Saturday, April 28, 2012

JOHNSON’S® joins Save the Children to help children and mothers in need - just because #Wecare


I have recently learned that JOHNSON’S®(the baby products company) has joined forces with Save the Children, to create JOHNSON’S® BABY CARES, a partnership to assemble “Care Kits” that will be distributed to families in need in times of natural disasters. As a mom, I know how scary it must be to know that your child is in danger, and not to be able to provide them with basic care needs must be unbearable. That is why I want to help spread the voice and also take a moment to be thankful that my kids have never been in need of these type of aid. I am also taking the opportunity to write them a few words about one of those things that are never told but that I want them to know, I am writing them a letter so they can be thankful too, because life sometimes is not as rosy for many kids and their mothers.

Hi kids,

It is not often that I sit to write a letter to you. Apart from the obvious birthday, graduation and celebratory occasions, I normally find it a bit overwhelming to write to you. It is funny as I am normally not short on words, but when it comes to you guys I am always worried that I will say the wrong thing or that it won't be meaningful enough. I resort to speak to you and to tell you how much I love you as often as I can!

Today I am writing because I am thankful and I want you to be thankful for being healthy and well. It is amazing how becoming a mother changes you. You are going to laugh, but before I had you I used to love horror movies and I was able to watch the news and tune out the majority of the bad stuff going on in the world. The minute you were born I was not able to do either anymore. It is like a new sense of  hyper alertness is born on you alongside with the birth of your child. Nothing is the same anymore, the stairs are not stairs, they become a hazard where people can fall down. Tables become items with pointy corners that love to catch little people in the head. Fireplaces are heat magnets and so on... It takes a while to relax and to start seeing things for what they are again.

However, the news are one of the things that do keep hunting you forever, particularly when a natural disaster or a man made one strikes. It is so painful to see children struggle and suffer. Since you guys came to this world, there have been a couple of tsunamis, earthquakes, volcano explosions and numerous wars, and every single time when I watch the news I feel bad and at the same time I pray and say thank you because it wasn't us.



I want you to be thankful that we have all our basic needs covered, that we have a roof over our head and food on the table, that we can play outside and enjoy our life. Thankful because you can go to school to learn, and that you can play sports. Thankful that all that we have had to worry about are a broken arm, skin allergies, colds and a few bumps here and there. Please never forget to be thankful.

I love you,

Mami Me

If you want to learn more about JOHNSON’S® BABY CARES campaign please use this link to visit them and like them in facebook. Give them your support and help a mother look after her kid!

Here is a summary of some of the good things they are doing. To assist families they will help create and sustain key initiatives, including:
  • Distribution of thousands of JOHNSON’S® Baby “Care Kits”, providing families with baby care essentials immediately after a disaster. 
  • Funding for programs like Child Friendly Spaces - these are safe places in where kids can play and be together within disaster hit areas.
  • Training for health workers so they can learn basic techniques to prevent birth asphyxia amongst other things. 
Disclosure: This post was sponsored by JOHNSON'S and Latina Bloggers Connect, however all facts and opinions expressed are my own. This post have not been edited by a third person.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

NYC High Line – A fantastic oasis in the City

Kudos to the City of New York and Friends of the High Line for building the most amazing walking garden in what it would otherwise be an abandoned industrial site. I am talking about the relative new High Line. The longest roof top garden in the US, built on top of a non-operated elevated historical railway line in the heart of Manhattan.
 


During a recent and very short visit to NYC, I was inspired by a small review in AA magazine about rooftop wonders. As I like everything gardening, I was intrigued by the article and discovered that one of the rooftop wonders was in NY, so I made a point to visit it while I was in Big Apple. I was also lucky to have stayed in a hotel only 4 avenues away from it. I headed west from my hotel to the intersection of 30st and 10th Avenue where the High Line starts (or ends?). You see the High Line is a rooftop public park, garden, museum, entertaining walking path that stretches 1.45 miles from Chelsea (30th Street) to the Meat Packing District (Gansevoort Street). It has entrances more or less every second street it passes and it has a few elevators too. There are plans to expand it up to 34th street in phase III.


