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Bon appétit

Baking lessons

manuelita otero

IMG_9841.JPG

I love eating, I like cooking, but I can’t bake. It’s not that I don’t like it; I’m just not good at it. So these past weeks I have surprised myself by looking through Pinterest for baking recipes, especially cakes, which are my weakness. I bake the same way I do everything in life. I find several recipes and they all look good so I start two at the same time, half way through the process I decide to add different ingredients or I refuse to put the measurements required. Surely my cake doesn’t need all that sugar and butter, right? But apparently it does and it is obvious when I see the final results which don’t look at all like the photos in the recipes. I have promised myself in the past never to bake again, but here I am, refusing to give up. It’s worth it. A warm piece of freshly baked cake with a cup of coffee is such a beautiful thing.

A friend explained to me that when baking you have to follow instructions carefully. She said baking is an exact science, a wonderful chemical reaction and a perfect blend of ingredients. The right amount of sugar and butter; the right flour depending what you are making, the right time mixing the batter, and we could go on. Too many things to keep in mind, that’s why it’s so difficult for me. I just don’t like following directions, not because I am a rebel or a troublemaker, I think I may just be a little impatient and impulsive. Baking also takes time and preparation, and ingredients that you just can’t improvise. In other words, baking is harder than it looks.   

As I mix the batter of my next creation, I think that maybe I am not a bad baker; my baking simply reflects my lifestyle. It is imperfect, uncertain, not planned, following mainly a passion and a joy for life which really can’t be measured, planned or described in 5 simple steps. We want to believe that we can have the success of other people if we follow their path and copy their life plan. We want step one, two and three and we want to know how can we make the process faster, but that is not how life works. Each of us has a special path; a unique way to get where we need to go and the destination may not be the same for all of us. Success for you may look different than success for others and that is good because we are all unique individuals. We need to do what makes us happy and what we have been created for. It is not a one size fits all kind of thing.

My cakes may not look like the ones I see in photos, but I can assure you that we have eaten every single thing I’ve baked. I love the process, the challenge, the expectation, and the possibility of making something good.  

Manuelita   @manuelitaotero

P.D. if you have any good recipes, please share them, I prefer easy ones and in case I haven’t mentioned I love cake and coffee so a mixture of those would be the best :)

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The “simple” act of eating

manuelita otero

Do you remember what you had for dinner last night? How often do you eat in a rush without really paying much attention to what you are actually eating? Sometimes I’m not as mindful during my meals as I know I should be. I love eating, I love food, but some days there seems to be so much going on that a meal turns into the perfect time to plan what will I do next  instead of being the time to… just eat.  

Mindfulness while eating is nothing new and I have thought about it often, but never with the perspective Leo, a friend, gave me after she had surgery. This is how she explains it:

“Life is full of opportunities to learn and be creative. Some weeks ago I had surgery and due to its complexity it had to be done through my nose. Everything went great, the only bad thing is that my sense of smell was affected, which in turn weakened my sense of taste. It was so frustrating not to be able to taste. It was the same to eat pasta, rice, or meat. Ice cream didn’t taste sweet, lemons didn’t taste sour. To think that I would not be able to taste the many different and amazing flavors that surround us made me very sad, but I couldn’t allow myself to be down for too long. The doctor said this would be temporary, so I held on to that hope and was determined to do something as I waited for my taste buds to come back. I decided to find other things that I could appreciate while eating. I made a conscious decision to discover new things about the food I was eating and I noticed how interesting the texture of food was. I used to eat fast so at times I wouldn’t pay attention to what the food tasted like or what it felt like once it was in my mouth. I began to notice how juicy a chunk of pineapple could be, the crunching sound of french fries, the creamy texture of a rich dessert, and the warm and soft feeling of bread that had just come out of the oven. It was a new and exciting way to eat. This has been an amazing experience which not only helped me be positive during a difficult time, but has now added a new dimension when I eat.”

I love how Leo turned what could have been a bad situation into something good and a lesson for all of us. We often take for granted “simple” things, the things that actually enrich our lives, but we don’t realize it until we don’t have them.

My friend reminded me to take it easy while eating, to enjoy and be grateful for each bite. Mindful eating is all about enjoying the moment, learning to quiet our minds even though they want to keep running 100 miles per hour, and allowing ourselves the time to replenish without feeling guilty. The more you do it, the easier it will be, until it becomes a habit, a happy response to the simple act of eating.  

Manuelita @manuelitaotero

 

Lose the diet

manuelita otero

It seems that every day there’s talk about a new diet. People seem to be searching for “miracle” foods when they might be at our fingertips. I'm talking about natural, simple food and the joy of savoring a meal. This obsession with weight needs to stop, and I don’t mean that we should let ourselves go and eat as much as we want. We need to make wise decisions when eating, not because we want to be a size zero, but because we want to have a life full of good years, not plagued by diseases that could have been prevented if we had the self-control and the motivation to take better care of ourselves.

We look for solutions in the wrong places. We believe in the new diets and proudly follow their instructions, buy their programs, just to be disappointed at the end of the year because we have gained the pounds we lost. There are many reasons why diets will not help you achieve the before and after they promise, among them is the fact that they are a temporary solution to a long term situation. Restrictive diets can actually be harmful because they force the body to adapt to a low calorie intake. The body senses less food is available so it slows the metabolism, which in turn makes it harder to lose weight.

