Thursday, December 29, 2011

My mom's spinach and ricotta lasagne

You know how there is always a dish that reminds you of the Holidays? That actually tastes like Christmas? Well, in our case it's this one. Mum has been doing it for years and has us looking forward to it all year long. So now, you will be able to make it too. It is actually quite simple, healthy and just plain delicious.

You will need:
2 kg. fresh spinach
Salt, Pepper, Ground muscat nuts
Dehydrated, sun dried tomatoes
0.5 - 0.75  kg Ricotta (depends on the texture you want to reach, and on the end volume of your spinach after cooking and draining. Roughly, the spinach-ricotta ratio should be 1:1)
Parmesan cheese (grated)
Lasagne (obviously)
2 tablespoons flour
750 mL milk
1 onion or shallot
A bit of olive oil + a bit of butter
Pine Nuts or Walnuts if you would like to add to the flavour.

Here's what you should do
Preheat oven to 180°C to 200°C.
Cut the spinach in pieces and cook it in a bit of boiling water or au-bain-marie. When it is cooked, strain it. You really want to take all the water out. Add cold water, and strain it again. Then mix the spinach with the ricotta cheese and add salt and pepper to your taste. Then add the sundried tomatoes, cut in small pieces, and the pine or walnuts if you will be using them.
Cook or moisten the lasagne according to the instructions. We used fresh lasagne so we didn't have to do anything.
For the bechamel, warm up a little olive oil (about a tablespoon) and add the butter. Let the onion, cut in half-circles simmer in the butter until it becomes transparent, but it shouldn't turn brown. Add the flour and let it brown a bit, to a golden-ish color. Then add the milk and season with salt, pepper and muscat nut. Mix until it thickens (it takes a short while).
Now you are ready to assemble your lasagne. Butter an oven dish and start with bechamel. Follow with lasagne then spinach, parmesan cheese and bechamel again. When you reach the top you should finish with bechamel and cheese.
Put it in the oven for about 20 min, until the cheese melts and the top is slightly golden.
Prepare to enjoy and impress your guests. Simple, easy and scrumptious.

What is your family's classic Christmas dish?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Mole poblano

These days I am going to be delighting you (I hope) with the recipes I cooked for the Holiday season. I thought the best way to start was by introducing something that even when it is arguably the most popular dish in Mexico (I have sources), and is quite well known around the world, it is still, well, weird to the non initiated.
 The word mole comes from the nahuatl mulli or molle, which simply means sauce or concoction. I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that there are at least as many different "moles" as states in Mexico. This particular mole is a perfect example of the process of mestizaje* that took place in Mexico during the colonial period. Eventhough mole certainly has its roots in precolumbian times, the sauce as we know it today has european and african ingredients (so we could say that we are the ones who started with "fusion" cuisine). Its origins are not clear, but the legend says that the nuns in a convent in Puebla were trying to impress some archbishop who was visiting for dinner, and they came up with this sauce by mixing pretty much every ingredient they had in hand. This sauce is served most commonly over chicken, though sometimes also over pork, beef, turkey or served as "enchiladas". Its ingredients include several types of chili (serrano, ancho, mulato, pasilla, chipotle), spices such as clove, cinammon, pepper and sometimes anise, toasted bread, almonds, garlic, peanuts, tomato, sugar and chocolate. And be sure that I am missing some.
 When you make it from scratch be ready to spend one day at home preparing it. You have to individually roast and squash each ingredient and then put it all together in a paste. Nowadays it is possible to buy this paste freshly made at markets, or even packed in glass jars or boxes.
 When you use the latter, the preparation is simplified a lot, since it is making the paste that requires time and effort. The only thing you would have to do is "dissolve" the paste in about a liter of chicken broth, then add purée of cooked, peeled tomatoes, chocolate, cinnamon, and keep mixing until you reach the desired thick consistency.
 Traditionally it is cooked on pans made out of clay, cazuelas. So I used my beloved cast-iron ceramic enameled pot, which was the most similar thing I had in hand. Also, as pretty as the cazuelas are, they have been associated with lead toxicity, so don't cook in them, specially everyday, when you can avoid it.
 Here you can find a traditional recipe. And here you can read more about the origins of mole and the different kinds that we enjoy in our country. If you missed it, at the end of  this post I tell you all about where you can get mole paste in Holland, Spain or from a shop that ships all over. Just for the record, last Friday when I made it I had 2 converts, people who actually tried it before and hated it and now found it delicious :) So I am rather proud.
*the word mestizaje, can be rather simplistically defined as racial and/or cultural mixing of Amerindians with Europeans (1), though you can imagine that the process was a lot more complex than that and has deep consequences even today.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Something jump inside....

