh and I could not end this post without recommending Glaces Berthillon, possibly the best ice-cream in Paris. You can truly taste the natural, high quality, seasonal ingredients, and it is rather dense, rich and creamy. Their original shop is located in Île de Saint-Louis (29-31 Rue Saint Louis en l'île) and it is a small café with that grandma feel that I totally love. Their pastries looked scrumptious as well. Oh Paris, how I miss you.
Oh and by the way, I just found this video of Julio Cortázar speaking about his Paris:

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Chocolate and Orange cake


As promised last week, here is the recipe for a cake I made for a friends' birthday. It is a very simple cake, but everybody went crazy about it. I adapted it from this recipe, though I did not use the Cointreau-syrup since the boy hates the flavour of alcohol (I told him it would completely evaporate, but he really doesn't like it). Even so, the cake was moist enough, as I added extra orange preserve in the filling. I also added cinammon, as I do on almost everything.

You will need:
For the cake
-200 gr butter
-200 gr.  flour
-200 gr sugar
-2 teaspoons baking powder
-4 eggs, room temperature.
-the zest of an orange
 -orange preserve or jam.
-a hint of cinammon
For the chocolate buttercream 
-300 gr. butter
-300 gr. icing sugar
-150 gr. dark chocolate (for me, the darker the better but that's up to your own taste)

 What to do: 
Preheat oven to 170º C. Butter and flour a cake pan (mine is 22 cm.). Sift the flour with the baking powder. Cream together butter and sugar. Add the eggs, 1 at a time. When the mix is homogenous add the orange zest, the cinammon, and finally the flour. Pour on baking pan and bake for 45 min - 1 hr, or until a skewer comes out clean.

Let the cake cool. In the meantime, prepare the chocolate buttercream. Beat together butter and icing sugar at medium-high speed until the mix becomes light and fluffy (about 5 minutes). If you want to avoid making a mess the size of your kitchen, as the icing sugar will fly in every direction as you beat, cover the bowl with a moist tea towel when you begin to beat the mix, just for the initial stage when the butter and icing sugar will integrate.

Melt the chocolate au-bain-marie and add to the butter and icing sugar mix. Let your buttercream become even and stop beating.

When your cake is cool, cut it lenghtwise. A lazy-susan can prove to be very useful for this step, and for cake decorating in general. Ours is from the swedish place and I use it all the time. Fill your cake with orange preserve and chocolate buttercream. Put the top layer of cake on top, cover your cake in a thin crumb - coat and let it set. I have no patience, so I put it in the freezer for 15 minutes, but 30 minutes in the fridge also work. Finally cover your cake in the rest of the buttercream and decorate with colorful sprinkles for a kindergarden effect. Enjoy !

I had some extra chocolate buttercream (that recipe makes a lot), so I made this no-fail banana muffins and covered them in it. They were super yummy too. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Otomi (tenango) wall: a DIY tutorial

I am super excited to finally reveal the newest addition to our guest room. The wall above our convertible couch used to be bare (like this), and we weren't quite sure what to do with such a large white space. We considered painting over it, maybe even try a graffiti, or printing a huge panoramic picture of a city like Barcelona. Then, while I was looking for information in order to properly denounce Mara Hoffman's plagiaristic use of Otomi tenango's in her designs I found what we wanted: a 1.80m x 1.90 m hand-embroidered textile to be exposed on the wall as art and give joy and color to our visitors. You can see what I mean by looking at my inspiration on this board. Apparently these textiles are very popular on interior decoration blogs such as Apartment Therapy, Open House, Mafalda's mama, Absolutely Beautiful Things and Design Sponge. I also found a post by Uauage, a high-school classmate and friend of mine, who upholstered a bench with one of these textiles, with beautiful results.
Source
As for the origin of these textiles, which I can not emphasise enough, Wendy Circosta summarised it very clearly:

"Made by Otomi (Nah-Nu) women in the Tenango Valley of Hidalgo, Mexico, this  multicoloured textile squares are embellished with embroidered whimsical  characters and crisp graphic shapes,and include animals such as turkeys, armadillos, deer, hares, parrots and floral motifs. Commonly known as tenangos, this  style of embroidery can be traced back to pre Aztec Meso-America with  the symbolism, iconography and colour ways of the pieces reflecting the  time-honoured traditions and beliefs of the Otomi people. Traditional  designs featured on Otomi textiles are said to originate from prehistoric wall paintings located in the Tenango region and symbolise  man living in harmony with the natural environment.
 
