Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Verde para "La vuelta al Mundo"

Este mes para el juego fotográfico de "La vuelta al mundo", el tema propuesto por Jackie  fue "Verde dominante". Según las instrucciones se trataba de buscar el verde, guiándonos por nuestra creatividad, tratando de ir más allá de los árboles y la naturaleza, encontrándolo en lugares insospechados, menos evidentes que la inminente primavera. Fue un poco un honor al Día de la Tierra que se conmemora cada 22 de Abril.

Si no conoces a Jackie, te recomiendo que visites su blog  Casi en Serio , que es como una dosis de alegría. Me encanta seguir la cadena internacional de fotos tomadas por aquí, por allá y por todas partes. Todo el mundo puede participar, las instrucciones están aquí. Y aqui está mi contribución.
This month for the photographic game  " La vuelta al mundo"Jackie challenged us to find green everywhere... bonus points for finding it elsewhere than in nature, preferably in urban environments.
If you don't know what I am talking about, here is the link to Casi en Serio, Jackie's blog that is like an overdose on joy and loveliness. Anyone can join this game: every month a new photographic challenge is prompted, if you are interested the instructions are here.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Around the 9 straatjes (negen straatjes)

I am probably starting to sound like a broken record, but it's amazing how cities come to life with just a little bit of sunshine. The colors seem more vibrant, the sky is blue and all those brave new leaves that have dared to come out and beat the winter all add to a general happy feeling.

The other day, as I was walking in Amsterdam on a quiet morning (quiet because it was a weekday and most of the people were working, I assume), I couldn't help but admire how beautiful Amsterdam is. Its houses look like they were made for dolls and there is something magic about having all that water around you all the time. Close to the Jordaan neighborhood you'll find the negen straatjes, a set of nine quaint streets bursting alive with cafés and quirky little shops.

"Negen Straatjes (Dutch for "nine little streets") is a neighborhood of Amsterdam. It consists of nine side streets of the Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Herengracht and Singel in central Amsterdam. Together they form a sub-neighborhood within the larger western Grachtengordel ("Canal Belt"), one with many small and diverse shops and restaurants. 

The construction in this area goes back to the first half of the 17th century.The Negen Straatjes is bordered on the north by the Raadhuisstraat and on the south by the Leidsegracht. In between, the Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Herengracht and Singel are interesected by three cross streets - but each of the cross streets has different names in each of its sections between the canals. From the Prinsengracht towards the Singel and beginning with the northernmost streets, the streets are:

-Reestraat ("Roe Deer Street") - Hartenstraat ("Hearts Street") - Gasthuismolensteeg ("Inn Mill Alley") -Berenstraat ("Bear Street") - Wolvenstraat ("Wolf Street") - Oude Spiegelstraat ("Old Mirror Street") -Runstraat ("Cow Street") - Huidenstraat ("Skins" or "Pelts Street") - Wijde Heisteeg ("Wide Heath Street")

The names are reminders of many of the types of work that were carried out here in centuries past, especially the processing of skins (cow, bear, wolf and roe deer skins)." (Source)

 If you find yourself there don't forget to visit Puccini Bomboni (Singel 184). They have the best chocolate ever, with flavors like ginger, cinammon, fruits.  What have you been up to? I hope you had a nice weekend!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Green Goodness with Sarah Britton

The other day I told you about my admiration for Sarah Britton, who shares her passion and knowledge of healthy eating over at My New Roots.

I was so lucky to be able to attend her class, Green Goodness, while she was visiting Amsterdam. She is such a bubbly, happy person. Sweet and kind and humble as well. Of course she started by live-demonstrating how to make your own nut milk.* But what I loved the most is how much knowledge she has about nutrition. When she tells you "what you should do" she doesn't do it in a dogmatic "you are with us, or you are the enemy" kind of way. Instead she takes her time to explain why doing things in a certain way is important. And she believes this is knowledge that should be commonplace so she pretty much dedicates her life to spreading her love for good food, which is, ultimately, being kind to your body, and obviously has an effect in all the other aspects of your life.

