Friday, June 28, 2013

The breakfast club: Smitten Immigrant

As I try to find ways of eating a more healthy and varied breakfast (my usual breakfast is  almost always the same: toast with butter, peanut butter, or jam and tea with milk), I decided to ask a few of my internet friends and readers to share their favorite breakfast. Today I am honored to present you Pluis, from Smitten Immigrant. By the way, I would love it if you would like to participate in this weekly series, just send a breakfast themed post to:

Breakfast of Grandmothers

I'm a breakfast friend, which is a somewhat lonely position. Apparently there are preciously few people who wake up and feel sorely tempted to scoot off to the kitchen to scarf down something edible before even contemplating a shower. So, when Amanda told me about her plans to write about breakfast, I thought I could contribute. Hence, my three routine breakfasts:

1) Weekend Breakfast
2) Breakfast with Puppies
3) Breakfast of Grandmothers

Weekend breakfast: (serves two)
- one leisurely morning
- one tin of pre-made croissant dough (makes 6 small croissants)
- half a banana (for stuffing two of the croissants)
- fifteen minutes of pre-heated oven time
- a little butter
- one spoonful of fig or blackberry jam (for my Beloved)
- two cups of 'espresso lungo' (which is fancy-speak for us making espresso, but letting the water run through the grounds for much longer than any coffee lover would dare confess)
- Beloved and I
- cat pictures and other internet diversions

Breakfast with Puppies (no puppies are harmed in the making of this breakfast)
- 6.30 mornings on which I volunteer at the local dog shelter
- hard work and no lunch until 2 PM
- five table spoons of rolled oats
- two table spoons of dried cranberries (mine come with dried pineapple juice on)
- a pinch of salt
- a good splash of boiling water
- five minutes on low heat
- a good stir
- a spoonful of honey
- cat pictures and other internet diversions
- coffee to go at the train station or instant coffee at the shelter

Breakfast of Grandmothers (crone-like levels of wisdom not guaranteed)
- one average 8.00 AM awakening
- expectation of a normal day with regular meal times
- two slices of ontbijtkoek
- one banana, halved widthwise and lengthwise
- the long perhaps-not-quite-treasured memory of my otherwise kick-ass grandmother lecturing me about the digestive benefits of combining the fibre-rich ontbijtkoek with banana at her breakfast table - cat pictures and other internet diversions
- coffee at home, at work or on the go, depending on the day.

As you can see, I'm not one for inherently healthy breakfasts. I've done a few stints of low-carb and / or dieting and have stared into the soulless depths of a tub of low-fat yoghurt more than once, but substantial breakfasts make me happier.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Oh exercise

Image via Flashback Friday

I have never been the sporty type. Between my clumsiness, lack of coordination and the general daydreaming state in which I often find myself, sports never really appealed to me. Particularly not team sports, where balls often landed right in my face. During high school I took tennis lessons and I also remember enjoying athletism, but I never really did more than what was required, I didn't even try. It's true that I've always tried to be active: take the stairs instead of the lift and walk a lot, but I guess it's not enough.

Lately, the boy has been trying to push me to incorporate exercise in our routine in some way or another, and I agree, it is important to stay strong and fit. We've tried running, but we both find it boring and since I have no condition whatsoever after each try I'd get dizzy / nauseous and just never wanted to try again. We have also tried to exercise in the living room, together, which is actually quite nice, but we are, ahem, not disciplined enough, so we often forget.

And so yesterday he dragged me I went to the gym with Mark. We trained our legs, arms, chest, back, abs (just a bit, it's my weakest spot, though, I did use to have a mysterious six pack) and in the end we did some aerobic exercises. It was fun kind-of, but also boring kind-of.  I have to recognize afterwards I did feel more relaxed and calm. But I am not sure I can really get into it, in the way you see some people just LOVE doing exercise, the endorphin rush and all of that. How's it for you? Is exercise a pain or is it something you do with gusto?

Monday, June 24, 2013

A fresh summer lunch

On Saturday we had friends over and as I was planning the menu I was thinking long and hard. I wanted people to enjoy and have enough to eat as well. And then, surprise, the new (free) e-book by Marcela arrived in my inbox and I was suddenly inspired (seriously, such beautiful photos).

