Monday, September 30, 2013


I was away for the most part of last week as I went by myself on a trip to visit friends and family in Switzerland. It had been almost 4 years since I saw some of my close friends... every year we say we will go and then life happens and we keep postponing the trip.

It is always bittersweet to visit places where you used to live. They mostly look the same, but they are not your city anymore (except for certain places... Barcelona will always feel like home). It is different with people. No matter how long we've been apart, catching up over a cup of tea is so easy and it feels like we never stopped seeing each other. I came back with a big chunk of cheese and of course, the obligatory bars of chocolate. The weather was truly glorious... it felt like summer all over again, except as a result I am now recovering from a cold (must have been the drastic change of temperatures, as the chilly weather starts to settle in The Netherlands).

I love how much Switzerland looks like a postcard, and cows are my friends. Walking alongside the large ruminants was such a fun thing to do.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Happy mail and AIG (Amigo invisible gastronómico 2013)

This week I finally received a parcel (all the way from Austria) for the Recipe Swap that Laura (The Mrs Makes) organized. I absolutely love old-fashioned mail, I don't think I will ever get tired of it. Specially when it comes with honey camomile tea sachets and rose chocolate (thanks Julia!). I will try out the recipes very soon and tell you all about them here.

The rest part of this post will be in Spanish, but if you are interested in snail mail swaps, just translate the instructions (via the ever useful google translate) and join this year's AIG (Amigo Invisible Gastronómico), to which you can enroll until Monday September 30 at 23:00 (GMT + 1). I participated last year, and am overjoyed to join again. It is a pre-christmas exchange involving food and little treats. For the full instructions click here.  But basically here's what it's about:
 EL AIG constará de 3 regalos (apróximadamente 20 EUR):

  • Algo hecho por nosotros mismos:  galletas, mermelada, conservas, una agenda, algo típico de nuestra localidad... o lo que buenamente se os ocurra a los que tenéis ideas DIY! Recordad que tiene que ser gastronómico
  • Un regalo propiamente dicho:  puede ser un libro o utensilio de cocina, algo que sepas que es difícil de encontrar donde vive la persona a la que regalas... cualquier cosilla le hará ilusión seguro.
  • Y por último: algo más personal que tiene o no nada que ver con la cocina pero que salga de vosotros. Puede ser una postal, una tarjeta navideña, una carta presentándote y desvelando tu identidad y deseándole unas felices fiestas.....

  •  Recordad, al menos tres regalos. 
    Pensad muy bien si podréis participar o no, y si decidís hacerlo que sea con ganas de pasarlo bien a la vez de hacer sentir a vuestro AIG que habéis puesto empeño.

    Friday, September 20, 2013

    Mexican (food) cravings

    Lately I have been wanting to eat Mexican food a lot. Luckily, last week there was an (alternative) Mexican party going on and we got to eat Mole, Sopes and Pan de Elote. Some people grow their own green-tomatoes and so this week I was able to make chilaquiles (fried tortilla chips, bathed in green tomatoe sauce, cream and cheese). I have also discovered that the main supermarkets carry (Colombian) corn flour and it works quite well (if not perfectly) to make tortillas at home. Are there any food items that you absolutely can't live without?

    Wednesday, September 18, 2013

    Egg retrieval / follicle aspiration

    The day our baby was conceived. I still didn't finish that book.

    While we were going through IVF I desperately wanted to read how the process was for other couples. I wondered about the specifics, the practical, the physical. So, for what it's worth, here goes my experience. After the ovarian stimulation period* (FSH / [Gonal or Fostimon] from days 3 to 10) and several blood tests (AMH, estradiol) to check everything was fine, and after closely looking at my follicles grow during those days, I had the trigger shot  (hCG / [Pregnyl]) that would stimulate ovulation together with another injection (Ganirelix/ GnRH [Orgalutran]) that would actually prevent me from ovulating too early. Two days after the trigger shot (actually 34 hours later) I was scheduled at the hospital for the egg retrieval.