 For instance, going back to the nut milk, she explained why it is so important, crucial even, to soak your nuts before eating them. You could be eating dried nuts the whole day and not getting anything from them. Because here's the thing, as you know, nuts are seeds, they have the potential of life hidden in them, in the form of nutrients. But this potential is locked. In order for it to be released you have to activate the seed's metabolism, starting the germination process that will then make those precious nutrients available. That's what happens when you soak your nuts (4-8 hours, depending on the type of nut). Moreover, as a defense mechanism against herbivores the nut's skin is rich in enzyme-inhibitors, substances that are able to block the digestion process as soon as they reach your stomach. You can get rid of these by rinsing / soaking the nuts and peeling them or by roasting your nuts ( at temperatures not higher than 150ºC) which denaturalizes (destroys/deactivates) these inhibitors. Also, you should never get almonds that have been pasteurized as the pasteurization process seals the skin to the nut making them impossible to peel, and probably also having an effect on the nutrients (high temperatures destroy pretty much everything, which is why we pasteurize foods in the first place, but in this case its counter productive).

She also explained why it is important to cook with oils that have a high smoking point (like ghee or pure coconut oil). You see, when I lived in Spain I took the local custom of cooking everything with olive-oil. I thought I was being super healthy. The smoking point is the point at which a fat begins to break down into its components (glycerol and fatty acids) and starts to burn. At this point oils become carcinogenic, because they acquire the ability to "steal" oxygen from everywhere around them, causing cellular damage. Well, olive oil has a relatively low smoking point and therefore the only safe way is to avoid cooking with it. Which is to prove my mom knows best, luxury item that it is in Mexico, we would only use it for salads. It turns out that's the healthiest way of consuming it.

It was such an inspiring experience. I can't wait to start changing even further our eating habits, it's like a whole world of discoveries and experimentation lays open in front of me. We already eat mostly vegetarian dishes, and yet, there are so many things to learn, so many ways to cook. And now that my birthday is slowly approaching I might ask for a food processor.

*I have a post coming on making almond milk, and what I've learnt there but in the meantime you can go visit Marcela, The celebration girl, for a recipe.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Join the movement. Hide in a cave.

I wanted to name this post: "living in a parellel reality". But it's Infertility awareness week and the prompt for people writing about it is 'join the movement'. I don't know why they would choose such a theme, because I would bet no one would ever be going through this by choice. Sometimes I wish I could just hide. Make it all disappear. Make it stop consuming my mind. Infertility can be a very, very dark place. I find myself constantly fighting with it, trying to stop it from controlling my thoughts. I know how easy it is to spiral down if for one second I dare listen to the voices, to wallow and feed the negativity, to dwell on it. Like a dark hole attracts matter, it sucks you and sinks you right in. Going through infertility is like being suspended in time, locked in a glass cage while you see life continue everywhere around you. It is like being in an alternative universe while all the while being submerged in the one everyone else seems to be living in. It is like having bipolar-disease or schizophrenia. Constantly going up (because forcing yourself up is the only way to continue) only to be pushed down, every month.

"Bipolar disorder is a condition in which people go back and forth between periods of a very good or irritable mood and depression. The "mood swings" between mania and depression can be very quick."*

Yes, that would be me. Except I have to fight hard not to peek down the rabbit hole too long, I'm afraid I could stay there, not be able to escape.

Sometimes I wonder if my obsession with fairy tales, quantum physics (black holes!) and mental disease (I had a phase where all I would read were journals and treaties about madness) were preparation for this. I always felt drawn to stories where the characters found a way into another world, starting early with 'Sylvanian families' where every chapter a little kid became really small, went through a tree and ended up in the other side, on a magical world of talking animals. Then I discovered 'The chronicles of Narnia', 'Alice in Wonderland', 'Stardust', 'Hopscotch', 'The Snow Queen',  'The little mermaid'. All stories in where there are two worlds, coexisting amongst each other. That's how infertility feels. Except you are trapped on one side, forced to slowly let go of so many things you wished for, while watching life unfold on the other side. At some point last year there were simultaneously 3 pregnant girls at the office. I remember having to lock myself in the bathroom to cry because I couldn't handle it.