 I made quinoa-tabbouleh, a lentil and tomato salad, courgette and goat cheese quiche, broccoli and brie quiche, Tomato-Mozzarella-Basil little boats, Mexican red (tomato) rice and mole. We also got some Hummus, Tzatziki and Turkish bread. The night before I prepared Sangria. People kept saying how delicious everything was and kept going for seconds and thirds. I was so so happy. If you would like any of the recipes let me know and I'll post them in the comments, though most of these dishes were quite simple. How was your weekend?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Louis Pasteur's house and museum in Paris

Ever since I went to Paris the first time I had been wanting to visit the Pasteur Institute (comparable to the CDC in Atlanta) and the Louis Pasteur museum. And every time I went for some reason or another I didn't make it, people had different priorities, or we were on a tight schedule to visit all the sights. Last October, I was determined to finally visit.

I have always deeply admired Louis Pasteur: his creativity, his ability to think out of the box and develop ways in which the lives of animals and people could be improved. He revolutionized microbiology, was a pioneer in immunology, perfected techniques to produce wine and beer (by discovering the chemical and biological processes behind) and was even able to spot and cure a disease affecting silk worms. At the museum you will be able to visit the apartment where he lived the last 8 years of his life, from l888 to 1895, there are all kinds of objects that let you peek into the way he lived.

Then, there is a whole room dedicated to his scientific discoveries, and many original objects, among which some of hiw very own Swan-flasks, that were crucial in rejecting the theory of spontaneous generation ("The idea that beetles, eels, maggots and now microbes could arise spontaneously' from putrefying matter, speculated on since Greek and Roman times"). Thanks to him, vaccines were developed against anthrax and rabies, ending with the horror and fear these diseases caused.  At the Institut Pasteur, you will also be able to visit his tomb, located in a beautiful marble and mosaic crypt that reminded me of Byzantine art (unfortunately, photos were forbidden). 

The museum (25, rue du Docteur Roux ,75015 Paris) is open from Monday to Friday, visiting hours are at 14h, 15h and 16h. It's easily reachable by metro (station Pasteur, on lines 6 and 12) and after your visit you can enjoy the view from the top floor of the Montparnasse tour, or stroll along the pretty streets (I remember finding a small bakery, eating delicious pastries on a bench and watching school-kids play)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Some days are difficult... particularly when you have to wait and you don't want to wait any longer. Living life in what seems to be an eternal pause is hard. Sometimes I end up with tears in my eyes without really knowing why, at the most random moments. When that happens I try to look around and recognize all the good things that surround us. Oh, and I finally convinced the boy to get us a milk jug and sugar bowl. (Michelle agrees with me that you can never have too many, yet we didn't have any). Surprises in the mailbox always cheer me up, so thanks Jo and Zarawitta. I will be writing some letters soon, I might have gotten supplies, fancy papershops are a real source of happiness. Aside from tea, reading, enjoying the sunshine when it's there, cooking... how do you cope with anxiety?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Feels like summer

It's warm outside. Really warm. It is always so unexpected, when the sun decides to shine, it almost feels like it's a different country. People are happier, suddenly all the cafés burst alive with open terraces and children play outside. And when its warm my brain is tricked into believing it is going to last forever, the bright weather. But we know better, and so everyone does their best to suck it all up, just in case. On Saturday it was not *that* warm, yet people were out in their sandals and shorts. I was talking to an Argentinian friend yesterday about how the weather does change the personality of people, how maybe that's the reason people of northern latitudes seem quieter, more structured. We really are animals... connected and dependant on nature. How was your weekend?   

Friday, June 14, 2013


 Time goes so fast... I can not believe it's the weekend again. Not only that, but we are pretty much fully booked until the end of the month. We will be going to Amsterdam twice this weekend, and things seem to be moving, happening. Friends are getting engaged, a bunch of friends are leaving the country, and there are so many expositions, concerts, things to do (we might not be able to do everything we want, oh, life). In case you didn't know, Manu Chao will be giving a free concert in Rotterdam tomorrow (June 15) within the  Rotterdam Unlimited festival. If you are in Paris (or fancy a weekend trip), these are the last days of the photography exposition: "La valise mexicaine" at the Musée d'art et d'histoire du judaïsme. This exposition showcases the recently found negatives from Robert Capa, Gerda Taro and Chim. They were pioneers in war photography, and brought light to what was happening during the Spanish Civil war. It would not be an exaggeration to say they revolutionized the way photojournalism was made.The history of the lost mexican suitcase is fascinating in itself. The exhibit will be in Paris until June 30. What are you up to?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Hafiz Mustafa: the best Turkish delight

