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Monday, January 31, 2011

Procreation

In today's Globe and Mail, there is an interesting piece by Sarah Hampson on parenthood. She argues that it is trendy for women to be publicly proclaiming what was previously taboo to admit: having children is challenging, sometimes unpleasant and does not necessarily lead to happiness. While complaining about domestic duties and economic inequality was the issue du jour for our mothers, complaining about parenting is what women do today. I guess that makes me fit right in.

I can't argue with her either. Obviously from this blog it is clear that I find parenting challenging and often unpleasant and I would say that the majority of conversations that I have with my friends who are also parents involves complaining about our children.

I have also realized, through my studies in psychology, and anecdotally through my conversations with my girlfriends, that having young children is very hard on a marriage. I don't know anyone who would disagree with this. Is this why so many marriages fall apart? It's hard to say. But the good thing is that a lot of the issues involved in parenting small children that cause marital strain end naturally as children grow up, so if you can wait it out, there is a good chance that your marital relationship can heal.

Hampson also argues that you should not go into parenthood expecting it to make you happy and blissful, because that is simply a myth, just as it was a myth that marriage and being a good wife was going to make our mothers happy. What having children does do she says is this:

Anyone who has been through the crucible of parenthood - and it is a life-altering one - knows that it's not going to make you blissful all the time. What it provides are lessons in vunerability, patience, humility and love it its most generous form. It doesn't plant a beatific smile on your face as much as give you a kick in the butt to say that life is not all about you and your next manicure appointment. When you adjust to the change, there's rick great beauty in the acceptance.

I couldn't agree more.

And yet it's a funny thing. Do I regret having children? Never. Do I envy the few friends I have who have chosen to remain childless? Not at all. If anything I feel sorry for them, which is silly because they are happy with their choice and research backs up the fact that married people who are childless by choice are equally as happy, if not happier than their married peers who have children. I just always wonder if there will come a time when they regret their choice.

Will knowing that parenting is difficult and unlikely to lead to happiness decrease the likelihood that a woman (or man) will want to have children? I doubt it. I think there must be some biological drive involved. Of course you can never fully understand what being a parent is like until you are a parent. But still, I remember when Adam and I decided to start a family how strong that drive was for me. Really nothing else mattered to me at the time. And again, when we were trying to conceive the second time, having another baby took on primary significance in my life. And there is nothing you could have said to me that would have lessened that drive.

The infertility literature has produced some interesting data. There are studies showing that parents who go through IVF to conceive, are somewhat more satisfied with parenting than those who conceive naturally. This is not surprising since anyone who goes through IVF - at least in places where you have to pay for it out-of-pocket - is likely to be older and upper middle class. Also, IVF pregnancies are obviously all planned, so parents may feel better prepared, and possibly more grateful for parenthood.

But the reality is, parenting is still challenging for women who go to great lengths to get pregnant, and they are still at risk for postpartum depression and other psychological and emotional issues associated with parenting. When I was trying to get pregnant with Little A, even though I already had one child, the thought of not having a second and making my family "complete", made me dispondant. So I was incredibly shocked when I was hit with postpartum depression and anxiety. "But isn't this what I wanted?" I kept asking myself.

While Hampson's tone in this piece was somewhat derisive, I feel that this increasing openness about the realities of parenting is healthy. No, it's not going to change anyone's mind about having children if they desire a family. But it allows parents to support one another during some of the most difficult life stages.

I do think that normalizing the fact that having young children places strain on a marriage could perhaps save some unions that might otherwise end prematurely. In fact, I think it makes perfect sense that in addition to becoming a miscarriage/infertility counsellor, I am going to offer couples counselling. Support while struggling to get pregnant...and then once they have children, support for overwhelmed parents on how to manage their relationship.

What I am NOT going to offer as a professional is parenting advice...no, that's an area where I doubt I will ever be an expert!

In any case, as my good friend, Jess, and I discussed yesterday, it only takes a few moments of bliss here and there (e.g. your kids hugging, before scratching each other's eyes out) to make it all worth it.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Tofu Veggie Stir-Fry with Creamy Sesame Miso Ginger Sauce

I did it, I found a way to use up the seaweed by creating this recipe that even Adam gobbled down! This dish has a stellar nutritional profile, especially for vegans as it is full of healthy fats, protein, calcium, iron and vitamin B12. Of course, it is still healthy and delish if you don't have seaweed on hand.

1 tsp canola oil (or peanut or untoasted sesame oil)
1 lb organic extra firm tofu
1 bunch broccoli, cut into bite sized pieces
2 red/yellow/orange bell peppers
1/2 lb fresh or marinated shitaki mushrooms (or button mushrooms), sliced
100g seaweed, snipped with scissors into strips (optional)
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced

Sauce
3-4 tbls fresh ginger, finely chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup tahini
2 heaping tbls miso paste
2 tbls low sodium soy sauce or tamari
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup cooking sherry*
1 tsp Japanese pepper blend (optional)
Hot chili flakes, to taste (optional)

Whisk together all ingredients for sauce and set aside. In wok or large skillet, heat oil over medium high heat and add tofu and veggies and stir-fry until veggies are tender-crisp(I pre-steam my broccoli a few minutes because I don't like it too crunchy). Add in seaweed, if using. Turn heat down to medium and add sauce and green onions. Stir-fry a few more minutes and then serve over brown rice (I used Korean, short-grain, but any brown rice will do).

*If you don't have cooking sherry, you can use white wine, sake, or even just add another 1/4 cup of rice vinegar.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Turkey Meatloaf Muffins

I sneaked a lot of nutrition into this kid-friendly meal!

1 lb lean ground turkey or chicken
1 small cooking onion
2 slices whole wheat bread
4 cloves garlic
1 300g box frozen chopped spinach, thawed (or fresh baby spinach)
2 eggs
1 can tomato paste
2 tbls worcesterchire sauce
2 tbls nutritional yeast (optional)
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp fennel seeds (optional)
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Put meat in a large mixing bowl. Place onion, bread and garlic in food process and process until onion and garlic are finely chopped and bread is crumbs. If using fresh spinach, add to food processor at this stage. Crack eggs into bowl with meat and add in thawed spinach, tomato paste, worcesterchire sauce and desired seasonings. Dump onion mixture into bowl and mix until everything is well combined (you can do it with your hands but it worked just fine with a mixing spoon!). Fill greased muffin tins or mini loaf pans to the top with mixture and bake at 375 F for about 40 minutes, or until cooked through (centre of muffins will be firm when they are done).

Another kid-friendly idea is to serve them with baked fries...

Baked French Fries
8 baking potatoes, scrubbed and cut into medium thickness fries (I use Starfrit's potato chipper)




1 tbls oil (peanut gives them a "fried" taste, but canola or olive is fine too)
Sea salt and pepper
Optional add-ons: Dried rosemary, garlic, curry powder, chili powder, etc.

Put cut potatoes in large bowl and toss with oil and seasonings. Place potatoes on a baking sheet in a single layer and bake at 425 F until crispy, about 45-50 minutes (check periodically to make sure you don't burn them - I know my kids won't touch ANYTHING that has even a tiny bit of black char on it!).

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Italian Rice Pilaf

This dish is so easy and uses things you often have on hand in the pantry. Nevertheless, it still looks and tastes great and tends to wow people. I love it as a side for fish, because of the lemon, but it would be great with chicken or sausage too. Or, you could add beans or tofu and make it a vegetarian main course. I served it with rainbow trout with my balsamic dijon glaze last night and even the girls were willing to eat some (even though there were vegetables in it!).

1.5 cups long grain brown rice or brown rice/wild rice blend
3 cups water
1 28oz can diced tomatoes, with juice
2-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried basil
1 300g box frozen, chopped spinach, thawed
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper, to taste
Pinch hot pepper flakes (optional)

Optional add-ins: marinated artichokes, sundried tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms, olives, fresh parsely, etc.

