Friday, October 28, 2016

Load Up Your Cardio

Welcome to Friday! Today its Fitness Friday on the blog. Lets talk about doing weighted cardio.

Though I applaud anyone who makes the effort to exercise regularly, most folks don't do what is necessary to maximize their results. I am not just talking weight loss, but overall fitness too. People tend to focus on one aspect of fitness (cardio or flexibility) and neglect the rest, or they do the same workout over and over.

Our bodies like variety and our bodies need incremental increases in intensity to continue getting benefits (law of progression). Whether you are doing cardio, or strength, you need to continuously change things up and up the level of difficulty.

With strength training you can increase weight, add more sets, etc. With cardio you can increase speed, duration or switch to a more intense activity (i.e. walking to running). You can also add weight to your cardio!

Back in the 80s when STEP aerobics exploded onto the fitness scene, it was done holding 1-2 lb hand weights. But after a short while this practice was discontinued, due to joint injuries. I suspect the issue is it quickly went from a fairly basic/athletic style workout to much more dance-y, choreographed workout with more complicated arm movements.

But the idea of weighting your cardio is great if you are looking for a way to make your cardio more intense.  It takes more energy to move more weight. That's why the more you weigh, the more calories you burn when you exercise.

Now, not every cardio activity can safely be done with weights (i.e. Zumba or anything with fast, swinging arm movements), and weighted cardio is not appropriate for everyone, but if you are fairly fit and have no back/shoulder/joint problems, it can be a great way to boost your workouts.

Some MMA style workouts use weighted gloves. I haven't been able to find weighted gloves so I have started adding wrist weights and it definitely makes these workouts more intense, not only in terms of heart rate and for the arms, but for the core too. Its also a great way to bump up the intensity of HIIT intervals. Like do a standing mountain climber holding 5 lb weights, or do a jumping jack with a leg band around your ankles.

For some workouts, I wear both ankle and wrist weights. But you can also get weighted vests. If you are a runner, I would go for a vest over wrist or ankle weights.

Regardless of your age or current level of fitness, you should always be changing things up as soon as something feels easy. Even just tiny incremental changes add up over time and will ensure you are getting the most bang for your buck from your workouts.

Have a healthy, active weekend folks!

Important Note: Not all activities are safe for everyone. Before starting any new activity, speak with a health professional to make sure it is safe and appropriate for you.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

B-Up Protein Bars

Welcome to Wednesday! You're half way to the weekend!!

Today I'm talking protein bars.

Right now the only protein bars I am smitten with is Quest's Double Chocolate Chunk. Not even any other flavours of  Quest really do it for me.  The problem is, they are really expensive! When I look around though, all similar products are pretty much around the same price.

Recently, however, I found some B-Up bars on sale, and noticed the regular price is a wee bit lower than the Quest bars. I figured I should give them a try, especially since I've heard their birthday cake flavour is good. So I bought 2 boxes.

They are a few grams bigger than the Quest bars but clock in at the same number of calories, and approximately same macros as Quest.

I like the firmness of my Quest flavour of bars, and I LOVE the chocolate chunks. These don't have chunks (none of their flavours do) and they are quite a bit softer. But they are tasty and I will definitely be eating them until they are gone. Will I be replacing my Quest bars? Nope. But neither will I be sampling Quest's 2 latest new flavours: Blueberry Muffin or Rocky Road. I am now pretty confident my bars really are the best.

None of these bars is health food folks, just a less guilt-inducing treat.

By the way, check out this hilarious website where you'll find reviews of tons of protein bars, oddly, along side the most gruesome junk food products. The write ups are hysterical.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Wayfair for the Win

Good morning and welcome to a new week!

Until recently, I was a reno virgin. Having just redone 2 floors of our 3 floor house, I learned a lot!

First of all, here are a few tips to keep in mind if you are planning a renovation yourself (and living through it):

1. Consider time of year - It was frickin' hot and humid while ours were being done, so despite having A/C, we were very uncomfortable. The workmen had the doors open a lot, and we were living on the top floor where the A/C is weakest. On the flip side though, if you do them in the dead of winter, your house may get really cold, and I'm guessing, the work may take longer because of snow, wet and other stuff making it trickier to move big equipment, furniture, appliances, etc. Our workmen did a lot of sawing and drilling in our front and back yards, and that wouldn't have been possible in winter.