 While in Istanbul last September, we discovered the quaintest little coffee-shop, Hafiz Mustafa. It is a family-owned confectionary that exists since 1864, founded during the first years of Sultan Abdulaziz’s reign in the Ottoman Empire. They had the best Turkish delights that I have ever tried: fresh, crunchy, fruity and full of flavour. I do not even like Turkish delight so much, at least not the cheap commercial stuff that I had tasted until then. This stuff is hand-crafted with the best ingredients and you can tell how it's the real deal from the first bite.

They are in front of the Sirkeci metro/tram station, in the Eminönu neighborhood. You could stay for hours and hours in their café on the second floor, covered in the typical, pretty Turkish tiles, and watch people coming and going or get lost in a book.

We had Turkish tea and coffee and a few of their desserts, from cakes, to jellies, to rice-pudding and local specialties (yup, once we find a place like this, we make sure we come back to try the whole menu!). Just thinking about it makes my mouth water.

 This is where we got our stash of candy to bring back home. The staff is very kind and attentive. Being there transports you to other times, and you can tell it's good as the place is loved among locals of all ages: from grandmas, to business people, to families with children and young couples. If you ever find yourself in Istanbul you should totally visit Hafiz Mustafa (they will even let you try a few of their delicious concoctions).

You will find them at:

Hocapasa Mahallesi Muradiye Caddesi
No: 51, Sirkeci - Fatih - Istanbul,
34080 Sirkeci Eminönü / Istanbul
(very very near to the Sirkeci train / tram station).

Monday, June 10, 2013


We finally saw some cute,  baby water-chickens. Normally you spot them earlier, but with this year's weird spring, complete with snow, they took a while. We've had a few warm days (gone now) and these little fuzzies made me smile. And talking about eggs hatching, I am finally ready for the egg retrieval / follicle aspiration. As I write, I am being rushed to go. Wish me luck. How was your weekend?

Update: We have 19 eggs, everything seems to be going well, the embryologists must now be busy at the lab doing their magic. I have to drink 2 liters of water per day... not sure how I will manage.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Macarons: what I've learnt

I have made a few batches of macarons (almond, chocolate, raspberry) and though I manage to get pretty good results, I am still not 100% there. I have been reading a lot on the subject: I've researched books, I've gone through troubleshooting posts, and I have tried both the Italian meringue technique (used at Pierre Hermé) and the French meringue technique. Italian meringue is more stable than French, as the sugar syrup is cooked, and leads to smoother, shinier, chewier macarons. To achieve perfect results you really need to know your oven, as the little crunchy, melt-in-your-mouth cookies are very sensitive to temperature. There should not be any currents / drafts in your oven, or you might get cracks. An oven thermometer might be a good investment.

For the French meringue macarons I used Brave Tart's recipe. For the Italian meringue macarons I used  Jose Marechal's basic recipe. If, like me, you are eager to know  the scientific explanation behind baking, his little book is worth every penny (and not so expensive either). It has a lot of photos and detailed reasoning behind the steps that are important in the process of macaron making. I promise to share the specific recipe soon. If you are a visual person though, you can see the process (at Pierre Hermé's kitchen, nonetheless)  here and below.

So here are a few tips I have learnt, tested and gathered from all over the place:

-Macarons need precision. A scale to weigh your ingredients (from the egg whites, to the icing sugar and ground almonds) is necessary. Changes in proportion (even minimal) can cause changes in texture.  I normally grind the almonds with the sugar together to make sure they are fine enough.

-It is very important to mix the icing sugar and ground almonds (le “tant pour tant”) until they are homogenous and  then sieve the mix several times. There should not be any big pieces left (or they will cause your macarons to be grainy, or worse, to crack whilst baking). A processor is a big help here. I don't have one, so I use a blender and a coffee grinder for the harder pieces.

-Your mix has to have the right consistency. When you make the batter, le macaronage, you are actually trying to beat the air out of the meringue, so circular and rubbing movements are needed. Your batter should pour in a ribbon-like manner (it's  often described as molten, or lava-like) and join the rest of the batter after a few seconds.

-Tapping the trays after piping your macarons is important not only to flatten them, but to break any bubbles of air. Air bubbles trapped during baking will find it’s way up and crack the shells.

