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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Flying South

We head off to Florida today, well tonight actually. Our flight is 9pm so I can only imagine how it's going to go with two tired girls, especially if there are delays.

I can't wait for some warm weather (relatively speaking...it's going to be 11 celcius in Orlando today!) and relaxation. All in all, it's been a good holiday season so far. Yesterday I took the girls to my brother's house while Adam taught his spinning class and then after Little A's nap, we decided to conduct an experiment and take them to a movie. We went to see Yogi Bear (don't bother seeing this unless you are going for your kids!) and it was a hit with Big A (no scary parts), who has only been to one movie in the theatre so far (Tangled) and ended up having to leave for 20 minutes because one part was too frightening for her to watch. Little A behaved better than expected, although she didn's stay still for more than 30 seconds at a time. I chased her around the theatre most of the time, but there was another family with a little boy her age and he was doing the same thing, so I didn't feel so bad.

I saw my family doctor on Thursday and she was very skeptical of the podiatrist's assessment. She felt circulation in my feet is good enough and does not warrant a trip to see a vascular surgeon. Her prescription? Retail therapy: a good pair of winter boots. She recommended I get Sorel boots and she should know, she spent a year practicing medicine in the Yukon, and that's what she wore for -50 weather. Looks like we'll be checking out the Boxing Day sales for shoes...

We'll be back just in time for our New Years Party. Have a good week!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Sweet New Year Party Mix

We're hosting our 4th New Years Day party for our family and friends this year. Each year I simplify the menu because we have noticed that people tend to drink more and eat less. The first year we didn't serve alcohol, just cider and tons of food and we had way too many leftovers. Slowly we've upped the beverage selection (this year, mulled cider, wine and hot chocolate) and decreased the food (just black bean dip with fresh crudite, organic tortilla and kettle chips, clementines, chocolate truffles, a selection of nuts and candies, popcorn, cookies and this party mix. Yeah I know, we'll probably still have too much food!

Not only does this taste great, but it makes your house smell fantastic. It is a cinch to make and very kid-friendly (Big A loved making it as much as eating it!).

1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbls pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
6 cup cereal squares (I used President's Choice Organic Wheat Squares)
150g pecans

Melt butter in microwave for about 30 seconds, until melted. Stir in vanilla and the spices. Place cereal and pecans in microwave safe dish (I used a big Corningware). Scrape butter mixture into cereal and nuts and stir well until everything is fairly evenly coated. Microwave until starting to brown, 3-5 minutes, stirring every minute. Spread on wax paper or cookie sheet to cool and then store in an airtight container.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Brussell Sprouts

Yes, I really am devoting a whole post to this humble vegetable. I will admit that, along with mushrooms and raw tomatoes, I did not learn to enjoy this tasty veggie until I was an adult. But if you haven't tried them lately, I urge you to. Not only are they packed with vitamins and minerals, but they pack 6g of protein per cup and provide a complete vegetarian protein when combined with a whole grain! I don't usually like frozen veggies as much as fresh, but frozen baby brussell sprouts are actually quite good, if you prefer their convenience. If you can't handle them plain, it's easy to jazz them up. Here are a few ideas:

- Saute with oil-packed, thinly sliced sundried tomatoes and garlic
- Saute with a drizzle of olive oil, chopped garlic and a splash of pure maple syrup
- Saute with orange juice, orange zest and grated fresh ginger
- Add to a curry, stir-fry or pasta recipe

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cold Feet, Warm Heart

The solution to my foot problems are apparently not so simple. My visit to the podiatrist yesterday was, well, weird. He determined that my feet are sore and swollen, not because of my messed up biomechanics due to my twisted pelvis, but because I have poor circulation in my extremities. While I have known about my poor circulation for a while (any exposure to heat or cold and my hands and feet turn bright red), I never considered this. Apparently, my feet are completely intolerant of the cold and I am almost having an allergic reaction to it. Huh? What? Since when?

"So what's the solution?" I asked him. "Move to Florida or alternatively stop walking outside during the winter" was what he told me. Yeah right! Maybe a few days in Florida next week will help but no chance we're moving anywhere any time soon. So he wants me to see (1) A dermatologist (he thinks I have developed eczema from the cold), and (2) a vascular surgeon! Oh boy!

And what about my wicked blisters? He basically told me that's the price I pay for doing such frequent, intense workouts. Really? The feet of Olympians and professional athletes must look like chopped meat then!

Looks like I have to see my family doc to get a referral to a vascular surgeon...and while I'm there, perhaps she can check out my pinky finger, you know, the one I slammed in the car door? It doesn't hurt much anymore but the joint is still a bit purple and is twice the size of the one on my other pinky. Yes, yes, I know, I should have had it looked at weeks ago. But since it doesn't affect my functioning I don't really care that much. My feet are a far more important comodity to me.

I have been wearing my glasses all week to give my eyes a break from my contact lenses. Man, I don't know how people wear specs full-time! When I workout they fog up, and when I'm walking outside, they get so dirty I have to take them off and clean them every few minutes. I hate it! Between my feet, my eyes and everything else, I swear the world is conspiring against me. I am fighting my fate of being an overweight, sedentary, glasses wearing nerd. Okay, maybe I'm already a nerd.