Diets help you lose weight for a period of time, but the only way to have a long term impact on your health is to change your lifestyle.

Do you want a healthier lifestyle?

- Start where you are: Analyze why sometimes you eat more than necessary. Are you really hungry or are you nervous, tired, bored, or anxious?

- Make a long term plan: Make weakly realistic goals. Look at your schedule, at your habits, at your time and see what can you change today to get closer to a healthier lifestyle. Do what works for you, but be honest and challenge yourself, do it for you.  Make the goals harder each week.  

- Do a little something each day: Take one step each day; create new good habits as you destroy the bad ones. Notice what you eat and make small changes daily. Make intentional decisions. It will not be easy but you have the power to decide what goes into your body.

- Eat breakfast: No excuses! If you have a busy morning, then leave something prepared from the night before or wake up ten minutes earlier.  

- Be prepared: If you get hungry often, take food with you. If you are not prepared you will be tempted to stop at the first fast food place you drive by or if someone brings doughnuts to work, you will eat them because you are hungry.

Be determined! Do you really want to be healthier? Then do it! What’s stopping you? Do what you can with what you have but do it now. Make the time to exercise, find ways to keep moving through the day, be strong when it comes to foods that you should not be eating and love yourself in the process.

Manuelita   @manuelitaotero

 

Delicious meals at home don’t have to take too long

manuelita otero

I love long dinners full of loud laughs and good food. Some of my favorite memories have been made around a table with family and friends. But I just don’t get to do it as often as I wish because it seems there's not enough time to prepare and share special meals.  I have to remind myself that making that special meal for friends, family or just for me doesn’t have to take a long time.

Cooking at home for a busy person is always a challenge, which is why I’ll share some tips that help expedite the process. You may be doing this already, and if you have other tips, please share them in the comments section so we can all help each other cook delicious meals faster.

Organize your recipes: Sometimes we may have great information but can’t find it when we need it. Define the best way for you to organize your recipes. Do you prefer to have them all online, separate them by type of food, on your own files, on books, on folders, on cute little boxes? Choose whatever works best for you.

Prep time is key: Think about your meals ahead of time. Make a weekly menu or even better a monthly one. Once you have the menu you can include it in your grocery list and avoid having to stop by the store during the week, which will save you time and money. Knowing what to cook and having everything you need is half the work. We really like these meal planners, one is from Bakedbree.com and the other one from Cut and Create:

http://bakedbree.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/meal-planner-2010.pdf

http://jannawilson.typepad.com/files/weeklymenu.pdf

Once cooking: Put on some good music and get ready to create.  Why not make cooking time a moment for you to unwind and relax after a busy day? Here are some tips to cook a little faster:

- Start boiling water as soon as you are ready to cook.  Putting a lid over the pan will help it get hotter faster.

- If you need the oven, also preheat it as soon as you start mixing ingredients.

- Clean and cut all produce at once.

- Use kitchen scissors to cut meat.

-  If you will need minced garlic, ginger, or chiles for a recipe, put them all together and cut them at the same time using a rocking motion.

- If you need soften butter but you didn’t remember to take it out on time, grate it into flaky shreds and it will soften faster.

-  Stir-frying is one of the best quick-cooking techniques because the proteins and vegetables are cut down into small pieces. The smaller the pieces, the quicker they will be ready.

- Use wide, shallow pans for cooking. The wider surface area the faster the cooking.

When preparing special meals think outside the box. If you want to have friends over, ask each of them to bring a part of the meal. Why not make breakfast for dinner just to change things around? Or have each member of your family choose one night for them to cook? Use leftovers in creative ways, once in awhile let the appetizers be the meal or choose the main ingredients by chance. The options are endless. We may be busier than we’d like to be, but there are always ways to make a special meal at home a little faster.  

Manuelita | @manuelitaotero

 

 

 

A good meal is more than just food

manuelita otero

National Geographic  has a very interesting program about how the brain Works called Brain Games. This week they talked about how the brain tricks us and warns us by focusing on appearances when it’s time to eat or buy food. After several experiments and interviews they came to the conclusion that our brain prefers bright colors when it comes to packaging and foods, and we are most attracted to yellow and red, which may explain why some companies choose to tint their foods to make them more appealing, for example, making butter yellow.  

All this talk about appearance related to food made me think on how nice it is to sit down and eat at a beautifully served table.   

I have an aunt who inspires me because she always makes everything extra special, whether it’s her home, her clothes, or any of her things. I have always noticed how without outdoing it she serves every meal with exquisite elegance. It can be a ham and cheese sandwich or a full course meal. I remember as a small girl I loved watching her prepare food, especially seeing her make salads because she would put so much love and attention into them. She would make them look so delicious even for me, not a big fan of vegetables.  

Now, 20 years later I still enjoy visiting her because it’s always a great joy to sit down at a table where you know love has been poured over the meal you're about to eat. Everything looks beautiful and delicious. The meal just tastes better. What good is it to spend so much money on organic food if it’s going to be served in a rush? What good would it be to spend hours preparing a meal and then not take minutes to make sure things are pleasant to the eye?   