An economic crisis caused by a severe drought in the 1960s devastated  the predominantly subsistence farming region of the Tenango Valley.  Considering alternative ways of making a living, the Otomi looked to  their artistic heritage. Successfully melding modern ingenuity with ancient traditions helped restore the rich cultural inheritance and  ethnic identity of the Otomi Indians, in addition to assuring international recognition of Otomi embroidery as an art form in its own."

Source
Now, for the DIY part: 

1. send your mexican relatives / friends / acquaintances on a road trip to Tenango de Doria. They will enjoy the beautiful sights of the Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range and contribute in a tangible manner to the local communities. Of course if you happen to be staying more than a week in Mexico I can only recommend you go in person. Get a tenango of your choice, you will find workshops and handcraft shops in the center of the town. Ask for tablecloths or bed covers if you would like a large one like us.

2. head to your local home improvement  shop and get 4 pieces of wood of the required size, a wood stapler, a saw, and two-sided tape. Cut the corners of the wood pieces and join them with staples on both sides to make a frame with the wood and staple it together. 

3. Paste double-sided tape all around the wooden frame and stick your tenango to it. This part is tricky if you pull too tightly and there is too much tension of the textile on the frame, it will fall. We had to make the wooden frame smaller several times until we got the size right. To strenghten, reinforce by stapling your textile to the frame in the corners or middle. 

4. Voilà- You are ready to hang it and admire it forever.



Friday, November 23, 2012

Thankfulness and Liebster blog award

 For those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope you had a lovely time yesterday and will further enjoy the long weekend. Like Fiona quoted : "It is impossible to give thanks and simultaneously feel fear" (Ann Voskamp). For some reason the phrase really resonated with me... as long as I keep counting blessings and focusing on the positive, the feeling that everything will be is OK stays with me. So in the spirit of giving thanks, I want to thank alloallo from The Question Now becomes who recently nominated me for a Liebster blog award. As I think you most probably know it's kind of like a chain letter + internet hug to show recognition among bloggers. Here are the questions she asked:

1. If you could live in any past decade, which one would you live in and why?
Oh it is so hard to decide. I think either ancient Greece at the time of Plato or Italy during the Renaissance. I love the flowy dresses of both periods. I think those were both times where women were starting to have a say in ideas, at least in certain privileged circles. I would have found it fascinating to live at a time where so many things were being discovered or re-discovered simultaneously, in terms of science, philosophy, geographic explorations, medicine and so on. I think I would also have liked to be a biologist during the 1800th century, when people were still discovering new species of animals and plants, when not all of the discoveries were taking place at a molecular level (which is exciting in its own different way). But imagine the joy and the incredible awe of seeing a dancing Boobie bird for the first time ever, with their bright blue feet . 

2. What's the most ridiculous thing you've had to do since Trying To Conceive?  (i.e. carried around your pee in your purse like me?)
Hmmm.... probably crying after a pregnancy was announced at the end of this movie? It's a movie. And it started me crying. An imaginary, non-existent, invented-by-a-writer pregnancy. When real life pregnancies are announced, it is bittersweet. I am mostly really, truly, genuinely happy for the couple involved. But then that ugly little monster called self-pity starts with its "Why not us already?" and I have to shut it up. Other than that... probably laying literally half naked at the gynaecologist's office without having a say or being allowed to complain / demand some dignity. So much for my big mouth. 

