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Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Years 2012

Do you have exciting plans for tonight?

Mine are to be in bed by 9pm.

I don't think Adam and I have gone out on New Year's Eve since we had children. I don't think we will again until they both reliably sleep past 7am every day.

I hate the idea of being hungover around my kids, and besides, tomorrow is our annual New Year's Day party and there is lots to do.

This year on the menu:

* Mulled apple cider
* Wine and cocktails
* Juice and soda

* Cucumber maki (sans hidden cauliflower)
* Thai salad rolls with peanut dipping sauce
* Cobbs fresh whole grain baguette with vegetarian antipasto
* Sea salt potato chips and popcorn, tamari almonds

* Chocolate toffee treats (for dummies), fruit and nut bark, chocolate dipped, sea salt figs, and spiced candied pecans (all homemade by me!).

* Fresh berries, tiny seedless mandarin oranges, carrot sticks, red grapes

Here is the recipe for the peanut sauce. It's perfect for dipping salad rolls, or chicken, tofu or shrimp, or thinning slightly and using as a sauce for a stir fry or noodles. YUM!

Thai Peanut Sauce

1/2 cup peanut butter
2-3 cloves garlic
1 chunk fresh ginger
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
Crushed red chili flakes, to taste (optional)
Salt, to taste (may need more if you use natural peanut butter)
Optional: garnish with sliced green onions, chopped fresh cilantro, and/or crushed peanuts

Throw all ingredients in food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Add additional vinegar or water to thin out to desired consistency.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Florida 2011

We're home!

Although we had fun, I can't honestly say it was a restful trip.

Right on cue Little A got sick. Again.

She woke up the day before we left for Florida with "A bad cold mommy". Her poor little body was overwhelmed by a heavy, wet cough. Our first night there, sleeping in a big girl bed, sans guard rails for the first time, was a disaster. Her cough and some close calls rolling off the bed kept her up, so she kept us up. She ended up in our bed and I ended up in hers, in the room she shared with Big A. Although we all finally fell asleep in the early morning hours, Big A woke up at 5:40am, bright-eyed and bushy tailed to start the day.

Night two we got a crib from the resort for Little A but her cough kept her up again. Adam ended up sleeping in the room with her. Fortunately, Big A was sleeping in my in-laws condo that night.

On the third night, Little A asked to go to sleep at 6:30pm and slept 13 hours straight. Unfortunately, I had a crappy sleep because by then I had her cold.

On the fourth night, Little A's socks kept falling off (she has to have her feet covered when she goes to bed) and she woke us up about 4 times to help her put them back on. Poor Adam got up each time to do so and walked into a wall in the dark on one of these occasions, giving himself a bump on the head.

Little A also seems to enjoy flying as much as I do: about as much as getting teeth drilled. She was in full melt-down mode for much of both flights.

Luckily, Big A wonderful. She took care of all her little cousins and was happy just to swim all day. Which she did. Regardless of the temperature of the air or the pools. Adam, trooper dad that he is, got into the pools with her. Regardless of the temperature of the air or the pools. I think he is still defrosting.

Even Little A had a fabulous time during the days. She has become a great little swimmer, and she had so much fun playing with her cousins.

I'm still recovering from the cold Little A gave me (I feel like someone stuck cement plugs in my nostrils). I just hope I'm better by Sunday, for our New Year's Day party or I'll be the hostess with the mostess mucus.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Chocolate Toffee Treats for Dummies

People seem to either love or hate baking. If you fall into the latter category, you will appreciate these no-bake treats I whipped up for our New Year's Day party this year.

I've called them "treats" because you can use just about anything for the base (biscuits, cookies, pretzels, potato chips, etc.). I originally was looking for whole grain pretzels, but they don't seem to exist anywhere I looked around Toronto (I used to find kamut ones on occasion), so I used some whole wheat Italian biscotti I found at Fiesta Farms instead. No matter, I'm also making figs dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with sea salt for the party, so guests will still be able to satisfy their sweet/salty cravings.

These are so good! They are also super easy (no baking required!) and make a perfect hostess gift or treat to serve to guests. I promise you will wow everyone.


My only problem is I have to keep Adam and the girls away from them until the party! Thank goodness we will be in Florida for some of the time between now and then.

Chocolate Toffee Treats for Dummies

Sweet or salty base of choice (Gingerbread, shortbread, sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies, sandwich cookies, biscotti, macaroons, meringues, pretzels, crackers, potato chips, etc.). I used a 750g bag of plain, whole-wheat Italian biscotti.

2.5 cups chocolate chips (I used 1 cup dark + 1.5 cups semi-sweet)
2 tbls coconut oil

1 cup toffee bits

Optional variations for sprinkling/decorating: Crushed almonds, crushed candy canes, coloured sprinkles, melted white chocolate drizzle, etc.

Melt chocolate and coconut oil slowly in a heat-safe bowl set over simmering heat. When melted, remove from heat and stir until smooth. Dunk cookies or other base into chocolate and use two forks to scoop the coated items out. Place chocolate coated items on baking sheets covered with wax paper. Sprinkle each with toffee bits and/or other toppings. Refridgerate until chocolate has set. Store in an air-tight container.

This is likely my last post for a few days, so happy holidays to all!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Sunbeams Versus Vampires

I know I blab all the time about the importance of: (1) proper nutrition, (2) exercise, and (3) sleep/stress management to our health, but there is something else that is key: relationships.

Humans are social beings. Babies cannot thrive without touch and stimulation, children need secure attachments with caregivers, and few adults can live without social support from others.

In fact, research studies have found that while an unhealthy marriage or union is associated with chronic illness, and can shave years off your life, a healthy one promotes health and longevity.

But romantic/love relationships are not the only important ones. Friendships are key too.

Research has also found that social support is a key factor in recovery from a variety of physical and mental health challenges, and perceptions of available social support affect how we cope with stressors.

Unfortunately, we often find ourselves caught up in friendships that do us more harm than good. You know, the folks who are really our "frenemies", or what my friend Alex calls: Vampires, because you feel like they've sucked the life out of you when you've spent time with them.

Characteristics of Vampires are people who are:

* Competitive, jealous, and/or have an agenda
* Insincere/untrustworthy
* Unreliable
* Takers and never givers
* All about themselves, never ask about you
* Full of back-handed compliments/snide remarks/insults
* Judgemental

You've probably had a Vampire or two in your life, most of us have. While I undoubtedly had my fair share of dufus boyfriends before I hooked up with Adam, it is toxic relationships with women that I feel left the deepest scars on me.

Fortunately, as I have gotten older, I have become more confident, and less willing to tolerate these types of people. Life is too short, and so I want to spend every minute I can with Sunbeams, not Vampires!

Sunbeams are the opposite of Vampires, people in our lives who make us feel warm, safe and energized. You don't even need tons of Sunbeams in your life. Quality is far more important than quantity.

I am blessed to have lots of Sunbeams in my life. Some are family, many are friends. Having these people in my life are just as important as working out, eating vegetables, and sleeping well. They are integral to my physical and emotional well-being. This is why even the ones who now live far away (Emily, Annette, Jan, I'm talking about you!!), ones I only know online (hello HA folks!), or the ones I don't see as often as I'd like (pretty much all my lovelies in Toronto!), each and every one will always be important and special people to me.

If you make one resolution for 2012, make it be to lose the Vampires and recognize the Sunbeams in your life. And Sunbeams aren't always family members and close friends. Sometimes it's the barista at the local coffee store that always remembers your order, or your babysitter, or the mailman. Look around and I promise you, even if you feel like you are surrounded by Vampires, there is bound to be at least one Sunbeam in your life.

Merry Christmas to all those celebrating!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Cherry Almond Muffins

Believe it or not, I have been creating my own recipes since I was 5 years old. My friend Rachel's mom would allow us, even at that young age, to create catastrophes masterpieces in her kitchen on a regular basis. My mean wise mother would not!

By highschool I was regularly baking up treats for family and friends. At this stage in life I had not yet discovered that "healthy" and "treats" were not oxymorons. So it was ALL about decadence.

Some of my favorite recipes were:
* Moist carrot-pineapple cake with cream cheese icing
* A triple chocolate cake recipe using boxed cake mix, chocolate pudding, full-fat sour cream, 4 eggs, and an entire package of chocolate chips
* Gingerbread cake with lemon frosting
* Gingerbread cookies covered in icing and candies
* Caramel oat squares with a rich filling made from caramels and sweetened condensed milk, with a buttery oat crust
* Almond cherry pound cake

Now if you want stuff like this you'll have to go visit Paula Deen's website.

I have managed to recreate healthier versions of most of these, but for some reason, never tried to recapture the yummy flavours of the pound cake. I love almonds and I love cherries, and I adore them together.

These muffins taste sweet, rich and sinful like the cake did and incorporate the same combination of flavours, but replace butter with apple sauce, sugar with Splenda and/or stevia, eggs with egg whites, and white flour with kamut flour, oat flour and flax.

This is a large recipe, so you can easily half it, but I had lots of cherries on hand (I went crazy when I found them on sale for $2.99/lb this week!) and any extras can easily be frozen. Chock-full of deliciousness and nutrition, these are perfect for a holiday breakfast, brunch or snack.