Place rice and water in large covered pot over high heat until water starts to boil. Turn heat to low and simmer until all the water is absorbed. In large skilled or frying pan, dump tomatoes and juice, garlic and basil. Bring to a boil over medium high heat and then turn heat down to medium and simmer until liquid has reduced. Stir in spinach, lemon juice and zest. Add cooked rice to tomato mixture and stir until rice has absorbed all the liquid. Enjoy!

No Winter Blues

January is coming to and end so too is my little holiday from school. Next week it's back to the books in full force. The time has flown but I am fairly satisfied with my level of productivity over the past few weeks. I am surprised by just how incredibly BUSY I've been.

Of course, I have been working on the second last course for my Miscarriage/Infertility Counselling certificate, so that's had be somewhat occupied. This current course is on third party fertility treatments (i.e. donor sperm, eggs and surrogacy) and is incredibly interesting. There are so many layers emotional and ethical issues involved.

I still have not got a confirmed practicum placement for May, but I am feeling very optimistic. No word from J.S. at Women's College Hospital, however, so I'm just writing her off. I am disappointed, but frankly, if she is this undependable and flaky, I figure I am better off working with someone else. My radar should have gone up when she started making me so many promises, which in my heart I knew were not likely to come through. She works for a research hospital, which I am sure has just as many restrictions on patient contact as does Mount Sinai. My mom suspects she is embarrassed that she assured me she had the authority to give me unrestricted access to working with her and was then denied this request. To me, it still doesn't excuse an explanation. Simply failing to return my emails and phone calls is just rude and unprofessional.

Nevertheless, I have other options I am exploring. S.D., who teaches my Miscarriage/Infertility Counselling program is still giving me a maybe. She works out of a private fertility clinic so there is more flexibility for taking me on, however, she is still trying to get it approved by her employers.

Meanwhile, I have begun to look for placements outside of the miscarriage/infertility area. I am honestly so excited to get started with counselling, that I really don't care if it is with a broader patient population. So far, I have an interview lined up with a psychotherapy clinic next Friday and I have a woman I grew up with, who works at a counselling agency for women with addictions/domestic abuse issues, investigating placement possibilities at her organization.

I have never been so thrilled to work for free! If you told me I had to spend 4 months doing just about anything, including teaching fitness classes, without pay, I would not be pleased. But I feel grateful just having the opportunity to get this experience. I guess that is a sign that I am moving my career in the right direction. Counselling jobs I see posted generally pay at least $20,000 less than what I was making in my research job when I quit. And if I chose to start work for myself, it will likely be years before I have a large enough practice to generate a significant income. But I don't care. I was constantly bitter and angry and frustrated in my research jobs. I resented both my colleagues and clients who acted like the work we were doing was so important, when to me, it was pointless and meaningless. I think I would have felt that way no matter how much I was being paid. The idea that one day people will pay me to do something that will (hopefully) help them and give me intense joy and intrinsic satisfaction just seems too good to be true. But somehow, some way, I intend to make this happen. At this point, with all the time and money I have invested in my counselling training, I CANNOT AFFORD TO FAIL!

The girls are back on track after the winter break, although we have the usual ups and downs. Big A is much more cooperative in the morning again, thank goodness, however, we have recently had difficulties with her when she has playdates. All of a sudden, she won't let anyone in her room as if she is possessively protecting her "stuff". Monday night, her friend Z came over and Big A practically ignored her and went off to do her own thing in another room. After remonstrating with her, she had a major tantrum and screamed and cried. Thank goodness Adam arrived home just at that moment and took over entertaining Z while I was trying to make dinner for everyone. This only made Big A more angry and jealous, and it took about 30 minutes to get her to calm down and start treating Z better. But she is never a terribly gracious host. It is really mortifying! She always wants: the bigger snack, to go first in the game, the pink cup, etc, etc. We have tried to explain proper manners when entertaining guests but it seems to fall on deaf ears.

Little A is showing interest in toilet training - she regularly pees in the potty at daycare and she has made 3 poos on the toilet at home. Unfortunately, she still has a lot to learn about proper hygiene. Last night she took the toilet paper I gave her and wiped...and then she blew her nose with it. Gross I know!

Little A loves daycare (some days I have to drag her out kicking and screaming) and has made quite a few friends. The physical aggression she displayed last summer is only evident when she is with her sister. Squabbles between the girls often leave poor Big A with scratches or bite marks from her fiesty little sister.
Little A is definitely still a pig pen...she has a remarkable ability to make messes and get filthy in SECONDS. I find it funny and endearing to a point. We are always cleaning up after her.

After a few painful days dealing with bad mastitis last week, several days on antibiotics cleared things up quickly. Over all, I'm feeling great right now. My allergies aren't bad (just the usual runny nose I always have), my hamstring is doing a bit better, and the blisters on my heels are finally healed so workouts are much more enjoyable. The eye doctor has given me trial one day contact lenses and so far it looks like this may be a good option for me. The tests she did found that I am not a good candidate for the tear duct blocking procedure because I have enough volume of tears, the problem is my tears are too viscous and therefore, don't moisturize my eyes well. But hopefully switching to daily wear contacts will help me avoid irritation and infections.

Yep, so far 2011 is shaping up pretty well I'd say.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

This tastes decadent but is actually low in fat and sugar. Perfect to enjoy with your afternoon tea.

3 ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup canola oil
4 egg whites or 2 whole eggs
1/4 cup agave syrup or maple syrup
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups organic whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
Pinch of nutmeg (optional)
1.5 cups mini dark chocolate chips

Whisk together wet ingredients in medium bowl and set aside. Stir together dry ingredients in large bowl, add chips, and make a well in the centre. Pour wet ingredients into dry and mix, just until combined. Batter will be thick and lumpy. Dump batter into greased loaf pan and bake at 375 for 45 mins to 1 hour, or until a toothpick comes out clean. If it starts browning quickly (as mine did), cover with foil after the first 20 minutes. Cool on wire rack. Makes one very large loaf.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Condiments

When I was a kid, we nicknamed my father "The Condiment King" because he loves to douse everything he eats in some kind of sauce. Given that he has always loved eating and had more girth around his middle than is healthy, this is not a good thing. My parents fridge is always full of mustards, pickles, relishes, salad dressings and bottled sauces of various types.

Now I am all for a good condiment because I love food with flavour and think blandness is a culinary sin, but when it comes to your health, there are good, bad and ugly things you can choose to put on your food.

A lot of foods we often deem unhealthy or fattening, like white potatoes or pasta (whole grain, of course), are actually very nutritious as long as you avoid preparing them with high fat, high calorie ingredients like sour cream, mayonnaise, butter, whipping cream, etc.

My Favs:
Vinegar - There are so many varieties and I love the zing they add to food. Cider vinegar and rice vinegar are my favorites. Cider vinegar adds sweetness (I always add to chili, curries and tex-mex type dishes), and rice vinegar, which is subtle and versatile (I use it in all my Chinese, Japanese and Thai-inspired dishes). Balsamic and red wine vinegar are great in Italian dishes. Most vinegars (except Balsamic and seasoned (i.e. sweetened) vinegars are calorie free. Can't beat that!

Mustard - I love mustard and there are lots of types to choose from. Dijon is my favorite, but it tends to have quite a bit of sodium. Watch out for honey varieties as they tend to have quite a bit of sugar. You can easily make a homemade one with good quality dijon and a tiny bit of good quality honey. If you like the "French's" kind, which personally I can't stand - my parents call it "Yellow Paint", it does have redeeming nutritional value. It gets it's fluorescent colour from tumeric, the spice that makes curry yellow, and tumeric is ridiculously healthy. Researchers have found it has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Mustard is great on sandwiches, of course, but also adds tons of flavour to marinades and sauces.

Salsa - Again, so many varieties available now, from mild to crazy hot. Great on potatoes, fish, meat, eggs, etc.