While walking/jogging (yes! I did run – still amazed by this new me!) towards the High Line, I passed through NYC flower shops on 28st. I always wondered where New Yorkers bought their plants as they lack the Home Depo’s and big garden centers of the suburbs. I was gladly surprised by the way the tiny row of flower shops arranged their plants and delicate flowers across the pavement, leaving only a small path for people to walk. It was like being transported into a flower market in the middle of the city only 2 streets long – it felt a little like Amsterdam minus the tulips. People carrying various sizes of beautiful arrays wrapped in brown paper bags seem to disappear once I crossed the 8th avenue. Beautiful as this was, it amounts to nothing compared to what I was about to see.


I had no expectations about the High line as I have never seen anything like it. All I knew was that I was looking for an elevated train line and that I was supposed to look up as soon as I was close to 10th avenue. So that is what I did and there was no escaping it. It was clear from below that I had reached my destination. However, no surprise, from here it looked just like that, an elevated train track and nothing else.

I went up the stairs on 30st and was welcomed by beauty!
The newly constructed path opened in 2 phases in 2009 and 2010 respectively and it is stunning. It is tranquil and peaceful – two words I never thought I could use to describe anywhere in NYC. The long corridor is surrounded by all types of plants, grasses, flowers trees and even a stretch of lawn. Along the way you can see different sculptures, an amphitheater, an outdoor film area, art stages, a café, water features, a multitude of places to rest an relax, including lounger style chairs overlooking the water and even a zoo (well, an arty still life zoo, but a zoo nonetheless)


I have learned that during the day, it is a space for the arts; you can hear musicians, see plays and films and do crafts with your kids.
The whole project fascinated me, not only because it hits me on 2 of my favorite passions, gardening and arts, but also because all of this was done on top of a structure that was abandoned for years and was considered to be demolished. It was an eye sore for the community. Talk about reusing resources and bringing life to the city. The new structure is a habitat to butterflies and birds that otherwise will struggle to be in the city, it helps bring peace to hectic New Yorkers that can walk there and forget about the traffic and craziness going on below.

I have to say that I truly enjoyed my walk/run and I am glad I discovered this new piece of NYC, a city that never stops to amaze me.

Hey, even people from Lilliput are enjoying this space!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Who knew I could be a salad person? Tortas Frontera Salad at the airport!

Who knew I could be a salad person?
Thanks to Tortas Frontera  at O’Hare Airport, I may have to revisit my preconceived notions of salads! Do not get me wrong, I do like salads but they are never my first choice, particularly when eating out or on the go. However, as you know, I am on this losing weight journey and I am not allowed carbohydrates (read: absolutely everything that is available at fast food places and airports!), so protein and salads are my only choice. So normally when I travel (I do that quite often), I tried to avoid the food court at the airport all together and just head for a coffee at Starbucks. That way I keep temptation away and my weight on check.
Today though was different, I had a lunch time flight and the morning was hectic so I had no time for breakfast nor lunch. I was starving. Walking towards my gate I had to go pass the dreaded food court but I was hit first by a new place that I have been dying to try: The Tortas Frontera, a Rick Bailess restaurant. I was ready to cheat and have a torta (also ready to hit the ground running in NY with massive exercise to make up for the indulgence), but I read the menu and their salads were there, the description was appetizing, but my brain kept telling me it was a salad, oh no! I was truly considering a salad!
I do not know how, but I managed to get my willpower to order for me and I went for the Salad bowl with smoked pork on it (I need my meat!!). Oh dear I am so happy I tried this!!! I would have to say it was one of the most delicious salads I have tasted in a fast food place or all places really! Otherwise believe me I would not be writing this post.