1 cup oat flour (or oats ground in food processor)
2.5 cups kamut flour (other whole grain flour may work too)
1/2 cup ground flax seeds
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt

2.5 cups apple sauce
4 egg whites
Splenda and/or stevia to equal 1.5 cups sugar (or use sugar)
2 tsp pure almond extract
1 cup milk (dairy or almond milk)

3 cups pitted fresh or frozen cherries, chopped (I pulsed them in food processor)

Optional: 1/4 cup each chopped almonds and/or dried cherries

Stir together dry ingredients in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients. Add dry ingredients and cherries into the wet and stir, just to combine. Scrape batter into greased muffin cups, top each with a sprinkling of chopped nuts and/or dried cherries if desired, and bake at 375F. I actually made mine into 6 mini loaves, which took 24 minutes, but if you use a regular 12 cup muffin tin, the baking time will be much less (recipe probably makes 20-24 muffins). Start with 12 minutes and then start checking for doneness (toothpick to come out clean). If you sprinkle the tops with nuts and/or cherries, check after 12 minutes, regardless of what size tins you use, and tent tops with foil to prevent toppings from burning.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Andropause

Most people are familiar with menopause and the symptoms some women experience due to declining hormone (estrogen) levels. But fewer people are aware that as men age, they too experience a decline in sex hormones (testosterone), and this can cause a host of troubling symptoms.

Known as andropause, the drop in testosterone levels can lead to low libido (low sex drive) and erectile dysfunction, fatigue, irritability, depression, poor concentration, loss of physical strength and decreased muscle mass.

Although menopause typically hits women in their late 40s, early 50s, some women start perimenopause earlier on. Likewise, even men in their 30s can start to experience some of the symptoms of andropause if their testosterone levels drop significantly (I have seen this quite frequently).

While the process of menopause is widely accepted as a natural part of aging for women, there seems to be less acceptance of andropause. Perhaps because strength, libido, and sexual prowess are so tightly bound with our image of masculinity. I hope this begins to change soon, because from what I see in my counselling practice, there are many men suffering from the symptoms of andropause, and shame and embarrassment only make the situation worse for them.

The loss of libido and problems with sexual performance come up as an issue frequently, both with couples I counsel in the fertility clinic, and those outside. Obviously a lack of libido can be a big problem for couples trying to conceive, and the pressure to perform in order to get pregnant usually only heightens the problem for the male partner. Even among couples not trying to conceive, the loss of libido can negatively affect the relationship. Even if the female partner understands on an intellectual level that there is a physiological component to the issue, she generally can't help but wonder if her partner is truly attracted to her - since we tend to have an assumption in our society that all men are always on sexual overdrive.

The situation only gets more severe if the man feels guilt, shame, or embarrassment since this generally leads to performance anxiety, which can continue to affect the couple's sexual relationship, even if the physiological problem (i.e. testosterone level) is corrected through medication or other treatment.

For couples facing this issue, the important thing is to first get medical attention, to rule out any other conditions that may be affecting libido, and to investigate whether treatment is warranted. Keep communication open and honest, and do not be ashamed, you are not alone. Although still not widely talked about, for many men, this is a normal part of the aging process that may not be preventable, but can be managed and treated. Also, if it becomes a problem in your relationship, get counselling as soon as possible. It does not have to mean an end to your romantic relationship or sex life.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Fruitcake Truffles (vegan)

Oh the sun is shining and I'm up to my eyeballs in chocolate. This is going to be a good day!

Eyeballs, by the way, is Big A's favorite word. It could be worse: Little A can't stop talking about her penis. She doesn't believe me when I tell her she doesn't have one.

I promise you this recipe has neither eyeballs nor penises. In fact, they are vegan. I used Angela's basic truffle recipe from Oh She Glows (http://ohsheglows.com/2011/12/19/easy-holiday-gift-vegan-chocolate-macaroon-truffles/) and modified it a bit. There are a zillion ways you can make these to suit your fancy.

I made these for the girls' daycare teachers in lieu of the usual box of cookies or chocolate I buy. I figured home-made is more unique and special. And they deserve it. I don't know how they manage my children all day every day!

Because the school and daycare have a no-nuts policy, these are nut-free, but they would be great rolled in crushed almonds or pecans if you wanted.

2 cups good quality dark chocolate chips (I got mine at Bulk Barn)
3/4 cup coconut cream*
4 tbls agave syrup
1/2 tsp rum or vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups dried fruits (raisins, cherries, cranberries, apricots, etc.)
1/2 cup candied orange peel
1/4 cup cocoa powder

Melt chocolate in heat safe bowl set over simmering water (or double boiler if you have one). Remove from heat and stir until smooth. Stir in all remaining ingredients, except cocoa powder and refridgerate until firm. This took less than 2 hours for mine. Roll into small balls and then roll in cocoa powder. Store truffles in the refidgerator.

*Angela's recipe calls for scraping off thick surface from the top of a can of full-fat coconut milk. I didn't have any, so I mixed creamed coconut with hot water (about 1/2 cup creamed coconut with 3/4 cup water) and then measured out 3/4 cup once the coconut had dissolved and I had a thick coconut cream).

Monday, December 19, 2011

Sol Cuisine Almond Grain Burgers

I am in serious need of a haircut! Between my busy schedule and my stylist's, I wasn't able to get an appointment until Friday.

Unfortunately, this means I look ridiculous. I've tried leaving my hair curly, blowing it out straight, and doing it half curly, half straight. No matter what I do, it looks awful. And because it's too short for a ponytail, there is little I can do. So I'm wearing a hat. Inside the house. All alone. Yep, it's that bad. I can't even stand to look at it myself.

At least it will look nice for Florida. We leave Sunday and I can't wait!! I'm just crossing my fingers (on both hands) that no one gets sick while we're away. The first year we went Big A got an ear infection. With Little A's track record lately - of getting sick with something every other week - she's right on schedule for a new bug. Given that she's already being a true terrible 2 lately, I can only imagine how trying the trip will be if she isn't feeling well.

Well enough about locks and little ones. On to food.

Burgers are undoubtably "in" right now. Every neighbourhood in Toronto now seems to have at least one gourmet burger restaurant. Just what we need while dealing with a growing obesity crisis!

Burgers CAN be a quick and healthy meal, particularly if you make them at home, avoid adding fatty toppings, use whole grain buns, and side them with steamed veggies or salad instead of fries.

At least one dinner a week is burgers - to give me a night off from cooking - and I often have them for lunch.

Now it's probably been at least 15 years since I've eaten a beef burger, but wild salmon, chicken or turkey, and veggie are among my favs. Veggie burgers, in particular, are convenient, because often they don't require cooking, and are usually less expensive than fish or poultry burgers.

Unfortunately, a lot of veggie burgers are either tasteless and rubbery, or - particularly those which contain cheese - are no better than a beef burger because they pack such a wallop of saturated fat and calories.

My favorite veggie burgers are the ones that mimic meat - since I am a flexitarian and do like meat - but these can be very high in sodium, and generally are made with soy protein isolate, which I try not to consume in large quantities. The tastiest I've tried are Yves The Good Burger, and Veggie Patch's Garlic Portabella Burgers.


I am not a big fan of curry or Mexican black bean flavour burgers because when I am in the mood for a veggie burger, I want something with a conventional "burger" seasoning that goes well with, well you know, ketchup, mustard and some melted low-fat cheese. I now have a new one that fits the bill.

Sol Cuisine's Almond grain burgers are yummy and have a pretty impressive ingredient list: Organic Spelt, Organic Soybeans, Organic Okara, Almond Butter, Filtered Water, Carrots, Onions, Green Lentils, Tomato Powder, Organic Amaranth, Olive Oil, Tapioca Starch, Almonds, Sea Salt, Inactive Engevita Yeast, Spice, Modified Cellulose, Dehydrated Garlic, Xanthan Gum.


They don't have a meaty taste or texture, so those who do not like meat will enjoy them, but they are tasty, moist and go well with the usual burger condiments. Although not as high in protein as the others, they are a bit lower in sodium and are high in fibre. Available at most health food stores, they are about $4.99 for a box of 4, making them a great, affordable, quick and easy meal.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Smokey Bean Soup

The unseasonably warm weather has turned seasonably cold. Perfect time for soup.

Most smokey bean soup recipes use a ham hock to get the smokey flavour. I`ve made a vegetarian version which uses smoked paprika and liquid smoke to get the smokiness.

I made it super fast by using these TruRoots organic sprouted beans I found at Costco, which require no soaking.

You can use dried beans you have soaked, or a few cans of beans instead if you can`t find these.

1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2 zucchini, diced
.5 tsp smoked paprika
.5 tsp salt
A few drops liquid smoke, to taste
2 cups sprouted bean mix (or 4 cups cooked or canned beans)
1 28oz can diced tomatoes, with juice
2-3 bay leaves
1 litre low sodium vegetable stock
4 cups water
Pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Pour oil into a large pot set over medium heat. Add onion and sweat for a few minutes. Next, add garlic, zucchini, paprika, liquid smoke and salt and cook for another 5 minutes or so. Stir in beans, tomatoes and juice
bay leaves, stock and water. Bring to a boil and then turn heat down to low and simmer for about 20 minutes. Adjust seasoning as desired. Use a hand blender and pulse puree some of the beans and veggies until you have a nice, thick soup (or alternatively transfer about two-thirds to a food processor and pulse (don`t do this when soup is really hot!). Keeps for a few days in fridge, or can be frozen.

Chinese Egg Fried Rice

It's sunny and warmer than the weather-man predicted, but I'm still feeling anxious today. Little A is at daycare, the fever disappeared, but she's been constipated for 3 days and despite getting out one big boulder this morning, she's in a rotten mood. I'm just waiting for the daycare to call AGAIN!

