Tuesday, March 31, 2015

5 Things I Changed After Reading The Body Book by Cameron Diaz

I read this book last year and went back to it a couple of times since. I found, to my surprise, that it's full of scientific information explaining food ingestion processes that affect our brain, emotions and body. I say, to my surprise, because I was expecting an all vegan, or all raw food book, or something totally polarized. But it is not at all!

If you are a  common sense seeker, like me, you will benefit from reading this. It encourages us to eat fruits, vegetables, grains, and meats with the assumption that our body needs every nutrient. And also, she says we are all athletes. That is new to me! I don't consider myself one at all, but I understand the thinking behind this assumption. She believes our body was built to have strong muscles and we should use it so our body can feel and perform at it best.

It's all about eating whole foods and paying attention to "hunger". She also mentions that we sometimes just want to have a burger and that having it won't ruin our whole foods eating plan. Making the burger at home is presented as a better option than going to a fast food restaurant.

Although much of the information given in the book, we may already know, having somebody tell you that the food you choose to eat will immediately affect the performance of your brain and your body, makes a huge impact in your decisions when choosing foods to put in your mouth!

I found lots of good points in this book. She explains how she was eating processed, canned and fast foods and not doing regular exercise before and how it affected her overall well-being. Progressively she realized that eating whole foods, and exercising regularly changed her body into a stronger and more energetic one.

Bottom line, the foods you eat can be the medicine that can heal certain ailments, and exercise should be something we do regularly (this one I need to work on), because we have to, just like brushing our teeth, in order to feel better. Also, your body needs "fuel" to function correctly. You can do that by eating many meals during the day. If you are hungry you have to eat. Simple as that. All this, to help your body function at its best. The trick is to choose the right foods. Can you tell how much I like this book? A book that talks about health in relation to food. Sounds good to me!

These are a few things I definitely changed after reading the book.

It's been a year now since I first read it. I keep these changes because I incorporated them as habits that really made a positive impact on how I feel.

1) Water. I drink two glasses of water first thing in the morning before breakfast. This just feels so good and by mid morning I already have two glasses as credit for hydration! She takes 1 liter every day before breakfast in a few seconds, as if taking medicine.

2) Lemons. I drink water with some squeezed lemon juice during the day and use lemons more often to condiment food. (A way to add vitamin C and all the benefits from its juice).

3) I  try to exert myself more by looking for opportunities to do so on a daily basis. I take the stairs, run to the store, or walk instead of driving whenever I can.

One particular example stuck with me. The one where she talks about children. They usually run while they play because they enjoy it. Their bodies feel good when jumping, running or climbing. They feel the need to exert themselves and so they simply do it. We tend to loose this as adults, and need to get it back by exerting whenever we can until it feels good again like it used to.

4) Quinoa, brown rice, and lentils are more present in my meals. And reduced my intake of packaged foods like cookies.

5) I also try to exercise regularly. Yes, I do try...

Step away from my coffee!

I agree with most of the what was mentioned in the book but I must say I don't think I will be skipping lattes or coffee in the near future. Although I like eating "healthy" I feel that going to extremes and getting rid of certain foods is just not for me, judging by the recent recipes I posted: Bizcochitos, flan with dulce de leche and empanadas. Eat them in moderation, I say!

What do you think?

Friday, March 27, 2015

Coffee time bizcochitos for the weekend

These munchies are great. They are extremely easy to make and call for only... 

These are the 3 ingredients: Liquid cream, self rising or all purpose flour, and salt. Easy right?

Start by mixing the liquid cream into the flour and salt mixture. 

Knead a bit until smooth...

That's it ! Now let's stretch the dough and cut bizcochitos with a cookie cutter.

The width of the dough should be I would say 5 millimeters. Now put them on a cooking sheet. I sprayed mine with oil but next time I make them I won't because I think this dough won't stick.

That's my little helper's hand you see in the picture! Now put them in a medium to high heat oven until you see them golden brown or until you see the color you want them to be. It is so easy and quick. Of course they disappear in minutes, especially if you serve them with tea or coffee.

Thanks to my mom who reminded me of these delicious bizcochitos when I stopped by her house for coffee last week!