Half way there! Frontera Salad in the air!
The salad was perfect! Indulgent, delicious, so good that I truly do not miss not having the tortas that looked so amazing. I know you are dying to know what was on this thing right?
Well, it was a big bowl (you can feed 2 people with it) of tender iceberg lettuce, arugula (my favorite), avocados, caramelized onions, roasted green peppers, cilantro (the magic touch) and perfectly smoked shredded pork drenched in a creamy chipotle and avocado sauce. It was topped with Cotija cheese and taco strips (which I removed to stay on my low carbs regimen). This thing was oh so delicious. I love the way arugula and cilantro were incorporated and the creaminess of the avocado, not only on the sauce but also on the big chunks tossed in the salad. And let’s not forget that I loved the fact that the salad was tossed – I hate when they give you salads in tiny bowls and the sauces are separate or just on top and you need to figure out how to toss your salad in your minuscule airplane seat, while sitting next Johnny Q looking weird at you because you are taking too much space!
Anyway, I just thought I will let you know, so next time you are in a big airport or at O'Hare, if you see a Frontera Tortas place, do try the salad – believe me no regrets there!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Spice up your parties with Queso! Who does not like Cheese?

Last week I went to a conference in Miami and I met with a whole bunch of really fun Latino girls. I had a great time and memories from home starting to flow through my brain, particularly the memories of having fun and partying with my friends. You see, I consider myself a very social person and I love to party, but I had not gone out Venezuelan style for a long time. That needs to change!

Now you will ask me what is so special about Venezuelan parties? I will summarize the answer on 3 subjects: people, music and food! All 3 are very important factors for the success of the party. I am sure you have great fun friends to party with, so people are normally not a problem. Food and music on the other hand can make or break a party! In a true Venezuelan party fashion, you will have to clear some space for dancing, as well prepare some delicious food and drinks to keep guests satisfied!.
Let me give you some tips on how to turn your party into a Fiesta!
  • Find your best Latin music and play it back to back - merengue,salsa, reggaeton and cumbia will keep people moving the whole night long! Think Zumba and you will get it right!
  • Keep the snacks flowing throughout the night. Try the new Farm Rich Queso Cheese Bites, dips with crackers, (my favorite is anchovy dip - I owe you the recipe), Empanadas, Mini meatballs, Hard boiled Quail eggs with a Thousand Island sauces, etc. You can choose your favorites, but the important part is to have bite sizes snacks so people can eat them quickly while they keep dancing.
  • Serve fun drinks like Margaritas, Cuba Libres (Rum, Lime juice and Pepsi), Piña Coladas and plenty of water.
Back at home we will always serve Tequeños (by far my favorite Venezuelan party food) at all our parties. They are rectangular pieces of white cheese covered with dough (they look like small dough sausages) and then they are deep fried or baked in the oven. I cannot buy tequeños in the US and I miss them so much! However, I have recently tried the new Farm Rich Queso Cheese Bites and at least I got my cheese cravings covered. Queso Cheese Bites are little balls of yummy spicy queso that are lightly breaded. When you put them in the oven the queso melts inside. Some may say that they are just like another cheese stick, but they are truly different from anything I have tried before. They have a kick, yes ,they are spicy and I really liked that.

Now in order to buy all the ingredients for your food and drinks, you are going to need some money right? Well why don't you try to win it? Farm Rich Snacks have a sweepstakes going on in where you can win $3,500 to do your own Party! Visit the Farm Rich Facebook page and click on the Pesos 4 Quesos tab by May 4. It is a fun game, and as you go through the levels you can also register  to win weekly $200 gift cards and coupons to try the new Queso Cheese Bites. You can also like their page here:



You never know, you may win and have the best party ever. Now, if you do win, please do not forget to invite me!


Disclaimer: “I wrote this blog post while participating in the SocialMoms and Farm Rich blogging program, to earn My SocialMoms Rewards Points. The opinions and ideas expressed here are my own. To read more posts on this topic, click here.”

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What is America eating?

I was lucky enough to attend a presentation by the always funny Harry Balzer. The topic? The NPD Group's Annual report on eating habits in America. The data is fascinating, particularly for food lovers like me! Here is a summary of some of their findings:

Even though Hummus and Sushi have experienced fantastic growth, the true winner of Food of the decade is Yogurt! 33% of people in the US have eaten yogurt at least once in 2 weeks - that is a lot of people!