    I could choose between Dormicum (Midazolam) and a painkiller, which would have had me sleep through the whole thing or Pethidine, a very strong painkiller. I had the latter, because they told me I could then stay alert and see what was happening. The egg retrieval is done with a long, hollow needle that "sucks" each follicle, the needle is guided transvaginally with the help of ultrasounds / echography. Mark liked this part he said it was fun to watch, like a videogame (Call of Duty?), aiming and taking the follicles, who would turn from being black bubbles, to empty little dots. On one of my ovaries it did not really hurt: each time they took a follicle it felt like a small "kick" or "punch" and then it was done, it lasted just one second, and on to the next follicle. On the other ovary (I think because it was higher and more to the back) it was a bit more painful, each aspiration felt like being kicked in the stomach, but it was not super awful either. On that same day Mark had to give a sample, the lab analysed the eggs and they proceed with IVF or ICSI (intracellular sperm injection). They do the latter when the sperm volume is low.

    Right after the aspiration I felt a bit dizzy (not during the procedure), I think as soon as it was over my pressure went down. We stayed in observation for an hour or so, until I felt better, and then we were allowed to leave. Those days I had to drink 2 liters of water per day and check my temperature and weight every day.

    A day after the procedure we were informed that out of the 19 follicles that were retrieved (they take all of them, regardless of the maturation state (size) even if some were not fully grown), 13 eggs were mature and we had 7 fertilizations. 3 days after the aspiration, the embryo transfer took place, which was quite simple (similar to getting a PAP smear, except we were watching everything on the ultrasound screen). They only transferred 1 embryo, to avoid multiple pregnancies, the rest of the embryos would have been frozen, but we were informed a few days later (in the middle of the 2 week wait, to add to the stress) that none of them continued their development further, so we don't have any frozen embryos. For the two weeks after the egg retrieval I had to take progesterone (to support the endometrium / mucus layer). Depending on how many follicles they get some people get an hCG shot instead of the progesterone.

    So that was that... 13 days after the transfer we got the happy news. We feel so incredibly blessed. My heart and hope and wishes are with everyone who is going through this. 
    *The aim of the stimulation is to make your ovaries produce as many eggs as possible (superovulation). In my case I was stimulated with  225 IU FSH per day: 150 in the morning and 75 at night). These are subcutaneous shots (in the belly) and are less painful than they sound, the needle is very small (same as for insulin). It was Mark who injected me every single time. I am able to inject all kinds of animals but could not muster the courage to inject myself. It was also nice to have him do it, and he loved playing doctor. I did not really feel any of the side effects I half dreaded, except maybe some bloatedness. The follicle growth is monitored with ultrasound (the famous transvaginal wand, ugh). I think I had to go on days 3, 7, 9 and 11. Once the follicles reached a certain size (around 20 mm) they injected the hCG (Pregnyl), which "triggers" the ovulation.
    Post edit The boy read this and said it might be useful to clarify what all the acronyms are, so:

    FSH: Follicle-Stimulatin Hormone, also known as follitotropin. (Commercial names: Gonal, Fostimon and others).As the name says, it is used to stimulate the growth of follicles, the little "bags of fluid" in which eggs mature / develop.

    AMH: Anti müllerian hormone. It is used to test "ovarian reserve" (to give an idea of how many eggs are left in the ovaries) and  "to rationalise the programme of ovulation induction and decisions about the number of embryos to transfer in assisted reproduction techniques to maximise pregnancy success rates whilst minimising the risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS)".

    hCG: Human chorionic gonadotropin. It is in this case used to simulate the peak of LH (luteinizing hormone) that precedes ovulation. Also called "trigger shot" because it stimulates ovulation (34-36 hours after the injection).

    GnRH: Gonadotropin Releasing Hormone. This is the boss of the hormonal axis that controls reproduction, as it starts the whole process. If given at certain times and concentrations it can actually act as negative feedback, blocking certain processes. In this case it is used to prevent early ovulation. 
    The blog, Fertility chronicles   presents several articles explaining the causes of infertility, the different tests available and how they are interpreted, and different factors that can affect the outcomes of IVF. (I am linking to them because I think the information given in their articles is simple and easy to understand. They have developed a model to predict your chances at success with IVF based on your tests results however this is not a sponsored link.)