Please let me know if you try this recipe, and send me a picture tagging me on instagram @eclecticalu.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

One Surprising Skill That Helps Us Achieve

Benjamin Franklin said: "He that can have patience can have what he will". William Penn said: "Patience and diligence, like faith, remove mountains."

Patience is defined as the capacity to endure waiting, delay or provocation without becoming annoyed or upset, or to persevere calmly when faced with difficulties. 

Patience and delaying instant gratification to achieve a long term goal is linked to higher levels of achievement and plain old happier people. Patience is currently underrated. It is only natural since we deal with immediacy constantly. Limitless things can be acquired in a split second: a house, a car, anything. Everything is fast: fast internet connections, fast-foods, quick fixes, and so on. We value immediacy because it can be very helpful in our daily lives.

However, whenever we encounter a problem or even engage in a project that involves waiting, we sometimes get frustrated, causing our anxiety levels to rise leading to all sorts of problems to our health and our well-being.

Patience results in feelings of peace and acceptance. It doesn't mean inactivity. It means that in order to achieve, you sometimes need to wait actively. Not just quit, only because you are too frustrated with a problem. It surely feels good whenever you decide that for the next half hour you are going to practice being patient and just not be bothered. Automatically, your heart rate goes back to normal, you accept the present moment and wait until you achieve your goal.

Have you ever caught yourself hurrying through traffic jams? I certainly have! Usually it's the school run. It takes me less than thirty seconds to realize that I intend to fly over hundreds of cars and that it is completely impossible and ridiculous! So, now that I'm trying to consciously practice patience, whenever I realize that I am starting to become impatient, I breathe, exhale and think: "You are here, you can't move, so you better breathe and focus on enjoying the ride. Because that is your only option, Alina." Yes, I do talk to myself sometimes...not out loud...I think :)

So, how do we become more patient? I did some research and there is one simple answer: practice.

Also, know that you will eventually get what you are expecting. You need that pulling force. The farmer that plants bamboo knows that he will have to water the seeds for 4 years until he sees actual bamboo canes. Four years, that's patience!! The roots take a lot of time to develop until the canes start to grow. But patience pays off and canes grow very fast afterwards. Having a vision of your goals makes the waiting possible.  

Wait actively. If you are stuck in line at the post office. Rather than focusing on the problem that frustrates you, e.g. the post office clerk is extremely slow, see the innocence in his behavior and bypass blame. Richard Carlson, in his book Don't Sweat The Small Stuff, explains how seeing the innocence in people's behaviors results in feelings of patience. Your attention is brought back to the moment, not to the snow ball effect pattern of thinking that accelerates your heart rate. You are there, in line. You have to wait, and you decide that the clerk must be going through problems of his own. Then you breathe, exhale and you will eventually get what you want, but only if you keep at it!

Are you patient? Good for you!

(Painting by Martha Belén, aka my mom, for Eclecticalu)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Flan: A Classic With Only 5 Ingredients

So easy to make with such a delicate result. It was one of the first foods 
our pediatrician told me to offer my boys when they were first starting to eat solid food.

It's so delicious! At home, we usually have it as a dessert with dulce de leche or by itself. It goes very well with whipped cream too!

This is what you'll need.

Start by adding 4 tablespoons of sugar and 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract to the milk. Stir, and heat the milk until it boils. I used low fat milk. 

Add the already boiled milk to 6 beaten eggs. If you want a thicker, denser flan you can add more eggs. The more eggs you use the more solid the flan will be. 

Mix in the milk with the eggs.

Pour caramel into the base of a jelly mold. If you don't currently have a mold at home, you can use any type of "oven friendly" container. This is a very easy recipe that has been made for centuries so anything goes!
You can get caramel at the store or you can make it by heating sugar in a pan until it turns golden. Easy, right?

Incorporate the mixture of milk and eggs to the mold. Put the mold to bain-marie for about 40 to 45 minutes in a medium to high temperature oven or until the top is golden/brown. 

Take it out of the oven and let it cool for a few minutes. Separate the flan from the edges of the mold and remove it by placing a big plate on top and then turning it upside down. Good luck with that...and voilà!!!