<<“They say Aslan is on the move - perhaps has already landed.”And now a very curious thing happened. None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different. Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don't understand but in the dream it feels as if it had some enormous meaning - either a terrifying one which turns the whole dream into a nightmare or else a lovely meaning too lovely to put into words, which makes the dream so beautiful that you remember it all your life and are always wishing you could get into that dream again. It was like that now. At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.>> C.S. Lewis. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – Chapter 7

Sunday, December 25, 2011

On a day like this,

5 years ago, the boy and I met. It was Christmas day and we were both flying to Mexico, to visit our respective families. Well, he was visiting his dad, and I was going home for the Holidays. I've thought a lot about all the little coincidences that made possible our encounter and how that changed our lives for good. At the time I was studying in Barcelona, so there was no reason that I would fly through Amsterdam, except, that KLM had the best available price. So thank you KLM, for that. And yes, we both decided to fly on the 24 of December because that's when you get cheap fares. But if you are travelling from Europe to the American continent, then you can still make it for the Holiday celebrations on time.

Another funny thing is that we were sitting next to each other because we both changed the seats that the online check-in had assigned us to different seats for the same reason. That is, we were aiming for the emergency exit (more space for the legs) and since those seats were taken, we figured, oh well, let's take the seats one row behind the emergency exit.  Not that those seats are any bigger than usual, but there you go. Do you realize? We both followed the same thought process to end up seating next to each other. I had arrived on time at the airport (since my flight from Barcelona to Amsterdam had left at 6 in the morning) but I spent the whole morning wandering around the airport and getting all kinds of presents, like a bottle of Absinthe that my dear little brother had requested, perfume, tulip bulbs, wine for my dad and Double-tipped Bruynzeel markers for myself. (Oh how I love to highlight when I am reading and making summaries).

So I arrived to the gate barely on time, and when I reached my seat Mark and his brother were already in their places. I had the window, them the center and the aisle. Of course by then all the space in the overhead compartments was taken, so the boy, gentleman that he is, kindly offered to put some of my stuff under his seat. I don't know exactly how it is that we started talking. I probably asked them where they were from and what they were going to do in Mexico. Yes, at times I can resemble an agent of the CIA. I remember I was reading, and he asked me what book it was. "Acquiring genomes", by Lynn Margulis if you're curious. He on the other hand was busy with "A history of the Middle East".

 Later on I was working on a clinical case for a school assignment and I explained the whole story to the boy, dachshund with Heinz body hemolytic anemia. (Bottom line, do not , ever let your dogs or cats eat onion or garlic, whether it is cooked or not as it can damage the Hemoglobin in their red blood cells and make them sick). I also recall that one of the films they played was Scoop, and how we discussed that we never really get Woody Allen. (Although recently we saw Midnight in Paris and liked it quite a bit). During the flight I ate a Stroopwafel for the first time and I liked it so much, that he asked his brother to give me his, and gave me his own so I could bring some to my mom and sister. It definitely felt like the shortest 12 hour flight I've ever taken. In the end we exchanged emails in one of those airplane sickness paper bags. Actually, he got my email (I didn't get his, but he promised he would write and he did. By the next day I had his first email). I remember when he saw I had gmail he was all happy and said something like: "-Oh, cool we can chat". And gmail chatting we did. He also said he would call, and if I have to be completely honest I did not really think he would. But he did.

This is the boy calling me on New Years Eve 2006

The  holidays were over fast, as always, and when we were back in Europe we sent to each other parcels filled with typical candy from our countries. Then started a long year where we would email each other every now and then, until a year and 2 months later, he came to see me in Barcelona. And we've been together ever since.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Family, friends and lots of cooking.

 This week has been hectic. I am so so tired and the holidays did not even officially start yet. On Monday we had my classmates from dutch class over, on Tuesday we were invited to a friends housewarming dinner. On Wednesday we went to our mom-in-law, as we do every week. Yesterday we were "calmly" at home, though we were supposed to prepare for the avalanche coming today. We didn't prepare. I will just go earlier to work, to be home earlier, and hope for the best. We are hosting dinner for around 12 people.  To the boys' credit, he has days off and has been going grocery shopping and running errands like crazy. Finally, tomorrow I will make spinach and ricotta lasagne, fruit cake, and set up a "fondue chinoise ". We did not even figure out what we'll do on New Years Eve, or The Second Day of Christmas, or Boxing day. But all this is my favorite part of the Holidays. Spending time with loved ones and cooking. I hope you all have a merry start of the season and may all your wishes come true.
(Oh and please don't mind the outfit above I was half dressed and half in PJ's)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The map.