    Monday, September 16, 2013

    A fresh lemon bundt cake

     The other day I had some buttermilk left in the fridge and I was looking for a simple recipe. So I decided to try a lemon bundt cake, I based myself on this recipe by 'Con corazón de azúcar'. As the original is in Spanish, I will translate it here. It was one of the most perfect cakes. Soft, moist, fluffy, lemony, and not overly sweet. The original called for yeast, but I had ran out of it, so I just used baking powder instead and it worked perfectly (it's after all cake, not bread).

    You will need
    210 gr. flour
    30 ml. lemon juice
    1 tablespoon lemon zest ( I used the zest of 1 big lemon).
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    125 gr. butter, softened
    2 eggs (medium sized)
    200 gr. sugar
    90 ml. buttermilk (you can make your own by adding 5 ml. lemon or white vinegar to 90 ml. milk and letting it rest for 10 minutes)
    A bit of cinammon or vanilla (I used powdered cinammon).

    To decorate 
    fresh raspberries and blackberries
    powder sugar
    lemon juice

     What to do
    Preheat oven to 180ºC. Mix the buttermilk with the lemon juice, lemon zest and cinammon. Let rest. Sieve the flour together with the baking powder. Beat the butter with the sugar until creamy and light. Add the eggs, one by one, until the mix is smooth and homogenous. Add the buttermilk and flour, alternating between the two, starting and ending with the flour and mixing slowly between each addition. Butter and flower a bundt or tube pan and pour the dough. Bake for approximately 40 minutes or until a skewer comes out dry. Let the cake chill in the pan for 10-15 min and unmould.

    Once it is completely cool you can cover in a glaze made by mixing powdered sugar with lemon juice. I always proceed by adding lemon juice to 1/2 cup of powder sugar and then add more sugar or more lemon juice depending on the desired thickness. Pour over the cake and enjoy with fresh berries and a cup of tea!

    Wednesday, September 11, 2013


    Today, we have been married 3 years. And this year there's (finally) 3 of us. I can only hope for more years together, taking walks, bickering over small stuff, hugging, playing, discovering the world together, going on adventures, trying all the yummy stuff. One day I hope we're like this couple (have you seen New York I love you?):

    Speaking of New York, I want to say thanks to Tania, who sent an envelope full of goodness (dulce-de-leche hard caramels, guayaba jelly and a couple of lip tints) that arrived just in time for this. If you want to make the boy happy...get him some candy. And we are both crazy about guayaba! Thanks so so much.

    Monday, September 9, 2013

    Swimming in the canal

    It's of course not news that the Dutch are not afraid of the water. Not of ice-cold water, not of murky water, not of muddy water. They start the year by taking a dip in the ever freezing North Sea in Scheveningen... and come September they take a swim in Amsterdam's canals. There is even a video going viral of a couple getting rather gezellig in a canal in Delft. 

    Anyhow, yesterday as we were walking around Amsterdam we stumbled upon swimmers arriving at the finishing line after their long swim. I am quite impressed. I think it's really admirable that all these people took the swim. The days have been warm but I don't think the water is very inviting. It was such a happy sight, seeing the swimmers being greeted by their friends and family members as they reached the end.

    All in all it was a very Dutch day... we found the original Van Dobbe eetsalon and could not resist a broodje croquet (a roll filled with a fried and bread-crumbed meat and bechamel ball, normally eaten with mustard). We lost some time at a bookstore, got some candy and then some chocolate at Puccini, after which we visited some friends.

    How was your weekend? Also: thanks so much for all your lovely messages and comments :)

    I hope that bike does not end up in the canal.