I believe we eat happier when we see a beautifully arranged plate in front of of us. Many times it’s about giving yourself a few extra minutes and doing simple things like putting a beautiful placemat, a colorful napkin, choosing your favorite cup, having some flowers close by, putting a lemon wedge on a drink, and other little things that will conquer not only the stomach but also the heart.   

Ana

Choosing the power of fruits

manuelita otero

For some reason fruits aren’t the first thing I reach for when I’m hungry. I like them, but instead I choose other things that satisfy my cravings but aren’t healthy. I realized that lately I haven’t been doing some things that I should just because it doesn't come naturally. It has made me think about the importance of mindfulness, even about something as simple as eating a fruit, and since I want all the good things fruits have to offer, I’ve decided to eat more fruits on purpose.

Do you want to add more fruits to your diet?  Here are some ideas:  

- Use them for decoration at home: Make it easy to grab them and go.  Apples for example are rich in fiber and their skin contains quercetin, an antioxidant that protects against heart disease. If you want to feel full longer, eat a banana which is one of the best sources of resistant starch.

- Eat them from a beautiful bowl or plate: You don’t have to wait for guests, prepare just for you a bowl of cut oranges to keep your immune system strong and to add fiber, potassium, calcium, folate, and other B vitamins. Eat some pomegranate for antioxidants or papaya for vitamin C and vitamins A and E.

- Use them for a smoothie: You can choose to mix fresh fruits or add to your regular smoothie some powered açaí berry which is full of antioxidants.

- Make them a snack: If you get hungry, eat a grapefruit and keep your heart healthy by lowering cholesterol and adding antioxidants to your diet. Or prepare a bowl of cantaloupe for younger-looking skin.

- Add them to your salads: Fruits add color and flavor to salads. Add blueberries to improve your brain function and memory, strawberries for vitamin C and folic acid, avocados for monounsaturated fat and fatty acids.

- Make them a side dish: Use tomatoes to complete your meal. They are packed with an antioxidant called lycopene, and are high in vitamin C, potassium, and fiber.

- Cool yourself during hot days: Make some aguas frescas made with watermelon for an extra serving of lycopene, vitamins A and C.

- Decorate your yogurt or cereal:  Fruits not only make your food look more enticing, but they will add amazing flavor too. Add blackberries to get fiber and extra antioxidants and to fight against cardiovascular disease, cancer and osteoporosis.

- Add them to your meals: Mango or pineapple in a styr- fry will add special flavor to your dish along with vitamin C and bromelain to improve digestion.

Bad habits, whether related to food or anything else, sneak slowly into our lives, and before we realize it they’re part of our routine. But it doesn’t have to be that way. When we make conscious choices thinking not only about what we want now, but also what we want later, it’s easier to make the right decisions. Enjoy the power of fruits one bite at the time.

Manuelita@manuelitaotero

Some information taken from: http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20606331,00.html

Fruit Salad Recipe

Since we are talking about fruits here is the recipe for a delicious and easy fruit salad

Ingredients:

  • Fruits (if you have blueberries those go great, but it's not necessary)
  • Honey
  • Lemon
  • Basil
  1. It’s better to prepare the salad one hour before you serve it.
  2. Select some fruits, try to choose equal amonuts.
  3. Cut in small sizes the fruits you have chosen and mix them.
  4. Put lemon and honey.
  5. Leave the salad covered for one hour outside the fridge in a cool spot.
  6. Put some basil to decorate and give it a great flavor.

Enjoy it!

Savor the world

manuelita otero

There are cities that have a certain something that makes everything you do there extra special.  New York is one of those cities. And during a visit some weeks ago I was able to enjoy it even more because I decided to experience it at a slow pace instead of rushing, trying to see everything. I knew that the few days we were visiting wouldn’t be enough to do all that I wanted, but I had accepted it ahead of time and decided instead that on this trip I would absorb, enjoy, and go with the flow.

Having no plan ended up being the perfect plan because as I got lost walking through the streets (I refused to use a map or an app and look like a tourist) I had the opportunity to simply savor the city.  One of my favorite things was the fact that there was food in every corner, delicious food from all over the world. As I walked past the food trucks and small neighborhoods I loved  how food in each area changed just by walking some blocks. It reminded me how much I love food from all over the world.

These long walks awakened in me something I had wanted to do for some time: Learn more about dishes from different countries.  Food tells a story and it’s so gratifying to eat a meal and be able to appreciate its roots, the reason it is the way it is and to think that maybe that recipe  had been passed through generations keeping traditions alive. Here are some ideas I’m gathering to be able to do this:  

- Cooking recipes that are out of my comfort zone using ingredients that I may not be too familiar with.

- Trying different foods, different restaurants, and different dishes. Trying something new. Starting with my own country and learning about food from different areas.

- Teaching children close to me to eat different foods from a young age. They will appreciate it in the future.

- Watching cooking programs and documentaries to inspire me.

- Sitting down with friends and family to eat. Sitting down alone... just sitting down without distractions to enjoy a meal.

- Respecting differences. Something I may not like could be someone's favorite dish.

- Avoiding stereotypes, not all Asian food is Chinese, not all British food is bad, and not all Indian food is spicy.

