Friday, February 5, 2016

Serenity Now

I am really really really REALLY glad its Friday.

Adam has been in  Washington, D.C. since Sunday and he gets home in the middle of the night tonight.

I am absolutely done in the way you can only be done when you both completely physically and mentally fatigued.

Although its much easier to be on my own with the girls now compared to when they were younger, I still don't sleep well when Adam is away. I have fitful nights and crazier than usual dreams.  I got the same number of hours most nights this week but the quality of my sleeps just sucked.  Especially last night. 

I am proud to say I only had one major parenting fail this week: I forgot to help Little A prep for her spelling test today, because Adam usually deals with that stuff. He's been spending a huge amount of time with her every night on her reading lately, and I was focusing on trying to keep up with what he's been doing with her and completely ignored her teacher's email with the list of words the kids needed to study. It wasn't until Wednesday when Adam called and asked about it, did I start working on the words with her.  I hope she does okay today...if not, its entirely my fault!

I was pretty good at keeping on top of everything else, although, admittedly, when the girls asked if they could eat granola bars for breakfast the past 2 mornings (from Adam's stash), I gave in.  Frankly, if they'd asked if they could eat deep fried Mars Bars, I would have said yes.  As I said, I'm DONE.

This weekend will hardly bring relief, unfortunately.  My parents arrive for a visit this afternoon, and I have to work this evening and tomorrow morning. I think there are going to be a few beers happening...

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Lucid Fitness & XBody (EMS) Training: Review

 You know me, I'm a skeptic.  I want evidence of something if I am going to believe in it...especially if something, whatever it is, is claiming to be a quick fix.  So when I was invited to try the XBody Electric Muscle Stimulation (EMS) workout at Lucid Fitness, I was eager to do so, but mostly because I thought I would end up writing about what a scam it is.

 The gym itself is hidden in the basement of a commercial building in Toronto's exclusive Yorkville neighbourhood.  It is run by owner Aman Hasebenebi, who does the XBody training, as well as regular personal training.  She also offers yoga and dance classes in the small space.

While I might be a skeptic, I am also happy to admit when I am wrong and folks, I was so so wrong!  I definitely should have done some homework on exactly what XBody is before going.  Despite the lofty claims that it can give you crazy results with just 20 minutes 2x a week, it is not what I thought at all!

I thought it would be like my Omron Electrotherapy Pain Relief device, which just makes the muscles pulsate. That certainly isn't going to give you results comparable to doing strength training or cardio, that's for sure! I thought I would lie down on a table and basically get what a massage.  I was actually excited to relax. Ha ha ha...

If I had known just what I was in for, I definitely wouldn't have booked my session for a Monday, the day after I do my mega weight training and teach my spin class at the gym.  I am usually sore until Tuesday from the heavy lifting. 

In a 20 minute session, this freakin' machine, and Aman, kicked my ass!

First off, you have to put on the undergarments (no clothes of any kind allowed), which basically are like cotton long underwear.  Then Aman puts the suit on you and secures all the straps, making it feel like a pressure garment, and you get hooked up to the machine with electrodes:

Then the torture starts.  You are definitely not relaxing on a table.  You are standing in front of the monitor:

While thing is VERY STRONGLY stimulating all your major muscles (the intensity can be adjusted depending on your ability and fitness level), you are doing exercises: squats, military presses, bicep curls, standing crunches, planks, push-ups, etc.

It is awesome!  When I left, I already felt it in my biceps, triceps, quads and abs.  In fact, the short bike ride home afterwards was incredibly tough as I felt extremely wobbly. 

Of course, even though I was impressed with the whole thing, I had to check the research to see what the scientists say.  Sure enough, there are indeed legit studies showing that EMS training improves muscle strength and endurance even more efficiently than doing the same exercise without it, for both obese, sedentary individuals, as well as already fit, active folks.