I am hoping they wait until AFTER my meeting with one of the doctors at the fertility clinic to discuss starting a miscarriage support group. Cancelling on a doctor (who it took me 6 weeks to get a meeting with anyways) would be BAD!

No matter what your day, this recipe is perfect to make: healthy, delicious, easy and versatile. You can change up the protein and veggies based on what you have in the house, and even use leftover rice.

I used Egg Creations, but you can use whole eggs or substitute tofu, beans, chicken, beef, pork, or shrimp.


I also grabbed Chinese broccoli at the market. I`ve had it in restaurants, but never made it myself. It`s yum! I pre-steamed the thick stems for a few minutes to cut down cooking time, but added the leafy parts toward the end.


In terms of veggies, use your favorites, or whatever you have available. Personally, I`m not a big fan of the frozen diced vegetables you find in many fried rice recipes, but if that floats your boat, go for it. I also like my veggies in bigger pieces, not diced up really small, but again, this is a personal preference thing.

About 3 cups cooked brown rice

500ml Egg Creations (or 6 whole eggs), scrambled

1 tsp toasted sesame oil
0.25 cup soy sauce or tamari
0.25 cup rice vinegar
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 tbls finely chopped fresh ginger
Crushed red chilis, to taste (optional)

1 bunch Chinese broccoli (or regular broccoli), lightly steamed, if desired
2-3 Japanese eggplant (I cut them up and then sprinkled .5 tsp kosher salt on them, let them sit for 1 hour and then rinsed. This cut down on the bitterness a lot!)
2 red, yellow or orange bell peppers, cut into strips or diced
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced

Whisk together oil, soy and vinegar. Pour into a large wok or skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant (careful not to burn garlic!!). Add in your veggies and stir fry until desired doneness. Stir in rice and cook until liquid is absorbed. Mix in scrambled eggs. Serves 3-4.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Peppermint Brownies

Yucky is the only word to describe this day:
* Up since 4am with sick 2-year-old (unknown virus causing fever and crankiness)
* Pouring rain
* Sick 2-year-old who woke up over 3 hours earlier than normal STILL won't nap!

Fortunately, these brownies are pure yumminess.

They are not particularly healthy, but I made them for the teachers' appreciation lunch at Big A's school tomorrow and I figured if anyone deserves a little indulgence, it's the teachers.

1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp peppermint extract
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tbls good quality pure cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Glaze

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tbls coconut oil or butter
1/2 tsp peppermint extract

Place chips and butter in heat safe bowl set over simmering water and melt. Remove from heat and stir until smooth. Let cool slightly. Whisk in sugar, eggs and peppermint. In a smaller bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, soda and salt. Stir dry ingredients into wet and mix just until combined. Scrape batter into a greased 9x9 square pan and spread evenly. Bake at 350F for 16-18 minutes. Do not overbake.

For glaze, melt chips, oil/butter and extract in heat safe bowl over simmering water. Remove from heat and pour over cooled brownies, spreading evenly over the entire top surface. Refrigerate until glaze is set and then cut into squares. Makes 16 brownies. Extras (if there are any!) can be frozen.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Best and Worst Things My Kids Have Said Recently

Sometimes, I'm not sure which category these go in...

Best:

Little A: "Daddy is a big boy, right mommy?"

Little A: "Oh oh, Catherine?" (hand waving wildly to get teacher's attention during circle time at daycare)
Catherine: "Yes Little A"?
Little A: "My daddy's name is Adam!"

Little A: Anytime she uses the words "porcupine", "pinecone" and "pineapple" interchangeably.

Big A: Pointing to used condom on the sidewalk, "Look mommy, a baloon!"
Me: "Oh that's not a baloon. Never ever touch one of those!"
Big A: "Why mommy, what is it?"
Me: Trying to think of a reasonable lie, but then deciding on truth: "It's a condom".
Big A: "What's a condom?"
Me: "Ah, it's what mommies and daddies use when they want to make love but not babies". Holding my breath and waiting for the next question...
Big A: "Oh" (In this case it's what she didn't say/ask that was good!)

Worst:

Little A: Pulling down my pants in the grocery store, "Mommy, your bum is stinky, you made a poo...I need to change your diaper!"

Big A: "Mommy, when are you going to start making some money?"
Me: Getting defensive, "Why are you asking me that?"
Big A: "Because you never have any."

Big A: "What's this t.v. show?"
Me: "Oh, that's Tom and Jerry...I used to watch it when I was a little girl!"
Big A: "Ohhh, it must be really old!"

Little A: "Mommy, when I get bigger, I no want to sleep, I don't like sleeping." CRAP, we're in for it!

Little A: "Mommy, when I get bigger, I want to drive a car". CRAP, we're really in for it!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

2011

As we count down to a new year, I always like to look back and see how far I've come since this time last year.

All-in-all, I am feeling really good about where I am now.

My goals had been to address some minor health problems (frequent eye infections, allergies, hamstring pain), and I managed to do this.

Daily wear contacts have cleared up my eye problem, and allowed me to put the issue of having laser surgery to rest (apparently not good for someone with dry eyes).

After a KILLER sinus headache a few weeks ago I finally followed up with my allergist (something I was supposed to do back in the spring!), and am now taking Aerius and Omnaris nasal spray, along with my daily saline sinus wash. I hate being on a cocktail of drugs, but I'll do ANYTHING to avoid those sinus headaches!!

And my stubborn hamstring tendonitis is 90% better! I have even been able to resume my walking/running treadmill workouts and feel fine as long as I keep the incline at 4% or below. The only time I really get any discomfort is on Mondays, the day after I do my hardcore weights workout at the JCC. It's a bit of a catch-22, because I have to continue to try and strengthen the area, but it inevitably causes inflammation. Fortunately, if I ice the area I feel fine by Tuesday. I am so happy about my recovery, I CAN FINALLY SIT WITHOUT PAIN!!!

Getting my career on track was another big goal and I think I've accomplished this too. Yesterday my Major Case Presentation was approved (it's pass/fail), so I am officially done my Masters of Counselling Psychology! Yay for me!! I am continuing to explore some different options for my future practice and will update once this has all been sorted out.

I am also thrilled with how much things have improved in my relationship with Big A. Whether it's the new parenting strategies I have been working on or developmental changes, I can't say for sure, but we get along so much better now!

Big A is much less sullen and whiney than before. Overall, she is just a happier kid. She has been waking up around 7-7:30am in a GOOD mood for the past few months, instead of before 6am in a rotten mood. She is much more cooperative and helpful than she used to be.

We were still struggling with her cry-baby stuff (claiming EVERY little bump and jostle was a life threatening injury and wailing) until recently. I decided to employ the strategy from "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and How to Listen So Kids Will Talk" of getting kids to come up with their own solutions to problems. One day when she was sobbing over a nothing boo boo, I told her that this behaviour was really problematic and asked if she could think of something that would help her be able to NOT react this way. She shook her head and sulked so I assumed the strategy had failed. A few days later, however, she said, "Mommy, I know how I can learn not to cry so much, when I get hurt, I'll take deep breathes and calm myself down!". And that's now what she does. Most of the time.

The relationship between Big A and Little A has also grown and flourished. Sure, they still fight sometimes, but they also play together better and better and clearly adore each other. Big A is a wonderful, protective older sister, and Little A worships the ground she walks on.

Unfortunately, we are still in the midst of the Terrible 2s with Little A. You know, the completely irrational tantrum stage? She has to get HER way ALL the time! No matter what the weather she never wants to wear a coat, and if I insist, she shrieks until it comes off. She insisted on listening to the same Dora CD in the car EVERYDAY, OVER-AND-OVER for months, until Adam, Big A and I all wanted to blow our brains out. We finally declared a moratorium on this CD. Unfortunately, now unless we put on Sesame Street songs, she becomes hysterical. I could go on, but it's really all the usual 2-year old nonsense. And she still has NO interest in potty-training.

Tantrums aside, we are all doing really well and I feel blessed. We are truly lucky people and it was a good year.

For 2012 my goals are:

* Potty-train Little A (so she isn't starting kindergarten in diapers!)
* Getting my counselling practice going
* Try to continue doing yoga at least 1x week, regardless of how busy I get
* Continue to think positively about my career, even if I hit some speed bumps

What are your goals for 2012?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Food for Thought

Obviously I am a strong believer in the importance of a healthy lifestyle. This means daily physical activity, a nutritious diet, and adequate sleep/stress management.

But sometimes, particularly when it comes to nutrition it is easy to feel overburdened by all the warnings and recommendations out there: It's not enough to eat an apple, it has to be an organic apple; Eating fish is good, but only if it is wild, rather than farmed; Eat homemade rather than prepared food, but never use the microwave and store everything in glass, rather than plastic containers.

What most of these recommendations have in common is that THEY ARE REALLY EXPENSIVE!! Organic foods are much more expensive than non-organics, wild fish is much more costly than farmed, and storing everything in glass (particularly when you have little kids!) is not always practical. If you get into some of the trendy new "super foods" (i.e. Maca, lucuma, goji berries, acai berries, etc.) the cost can be astronomical.

So I think it was fear that kept me from reading, "An Apple a Day", by Joe Schwarcz, for so long. I purchased the book a few years ago, but only picked it up a few weeks ago. I really didn't want to read (yet again), that unless I completely alter my (already pretty healthy) lifestyle by emptying out my children's education savings, my whole family's health was destined to go to hell-in-a-handbasket.

I could not have been more wrong about what this book is all about!