- Asking my friends from other countries about their traditional dishes and cooking with them once in awhile.

- Visiting international grocery stores to see interesting fruits and vegetables.

- When planning a trip, reading about the food of the place I am visiting.

We can’t allow the daily rush to get in the way of the art of enjoying a meal.  We have access to so much information now making it easier to know more about the story behind the delicious dish in front of you.  

If you would like to know a little more about the food My daughter Nikka and I ate in New York visit this link with a blog she wrote http://www.myclosetetc.com/blog/2016/7/16/a-foodie-in-new-york   

Are you ready to taste the world? Enjoy the journey!

Manuelita   @manuelitaotero

 

To love your body is more than a trending hashtag

manuelita otero

How many times have you felt guilty because of something you ate? Or maybe you just couldn’t roll out of bed in time to do exercise and felt bad about it for the rest of the day. Many times, we have carefully drafted work out plans and diet ideas but we just can’t get started.  What if the reason is not that we can’t take the first step, but that we are not at a starting point?  

For a fresh start a blank page is needed, an honest new beginning. But many times when we want to start a journey on a healthy road that “blank page” is tainted with baggage from the past.  There may be a lot of past affirmations, such as “I have never succeeded at eating healthy” or “I can’t eat just one cookie.”  How can you start a new challenge when in your mind you have already decided that you can’t do it?  Sometimes to have a fresh start the first thing you need to do is forgive yourself.  Let it all go - the criticism, the  past mistakes, the negative ways you may have treated your body, the days you should have gone to the gym, but instead sat in front of the T.V. – everything.  When you leave the negative behind and truly forgive yourself, you can change that guilt and shame into love and positivity.  To love your body is more than a trending hashtag or a famous spokesperson on T.V.  That is good, but it only stays in the surface. To really love your body you have to go deeper.  It's a very personal experience in which you finally face yourself, seeing the good and the ugly.

Want to put into practice self-forgiving when it comes to food?  These steps may help:

Dig deep: Be honest with yourself; go to the root of the problem. You don’t gain anything if you lie to yourself. Accept you are not perfect and there is work to be done, but celebrate you are on the way.

Speak up: Sometimes loving yourself doesn’t seem to be enough because we are bombarded by so much negativity that it is easy to forget it.  To solve this problem talk to yourself positively throughout the day. Don’t be shy, you are worth it.    

Find solutions: At times you may be so focused on the problem that you spend all your energy on them instead of analyzing the possible solutions. You will always have problems; you need to identify them and deal with them, but don’t spend all your time on them.   

Make a plan: Once you identify the problems, define a strategy to attack them.  Be realistic, know yourself, find ways to avoid weaknesses and distractions.  You are in control of your life, not food, not marketing, not your friends, not the excuses.    

Enjoy the journey: this is a process, so get ready for a long journey and make sure you enjoy it.  Celebrate small steps in the right direction and review your plans and goals often. Love your body and do what is right for it, not for others but for yourself.

Manuelita @manuelitaotero

 

Everyone can make a delicious dish!

manuelita otero

Have you ever found yourself looking at Pinterest or different cookbooks for recipes at the last minute before a get together in your home?  Sometimes we make our life a little more difficult than it should be, don’t you think?  Why would we try a new recipe when we are having guests? Some years ago I would get so nervous about inviting friends over for dinner, so I would search for recipes that looked good and seemed easy enough for me to cook, but since I wasn’t sure how they would turn out, I would always make two main dishes to be safe.  I am so happy that with time comes experience and confidence, so now when we have friends coming over; I know I will prepare guacamole.  And even though that is not a main dish, I can easily create a meal around it and I know that is what my friends want because that is what they have asked me to bring. I used to think people would get bored if I kept making the same thing every time, but if they keep asking for it, I will keep bringing it, because that's my strength.

Focusing on our culinary strengths gives us peace, efficiency, and helps us enjoy what we are doing.  When we cook a meal to share, it is not just about feeding people; we want to make someone happy with what we have prepared. We are opening ourselves for others to “judge” what we are making, and that can leave us in a vulnerable spot.  If cooking is our strength then there is no drama, but if we think we are “not good at” cooking or we don’t know our strengths, then it can be a little more difficult.  But with some practice we can all find that special dish that everyone is going to be craving and asking for.  Finding it may be a process, but a fun one. 

My seventeen year old daughter is starting this process and we are all having a wonderful time eating the dishes she is cooking. Since she loves Asian cuisine, she decided to specialize in that.  Her first dish was sesame noodles, she chose it because they were the easiest noodles to prepare and barely had any ingredients; therefore, according to her, it was easier not to mess it up.  The first meal she prepared for us was… Let’s just say that I was happy I didn’t have to cook that night, and we were excited to see her try. We congratulated our upcoming chef and encouraged her for the next week.  That week she made the same noodles, but this time they had a delicious taste and the kitchen was full of a delicious aroma that left us all impressed. She was so excited when she saw us happily eating her dish and she confessed that after the first try she was tempted to stop cooking because she had felt so badly about the initial result.  The next week she decided to challenge herself and try something different than noodles, fried rice which turned out delicious, and the next week she came out of the kitchen with an amazing coconut noodle soup, the perfect combination of ginger and coconut milk that made us sad there weren’t any leftovers.  Practice makes perfect.