I had my big meeting at Mount Sinai with the head of the ethics board yesterday. Thankfully, it looks like the research project WILL happen. The board just wanted to clarify a few things and have us make some changes to the protocol. So here is what the project will look like. Dr. M and I will make sure that our list of miscarriage support resources is distributed throughout the hospital so that all women who experience an early stage miscarriage receive it. On the sheet it will tell the women that, unless they call us to refuse, we will be calling them in a few weeks to see if they have used any of the resources and whether or not they found them helpful. A month after their loss, I will call them and do a short survey. At that point, I will ask their permission to follow-up 6 months later to see at that point if they have used any of the support resources. The bad news is there is absolutely no counselling component to the project - they reminded me that because I am not done school yet, I am NOT QUALIFIED to do counselling, and reminded Dr. M., that even if they allowed me to do counselling, there are too many legal concerns to make it feasible. SO, it's nothing more than a needs assessment of miscarriage support resources. I guess this may still be useful to my future career if it increases my credibility as an expert in the area and gets my name circulated to the ob/gyns at Mount Sinai. Looks like January will be busy while I make all the amendments to our proposal, questionnaires and the consent form.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Countdown to 2011

Believe it or not we are almost at the end of 2010. This is always the time when I like to take stock of things. How far have I come since 2009? What did this year bring? What do I think/hope/wish next year will bring?

I feel that 2010 was definitely better than 2009 which involved me working at a job I despised and uncomfortably pregnant with Little A until April when Little A was born and then I was pretty miserable for the rest of the year, suffering from postpartum anxiety and depression. The beginning of 2010 things improved significantly when I began school and they improved even more in May when my mat leave ended and Little A moved from being a baby to a toddler (whenever Adam and I see anyone with a small baby now, we feel like high-fiving each other just knowing we will never have to go through that first year again!) and I finally felt like I got some semblance of a life back.

Of course, 2010 has not been without its ups and downs. The biggest ones have been trying to manage parenthood and establish more functional parenting practices, particularly with Big A, along with trying not to get discouraged about my career situation. But on both these fronts, I'm feeling pretty optimistic right now. Things with Big A have definitely improved and my career seems to be moving forward in small, baby steps. [As an aside, the Chair of the Mt Sinai ethics board has requested a personal meeting with myself and Dr. M to discuss our research proposal. We are both puzzled by this request, which we find rather disconcerting, but are meeting with him tomorrow to find out what the issue is. Hopefully this meeting will at least determine whether or not our project is going to go ahead]. Still no word from anybody on whether I have a place to do my practicum, but at least I have contacted all the big players and it is under consideration.

I'm feeling pretty good about my lifestyle, so no resolutions in this area. My cardio has improved because of my regular use of my heart rate monitor and I'm doing some pretty tough workouts 4 days a week, and my strength is slowly improving, although I haven't made any more progress with my chin-ups. I am diligently doing all my core exercises to assist with rehabilitation of my pelvis and hamstring and things have definitely improved. I still have bad days, but even then, the pain isn't nearly as bad as it was prior to starting physiotherapy and my therapist is confident that we will soon be able to go down from weekly to biweekly sessions.

Since the "cleanse" I have been more conscious/careful about sodium and I have tried to get my protein from fish, eggs and beans more often and from meat and processed soy products less often (but I still love my veggie sausages!!) so I am comfortable with the state of my diet for the time being.

But I do have a few outstanding, albeit minor, health issues that I want dealt with in 2011. The first is with my feet. I thought that improving my biomechanics by fixing my pelvis would help improve the weight imbalances I have in my feet, but this has not been the case. I continue to be plagued with serious, recurrent blisters and sore, swollen toes from the problems with my gait. Not even double-socking, band aids, moleskin or vaseline helps very much. So tomorrow I have an appointment with the podiatrist that I saw when my foot problems developed during my pregnancy with Little A. I am really hoping he can help me because despite the discomfort, giving up physical activity IS NOT AN OPTION!

The other health issue I want addressed has to do with my eyes. In the past year, I have had 5 eye infections! I am particularly prone because I have very dry eyes...so dry it affects my vision...and because I wear soft, disposable contact lenses. I refuse to go back to wearing glasses because I look stupid in them but the situation is getting bad. I have actually booked laser surgery for myself twice...and then chickened out at the last minute both times. So finally, I've decided to see my eye doctor, whom I have not seen in well over a year, and get her take on things. If she thinks the surgery is a good idea, I think I will do it...at least I think I will.

So all things considered, I feel like life is moving in the right direction and while 2011 is bound to have some challenges, there are also bound to be some exciting developments. I don't routinely make resolutions, but I do have a few this year:

1. Resolve my foot/eye problems if possible

2. Stay positive about my career

3. Hug and kiss Big A more

I know the third one sounds strange but hear me out. I read over a lot of my blog entries from the past year and was reminded of all the times when physical affection diffused her tantrums or moodiness. Also, lately she seems to really be craving physical affection. The reality is, because we carry Little A around, we naturally give her more hugs and kisses because we are holding her in our arms. And Big A has noticed this. She is ALWAYS asking me if she can have a hug or kiss, but most of the time it's when I'm rushing by her trying to: (1) throw in laundry, (2) get the girls' breakfast ready, (3) make dinner, etc. So I am often telling her, "In a minute..." but then that minute never comes. If Adam throws Little A in the air, she wants to be thrown in the air. If I pull Little A on my lap to dry her off in her towel after the bath, Big A wants me to do the same thing with her. At first Adam and I were getting very frustrated with this, feeling like she just wants to be treated like a baby as older siblings often do when the younger one is getting more attention. But I have realized that whether or not this is the case, no one, in my opinion, can ever give their children too many hugs and kisses. So I am vowing to try and put down the laundry basket and give Big A all the hugs and kisses she wants in 2011.