    Thursday, September 5, 2013

    Our huge little miracle

     I have been wanting to write this post for what seems a very long time. Now that the time has come though, I don't know how to start. Our ICSI (IVF) treatment in June worked and I am 14 weeks and 3 days pregnant. As I write this I think of every person that is hoping for a baby. I know how hard the in between is and how difficult to handle pregnancy announcements can sometimes be for those who have met the infertility witch, its awful dark side. Please know that you are in my thoughts and prayers. I also don't want to be naive, I know the baby is not here until it is here. It all still feels very surreal but we are so incredibly happy that this is finally happening. That there's a little growing baby inside me.

    Now that I am finally able to write about this, I want to go back to the start. The two week wait after our embryo transfer was probably the most stressful. We had very high hopes,we were happy and joyful and expectant but the last two days I was freaking out. I did not really have symptoms, no dizziness or nausea or implantation bleeding or anything. But I did notice my bras were starting to feel very, very tight and my boobs felt very full and heavy (though not sore or painful or sensitive, just big). That had us hoping. I also felt very strong pulsations in my lower abdomen and I thought this could mean my period was on its way. The IVF clinic instructed us to take a home pregnancy test 2 weeks after the embryo transfer. They don't test HCG in blood (beta) or care to watch the concentrations double... which we were grateful for, I am not sure I could have handled more number-induced freakouts. We were supposed to test on a Thursday, but we tested the first time on Wednesday because I could not wait any longer. I could not believe my eyes when, still in the toilet, I saw the faintest line appear. I teared-up, ran to Mark who was still in bed and kept frantically saying "there are two lines, there are two lines, do you know what this means?". But he was not buying it. He did not smile, or hug me or believe it. He went to go get the instruction manual instead and had to check for himself. (Turns out he was expecting a + sign... and was not sure that one line was enough, no matter how much I kept repeating that we-had-a-positive). After verifying by himself his eyes teared up too, and we hugged and just basked in the surreality of it all the whole day. I kept going back to the stick to see it and smiled like a crazy person. The next day I took another test... just for fun (and to be sure). I had always wanted to take one of those digital tests that indicate how long ago conception took place (even if, duh, we know the precise date when it happened).

     We called the clinic and they gave us an appointment at 6 weeks. This is where we would see it for the first time... and look for a heartbeat. It was amazing. As soon as the probe was in we saw it: a big black bubble with a white blob inside... and the excited doctor telling us that there was a heartbeat. At first we could not see it, it was barely noticeable, and then yes... the little bean had a twinkling star inside, flickering fast and going off and on every second.

    I still had almost no symptoms. My boobs were still big... I could not tolerate wired bra's and had to stick to soft ones. In the meantime I have bought a couple of new ones but that was pretty much it. To be honest, I was expecting the first trimester to be very, very difficult but it hasn't been the case. When at week 7-8 I was still not getting morning sickness I started freaking out, dreading something might be wrong... but the doctors reassured me that the baby was fine and that not everyone gets nausea. (My mom also told me that she did not feel very nauseous either). I did get symptoms, but very random ones... mostly tiredness. Or scrap that, exhaustion. I need to take naps in the middle of the day. I'd be reading and suddenly I was not able to concentrate and just feel the need to sleep. I only seldom get a motion-sickness like feeling when my stomach has been empty for a long while (usually at the end of the day, while waiting for Mark to come back from work). I have only thrown up once in the whole first trimester.  At the beginning I really craved steak and all the red meat. I also really crave oranges and in some days beans. I haven't lost my appetite, on some days I am actually very very hungry... and find myself going for seconds. I want to eat all the food. I have noticed though, that very spicy or oily food (Turkish pizza, Curry, Roti) makes me sick immediately, so I avoid it, even if I do feel like it. I can not pass a Doner Kebab shop without wanting to try it. I also had migraines a few times and pregnancy rhinitis. This had me scared, because I thought I might be getting the flu, and getting a fever may be harmful for the baby... but I just had a stuffy nose and throat. Oh and I have to go to the loo all day long and in the middle of the night.

    Can you see the hands by the head? It was moving so much that all our pics are blurry.