It's more than cooking, it's more than food.  I spent so many years believing I couldn’t cook and avoiding inviting friends or family over because I was embarrassed.  Everyone can make a delicious dish. Take time to discover your strength, find a group of friends that will be happy to share your cooking journey and enjoy it.  

Manuelita @manuelitaotero

 

So… how are your New Year’s resolutions going?

manuelita otero

Did you make any New Year’s resolutions at the beginning of the year?  How are they going? This is a great time to pause and look back at what has happened during the first semester.  Have you lived these months the way you wanted to? Have you improved in the areas that you wanted to improve ?  Each day seems to go by so fast, but if we stop on purpose to analyze our year, we will be able to see if we are steering in the right direction or if changes are necessary.

According to a study made by the University of Scranton and the Journal of Clinical Psychology, 45% of Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions. The top three are: lose weight, get organized, and spend less. According to the study, 8% of the ones who made the resolutions are successful. It’s not easy achieving a goal, especially when it is something so big and involves so many aspects of our life, but maybe the problem is not how big the goal is, but our strategy to reach it.

Let’s take one of the most common resolutions: to lose weight.  But let’s go a little deeper and let’s say that the goal is to have a healthier lifestyle. In our excitement of the New Year and our desire to improve our life, we declare this as our resolution, but we don’t give it the thought it needs and we don’t set up a step by step plan.  We try really hard; we stop eating certain foods and do some exercises but when we don’t see the expected results we feel discouraged.   Don’t let that frustration make you give up, read these tips to get some ideas to define your own plan and achieve your goal:

Be realistic: The before and after photos are great and I am really happy for the people in them, but many times they can be misinterpreted because it gives us the idea that huge results can be achieved fast and easily.  We don’t get to see the journey that person had to go through.  Good things take time, they require giving up things we really like and making smart decisions and that is not always something we smile about, at least not at that moment.  Be realistic, know that achieving your goal is going to be hard and will require discipline and tough decisions, but it’s ok because you can do it.  

Be on the move: If you want to lose some weight and keep fit, include moving into your everyday.  Park a little further from the store, take the stairs, play active games with your children, use the proper techniques during house chores and turn them into exercise sessions, spend more time outdoors, turn off the TV and put away your electronics.  You still will need a defined workout time and routine, but all of these activities will keep you energized throughout the day.

Be creative: Being healthy is lots of fun, so be creative and make it fit your lifestyle.  How about turning the next “girl’s night out” into a “girls day out” and go hiking at a beautiful park. Why not make eating at home more fun and share the work by letting members of your family choose recipes and take turns cooking.  Even little ones (with adult help) can be involved and believe me, children learn so much from cooking and they tend to eat everything they prepare. 

Be on the lookout: Know yourself.  If you have a clear idea that at certain time of the day you crave unhealthy foods, then make sure you have eaten something healthy before. If you know that when you get hungry you eat whatever you have close by, then make sure you have healthy snacks with you at all times. If you know that your body needs to eat small portions often, be prepared.  If you know that when you are sad, distracted or nervous, you eat certain unhealthy food, then keep an eye on what are you putting in your mouth and why are you doing it.  Are you really hungry or are you allowing your emotions to dictate what you eat. Don’t get caught off guard. 

Be on a journey: Changing eating habits is a process that takes time.  Don’t give yourself two weeks to achieve a huge goal, instead, determine that big goal and establish the steps needed to achieve it and enjoy the journey.  Define dates for each step and celebrate each achievement. When your goal becomes an inner process, its effects will last, it will be a lifestyle and good decisions will become habits. You decide the destination, you define the path and you follow it. It’s your journey.   

I am going to be honest; achieving a healthy lifestyle is not always easy. I say to myself that I am going to be a strong fit woman no matter my age and I know I can do it, but sometimes I also know I am not doing enough to achieve it.  That is when I ask myself, “How badly do I want this?” If I want to be able run around chasing my grandkids years from now, traveling abroad without getting tired, I need to do things now. But in my now many times I am too busy or too tired to do what I should do. Life is a balance and time for us needs to be a priority. This is a process and every decision counts, every victory big or small is celebrated. So… what is your resolution? If you really want to achieve it, set yourself up for success, because you can.  

Manuelita   @manuelitaotero

 

 

Stress free dinners

manuelita otero

Wouldn’t it be nice if every time you invite someone to eat or stay in your home you could relax and enjoy the moment without all the rush of “being the perfect hostess”? I love having people over, but usually when I have visitors I stress too much because I want everything to be just right and after they leave I feel guilty and sad.

It seems that when we invite friends to our home our ego takes over.  We want everything to be perfect. We want our house to be beautiful, our food delicious, and we expect our guests to compliment everything, including our well behaved children and of course how beautiful we look.  That's why to achieve all those compliments we end up obsessing over everything and sacrificing much more than needed.

Many times we plan more than necessary and spend more than what we have. Not only that but we sleep very little trying to plan our gathering, which makes us feel exhausted even before our guests arrive. Believe me, I value and appreciate all the work a host puts into a beautiful get-together, but I believe sometimes we exaggerate and we end up missing the opportunity to really enjoy time with those we love.  The dinner may be a success, the food delicious, the place amazing; but did we enjoy it?