So there you have it, 5 ingredients to a sophisticated result. Have you ever made flan? Do you use a different recipe? Let me know! I would love to try new ones.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Boyfriend Jeans: Why You May Not Need to Buy Them

This past weekend, I was going for the Sunday relaxed feel. Looking through my wardrobe, I wasn't finding the easy going piece that would match my state of mind. You know, the - who cares I want to be comfortable -, with a bit of  - I still want to look decent - but honestly - I really could not care less - state of mind.

And then, two words came to me "boyfriend jeans". At first, I thought I didn't own jeans that would fit into that category. But, I do have a pair of old jeans, that I got after my youngest boy was born. These are the ones I used while loosing the pregnancy weight. 

They are now my favorite pair to wear, just because they are slouchy and so comfortable. I usually come back to them when I need to do work around the house, so they are distressed but in a very real way, distressed by use! 

However, if you look at them with the boyfriend jeans idea on your mind.... they can look pretty nice. I rolled them up, paired them with a white blouse, a belt, and a pair of flat sandals to enjoy the last days of summer in Buenos Aires.

What do you think? I never thought I would adhere to this style because I didn't really see myself actually purchasing specifically boyfriend jeans. But after adapting my old pair of high rise, slouchy jeans I completely changed my mind.
Comfortable trend? Count me in!

Monday, March 16, 2015

About Getting Manicures and Loving Polished Nails

For as long as I can remember I've always enjoyed looking at beautifully done nails. When I was five, (yes, that long ago) I remember looking at my kindergarten teacher's long polished nails and dreaming of having her exact long nails. How cute are we as little girls? 

I have to say that, nowadays, I cannot stand my own long nails due to 12 years of weekly piano learning, and only feel comfortable with a nail that enables me to play this instrument. Whether I play or not, I have to have them short enough. 

I remember also daydreaming of having my nails done just like the cashier girls at the supermarket. Or looking at how my mum would have her nails done every week and looking at the whole process in awe. When I first visited the U.S., I guess I was 6 years old, I saw nail art! Of course, another cashier, another supermarket... I was blown away!

Now, in my adult life, I am calmer about this subject (a tiny bit) but still VERY drawn to nail polish and well done nails. With two kids, a husband, a dog and a bunny to look after, it is not a luxury that I can always enjoy. However, I try to do my at home manicure every week, ideally, or every other week, when things get too busy. 

So, I wonder, is there any reason we, polished nails lovers, like this so much? What is it about them polished, shiny, clean, neat nails? What makes us say things like: "I need to get a manicure as soon as I have the time!"  What makes us browse the drugstore's nail polish isle way too often (guilty!). I'm sure a sociological or psychological reason exists but I don't intend to find the answer here. Maybe it's just plain old fun.

Let's just enjoy our appreciation of a well done (hopefully) at home manicure and justify our fascination by saying that it makes us feel good and put together, that it is much more fun to look at lovely colored nails during the day, and that sometimes it is all we need to put a smile on our faces! We are not that complicated after all, right? 

Do you know the answer to any of these (too many) question? I would really like to know what your thoughts are about this very trivial but at the same time (let's say...) necessary? subject. :)

Friday, March 13, 2015

School Run: Rise Early and Shine !!

Grabbing my cup of coffee, while serving breakfast for the boys, and getting backpacks ready, all in one wonder woman movement, is the thing I know I need to stay away from, like the plague, if I want to remain sane for the rest of the day. 

Whenever I overslept and then left the house without having breakfast (my favorite meal, by the way) and without spending some time reading, or doing something that I truly enjoy, I ended up feeling off for the rest of the day. I feel like somebody stole something from me that I can't get back. My time!

I recently wrote a post about "Don't sweat the small stuff..." a book that has been around for a while, that I recommend reading. In this book, there is a chapter about getting up early where the author says that many people find that "this one shift in their routine was the single most important change they have ever made in their lives. For the first time, they are able to participate in those quiet activities they never found the time to do. All of a sudden, the books are getting read, the meditation gets done, the sunrise is appreciated."  

This made me think that there may be more of us out there! :) Us being, those who desperately need to wake up earlier in order to have breakfast quietly, read or just enjoy the sunrise in order to be of any use during the day!