What are your resolutions for 2011?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Popeye Scramble

All the nutrition and health experts recommend that you fill up on healthy, satisfying food before heading to that holiday party or meal to avoid over-indulging. This will certainly do the trick! It is a generous portion of food, very filling and will keep you going for a while...all for just:

450 calories, 6g of fat, 50g protein, 49g carbs and 8g fibre

Warning: Don't attempt to eat this like a sandwich, it is way too much food, it's a knife and fork meal!

300g package frozen, chopped spinach, thawed
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 tbls of your favorite salsa
1 cup egg whites/Egg Beaters/Egg Creations, etc.
Jalapeno flakes, to taste (optional)
Cracked black pepper, to taste
23g cheese (1 cheese string), chopped into small pieces
1 whole grain flat bun (like D'Italiano Thintini), toasted

Place spinach in non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Once spinach starts sizzling, add garlic and stir until garlic starts to get fragrant. Add salsa and stir and then pour in eggs. Season to taste with peppers. Once egg starts to cook, sprinkle cheese over top and gently stir mixture until eggs are done. Spoon mixture over the 2 halves of the flat bun (there will be so much, you'll really have to mound it on) and enjoy!

This makes a very filling and healthy meal ideal for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Berry Healthy Sauce

I thought I would follow up the fudge recipe with a few healthier ones. This is easy, delish, and makes a great topping for oatmeal, pancakes/waffles/French toast, yogurt, ice cream, angel food cake or anything else you can come up with. We are having dinner tomorrow at the home of one of Adam's colleagues and I we are bringing dessert, so I am serving this with a home made banana bread. The girls are still working their way through all the Hannukah gelt they got and I am sure when we go to Florida there will be treats galore, so I thought I'd stick with healthy for this occasion.

3 lbs fresh or frozen berries (I used a mix of strawberries, blueberries and blackberries)
2 navel oranges
2 tbls corn starch

Place berries in a large pot over medium heat and stir frequently. Zest oranges and add zest to pot. While berries are getting hot, juice the oranges. Add corn starch to orange juice and stir until corn starch is dissolved. Once berries are sizzling and hot, add orange juice mixture. Bring everything to a boil and then turn heat to low and cook another few minutes until thickened. Serve warm or cold.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Easy Peanut Butter and Jelly Fudge

I thought it appropriate to follow up a post on calories with a nice indulgent recipe. Ha ha! I made this last Christmas because, for some reason, I had been really craving PB fudge. It is so easy and delicious, it was almost worth the bellyache I had from eating too much of it. Should of followed my own advice and eaten more veggies...

500g pure white chocolate chips
1/2 heaping cup creamy peanut butter (not natural)
1/4 cup jelly (I used Crofters Organic Superfruit, but any will do)

Melt choc chips in microwave or over double boiler, just until melted. Stir in peanut butter until smooth. Pour into parchment or wax paper lined 9x9 pan. Drop dollops of jelly over peanut butter mixture and use a knife to swirl it together. Refrigerate until set, about 3 hours.

Calories

What better time of year to discuss calories? Every magazine and newspaper I have read recently has at least one article on "how to avoid holiday weight gain". But what inspired me to write about this was an interview in the newspaper about a book that just came out by Tim Ferriss called, The Four Hour Body. This guy makes a lot of radical claims, some of which there is truth behind, others I think which are misleading or just plain wrong. In the interview, he states that "the type of calories you consume is more important than the number". This is false. The type of calories IS absolutely important but ultimately it is the number that counts. Why? It is actually quite simple.

You cannot fight biology. The biggest obstacle to weight loss is hunger. We are biologically driven to eat when we are hungry. Most diets fail because people cannot live in a perpetual state of hunger and deprivation and, thus, either start binging/cheating on the diet or return to previous eating patterns (Mr. Ferriss, by the way, recommends a weekly binge, which I don't agree with...nor do most diet/nutrition researchers!). Low calorie diets can actually decrease your metabolism so that every time you do the yo-yo diet cycle, you set yourself up to gain more weight. In order to achieve or maintain a healthy weight, you have to find a lifestyle (nutritional intake and exercise) that you can maintain your WHOLE LIFE.

It is a scientific fact that if you are eating 2000 calories a day and decrease that to 1500, lets say, without changing any other variable, you will most likely lose weight. Those 1500 calories can come from ANYTHING. It doesn't matter if it is Cinnabon classic buns or carrots.

But here is why what you eat DOES matter. Your hunger is primarily controlled by the VOLUME of food you eat (check out the research by Barbara Rolls). When you chose high calorie foods when trying to limit calories, you simply have to eat a much smaller volume of food. For example, 1500 calories of Cinnabon is 1 and 4/5 buns. Could you live on that for an entire day? Personally, I could not. I'd be starving. Not only is the volume small, this food contains mostly trans fat, refined flour and sugar and little fibre so you will likely get a sugar high and then a sugar low, which means it will not keep your appetite in check for very long. If you were able to ignore your lethargy and hunger pangs and live on this diet, than, yes, you would lose weight. Of course you would be extremely deficient in most nutrients...

In contrast, if you were to eat 1500 calories of carrots, you could eat 50 large carrots. That is a large quantity of food, considering 1 lb of carrots is about 6 large carrots! Now, you would still be deficient in various nutrients, but you would not be as hungry as you would be if you ate less than 2 Cinnabons a day. This is an extreme example, but you get my point!