When we invite people to our house we tend to do things that add stress like clean more than needed, try new recipes, and even “re-educate” our children so they will behave “accordingly” to the occasion. To avoid complicating things, here is a list of some ideas thatmay help avoid stress:

 -If you live with someone, ask them to help you plan an interesting menu, and if you don’t have much time, make sure the ingredients are easily attainable at any grocery store.  

- Use practical tools to find inspiration. Pinterest has a great variety of recipes and great ideas for table setting or decorating.  

-Even if we have heard this phrase a million times, it still applies: Less is more.

-Think about the whole experience. Instead of striving for each dish to be a culinary perfection, try a simple meal with beautiful flowers, good music, and great company.  The good mood will make the whole experience special.

-If you don’t have much time to decorate your house, use what you already have, things you love or things that you can easily get like fresh flowers or fruits.  

-Use only the time you have for planning, decorating, cooking, and try to leave some openings for the unexpected.  

By changing some small habits when it comes to inviting people over, we will have more energy and love to share, and everyone will love the experience.

Ana

Travel light and still eat right

manuelita otero

Sometimes a tight schedule with several activities and long hours driving from place to place can get in the way of healthy eating. When we are caught in between meetings or children’s activities and hunger strikes we succumb and end up eating the first thing we find, usually fast food which won’t keep us full for long and is not the healthiest choice available.  We don’t have to give into our busy schedule or choose between eating healthy and doing a lot.  

Food on the go:

Breakfast:

This is the most important meal of the day, don’t skip it! Eating breakfast helps keep us fuller and avoid over eating throughout the day.  It helps our short term memory, improves our mood, and gives us energy to get our day started; besides it's so good!  Find a little extra time in the morning and notice the difference it will make in your day and in your health.

- A Fruit and veggie smoothie can be prepared in less than 8 minutes and even faster if you cut ahead of time and freeze the ingredients you want to put in it. All you need to do in the morning is blend and enjoy. 

- I love tortillas because you can make breakfast, lunch and dinner with anything you have in your fridge.  For a breakfast burrito put some scrambled eggs with cheese, bacon or anything you may have left from dinner. Fold and breakfast is ready. 

- English muffin with egg and ham is another easy breakfast on the go and full of protein.

 Lunch or dinner:

- Sandwiches are a wonderful invention.  Experiment with them; try different combinations with new flavors and spices. Put lots of greens in them.  Make them healthy and delicious.  

- Salads are easy to take and also a great opportunity to experiment with a fusion of ingredients which can include leftovers. Put nuts and spinach to add protein.

- Rice dishes are also great ideas to take with you.  Take some rice from the night before and put what you find in your refrigerator.  Add salsa for a south of the border flavor, soy sauce for Asian inspiration, Italian spices … you get the idea.

Having an “on the go” menu planned for those busy days helps when shopping for ingredients and shortens preparation time.  Also have a lunch bag, picnic basket or cooler in a place of easy access, ready to go whenever you need it.   

And don’t forget to take water and snacks with you.  Make your reusable bottle part of your daily outfit.  You can infuse it with fruits or just lemon.

Traveling light and eating healthy is not only possible, but easy and delicious.  

 By Manuelita   @manuelitaotero

 

Savor life

manuelita otero

I love going to the movies; when we go we always get popcorn because movies without popcorn just aren’t the same.  We usually get a tub of popcorn because it's the best deal, but the problem is that I practically end up eating the whole thing.  I get some help from my children, but after a while they get tired of eating; instead I am so immersed in the movie that I just keep eating without even noticing.  Popcorn once in a while is great, but eating without being hungry is not. 

Mindless eating happens when we eat unconsciously driven by signals around us.  Brian Wansink, the author of the book “Mindless Eating” explains that “We overeat because there are signals and cues around us that tell us to eat. It's simply not in our nature to pause after every bite and contemplate whether we're full."  When we are busy, stressed, or paying attention to other things we tend to eat without thinking, not only consuming unneeded calories, but also making poor eating choices.

Mindless eating is also affected by marketing psychology; its objective is to sell and get us to eat more. Look at the advertising around us; we are bombarded with enticing photos of food that looks delicious making us immediately hungry and crave those foods. Have you ever driven by a billboard and immediately thought: “I want that” and there just happens to be a place to get that “need” right by the billboard?  If we are not careful with our decisions and mindful when it comes to eating, we may end up making very poor choices.   Keri Gans, author of “The Small Change Diet: 10 Steps to a Thinner, Healthier You” recommends that when feeling like eating something that may not be good for us, to keep in mind the five Ds: delay, determine, distract, distance and decide.  Taking time to think if you are just craving something or if you are actually hungry helps the decision process so you won’t fall prey to advertising.

Since we are on the road often, we were getting used to eating in the car. We would pack up our lunch so we could be on the way to a class or an audition, but eating in the car is neither healthy nor safe.  Not only that, but eating in a hurry is harmful to our digestive system.  We forget that we don’t eat just to satisfy our hunger; we eat because we need food to nourish our body; this process requires time and focus in order to be done properly.