2. When thinking about budget, think beyond the actual labour costs, equipment costs, and furniture costs - Since our house is only 18 years old, there were no unfortunate surprises in terms of wiring, plumbing, structural problems, etc. But a huge cost was incurred in terms of our day-to-day expenses. For example:
Food - Adam got a food service, and we were getting a lot of take-out and prepared food for the kids.
Utilities - The men were using our hydro to the max during the most expensive hours (running saws, drills, etc.)
Other - We had to store half our house in our garage and park our car on the street for almost 6 weeks, which meant we had to buy weekly parking passes from the city, which aren't cheap!

3. Protect your valuables/remove from space entirely - While packing up our first floor, I made a point of getting everything valuable and breakable out of the house and to the garage, I had a feeling there would be some collateral damage, and there was. The front door was the biggest one and though the workmen likely won't admit it, I am sure it was damaged by some piece of equipment smacking into the latching system, or simply because they opened and closed the door 5,000 times a day. Both our mezuzahs (front and back door) were broken. The plastic cutlery holder from our dish drainer broke (no biggie, but very inconvenient), a hallway light fixture (the men replaced it for us).

I also learned that when it comes to buying furniture, one of the best places to order from is

I'd saw ads that this company was coming to Canada for months, but paid little attention. I'd never even heard of them before. But when I started shopping around for furniture (online, of course, because I would rather eat toenails then drive around Toronto from one store to another), I kept finding great products and good prices on their site.

The first thing I purchased were 2 of these armchairs for our basement for the kids when they want to watch tv.

They arrived within a week and were dropped in boxes on our porch.  I LOVE that if you're not home, they don't make you go pick them up at some inconvenient warehouse! Of course, you may not love this if you live somewhere where packages get stolen off your porch. They were light enough for me to move inside myself and only the legs needed to be assembled, and I actually opted not to put the legs on.

We also got our television stand and living room rug from them, and love both.

Admittedly, the tv stand required us to get the contractor back to assemble as it was WAY beyond our capabilities (or patience, at least). Our bedding for the spare room in the basement also is from Wayfair, as is the new bedding Big A begged for.

In contrast, our experience with Bouclair was crap. I found a coffee table I loved. Our designer told me to order it along with the matching side table. I attempted to do so but discovered the side table was out of stock. I ordered a similar table set, along with a  floor lamp, but our designer told me the table set was too dark in colour. I called to make the change to my order (5 minutes after placing it) and was on hold for 53 hours. I gave up and called back later, finally getting through. They were good about me changing the order (to just the original coffee table, no side table, and the lamp). Unfortunately, the whole transaction process sent alarm bells to our credit card company which ended up frozen for a day or two. Then we waiting for weeks and the table and lamp never arrived. Finally, I got an email from Bouclair asking for me to call them. They informed me the coffee table is no longer available. Frustrated as heck, I cancelled the whole order.

Going back to Wayfair, I found a very similar coffee table and lamp (I decided I didn't want a side table anyways) for less! I should also add that while every order over $75 from Wayfair gets free shipping, Bouclair told me free shipping didn't apply to my order because it was "oversized". Um, you sell furniture folks! So our order from Bouclair was going to cost $130 to ship. Well guess what Bouclair? FU!

Our coffee table should arrive this week, our lamp in the next 2 weeks. And then, the reno/redecorating will be complete!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Sneaky Blends: Cookbook Review

Happy FriYAY!

I am definitely glad its Friday because Adam has been in Ottawa since Sunday for a work trip. It started with our car getting a flat tire on Monday (which I discovered just as I was pulling out of the garage to get to work),

Tuesday I got mixed up and went to get Little A from her Brownies meeting a half hour early. I walked up the street to window shop to pass the time and the heavens opened up and I got soaked. No stores were even open, and I had neither an umbrella nor a jacket. I got back to pick her up looking like a drowned rat.

Wednesday I woke up to find raccoons tipped over our green bin and made a big mess on our front porch.