It arrived. And now it's framed and hanging above our beloved green couch. It makes us want to travel. Let us never forget that we want to see the world. We have decided to start The New Year with a list of places that we want to visit together. For now the list includes Japan,Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodge,  Prague, London (we never went together and we both love it there), Greece (have to see the palace of Knossos in Creta), the whole South of Spain including Tenerife, Taiwan, Costa Rica, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Croatia, somewhere up in Scandinavia to see the Northern lights, Jordan, every little corner of la France, Luxembourg, Turkey, Hungary, Indonesia, Portugal, Morocco, Cyprus....

I love our huge map because guess what, it has a plastic coating and we can write on it !
 And it is so big. Also, the projections are made in such a way to reflect the "real" size of countries in proportion to the rest. Have you seen how big Africa and India are? We got it from Future Maps, and it is so so pretty. I can't seem to stop looking at it. Now we have to do some real plan, as in divide all those places in lists, see which of them are doable in short-trips, and for which we have to save and schedule ahead. Oh we are so excited.
Oh and because you read through all of this I leave you with one of my favorite videos ever:

Monday, December 19, 2011

Up on the house top

click click click, down through the chimney with good Saint Nick.
So people, the censorship is over and the Christmas elf has been released. We set out on the search for the perfect little tree yesterday and decorated our windowsills with cards and candles and a little rocking horse and snowman.
 Like good ol' dutch people, we set a full display on the windows and finally found a place for the boots my mom embroidered for us. There is even a little owl hanging from the tree that reminds me of Ines. The only thing missing, and perhaps the most important is a "Nacimiento" or "Betlehem", but since I want a traditional mexican one, we are going to have to wait til next year.  Please note, I was all for flashing and colorful lights. The answer of the boy was categorical: fine, if we have those lights, then we'll have to do with no tree. Oh well, white lights will be then.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Last night I partied a bit too hard,

It's not quite coming back to me so far. Do you have this song in mind already? It is Martin Solveig & Dragonnete feauturing Idoling and I can not get it off my mind. It makes me happy.
I might not have slept, but I woke up a superstar on another side of the world.  Ok, excuse the nonsense.

Last night was the company's end of the year party and it was H-U-G-E: end result I can not write proper sentences. For the record all I drank was water. There were lights, and color, and old songs from Daft Punk and meeting up with friends that I hadn't seen since last year. It was lots of fun and I am not even the party-hard kind. There is so much I want to read, do, plan.... but brain is out of order, and for now I am just going to take another nap. I am looking forward to  this weekend: we will finally start with Christmas, set up the tree, bake fruit-cake and have friends over next week (on 3 different nights). So here is hoping you all have great weekends and enjoy the last Sunday of advent.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

It's the boy's birthday...

El chicharo magico ( magic pea boy )
so I woke up at 4 o' clock in the morning to bake him cupcakes, inflate balloons and hang some decorations. Not like he didn't know, I mean, he heard me blowing air. And he knew I was gonna bake, because you see, he is taking said cupcakes to the office with him today and he was supposed to get all the ingredients needed. Sent him the list and all 2 days ago. Except he can't be trusted to follow a simple list. First of all I was gonna try Zan's baby cheesecake cupcakes, but when he read 2 1/2 pounds cheese cream (That's 1.14 kg), he went like, whoah that's a hell of a lot of cheese cream and came back with a mere 370 gr. The plan was to make  the classic lemon-raspberry muffins as well (classic because I've made them so many times since I discovered the recipe). Surprise surprise, at 4 o clock in the morning I find out the boy brought NO flour. And all we had left in the cupboard was 1 cup and a bit. Panic. I thought I woud try Zarawitta's red velvet cupcakes that I saw yesterday, but alas, the recipe needed 2 1/2 cup flours. It's a good thing that I am continuously losing time on Pinterest like it's my full time job, because I was able to find a cheese-cream raspberry recipe that only called for 1 cup of flour. Lucky as well that we had a cup of sour cream in the fridge.
 Of course in all my sleepiness when making the frosting I confused confectioner's sugar with caster sugar and added the latter, oh well. The frosting tastes like heaven, we are currently eating it over toast and jam, it is delish. All this to say, happy birthday Marky Mark.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Saint Lucia and Kaarsjesavond