Please, please don't get this wrong. If I have learnt anything by going through this is that every single pregnancy is a miracle, it deserves celebration. I am genuinely able to feel joy for my friends and family who find themselves expecting a baby. I share their happiness. It's just that I have become very good at making myself believe that although our path is different, we will get there. I am kind of an expert at being aware of the good, at staying optimist and positive and at building a protective bubble around me, keeping myself busy and happy. But lately my bubble keeps getting broken and I am faced against the harsh realization that our situation is weird, that we are not the norm, that this path is a lonely, isolated one. I feel left out, robbed of my dreams, wondering how this will all end, wishing for a happy ending that seems further away with every second that passes.

To learn more about the disease click here. To learn about National Infertility awareness week click here. 

*From theNational library of medicine.
**Image found on pinterest (sadly, it doesn't link to the original source).

Monday, April 22, 2013

Happy to be busy like a bee.

These days have been a bit hectic. Between having friends over, visiting friends, going to Amsterdam, taking classes, baking, painting, organizing activities with a bunch of other Mexicans, hospital appointments (yeah those too) and daily life I don't seem to stop. And I am enjoying it so much. I can't believe we have a full schedule until May 13, this never used to happen to us.

Last weekend I took another class and I am now able to paint cakes with a stained-glass effect. Between some birthdays and other small events that people have trusted me with I am busy with designs and already thinking of what I will do next. So here's a sneak peek.

I am so happy and grateful that these people have trusted me. And if you didn't see it yet here's my shiny biz website, isn't it pretty? (If I do say so myself). While we're in full-on self-promoting mode (sorry for this, I won't do it often!) you can see what I'm up to on Facebook and Pinterest.
What have you been up to? I hope you are enjoying the sunshine and flowers all around, I can't cease to be impressed at the effect the weather and the regrowth of life have on us. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Of time capsules and questionnaires.

My best friend, the historian, surprised me with something completely unexpected. As I opened a brown little parcel that came from across the ocean (all the way from Bolivia!), I did not expect what I was going to find.

"A time capsule is a historic cache of goods or information, usually intended as a method of communication with future people and to help future archaeologists, anthropologists or historians." 

When I removed the paper and found an old journal from 2001 it was like traveling back in time, to my 3rd year out of home, my 2nd at university.  This friend is the one who incited me to write journals (of which I have at least 8) and initiated me in the art of collecting useless trinkets for future recollection. Funny, in many ways I'm still the same, and in many others I just want to tell that girl to "don't do that".

And speaking of friends, old and new, the lovely Bex and Roz, from The Olive Dragonfly, whose support has meant more than they know, have nominated me for a blogger award. I felt so honored (and I kind of love these games). You know how it goes, you say some random things about yourself, you answer some questions, you pass it along. For the random facts I am going to cheat by leading you here and here (I promise you, you'll find what you want) and I will show you some  pages of my life from October through December 2001.

As for their questions, here you go:

What is your favourite song in the whole world and why? 
Difficult question. A happy song from Mika: "Lollipop"? "The origin of Love"? Or some old song from the 90s: The Cranberries' "Daffodil lament", REM's "Losing my religion". Or Suzanne Vega's "Gypsy". Yes, most probably that last one. All of these songs remind me of moments, some make me happy, some take me back in time. It's like our lives have a soundtrack.

If you were invisible, where would you go?
Mmm... I guess I would go to an ice-cream shop to steal some? Or skip lines and get myself to the front everywhere, no waiting for me please.

What is your favourite way to relax?
Baking. Or having a cup of tea, and reading a book (though lately I have trouble just letting myself sinked in, my mind is constantly busy). Taking long walks with the boy is also a good method. And nothing beats a warm shower.

Salted or sweet?

Sweet for sure. I didn't even have to think. But give me some tzatziki and I'll eat it in one go.

What was the last film that really moved / disturbed / thrilled you and why?
This is going to sound silly, but I cried helplessly  after "The odd life of Timothy Green". It's a Disney movie for adults and it ends well. Yet it made me so sad. It touched all our soft spots:  how badly we want our baby to come, how painful it is not knowing what will be, why, or, if it will at all happen. While the world keeps turning, while you start thinking you must be an alien.

What book are you reading right now?

The God of Small things, by Arundhati Roy. I am still not yet halfway, but it has a way of capturing you, taking you to India, feel what the characters are feeling. It slowly introduces you to the people in the story, all members of a family, and you know something happened that changed them, but it's kept a secret as you read.