-Having fully dried shells, letting a film or crust form (call this: “le croûtage” if you’re feeling fancy) is crucial. It allows macarons to stretch sideways while they are still out of the oven. If you omit this step the macarons will grow sideways AND upwards while baking, causing them to crack*. The air should escape only through the “feet” forming the ruffles on the bottom (instead of through the top of the shell which would cause them to break), hence the crust also prevents cracks. You should let your macarons rest after piping from 20 min to 1 hour (depending on the air humidity). When you touch them, they should not stick to your fingers.

-I used a silicon mat only once and it was disastrous. I've had a much better experience with waxed paper.  The macarons stuck to the silicon and it seemed that they did not cook properly even after more than half an hour (unusual). My guess is the silicon does not get as hot as the (thinner) paper.

-For the filling, ganaches are delicious. I used 200 ml whipping cream + 200 gr dark chocolate + 50 gr butter. Just warm up the cream until it is just about to boil (but it shouldn’t), pour it over the chopped chocolate and stir so it melts, then add the butter. Let it cool to form a cream. You can even make a fruit-ganache (replacing the cream with juices / jam). I have also used lemon curd and homemade jams. Buttercream, cream-cheese frosting, nutella can also work. Oh and don't eat them right away, macarons taste way better one or two days after resting in the fridge. The flavors blend and the crusts become moist in the interior.

Finally here are some pretty useful posts I  found:

-Marcela's take on macaron making.(I lost my fear because of her, and her post is full of pictures of each step, so you get an idea of how things should look);

-Brave Tart has a few interesting articles: first of all, read the Macaron Mythbusters (anyone who references Heisenberg's uncertainty principle has my trust), secondly, just to clarify, Macarons are for eating (even if your macarons don't look as if they should be showcased in a light-green French pâtisserie, they will still be delicious) and finally her Macaron's Ten commandments were very helpful and straight-forward. *She does say that for her, "le croûtage" (letting your macarons form a crust before baking) is not necessary, as she pops her macarons straight to the oven right after piping (and tapping the pans). I did that, and it didn't work for me. Moreover, the longer the macarons rested, the better they looked. So in my humble home-experience drying helps a lot.

Try this at home! Worst case scenario you'll have a bunch of crunchy almond cookies to munch on!  (And by the way, today I am over at Any Other Woman... talking about eating macarons (and ice-cream) at our wedding, do visit!)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Books, books.

A couple of weeks ago I finally finished reading "The god of the small things", the book I received from the lovely Chirsty. I took me a while to read it, I had a hard time concentrating, but once I got sunk in by the story, it was like being there.

I wrote a short review, you can read it over at Any Other Woman. If you are like me, always looking for new books, there is also a review for "Pure" and "The night circus".

Here's one of my favorite excerpts:

“It was the story of a poor girl who is forced to marry a fisherman from a neighbouring beach, though she loves someone else. When the fisherman finds out about his new wife’s old lover, he sets out to sea in his little boat though he knows that a storm is brewing. It’s dark, and the wind rises. A whirlpool spins up from the ocean bed. There is storm music, and the fisherman drowns, sucked to the bottom of the sea in the vortex of the whirlpool. The lovers make a suicide pact, and are found the next morning, washed up on the beach with their arms around each other. So everybody dies. The fisherman, his wife, her lover, and a shark that has no part in the story but dies anyway”.

(Is it weird that the part about the shark made me smile?). (And talking about sharks, have you seen this video? I kind of have a crush on Mika, I love everything he's involved in.)

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

London: Street art

This was, if I remember well, near King's Cross underground.

 It totally slipped my mind that I still have some posts on London, Istanbul and Paris.I hope you don't mind if every now and then I write about those places, some are cafés, some are museums, some are random finds. In that spirit, I thought I would show you just a few snippets of London's street art. The last two remind me of Leonora Carrington's surreal creatures. Are you fascinated by street art? Do you get excited when you see a pretty graffitti?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Bring it on (IVF)

It is funny when all of the things happen at the same time. Last Friday was our (legal) anniversary, we picked up the company's car for the boy's new job (our old car had reached the end of its life a month and a half ago), we went for a walk, had ice-cream and Mexican dinner, and we started IVF. After 6 failed IUI cycles, 2 on which my ovulation was totally missed, the hospital directed us to a new clinic, where there are actual embryologists who perform IVF or ICSI.