Here is what they say on the XBody Website:

Save time
As all muscles work simultaneously, you’ll spend only just 20-25 minutes with training.
Build muscles
The electrodes are placed directly on the body to each important muscle group; so all the impulses reach their target. It’s easy, and you can’t go wrong.
Improve posture
As there are electrodes built into the training suit along the spinal column, those rarely trained muscles get worked as well. So muscles get stronger which can lead to a better posture and enhance lower back muscles.
Achieve toned body
Since it is an effective strengthening workout, it transforms how the body uses up calories. It is a very effective tool for the shrinking of body part circumferences and fat deposite under the skin.
Relieve joints
The electric impulses work on the muscles directly, there is no pressure on the joints, so they are not over worked – as it is often the case with weight workouts.
Balance out the muscular system
The built in electrodes can stimulate and develop all the muscle groups or just selected ones if desired, so the otherwise ’weaker links’ of the body can be strengthened.   

If you want more visuals of how a session works, check out this article.

Aman has the portable version and offers office place and home training sessions for clients.  You can get packages of sessions for as low as $60/session, which is actually cheap compared to regular personal training sessions.  If I had the money to spend on my fitness, I would so do it 2x a week! But since I am a trainer, have a home gym and a free gym membership, I can't justify it...or afford it even if I didn't have all that.  If you are already spending on personal training on a regular basis, this is a fabulous alternative way to spend that money.

I actually thought about buying a machine for our home until Aman told me the cost (more than many people make in a year!), but she also said its so popular that its already almost paid for itself in less than a year.  Wow! She also said her clients using it range from those who just want to lose weight to very fit people who love the challenge and the fact that the sessions are so short.

I admit it, I was wrong, this kicks ass, its legit and you should definitely try it if you have the chance!!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Fudgy Double Chocolate Brownies

Its February 1st. The first day of what is usually one of the most dreary, yucky months in Canada.  But you know what? Its gorgeous! Yes, you heard me! Its sunny and incredibly mild...and its supposed to be mild all week. I know I should technically find this concerning since it is likely a symptom of global warming...but its hard to feel bad on a day like this.  You can bet I'm going to be out on my bike today soaking it up!!

Unfortunately, even great weather cannot make Monday mornings much easier with the kids.  Big A, in particular is making things tough these days.  She insists on showering in the morning, but the kid cannot get her butt in gear.  Its a constant battle to get her out of bed, then to get her in the shower.  Once in the shower, its fight to get her out.  Then if she doesn't have enough time to sit down and eat breakfast, she starts screaming at me and Little A, like its our fault.  On days like this I have to give myself a pat on the back for just getting us all out of the house in one piece.

It is absolutely essential I have something on hand in the mornings that the girls are excited about eating and, if need be, Big A can eat on the way to school.  Generally chocolate is a must.  This recipe saved me this morning, unfortunately, the girls are going through the brownies so quickly, they aren't going to last long.

I bought a few avocadoes at the market to make guacamole for a party we hosted but come the day of the party, one was still rock hard.  Fast forward a few more days and I realized it was ripe yet had no plans for it.  Well, in my world that always means: a kitchen experiment!

Big A had been begging me to make my black bean brownies so I decided to make brownies, but try a new twist using the avocado. 
I am relieved to say that although my husband still hates avocados, the girls have become fans finally. Yahoo! Of course, they are bigger fans of chocolate, so I was pretty sure these would be a hit...and boy was I right!

These are dense, moist and fudgy.  If you want them less fudgy, you can bake for a bit longer, and/or omit the chocolate chips...but I don't advise it.   You need no excuse to make (and devour) these as they are gluten-free, refined sugar-free, vegan, high fibre, high protein, and full of good fats.  These are simply divine and you really must try them!!

Fudgy Double Chocolate Brownies

1 ripe avocado, skin and pit removed
2 flax eggs (2 tbsp. flax meal + 6 tbsp. hot water)
3/4 cup coconut sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk (plain, vanilla or chocolate)
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup vegan chocolate protein powder (stevia sweetened)
1 cup whole buckwheat flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips + 2 tbsp. (preferably stevia sweetened)

Place avocado flesh, flax eggs, sugar, vanilla and milk in blender or food processor and puree until smooth.  Add cocoa, protein powder, flour, soda and salt and blend until well mixed.  Stir in 1/2 cup chocolate chips by hand.  Spread batter evenly into greased 9x9 square pan.  Sprinkle remaining chips over top.  Bake at 350F for 16 minutes.  Let cool and cut into squares.  Makes 20 brownies.  Keep refrigerated for up to 5 days or freeze.