What would you call yourself if you could choose your own name?

Yulia, I think. It was going to be my name until a last-minute change of mind.

If you could have any animal / creature, what would be your ultimate pet?
A unicorn. An ocelot. And while we're at it, a miniature goat too.

What's the next planned event you're looking forward to in your life?
We're going to California yeah! (Or should I say getting pregnant and having our own baby? That's what I really want. I'm just putting it there for superstitious reasons, you know in case wishing for things out loud is some kind of magic. See I am still the innocent girl from 12 years ago).

What was your favourite toy as a child....and now?

Then, roller skates. An ice-cream maker that didn't really make ice-cream. Or My Rainbow Brite doll. Now... it's probably my KitchenAid.

When was the last time you cried laughing and why?
When I am really sad the boy always finds a way to say something funny and crack me up. Silly cats make me laugh as well. This was the last one, the boy says I'm just like that. (Enough is enough). My mom agreed. (You might have to refresh the link for it to work).

And now, if you would like to be part of this, just feel free to answer these questions. But I am passing it to those who I think will most likely answer : 

And my questions are: If you could live anywhere, where would that be? Given the chance, which magic power would you choose? If the genie-of-the-lamp appeared to you, what would you ask? Do you recommend any books? What made you start blogging? What is making you happy right now? What is your favorite food? Favorite fairy-tale? Are you a nomad or do you feel bound to your "roots"? The best place you've ever visited? Happiest memory from childhood?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Of Utrecht and new friends

There is something magic about Utrecht. It is one of those cities where you can just feel the energy in the air. I felt it the first time I went there, already 5 years ago, when I visited the boy in Holland for the first time, and I keep feeling every time. It is so beautiful, historic, medieval. You can tell the city remembers the lives and stories of countless men and women that must have lived there. And no wonder. It was founded by the Romans very early, in 47 AD, was then populated by Christian Franks, later by Vikings and finally by the Dutch. It has survived fires (1254 AD)  and tornadoes (1674 AD), but its imponent Dom tower is still standing proud, an emblem of the city.

Its name comes from joining 'Uut', the Old-Dutch word meaning "down-river" and "Traiectum" the Roman name for the city, marking the northern limit of the empire, at the Rhine. The cathedral (until 1580), now a Protestant church, was built circa 630 by Frank missionaries. Its cloyster is one of those places that attracts me like a magnet (I have a thing for cloysters, sometimes I wonder if I was a rebel nun in other life).

Last Sunday I was in Utrecht to join the expat blogger brunch organized by Kaitlin and Lily. It is always nice to meet new people and I am always curious about how others experience somewhat similar situations, even if we are all at different moments in our lives. We got to drink lots of coffee and tea, enjoy the sun, walk around the city, brought to life with music and dancing and meet quite a few new friends. I really hope we'll meet again, and if you are in The Netherlands and would like to join, keep an eye on Lily's blog, as she will host another meetup sometime in May. 

Photo courtesy of Kaitlin

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Learning a new culture, by studying a language.

  This post was written as part of the Intercultural Blog Carnival that will take place on April 17. The aim is to provide advice and support for those just settling in a new country. This post is a short, general version of a post I wrote on what helped me learn Dutch.
I have lived and studied in 4 different countries (5 if you count my birthplace) and understand 6 languages (4 in which I am fluent, 2 which I can manage quite well). Moving around has made it clear to me that learning the local language is a crucial part of understanding the new culture: it's not just the words, it's the philosophy, the cosmovision, the way of seeing life that you slowly start to understand, all of which are incredibly helpful in the process of adapting to a new country. You will probably end up as a citizen of the world, because every time you take a little bit of every place with you, you understand better, you see how similar we are, and how different at the same time.

