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Monday, February 28, 2011

What a Dill-ema!

Sweet Adam dutifully takes the girls and my shopping list to our Korean market twice a week to get all the produce for my cooking and baking. Unfortunately, because he doesn't cook, sometimes he gets a bit confused.

Like last week I asked for cilantro and he brought home dill. What to do with a massive bunch of dill?

I wasn't in the mood for the usual suspects: broiled salmon, potatoes, etc. So the dill languished in the fridge. Until yesterday, when I was looking for something to add to my tuna sandwich at lunch. We were out of my usual organic greens and the market was out of stock yesterday too. Fortunately, I spied the dill and figured, "Why not?". It was dillicious! And then it struck me how yummy it would be to try all sorts of different herbs on my sandwiches.

I've had some more important decisions to make recently too.

Having gotten two practicum placements for school, I had to decide whether to do one or both. The school won't let me do two full placements, but I can split between two sites. The reality, of course, is that I will for sure end up doing way more work by doing two than if I do one. But I said I wanted experience! So I have decided to try both. This way, I get experience doing infertility/miscarriage specific counselling, as well as some more general counselling. Since I also have to complete a major case study (like a mini thesis) while doing my practicum, that is sure to be a very busy time!

I also decided to break up with my physiotherapist. Well, more like the clinic where she works since she actually went on mat leave to have her baby. When I told her everything the osteopath said, she agreed with it all but didn't suggest any changes to my current ineffective treatment except to say I should do another session with the athletic therapist to get some upper body exercises. Sigh! At that moment I decided I really wanted a different perspective.

I did some research and found a physio place, that just happens to also be much closer and convenient, that had a philosophy I like and decided to give it a try.

When I first met my new therapist today, I was skeptical - he looks about 22 and I thought, "How can this guy have the knowledge or expertise to help me?" Of course, any time I make stupid judgments like this, I'm pleasantly proven wrong.

After doing a thorough assessment of my body in motion, he determined the central cause of my problem to be a major muscle imbalance due to weak hamstrings. My old therapist had noted the weakness in my hamstrings but not done anything about it. He also thinks that the problem involves the fascia, which explains why the osteopathy was so helpful - it focuses on manipulation of the fascia. Hmm...

He did some work on the hamstring itself (something my old therapist never did, she always focused on my lower back where I feel no pain) and got me to do a spine stabilizing exercise that he recommended I do every day. Low and behold, I felt an improvement immediately! After so many months of only limited progress, I look back and wonder why I didn't try somebody else sooner. The reality is that I assumed the lack of progress was due to the severity of the injury but when I think about it, my therapist did the same thing every visit and only 10 minutes of it involved her actually putting her hands on my body. None of it involved exercises.

I also made the decision to start educating Big A about the birds and the bees. After all, she's almost 5 and completely clueless. After asking Adam and I about how exactly I got a baby in my tummy when I was pregant with Little A - to which we responded very vaguely - she seems completely disinterested. Still, I think it is better she learn from us than someone in the school yard.

So we went to Chapters/Indigo and found a book on body parts and reproduction that is geared towards her age group. We've been reading it before bed the past few nights and while she seems mildly interested, she is charmingly not in the least bit embarrassed. The only comment I got from her so far was "Yuck", when we got to the "mechanics" of baby-making. As far as I'm concerned it's great if she feels the way for the next 25 years!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Asian Pesto Sauce

This is healthy, flavourful and very versatile. I made it last night with brown rice noodles and stir-fried veggies, but you could use it just with veggies, or on fish, seafood, chicken or flank steak. It is also simple to make because you throw everything into the food processor.

1/2 cup unsalted, roasted cashews
Large chunk of fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic
1 bunch green onions, ends trimmed
2 hot green chili peppers (optional)
A few handfuls fresh cilantro
5oz/142g fresh baby spinach
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
2 tbls low sodium soy or tamari
2 tbls fish sauce
4-6 tbls rice vinegar

Place cashews in food processor with ginger and garlic and mix until finely processed. Add onions and chili if using and process again. Add cilantro and repeat. Add spinach to processor a bit at a time until it is all incorporated and then add in all the liquid ingredients. By the end, the cashews should be processed enough to be almost creamy and bind everything together.