Citrus - I love the fresh flavour of citrus juice and zest and find that I really don't need to add salt when I use it.

Nut butters - I love making sauces with sunflower seed butter, pumpkin seed butter, sesame butter, tahini, and various nut butters. Just watch the amount you use because they are full of calories.

Chutney - Good quality ones are fabulous, but they are generally full of sugar, so use sparingly.


Look Out For:
Bottled sauces and dressings - Teriyaki sauces, stir-fry sauces especially, tend to be full of nothing but sugar and salt, and are not terribly flavourful. You can easily make your own. Salad dressings can also be full of sugar and salt so read labels.

Mayo - The real stuff is eggs and oil. Nuff said. If you must, get the low-fat stuff. I know this is a foodie no-no, but I actually prefer non-fat Miracle Whip. I just prefer the taste and texture to real mayo, which I can't stand.

Sour Cream - Low fat or fat-free if you must.

Butter - I use it sparingly for the occasional decadent dessert only.

Margarine - Only use 100% non-hydrogenated, and use sparingly, if you must, for toast, etc.

Jam - Try using only the all-fruit types with no added sugar. Just don't think jams count as a serving of fruit, it's still just sugar!

Oil - You really don't need a lot and most of the time it doesn't add a ton of flavour, just tons of fat and calories. Try toasted sesame oil for lots of Asian flavour, you only need a wee bit. Try making salad dressings with a 2:1 ratio of vinegar or citrus to oil.

I also recommend learning to appreciate the taste of foods, particularly fruits and veggies, without anything on them. Unfortunately, my father still refuses to eat broccoli without pouring something over top. Grrrr!

I Am Not A Sea Lion!

I am all about trying new things lately, which is why when I passed a display of "Dulse" at the grocery store, proclaiming it as "The Sea Vegetable Snack" I was intrigued. I've always enjoyed sea weed in salads, stir fries and sushi, so why not? A whole bag of organic dulse (40g) is only 100 cals and has 8g of fibre and 8g of protein. It is also a good source of iron and vitamin B12. I snatched up 2 bags and brought them home.

Well my friends, I have to admit this is an experiment that did not go well. I opened the bag this morning and was instantly hit with the smell of rotting fish. I reluctantly pulled out a small piece and put it in my mouth. It tasted like rotting fish...chewy rotting fish. Like something the trainers at Sea World keep in their pockets for the animals. Ick! I ran to the kitchen and quickly grabbed a handful of Babybell cheeses to chomp on and get rid of the nasty taste in my mouth.

I am open to trying to cook with it, however, Adam is very averse to strong fishy tastes - he didn't even like the wild cod I made last week - so I am not sure I can come up with any recipes using dulse that he will find palatable. No chance the girls will go near it, that's for sure!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Urge to Purge

No I haven't become bulimic...but I have spent my time off from school this month going room to room through our house and cleaning and organizing.

Ah, it feels so good to get rid of stuff and neaten up all of our previously messy, overstuffed drawers, cabinets and shelves! It really is appaulling how much stuff we have that we really don't need. We truly live in a consumumption-driven world characterized by waste and excess.

It is actually cathartic to get rid of things and create a more organized environment. In the process, I have also learned a few things about myself:

1. I am a compulsive toothbrush buyer. I am embarrassed to say how may new toothbrushes we have in the house. I can't seem to pass a display of toothbrushes on sale without buying one. It's like I worry I'll wake up one day and I'll have nothing to brush with. I don't know why.

2. I can't throw away even little things I don't want or need, if I think someone somewhere in the world could use them. Case in point - the 15 unused contact lense cases I found in my bedside table. I almost convinced myself to throw them out...but then I realized that one of the local women's shelters might take them.

3. If I used to like an item of clothing, I have to keep it for years before I can be convinced to give it away. I realized that I have things that must be 15 years old in my closet...and some of them were "vintage" at the time of purchase!

4. My family and friends either don't know my taste in jewellery or don't like my taste in jewellery. I have a drawer full of large, colourful, in some cases quite valuable jewellery, that loved ones have given me. It's lovely, but I rarely change my jewellery and I favour small silver stuff only. Do my friends and family not notice that I don't wear this kind of thing or are they trying to tell me that I should be? I'm not sure, so just in case, I am keeping it all for now.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Raspberry Lemon Cornmeal Pancakes

The cornmeal gives these a more substantial texture than plain flour pancakes. They are good with maple syrup, but I prefer them drizzled with honey. These are also good using blueberries or even dried berries (cranberries, cherries, blueberries, etc.).

2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup Splenda, honey or sugar
2 tbls baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp sea salt
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
4 egg whites or 2 whole eggs
1 tsp pure lemon or vanilla extract
3-4 cups water
2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries

Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add lemon zest and juice, eggs and extract. Begin whisking everything together while slowly pouring in water. Only pour in as much water as you need - if the batter is too thin, it won't hold berries.

Drop ladles of batter onto skillet and press raspberries into each one before flipping. Get as many berries into each one as possible for maximum berry yumminess.

Makes 8 large or 16 smaller pancakes.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Success Requires Effort and Some Pain Tolerance

Unfortunately, the reality of life is that no pain = no gain (for most things). I don't necessarily mean physical pain, but most worthwhile pursuits require some degree of hard work, sacrifice and sometimes discomfort.

This is certainly true when it comes to physical fitness. The new 2011 physical activity guidelines for Canadians focuses more on intensity than just on duration. In the past, the government was more concerned about getting people moving for a certain number of minutes each day or week. But now they've altered the guidelines by making more specific recommendations about intensity. The following excerpt is taken from the Stats Can website:

New international and proposed Canadian guidelines recommend that to obtain substantial health benefits, adults should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity a week. According to new data from the Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS), 15% of Canadian adults attain this level of activity.

The guidelines also suggest that young people aged 5 to 17 should accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily. CHMS data indicated that 7% of young people attain this level of activity.


More info can be found at:

http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/110119/dq110119b-eng.htm

This means that if you get all your exercise by sitting on your knees pulling weeds in your garden, vacuuming the house or even doing only Tai Chi or yoga classes, it is not enough to get the health benefits.

I also want to stress the importance of doing exercise for health benefits. Too often I see women (and men) decide that exercise is nonessential because they are thin or able to manage their weight better through diet. There is no doubt that diet has a bigger impact on weight control than exercise (it can take an hour of vigorous exercise to burn 500 cals and 5 minutes to consume them), however, thin sedentary people can still be at risk for many chronic illnesses(heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, certain cancers, etc.) and exercise can minimize the risk of these conditions.

The Globe and Mail started a series on obesity this week and ultimately, the research findings show that when it comes to a healthy lifestyle, there is not one perfect diet or exercise program. Why? Because everyone is different. To a large extent, our metabolism is genetically determined. Some people can naturally keep weight off easier than others. BUT genetic predisposition towards obesity can be overcome with lifestyle factors including diet and exercise. The unfortunate reality, however, is it is simply just much more difficult for some people to remain lean than it is for others.

The most interesting thing they reported, however, was that motivation to exercise may also be genetically determined. This got me thinking. I wonder if this could be related to pain tolerance? My treadmill workouts kick my ass. I am generally working at between 80-90% of my max HR. This is uncomfortable. But do I stop? Never. I would never think of giving up - unless I was unwell or injured. Was I just born with a higher pain threshold? Does working out at this intensity level just feel intolerably awful for some people? Or does this just reflect my neurotic/ocd/A-Type personality?

We know that our senses are subjective. What is beautiful, tasty or pleasurable to one person is ugly, unpalatable or painful to another. Perhaps some people who do not eat enough fruits and vegetables simply find them intolerably bitter or sour. There is quite a bit of research showing how our taste buds affect our food preferences. Supertasters, for example, have a heightened sense of taste and tend to dislike things like broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale, spinach and spicy foods.