Sure, there are countries where you can manage to survive speaking only English. But I can only recommend making an effort and going the extra step, you will not regret it and the locals will appreciate it. Here are some ways in which to tackle language learning, aside from the obvious and unavoidable lessons, which are inevitably needed to master such basic things as grammar and spelling:

 -Go to the local library or bookshop and get a good thick dictionary. I find conjugation dictionaries particularly helpful, and pictionaries are a nice extra for your collection. Then go to the kids’ section. As a start, children books can be a great tool. Try reading those before moving to literature in the language of your new country. And speaking of literature, I am a strong advocate of, when at all possible, reading authors in their original language. At some point I was naive/arrogant enough to buy Goethe's Faust in German because I thought I was going to learn in 8 months. I still own the book, but needless to say I haven't read it. And if I weren't reading translated authors I would have missed geniuses like Milan Kundera or Leon Tolstoi. At the moment, I am really curious to start reading Dostoievski.

-Get immersed in the culture. Watch TV. Listen to the radio. Read the newspapers. Visit museums and art galleries. Even seemingly "silly" stuff can help. Get a magazine subscription and try to read all of it, even if at the beginning all you do is look at the pictures. Search the TV guide and look for programs made for children, they tend to be simple and easily understandable. Find out your favourite music in the local language and try to write down the lyrics. If you have kids, learn children songs’ and sing along with them.

 -Don’t be shy and start talking. At first you’ll only be saying things like: “Thank you” and “Please”. Then, you will be able to ask for the bread exactly as you like it at the bakery and soon you will be talking to the people in your neighbourhood.

It might seem an overwhelming task, and it will for sure require time and effort. You will get frustrated. But slowly and surely you will start noticing progress and you will not regret it. Meeting new people, learning new cultures is an experience and an opportunity that, as an expat or traveler of the world you should not miss.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Ephemerous summer

And just out of the blue the sun decided to shine and warm us up. I am talking about 20ºC-celsius-degrees. The feeling was better than that of a holiday. Happiness was floating in the air. The boy and I went for a very long walk, there was light until 21h. I was wearing a sleeveless top and he kept looking at me like he had never seen me before. He says the sun changes me, that I was made for it. That I looked better, that I was glowing. I certainly was ecstatic to finally be able to take away the million layers of sweaters I have to wear or else I freeze.

Oh N-acetyl-methoxytryptamine, I love how you make us feel. Arguably the most primitive part of our brain, the pineal gland, evolutionary speaking as old as the lamprey eels (a group of jawless fish), is still going strong, still has strong effects over us.

Photo from Reuters via The telegraph.

And finally, finally, some flowers are starting to bloom and I saw some buds showing their faces at the end of long branches. A ladybug decided to sit in my hands for more than 25 minutes. I am not exaggerating. She stayed in my hand while I walked, she strolled over my hand, and then finally, she flew away. I am taking her as a definite sign. I might have given her a name. You can take this as proof that I am completely losing my mind.

I do recall, when I first arrived in Switzerland, how much it amused me the way this Europeans were obsessed with the sun, like ring-tailed lemurs, the sun worshippers, running, heading out, when according to me it was not even warm at all. Now I understand. Now I'm just like them, wearing my summer clothes as soon as I can, because it might be my last chance. Was it warm in your corner of the World? How did you enjoy the weather? *

** Second image: Melatonin's functions summarized adapted from Hardeland, R., Cardinali, D., Srinivasan, V., Spence, D., Brown, G., & Pandi-Perumal, S. (2011). Melatonin—A pleiotropic, orchestrating regulator molecule Progress in Neurobiology, 93 (3), 350-384 DOI: 10.1016/j.pneurobio.2010.12.004 via Ego Sum Daniel

Friday, April 12, 2013

A day in Sneek

Last Tuesday I was in Friesland for the first time in my life. I think other than Volendam it's the further North I have ever been. Going there was a last minute decision... a friend was staying over with us, the boy came home at 13h, and said: -"Hey, I have to visit a project in Friesland, I am driving there right now, wanna come?"- Of course we weren't going to miss the chance. It was a busy day, as in, it was Free Cone day and I was determined to get my free ice-cream. That meant on the way back we had to race to Leiden to get there on time (the Ben & Jerry's people were kind of late, so we made it). I do not regret making the detour to Leiden because, double bonus, we found out about Happietaria, a temporary restaurant that is raising funds to bring water and sanitation to Afghanistan. I think we will be going there sometime soon.

Sneek is famous for its watergate, and is part of the 11 states that take part in the mythic ice skating race linking different cities that has not taken place in I don't know how many years... because the canals just don't freeze anymore. 