Of course, certain nutrients are more satiating than others. Protein is more satisfying than carbs, which is why people can often stick to low carb diets for longer. And fibre keeps you feeling full longer too. On the other hand, liquid calories do not contribute to feelings of fullness. Most people should drink plain old water as their primary beverage.

You need a balance of protein, fat and carbs to be healthy and exactly what ratio is best, may be a personal matter. Obviously a diet of only vegetables, even if you can eat as much as you want, is not ideal. But the point is, that your diet should be heaviest in foods with a low calorie density (fruits and veggies), followed by medium calorie-dense foods (whole grains and lean proteins) with small amounts of high calorie foods (healthy fats and sugars). Not only will you never have to go hungry, but you will also be doing your long-term health a favour, since many low-cal foods are also packed with nutrients.

There ARE other factors that do affect your metabolism and appetite and should not be overlooked. Sleep is proving to play a key role in weight control and body composition (ratio of fat to lean mass) is important too. The timing of when you eat is also important...but don't believe anyone who says you shouldn't eat anything after 7pm, that's a load of malarky. If you skip breakfast, however, you are less likely to be able to keep your appetite in check for the rest of the day and going for too long without eating can slow down your metabolism.

So what does this mean for the holiday season? Skip the egg nog and cocktails and fill up your plate with fruits and veggies and small quantities of your high-cal holiday favorites. Try to get enough sleep, eat breakfast and regular, healthy snacks between meals, and pump some iron (to build and maintain lean mass). Pretty simple.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Jewish Christmas

It always feels strange to be Jewish this time of year. Living in a predominantly Christian culture, the entire month of December feels like there is a big party going on that we are not invited to.

I love and hate the holiday season.

I love: tasteful Christmas decorations, Christmas trees, fruitcake (yes, I love it...especially with marzipan icing!), the parties and the time off from work/school, etc.

I hate: tacky Christmas decorations (why oh why do the people down the street have a life sized inflatable Santa??), the excessive consumerism, the boredom.

Yes, I said boredom. Because while all you Christmas celebrators are so "BUSY" with whatever it is you are busy with...shopping, baking cookies, cooking, partying, etc., us Jews have very little to do. Hannukah, after all is a minor Jewish holiday that lasts 8 days (compared to the Christmas holiday season which is really the entire month of December) and really doesn't involve heavy gift giving and most of us can't be bothered to make the labour intensive latkas or sufganiyot (jelly donuts) and buy them instead (I personally can't stand fried food so I would never make them anyways). Add the fact that so many businesses and services shut down, and there isn't a lot of ways for us to fill the time. That's why most Jews who have the chance in North America, head somewhere south for a getaway, but that hasn't been an option to us most years for financial reasons or the constraints of having very young children. I have never really understood why Christmas celebrators always complain so much about everything they have to do. I love being busy, I love shopping, baking, cooking and parties. What is really so bad?

I was lucky enough as a kid to have several friends include me in their Christmas celebrations. Two of them even had me overnight on Christmas Eve and their thoughtful, generous parents filled a stocking for me. I loved it. But even then, I felt like an outsider. There are some Jews who succomb to pressure from their children and put up a Christmas tree or participate in other Christmas traditions, but my parents did not, and that doesn't feel right to me. I'm Jewish. I don't celebrate Christmas and that's that.

But there is so much pressure to embrace Christmas, especially when it's all about presents and candy for kids. Big A doesn't believe me when I tell her Santa doesn't really exist. She says, "But mommy, I've seen him at the mall!" And she already feels excluded. After Easter last year, when all the other kids were getting baskets of chocolate, she stated, "Mommy, when I grow up, I don't want to be Jewish!" Fortunately, Hebrew school (and tons and tons of chocolate Hannukah gelt) have given her a more favourable perspective on Judaism.

Toronto Jewish Christmas day, for those stuck in the city, generally consists of Chinese food and a movie, which is fine with me, and Adam and I did just this before we had kids. But our kids are still too young for a feature film and going out to restaurants with them cannot be a long, drawn out, leisurely affair, so this is not an option for us right now either.

Last year was the pits. Little A came down with a severe ear infection on Christmas day and simply screamed and howled (she was only 8 months old) and we had to cancel going to my brother's house, which made Big A very upset. Aside from taking the girls to a pub (the only place open near us) for lunch, we were pretty much house bound and climbing the walls. I ate too much fudge I made and got a tummyache.

This year Adam actually has to teach a spin class at the JCC (I love that there is a gym open on December 25th!) on Christmas morning and then we are heading to my brother's (assuming EVERYONE is healthy). On the 26th, we fly down to Florida for a few days with Adam's family. His family goes every year. If it's feasible, I have realized that we should really get out of here every year. I can't wait for the sun, the time with family and a break from it all.

But I would like to establish "Winter holiday" traditions of our own once the girls are old enough. I'm thinking something charitable - volunteering at a food bank, etc., as well as something physical (sledding, skating, cross country skiing, etc.) so that my girls feel busy, included and always have something special to look forward to. Then again, maybe going to Florida every year is enough.

Tough as Nails

I did it. I biked to and from my physio (that's an hour of cycling) and it was reportedly closer to -12 celcius here yesterday. I wasn't even cold because of all my clothing...the biggest challenge was the fact that the gears on my bike were frozen so all the uphill work (almost the entire route is uphill on the way there!) was quite the workout because I couldn't lighten the resistance on the wheels. Will I do it again for physio next week if it's this cold? No way in hell! I'm done school on Sunday so next week I can take all the time I need to get there :)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Wimpy or Wise?