Nevertheless, while food preferences and motivation to exercise may have a genetic component, environment likely plays a bigger role in our choices. Opportunities to exercise, social support, culture, and socioeconomic status all have a significant impact on our lifestyle. And even if you hate vegetables and whole wheat bread and sweating, it doesn't have to be that way forever! Research has consistently shown that familiarity fosters liking. That is why you are supposed to serve your children a new food at least 10 times before assuming they don't like it. That is why a song you initially heard on the top 40 radio station and found annoying starts to grow on you after you have heard it for the 300th time.

The key to living a healthy life is finding a way to live that you enjoy and maintain long-term. For some people this may take a lot of practice and a lot of trial and error. If you don't like kale sauteed with garlic, try it in soup. Or try eating spinach instead. If you don't like going to gyms, try workout DVDs at home or home exercise equipment or a team sport or a martial art or start biking to work. These days the possibilities are endless. Just keep trying until you find something you enjoy. The reality is, like other worthwhile pursuits - such as parenting, maintaining a healthy marriage, having a successful career - it takes EFFORT.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Garlicky Spinach White Bean Spread

Today's lunch may just become a staple it's so good! Perfect with whole grain pita or baguette.

1 540 ml can white kidney beans, draining and rinsed
2-4 cloves garlic, to taste
300g box chopped frozen spinach or fresh baby spinach leaves
1 tbls lemon juice
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp sea salt, or to taste
Fresh cracked black pepper, to taste

Throw everything in food processor and blend until smooth. You may need a bit more oil if you use fresh spinach, as there will be less moisture.

Variation:
This is like a low-fat, vegan (if you use vegan parmesan) version of spinach artichoke dip.

Same recipe as above but add one can of drained artichoke hearts and 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese or vegan parmesan product. Scrape into greased, oven safe dish and bake at 425 F until bubbly.

Bonds

In child developmental theory, there is a term called "Goodness of Fit" which refers to the compatability between a child's temperment and his/her caregivers.

Adam and I have discussed how being the eldest in his family makes him more sympathetic to Big A in certain situations while me being the youngest in my family predisposes me to being more sympathetic to Little A. This may be why Big A is daddy's girl and Little A is mommy's girl, although their parental preferences are not quite as pronounced as they once were. And perhaps birth order is partially responsible for this, but I also think there are tempermental issues at play too.

Little A is very mischievous, which can be trying, but I also find it extremely amusing. In contrast, it drives Adam nuts. Yesterday morning while he was out taking Big A from Hebrew School to swimming and then out to the car wash, Little A and I were at home. She managed to get into all sorts of trouble including shoving handfuls of her sticky, cheesy pasta lunch between the seat cushions of the couch in the living room and getting ahold of some blue toddler paint (luckily non-toxic!) and painting her lips, the inside of her mouth and both hands. Adam detests messes and gets very frustrated by these sorts of things whereas I am usually able to find the humour in them.

But Adam is much better at "getting" Big A and this morning I realized I still have a lot to learn about how to parent her. I was not in a good mood because I have a bad cold and also woke up with a breast infection. I am still nursing Little A, and while I know some people might find this weird, because she is our last child, I really want to continue to do so until she is at least two. Why not? Generally, it is good for both of us, and something we will never share again.

I begged Big A to be cooperative because I wasn't feeling well and needed to get to the doctor ASAP to get some antibiotics. She was reasonably well behaved until just before we were leaving the house. She realized she had forgotten to fulfill her "special helper" obligations over the weekend for kindergarten (the kids rotate having this role, and this week her obligations included drawing a picture and reading a book). She had a total melt down and refused to leave the house. I completely lost it and used some choice words and names for her that I really regret. She calmed down but was sullen for most of the walk to school.

When I got home from dropping both girls off, I called Adam at work and recounted the story. Instead of being outraged by her petulance in the face of what I considered my urgent health crisis, he expressed sympathy for Big A and how upset she must be that she did not fulfill her special helper obligations, given how important this is to her. Of course. She's not even 5. She can't understand my urgency nor how being in extreme pain makes me short-tempered. To her, this was a very important matter. And parenting experts do stress the importance of trying to acknowledge children's feelings, regardless of whether they are reasonable or rational.

I did apologize to her for what I said, but I also am pledging to try harder to see things from her perspective next time. I know I will continue to make mistakes as a parent...all I can do is try to learn from them.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Creamy Cashew Pea Curry


The Indian name for this dish is Methi Mutter Malai, which I think is perfect since the acronym is MMM and this dish is MMM!

I have never actually had it in a restaurant, only from a pouch. When Adam and I were both students, we would occasionally eat Tasty Bite Indian meals, or other similar pre-made products, we found in the health food stores. They are actually pretty good and very cheap. But this dish is traditionally very indulgent (lots of heavy cream, oil and cashews) and I knew I could design a healthier, better tasting, from-scratch recipe...and I believe I succeeded!

Although it's not traditional for this type of curry, I threw in a head of roasted cauliflower, because in my mind, the more veggies, the merrier, but this addition is completely optional.

Don't be intimidated by it, because most of it is done in the food processor, it is very easy.

Creamy Cashew Pea Curry

1/2 cup unsalted cashews
1 chunk fresh ginger, peeled
4 cloves garlic
1-3 fresh green chilis (optional, if you want some heat)
2 cups plain yogurt (dairy or non-dairy) or 350g pureed silken tofu
300g box frozen spinach or fresh baby spinach leaves

1 tsp olive oil
1 cooking onion, diced
2 tbls ground fenugreek or 1 bunch fenugreek leaves*
2 tbls garam masala
1/2 tsp salt
Lots of freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup lemon juice

500g frozen or fresh green peas
1-3 cups water or unsweetened/unflavoured almond milk or coconut milk (the drinking kind)**

Throw cashews in food processor and process until they are finely ground. Add ginger, garlic and chili and puree until there are no big chunks. Add yogurt and puree mixture until creamy and smooth. Add spinach and blend until there are no big pieces (this just takes a few seconds if using frozen chopped spinach, which you can add all at once. If using fresh, add a bit at a time, until all spinach leaves are incorporated).

Heat large skillet over medium and add oil. Saute onions until translucent. Add spices and cook another minute. Pour in lemon juice and peas and cook, stirring frequently for about 3-4 minutes. Add cashew/yogurt mixture and water or almond milk, a little at a time (sauce shouldn't be too thin) and simmer until peas are tender, about 10-20 minutes. Serve with brown basmati or regular brown long-grain rice.

*I didn't have time to get to an ethnic market so I could only find whole fenugreek seeds at one of our local grocery stores. These must be toasted and then ground, which I did in my spice grinder. You can also use a mortar and pestle. To toast, place on baking sheet in oven (I actually used our toaster oven) at 350 F for 2-3 mins. Do not walk away because they burn easily! I found this out the hard way and had to throw out my first batch!

**You can use water but a milk makes it even richer.

I have entered this recipe into Diet, Dessert & Dogs' Wellness Weekend for January 10-13, 2013.

Kick-Abs Workout

Do you watch "The Biggest Loser"? Personally, I couldn't stomach more than 2 minutes of this show. But there is no denying its popularity and Jillian Michaels, the female trainer on the show, has become a big celeb.

The New Year has me craving change and, along with carrots, I find myself completely sick of Pilates. Unfortunately, I have to keep up my core training to rehab my pelvis/hamstring injury, and I am finally starting to feel some improvement (I can actually sit at my desk or in the car for more than 10 minutes without pain!). Starting next week, I will be teaching a core/Pilates class at a Goodlife club for a few months on Thursdays so I will be forced to keep my training up once a week. But for other days of the week I simply can't handle any of my Pilates DVDs, I am totally bored of all of them. In December I must have rented a dozen Pilates DVDs from our library to see if I could find any worth buying but none were: they were either too easy or too similar to what I already have. So I decided to branch out from traditional Pilates to more modern core training. I ordered 3 new DVDs from Amazon.ca: Jillian Michaels 6 Week Six-Pack, Xtreme Abs with Jackie Warner, and Balanceball Core Cross Train with Tanja Djelevic.