"Sneek was founded in the 10th century on a sandy peninsula at the crossing site of dike with an important waterway (called the Magna Fossa in old documents). This waterway was dug when the former Middelzee silted up. The dike can still be traced in the current street pattern and street names like "Hemdijk", "Oude Dijk" and "Oosterdijk". Sneek received several city rights in the 13th century, which became official in 1456. Sneek was now one of the eleven Frisian cities. This was also the beginning of a period of blooming trade for the city that would last until about 1550. In 1492 construction of a moat and wall around the city began. In those days Sneek was the only walled city in Friesland. The waterpoort and the bolwerk remain today." (From our friend, the wikipedia)

What have you been up to? Any exciting plans for the weekend?

The crowd waiting for free ice-cream. We tried the new flavor: Peanut butter me up, with raspberries, choc and peanuts.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Fiadoe. Surinamese rum-and-raisin rolls.

This is a recipe that the boy had been begging me to make for ages, except I was not able to really find a recipe I understood or trusted. However, knowing how I love to bake, the other day my mother in law brought me  a cookbook (De surinaamse keuken by Ilse Marie Dorff) that used to belong to the boy's grandma and showed me the recipe. It was a good exercise, trying to understand it (it was all written in "creols" style, that is: -'add a little bit of that, and do this until it resembles such and such'- What? I need precision). But I decided to experiment and the rolls did not come out bad at all. So I am sharing here the recipe with the slight modifications I made. There was an ingredient, succade, that I was not able to get hold off, so I just used orange zest instead. And I did not have rum, so I used cognac.

7 gr (1 envelope) dry yeast
3 tbsp. sugar
250 ml. lukewarm milk
4 eggs
vanilla essence
250 gr. butter, softened (I left it out the whole day).
500 gr. flour

For the filling
150 gr. sugar
cinammmon, powdered ginger and nutmeg
250 gr. raisins, soaked in rum
The zest of 2 oranges
100 gr. finely chopped almonds

What to do
Mix the flour with the dry yeast. Beat the eggs with a drizzle of vanilla essence and the sugar (3 tbsp)  until obtaining a thick mixture. Add 2 tablespoons of butter. While mixing (I used the kitchenaid with the hook attachment at this point, but this is totally doable by hand) start adding the flour, little by little, alternating with the lukewarm milk as moisture requires, to form a dough. You know it's ready when the dough starts separating from the bowl (or from your hands), but it is quite a sticky dough. I did not need all the 250 ml of milk, it was more like... 200 ml?

Let the dough rise for about 1 hour in a warm place (until it doubles its size). I usually cover it with plastic foil or a damp cloth. In the meantime, for the filling mix the sugar, cinammon, powdered ginger, orange zest and almonds. Flour and grease a springform pan (I used a 10 inch / 27 cm pan). When the dough is ready preheat the oven to 220º C. Flour your hands and working surface and roll the dough (it might need a little bit of kneading, but it should be easy to handle if there is just enough flour around). Cut a circle of dough  the size of the bottom of your pan and cover it. Roll out the rest of the dough to a large square, spread butter all over it, then sprinkle some filling and raisins over it. Roll the square in spiral and cut little slices of it. Arrange the rolls in the spring form (if you have some extra rolls you could just bake them individually in a muffin pan).

 Let the rolls rise for another 20-30 min. Add a little bit of butter on top of each roll, and bake for 40-50 min. And that's it, you are ready to enjoy. If you'd like, at this point you can glaze your rolls (I would use a mix of powder sugar and orange juice) or soak them in syrup (rum infused syrup if you are being naughty).

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Joy in the little things

In case you missed it, today I was honored to be a guest post at A practical wedding, writing about my journey these last 3 and a half years: life changes, unemployment, subfertility, and slowly, learning to find the joy in the little things. Here it is...

Public service announcement: Go get Ice-cream

In case you did not know... it is that time of the year. The day where you can get free ice-cream at Ben & Jerry's worldwide. If you are in the Netherlands click here to see in a map where you can get your free ice-cream (per province). The Ben & Jerry's at Amsterdam Centraal train station (on track 2a) has a shop that will be open. Otherwise, for the rest of the world,  here you can get more information. And, I absolutely love this video about the story of such a joyous day!

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