Schwarcz, a professor at McGill University, sets out to debunk many of the myths and misconceptions about food science and nutrition that are propagated by the media and by alarmists, and summarizes the evidence about the relationship between various chemicals, foods, additives and health or disease.

I highly recommend this book to ANYONE remotely interested in nutrition, food safety, or health...actually, I recommend it to ANYONE. Not only is it informative and easy to read, it is also - believe it or not - entertaining and hysterically funny. I actually laughed out loud while reading it on the subway on numerous occasions. Schwarcz is witty and light-hearted and includes many funny anecdotes about the history of food science and nutrition.

The book has 4 sections:
1. Naturally Occurring Substances in Our Food Supply (i.e. antioxidants, fats, fibre, vitamins, etc.)
2. Manipulating Our Food Supply (i.e. fortification, sweeteners, preservatives, colours, genetic modification, etc.)
3. Contaminants in Our Food Supply (i.e. pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, etc.)
4. Tough to Swallow (i.e. absurd claims with little basis)

I was already familiar with most of the information in section 1, however, I was comforted by his conclusion about soy protein, that there is little basis for concern about cancer risk, but that it is not a health panacea either.

I also didn't know that coffee contains substances that can increase cholesterol. These substances are not present in filtered coffee, but remain in the beverage when no filter is used (i.e. French press). So if cholesterol is an issue for you, stick with filtered coffee.

I learned many surprising things from the other sections:

* There is no evidence that MSG causes ANY health problems.
* Natural and artificial flavours added to packaged food are sometimes virtually identical in composition.
* Only one food dye (Red Dye #3) is associated with health problems AND there is no evidence any cause behavioural problems in kids (nevertheless food with dye is usually processed and nutritionally void and should still be avoided).
* No proof genetically modified food poses any major risks to health or environment.
* Eating organic produce is not necessary for health reasons.
* If you can only afford farmed salmon, it's better than not eating salmon at all.
* Toxins leaching out from plastic containers and non-stick pans should NOT be a major concern.

And some not so surprising (to me):

* There is no evidence that artificial sweeteners - EVEN ASPARTAME - cause any health problems.
* We SHOULD be concerned about antibiotic usage in meat.
* Saturated fat and carcinogenic compounds that form in meat from cooking are a bigger concern to our health than hormones from farming practices.
* Detox diets are hogwash, just eat a healthy diet ALL the time.

So what does this all mean?

According to Schwarcz:
* Eat lots of fruits and veggies, wash them well but don't fret about organic vs non-organic;
* Eat fish, but limit those high in mercury;
* Limit animal protein, particularly red meat;
* Eat whole grains;
* Eat up to 5 whole eggs per week;
* Try to avoid processed foods, trans fat and excess sodium;
* Avoid fried (and even barbecued) foods;
* Limit alcohol consumption; and
* Maintain an overall calorie intake that is appropriate to maintain a healthy body weight.

Whew! Sounds like everything I already do!

Seriously, get this book. It is worth a read, even just for the humour.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Garlic-Crusted Sausage Florentine Pizza (Vegan!)

Poor Adam, between his cholesterol and his health-conscious wife (that would be me!), he rarely gets to indulge in his favorite foods for dinner: red meat, chicken wings, garlic bread and pizza.

So I thought I'd treat him to a meal reminiscent of some of his favs, but still super healthy. I generally make pizza that is vegetarian, dairy-free or both anyways, since he is lactose intolerant, and follows the Kosher dietary law of no milk and meat products together.

You could always recreate this dish with animals (butter, ground meat and real cheese), and I am sure it would be divine...just not quite so healthy. But I assure you that this pizza is so good, even carnivores will dig it. Adam did!!

The topping and sauce makes enough to cover 2 1.5 lb balls of dough. I recommend making that much because you'll be happy to have leftovers. It freezes well and reheats perfectly in the oven or toaster oven. But if you don't want to make that much, you can stir the remaining topping into your favorite pasta sauce and serve over whole grain pasta.

2 1.5 lb balls of WHOLE GRAIN pizza dough
2 tbls Earth Balance (or butter), melted
2-4 cloves garlic, minced (I used 2 and it wasn't garlicky enough for my liking)
1 tsp Rustic Tuscan seasoning from Costco (or Italian seasoning)

1 can tomato paste
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp Rustic Tuscan seasoning from Costco (or Italian seasoning)
Hot Crushed chilis, to taste (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste

1 tsp olive oil
1 350g package organic tempeh, crumbled (I diced it and then pulsed in food processor)
1/2 onion, grated (I did it in food processor)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp fennel seed
1 tsp Italian seasoning
2 tsp paprika
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 300g package frozen, chopped spinach (thawed)
1 cup chopped kalamata olives and/or 1 cup sundried tomatoes, marinated mushrooms, artichokes, peppers, etc. (optional)
1 package vegan cheese, grated

Mix melted Earth Balance with garlic and seasonings. Spread out dough to desired thickness on baking sheets or pizza pans that have been sprayed with non-stick spray and lightly sprinkled with cornmeal.
Brush entire surface of doughs with mixture and bake in the oven at 425F for about 7-8 minutes. Remove crusts from oven and set aside.

In a small saucepan, mix tomato paste with 1/2 cup water and seasonings and heat over low heat for about 5 minutes. Add more water if you want a thinner sauce.

Pour oil into large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, tempeh, garlic and spices. Cook for about 5 minutes. Add vinegar, spinach and any desired add ins (olives, etc.). Cook until any liquid is absorbed and then turn off heat.

Spread sauce on crusts, sprinkle desired amount of cheese and spread tempeh mixture over top. Return to oven and bake at 425F for about 14-15 minutes or until desired doneness.

I even managed to snap a pic of one just as it came out of the oven. I can't find my pizza pans, so I just made them into rectangles on my two largest baking sheets. Hey, who says pizza has to be round?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Thai Massage

I strongly believe in the therapeutic benefits of both yoga and massage. So when I heard that Thai massage integrates components of both, I was intrigued. For years I have wanted to give it a try but just never seemed to get around to it.

Then a few weeks ago there was an offer from Dealicious (like Groupon) for a 75 minute Thai massage for $35 at a studio near us and I decided this was the perfect opportunity.

The verdict? A very pleasurable experience, although I DO NOT recommend this particular studio: http://ascensionarts.ca/(I'll explain all that below).

I was warned that some parts might be challenging for me, but it wasn't at all. I think it may be intense for someone who has very limited flexibility and/or mobility, but all the yoga I've been doing put me in good shape for it and the whole experience felt gentle, and not the least bit strenuous.

The therapist explained it as a type of massage that focuses on acupressure and uses assisted stretching based on yoga poses. Although when I go for a massage I generally want a good pummelling, the gentleness of this massage practice still felt effective. I left feeling calm, loose and relaxed. If, like me, you love it when you are doing a yoga class and the teacher comes over and gives you assists to help you go deeper into the posture, you will probably love Thai massage.

Unfortunately, I was not at all pleased with the teacher herself. Her massage skills are fine, I think (I have nothing to compare them too really, since this was my first time doing Thai massage), but I was not impressed with how I was treated.

When I first called to make an appointment, she seemed annoyed, like she was too busy to fit me in. She only seemed to have a few afternoons available, and it took us a while to find a time that mutually worked for us.

When I showed up at the studio at the agreed upon time and date, she was not there. I phoned her cell and she admitted she did not have the appointment in her book. She was not terribly apologetic, but eventually said she would email me to re-book and could perhaps offer me a free session.

After a few days I still had not heard from her so I phoned her back. Again, she acted like I was an annoyance, but we managed to book yesterday's session.

Yesterday she sent me an email to confirm and included instructions:

*Wear t-shirt and pants (no shorts)
*No perfumes or scented products (I'd already hopped out of the shower and spritzed on perfume and slathered on body lotion!)
*No make-up (ugh, hoped I wouldn't get caught on camera!)
*Bring $6 for tax and $10-15 for tip

Considering how annoyed I already was with her service, I planned to tip no more than $10. Yet when our session was over (and by the way, it was 60 minutes, not the promised 75!) and she asked for the $6 in tax, I gave her a $20 and waited for change. I was going to take the change and then give her back $10, but she pocketed the whole $20 and didn't ask if I wanted any back! There was also no apology for the first appointment mix-up, nor any mention of the free session she'd mentioned before.

Now, of course, I could have said something, but I am terribly un-assertive in these situations, so I just stormed off. While I may do Thai massage again, it won't be with HER!

Have you ever had a situation were dissapointed with a service provider, but didn't say anything?

Friday, December 9, 2011

HANDsome

When it comes to the opposite sex, hands are something that I have always noticed immediately.

I don't have some weird hand-fetish, but I am totally disgusted by long fingernails on guys. I don't care if they are long for guitar picking, nose picking or coke snorting. Long fingernails on guys are GROSS.

Fortunately, Adam has always kept his nails very short, tidy and clean.

While I demand nice looking hands from my man, ironically, I have incredibly ugly hands. My fingers are short and stubby, my skin tends to be dry, and they turn bright red when exposed to extreme temperatures (which are common 9/12 months a year in Toronto!). I am really not being overly critical here. People constantly comment on how red my hands are, and one doctor actually asked if I'd been checked for genetic diseases because of how stubby my fingers are.

It probably hasn't helped that when I was pregnant with Big A I decided to cut my fingernails super short. I was tired of trying to maintain them long because they were always very weak and prone to ripping. Yes, I mean ripping like paper - they were never strong enough to chip or break. I also reasoned that I didn't want to be scratching my soon-to-be-born child's delicate skin. And so it was, I kept my nails as short as possible until 3 weeks ago.