I know it sounds obvious but did you know women and men prefer different foods? Can you guess the top 5 foods that women prefer more than men and viceversa?

Women prefer Yogurt, hot tea, bottled water, candy/gum and salads more than men. Men preferred alcohol, burgers, cold sandwiches, french fries and coffee more than women.... hmmm not very healthy that list.

Now lets loom at breakfast. Did you know that the top 10 foods/beverages consume at breakfast have not changed in the last 10 years? Only the ranking have changed, but the same foods come back over and over again: Coffee, cold cereal, juice, milk, fruit, bread, eggs, hot cereal, tea and my favorite ever: bacon!

Now lets go out of the house and look at restaurants. These are the top growing restaurant chains in the US: Five Guys (recently tried their burgers, not bad, but loved the peanuts!), Chipotle (a family favorite!), Jimmy John's, Buffalo Wild Wing, Dunkin Donuts, Qdoba, Little Cesar's (can't go wrong with $5 pizzas), longhorn steak house, Einstein's bagels (you need to try the Asiago Cheese with the salmon spread!) and Panera bread. Surprised not to see McDonalds?

But still people eat at home more than at restaurants, and this is what Americans are eating in the right order of priority (fastest growing): Yogurt, Bars, Chips, Bottled Water, Nuts and Seeds, Pizza, Fresh Fruit, Poultry Sandwich, Specialty Italian, Cheese! Think about the list, noticed something? very few of these foods need to be cooked!!!! Americans are eating without cooking!

And what are we eating less of? Here you go: carbonated drinks, milk, peas, fruit juice, corn, sausage sandwich, cheese sandwich, beef, stuffing and flavored noodles. Think about it, the majority of these required if not cooking at least heating!

Now, if Americans go on a diet, they are more likely to go on their own diet, followed by one prescribed by a doctor, and weight watchers. I personally like to stick to my Dukan for as long as it keeps working!

And now, let's go and break the trends and cook something!

Do you think your kid should speak Spanish? No? Think again.

Throughout the past year I have been writing about the reasons why I am teaching my kids to speak Spanish. Some of my reasons are personal and very sentimental, like the need to keep my culture alive and to allow them to be able to speak to my mother and the rest of my family. Some are more logical like the fact that bilingual kids develop skills that make them smarter, and some are just so huge to ignore like the ones I will describe in this post. I am a true believer that speaking Spanish will be one of the biggest skills or even asset that they will have in the future. A recent trip to Miami confirmed it to me. 

Let me start with some statistics that may be shocking to some but that are the true reality of the USA of today. According to the 2012 census, there are approximately 50MM Latinos in the US. At around 16% of the population, Latinos account for the largest minority in the States. However, when we start segmenting our population by ages, you will soon realize that 1 in 5 kids under 18 years old in the US are Latino and 1 in 4 or 25% of all kids born in the US are from Hispanic origin. 

The Latino population in the US is expected to grow 167% from 2010 to 2050, compared to only 42% growth for the total population during the same period. So by 2050 when my kids generation will be in their 40's Spanish will be key to living and working in the USA.

Currently, it is already a huge asset in some high Hispanic areas of the country like LA and Miami. Let's talk about Miami for a second. Miami has a population of approximately 4.3MM people, and about 47% of inhabitants are Latino. Already Spanish is more than a second language, it is omnipresent in this society. I have spent this past week in the beautiful sun shining city. From the moment I landed at Miami International Airport, collected my suitcase, waited for some friends, went to lunch with them and finally arrived at my hotel, I probably did not have to speak one word in English, not one. Not only that, I think I probably only heard a handful of English words throughout the expand of 6 hours. It was to be honest a bit surreal. It felt like I have left the US and arrived in a multi nationality Latino American country. Personally, I Ioved it but kept wondering what it must be like for a non Spanish speaker.