Thursday I woke up with another MSI (mysterious sleeping injury). My ring finger on my right hand hurt so much I couldn't move it. It is better today but still hurts. And no, I don't sleep walk, or even thrash around much, so I have no idea how I manage to injure myself so often while sleeping!

I also discovered our dishwasher wasn't draining and the plumber informed me it had been installed all wrong, wasn't up to code and was dangerous. Huh? Geez, nice to know that now more than 3 years later! He re-installed it and almost $400 later its now safe to use but still not draining, so we need to get an appliance guy in to have a look. The best part is, had we gotten a new dishwasher while doing our renos, we probably would have gotten a good deal since we bought a new fridge and stove. Sigh!

Finally its Friday and Adam will be back tonight. Phew! I haven't even mentioned all the times this week the kids had me tearing my hair out. But then that's pretty much normal every day stuff.

If your life also requires a lot of stamina to put out all the fires (and who's doesn't?), then you gotta fuel your body right. No better way than increasing your fruit and veggie intake, something most people are short on.

The idea of adding veggie purees and/or fruit purees to recipes to boost nutrition and lower calories is not new. Jessica Seinfeld has based several cookbooks for kids around it.  Way back in my 20s I started a business, Smart Cookie, making low-fat baked goods using applesauce, pureed bananas and prunes, in place of butter and oil. I've also been doing it for my kids since they were babies and I made all their food from scratch. I always had tons of fruit and veggie purees on hand and would always add them to whatever I made for them, whether it was rice cereal, scrambled eggs or muffins. Nevertheless, its a sound idea. A 2011 research experiment, the results of which were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that replacing higher calorie ingredients with vegetable purees into main meals increased overall vegetable consumption and reduced the calorie intake of subjects without subjects even noticing.

This is the basis of Missy Chase Lapine's new book, Sneaky Blends.

The beginning of the book is ideal for kitchen virgins, as it goes over all the equipment and supplies you need to have on hand for the blends and the recipes. For those completely averse to cooking, I suppose you could always just add in her base blends (if that's how you prefer to eat your produce) to your existing diet as snacks or part of a meal.

Chapter 2 makes me roll my eyes. Its a 3 day cleanse which Lapine claims can help you detox without deprivation and lose up to 6 lbs. Fat chance! You know how I feel about detoxes/cleanes in general, but I suppose 3 days is better than the ones that are like 30 days! Still, I don't advise it. But the whole idea turns me off since it involves nothing but drinking fruit and veggie purees (her base purees) all day (with a little cookie like dessert at night). Eek, barf! Its also low in protein. At least in her shake recipes she add in things like flax, Greek yogurt or protein powder (yay some protein!), and honey or maple syrup to sweeten.

I like that she has 2 pages about the importance of exercising. Bonus mark for that.

Chapter 3 provides tips and instructions for incorporating the base blends into your own recipes to make them healthier and lower-cal. This is an important section as most people want to change their diet as little as possible and will be most interested in keeping their favorite foods in their diet while simply making them in a healthier way.

Chapter 4 has all the base blend recipes. Most of the base purees are pretty simple: fruit and/or veggies and water. The key, of course, is having a really good blender.

Chapter 5 is full of recipes that use the blends.  Lapine's recipes definitely pass my standards. They use whole grain flours, are easily adaptable to be vegan, and limit added sugars or use stevia. There are sections for:

Wake - breakfast
Plate - main courses and light lunches
Nibble - Dips, spreads & portable snacks
Sip - Smoothies & drinks
Indulge - Sweet bites

The end of the book includes a section where you can find all the recipes using a particular base blend to make things easy.

The book includes lots of lovely photography for those who need the visualization.

So do I recommend this book? Yes, its great for anyone wanting to lighten up their favorite recipes, or discover new healthy recipes using a sound nutrition approach that doesn't require cutting out an entire macronutrient or food group. And cooking at home is always, always the best way to go!

Disclosure: I was sent the book to review but all opinions on this blog are my own.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Turkey, Sweet Potato and Cranberry Chili

Happy hump day! I have a festive recipe for you today. Its perfect when looking for an easy, cost-effective way to cook for a crowd.

This is the chili I made for our family Thanksgiving meal and not only was it so much easier to make than a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, but everyone loved it!