Forty minutes to an hour, before I wake up my 8 and 10 year old sons to go to school, is what works best for me. Having breakfast, quietly reading my favorite blogs or books or even the news on  my i-pad before anyone wakes up does wonders to my mood and energy throughout the day. After my quiet time, I can be fully present for my kids when they wake up, enjoy helping them with whatever they need, serve them breakfast, leave the house actually earlier and deal with traffic in a more relaxed state of mind.

The hour of sleep I could gain by waking up later doesn't compensate for my feeling off during the day. So, maybe if you are the type of person that needs more hours of sleep, going to bed earlier in order to enjoy your very own quiet time the next morning, doing things that you enjoy, could be something to consider? I find that this really works for me and for my family because they wake up to a calm and relaxed, smiling mum.

Do you need quiet time first thing in the morning? How do you avoid rushing during that time?

P.S. The school run beauty ally

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Great book: Don't Sweat The Small Stuff...and it's all small stuff

I received this book as a gift while on vacation. It was a great gift from family members living in the U.S. It is a very easy-to-read kind of book with 100 simple strategies all geared toward increasing our well-being and reducing stress in our daily lives but in a very down to earth, realistic way. 
I 'm sure many of you already read this book and if you haven't I recommend it.

One thing is for sure, it is not one of those self-help books that give the kind of advice impossible to materialize, and that honestly, I don't even want to read. They are a recipe for disaster setting you up for failure when giving instructions impossible to achieve...don't get me started!

Richard Carlson, the author, was a psychotherapist who specialized in stress management. I was very sad to learn that he died in 2006, at the age of 45. Every concept in his book stems from psychological principles that are easy to apply to our daily lives.

These are totally doable strategies. Even the title of the book is calming and gives a little of perspective (don't you think?): "Don't Sweat The Small Stuff... and it's all small stuff ". I really enjoyed reading it so here are seven of the one hundred strategies that really stood out to me, although each and everyone is worth reading.

1. Don't sweat the small stuff. As you may have realized by now, I really like this one. :) It is a lovely reminder that we shouldn't let our negative thoughts take over. The author says : "A stranger, for example, might cut in front of us in traffic. Rather than let it go, and go on with our day, we convince ourselves that we are justified in our anger...Why not instead simply allow the driver to have his accident somewhere else? Try to have compassion for the person and remember how painful it is to be in such and enormous hurry. This way, we can maintain our own sense of well-being and avoid taking other people's problems personally."

2. Make peace with imperfection. This idea is especially useful for when we focus on the negative, on what's wrong, what needs to be fixed rather than appreciating the "magic and beauty of life", with imperfections, flaws and all.

3. Resist the urge to criticize. Sometimes I catch myself being critical and I really dislike when this happens. It only says bad things about me, luckily I am pretty good, by now, at stopping it! "Criticism, like swearing, is actually nothing more than a bad habit" Carlson says, and that when we criticize "we feel a little deflated and ashamed, almost like you're the one who has been attacked" because we are basically saying that we need to be critical in order to feel better about ourselves. "Hopefully, more often than not, I can turn my criticism into tolerance and respect."

4 Get comfortable with not knowing. This one I find especially powerful when dealing with anxiety. He says: "we blow up scenarios in our minds about all the terrible things that are going to happen. Most of the time we are wrong. If we keep our cool and stay open to possibilities, we can be reasonable certain that eventually, all will be well. "

This is for all of us anxious people! We will be much better off not trying to have everything under control. Life is full of surprises. We better accept this and go with the flow.

5. Become more patient. This is getting difficult, I know. But wouldn't we all be calmer and more peaceful if only we could be a bit more patient? In traffic, for example, or whenever we are late. Carlson recommends breathing and preventing our thoughts to go down on a snowball effect by keeping in mind the "bigger scheme of things". Being late would be "small stuff".  And he also says that we could create patience practice periods. Start small, for five minutes. Then ten and so on. Sounds good to me.

6. Cut yourself some slack. And this is one of the reasons I enjoyed reading this book. You don't need to do each and every one of these strategies. As long as you try and start with one you'll be onto a calmer state of mind. Sometimes you'll succeed but then maybe you won't and it will be fine. You can keep trying whenever it feels good to you.