I tried out the Jillian Michaels workout this week and all I can say is: Holy @#$%! This is quite the workout!

I was feeling this workout immediately after I finished it and I don't remember the last time that's happened. It is divided into 2-35 minute segments, Levels 1 and 2. I did both. Although she bills Level 1 as being the "beginner" level, this is NOT for beginners. I don't think this DVD is suitable for previously sedentary, inexperienced exercisers.

Unlike most DVDs that claim to be "fat burning", this one is legit. Michaels incorporates intervals of very high intensity exercises, like burpees and the mountain climber, which get your heart rate up and are extremely challenging. I was sweating like crazy after just the first 20 minutes (which was a bit annoying as I hadn't planned on taking a second shower). But it was also a lot of fun.

She recommends using a 3-8 lb weight for the workout, although this is optional. I used a 5 lb weight and that was more than enough. Somehow while previewing the DVD on my computer, I cracked it badly (like WTF?). So it will now only play on my computer, and not on either of our DVD players. Fortunately, you don't need a huge amount of space, so I was able to do the whole workout in our bedroom with the DVD on my computer.

My exercise of the week is one of my favorites from the workout. Holding weight over your head (or simply clasping your hands together if you don't have a weight), start with your feet shoulder distance apart. Squat to the left, bending the left knee and bend your torso, bringing your left elbow as low as you can to the left side (aiming to eventually touch the left elbow to your left knee). Repeat to the right side. Try to work up to 15 reps on each side. This is a great exercise that targets your oblique muscles.

If you want a great physical challenge that is effective and fun, I highly recommend this DVD. Here is a link to video excerps:


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

To-Do List

My New Year resolutions mostly consisted of resolving some minor, but annoying health problems I have been having, and, of course, being a better parent.

Feet
The first one was my feet. My family doctor was very wise when she recommended that I needed a new pair of winter boots. I took her advice and my little tootsies no longer get numb when I go outside, nor do they get red, itchy and swollen when I come inside and they start to defrost. Yay! Looks like the podiatrist was wrong: I don't need to move to Florida, start driving everywhere in the winter, or even see a vascular surgeon.

Unfortunately, after a few of my regular workouts once we returned from Florida, the blister on my left heel, is as bad as ever. The right one is almost healed, but this stupid one on my left food is really bad. I'm not sure what to do...it probably requires like a month of absolutely no exercise to get completely better but I don't think I can handle that, I'd go nuts!

Eyes
The next issue was dealing with my eyes. Frequent eye infections from my contact lenses have been driving me nuts leading me to contemplate laser surgery. I saw the eye doctor last week and learned that this may not be the right thing for me. All of my ocular problems are due to having extremely dry eyes. This makes me more prone to eye infections and makes it more difficult for me to tolerate contacts. Unfortunately, I refuse to live life wearing glasses! She informed me that laser surgery would only worsen this problem and suggested we first try switching me from 2-week wear lenses to daily lenses. In addition, she wants me to return to have further tests to see if I might be a candidate for a procedure that involves blocking the tear ducts to get more moisture to remain in my eyes. Sounds kind of icky but I'm game if it will help. Oddly, she has always attributed my dry eyes to my underactive thyroid, however, my endocrinologist said she had never heard of this connection. So next step is trying out the new lenses when they arrive (she had to order them) and going back to see if I should have this procedure done.

Patience
I am ashamed to admit that I have not succeeded in being more patient and affectionate with Big A...because...to be honest...she just makes me SO ANGRY!!!

Since returning from our winter holidays, weekday mornings have become a challenge again. The usual defiance is back. This morning was particularly frustrating. Big A was distracting Little A when I was trying to nurse her and ignorning me when I asked her to stop. Then, when it was time to leave for school and brave the massive snow storm outside, she refused to put on her boots and coat. Then she intentionally put her boots on the wrong feet. Then she refused to do up her boots only to start throwing a fit when we got outside because she got snow in her boots.

Dealing with Little A was no picnic either. She is obsessed with anything to do with "Happy to You" (i.e. birthdays), including candles and cake. So she only wants to wear her new pjs she got for Hannukah covered in cupcakes. In fact, she loves them so much that she threw a huge fit when I tried to take them off her this morning so I could get her dressed. She just kept screaming, "Happy to You!" and would roll over and try to run away as I attempted to get her clothes on. Later, when we finally got Big A to school, Big A insisted on calling Adam on my cell. Little A wanted to talk too and then would not return my phone to me. I finally snatched it from her and was rewarded with hysterical screaming for 2 blocks, with other parents looking at me like I am some kind of monster. Little A was so angry, she kicked off one sock and shoe and refused to let me put them back on. "Fine, have a bare foot" I yelled (she was in the stroller with the plastic weather cover down so I don't think this constitutes abuse) and she howled for another block until I stopped and asked if she was ready to let me cover her foot and start behaving. "Da" she said and finally she calmed down.

Once we got to Little A's daycare, I realized that my $50 hand knit hat that I got in NYC a few years ago was no longer under the stroller (I started out the journey with just my earmuffs on, not realizing how cold it is today). I had to trudge all the way back to Big A's school, freezing my @#$% off, but luckily found that it had dropped out inside the school, just below Big A's hook and cubby space and was there waiting for me.

It is still snowing and as I sit here in my furry slippers, eating porridge and drinking tea, I am dreading the massive snow shovel job I am going to have to do in a few hours. Fortunately, I have a good excuse to stay put at my desk as I just realized yesterday that my second last course for my miscarriage/infertility counselling certificate begins today. For some reason I thought I had January off from that as well. Oh well, it's not nearly as demanding as the courses for my Masters, so it is still kind of a holiday.

My friend Megan, a mother of 3 who has more patience than I will ever have, sent me this email today. You may have seen it already but I think it is so incredibly funny I wanted to post it.

11 Step Program for those thinking of having kids

Lesson 1



1. Go to the grocery store.

2. Arrange to have your salary paid directly to their head office.

3. Go home.

4. Pick up the paper.

5. Read it for the last time.



Lesson 2



Before you finally go ahead and have children, find a couple who already are parents and berate them about their...

1. Methods of discipline.

2. Lack of patience.

3. Appallingly low tolerance levels.

4. Allowing their children to run wild.

5. Suggest ways in which they might improve their child's breastfeeding, sleep habits, toilet training, table manners, and overall behavior.

Enjoy it because it will be the last time in your life you will have all the answers.



Lesson 3



A really good way to discover how the nights might feel...

1. Get home from work and immediately begin walking around the living room from 5PM to 10PM carrying a wet bag weighing approximately 8-12 pounds, with a radio turned to static (or some other obnoxious sound) playing loudly. (Eat cold food with one hand for dinner)

2. At 10PM, put the bag gently down, set the alarm for midnight, and go to sleep.

3. Get up at 12 and walk around the living room again, with the bag, until 1AM.

4. Set the alarm for 3AM.

5. As you can't get back to sleep, get up at 2AM and make a drink and watch an infomercial.

6. Go to bed at 2:45AM.

7. Get up at 3AM when the alarm goes off.

8. Sing songs quietly in the dark until 4AM.

9. Get up. Make breakfast. Get ready for work and go to work (work hard and be productive)



Repeat steps 1-9 each night. Keep this up for 3-5 years. Look cheerful and together.



Lesson 4



Can you stand the mess children make? T o find out...

1. Smear peanut butter onto the sofa and jam onto the curtains.

2. Hide a piece of raw chicken behind the stereo and leave it there all summer.

3. Stick your fingers in the flower bed.

4. Then rub them on the clean walls.

5. Take your favorite book, photo album, etc. Wreck it.

6. Spill milk on your new pillows. Cover the stains with crayons. How does that look?



Lesson 5



Dressing small children is not as easy as it seems.