Then I suddenly decided to see what would happen if I tried to grow them again. Not so much for aesthetic reasons - I've accepted I have ugly hands - but for practical reasons: every winter when my skin gets particularly dry, the tips of my fingers crack, which is EXTREMELY PAINFUL!! Maybe if my fingertips are covered by nails, this won't happen?

To my surprise, my nails grew in...well...AS HARD AS NAILS! Okay, maybe not that hard, but definitely stronger than they've ever been. In fact, so far, they haven't broken (or ripped) once!




Is it the fact that I eat a much healthier diet than I did back in my 20s? Did having 2 kids change my nails (for the better), much like it did my hair (for the worse)? Who knows.

What I do know is my hands do look a bit less ugly AND I am enjoying all the functional benefits of having nails: untying stubborn knots, peeling stickers off of produce, scratching itches, etc. I have to say, they are really coming in HAND-Y ;)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Pineapple-Chipotle Black Bean Quinoa Bowl

I'm on a sweet-spicy recipe theme this week. Why not? There's something extra comforting and satisfying about the balance of flavours, perfect antidote for the cold, dreary weather we've been having.

I also seem to be adding kale to everything. I think it's taken the place of broccoli as my favorite green vegetable.

I also experimented with another green veggie for this dish: chayote. I always see these guys (which, because of their seam look like little green bums to me...), but have never bought them before. Curiousity got to me so I took a few home.


Turns out these are a mild tasting variety of squash, native to Mexico. To bring out the most flavour, I decided to roast them before throwing them into this dish. The result is tasty and less sweet than something like a butternut squash, with a firmer consistency. Nutritionally, these guys are a good source of Niacin, Vitamin B6, Pantothenic Acid, Magnesium and Potassium, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Folate, Zinc, Copper and Manganese.

Note that chipotle peppers pack heat so if you aren't a spice lover, you can omit and add 1 tsp smoked paprika instead.

2 chayote squash, diced (or sub 1 lb butternut squash, or 2-3 zucchini)
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper, to taste

1/2 tsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 tbls chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 red bell peppers, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2-4 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, finely diced (or 1 tsp smoked paprika)
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 can crushed pineapple, with juice
1 bunch kale, chopped, tough stems removed
1 can tomato paste
A few handfuls fresh cilantro, roughly chopped (optional)

1.5 cups quinoa
2.5 cups water

For the chayote, toss it with oil and seasonings and spread on a baking sheet. Roast at 350F for 45 minutes.

For the quinoa, place in a medium sized pot along with water over high heat. Bring to a boil and then turn heat down to medium-low. Simmer until liquid has been absorbed. Turn off heat and let stand.

In a large skillet over medium heat saute onion, garlic, peppers, roasted chayote, and spices in oil for about 5 minutes. Add beans, vinegar and pineapple and kale and simmer until kale has softened, but is still bright green. Stir in tomato paste and simmer until sauce has thickened. Add cooked quinoa to skillet and mix well. Mix in cilantro, if using, just before serving. MServes 4 as as main dish.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Strong Women

I have never really labeled myself a "feminist", but going by Wikipedia's definition of a feminist (see below), I definitely am one.

Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women. Its concepts overlap with those of women's rights. Feminism is mainly focused on women's issues, but because feminism seeks gender equality, some feminists argue that men's liberation is a necessary part of feminism, and that men are also harmed by sexism and gender roles.

Feminists are "person[s] whose beliefs and behavior[s] are based on feminism."


Undoubtedly I was brought up in a home with strong feminist beliefs! My mother NEVER told me to get married and have children. Instead, the mantra she repeated to me over and over as a child and young adult was: "Never become financially dependent on a man."

Perhaps that's why the past two years while I've been in school and have become financially dependent on a man (my lovely husband) for the first time have been so difficult for me.

As a child I never felt held back by my gender. My parents had high expectations for me academically and professionally, and dare I say, put even more pressure on me to succeed than my brother.

My teachers did nothing but encourage me. In spite of my attraction to the social sciences and humanities, my high school science teachers (and parents) begged me to go into the pure sciences, because they felt there was a need for more women like me in them. Unfortunately I didn't listen...but we already know about my silly academic/career choices.

In my final year of high school I wrote a critical review paper on Margaret Atwood's novel The Edible Woman. My take on it was that it was too cynical about the role of women in current North American society, that women had come so far by the early 90s, that we should be filled with optimism. I got a grade of 100% on this paper from my English teacher and it won me a top entrance scholarship to university.

A few years later I was less optimistic about gender equality as I embraced Naomi Wolfe's Beauty Myth and by 1997 I was convinced that there had been a full-blown backlash against the advancement of women, and true or not, I was convinced that Ally McBeal was partially to blame. It is around this time that models and actresses began shrinking back to Twiggy-like silhouettes. Previously slender, but healthy looking celebrities all suddenly looked emaciated. Of course, all the actresses on Ally McBeal, at the time, vehemently denied having eating disorders, but since then Portia de Rossi and Courtney Thorne Smith have admitted otherwise and even Calista Flockart has reluctantly admitted she wasn't eating enough (duh, ya think?).

Unfortunately, things in Hollywood haven't changed much since then. The norm for most female actresses is still impossibly thin.

I also feel like the backlash is evident through the 21st century obsession with reality television programs that portray women as shallow, empty-headed, materialistic, man-obsessed, pathetic idiots. Some of these shows portray men in a negative light too, but the focus is definitely on the women. And it's women who eat up these disgusting shows!

There are some incredibly strong, interesting female television characters. I love Andy on Rookie Blue, Theresa on The Mentalist, Alisha on The Good Wife, and my favorite is Jane on the new show Prime Suspect. Of course, these women ALL happen to be absolutely gorgeous (and thin) AND rumour has it that Prime Suspect is going to be cancelled. Do we not have enough of an appetite for strong women?

I have been thinking about all this a lot lately because of this past summer. I am not kidding you when I say that not a day went by, that if I was wearing a sleeveless shirt, I didn't get at least one comment about how muscular my arms are.


Women would often tell me they wished they could have my arms and men would usually say things like, "Wow, you work out, don't you?"

But the whole thing made me very uncomfortable. Men seemed almost to be mocking me, as if it was cute, that a little woman like me (barely 5'2, 112 lbs) would be trying to be tough, and many of the women's comments felt insincere.

While everyone seemed truly impressed with the amount of work they imagined it must take to have such muscular arms, I am not sure if the men really appreciated the aesthetics and I am not convinced that most of the women would really want to look this way themselves.

After all, most women will work very hard to be thin, but most are not willing to work hard to be muscular and strong. I see it every day in the gym and I've been seeing this for the past 20 years.

Don't get me wrong, I am really proud of my strength. Not because of how it makes me look, but because of what it allows me to do: lift 2 rapidly growing kids, carry massive bags of groceries, haul overflowing garbage and recycling bins up and down our front porch steps. Being strong is about being independent.

Yet the fact that my arms got so much attention this past summer tells me that an obviously strong woman is still unusual AND I would argue it is not the ideal. If it were, all the leading actresses in Hollywood would be muscular instead of thin.

I guess I've done a 180 in my thinking since highschool. If I could re-write that paper, I might say that Margaret Atwood was right to be cynical...I am not sure that we have come very far in terms of gender roles over the past 20 years and given that I have two daughters, this worries me...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Chickpea Apricot Stew

This dish is a beautiful balance of flavours. A little bit sweet (from the apricots), a little bit spicy (from chili, if you use it), and a little bit tangy (from yogurt and vinegar). It's a lot delicious.

Serve it over brown rice, quinoa or couscous. FYI: couscous is not a grain, it is a type of pasta, so make sure you buy a whole grain kind (whole wheat and spelt are common), otherwise it's just made from white flour.

1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 red, yellow or orange sweet bell peppers, diced
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup all fruit/no sugar apricot jam
1/2 cup slivered dried apricots (preferably organic, unsulphered)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 can diced tomatoes
1 bunch kale, torn into pieces, tough stems removed
2 cups plain, low-fat yogurt
1 can tomato paste
crushed red chilis, to taste
A few handfuls fresh flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Pour oil into large skillet over medium heat. Saute onion, garlic, and spices for 3-4 minutes. Add peppers, chickpeas, jam, apricots, vinegar and tomatoes and simmer over medium-low heat until kale is cooked, but still bright green. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for a few more minutes. Stir in parsley just before serving. Serves 4-6 as a main.

Monday, December 5, 2011

President's Choice Candy Cane Coffee

When I first began drinking coffee in my second year of university, I could only tolerate cappuccinos, with lots of sugar, or instant flavoured coffee. Then I moved on to flavoured coffees from Second Cup (Butter Pecan was my fav) and eventually I graduated to "real" coffee. In fact, I haven't been able to stomach flavoured coffees for the past 10 years as I've developed a more discerning palate.

So I don't have any clue what made me pick up a package of President's Choice Candy Cane Coffee, which is in stores now for the holiday season. Curiosity, I suppose?


I liked that it is flavoured naturally and doesn't contain any creepy ingredients.

This morning I brewed some. The verdict? Imagine eating coffee grinds right after you have brushed your teeth! Disgusting! I immediately cleaned out my coffee maker with vinegar to get any remaining flavour out of it. Gross...totally gross!

Back to my organic, dark roast.