 Last night I was in Gouda with a new-found friend. What we didn't know when planning to meet there is that yesterday, 13 of December, was Saint Lucy's night and "Kaarsjesavond" (literally, "the night of the candles") in Gouda. There was a giant lit Christmas tree, and the beautiful castle-like building that is city hall was completely lit with candles from within, as were the houses around the main square.There was a band, a choir and a rather small Christmas market.  This holiday is celebrated in Gouda since 1956, when Gouda received for the first time a giant tree from its sister city Kongsberg, in Norway. It is a holiday in honor of Santa Lucia, in a day that was believed to be the longest night of the year, coinciding with Winter Solstice. The origins of this celebration are not very clear:

The pre-Christian holiday of Yule, or jól, was the most important holiday in Scandinavia and Northern Europe. Originally the observance of the winter solstice, and the rebirth of the sun, it brought about many practices that remain in the Advent and Christmas celebrations today. The Yule season was a time for feasting, drinking, gift-giving, and gatherings, but also the season of awareness and fear of the forces of the dark. Lussinata, the Lussi Night, was on December 13 as well. Then Lussi, a female being with evil traits, like a female demon or witch, was riding through the air with her followers, called Lussiferda. This itself might be an echo of the myth of the Wild Hunt, called Oskoreia in Scandinavia, found across Northern, Western and Central Europe. Between Lussi Night and Yule, trolls and evil spirits, in some accounts also the spirits of the dead, were thought to be active outside. It was particularly dangerous to be out during Lussi Night. Children who had done mischief had to take special care, since Lussi could come down through the chimney and take them away, and certain tasks of work in the preparation for Yule had to be finished, or else the Lussi would come to punish the household. The tradition of Lussevaka – to stay awake through the Lussinatta to guard oneself and the household against evil, has found a modern form through throwing parties until daybreak. Another company of spirits might come riding through the night around Yule itself, journeying through the air, over land and water. (1)

St. Lucy by Domenico di Face Beccafumi
Saint Lucy (283–304), also known as Saint Lucia or Santa Lucia, was a wealthy young Christian martyr who is venerated as a saint  by Roman Catholic Church, Anglican, Lutheran, and Orthodox Christians. Her feast day in the West is 13 December; with a name derived from Lux, Lucis meaning "Light", as she is the patron saint of those who are blind. According to the "Guilte Legende", a widespread and influential compendium of saint's biographies compiled in the late Middle Ages: She was seeking help for her mother's long-term illness at the shrine of Saint Agnes, in her native Sicily, when an angel appeared to her in a dream beside the shrine. As a result of this, Lucy became a devout Christian, refused to compromise her virginity in marriage and was denounced to the Roman authorities by the man she would have wed. They threatened to drag her off to a brothel if she did not renounce her Christian beliefs, but were unable to move her, even with a thousand men and fifty oxen pulling. So they stacked materials for a fire around her instead and set light to it, but she would not stop speaking, insisting that her death would lessen the fear of it for other Christians and bring grief to non-believers. In another story, Saint Lucy was working to help Christians hiding in the catacombs during the terror under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, and in order to bring with her as many supplies as possible, she needed to have both hands free. She solved this problem by attaching candles to a wreath on her head. 
Found here
There is little evidence that the legend itself derives from the folklore of northern Europe, but the similarities in the names ("Lussi" and "Lucia"), and the date of her festival, December 13, suggest that two separate traditions may have been brought together in the modern-day celebrations in Scandinavia. (2)

First image from here. (I forgot to bring our camera, and anyway it is no good for pictures in the dark.)(1) from this article and (2) from this one.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A million thanks

 to all of you who sent me your nice wishes and thought of me yesterday. We are relieved with the good news: everything inside me looks "OK" except for some endometriosis spots in "not important" places. We will hear more in our next appointment, early January. The boy was there the whole time, that is, until they put me in the pre-surgery room, where I got my infusion.
 Oh dear nurses in training.... they had to try and insert the catheter 4 times to get it right. The 3rd and 4th times while I was already asleep, so I woke up to find the fluids connected to me on my left side instead of the right one, where they were before the narcosis took effect. Anyway, I wanted to show you the view from my recovery room, my hospital reads, complete with a man calendar for 2012 and sleepy me just coming back from it all.
 Also , there was a magazine from the WWF in the waiting room and I was super happy to see Beatrix, the queen, in all her 1971's glory and some sketches from 1962 of Chi-Chi, the giant panda that was brought to London Zoo and who was the basis for the famous logo.
 While searching the internet for this post I found a radio emission from the BBC tracing the story of Chi-Chi and I found out Desmond Morris was the man responsible of bringing Chi-Chi to London. Interesting because Morris's books are the kind that make you think, question everything, go -"huh? really? That kind of makes sense"-. The first one I read from him, The Naked Ape, is particularly special to me because I have the copy that used to be owned by my grandpa, who I never met. The human zoo is also quite an interesting read, though I do not necessarily agree with every single word.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Gone to the hospital.