If you don't complain about the weather at least once a week, I believe your Canadian citizenship can be revoked. Okay, I'm kidding, but complaining about weather is a national past time along with watching hockey and drinking double doubles from Tim Hortons.

Unlike most sane folks in this fair country, however, I have always hated the heat of summer more than the winter cold. But I have noticed that my tolerance of the cold has declined in recent years. It started when I was pregnant with Little A. Usually pregnancy makes women warmer...not me! That winter, which admittedly was a very bad winter, I just couldn't shake the chill. Several times in March of that year, when I was 9 months pregnant and it was still bitterly cold, I even called in sick to work because I just couldn't take it anymore.

This year I'm struggling again and I'm wondering what has happened to me. All through grad school, I would ride my bike ALL winter long, yes, you heard me...neither rain, nor sleet, nor hail, nor a massive snow storm would stop me. Nutty I know. Now fast forward to last week. Monday was chilly and there was some snow on the ground and even though the streets were clear, I could not bring myself to bike to physio. So I paid $8 to park for an hour and undid all the good the physiotherapist had done by driving home from my appointment (sitting in the car aggravates my hamstring more than anything else). I ended up regretting my choice. Today it is -8 celcius (18 fahrenheit) and while it is colder and there is a bit more snow than last week, the streets are clear. I have been wrestling with how to get to physio all morning. When I got back from dropping off the girls, my nose and toes were numb. Cosy slippers, hot porridge and tea have made me feel better, however, the idea of biking for 30 minutes each way in this is daunting. But Adam has the car today and if I take public transport (either 2 subways and a bus or 2 bus rides, depending on which route I take), it will take me forever to get there and back, I'll have less time to get school work done AND I will be super late for Little A's holiday concert/party at daycare. At this point I think I've convinced myself to ride my bike wearing: waterproof pants over my jeans, warmer winter boots than I had on this morning, an extra fleece vest layer under my winterjacket and my full face mask on my head. Yes, I know, I won't be a pretty site, but this is not a time to worry about appearances. I just want to get there and back in one piece without frostbite on any of my extremities. Okay, let's see if I still have it in me...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Turkey Sausage, Fennel, Rapini and Portobello Pasta Toss

Italian sausage is usually seasoned with fennel seed, which makes it a great match with fresh fennel. I love the sweetness of the fennel and tomato sauce contrasting with the earthiness of the mushrooms and the bitterness of the rapini. There is so much vegetable matter in this dish that it is super healthy. It makes about 4 hearty servings that are more veg than pasta, which is really the healthiest way to eat pasta. One serving is 1/2 a cup...have you ever seen a 1/2 cup of pasta? I could eat it in one bite! Bulking up your pasta with veggies makes it go a lot further and makes for a lighter, but more satisfying dish. Just leave out the sausage or substitute chick peas to make this vegetarian.

1 lb short whole grain pasta (penne, rotini, etc.), cook according to package directions
1 lb hot (or sweet) Italian turkey sausage, sliced, or removed from casing
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp fennel seed (optional)
Hot chili flakes, to taste (optional)
1 bulb fennel, cored and thinly sliced
1 bunch rapini, stem ends trimmed and roughly chopped
4 portobello mushrooms, thinly sliced
750ml jar tomato sauce (I like PC Blue Menu - it has no added sugar or fat, but use whatever you like), or 3 cups homemade tomato sauce

Place sliced sausage in large skillet over medium heat (or squeeze sausage meat out of casings into skillet) and cook until almost fully cooked. Add garlic, oregano, fennel seed, chili flakes and sliced fennel and continue cooking until fennel is starting to soften. Add bigger stem pieces of rapini (setting aside delicate leaves and florets) and mushrooms and cook until tender. Pour in tomato sauce and turn heat down to low. Add the rest of the rapini, simmering gently until rapini leaves have wilted.

Toss veggies and sauce with cooked pasta and have lots of fresh parmesan and black pepper for serving.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Winter Survival Guide

Even with snow on the ground and frosty temps, I prefer this time of year to summer. When it is 30 celcius and 100% humidity there is little you can do to make the climate feel more pleasant in my opinion. In contrast, there are lots of things you can do to make the winter months more bearable.

Warm up from the inside out
Don't underestimate what a big difference your food and drink choices can make. Try eating "season" appropriate foods (i.e. all things warm and hot!!) and you will instantly feel better.

If you usually have cold cereal for breakfast, try switching to hot cereal. If you don't like oatmeal/cream of wheat, etc. try quinoa or brown rice cooked with almond milk, cinnamon, nuts and dried fruit or even take your cold cereal with milk and heat it up in the microwave for a few minutes.

If you usually have a salad for lunch, take those veggies and turn them into a steaming bowl of vegetable soup. You will still have a nutritious meal, but one that will be warm and comforting, which is what you need on cold winter days.

If your afternoon snack is an apple or pear, try cutting it up and baking in the oven or microwave with a little cinnamon. Or swap your carrot sticks for root veggie fries: cut carrots, parsnips, turnips and/or celeriac into thin strips, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on a non-stick baking sheet and roast in the oven at 400 for 20 minutes or until tender.

Trade your coffee for tea. Water for making tea is boiled so tea is served at a hotter temp than coffee and is more soul-warming. Nowadays there are a zillion types from plain or flavoured black teas, to white teas to green tea varieties. And there must be a trillion herbal teas available these days. For a treat, there is also hot chocolate or scalded milk with a touch of honey and cinnamon.