UPDATE (Dec. 10/11): The package says if you are not satisfied with the product you can return it for a full refund. True to their word, I got my money back for it. I still love you Loblaws!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Pumpkin Cranberry Spice Pancakes (Gluten-free+vegan option)

I have discovered that oat flour makes an incredibly scrumptious pancake, that is positively melt-in-your-mouth good. Like so good I feel like I'm cheating on Adam when I eat them!

These incorporate all the flavours of the winter holiday season and taste decadent while actually being very nutritious. They make a perfect holiday breakfast, brunch or breakfast for dinner (which is how I enjoy them!).

This recipe makes about 10 large pancakes or about 18 small ones, so it's good for a crowd. Extras can be frozen for a quick meal, or you can always half the recipe.

For a richer pancake, use milk/non-dairy milk instead of water and whole eggs instead of egg whites. If you or your peeps find fresh cranberries too tart, use dried. This will still produce a delicious, albeit not quite as healthy, pancake.

2 cups oat flour (purchased or ground from regular oats in food processor)
1/2 cup old fashioned/large flake oats
2 tbls sugar or equivalent amount of other granular sweetener (I used stevia)
2 tbls baking powder
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp sea salt

1 heaping cup pure pumpkin
4 egg whites (or 2 whole eggs or 2 flax eggs)
2 tbls grated fresh ginger (optional)
3+ cups water (or milk or non-dairy milk)*
1.5 cups fresh or frozen cranberries (or dried cranberries)

Whisk together dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add wet ingredients and whisk together. Batter should be thick. Stir in cranberries. Drop ladles full of batter onto skillet and cook until both sides are lightly browned. These pancakes will be thick, so they take longer to cook than flour ones. Serve with real maple syrup.b

*Batter will continue to thicken, so you may have to periodically add more liquid.

Friday, December 2, 2011

In Sickness and In Health

If you are eating, or have just eaten, you may not want to read this post!

It's been a crazy week with both good and not so good events.

Sunday I had the first emergency I have ever had in my almost 20 years of teaching fitness in my spinning class! Just after we finished, a man became unresponsive and collapsed. It was super scary, but he is fortunately just fine. Nevertheless, we called EMS to come check him out.

Little A has been grumpy, which we attributed to her ear infection from last week and/or being 2. But she proved us wrong when she woke up in the middle of last night barfing her guts up. Poor thing! And Adam, who did ALL of the work caring for her (for some reason she only wants daddy during the night!), has a bad cold and is now on really shaky legs. I am just dead-tired and I can't think straight.

I'm also clearly an idiot. When Little A got up this morning, she wanted milk. I tried to sway her towards juice or water, but she was adament. She guzzled 2 sippy cups, plus some juice and we took Big A to school.

We got home and...yup, all that milk came up...on our leather couch. So I changed her clothes, cleaned the couch and...she asked for more milk...and I gave it to her...and it all came back up...this time on the OTHER leather couch. I changed her clothes and finally banned the milk drinking.

I'm going to blame my stupidity on my lack of sleep.

In better news, this week there have been a lot of positive looking developments in my career prospects. Hopefully at least one of them will materialize into something concrete, but I am feeling really positive.

Gotta go now and cuddle with Little A while she watches Dora (and drinks ginger ale!!).

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Black Bean, Squash and Kale Burritos

Healthy, hearty and delicious...need I say more?

1 lb butternut squash, cubed
1 tsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup salsa (your favorite kind)
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 red bell peppers, diced
1 head kale, torn into pieces, stems removed
1 jar passata (strained tomatoes)
Cayenne pepper, to taste (optional)
1/2 cup shredded reduced fat cheese (cheddar, pepper jack, etc.) or non-dairy cheese alternative

6-8 large whole grain tortillas

Toss squash with oil and seasonings and spread on baking sheet. Roast at 350F for about 30 minutes.

Pour oil into large pan or skillet and add onion, garlic spices and vinegar. Cook over medium heat until liquid has been absorbed. Add squash, salsa, black beans and peppers and continue cooking until peppers have softened. Add kale and tomato sauce and cook until kale has wilted. Stir in cheese. Fill tortillas with desired amount of filling and roll up.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Panang Curry

When we go out for Thai food, one of my favorite things to order is the panang curry. But there is no doubt when this dish is made in a restaurant, it packs a hefty wallop of fat, sodium and calories.

My version is lightened up, but still rich and flavourful and it is super simple to make.

Traditionally, panang curry is made with either beef or chicken, but I made it vegetarian, using dried seiten (wheat gluten) I got at T&T a few weeks ago. If you are not sensitive to gluten, this is a great source of vegetarian protein. If you cannot find it dried, you can get it prepared at most health food stores. Alternatively, you can use tofu, or the more traditional chicken or beef options.

This dish also doesn't usually have much vegetable matter in it, but I love how yummy veggies taste when simmered in this sauce, and it makes this a healthy one-pot meal. Use whatever veggies you prefer or have on hand.

Protein of choice (2 cups seiten or 1 lb organic tofu, boneless skinless chicken or beef cut into bite sized pieces)

Sauce

1-3 tbls Thai red curry paste*
2 tbls finely chopped fresh ginger
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 can light coconut milk
2 tbls tomato paste
2 tbls fish sauce
2 tbls natural peanut butter (smooth or crunchy)
Season to taste (keep in mind fish sauce is high in sodium)

1 bunch broccoli, cut up (and lightly steamed if you want to cut down cooking time)
2-3 small Japanese eggplants cut in thirds, than each third cut into quarters)
2 yellow, red or orange bell peppers
1 bunch green onions, cut into one inch pieces
1/4 cup chopped peanuts
A few handfuls fresh cilantro, roughly chopped (optional)

Whisk together all the ingredients for the sauce in a large wok or skillet over medium heat. Add in protein and veggies and simmer until cooked through. Garnish with chopped peanuts and cilantro. Serve over brown jasmine rice, or any type of brown rice. Serves 4.

*Be sure to taste your curry paste first. I have found that even different jars of the same brand can vary significantly in terms of heat. I stupidly didn't taste mine yesterday and the meal ended up not being nearly hot enough for our liking. Next time I'll be throwing in a hefty dose of crushed red chilis to amp up the heat! If you don't like a lot of spice, don't be scared off, even though the one I bought said it was spicy on the label, it really isn't!!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Put Down the Bottle

Having grown up in a smaller town, I am sad to say I began using alcohol at a young age. With little to do, my friends and I started binge drinking on weekends by 9th grade. This is a pattern of behaviour I continued on and off into my mid 20s.

I now cringe to think what lasting effects this may have on my health!

I have mentioned several times the STRONG link between alcohol and breast cancer. And this is not new information. It was readily available over 10 years ago when my mother had breast cancer and I started doing research.

That's why it has peeved me to no end that until recently the media has touted drinking as a great way to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. For women I really do not believe this is true. Why do something with such a big risk attached, when you can lower your risk of cardiovascular disease with proper nutrition and exercise...which, can also lower your risk of certain cancers?

Cancer risk aside, there are other reasons to avoid drinking and I've been thinking about this a lot lately.

Adam and I have not been big drinkers since we got together 11 years ago, but after Little A was born and I was struggling with anxiety, alcohol all of a sudden regained it's appeal to me. I still don't drink more than 3-4 glasses a month usually, but it's the way I use it that bothers me.

Using alcohol - or drugs for that matter - as a way to relax, or cope or escape can lead you down a really slippery slope. It is considered an avoidant coping method because you are literally avoiding the problem or trigger, rather than actively dealing with it. Have you EVER heard of drinking making a problem better? In fact, have you ever heard ANYONE say that alcohol has changed their life for the better?

I haven't. But I have heard people say their life has been positively transformed by:

* Another person
* A pet/animal
* A passion
* Meditation
* Yoga
* Exercise
* Counselling/professional help

Recently, a client suffering from a serious anxiety disorder described alcohol as putting every person in their own little bubble. What we think makes us more social, really isolates us from really connecting from others. He should know, he used alcohol and drugs for almost 20 years to self-medicate. It's only now that he stopped using altogether and is getting professional help, that he is recovering. We talked about how in the future when he is tempted to pick up the bottle, what he should do instead, is pick up the phone and seek help.

This is not to say no one should ever drink. There are people who are true connoisseurs of wine, spirits or beer and drink for the pure pleasure of the flavours and how they pair with different foods. Alcohol can also be part of important cultural and spiritual rituals. And if it's part of your daily routine - you have a glass of wine with dinner or before dinner with some cheese in crackers because it helps you relax...this can be okay too (health risks of daily alcohol consumption aside), but I think this is where things start to get fuzzy.

I have never understood why drugs are vilified but alcohol has such a high degree of social (and legal) acceptance. The social costs of alcohol misuse are extraordinary.

There is an excellent series running in the Toronto Star right now about women and alcohol. According to yesterday's story, alcohol use contributes to 7% of all cancers, 4% of coronary disease, 23% of all injuries, and 26% of neuropsychiatric conditions in North America. It is related to domestic violence, assault, and impaired driving.

Just a few weeks ago I had a terrible day. Very sad news from Big A's school, a really difficult session with a client, and an excruciating sinus headache that wouldn't let up. I wanted nothing more than to go home and have a few glasses of wine. And so I did. Eventually I didn't feel the headache anymore, nor was I focusing on what happened that day. But I had a terrible sleep (alcohol impairs your sleep, by the way) and the next day I was exhausted, plagued with a headache of another kind, and the reality of the previous day was still there. Nothing solved.