The digestive process begins even before we take the first bite.  It starts in our minds as we think, see or smell food and the central nervous system releases acids and digestive enzymes to prepare the body. When we eat in a hurry or under stress, the necessary setting for good digestion is missing, which results in bloating, heartburn, and other stomach problems. Every step of the digestive process is important.  Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Cheung in the book “Savor” recommend: “Concentrate on what you are eating.  See how it looks; let your eyes enjoy it, what it feels like in your mouth, what it tastes like.  Chew consciously, savoring what you eat.  As you become aware of what you are eating, you also become fully aware of the present moment.  Living in the moment, you can really receive what the food offers you. “

Don’t you think it is unfair that it takes so long to prepare a nice meal only to end up eating it so fast? With some planning we can extend the pleasure of our meals, taking time to enjoy, savor, and share them with friends and family. These ideas may help you get started:

Give thanks:  It is wonderful to be able to enjoy a delicious meal, so we need to appreciate it.  A moment of silence will help you and your family make a shift in pace, to go from the rush of the day to a relaxing moment. 

Create a beautiful meal:  Making every meal beautiful doesn’t take extra work. Small details such as nice plates, candles, flowers, contrast of color on the table can make a difference.

Put your senses to work: Appreciate the textures, listen to the crunchy sound and enjoy the different tastes. Enjoy the delicious aromas that come from the kitchen.  Do certain smells take you back to wonderful memories? Don’t you want to help create that for your children, if you have them, or for yourself? 

Put away the distractions and make time to enjoy your meals.  You will notice the physical benefits as well as the social and emotional ones. Eating mindfully is a great way to pause from a busy day, be thankful for what you have and gather energy to continue.

Manuelita   @manuelitaotero

 

 

Listen to Your Body

manuelita otero

Have you ever started the year making the resolution to eat healthy, do exercise and lose some extra pounds?  How many times do we buy weight loss products, books, supplements, pills, herbs, meal plans or anything that promises the results we want, but by the second week we are discouraged because we don’t see the results we were expecting. All of this leaves us more frustrated than before.

Isn’t it interesting how each year there seems to be a new miracle food, the latest diet book or a panel of experts giving us a long list of foods that we should be eating to gain energy, have radiant skin and have the fit figure that most people want. Americans alone spend billions a year on weight-loss programs and products. We see the ads with the appealing before and after photos and we let others decide what we should be eating, doing or buying.

It seems that everyone wants to tell us what to do, when to eat and what to eat; all for a price of course and we want what they sell, easy solutions and results that seem too good to be true. But most of the time that is the case; the results are too good so they are not true. Usually if we take in more calories than we burn, they will be stored in our body. We tend to eat what we shouldn’t because it tastes so good; we take things to extremes to the point that we change our body’s metabolism. Then we feel guilty and start looking for a fast solution. In the end, the advice and products full of so many promises offer no long-term solution. According to a 2006 study reported in The New England Journal of Medicine, most people who participate in weight-loss programs regain about one-third of the weight during the next year and are typically back to baseline in three to five years.

Wanting to be “skinny” can be a goal, but living a healthy lifestyle and achieving our right weight is a more complete option.  The issue is not about size, it is about health. So, instead of believing blindly everything everyone is saying, let’s use the resources we have and inform ourselves and learn about the foods we should be eating. Let’s listen to our bodies, make decisions and follow them through. 

I can’t tell you what to do to eat healthy or lose weight. I don’t have the magic words that will make you reach the weight you want, but I can motivate you to find your own path, the one that works for you. I can tell you that you can do it. It won’t be easy, but if you persist in your goal, if you listen to your body and make wise choices you will achieve a healthier lifestyle.  Here are some tips to get started:

- Be informed: Read labels; know your food. Read about the benefits of certain fruits and vegetables so you know what you should be eating or avoiding. If the problem is that you eat a salad and then you are hungry for the next four hours, find what could fill you up, such as starchy foods, pasta, grains, and potatoes; if you choose the unrefined version it is a healthier option.  But don’t take my word for it… read, learn, investigate.  

- The truth and nothing but the truth: Tell yourself the truth.  You know how often you eat out, or how many cookies you ate, or when was the last time you exercised.  Don’t make excuses, this is for you, so who are you lying to?  Once you make the decision to hold yourself accountable, that should be enough. 

- Small changes make a big difference: Every transformation in our life starts with a small change, and then another, and then another. Start with simple resolutions, for example: Don’t put butter on your bread, give up soft drinks, drink less alcohol, have a smaller dessert, don’t put whipped cream or sugar on your coffee. Sometimes we do these things out of habit.  If we stop doing them it's going to feel awkward and we are going to miss them. But after a while, we will get used to it. Look at the eating habits you have and decide on what small changes can you start today.

- Make it a lifestyle: Move more. Do exercise whatever you enjoy, and if you don’t enjoy anything, do what you dislike the least. If it is raining, do exercise at home, get a video on YouTube and follow it for 30 minutes. There's always a way.   

Don’t deprive yourself; don’t mess with your metabolism by fasting for long periods of time or cutting out certain foods from your diet. Don’t starve yourself, eat healthy, natural snacks every two hours or so.  Eat fresh, cook at home and drink lots of water.

Don’t give in to immediate gratification: Skip fast food places. Just say no; the more you say it, the easier it becomes. Want something sweet after a meal? Eat a fruit, a small sweet, a piece of dark chocolate or share a dessert with someone.  