I don't know why I lost my taste for the classic meal: roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, etc., but I have, so this was a great alternative, and no one was disappointed. No, the kids didn't join us, we ordered pizza for them...but they wouldn't eat a traditional turkey dinner either!

Of course, this recipe is healthy and delicious and great to make anytime, not just at Thanksgiving. If you love chili, give it a try for something different. This recipe makes a ton, so its perfect for entertaining, but feel free to halve if you want less. I think its worth making the whole recipe though, because leftovers freeze well.

If you are a non-meat eater, replace the turkey with a few more cans of beans, and/or crumbled tempeh.

Turkey, Sweet Potato and Cranberry Chili

2 lb ground turkey
1 onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 red or yellow bell pepper, diced
2 zucchini, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup finely chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
Chopped fresh or dried jalapeno, to taste (optional)
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 cup sprouted beans and lentils (optional, or 1 can lentils)
1 can red kidney beans
1 bag fresh or frozen cranberries (250g)
1 jar passata (strained tomatoes)
2 cooked, peeled and mashed sweet potatoes
1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)

Place large pot over medium heat. Saute meat, veggies and spices in vinegar and adobo sauce until veggies start to soften.  Add beans, cranberries and passata to the pot. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Stir in mashed sweet potatoes and turn heat down to low until read to eat.  Add cilantro just before serving. Keep leftovers refrigerated for up to 4 days or freeze.

I have shared this recipe with Urban Naturale's Plant-Based Pot Luck.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Morning Rituals

Good morning! Its Monday morning. Are you smiling?

Whether you are an early bird or a night owl, I believe your morning routine is really important. What you do, or don't do, upon waking can affect your mood and physical wellness for the entire day.

Coffee, first thing in the morning is how most people start their day, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that, but your A.M. routine should ideally include a lot more than just java.

My day has started with exercise of some sort, first thing, for the past 25 years or so (before that I used to exercise in the afternoon), and I don't see this ever changing. Ever. There are so many reasons to workout first thing in the morning, but that's a whole other post.

Aside from getting my sweat on, my morning routine has changed significantly over the past few years. The reason is certain things just stopped working for me.

First, about 3 or so years ago, it was switching from mostly cardio, to mostly weights. I wasn't enjoying endurance workouts anymore. They just felt like a slog. I asked myself what I did enjoy, and the answer was weights and HIIT type training. It was the best decision ever as I immediately looked forward to my daily workouts again and felt better than ever.

Then, and I think this is related to my change of workout routines, my beloved oatmeal breakfasts stopped being satisfying. No matter how big the bowl, and no matter what else I added to it, I found about 2 hours later I was becoming dangerously hangry (like dangerous for everyone else!). I wasn't ready to give up my oatmeal yet, so I started to eat it less often and experimented with other things here and there.

But then my tummy troubles started. As I posted about a while back, I eventually traced them to flax seed, which I often put in my oatmeal. I finally decided to cut out oatmeal and do more experimenting to see what breakfasts make me feel best. I eventually fell in love with one, even though, I now admit, it wasn't the best for my tummy. Clearly, drawn to oat-y things, I started eating my own version of overnight oats, with chia seeds, yogurt, berries or other fruit, and konjac powder, instead of banana as a thickener.

But then the tummy troubles got worse again. I finally had to admit that chia seeds are problematic too. Ya know, its especially annoying when you discover you can't eat a favorite food, that also happens to be healthy? I guess I will have to get my omega-3s from fish instead.

Anyhow, I know alternate between eating fried egg and cheese sandwiches on whole grain flat bread and grain-free cakes and squares (so no, I don't in any way feel deprived. Kind of privileged actually!) that I bake from beans, like this one. After much trial and error, I have finally found a way to fuel my body in the morning that leaves me feeling satisfied, energized and tummy-trouble free!

Then something else cropped up. After not drinking my usual morning coffee for a lot of the summer (because it was too stinking hot to even be appealing), I reintroduced it once the temperature cooled off. Then I noticed that just after I would start drinking it, I would start feeling nauseous and develop a killer headache. Its not the caffeine, as I am fine with caffeine in any other form, but its the coffee itself. Hmm. This really sucks since its chilly mornings when I really used to enjoy my coffee routine. At first I thought it might be because I was drinking it after eating breakfast, instead of after my workout, like I used to, but drinking it at a different time hasn't helped.