    We have seen the little one at weeks 6, 8 and 11, and it is so surreal. We call it hummus, because at the very beginning I kept eating lots of the creamy, lemony stuff. At week 8 it turned its little head towards us. At week 11 it was asleep and we could only see its back, but after a little poking it woke up and started dancing and throwing its tiny buds of hands in the air.  Oh and they let us actually listen to the heartbeat. So loud and strong and happy.

     That's when we were graduated from the fertility clinic... they actually gave us a "pregnancy certificate". Yesterday was our first appointment with the midwife. From now on, until the end, the checkups will be handled by midwives. Which was a shock as I am used to gynaecologists following up pregnancies in Mexico. Over here you are only ever sent to the ob-gyn if they find any abnormalities or risk situations (high blood pressure, diabetes, liver failure). The second shock is that our midwife is a guy. Yup, a man. But I guess I have to get over that as well. He seems to know what he's doing, we'll see how it goes.We do get to see a doctor again at the 20 week ultrasound, but I am not so sure about the rest.

    My belly is slowly starting to grow... I did not put on weight yet, and my clothes still fit (though they are starting to feel tight and I tend to prefer stretchy stuff). Mostly my belly feels hard and it seems that it has been pulled up and forward but I think that is mostly due to my uterus pushing my internal organs around and bloat than real baby bump? I am not sure.  According to the fruit chart it's now between a Royal lemon and an orange.

    So this explains the silence in August... I was feeling very tired, at the same time I wanted to write about this but was not able yet and I wasn't sure how I was going to do it, as I really don't want to cause any unintentional hurt  (and I hope I haven't done so). We are so grateful.

    Monday, September 2, 2013

    Rajas con Crema

    One of the food items I miss the most from Mexico, aside from avocados which are number one, are Chiles Poblanos. We use them in so many dishes: corn soup, chiles rellenos, chiles en nogada, dried as chile anchos... Unfortunately they are quite difficult to find outside of Mexico (though I think they are not uncommon in the US). On Saturday we went to visit a friend in Lelystad (a city north of Amsterdam) and just by coincidence I found out that the girls from Mexicaanse Winkel would be there at a small market, so of course we wanted to see what they had. I was expecting canned and dried goods so imagine my surprise when I saw they had fresh chiles poblanos! We immediately bought half a kilo. And so, yesterday I decided to make one of my favorite dishes, rajas con crema, stripes of smoked poblano pepper with corn, potato and cream. You can use it as a filling for tacos or as a side dish... it is delicious with rice and grilled meat or chicken.

    What you need
    0.5 kg poblano peppers (I had 7 chiles)
    1 cup corn kernels (if you can get them natural, that's ideal, I used a can).
    1 cup diced potatoes
    1 onion
    250 ml cream
    salt and pepper
    butter / oil

    What to do

      The first step is to roast the peppers, the easiest way to do this is directly on the flame, but if you have an electrical stove, this can be done in the oven, using the broiler and regularly turning the chiles. You want the chiles to develop blisters and become almost fully black, while still staying a bit firm. Once your chiles are roasted, put them together in a plastic back for about 20 minutes, to let them "sweat" and cool down. After this time, check if they are cool enough to be handled without burning your fingers. Peel the chiles (the skin should come off really easily), trying to get rid of all the blackened parts, then open them and get rid of the seeds and veins. If you don't do this your rajas will be extremely spicy, but maybe you like them so.

      Once they are de-seeded and de-veined, cut them in stripes. Our chiles were actually very very hot so I soaked them in water with 1 tsp. vinegar and 1 tsp sugar for 10 minutes or so, but this is normally not necessary.Next cut your onion in long slices / semicircles and heat a large pan. Add a mix of oil and butter and sautée your onions until translucent, watching closely so that they don't brown. Add the diced potatoes and cook until they are almost done. Next add the poblano pepper stripes and season with salt and pepper. When the potatoes are cooked add the cream and the corn kernels and cook everything together until thick and creamy. Enjoy!
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