I do not honestly think Spanish will replace English in the US nor I think it is right either, but I can see a society that may be bilingual in the future just like Canada or Switzerland. That is why I do not want my kids to be behind. That is why I invest  my time teaching them Spanish. That is why I send them to Language Stars once a week so they can learn this beautiful language that is becoming more and more indispensable in the US.

Disclosure: I will receive discounted tuition from Language Stars as compensation for this post. However all facts and opinions expressed in this post are true and my own. Language Stars have not asked me to write about anything in particular, only my true and honest opinion about my experience with their program.  This post have not been edited by a third person.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

How to Make a Soccer Goal Post Cake



This year my boy asked me again for a soccer cake. This is the 3rd year in a row that he wants a soccer theme for his birthday. I first did a soccer ball and the second year a logo of his team: The Chicago Fire Juniors". This year I decided to do a soccer goal post with a figurine that looks just like him.

I made the soccer figurine out of polymer clay for 2 reasons: 1) I have fallen in love with this new craft and 2) and most important is that he will be able to keep it on FOREVER! (or at least for as long he wants to). Click here for a tutorial on how to make the soccer figurine. Also, if you like it and want one, I am custom making them at my etsy shop (click here to go to my easy shop and send me a condo from there with your request - the soccer boy is not listed)

OK, now back to the cake. The field was relatively simple and straight forward to make as you will see:

Ingredients:
  • 2 rectangular cakes of about 9" by 13" - if you have a bigger pan you can do one cake
  • 1 batch of my chocolate filling recipe  (click here for recipe) (optional but recommended)
  • 1 batch of my buttercream recipe (click here for recipe)
    • Color the majority of it in green (like grass)
    • Leave about 1/2 cup in white for details
  • Cake board - big enough to have both cakes side by side
  • Cake decorating tips: Circle #4 and grass #300
  • Cake decorating bags
Cut both your cakes in half horizontally and place the bottom halves side by side on a cake board. You can put a little buttercream icing under the cakes to help them stick to the board. 



Pour the chocolate filling over both halves and spread with a knife, making sure that all the cakes are covered with the liquid. Top the cakes with the other halves. If you are not doing the filling, skip all of the above!




Put a thing layer of icing over the cakes, making sure you fill all the cracks, seams, etc. The cake should now be as it was one rectangular cake and not two, this is called a crumb coat as it will prevent crumbs to get to your final icing later one. Put the cake in the fridge for about an hour or so so the crumb coat hardens a little and seals in all the crumbs!



Now it is time to cover the cake with your green icing. With a big spatula, put a big blob of green icing on top of the cake and spread carefully. Do the same to the sides. We are going to do a grass effect design on the sides of my cake so do not worry too much about making the sides perfect (they will be cover with the grass). However, as the top was my field, I wanted it as smooth as possible. A good trick is to warm your big long spatula with hot water, quickly dry it out and slide it carefully over the cake, the heat will melt the buttercream a little leaving you with a nice smooth cake.



Decorate the edges of the cake and the bottom with the grass in random patterns .  I used a grass tip and put "grass" all around my edges and borders.


With the white icing and a circle tip #4, draw the goalpost lines and add your polymer clay goal post. To do the goal post. I made the frame out of polymer clay and crocheted a net that I then weaved all over the polymer clay frame.



Now add your figurine anywhere you like.



You are done! Enjoy your cake!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

How to make Strawberry and Chocolate Cake Filling

I like to fill my cakes with these delicious fillings to make them moist. My mum used to always make them and I grew up with these wonderful memories of what a cake filling should taste like. You will see that they are very different in consistency from what you get in the USA. My fillings are runny and soak into the cake. The fillings you get here in cake shops or supermarket bought cakes are often made out of buttercream and are thicker (adding height to your cake but no moisture).

I am going to give you here the basic recipes for my 2 favorite ones: Strawberry and Chocolate. However, you can adapt this recipe to make them out of pretty much any fruit flavor you like, just replace the strawberry jam for your favorite fruit jam and you are done!

