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.
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."

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.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Sorpresa en el buzón: llegó mi AIG

*(Dear readers... this post will be in Spanish).
 Gracias a Zarawitta, me enteré este año del AIG (o amigo invisible gastronómico), un intercambio de regalos culinarios  entre bloggers, que ya viene organizándose desde el 2008. Por suerte, pude inscribirme en el último momento. Aprovecho para agradecer a Joana de "Mis recetas bordadas", quien estuvo a cargo de la logística (participaron 233 blogs).
 Hoy en la tarde llegamos de un viaje... y cual fue mi sorpresa al encontrar en el buzón el recado de correos informándome que tenía un paquete esperandome. Como aun faltaban 2 horas para la hora del cierre, fui corriendo (casi) a recogerlo, que ilusión.
Mi amiga secreta fue Virginia, de Sweet & Sour y me ha enviado un montón de cosas deliciosas, todas ellas típicas de España. No conocía su blog, pero esta lleno de recetas de panes y tartas, además de recetas saladas y unas fotos muy bonitas.
 Estaba super emocionada al abrir la caja y encontrar los regalitos:
- un turrón de almendras (lo extrañaba de mis días en Barcelona, me recuerda el invierno y las caminatas por el centro),
-pan de cadiz (no lo conozco, pero me muero de ganas de probarlo),
- hojaldrinas artesanales caseras (las hemos probado de inmediato, par de golosos que somos), 
-un par de moldes para tartaletas (que no tenía, y usaré próximamente),
-una botella de aceite de oliva español (mmmmm)
-y unas cápsulas para cupcakes, además de una linda tarjeta con un mapa antiguo (con lo que nos gusta viajar).
 Muchas, muchas gracias Virginia por todos estos detalles. Creo que algunos de los dulces los guardaremos para las fiestas.... aunque no sé si durarán tanto.
De nuevo gracias a Joana por organizarlo todo y permitirme participar. Ah, y para los que tengan curiosidad, a mi me tocó enviarle a Tere de Las Maria Cocinillas. Aquí está lo que le he enviado.
Ha sido una experiencia muy grata participar y conocer a tantos blogs. Desde aqui les deseo felices fiestas a todos los que participaron.

Monday, November 12, 2012

An easy 'Alice in Wonderland' guest book

We were lucky enough to assist my brother's wedding this weekend (more on that coming later). As per usual, the last days before the big day were full of hectic activities and last minute errands and so, as soon as we landed (well, after sleeping a few hours) we were on full helpers mode, running around, bringing stuff to the venue, making signs and being as available as we could. A day before the wedding my dear sister in law called me to assign me a task: she had printed cards for the guests to leave them a message, but she did not really think of where and how to do it. We knew there was going to be a candy table and that there was a bit of an Alice in Wonderland theme, so all the time lost to wedding porn was not in fact lost. I quickly searched the house for what could be useful for this mni project and found everything we needed: a portrait, my beloved porcelain Alice, my sister's wooden coffer and a hand painted cat we got for my mom in Istanbul. With a little help from the internet and the boy's skills we were ready in less than 2 hours. For the sign we used the images from the original book. We found them ready to download in high resolution at Lenny's Alice in Wonderland site. The rest was just a piece of cake, as all we the boy had to do was open the file in word, insert a text box and write short instructions. My original Lewis Carrol book came in handy as we were able to find a font very similar to the one in the first version. If you would like, here is the file as we printed it, feel free to modify it or customize it to your needs.  We also used an empty blown glass tequila bottle that allowed people to leave a donation for the groom and bride, which was a surprise for them. All in all I am quite happy of how it looked, but most of all I was happy to be able to help.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Treasure finds from Paris

 I had been wanting to get a certain book called "Women who read are dangerous" for quite a while, but since it was first printed in 2005 I was having trouble getting a hardcover that was not super expensive. Imagine my excitement when I serendipitously found it at a museum boutique while I waited for my friends. For some reason I did not get it at the moment, but I kept thinking about it and we ended up going back for it the next day.
 Smiling at security guards and explaining your story is the way to skipping through long lines. I am so happy with it. It really is an interesting and beautiful book, illustrating through art history from the medieval times to contemporary paintings the role of the simple act of reading in women's lives over time... giving them access to worlds that were otherwise forbidden to them, subverting the status quo, breaking conventions.
While walking through the small streets of Paris I was able to find a small vintage suitcase for the boy, with which he intends to try a DIY project. It was a great find, since we had been looking for one at flea markets and second hand shops, to no avail.
I also just finished reading a biography of Leonora Carrington. Her life was so amazing, a rebel at heart who fought for her right to be an artist, communicated with animals from an early age and showed us magical worlds to which she seemed to have access. During World War II she stood up against fascism, risked her life at it, was confined to a psychriatic institution, endured painful "treatment" and emerged stronger, finally settling in Mexico where she led a full life, being interested in alchemy, the occult, the ideas of C. Jung and a close friend of other artists such as painter Remedios Varo and photographer Kati Horna.
Via here

Thursday, November 1, 2012

For what it's worth.

 Our first IUI cycle didn't work. I don't know if this was to be expected but I sure was hoping for something else. Anyhow, I mostly just want to say that if there is anyone out there who is considering starting treatment and who is as scared as I was , well it was not at all as bad as I thought or imagined it would be. I did not get any of the side effects I  so dreaded. I started with Gonal-F (on a low dose: 75 IU) for the first days of my cycle, that is, from days 3 to 10. The injections did not really hurt, or maybe just a little bit, kind of like when you feel a mosquito is biting you? And then it's over? The boy was the one injecting me and we had a whole little ritual to make it "fun": we would play a song, most frequently my new favorite, "The origin of love", I made sure I was not looking and he would make sure to talk me so I would be distracted. Then we danced a little dance. As for the medical appointments, the biologist in me was fascinated and quite excited to actually see the follicles grow. I was also expecting a "stronger" reaction from my body. I only had 1 dominant follicle, and another one that stopped growing at 14 mm (the aim is to get them to 18-22 mm). But the doctors said it's all normal, and they are cautious as overstimulation is not a good thing either. The trigger shot (hCG) to release the egg was done at the hospital by a very nice nurse, and this is the one shot that hurt. It didn't hurt when it was done, but it left me a painful bruise that lasted 2  days or so. Nothing too bad. As for the IUI, well, it is about as uncomfortable as getting a Pap smear, but you feel it even less as there is no sample to be taken. Then came the hopeful wating phase. Oh yes, those last 14 days I was on progesterone suppositories, which were weird but doable. Again I did not really feel anything unusual. Except, my super regular period came 4 days late, and there we were, almost certain it had happened cause I am NEVER delayed more than a day. I should have known it was normal to be late, but I guess the hope was stronger. What makes it so hard is that you are always hoping for this egg, for this month. If someone would come and tell us, if you just endure this another x times, you will get there. If our odds were cumulative it would be more bearable. But this constant gambling, the uncertainty, is enough to make anyone crazy. It seems to me that the only time hormones really do have an effect on me is when it all comes crashing down, at the end of a cycle, and then I feel like the world is ending, like my faith is dying, like I just can't do it anymore, can't take it any second longer. But then we gather all the pieces and start hoping again. Please, science, do your magic.
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