Friday, February 25, 2011

False Claims

In the fitness, diet and beauty industries, false claims are everywhere. Creams that get rid of cellulite or wrinkles, supplements that help you burn fat and exercise gizmos that can transform your physique from Homer Simpson's to Hercules'.

In most cases, if it seems to good to be true, it probably is. For most of us, looking good and keeping fit and healthy takes some work. You can't smoke, drink, eat Cheetos, and lie around all day and expect to look and feel like a pro athlete.

Weeks ago I reviewed Gillian Michael's new DVD: Six Week Six Pack. It is a great video. Very challenging core exercises and some high intensity interval training. It is fun and a nice change from the pilates I was doing beforehand.

Now, I did not start doing all this extra core training a few months ago to get six pack abs, I did it on the recommendation of my physiotherapist who thought it was key in helping to rehab my pelvic misalignment, which was supposed to help fix the pain in my hamstring. Nevertheless, I decided to do an experiment and see if this workout can really deliver what it promises.

Michaels vaguely mentions that you should work out 5 times a week (she doesn't specify what type of exercise or for how long, etc.) and eat a healthy diet. She also recommends doing the level 1 workout for the first 3 weeks and the level 2 workout for the next 3. I eat pretty healthy, I workout every day and I did level 1 and 2 together (the whole 60 minutes) once a week. Another day I have been teaching a core training class at Goodlife and trying to incorporate some of her exercises. Unfortunately, I was restricted by the ability level of the participants which is, lets just say, not advanced.

So, do I have a six pack????

Hardly.





As you can see, I don't even have a 2 pack. And I am still, as Adam likes to tease, completely "tubular". I have no hour glass shape to me.

So why didn't it work? The reality is, six pack abs are very difficult to achieve for most people. You need either good genetics and/or an extreme lifestyle. Although exercise is critical to good health - being skinny is no excuse to avoid it - weight control is more dependent on diet. Why? Because while it can take 5 minutes to inhale 500 calories, it can take over an hour of intense exercise to burn them off. So you can do all the core work you want, and even all the cardio you want, but if you are eating too many calories, you will likely have too much body fat to show your strong stomach muscles off.

Take, for example, the diet of female fitness models like those on the cover of Oxygen Magazine.



The typical diet of a fitness model is as follows:
Meal 1: 4 egg whites, 1 whole egg, 1/2 cup oatmeal (cooked), a piece of fruit
Meal 2: 4–5 oz lean meat, 1/2 cup brown rice (cooked), 1 cup veggies
Meal 3: Protein shake with 1 tbsp glutamine (postworkout)
Meal 4: Same as meal 2 (no brown rice)
Meal 5: 5 oz tilapia, 2 cups salad, 1 cup veggies, 3 oz sweet potato
Meal 6: 4 egg whites, 1 cup veggies.

Now I don't know about you, but personally I would last on a diet this restrictive for about 3 days before I would lose my mind. Just thinking about it makes me depressed.

So you have to ask yourself, is it worth it?

So should you bother buying the DVD? If you want a stronger core, absolutely! Although core strength is not helping my rehab much, it is key for rehab of many injuries. It also improves your athletic performance - I have noticed I can push harder in my cardio and lift heavier with weights. Core strength improves your posture, decreases your chance of injury, improves your stability and balance and can help maintain mobility as you age. Just don't expect that doing this DVD alone will transform your body.

While exercise may not have as dramatic an effect on your appearance as diet, more and more research is finding that it makes a significant difference to your health, risk of chronic illness and life expectancy. So no matter what your weight status, fitness is important. Think about it, just being thin may be fine...until you fall and break your hip when you're 60!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Apple Butter Chicken and Squash Saute

Like many of my invented recipes, this was inspired by random ingredients I had in the house. In this case, a jar of apple butter and 2 lbs of cubed butternut squash from Costco.

I love apple butter. It has no added sugar* or salt, but is full of flavour. It is pricey, but it also isn't hard to make your own. Aside from topping toast, it can be used for baking, and a component in salad dressings and sauces.

The natural sweetness of this dish makes it very kid-friendly. This turned out even better than I expected and was delicious on quinoa.