1. Buy an octopus and a small bag made out of loose mesh.

2. Attempt to put the octopus into the bag so that none of the arms hang out.



Time allowed for this - all morning.



Lesson 6



Forget the BMW and buy a mini-van. And don't think that you can leave it out in the driveway spotless and shining. Family cars don't look like that.

1. Buy a chocolate ice cream cone and put it in the glove compartment.

Leave it there.

2. Get a dime. Stick it in the CD player.

3. Take a family size package of chocolate cookies. Mash them into the back seat. Sprinkle cheerios all over the floor, then smash them with your foot.

4. Run a garden rake along both sides of the car.



Lesson 7



Go to the local grocery store. Take with you the closest thing you can find to a pre-school child. (A full-grown goat is an excellent choice). If you intend to have more than one child, then definitely take more than one goat. Buy your week's groceries without letting the goats out of your sight. Pay for everything the goat eats or destroys. Until you can easily accomplish this, do not even contemplate having children.



Lesson 8



1. Hollow out a melon.

2. Make a small hole in the side.

3. Suspend it from the ceiling and swing it from side to side.

4. Now get a bowl of soggy Cheerios and attempt to spoon them into the swaying melon by pretending to be an airplane.

5. Continue until half the Cheerios are gone.

6. Tip half into your lap. The other half, just throw up in the air.



You are now ready to feed a nine- month-old baby.



Lesson 9



Learn the names of every character from Sesame Street , Barney, Disney, the Teletubbies, and Pokemon. Watch nothing else on TV but PBS, the Disney channel or Noggin for at least five years. (I know, you're thinking What's 'Noggin'?) Exactly the point.



Lesson 10



Make a recording of Fran Drescher saying 'mommy' repeatedly. (Important: no more than a four second delay between each 'mommy'; occasional crescendo to the level of a supersonic jet is required). Play this tape in your car everywhere you go for the next four years. You are now ready to take a long trip with a toddler.



Lesson 11



Start talking to an adult of your choice. Have someone else continually tug on your skirt hem, shirt- sleeve, or elbow while playing the 'mommy' tape made from Lesson 10 above. You are now ready to have a conversation with an adult while there is a child in the room.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tahini Sauce

I love tahini and this sauce is one of my favorites. I made it today to drizzle on my falafel sandwich at lunch, but it is very versatile. You can thin it out with some rice vinegar or white wine vinegar and make it a dressing for a salad of romaine, red onion, grape tomatoes and black olives, or simply drizzle it over fish, poultry lamb or vegetables. I love sauteeing zucchini, grape tomatoes, red onion and chickpeas and serving it over brown rice with a healthy amount of this sauce and a sprinkle of scallions.

Although tahini is high cal, it is also full of good fats, calcium and iron.

2 tbls tahini
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp ground cumin
Lemon juice
Pinch of cayenne (optional)

Whisk together first three ingredients. Add lemon juice slowly until desired consistency is reached. I like it thick for falafel sandwiches and thinner for pouring over foods or using as a dressing.

This makes enough for me for 2 falafel sandwiches but I triple it or make even more if I am using it as a sauce for an entree.

Monday, January 10, 2011

IKEA

Are you an Ikea lover or hater? I'm an Ikea hater but I seem to keep forgetting that. I easily get sucked in by their impossibly cute displays and their even more impossibly low prices. But this time I swear, I am never buying any furniture at Ikea ever again!

Last week I put together the filing cabinet and drawer thingy I got there to replace the pedestal drawer thingy I currently have under my desk, which is falling apart. It took me several hours, but I was very proud of myself. No leftover parts, I pieced together the drawers and the frame, put on the casters, the wheels, everything. Unfortunately, when I was finished, the drawers would not fit into the frame! The whole thing almost went flying out the window.

So today I had to drive all the way back there (30 minutes) to return the stupid thing. Then I had to wait almost another half hour just to get to the service desk since there were only 2 staff helping about 800 people making returns. Thankfully, they accepted the return, no questions asked.

But really, I've had enough. When it comes to furniture, you really do get what you pay for. Even the pieces of Ikea furniture we own that we had Ikea put together for us (this costs extra, of course) are all slightly hinky. So it's not just our own incompetence with building this stuff. Our television cabinet has a drawer that gets stuck and the drawer on the bottom of our china cabinet in the dining room does too. Also, one of the drawers in one of our dressers in our bedroom keeps collapsing, however, Adam claims this is because I have stuffed too many pairs of jeans into it.

Most people I know say this about Ikea furniture, "Its perfectly good until you need to move it anywhere...then it's garbage." Frankly, I think even before you try to move it anywhere it's usually garbage. But the fact is, with me in school again, we are not in a position to go out and buy expensive furniture, which is why our house is currently furnished with a large quantity of Ikea items. It is perfect "student" furniture after all. But I am publicly swearing right now in front of all of you as my witnesses, I am never buying a single piece of Ikea furniture again...except maybe the adorable daybed I saw there today for Little A when she outgrows her crib...

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Divine Chocolate Truffles

Are you chocolate or a vanilla person?

I'm guessing chocolate is the more popular answer. Not for me though. I am not a true "chocoholic" or so I am told by most foodies, because I don't like dark chocolate. Nope, for me it's milk and only milk. I won't eat fake chocolate though, you know, the stuff labelled as "cholately" and contains vegetable fats. Just the real stuff, but it can simply be Dairy Milk, it doesn't have to be artisanal chocolate hand made for $50/ounce. I prefer milk because I like my chocolate soft and creamy and I find dark too hard and crunchy. For this reason, I also hate chocolate chips or bits in ice cream or any chocolate, for that matter, that has been refrigerated or frozen. I also prefer vanilla ice cream to chocolate and oatmeal raisin, gingerbread or molassas cookies to chocolate chip.

I think Big A is turning out like me, she loves things that are vanilla and has come to appreciate "spiced" sweets (i.e. gingerbread, etc.) almost as much as I do. She also likes chocolate, but it is not usually her first choice. Little A, however, is already showing signs of being a chocoholic (Big A was never even allowed chocolate until after her 2nd birthday, but being a second child, Little A has been exposed to almost everything much earlier). This should come as no surprise, it's in the genes: both Adam, his mom, and my mom are big time chocolate lovers.

So I got thinking...what could I create that would be big on chocolately taste to please my little ones, without all the sugar and other garbage? I came up with this recipe and, except for the cocoa powder dusting on the outside (Big A found it too bitter), it was a big hit. Next time I might try rolling them in coconut or chopped almonds...

I call these divine because they are truly sinless - low-fat and no dairy or sugar added* - but are still delicious. The provide dark chocolate flavour, but a soft, smooth, creamy consistency.

4 cups pitted dates
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tbls almond butter
4 tbls pure cocoa powder, plus more for rolling if desired
Optional add-ons: finely shredded coconut, chopped almonds, powdered sugar, etc.

Place dates and water in saucepan over high heat with lid on. Once water boils, immediately turn off heat and add vanilla. Leave on burner until all water is absorbed and mixture has cooled somewhat. Place dates in food processor with almond butter and cocoa and puree until it forms a paste (doesn't have to be perfectly smooth). Form into balls** and roll in cocoa powder and/or other options. Makes 18 truffles.

Refrigerate if you prefer a firmer texture.

*Did you know that dates are the sweetest fruit on earth? Probably why I love them so much. To me they taste like caramel. Although they contain a lot of natural sugar and are not low calorie (1 cup has 415 cals), they are loaded with fibre and have a lot of nutrients including folate, potassium, calcium, magnesium, selenium, vitamin A, vitamin K and choline.

**I used my hands and the mixture was a bit too sticky for this. I recommend using a spoon or melon baller to scoop it out for rolling.