Today is the day. Remember when I told you about the terrible awful? (And yes, we saw 'The Help' yesterday). Well, since we are still out of luck... the doctor has decided she will look inside me. She will first make two small incisions in my abdomen through which they will inflate me with gas, so that my internal organs are well separated from each other, thus minimizing the risk of accidentally damaging them. Carbon Dioxide, not Helium, otherwise this would happen:
 (Which woudn't be all that bad, flying above Paris in a fancy dress after biking the whole day and eating macarons and cakes).
Oh yes, I will be under general anesthesia.  They will use Propofol (the substance that ended with Michael Jackson) and Sevoflurane.  It will all be over by the end of the day. I have read it is not painful. If I have to be 100% honest, I already had this surgery before, back when I was 19, but I don't remember the pain. And yeah, they found endometriosis, degree IV (which is the worst). Now the Dr. is not sure whether I have it or not  and whether that is the issue and so this is why I am having this (micro) surgery. Laparoscopy, if you are curious. There is nothing, except the fact that I had it before, that makes the Dr. think I would still have it, no symptoms, cysts...  but that's the thing with endometriosis you can not really see it with echography or other less invasive methods.
Anyway, I didn't mean to bore you with all the medical details, so, in accordance with the picture above, I leave you with bonus inspiration. Maybe you are already planning your holiday outfits ?
Images via here, here and here

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Occupy everywhere: Is this (R)evolution?

 The protests  have mushroomed in over 900 cities in 80-plus countries over the past few months. It is difficult to say how or where they originated since it all started in different places at about the same time within months of difference, from the Arab Spring, to Spain's Indignados in May, to, finally, Occupy Wall Street and from there to the 99% camps in cities all over the world. Here is a post by That in Black ink about "how hopeful and positive the movement is".
 According to The Economist, "For many, the main aim may be to have fun. But the protest is also notable for scrupulous adherence to the sort of democratic values that Alexis de Tocqueville, a French chronicler of America, loved. A general assembly meets up to twice a day to discuss proposals from working groups. "
  But these protests are a powerful signal worldwide. Their mere existence shows that people are determined to "think globally" about routes out of this crisis - (BBC news)

Like Camila Vallejo, a Chilean student leader says: "This is a world battle that transcends all frontiers." (The Guardian)

"Change is in the air. It's 1968 all over again. From Madrid, to Rio, to New York, the "occupy" movement is catching fire across the world and has achieved a radical shift in the way we think about our politics. From New York to London, politicians and the police have been bought off to protect corporate interests. They are forcibly evicting the peaceful protesters from public spaces and discrediting the movement in the media as "dirty hippies" and "violent criminals" with no clear agenda. It's not hard to see why they're nervous: the occupiers have sparked a vital battle of ideas, and the corrupt, elite 1% stand to lose everything." (Avaaz)
"What we are witnessing around the world today with the 99% in America, the Indignados in Spain, UK Uncut, the Arab Spring, is directly linked to what took place on February 15 2003. From Wall Street to Wisconsin, from Madrid to Athens, and all across the Middle East, people are rising up to make their voices heard. This is a story of anger, passion and remarkable people striving for justice and democracy. It's a story of huge change happening in our time." (We are many)
 If these topics make your blood boil, like they make mine, you won't be able to wait for the release of 'We are many':  "We Are Many is a documentary about the never-before-told story of the biggest protest in history, on 15 February 2003 The day that saw an estimated 30 million people in over 700 cities around the world, gave birth to a new global social movement. "
* Photos from Occupy Amsterdam (October, November and December 2011), Barcelona's indignados camp in Plaça Catalunya (Early June 2011) and last snippet from Occupy Dordrecht (December 2011).

Post edit :
-Here is an interesting article about the "Occupy" movement in the Mexican context. Sad but true, its title says it all: Indignados si, resignados también. 
-Also, this article, by Immanuel Wallerstein, "The World Left after 2011" is a very interesting analysis on the influence of these movements,  and what it will take to make change happen.  And if you would like to read it in Spanish, here is the translation: :La izquierda mundial despues de 2011,  in the Mexican journal, La Jornada.
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