I have shared this recipe with the Healthy, Happy, Green & Natural Party Blog Hop on Urban Naturale.

Friday, January 29, 2016


Do you have some fantasy, something you love to daydream about, but don't expect, or even want it to really happen? Maybe its about going on a date with a celebrity crush, or doing some extreme sport or activity, selling all your possessions and travelling around the world...

For me its always been having a restaurant or café.  Since I was a little kid, I've loved this idea.  I used to set up a table for 2 in my bedroom, write up menus (usually crackers and water were the options), and then invite my parents for a meal. 

Because of my love of cooking and baking, this fantasy has stayed with me always...especially since there are so few, if any places serving the kind of food I like to make and eat.

Anytime I see an available piece of real estate, I start to imagine my dream café in that space.  Most recently, its been this empty property, which for years, was a very popular restaurant in Toronto (space with boards out front and missing window panes on second floor):

Its on Baldwin Street, now referred to as Baldwin Village, because it is chock-full of great restaurants and cafes.  Although its just a short, quiet street, its located near the University of Toronto, OCAD University, and the Art Gallery of Ontario, so it gets lots of foot traffic.

Although the building is now in desperate need of repairs, its a lovely old building with great bones.

This is what it used to look like:

John's Italian Caffe
Now apparently opening a restaurant or café is extremely risky and I don't have a super high risk tolerance, not to mention that it is all-consuming, and often not easy or even possible when you have young kids at home, so it is not something I would ever seriously consider doing, unless I won a lottery.  But I girl can fantasize anyways.

Here is my current café fantasy:

Its called the "Rainbow Café" where everyone is welcome and focuses on tolerance and inclusion. The tagline would be: "Feed your body, mind and soul."

The top floor of the building would have drop-in fitness classes, wellness classes, mom and baby classes and support-groups.  It could also be rented out by local community groups as a venue for meetings or events.

The bottom would be the café.  It would have a wall of books that customers could read while on-site, a mix of fiction and non-fiction, hand-picked by myself.

There would be a juice and smoothie bar (even though I hate juice and smoothies), since people love them so much, and they are kid-friendly. 

There would be a whole slew of meal and snack options for babies and kids, that are all healthy (no fried food or sugary treats!).

It would be nut-free to accommodate those with allergies, and lots of vegetarian and vegan options. 

The whole menu would be full of delicious, healthy food items, ranging from baked goods, to soups, stir-fries, pastas, sandwiches and salads.  There would be no refined carbs or sugar used in anything (you can get plenty of that elsewhere), only whole grains and alternative sweeteners.

There would be a gourmet coffee bar too, serving organic, locally sourced coffee beans, espresso drinks, etc.

In warmer months, there would be tables with umbrellas set up out front for people to enjoy the outdoors.  It would have a relaxed, friendly vibe where everyone would feel comfortable and welcome.

Sigh! I build on this fantasy any time I drive to work, as I park on a street about 10 minutes away (which has the cheapest parking in the area) and have to walk down Baldwin Street past this space.  In crap weather when I am loathing every second of that walk, dreaming about my café makes the time fly.

I seriously doubt this café will ever fact, I doubt I will ever open a restaurant or café of any kind, but just daydreaming about it brings me pleasure, so that's really enough.

We have a busy weekend ahead, with me working, the girls' many activities, a birthday party and more, so I won't have much time to plan out my café.  But that's okay, my real life is even better.

What's your far-fetched fantasy?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Healing Ways: Book Review

HEALING WAYSIf there's one thing I hate its how some people believe Western Medicine is entirely a money-driven, sinister entity controlled by the pharmaceutical industry and the treatments are all toxic.  While I agree that the pharma industry is pretty evil, and is driven by profits, and this, in turn, often leads to policies and treatments that are not in patients' best interests, there are a whole lot of treatments we have developed that are valuable and life saving.