7. Allow yourself to be bored. Here's a revolutionary concept in this day and age! Choose to be bored once in a while. "The feelings of boredom will be replaced with feelings of peace," says the author. "When you allow yourself to be bored, it takes an enormous amount of pressure off you to be performing and doing something every second of every day." 

I would love to know your thoughts about this.
Have you read this book? 

P.S. Your Thinking is Your View of the World.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The School Run Beauty Ally: Origins VitaZing SPF 15

A few years ago MakeupByTiffanyD mentioned how great this tinted moisturizer was. After putting my hands on it and giving it a try, it quickly became my favorite go-to moisturizer. It is quick and easy, perfect for the school run. It leaves your skin hydrated and protected (SPF 15) while giving it a very subtle even look.  

After cleansing my face I apply Origins Vita Zing with my fingers (the same way you would with a regular moisturizer), a slightly colored lip balm like Nivea cherry and that is all I do! I feel like It makes my skin seem more even and the amount of time I put into it are only seconds. 

I especially love the energy boosting part! Maybe it's the mangosteen but the delicate scent (that quickly disappears) is very refreshing and energizing so early in the morning. In addition, I feel like I did something to look decent as opposed to just brushing my teeth and getting breakfasts and backpacks ready. 

What products do you use when you don´t have that much time in the morning? 

*This post is not sponsored. I truly recommend it!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

5 Simple Steps to Making Dulce de Leche

When we were living in Atlanta, GA I kept thinking that it would be a good idea to make this deliciously sweet treat that I could not get at the supermarket. Well, that day never came and I am still not making dulce de leche!!

These days I am back in Argentina and here you can get it at any market just around the corner. So this perfect excuse works like a charm for my unwillingness to spend 3 hours near a stove in the middle of summer! Don't get me wrong. I do enjoy baking a lot! And making dulce de leche is extremely easy. However, for this one recipe... I  will wait for lower temperatures to come this way.

Regardless, this is the recipe that I've been wanting to try.
Please let me know if you make it. I would love to hear about results and tips!

1. Pour 1 liter of whole milk, into a thick casserole pan. 

2. When the milk is warm add 250 cc/ 1 cup of sugar and stir.

3. Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence and bring to a boil.

4. When bubbles start to appear add 1 teaspoon of baking soda (this gives the nice caramel color) and stir. Keep stirring through the whole process. You can put marbles on the base of the pan or a small plate so they can help you with the stirring process by moving while boiling.

5. Keep the heat to very low for 3 hours. Keep stirring if you didn't put the marbles in the pan!

Done! Wait until it cools down. You will end up with about a cup of dulce de leche. We love it with everything: bananas, slice of cheese, on toast, muffins, inside cakes or even by itself!

Did you know that in Argentina we credit the creation of dulce de leche to a housemaid who worked for a national hero (Rosas)? She forgot that she had left milk with sugar heating up in a stove. When she came back to the kitchen she found this sweet and creamy thing and called it dulce de leche. :)

Have you ever made dulce de leche? Do you like it?

P.S. Here is another way to make dulce de leche with condensed milk which seems extremely easy. The thing is that apparently it tastes different from the Argentine one! 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Argentine Empanadas Made Easy.

This recipe is very easy to make. Anything goes here so there is a lot of eyeballing with the quantities. I promise you will enjoy this recipe a lot!
You can make them vegetarian or not.  There are almost infinite variations. This is the classic one. Definitely not vegetarian so please let me know in the comments if you are interested in the also very easy and tasty vegetarian recipes. I thought I would cover the basics first...