Stay Moist
Adam and I both get dry, cracked skin in the winter, particularly on our finger tips. I've tried expensive creams, oils, lotions and potions and honestly, good 'ol Vasaline works best to soothe dry, chapped or cracked skin. I keep a tube in my purse at all times.

Dress Appropriately
This may seem obvious, but too often we get caught up in trying to be fashionable at the expense of being sensible. Winter is a lot more tolerable if you wear the right things and these days you can be both warm and stylish. I just got the cutest black faux fur hat and mittens at H&M! Be especially careful to cover your feet, hands and head properly and the cold won't seem quite as nasty.

Early to Bed Early to Rise
In northern climates there is limited sunshine this time of year which can negatively affect your mood. Try waking up early and getting outside first thing when the sun is most likely to be visible and/or get outside for a walk on your lunch hour when the sun is shining since it is often dark as night by the time the workday is over and you are heading home.

Keep Moving
If you don't like exercising outdoors, stay active through the winter by taking it indoors. Not a gym-lover? No problem, try working out at home with fitness DVDs or try something new like indoor rock climbing, martial arts or ballroom dancing.

Smile everybody, just about 4 more months of winter until spring. Ha Ha!

"Crab" Stirfry with Soy Miso Ginger Sauce

Since Adam doesn't eat shellfish, using imitation crab (the stuff they use in sushi) is the closest I can get when cooking for the two of us. I admit that I actually really like this stuff, even if it isn't necessarily the healthiest choice. Nevertheless, it helps make a really quick and easy meal. To make the meal even easier, use a 750g bag of frozen Japanese style veggies (frozen veggies are actually very nutritious, although they generally don't taste as good as fresh). You can substitute real crab or other shellfish in this recipe or use tofu or edamame to make it vegetarian. Both miso and soy sauce have a lot of sodium so do not add any additional salt.

1 lb imitation crab meat - chunk not stick variety (or shellfish, tofu or edamame)
1 head broccoli, chopped into medium size florets
2 small carrots, thinly sliced
1 red pepper, thinly sliced
2 dozen mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced

Sauce
1/4 cup minced fresh ginger (you can use less, but I like it really ginger-y)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 heaping tbls miso paste
2 tbls low sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 tsp Japanese chili pepper blend (optional)
Hot chili flakes, to taste (optional)

Whisk together ingredients for the sauce in a small bowl and set aside. If you don't like your broccoli too crunchy, steam it or microwave it for a few minutes and set aside. Heat 1 tsp of oil in wok and add broccoli, cooking for about 3-4 minutes. Next, add carrot and pepper and cook another 2-3 minutes. Add mushrooms and green onions, followed by the "crab" meat or other protein choice*). Once mushrooms are softened and all ingredients are hot, pour in sauce (do not let the sauce boil), remove from heat and serve over brown rice.

*Note: If adding real raw shellfish at this point, make sure that it is cooked through before you serve. Imitation crab is already cooked.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

8 Crazy Nights

Tomorrow is the last night of Hannukah and I am actually relieved. This holiday has brought an endless amount of parties, which has meant an endless amount of chocolate coins, jelly donuts and cookies that my girls have been eating. If you had told me a few years ago how much crap my kids would be eating at this point, I would have told you that I would never let that happen. Ha! Now I'd probably feed them a KFC Double Down myself if it meant 5 minutes of peace and quiet! Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating just a bit. But it was slightly disturbing to see Little A crawling under chairs at the JCC Hannukah party on Sunday, collecting the chocolate coins that people had dropped on the floor and even more disturbing that she and Big A ended up eating nothing much besides chocolate, marshmellows and a few bites of latka for their lunch that day. Tonight Adam is taking them to the final Hannukah blow out at his grandparents shul tonight so at least I get some extra time to myself to get some school work done.

Speaking of school, it's going extremely well. I am enjoying my group therapy course and am working very well with my project partner. We seem equally responsible and committed to getting a good grade. I have to say though, I'm actually frustrated by the fact that I'm doing so well in my program (in my last course I actually got 100%...yes, 100% in the whole course! Why am I frustrated? Because it doesn't matter! I need this degree to start a practice, not to get entrance into any further academic programs (yes, this really is IT for my schooling). It's not like my future clients will care how many 'A's I have on my transcript and employers in the counselling field will care far more about my experience than my grades...and I still have no #@$* experience!

The great news is that I FINALLY heard back from J.S. at Women's College Hospital. She confirmed that she is fine with me starting my practicum with her in May. The not so great news is that after reassuring me in our initial meeting that her employers give her the latitude to do whatever she wants, she said she has to meet with her supervisor next week and get permission to take me on. Of course, I should have seen that coming.

The girls are doing really well right now and I am enjoying them more than ever. I think we are finally, FINALLY over the worst of the tantrums/defiance with Big A. Mornings are so much better now! This morning when Little A slept so late we had to wake her at 8am (if only Big A would sleep this much, Adam and I might be able to sleep in ourselves once in a while!) and I discovered just as we were heading out that the stroller had a flat tire, Big A was wonderful about getting ready quickly and walking briskly, without complaint so she wouldn't be late for school. She is also developing a very quick wit. Her nickname at school is "Goldilocks" because of her blonde curls. So at swimming on Sunday morning when we were going from the changeroom to the pool she said, "Mommy I'm cold...I'm Coldilocks!" I thought that was very clever.