These same people tend to be the ones that turn to alternative medicine and assume that if something falls under the category of 'natural' (which is basically a meaningless term anyways) or alternative therapy, than it is safe and the practitioners are both credible, altruistic and trustworthy.  Get real folks! There are just as many players in the alternative treatment industry just out to make a buck, and many of the treatments can be extremely dangerous and are not proven to have any efficacy.

Personally, I don't care which category something falls under. What matters to me is: Is there sufficient evidence that the treatment is effective and safe?

So I was thrilled to review Dr. Matilde Parente's book Healing Ways: An Integrative Health Sourcebook, which reviews a broad array of alternative treatments and healing therapies to present readers with an objective overview of what each is, what each is, how much evidence exists about their efficacy, as well as their safety.

She starts by explaining the purpose of the book, which is basically to give readers the tools to navigate the growing world of complementary and alternative medicine in an educated way. She then explains the differences between various health care practitioners and describes their training and scope of practice.

Parente does an excellent job of going through the various treatment modalities and summarizing for what conditions, if any, there is evidence that they are effective.  There is a great table on acupuncture that has columns for conditions where the evidence of its efficacy is either supportive (arthritis, headaches, back pain, etc.), moderate (menstrual cramps, allergies, carpal tunnel syndrome), or low/uncertain (IBS, insomnia, smoking cessation).  Interestingly, the table doesn't even mention infertility and, yet, almost all IVF patients I see do acupuncture in their hopes of increasing their chance of success.  But there really isn't strong evidence it will help you conceive if you do acupuncture during infertility treatment, so its not surprising.

In another section on Mind-Body and Energy therapies, Parente lists to conditions for which meditation can be useful (there are a bunch!) as well as those for which it is unlikely to help (weight-loss, severe psychiatric disorders).

Her findings on homeopathy are consistent with what my own research has found: there is very little evidence that it is effective for treating anything.  The same is true for chelation therapy.

Parente includes a discussion about detox/cleanse treatments and, though acknowledges the dearth of evidence of their necessity or efficacy, manages to provide a fairly objective summary of what they are and what to look for if you do choose to try one.

There is a specific section about cancer and associated treatments and supplements.  This is important because when faced with a deadly illness, people are often desperate to find something that can cure them, and this is when they often turn to alternative medicine.  Parente devotes a whole page to commonly used supplements for cancer care, what they are used for, their safety/side-effects, and the dose found to be effective in the literature.  Again, her findings are similar to my own research.   The supplements she lists include curcumin, glutamine, vitamin D, fish oil, green tea, etc.

An entire chapter is on self-care and prevention, where Parente stresses the importance of living a healthy lifestyle, rather than just looking for cures once chronic pain or illness has set in.  She provides straightforward advice about nutrition, weight-loss, sleep and stress management.  Another chapter addresses myths and misconceptions about integrative and alternative medicine, and several pages list different conditions, and what treatments may be best to try if you are looking for something safe and effective.

Finally, there is a glossary that provides definitions of all sorts of associated terms.

This book is long overdue. Its about time people stopped looking at Western medicine versus Alternative medicine as all good and all bad or vice versa.  Your decision about whether to use a certain treatment modality should not be based on whether it comes from the pharmacy of the health food store, but on whether there is evidence that it is safe and effective.  If you want to be an informed consumer of health services and supplements, I highly recommend this book.

Disclosure: I was sent this book by the publisher, but all the opinions on this blog are my own.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Vegan Light 'Butter Chicken'

Welcome to a new week!  Here in Toronto it's starting off well with relatively mild temperatures. But I know many of you down south are experiencing a one heck of a winter storm right now, so you are probably in the mood for some comfort food.  Indian food is just that.

Indian food is absolutely scrumptious, but it often is very heavy and calorie-dense.  Although full of good-for-you spices and veggies, many dishes are also full of oil, butter and cream.  Probably one of the most popular dishes in North America, Butter Chicken, is usually just that.