Fitness DVD Deals

Check out iNetVideo.ca to find some excellent deals on fitness DVDs. If you are not sure which one is right for you, try Googling it and reading reviews (most are reviewed on Amazon.com).

http://find.inetvideo.ca/search?p=Q&lbc=inetvideo-ca&uid=91391222&ts=customv2&w=%2a&af=price:03%20genre:fitness&method=and&view=grid&format=genre%5e&isort=globalpop&lang=en&cnt=48

Friday, January 7, 2011

Caribbean Red Bean Soup

This is by far the best soup recipe I have ever created. It was inspired by a soup I had once at Fresh, a vegetarian restaurant here in Toronto. But I think my version is even better. This makes a great lunch, along with a whole grain bagel or roll and can even be a complete dinner served with whole grain roles and a simple green salad. Leftovers can easily be frozen.

2 tsp vegetable oil
1 red bell pepper and 1 green bell pepper, diced
1 onion, diced
1 large or 2 small carrots, diced
2 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
2-4 cloves garlic (to taste)
2 tbsp good quality curry powder
½ tsp ground allspice
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 can light coconut milk (14 fl oz)
1 large can diced tomatoes, with juice (28 fl oz)
5-6 sweet potatoes (about 6 lbs), peeled and cut into eighths
4 cups vegetable stock (use a good quality organic brand in tetra pak if possible)
Hot sauce (to taste)
1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed(19 fl oz)
Juice of 1 lime

Pour oil into large saucepot or stockpot over medium heat and sauté bell peppers, onion and carrot until softened, about 7-8 minutes. Add ginger, garlic, curry powder, allspice, salt and pepper and stir for about 2 minutes. Add coconut milk, tomatoes and sweet potatoes, stir for another 2 minutes. Add vegetable stock and hot sauce, turn down to medium-low heat and cover with lid. Allow to simmer for about 30 minutes until sweet potatoes are cooked through. Take potato masher or hand-held blender and mash/puree sweet potatoes into soup. Add beans. Turn heat down to low and simmer for an additional 30 minutes, until thickened. Add juice of lime just before serving.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Healthy New Year Tips

Did you know it is not possible to tone/sculpt muscles? I was thinking about this yesterday when I did my Denise Austin Pilates DVD. I still think it's a great workout but she is a complete moron. I almost threw my waterbottle at the t.v. screen. She blabs throughout the whole thing about losing inches and toning particular muscle groups. I have already mentioned that Pilates is not what you should be doing if you want to lose inches (i.e. decrease body fat), but it is really disgraceful that she is helping to propogate so many misconceptions about fitness.

In order to get that "toned/sculpted" muscle definition most of us strive for (i.e. Linda Hamilton/Madonna arms), you need to have no excess body fat and some degree of muscle hypertrophy. For most of us this requires a strict diet, regular cardiovascular activity and strength training. If you have any pounds to lose, you will not get that look, nor are you likely to get it if you are just skinny (i.e. do cardio but no serious strength training). Denise Austin is obviously an idiot because Pilates does not burn fat nor does it require enough resistance to increase the size of muscle fibres (hypertrophy). That is why it is so popular with dancers, etc. It is great for improving functional fitness, core strength and posture without building any "bulk". So forget about "toning" with Pilates, yoga or 2 lb weights. If you want to look sculpted, you gotta get serious about diet and training (i.e. Look at how bodybuilders eat/exercise). Here are a few more tips to improve your health and wellness in 2011:

Try a New Physical Activity
Make your fitness goal for 2011 to try a new activity you have been too chicken to try before. I want to try indoor rock climbing and/or crossfit. There are so many options these days and you don't need to find a gym. How about snowshoeing or cross-country skiing? These are two incredible cardiovascular activities. We used to go skiing as a family a lot when I was a kid and I am hoping Adam and I can take the girls when they are older.

Try a New Healthy Snack
I have finally reached the point of being sick of carrots. I have eaten one (or a million) too many. But they are so healthy, cheap and easy so when I was looking for a replacement, it had to be affordable (since I am a student), portable and easy to munch on while working at my desk. I spotted roasted chestnuts in my local grocery store and was curious. I tried them today and loved them! And a 100g bag has just 190 calories along with 5g of protein and some vitamin C. Yum! Next time you go to the grocery store, look for something new to try to satisfy your snack cravings.

Try a New Side Dish
Instead of white potatoes, try some other root veggies. You can puree celery root and prepare it like mashed potatoes or try roasting squash, turnips or parsnips. These veggies are cheap and nutritious and available all year round.

Try Using Your Car Less
Think your office, grocery store or gym is too far to walk? Why not give it a try and you might discover it doesn't take as long as you think. You'll end up doing both your body and the environment a favour.

Spend More Time with the People Who Make You Feel Good and Less With Those Who Don't
We all have those toxic people in our life who we know are not good for our well-being but we can't seem to get rid of for whatever reason. Come on, life is too short. Besides, it will give you more time to focus on those people in your life who mean the most to you.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Professional Development 2011

I have January off from school because I was granted advanced standing for the research methodology courses that I already have from my MA and PhD. This gives me time to kick-start the research at Mount Sinai and try to secure my practicum placement. Yesterday I sent off the revised ethics proposal and consent form to Dr. M, so if the ethics board expedites our approval, hopefully we can get going. I also emailed a draft proposal for the miscarriage support group that J.S. from Women's College Hospital asked me to put together. I just hope I hear back from SOMEBODY sooner rather than later.

Because I am on break from school, I decided I should really teach some fitness classes this month and make a few bucks. I get multiple email requests daily to sub classes and I usually ignore them. But last week I agreed to cover a Thursday lunch hour spin class for an instructor at Goodlife who wants to take paternity leave for a few months. I was dreading every minute of it! Then the instructor who regularly calls me to sub her abs/pilates class asked if I would sub her class so she could sub this guy's spin classes. I jumped at the chance. Tuesday and Thursdays are my pilates days anyway and this way I get paid to do one of my weekly rehab workouts...it's a win-win! Besides, I'm getting sick of all my pilates DVDs and teaching is more fun.

My other goals for this month are emptying our storage room of boxes that have been sitting there, unopened, since we moved to our house (almost 5 years ago!) and to put together the Ikea filing cabinet we bought in December to replace my current one that has pretty much collapsed in on itself. Touching up chipped paint in the downstairs bathroom and basement are also on the list. I suspect this month is going to fly by!

Parenting 2011

The new year seems off to a decent start. The girls transitioned back to school and daycare better than I had expected yesterday. Fortunately for me, Adam has been home the past 2 mornings to help me get them out the door.

Although she exhibited quite a bit of jealousy over the attention that Little A and her younger cousins received from everybody over the break, Big A was a stellar traveller. She was great on the flights and generally well-behaved in Florida inspite of taking no naps and tiring herself out completely 2 days in a row with her swimming sessions.

Little A seemed to make some big advances in her language skills over the holiday and has finally starting saying her first affirmative word: "Da" instead of just nodding her head (which made for some very silent phone conversations between her and my parents). Although she is not nearly as defiant as Big A was at 20 months, she is already starting to show some signs of the same bossiness Big A used to have: she likes to tell us all where to sit and if Adam and I are both present, she always wants the other person to: get her out of the crib, change her diaper, hand her her sippy cup, push her stroller, etc. Adam has rightfully pointed out that I am giving in to her whims far too often, just as I used to with Big A. I don't know why I am so reluctant to just let her fuss. This is exactly what got me into problems with Big A.

Before the holiday daycare pick-up had become a miserable daily chore. Just like Big A used to be, she is always crabby in the stroller on the ride home. Once we are home she is fine, but until then she is generally shrieking her little heart out.

I was coming armed every day with about 5 different snacks trying to appease her (3 different fresh fruits, cereal or muffin and dried fruit) but no matter what I brought, she was always howling and screaming before we got home. She would also have me stopping in the frigid weather so often to give her another snack or remove the snack she was holding that she no longer wanted, that I was freezing my butt off and we were almost late by the time we got to Big A's school to pick her up. Adam suggested I bring her one snack and if she doesn't like it, tough for her. This was the strategy yesterday and I realized that she was no more grumpy than on any other day.