So will I never drink again? No, I won't say that. But I can't stop thinking about what my client said. I realized after the fact that instead of a few glasses of wine, I should have picked up the phone and called someone to get things off my chest and/or packed it in early to sleep off my sinus headache. So next time I'm craving a glass, I'm going to consider what's driving my desire and try to make a more informed decision. Whatever your reasons are for drinking, it can't hurt to evaluate them and decide whether it is right for you, can it?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

I HEART Fiesta Farms

If you live anywhere in downtown Toronto, I urge you to drop into Fiesta Farms for a visit, I guarantee you won't regret it! Lucky for us, this independent, family-owned grocery store is just 10 minutes from our house, right beside Big A's school.

It has the most amazing selection of organic, locally grown, artisanal and healthy food products, along side the usual grocery brands. Their prices are exceptional too.

This morning I went to get a few things, including Adam's skimmed lactose-free milk, because they sell it for a great price. Although I'm currently having a love affair with kamut and oat flours, my friend Sheri swears that spelt is the way to go. So I immediately was drawn to a display of organic spelt flour. One of the staff told me it is locally produced and was just delivered that day by the farmer himself. Wow, it doesn't get any better than that!!

Of course, even though I only came for a few things, I ended up leaving with TONS of stuff, irresistably drawn to sales on organic frozen veggies (for the girls - they seem to prefer the blander, softer taste and texture of frozen), pumpkin seed butter, organic whole wheat flour, agave syrup, and some other goodies.

Check them out at: http://fiestafarms.ca/

Friday, November 25, 2011

New Day, New Name

Today I officially submitted my Major Case Presentation for school! This means as soon as it is approved, I AM OFFICIALLY DONE. No more degrees, I promise. I am now so close to my dream of being a therapist that I can taste it.

I named this blog "Tales of a 30 Something Nothing" when I started it 2 years ago because I was having a major self-esteem crisis. I was distraught over being 35 and going back to school AGAIN in order to start a new career.

These days this is not uncommon, of course, but I could not stop beating myself up for the stupid decisions I had made about my education and career up to that point.

And let's face it, the truth is, instead of wasting so much time doing a BA, MA and PhD in subjects which only led to a completely unfulfilling research career, I could have gone to med school and be happily practicing as a family doctor or psychiatrist, or done a BA, MA and Phd in clinical psychology and would now be a registered psychologist, and be MAKING WAY MORE MONEY than I may EVER make.

But you cannot change the past, you can only learn from it. Regret is useless. And the self-flaggelation...well I'm past it. I have to be. I cannot very well tell my counselling clients these things and not walk the walk.

So I'm changing the name of this blog to "Healthy Life Lessons" because I feel I have learned a lot over the past two years about myself, about people and about life...and hopefully all of you, my readers, occasionally learn something from my rants and musings too!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Fudge Glazed Banownies (Vegan option)

We ALWAYS seem to have a bunch of bananas going brown on our countertop, but I just couldn't face making another banana bread or batch of banana muffins. So I decided to go for something where banana is the background, rather than feature flavour. Banana is one of those awesome fruits that can lend natural moistness and sweetness to baked goods.

I am bringing this to a big family dinner at my in-laws tomorrow and my mother-in-law is baking a bunch of fruity desserts so I thought I would make a chocolately one that is sure to be a hit with all the kids.

These are pretty healthy for a brownie, low in fat, and not overly sweet, but are pure deliciousness. The glaze really puts them over the top!

Banownies

3 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup agave syrup
2 whole eggs (or 2 flax eggs: 2 tbls ground flax + 6 tbls water, let sit until thickened)
2 tbls coconut oil, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup whole wheat flour (spelt and quinoa flours would probably work too?)
1/3 cup good quality cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Fudge Glaze

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tbls coconut oil

For the banownies, whisk together all the wet ingredients in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients, removing any clumps from cocoa. Fold dry ingredients into wet, just until mixed. Scrape batter into a greased 9x9 inch square pan and spread evenly. Bake at 350F for 18 minutes.

For the glaze, melt chips and oil slowly in a double boiler (heat safe bowl set over simmering water). As soon as everything is melted and smooth, remove from heat. Pour over cooled banownies and chill until glaze is set. Cut into squares. Makes 16 banownies

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Quinoa "Stuffing" (Vegan and gluten free)

Okay, this is more like a pilaf than stuffing, but it has all the flavours of a traditional stuffing. I made this for Canadian Thanksgiving back in October, but I thought I'd share this recipe for my American friends or anyone who wants a tasty, healthy side-dish or meal idea for the upcoming holiday season.

I served it as our grain side-dish along with sliced turkey breast and roasted brussell sprouts, but you can easily make this an entire vegan meal by throwing in a can of chickpeas (drained and rinsed) at the end.

1.5 cups quinoa
2 cups vegetable stock
1 tsp olive oil
1 small cooking onion, diced
4 celery stalks, trimmed and sliced
1 bunch leeks, trimmed, thinly sliced and washed well*
1 lb crimini (or button) mushrooms, thinly sliced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbls (vegan, gluten-free or regular) worcestershire sauce
2 tbls sherry vinegar
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp dried thyme
A few handfuls fresh flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste

Place quinoa and stock in covered pot over high heat. When it comes to a boil, reduce heat to med-low and simmer until all the liquid has been absorbed, then remove from heat.

Meanwhile, pour oil into a large skillet and saute veggies, garlic and dried herbs until veggies are soft and liquid has been absorbed. Season to taste and add fresh parsley. Stir in cooked quinoa and serve. Makes enough for 8 as a side-dish, or 4 as a main (you can add a can of chickpeas or other legume to make this a complete vegan meal).

*Take the time to clean leeks well as they are often filled with dirt and grit. The easiest way to do this is slice them BEFORE washing, and then soak the sliced leeks in cool water. The grit will sink to the bottom. Strain leeks out of water and place in a collander. Rinse until you are certain that leeks are clean and then drain well/pat dry to ensure you don't water down your dish.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What Me Worry?

Here is Part II of my posts about worry.

Even if you do not have a clinically-diagnosed anxiety disorder, chances are, like most North Americans, you live with some degree of chronic stress.

Stress and anxiety are insidious and can case a whole host of physical and psychological problems.

My whole cracked-tooth fiasco this fall, which ultimately led to painful and EXTREMELY expensive root canal and crown procedures, was all due to my tendency to clench my jaw and grind my teeth when I am under stress.

Nevertheless, I have made significant improvements to my stress management over the past few years. Because of my high anxiety levels, I struggled with insomnia for over a decade.

Chronic stress has been linked with heart disease and obesity (because of elevated stress hormones) and anxiety is also associated with clinical depression. For many of us, our stress and anxiety is due to worry - what's going on in our heads, not our environments (i.e., not due to survival - out-running a saber-toothed tiger -, as it was for our paleo-ancestors, nor war, famine or natural disaster, as it is for millions of people in the developing world).

The main things most people tend to worry about are:

1. Money
2. Work/career
3. Health
4. Relationships
5. Lack of confidence/self-presentation

It isn't realistic for most of us to just stop worrying. Some degree of worry can be productive. The first step is becoming aware of your worries. Even if you think you are a particularly self-aware individual, you may be surprised by what you have not noticed about your thoughts until you really focus in on them. Sometimes you don't even realize you are worrying - especially if you are a chronic worrier - until you experience the physical effects from it (insomnia, pain, fatigue, irritability, etc.).

There are some very straightforward ways you can keep your worry from getting out of control. Learning to worry more effectively involves several steps:

1. Identifying the source of your worry
2. Determining if you have any control over the issue
3. Deciding if it makes sense to take action
4. Decide when to take action
5. Actively problem solve to resolve issue

I like to use a graphic representation called The Worry Tree, a tool often used in cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT):

http://www.get.gg/docs/worrytree.pdf

People who worry a lot also tend to ruminate. Unlike worry, which is future-focused (what if, etc.), rumination is past-focused (i.e. Dwelling on a mistake, etc.). Rumination is another common symptom of anxiety disorders and depression.

http://www.get.gg/docs/RuminationWorry.pdf

If you are wondering whether or not your worry might be excessive, try taking this quiz:

https://www.outcometracker.org/library/PSWQ.pdf

If you feel that worry is negatively affecting your life and/or health, do not be ashamed to get help. Avoidant coping strategies (i.e. drinking, taking drugs, shopping, eating, etc.) generally only make things worse but psychotherapy, particularly CBT, and some anti-depressant medications can be very effective.

"Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy". ~Leo Buscaglia

Monday, November 21, 2011

Today I am Grateful for:

...the perfect family Sunday we had yesterday.

...the fact that Little A wore a jacket this morning for the first time since last spring (it was hovering just over freezing here in Toronto this morning!).

...having a (far too infrequent) good hair day.

...discovering all the gross stuff under the sofa cushion where Little A likes to sit before we developed some sort of pest infestation in the house.

...my steaming, hearty bowl of cinnamon-spiced oatmeal goodness for breakfast.

...not having a sinus headache (my allergies have been killer this fall!).

...the new awesome gelato/espresso cafe that opened in our neighbourhood (attracting tons of folks - including our kids - for ice cream eating even in the chilly weather!).

...the fact that I have so many reasons to be grateful.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

My Soulmate

According to the Toronto Star today, George Clooney said, "even the idea of a fart makes me laugh. Saying the word 'fart' makes me laugh. I have iFart on my phone. I have remote whoopee cushions. Farts. To me, there's nothing funnier".


Oh a man with a sense of humour like my own! He'd find our household very funny!!