We never order it when we get Indian food, not just for that reason, but also because Adam doesn't eat dairy and meat together.  I created this recipe for Adam - so, in fact, I did use chicken as vegan food makes Adam grumpy.  But the sauce is vegan and you can use chickpeas or tofu for your protein instead.

I kept the calories lower by using coconut creamer (this one) instead of cashews, which are often the vegan go-to dairy substitute.  You could also use a good, creamy almond milk though, if you prefer. The chickpea flour adds a richness to the sauce, but its optional.

Traditional Butter Chicken doesn't have veggies in it, but this version has eggplant and green beans, so even if you use meat, like I did, you can use less.  I used 4 small chicken thighs, which were about a half pound, for 4 servings.

I highly recommend preparing the eggplant the day before for best flavour.  The cider vinegar and salt remove all the bitterness.

Vegan Light 'Butter Chicken'

2 eggplants, diced
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 tsp kosher salt

1 tsp coconut oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 chunk fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 tbsp. garam masala
1 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional, if you want some heat)
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
1/4 cup cider vinegar
500 ml container coconut milk creamer (or other non-dairy alternative)
3-4 cups frozen, cut green beans
1 can tomato paste
2 tbsp. chickpea flour (optional)
1+ cups water
Fresh cilantro, chopped

Place diced eggplant in a large dish and cover with vinegar and salt.  Refrigerate overnight.  Drain and rinse, prior to using.

Saute eggplant, onion, garlic, ginger and spices in oil for several minutes.  Add vinegar and creamer and simmer until soft.  Stir in beans, tomato paste and chickpea flour.  If sauce is too thick, add water until it reaches desired consistency.  Simmer for 20 minutes.  Garnish with fresh cilantro, if desired.  Serve over cauliflower rice, basmati rice, quinoa, or on whole grain naan.  Refrigerate for up to 4 days or freeze.

I have shared this recipe with Urban Naturale's Healthy, Happy, Green and Natural Party Blog Hop.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Winter Pick-Me-Ups

Its January. Its cold. Its grey. Its blah.
Now is the time to savour the simple pleasures wherever you can find them.  Here are a few of my favorites:

I know I go on about my Essentrics routines, but they are so therapeutic! I bought the Age-Defying series for my mom, but, of course, she didn't even remove the plastic cover.  When it became clear she was never going to try it, I asked for it back.

Classical Stretch Season 8

I love this one as much as the others! The routines are almost all mixed format, partly standing exercises and then some bar or mat work, although there are a few that are all standing or all mat.  There is a big focus on the slow, Tai Chi inspired moves, which I love. I just find they limber me up so much after my workouts.  Again, these routines are great for overcoming or preventing injuries, and improving posture and mobility.  Just ignore the claims about weight loss or advice never to lift weights because it bulks you up. That's all BS.

For some odd reason, it can be tough to find turkey or chicken sausage in Canada (and you'll almost never find it in a restaurant!) so I was thrilled to find these at Loblaws:

They are very yummy and reasonably priced and contain no nitrites!

These days I tend to indulge in a drink or two on the weekends. I am despising red wine for the past few idea why.  So when I want something, I usually gravitate to a strong hoppy beer, or a dry sparkling wine.  This sparkling wine from Peller Estates is pretty good and inexpensive, so you don't have to save it for a special occasion:

Its also available at the wine store inside the Loblaws hear our extra trip required!

There is nothing better on a cold winter evening than snuggling up to my best friend and husband (they are one in the same, in case you had some weird, perverted idea...), and watching our favorite television shows.  A few new ones we are enjoying this season are:

The Grinder - Funny!
Code Black - Good acting and filled with drama
The Player - Interesting premise

Of course, we are still catching our old favorites like The Good Wife, Criminal Minds, Law & Order SVU, and Blue Bloods.

Although these things are making the winter bearable, I am still hoping that our late start to the cold weather and snow doesn't mean we will have a late spring.  That would suck. A lot. 

Cheers! I hope you have a good weekend...especially you folks in the U.S. dealing with the mega storm!