Little A is still a mischievous little monkey but she is also seriously adorable. She now sings the alphabet song, although she can only really pronounce a few of the letters properly, and she sings the birthday song, "Happy to you...happy to you!" every night when we light the candles on the Menorah and later in her crib to herself at bedtime. She still calls me "Mommy Poo Poo" and gets a big kick out of saying something naughty. Oh my girls!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Dumb and Dumber

I am really eating crow today! I am a complete idiot. As usual.

First, the daycare was right. Something WAS wrong with Little A. When I finally got her in to see a doctor this weekend, he confirmed that she had an ear infection. What??? She really and truly was not acting like it, at least not at home. In the past, when she has had one, she has been hysterical and very obviously in pain. Aside from the daycare's reports of an intermittant fever, she was acting just fine at home. None of the usual signs (constant fever, hysteria, misery, etc.). She's now on antibiotics and doing fine. I don't know how many times the girls have had an ear infection and I tell myself that the next time I will recognize the problem sooner. I now vow that anytime either of them has any trace of a fever, I'm taking them to the doctor immediately to RULE OUT an ear infection. Poor, poor Little A and bad, bad mommy. Or, as she is still calling me, "Mommy Poo Poo".

Second, I finally heard back from Dr M. at Mt Sinai. Oh boy. She apologized for the delay with our proposal, but explained that it took her several uninterrupted hours to make all the necessary changes to our consent form. Huh? I thought I had addressed almost ALL of the consent form changes and had only left her with a very small amount of work (making decisions about medical stuff that I could not do myself). What did I miss? I'm really puzzled as I was, or I thought I was, very diligent about making all the corrections. I feel HORRIBLE and STUPID. In any case, the good news is the research project looks like it's a go, as long as the ethics board now approves our proposal. I profusely apologized to her for overlooking some of the required changes (I'm wondering if I sent her the wrong file, because I really, truly spent hours on the corrections!) and promised that I would shoulder the responsibility for any future tasks.

My head must be full on sand or something. Time to clean my ears out.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Pina Colada Muffins

Big A is refusing her naps again so we told her as long as there are no meltdowns, she is welcome to skip it. So far this weekend, she's handled herself pretty well, although she did snooze a bit in the car on the way to Ikea yesterday. Today she insisted we bake together while Little A was taking her nap solo, so I came up with this recipe and it turned out soooo good.

4 ripe bananas, mashed
2 eggs or 4 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar or Splenda
19 oz can crushed pineapple, with juice
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tbls coconut extract or 2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup finely shredded, unsweetened coconut
1 cup light coconut milk
2.5 cups whole wheat flour
1.5 cups natural bran
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt

Whisk together wet ingredients and coconut in medium bowl. Stir together dry ingredients in large bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour wet ingredients into dry and mix just until combined. Spoon into greased muffin tins (makes about 12 large or 18 medium muffins)and bake at 375 for about 16-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool and remove from baking pan.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Mommy Poo Poo

Oh my girls! They drive me nuts but I love them so. They are such characters. Little A is still refusing to use many words with us. She prefers to point, babble and then scream hysterically when we cannot figure out what she wants. I had a long talk with one of her daycare teachers this morning who assured me that she is using a lot of words there, most of which we have never heard from her before. She did admit, however, that Little A usually just cries first, until they force her to use words to ask for what she wants. She suspects that we given too quickly to her crying instead of encouraging her to verbalize. Of course, yesterday when Big A started calling me Mommy Poo Poo on the way to school, Little A picked this up immediately and they were both yelling "Mommy Poo Poo" and laughing hysterically all the way.

Little A is also still being difficult about her teeth. When we get out the toothbrush, she starts yelling, "No teeth, no teeth!" and it takes Adam holding her head staight and restraining both her hands while I shove the toothbrush in to get her teeth brushed. This means that it is physically impossible for me to brush her teeth in the morning when I am by myself. I end up brushing her lips while she howls and squirms, even if I've restrained her in the stroller.

Big A made us absolutely crazy on Wednesday night, the first night of Hannukah. Her best friend G., was over for dinner. Adam took Little A out for a bit to give the big girls some time to play without interference. After they finished their banana pancakes and carrots and dip (the meal Big A requested), Big A wanted some Hannukah gelt (chocolate coins) for dessert. Both she and Little A had gotten a bag of chocolate coins from the Hannukah party they went to last weekend. I acquiesced but when I handed her a coin, she proceded to break off a tiny crumb for G. I explained to her that she must give G. a whole coin for herself but Big A started yelling that she "Didn't want to waste any of HER coins." I was outraged and grabbed a coin from her bag to give to G. She became hysterical so I grabbed one from Little A's bag and gave it to G. I told her she could have no more chocolate. Big A screamed and cried until I warned her that if she didn't stop immediately, I would throw all the chocolate in the garbage.

When Adam got home I told him the story. After G. went home, he told Big A he was taking one of her chocolate coins and giving it back to Little A. This triggered another screaming fit from her. I asked her how she would feel if G. did the same thing to her when she was visiting her house. She finally seemed to understand why what she had done was wrong and actually offered to call G. to apologize. I was impressed with that and we dialed the number for her. As appalling as her refusal to share was, I really think she understood the lesson we were trying to teach her. I just hope she'll be more gracious about sharing next time...

Little A's daycare is really starting to piss me off. For the third time this week, they just called and told me she has a fever and I need to pick her up. Huh? Each time I come, she is fine and has no fever and doesn't seem sick at all. Is she developing an allergy to the daycare or something? So it looks like my day today is shot. I just had to cancel my meeting with the poor woman who just had a miscarriage and reschedule for next week. Here I go off to get Little A AGAIN...