The first step to achieving a healthy lifestyle is making the decision.   There are no shortcuts, like everything that is worth achieving it will take hard work, smart decisions and changing habits, but it will also include lots of celebration and the satisfaction that you are doing something good for you, on your own terms.  

Manuelita   @manuelitaotero

Step One… Make a Decision

manuelita otero

foodpost

I love to get up early before everyone and drink a cup of coffee while I have some quiet time and get ready for the day. Unfortunately, coffee early in the morning accelerates my heart rate and affects my breathing for the rest of the day.  Still, I am a stubborn woman, and out of habit I make my coffee and drink it knowing what will happen. I am not saying coffee is bad, I justshouldn't drink it early in the morning.  Sounds familiar?  Is there a certain food that you know you should not eat, but it seems you can’t help it because it's so good? 

At times we seem to put more value on food and the desire to satisfy a craving than on our well being.  We know certain foods are not good for us and yet we keep eating them. Why would we knowingly eat something that will make us feel bad or be harmful to our health? There may be many reasons: some emotional, others logical, and some based on traditions. Let’s think on a more personal level. Would you leave a precious diamond outside by the garage? Would you use one hundred dollar bills as bookmarks? Would you give your daughter a valuable heirloom to play dress up?  It seems easy for us to decide how to take care of things we consider valuable, but at times we find it difficult to take care of our own valuable body.

Deciding what to eat is a very personal decision.  At times, we start eating “right” because we want to follow the latest diet, but not because we have made the decision to eat healthier, so it becomes a temporary solution.  Once we understand why we act certain ways and eat certain foods at certain times we can define habits and strategies to improve our eating.  Sometimes it is more about the feelings involved when we eat, the reason we eat and how we feel after we eat than about the actual food. Have you ever said, “I can’t eat just one cookie?” I have.  And it makes me mad to think that a cookie has more power than I do.  Why can’t I enjoy just one cookie after my meal? Who has decided that I have to eat five or that I can’t eat any?  Who controls what you eat? You do!  

Since eating healthy sometimes may prove to be a challenge, these ideas may help: 

-Pause, think and make a decision. When you know your worth, and how precious and amazing you are, you start paying more attention to how each decision affects you. And when it comes to food that means we pay attention to everything we are putting in our mouths.  Saying “no” to food that is harmful for us becomes part of an attitude that says “My body is too precious for this type of food”.  I know it's easier said than done, but it's the beginning of a process that doesn’t have to be as difficult as we sometimes make it.  As we take one good decision at a time, positive habits will start forming making it easier to eat healthier. You and I deserve a life full of good habits, no matter how difficult the first decision is.     

Food sometimes is so enticing and stimulating that it's hard to turn down. Actually, some food overwhelms the brain circuitry and when we eat it, the brain cranks out dopamine, a neurochemical associated with a reward that drives us to eat that food again and again. But your love for food can’t be greater than your love for yourself, your body and your family.  We are not helpless victims of this cycle.  We have the power to break it. 

-Fresh food contains more of naturally occurring vitamins, fiber, and minerals.  The essential nutrients in fresh produce may protect you against different diseases such as cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Fresh food helps us gain energy, and maybe even reduce the effects of aging.  Fresh vs. processed food should be such an easy decision, right? But since processed foods are carefully designed to taste good and they are easily attainable, it's harder to ignore them.  

-Set yourself up for success and start the day right; never leave the house without eating breakfast.  A small protein bar is simply not enough and it will only take you so far, and depending where you will be when you run out of energy, it may be easier to fall into the trap to grab something on the go. 

-Take healthy snacks everywhere you go.  They will keep you focused and energized the whole day.  Get your own stylish lunch bag and keep it stocked with nuts, fruits, and water at all times.  Cook at home, do it together as a family, so everyone can help, or alone listening to some good music to unwind.   Make eating fresh food easier.  Have carrots, celery, and fruits ready to eat when hunger strikes.  Small changes will make a big difference. 

-If we do the same thing over and over it becomes part of our lifestyle.  We seem to be surrounded by things that want us to eat more and move less, but we don’t have to fall into that pattern. It seems that so much of our eating is done without us even realizing it, which doesn’t fill us up and actually may hurt us.   In the book Savor,  Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Cheung reminds us to “Concentrate on what you are eating.  See how it looks, let your eyes enjoy it, what it feels like in your mouth, what it tastes like.  Chew consciously, savoring what you eat.  As you become aware of what you are eating, you also become fully aware of the present moment.”    

-Make eating a special occasion, whether it is with family or alone, make time to enjoy it.  It takes your body around 20 minutes to register fullness, so don’t rush the experience. 

-Don’t eat in the car. If you are hungry, then have a healthy snack, but try to have your main meals when you can slow down and focus on enjoying them. 

-When you go out to eat, have something healthy before you go, that way you will not be tempted to order more than you need. You could share an entrée, order half a portion or pack half to go once you feel full.   

Eating healthy is a matter of valuing ourselves, and our body.  Don’t get discouraged if it seems too hard.  Remember, it is a process, but you will enjoy the benefits of making right decisions one meal at the time.  

Manuelita   @manuelitaotero