With mixed feelings, but renewed hope (as we must) we are continuing on this path. It seems like IUI was an express course on losing The Fear. Last September, when we discovered / accepted that we would need some medical help I was afraid as I have never been before. I never took the pill as contraception because I did not want to imbalance my hormonal equilibrium by "adding" to the mix. I also worried about the environmental consequences of hormones, having studied how endocrine disruptors have effects on anything from amphibians, to fish, to only God knows who else. It turns out I did not really feel side effects and the daily injections for the first 8 days of my cycle were not that bad. I mostly didn't feel any difference, perhaps some bloatedness, but that's it. "Let's just consider this a parable in the pointlessness of sobbing over things that have not yet happened" (To quote the lovely and wise Cara).
This time I have decided not to research anything. I am just going to Trust. Trust the doctors, trust they know what they are doing, trust it will work and have faith that this will be it, that our baby will finally come. Whatever happens to me, whatever I feel during the egg retrieval or prior stimuation, I will feel. Yes, knowledge is power, but this time I really don't want to know. And well, I kind of do know anyway because I took a class called "Embryo manipulation" where the whole procedure was explained, so at this point at least, I don't think I need to know more.

This new clinic is really nice: they have posters of scientific articles as well as photos of babies and embryos all over the place and they seem to be very, very professional. I get the feeling they know what they are doing. For instance, it's always the same (smiley) girl doing the echographies to check my follicle growth, and so you feel a sense of continuity (and contagious optimism). I want to believe there is less chance of mistakes due to different doctors observing / working in different ways.  Prior to starting the IVF / ICSI cycle  we had 2 appointments and every time we've been there more than an hour. They really took the time to answer all of our questions. They did kind of imply I was a control freak and that I should let go a bit, but in order to calm down I first really need to know things. They had some blood drawn, to check for infectious diseases, again. Apparently, it's routine, it has to do with the preservation of the embryos. The boy had to provide a sample again and they checked me too. They kept commenting on how the lining of my uterus looked like a textbook and they were happy at the sight of my ovaries, genuinely excited when pointing at all the tiny eggs follicles. After taking a blood sample and monitoring my FSH, estradiol and AMH day-3 levels, we were given the green light to proceed. The thing is, the boy's numbers seem to fluctuate a lot: they are within normal range but they go up and down depending on the day (they told us this after our 3rd or 4th IUI), so that *might* be what's keeping our baby in the limbo. Depending on how things look, they'll decide if they'll go for ICSI or IVF, but so far everything points to ICSI. I really think this just might work for us because in our case it seems that the problem may lie in fertilisation... for all we know it has just never happened. So, we are crossing our fingers and praying that all the steps involved will go well.

The emotional stuff and dealing with people is difficult, though.  I make a point of talking about this to anyone who will listen because I want to change the fact that there is so much stigma associated  with this, that you are supposed to keep it a secret, lest you disturb anyone with it... when it is just something that happens (and no, it's not contagious). And so, the other day I started chatting with a girl with whom I was very, very close when we were 11 or 12, before she moved to a different city and we completely lost contact. It turns out she is a medical doctor (and has a baby). Idiot that I am, I felt safe and told her our story. I got a full lecture on how IVF always sacrifices embryos, and that in other words, I would be killing my own children (those were her words). She concluded by saying that I should think twice before affecting the lives of innocent creatures. Now, I get that this is a very personal and very sensitive subject, and anyone is entitled to their own beliefs, but I felt so judged. Judged by someone, nonetheless who has no idea of how this feels. Or assuming that we did not think all of these things already. And while we are choosing to go down this road, while we are immensely grateful that we are even able to do so, it is not our (or anyone's, I'd say) first choice. Getting belly shots, twice per day, while doable and not all that painful, is not fun either. And don't get me started on the transvaginal invader and losing whatever dignity I had after being literally half-naked in front of doctors countless times. I know I am stupid for talking about this, but I just thought that someone who studied medicine would be a little bit more open-minded (and that people change over the years, think for themselves, develop their own criteria.) Maybe I really should keep my big mouth shot.

Anyhow, that's where we're at. Taking the biggest leap of faith yet, believing science is God's (or the universe's) way of helping us and answering to our prayers and  choosing hope and joy, optimism and love.
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