The Filling (makes about...48 empanadas)
Thinly chop the following ingredients.

spring onions: 3 or 4 stems     
onions: 6 to 8 or more! (more onions = juicer empanadas!) 
garlic: 3 cloves                         
lean red meat: 2 kilos (4.4 pounds)    

Put some olive oil and a teaspoon of butter in a heated pan. Saute the onions with the spring onions and the garlic. Add salt and pepper. While you do this add salt and pepper to the diced raw meat too. Add the chopped meat to the cooking onions in the pan. Season with oregano. You can accommodate spices to your own taste and get creative with the seasoning. In the northern part of Argentina they put a bit of cumin and it gives a very distinctive taste. I have been adding cumin to my filling and the key is to use just less than a teaspoon otherwise it will be too overpowering. You can season with paprika if you like too, I don't usually but it depends on what spices you like. Mix with a wooden spoon and let it cook until meat is brown and cooked. Done! See? I told you it was easy! :)

Now let the the mixture cool and then put it in the fridge. Plan on filling the empanadas preferably the next day or give it a couple of hours in the fridge. That way all the juices from the mixture and the onions will be easier to handle.

Once the filling is cold I usually add:

boiled eggs 

Both cut in bite size pieces. Oh! and sometimes (whenever I remember to do this...) I put 1 cubed and boiled potato. This is totally optional.

The dough

Since I lived in the U.S. for almost four years I definitely know for a fact that you can find them in the Latin markets like Farmers Market. I make empanadas every time we visit our very good American friends in Atlanta, Georgia. We bought this exact dough disks, by La Salteña, at the farmers market, the one on Buford Highway, this past January. 

If you can't find this ones go for any pastry disks. Or you can make the dough yourself if you want. It is a simple one made of 1 cup of flour, salt, oil and water to mix until you obtain a soft dough. Then knead and cut with a 10 to 12 cm diameter cutter. 

How to fill the empanadas

Turn on your oven and bring it to a medium heat. Have a couple of big baking sheets sprayed with oil.
Put about a tablespoon of filling on a disk of dough. Then wet your finger with water and slide it on one side of the disk. Then press and seal it. Pick up every pointy piece of dough one after the other until you end up with sort of like a chain. If that doesn't work press it with a fork and voila!!! 
Here is how you do it.

Finally, to give them this golden look paint the empanadas with one raw egg and then put them into the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes depending on your oven. The empanada is done whenever the white dough turns into a golden brown color. 

Enjoy!!! Have you ever tried empanadas? Do you prefer vegetarian empanadas?

Monday, March 2, 2015

8 Ways to an Emotionally Stronger You - Resilience

When we go through difficult situations, resilience is the quality that helps us learn from adversity and move on. It is an opportunity for self discovery. We change and adapt to the new situations emerging stronger and wiser. I cannot stress enough the wiser part! Those of us who on occasions experience anxiety can benefit from increasing resilience.

But how do we build resilience? Here are a few ways that increase it while reducing anxiety.

1. Accepting the problem. There is nothing we can do about what happened. Accept this in order to be able to accept change.

2. Connecting with others. Gain support and encouragement from loved ones. Be active in civic organizations. It has been shown that assisting others in time of need can result in higher levels of well being to the helper. So why not give this a try? It may be a bit of a cliche but we do help ourselves by helping others.

3. Working on the situations you have control over. You cannot change what happened. Focus on what you CAN change.

4. Hoping. Keep an optimistic mindset. Meditation or Religion can be great allies. Trust in your ability to solve problems. I wrote about this in the previous What is Resilience post.

5. Nurturing yourself. Physically and mentally. Take care of yourself in order to be able to deal with the problem.
Self esteem is crucial to the "bring it on" mentality I mentioned in the previous post about resilience. Seek professional help if you think you need it. Pay attention to your own needs and do things that you enjoy.

6. Try to see things in perspective. Some times we are dealing with pretty serious stuff but making changes in our outlook on things can really help. What matters, in spite of what happened, is how you respond to it. Positive thinking is an exercise that we can all benefit from. Try focusing on the future, looking beyond, past the problem and seeing it as if you have already overcome it or managed to adapt to it. You will see it as part of life.

7. Perseverance. Keep trying. Baby steps every day will end up in results.

8. Finding meaning. It may take some thinking or professional help but totally worth it!  Viktor Frankl's book: Man's Search For Meaning is an excellent example of resilience. This is a great book if you are interested. He was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who was taken to a concentration camp for 3 years during the war. After this traumatic experience he went back to Vienna where he developed Logotherapy, a theory stating that we have to look for meaning in life in order to overcome adversity.