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Irresistable Winter Fruit Compote

I first had this dessert at a Passover Sedar many years ago. The recipe comes from the Barlings, friends of the family, although I've modified it with a few twists. It is super easy, looks pretty and tastes even better. It's a great dessert to make for a big crowd. In fact, I've learned to ONLY make it for a big crowd or else I gorge on it and...well, you know what happens when you eat too much dried fruit!!!

2 cups pitted prunes
2 cups dried apricots
6 baking apples, chopped into large bite chunks (any variety that will not turn to mush will do)
6 ripe pears (or 1 large can pears, packed in juice or water), chopped into large bite size chunks
1/2 cup dried cherries or cranberries
1/4 cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped
1 large can low sugar cherry pie filling
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Combine all ingredients and pour into large greased oven safe dish (or divide between 2 smaller ones) and cover with foil. Bake at 375 for about 40 minutes or until apples are tender.

This is delicious on its own or served with yogurt or ice cream. You could also have some for breakfast with yogurt, oatmeal, granola, pancakes, waffles, or French toast.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Staying Positive

Most of us have a tendency to focus on the things about ourselves and our lives that we would like to change. Those with "dysfunctional perfectionism" as I have been told I have, tend to discount the positives and focus only on the negatives thereby considering anything short of perfect as a failure. It's a difficult habit to overcome but one which is so incredibly self-destructive. I also tend to catastrophize, or in other words, assume the worst case scenario. Not much optimism here given my natural worrying tendencies (I come by it honestly as my mother is the same in this way). But my recent training in CBT has taught me to reign-in my worries before they spiral out of control. No reason to assume the worst unless there is evidence to support this assumption, right?

So assessing life right now from this vantage point, things are pretty good. I have my allergies and sinus headaches under control with my frequent nasal/sinus saline rinses and have managed not to touch a single pain killer in 2 weeks. My butt is feeling better and the physiotherapist confirmed that my pelvic alignment is much improved. In fact, this week she sent me to an athletic therapist to give me some serious strengthening exercise and stretches. She was so impressed with my form and technique that we were done the 30 minute session in 10 minutes and she said she didn't need to see me again unless I had questions. Unfortunately, between these exercises and the rehab exercises from the physiotherapist, I have like 20+ minutes a day of exerices to do. The core exercises the athletic therapist gave me are kick-ass! I'll post a few as my exercises of the week.

Little A's daycare made me come early Monday and pick her up saying she was sick. Huh? She was perfectly fine when I got there but the policy is still that I couldn't send her back yesterday. So my mother-in-law, bless her, took her for the morning and I had her for the afternoon. SHE WAS PERFECT, there was nothing sick about her (except the cough she has, which EVERY kid has right now, which she has had for 3 weeks now!). We had fun playing together until it was time to go to Big A's school for the fundraiser/holiday party. We had a blast. It was craziness with all the kids, but there was food, prizes and musical entertainment. The best part was seeing the girls together. They were both having so much fun and when Big A went to sit with her friends for the show, Little A ran over and wanted to be with her. Big A happily took her little sister on her lap and they cuddled while watching the performers. It was absolutely precious. Unfortunately, we got home late and that's when it all fell apart. The girls started fighting and didn't want to take their bath and we basically had two wired, over-tired kids screaming...and Adam and I were thoroughly worn out at that point ourselves. Oh well, when I ran into other parents this morning, they reported that it was the same scenario at their house so I suppose it was to be expected.

So far I have been contacted by one woman about my miscarriage/infertility support group. Since two people don't really make a "group" I have offered to meet with her on my own or given her the option of waiting until others express interest. At least this is a start.

My biggest concern right now is that I haven't heard back from J.S. at Women's College Hospital since our wonderful meeting a few weeks ago. She did warn me she gets busy, but it's been a while since I sent her a few emails with no response. Of course my head has been spinning all sorts of explanations for the silence: she changed her mind about wanting to work with me; she talked to S.D., who teaches the certificate program I'm doing and found out that I've also asked to work with her (I gotta cover my bases AND I'd be happy to work with BOTH of them if I have the chance), she mentioned me to someone at the hospital and was told there is no possibility she can get permission to bring me on, etc, etc.

At a party last weekend, I ran into a woman I know who is a counsellor and knows J.S. She said she often gets busy AND goes to NY a lot to visit her mother who is unwell, and very difficult, so she thought she might be away. This has given me a bit more hope and helped keep my paranoia from escalating. Remember the worry tree, remember the worry tree! One of the many useful tools used in CBT:

http://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/docs/worrytree.pdf

Exercises of the Week: For a Rock Solid Core!!

Prone Ball Walk with Hip Abduction/Adduction
Use hands to walk forward on the ground while lying on top of stability ball until ball rests under thighs. Extend one leg out to the side and alternate legs until you complete 2 sets of 10-15 repetitions on both sides. For progression (to make harder), walk further forward over ball so your toes come off the ground.

Prone Ball Walk to Skier Position
With stomach on ball, walk forward until ball rests under your shins. Supporting weight on your hands, roll ball forward slightly, and side to side by pulling with knees to target obliques. Do 2 sets of 10-15 repetitions.

Kneeling Ball Walk to Toes
Roll forward over ball so toes are resting on ball, hands are on the ground and you are in a pike position. Bring yourself down to a plank position (flat back, in line with your hips) and then use your abs to draw back up into pike. Do at least 2 sets of 10-15 repetitions.