Strawberry or any other Fruit Filing

Ingredients:

1 can of condensed milk
1/4 cup of milk
1/4 cup of jam


To make the strawberry filling, put about 1/4 cup of strawberry jam, 1/4 cup of milk (or water for less rich flavor) and 1 can of condensed milk in a pot. Heat it all up until it is all mixed together.




Chocolate Filing

Ingredients:

1 can of condensed milk
1/4 cup of milk
Big Bar of chocolate (milk or dark is OK - I like Venezuelan chocolate) - The bigger the better!

To make the chocolate filling, melt the chocolate in 1/4 cup of milk and 1 can of condensed milk. Heat it all up until it is all mixed together.



That is it! Now yo can pour it over your cakes!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Bilinguals are Smarter: Confirmed by the NY Times!!

Photo from NY Times article

I know we all know that learning a second language is indeed a good thing. Lots of us who are bilingual or multilingual also want our kids to learn other languages too. But it is now scientifically confirmed that learning another language makes you smarter! Yes, bilinguals are smarter!

Our friends at Language Stars share with me an article from the New York Times confirming this fact. You know what is also good news? It does not matter how old you are when you become bilingual. Your brain will become more efficient and be smarter too whether you are 1 or 55 years old!

Bilingual babies and children have been tested with different games and have shown a higher degree of ability to monitor their environment. In their own words:

"The collective evidence from a number of such studies suggests that the bilingual experience improves the brain’s so-called executive function — a command system that directs the attention processes that we use for planning, solving problems and performing various other mentally demanding tasks. These processes include ignoring distractions to stay focused, switching attention willfully from one thing to another and holding information in mind — like remembering a sequence of directions while driving."

The benefits of being bilingual also extend to older ages. There is a study that shows that bilingual individuals are more resistant to dementia and other symptoms of Alzheimer's, acquiring these at a later age than those who are monolingual, and the higher the degree of bilingualism the older they were at the onset of the disease. Cool ha!

Disclosure: I will receive discounted tuition from Language Stars as compensation for this post. However all facts and opinions expressed in this post are true and my own. Language Stars have not asked me to write about anything in particular, only my true and honest opinion about my experience with their program.  This post have not been edited by a third person.

Abuelita Magic

My mum has been here for 2 weeks now (She leaves tomorrow – sniff sniff) and she has certainly been doing her Abuelita Magic with the kids!! I honestly do not know what it is but my “I do not know Spanish” kids are suddenly speaking it like pros!!!
They are not what I would consider fluent, but my they are talking! And laughing in Spanish!! (Yes - you can laugh in a language! Spanish laughter is contagious and very loud). My daughter has me very impressed, her Spanish is almost perfect and her pronunciation is very close to a native speaker. My boy makes me laugh, he does the best and funniest Spanglish I have ever heard and he does sound American. He keeps referring to him in 3rd person (like he did when he was 2 or 3 years old) and instead of “yo” he keeps saying “me”. So it sounds a bit like “Me Tarzan, You Cheeta” Here are some of my favorite expressions of the week:
·        “Me” tiene hambre, comida por favor!
·        Un segundo abuelita!!! “Me” hablo con tu mama (referring to me)
·        Pasale el gato a tu hijo (Him asking me to give him the cat)
·        “Me” te quiere mucho!
I now feel so much more confident that I am doing the right thing by trying to get them to speak Spanish and by sending them to Language Stars. I now know that they are comprehending and storing everything and that even though they may not choose to speak the language as much with me, the basic knowledge is in their brain ready to come out. I know that when they are mature enough to truly understand the importance of being bilingual, they will be able to tap into the knowledge reserve and bring their Spanish to a new level.
In the meantime, I will try to maximize our exposure to Abuelita and her magic. Hopefully we will see each other again in the Summer, this time in lovely Spain. That will be awesome as they may also get Amigos magic!

Disclosure: I will receive discounted tuition from Language Stars as compensation for this post. However all facts and opinions expressed in this post are true and my own. Language Stars have not asked me to write about anything in particular, only my true and honest opinion about my experience with their program.  This post have not been edited by a third person.
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