3.What is one difference (if any) having a blog has made in your life?
It has made me reflect, it has allowed me to concentrate on the good stuff, to actively search for the bright side, and be grateful. It has brought journal-ing back into my life. But most importantly it has allowed me to relate and connect with other people in close and far away places who are struggling / feeling / enjoying / living similar things, and that is invaluable. It is better than pen pals, it is friendships that develop slowly, steadily, and let a certain closeness develop at a speed that is not really possible in real life in such an immediate manner. 
 
4. Please share a favourite recipe/food blog etc.
I absolutely recommend the Australian baking blog Raspberri cupcakes. I love the craziness, the honesty (she is not afraid of letting us know when something went awfully wrong... accidents happen in the kitchen), and the almost professional, creative little wonders Steph comes up with. Next week I'll share a recipe for a chocolate-orange cake that I made the other day and have been meaning to post

Now, I would like to pass the award to the following blogs that I've recently discovered and find inspiring:

-Donna, of Snippets of my Life 
-Sheryl of Unexpected moments 
-Britanni of The Swiss wife style 
-Hayley of WeeHermione 
-Fiona of Far Far Away

And the questions that come to my mind are:

1. What is your absolute favorite 3 books, that you would bring to a deserted island, that you could read over and over again, that made you, you?
2. If you could live anywhere in the World, where would that be?
3. Does your job have anything to do with what you thought you would be doing as a teenager / young adult?
4. If Aladdin's genie would come up to you right now, what wishes would you ask for?

*Image source

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The magic of weddings

As you know, this year, we have been hoping to enlarge our family. This might not yet have happened in the way that we are the most expecting, but the other day I was thinking about it and I realized that I have been blessed with a new brother and a new sister. Yes, because between my little sis' wedding this February, and my brother's wedding more recently our family has indeed grown. I love both of our "new" additions, more that I can express in words. It is funny, growing up... how everyone is more settled, more their own person. But I digress. Being present at these two weddings made me realize what makes it all so special: it is the joy, the excitement, the pouring of love, the  intense family togetherness that is only possible every once in a long while, and all the fun involved when everyone is in such a hopeful mood. So many people wishing well to the new couple embarking in a lifetime together is uplifting. I did not cry during our ceremony (I remember feeling very calm), but I teared up at more than one moment during my brother's wedding. It is like renewing our vows every time we hear them, while also loving very hard those who are starting this road. And on top of it all, an epic dance party.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Drops of joy

 Our short holiday in Mexico (we were there barely a week and a day) was like an injection of happiness. It must be the sunlight, the food, the friends and of course, being able to spend quality time with our family, including those who live far away and whom I hadn't seen in 10 years or so. This time, upon coming back, I did not feel so homesick. The weekend was busy: I was studying like crazy, preparing an interview for a PhD project, helping the boy on some home-decorating DIY projects, baking banana muffins, making hot chocolate, chatting with our dear neighbors, unpacking, and doing loads and loads of laundry.
The interview went well, I felt confident and comfortable but I am afraid to get my hopes too high, as competition is harsh. Of course I am wishing with every cell of my being to get the position, as it would be very close to the dream job: a combination of clinical, experimental and laboratory research, for a project that would not only be applied on dogs, but on humans as well. With this whole career thing I have a strong feeling that I won't have peace on any job unless I am *doing* something for the welfare / health of anything that's alive. Maybe it's my calling, or maybe I am just arrogant but I've come to realise I would never feel satisfied in a purely commercial kind of job. Oh and I had forgotten how much I enjoy digging into a subject, learning, finding the bits and the ends that make all the concepts come together.
I am feeling grateful and finding hapiness in the small things: the first bundle of tulips of the season, our new and colourful blown glass jar, gum drops (particularly red ones) and my crazy, sparkly, nails, that I had done for the wedding to match the dress I wore. How are you doing? I hope you are having a great week.
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