Little A has also has started using nursing as a delay tactic (to delay leaving for daycare in the morning, to delay bathtime and bedtime, etc.). This morning she nursed twice (normally she nurses once before daycare) and then when Adam said it was time to go, she started crying for "Mommy milk" again. Adam told her it was too late and strapped her into the stroller. She began screaming her head off and continued to do so until we had walked about a block down the street. Then she calmed down and by the time we got her to daycare, she was her usual chipper self. Adam pointed out the fact that sometimes you just have to wait her out and, again, he is right. Sometimes you have to just let them cry. I am not sure why I find this so hard to do.

I am quite pleased with myself for the break I took from exercise over the holiday. I was chatting with a few gym friends of mine on Sunday after my spinning class and we all admitted that it usually takes an injury for us to take a rest, even though rest is important for us folks who work out intensely. I also don't feel bad about all the indulging as I do it so rarely.

What I do feel bad about is how the girls ate...basically the whole month of December, since Hannukah, was a big junk food fest. Travelling across boarders with fresh food is not easy, so I loaded up on what I think of as healthy junk food for the girls for our trip. Thinks like Big A's favorite organic chocolate dipped brown rice cakes (i.e. organic empty calories) and Del Monte fruit twists (i.e. "no sugar added" fruit candy). I did find no sugar added dried apples, bananas and strawberries for them to snack on in Florida, as well as squeezable fruit purees (had it not been in a squeezable package I doubt either would have touched it), but still. Not the best choices. And don't even get me started on what Big A ate at our New Year's Day party!

However, I feel like I have managed to get them back on track. Monday dinner they ate meatballs and steamed cauliflower and last night roasted chicken, potatoes and orange peppers. If we can keep going like this, I'll feel better. Thank goodness they generally eat whatever is served at daycare/school. I think that's the only way any legumes and most veggies get into their little bodies!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Easy Veggie Curry

Anyone who knows me well knows I can't handle throwing out food. For some reason it just makes me crazy. That's why we go to the market for our fresh produce twice a week and why I plan our meals for the week every Sunday. We basically just buy as much as we need. But sometimes you still end up with extra veggies to eat like we did following our New Years Day party. While the fruit tray was completely devoured, there were lots of veggies left that I had prepared for the crudite platter. So last night I came up with this recipe and it was delicious.

You can use any veggies you like really. I used sweet yellow peppers, broccoli and zucchini because that's what I had on hand. It is also great because it comes together quickly, or if you have time, you can let it simmer to really let the flavours develop. If you are making it quickly, you may want to microwave or steam hard veggies (like potatoes, cauliflower or broccoli)before adding to make sure they are not too crunchy.

1 tsp olive oil
1 cooking onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 knob fresh ginger, peeled and chopped or grated
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 tbls garam masala (this is not a hot spice blend)
Cayenne pepper, to taste (optional, if you want it to have some heat)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 can tomato paste
1 can lentils, drained and rinsed (or chickpeas)
Veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, squash, spinach, zucchini, frozen peas, bell peppers, cabbage, etc.)
1 cup plain yogurt
2-4 cups veggie stock, chicken stock or water

In large skillet saute onions over medium heat until translucent. Add in salt, garlic, ginger and spices and cook another minute or so until mixture starts to dry. Add lemon juice, tomato paste and lentils and 1 cup of water or stock and turn heat down to low. Add in veggies, starting with those that need the longest cooking time (try not to overcook green veggies unless you like them really soft and mushy). Add yogurt and additional stock as needed if sauce becomes too thick. Simmer on low heat until veggies are cooked to taste. Serve over brown basmati or regular long grain brown rice.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Routine Breaks

One of the things that makes Adam and I so compatible is that we like routine. We are NOT spontaneous people. We are happy to work out and eat oatmeal for breakfast every day. That being said, it is always healthy to take a break from your routine and travelling gives you a perfect opportunity to do so. This is why my nutrition plans always go right out the window when we are on holiday. I love having the chance to try new things.

So our Florida trip involved the consumption of far too many calories and too much saturated fat. The outlet mall we go to has a fudge store that makes fresh fudge that is out of this world. I don't even want to admit how much I ate! And then there are the whole wheat oatmeal raisin cookies I found at the Whole Foods...and all the chocolate...oh the chocolate! In fact, for the first time since I have known him, Adam is sick of chocolate.

But I think if the snacks were downright decadent, I at least partially made up for it with healthy meals.

When we went shopping at Publix, the grocery chain, I was excited to find huge bags of fresh, washed, cut kale. In Toronto, I have only ever seen it in unwashed bunches or frozen. They had a 2-for-1 special, so I got 2 huge bags. Adam thought I had lost my mind. But we (mostly me) made it through ALL the kale. I sauteed it with garlic and salsa and stuffed it into whole wheat wraps along with pepper jack cheese and scrambled egg whites for my breakfast every morning, I added it to our pasta one night and I sauteed it with turkey sausage to make wraps for Adam on another evening. I also managed to get through an entire bag of cole slaw. I am happy to say, however, that I did not eat a carrot or any broccoli the whole time. As much as I love them, sometimes it's good to get a break!

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

Big A and I made these for our New Years party. If you can't find mini pb cups, use regular choc chips or crumble up the big pb cups.

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup natural peanut butter
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2.5 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup mini peanut butter cups (I used President's Choice mini peanut butter melts)

Cream butter and sugar until like and fluffy. Whisk in peanut butter eggs and vanilla until smooth. Stir together dry ingredients and add to wet mixing just until dough comes together. Add pb cups or chips. Roll into balls and flatten with fork on non-stick baking sheet. Bake at 400 for 12 minutes, for slightly softer cookies, and a few minutes longer for crunchier cookies. Makes 36 cookies.

Florida 2010

Well we made it back in one piece. While our time in Florida was wonderful, I can't say the same for the flights there and back. Big A was stellar, she just watched episode after episode of Caillou (thank goodness Air Canada has a tv for every seat where you can choose from a multitude of movies or tv shows...and thank goodness they have lots for kids, it saved us!). Little A, however, refused to sleep so for at least the last hour of both flights she was bananas (keep in mind we didn't arrive in Orlando until 1am!). I imagine everyone else on the plane wanted to push us out the window.

In Florida we had a wonderful time. It was so great to hang out with Adam's parents, siblings and their kids and the kids had so much fun together. We shopped (I found Banana Republic jeans for $30!) and ate (way too much and way too much junk including fudge, cookies and chocolate) and relaxed. In fact, I was uncharacteristically unmotivated to be active. Adam and I got to the gym at the resort once the whole time but I figured it was a good opportunity to let all my blisters get better. Unfortunately, I didn't even have the motivation to do any of my physio exercises so I'm sure I'll pay the price. Fortunately at the gym this morning I didn't feel too bad although I have definitely lost a bit of strength.

Adam deserves a medal for agreeing to go in the pool with Big A the second day we were there when it was only 12 degrees celcius. I thought he was insane and even more insane staying in the pool for 90 minutes. The next day when it was warmer, Big A had to be dragged out of the pool after 2.5 hours! At least she was active while we were on holiday.

The airline sent my luggage to Montreal on the way home (don't get me started on how much I hate airlines, I could rant for hours!), which I am ashamed to admit, brought me to tears. I was sure it was gone for good. I know it is just "stuff" but I had packed a lot of my favorite clothes. Stupid I know, but I have 2 gorgeous sister-in-laws so I didn't want to spend the whole vacation looking like a shlump beside them. Besides, all you women out there know how long it takes to find clothes you think are flattering and you feel comfortable in and I had packed ALL my favorite jeans, which are a staple in my "I am a student" wardrobe. Luckily, they located my bag and sent it to Toronto the next day. Too bad my contact lens solution exploded everywhere!