Friday, November 18, 2011

PerfEGGtion

I love eggs and always have. Not just because they taste yummy, but they are also extremely economical, nutritious and versatile.

They are frequently an integral component of cooking and baking recipes, but even on their own, they can be enjoyed in a myriad of ways: poached, scrambled, sunny side up or down, boiled, etc.

For a while eggs got a bad rap because of their relatively high fat and cholesterol content but in recent years they've made a comeback as their nutritional value has begun to be better understood.

Although you should ALWAYS check with your doctor first, even if you have a health condition such as high cholesterol, most people can enjoy about 4-6 whole eggs a week without a problem. Egg whites, of course, are a great source of low calorie, fat-free protein and can be enjoyed in larger quantities.

Eggs are also an excellent food choice if you are trying to control your weight. Research studies have found that people who eat eggs as part of their breakfast are more likely to limit their calorie intake for the rest of the day because eggs help to control their appetite better than a high carbohydrate breakfast, such as a bagel or bowl of cold cereal. This doesn't mean eating eggs fried in butter with a side of bacon! There are a plethora of ways to eat eggs healthfully. Think soft or hard-boiled eggs, poached or scrambled with whole grain toast, or a hearty omelet filled with veggies and reduced-fat cheese.

One of my favorite on-the-go meals (for either breakfast or lunch) is 2 hard boiled eggs and a whole grain, home-made muffin. Hard boiled eggs, in particular are very portable, which also makes them perfect for a between meal or post-workout snack.

They are a great source of protein and full of nutrition. Two large eggs has less than 150 calories, 12g of protein and 10g of fat. You can choose free-range, organic and/or omega-3, depending on your preferences. Brown and white eggs have identical nutrition.

If you've ever made egg salad for a crowd (or hosted a Sedar), you know how difficult making (and peeling) the perfect hard boiled egg can be. In my opinion, if they are cooked until the yolk is pale and dry, they are barfy. Here are a few tips (Just note the cooking time following heat being turned off is based on an electric stove, and you may have to add a minute or so if you have a gas stove or induction cook top that cools quickly):

* Place eggs in a small saucepan and cover with cold water.
* Heat on high heat until water boils
* Turn off heat and allow eggs to sit on element for 5 minutes, then remove from stovetop.
* Drain water and refill saucepan with cold water
* As soon as eggs are cool enough to handle, roll them on countertop to break shells
* Carefully peel off shells, starting at one end of the egg, where there is space between the shell and the egg white
* Rinse off eggs to remove any remaining shell fragments and then gently pat dry. Use as desired.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Last Laugh

I have to admit, after bitching and complaining about having to go to the theatre with Adam yesterday, I ended up LOVING Two Pianos, Four Hands.

Not only was the acting phenomenal, but the show was absolutely brilliant and hilarious, and the piano playing was stellar. Even Adam - who by the way hates classical music (who is the philistine I ask you?), loved it.

Who attends live shows on a Wednesday afternoon at 2pm? Mostly the white-haired walker set, some groups of school children, and a sprinking of tourists (along with unemployed students and tenured university professors such as ourselves).

I have always loved seeing live comedy. Adam and I have gone to Second City, Yuk Yuks, and seen stand up performances from Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Cosby, and Brent Butt.

I really needed a good laugh this week as it started out pretty rough. But indeed, it's shaping up. Big A and I are getting on much better lately and Adam and I both noticed she seems distinctively happier. Much less whining, crying and sulking. She also has committed to healthy eating, a decision she apparently made the day after Halloween when she had full access to her candy stash. She is perfectly happy to eat my healthier home-baked goodies, and all of a sudden, her and Little A are addicted to apples and red, yellow and orange bell peppers!

When I still hadn't gotten around to donating the girls' Halloween candy this week, Big A reminded me to do so. She has also started to demonstrate an amazingly giving spirit. She has always shown compassion and nurturing towards other kids (she is so protective of Little A, it's almost concerning Adam and I that she feels TOO MUCH responsibility), but lately she is quite preoccupied with giving away her money and possessions to others who have less. When the school asked for Unicef donations, she emptied her own piggybank, and she is constantly dropping the contents of her piggybank into Little A's piggybank, which is not as full.

Little A seems to be in another growth spurt as her human-vacuum cleaner eating habits are back. She ate 12 pieces of the maki we made for lunch one day last weekend and last night, after getting home from having dinner at my in-laws, she ate 3 bowls of cereal, 2 plates of French toast, half an apple and some yellow pepper strips. And she was STILL complaining she was hungry after that! We are getting used to her nightly meltdowns thanks to her refusal to nap, and are learning that when it happens, there is no point trying to distract, appease or negotiate with her, she simply needs to go to bed ASAP!

Definitely a bad start to the week, but today the sun is shining and I am feeling much more positive about the state of the world. I am grateful for my wonderful family and our priveleged life, for health and for laughter.

As I remind my clients all the time, it is important to not view the world in black and white terms. There is good, there is bad, and there is lots in between.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Consuming Culture

Nope, this isn't a post encouraging you to eat probiotics. It's about culture or entertainment, if you may.

What is your favorite type of entertainment?

For me it is books, bar none! I read lots of non-fiction for professional reasons, but for pleasure I'm all about fiction and good literature.

Lately I have read a slew of awesome novels, which I highly recommend:

* The Birth House by Ami McKay
* Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda
* The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger
* The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
* Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

People always ask me when I find the time to read and the answer is: it's an integral part of my bed time routine. Some nights if I am really tired, I might only read for 5 minutes before I put down the book (or fall asleep with it in my hand) but other nights I might read in bed for an hour before going to sleep. It relaxes me and takes my mind off of everything else.

Of course there are other forms of entertainment I enjoy too. Adam and I have a rather long list of television shows we tape and then watch together (The Good Wife, House, CSI, Criminal Minds, Being Erica, Rookie Blue, etc.) and I will admit to having a serious HGTV addiction (real estate shows and home reno shows make my pulse quicken!).

I also share Adam's love of music, however we consume music quite differently. For me, listening to music is something you do while doing something else (i.e. exercising, driving in the car, etc.). Watching people perform music does nothing for me. In contrast, Adam is a concert aficionado. He has seen everyone from Prince to Bon Jovi to Journey. Fortunately, his dad loves concerts too so I am usually free to stay at home with the girls while he goes out rocking the night with his dad.

Unfortunately, Adam also loves live theatre and I do not. According to my parents this makes me a philistine. Are they intellectual snobs? Absolutely! I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree though, as I detest most reality television (The Bachelor, The Real Housewives of..., etc.)and cannot fathom how any human being with more than an IQ of 00 can watch that crap.

Anyways...Adam recently voiced a desire to see "Two Pianos, Four Hands" before it leaves Toronto. So I generously offered to accompany him as long as he could find a show that isn't past my "pajama time" (i.e. after 7pm). He obliged me with tickets to the 2pm matinee today. I wouldn't exactly say I am excited to see the show, however, I love the idea of having a date with him on a Wednesday afternoon. With the girls in daycare, we don't even need to find a sitter AND I'll be home before pajama time!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Breakfast Cookies

Do you often grab a granola bar or cereal bar for a breakfast on the go?

Well I have news for you: most of these products are no better for you than a standard cookie. They also are unlikely to keep you fueled for long since they are generally full of sugar, and low in protein and fibre.

So why not chow down on an actual cookie that tastes better than anything you can buy and is chock-full of nutrition? These are not only delicious and super healthy, they are ridiculously easy to make since all you have to do is throw everything into your food processor.

I chose to make them with tahini (sesame seed paste) because I love it and it is full of solid nutrition (iron, folate, calcium, vitamin A, magnesium, potassium, zinc), but you can sub any nut or seed butter. If you want it nut/seed free, use soynut or pea butter instead.

These are wheat/gluten free - if you ensure you are using gluten-free oats, and can be made vegan by replacing the egg whites with chia egg whites (instructions below).

You can use regular sugar, if you want, but I would cut it down to 1/2 cup, if you do. I recommend using an alternative sweetener such as Splenda, stevia or xylitol.

The final product is sweet, delicious and satisfying, packed with protein, fibre and healthy fats.

Customize them any way you like with the optional add-ins. Just be aware that even unsweetened dried fruit is high in sugars and adding in nuts/seeds increases the fat/calorie content.

They are perfect as a breakfast treat on the go, as a post-workout snack, or an after-school snack for the kids.

2 cups oat flour (made in food processor)
1/2 cup ground flax seeds
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup tahini (or other nut/seed butter)
Splenda, stevia, xylitol, etc. to make equivalent of 1 cup of sugar
2 large, ripe bananas
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 egg whites (or chia egg whites)*
1/2 cup large flake oats

Start by making the oat flour in the food processor. When oats are fully processed, add in all other ingredients except for the 1/2 cup large flake oats. Process until dough forms. Add oats and pulse a few times to combine. Stir in any desired add-in ingredients. Drop massive spoonfuls on non-stick baking sheet and bake at 350F for 14 minutes. Cool and then remove from baking sheet. Makes 14 cookies. For a quick breakfast, store cookies in the freezer and take out the night before to defrost.

*Chia egg white: replace the 4 egg whites by mixing 2 tsp of ground chia seeds and 1/4 cup of water in a small bowl. Let stand 2 minutes and then whisk until it is the consistency of egg white.

Suggested add-ins: 2 tbls walnuts, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds or cacao nibs. 1/4 cup raisins, chopped dates, dried apricots, dried cranberries, goji berries, cherries or blueberries.