Well, out with it then! This week I have switched to drinking tea, and I am feeling much better. All day long. I have also suspected that coffee wasn't doing much for my tummy either because its so acidic.  I can still have an iced one or frappe later in the day, but right now, I'm loving just drinking water and tea.

If you are not feeling your best, either physically or emotionally, I suggest you start by evaluating your morning routine. Everyone is different and has their own unique needs, but here are a couple of tips:

1. Shake it off. Don't just open one eye when your alarm goes off, think about how cozy your bed is, and hit snooze. Push past the initial inertia and get up. If you automatically shut your alarm off, put it across the room, not beside your bed. Even I feel groggy at first, because if my alarm has woken me, than I was absolutely deep in REM sleep having some weird dream, and if I have waken before my alarm, my ultra low blood pressure has me feeling a bit woozy. But I always get up, because I remind myself that as soon as I start my workout, I wake right up and feel great.

2. MOVE! If you refuse to do an actual workout, or wake up early enough to fit in a sweat session, at least spend 5 minutes after you wake up stretching and maybe doing some basic body weight exercises. Seriously, there is no better pick-me-up than physical activity!

3. Hydrate. Drinking coffee or tea is fine, but maybe start off with a glass of lemon water, or something to get the pipes moving. This is particularly important if, like me, you drink very little in the evenings so you aren't up all night peeing.

4. Nourish with nutrition. Everyone knows your first meal of the day is important. But its not just a matter of eating SOMETHING, its a matter of eating the right thing. Again, its not one size fits all, but most people feel best starting the day off with a meal that provides protein, fibre and a bit of good fat. A croissant and coffee or a bowl of Sugar Puffs gives your body nothing good to work with!

5. Experiment. Just because you try a new healthy habit and it doesn't work for you, do not throw in the towel. Keep trying new things and experiment until you find what works best for you.

6. Make it pleasurable. The morning can set the tone for the whole day, so make sure you fit in the things that you enjoy, whether its drinking your coffee out on the deck, taking an aromatherapy bath, or listening to your favorite music. Mornings are actually the very best time for 'me time'. You are far less likely to be derailed by a distraction or crisis. I get pleasure from my whole routine: exercise, shower, breakfast while reading the paper (a proper paper paper, not online!)...

7. Start the day with gratitude. Whether big or little, there is always a reason to be grateful. Every morning when I open my eyes, I am grateful for a good night's sleep. Sleep is so critical to physical and mental health! I am always grateful for my husband and family, and when I start my workout I remember to give thanks for my health and mobility.

Of course, nothing will make your morning better than getting adequate sleep so if this is not the case for you, you gotta start there!

Enjoy your morning, whatever you are doing and have a great day!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Super Easy Peach Jalapeno Cornbread Muffins

Good morning and Friyay! Give yourself a pat on the back, because you made it through the week.

I have a little recipe for you today that's super easy, even if you are a non-baker.

In order to keep myself from getting stressed preparing for our Thanksgiving dinner, I promised myself I'd keep it simple.

The main was turkey chili, and I decided to make cornbread with it. I did intend to whip some up from scratch but while I was out shopping, I found Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free cornbread mix, and thought, why not make it easy for myself? I can always dress it up, and dress it up I did! These came out fantastic!

Though I used eggs as per the bag instructions, you could swap it out with flax eggs and make these vegan.

These are so yummy, and if you love sweet and spicy flavour combos, you just have to make them!

Super Easy Peach Jalapeno Cornbread Muffins

1 bag Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free cornbread mix
1/2 cup avocado oil (or other oil)
2 eggs or flax eggs
500ml jar of peaches with juice (no sugar added)
2-4 tbsp finely chopped dried or fresh jalapenos (to taste)

Pour peaches and juice in blender or food processor and pulse to chop.

Place cornbread mix in large bowl and add peaches with juice, oil, eggs and jalapeno. Whisk until fully combined and then divide batter between 12 greased muffin cups. Bake at 375F for about 18 minutes. Let cool and remove from pan. Freezes well.

Have a lovely weekend my friends.