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into bite sized pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

2 lbs butternut squash, cut into cubes
1 cooking onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp olive oil
1/4 tsp kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp Herbs de Provence (optional)

Sauce
1 cup apple butter
2 heaping tbls dijon mustard
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 cup + apple cider, apple juice or water (optional)

Toss squash and onion with oil and seasonings and roast in oven at 425 F on a bakin sheet for about 25 minutes, or until squash is tender.

Meanwhile, whisk together all the ingredients for the sauce.

Then, brown chicken pieces in frying pan over medium heat, but don't cook through completely. Add garlic, and stir for a minute or two. Deglaze pan with 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar. Turn heat down to medium-low or low heat and add sauce to pan. Simmer until chicken is fully cooked. Stir in additional cider/juice or water if sauce is too thick. Add roasted squash and onion to pan and combine with chicken and sauce.

Serve over quinoa (or brown rice).

*Some companies do add sugar, so always check labels. I like Eden Foods organic apple butter best.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Climbing the Walls

Yesterday was Family Day in Ontario. Or as my friend Nathalie says: Parent Torture Day. A day when all schools and daycares are closed as are most retail businesses and provincial government services AND it is the middle of February when the weather usually sucks.

Now in Toronto there are lots of family activities to chose from, but few appropriate for kids under the age of 5.

Luckily, Sunday night the girls slept at my in-laws, which gave Adam and I a chance to do something in the morning alone. I convinced my very tolerant husband to go indoor rock climbing - this being one of the things on my 2011 to-do list.

It was not nearly as physically taxing as I had expected, nor as scary. We didn't kill ourselves, although Adam scraped his hand and I jammed my stupid pinky...the one I slammed in the car door a few months ago.

Will we do it again? I don't know. Possibly with the kids. There were TONS of kids there, as young as about 3!! Our instructor told us that if kids can walk, they are old enough to climb. We joked that Little A would likely climb the biggest wall...if we told her NOT to!

Afterwards, my in-laws brought the girls home and I stayed with Little A while she napped and Adam took Big A swimming at the JCC. When Little A woke up, we took them both to an indoor carnival.

The carnival was a big hit, especially with Big A. Little A, who I sometimes think is going to be the next Evel Knievel, actually had to be hauled off two rides shortly after they began because she was freaked out. Big A has no fear when it comes to roller coasters. I have a bad feeling she is going to be into extreme sports (downhill skiing is an extreme sport in my mind!).

All things considered, it was one of the best Family Days we've had!

Today tops it though: S.D., the therapist who teaches my Infertility/Miscarriage Counselling program OFFERING ME A PLACEMENT at the fertility clinic with her!!!

Yes, I know I already accepted one...I have not yet signed any paper work with the other place and worst case scenario, I WILL DO THEM BOTH. I figure you can't get too much experience.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Sweet and Tangy BBQ Sauce

Adam always gushes about how much he loves chicken wings and speaks fondly of his wing and beer binges from his university days. But because they are so unhealthy, I don't know if I've seen him eat wings more than once or twice in the almost 11 years we've been together. I decided to surprise him with a healthier version last night.

Personally, I am not much of a wing fan, but I do appreciate a really good, sweet, sticky BBQ sauce. Unfortunately, the ones you get in restaurants or at the grocery store are usually full of sugar: brown sugar, molasses, ketchup, etc. You might as well coat your meat in marshmellow frosting!

This recipe has no added sugar, but is still sticky, sweet, tangy and delicious. You can adjust the spice/heat factor to suit your own tastes. It is also super easy to make.

1 cup all fruit/no sugar added jam (I used cherry, but peach or apricot would work well too)
1 can tomato paste
1/2 cup or more cider vinegar
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbls chili powder
2 tsp ground cumin
Hot sauce, to taste (I used 2 tsp Siracha)

Whisk all ingredients together. Add more cider vinegar as needed, depending on how thick you like your sauce.

For about 12 wings, I used half the recipe and simply tossed them with the sauce, put them in the oven at 400 F on a foil lined baking sheet and baked them for 25 minutes.

This will keep in the fridge for a few days or in the freezer for a few months.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Banola Chocolate Chip Cakies

Today Adam and I are getting a real treat. My in-laws are taking both girls OVER NIGHT! This is a first for Little A and the first time we will be entirely child-free for a night since she was born.

As a thank you, I thought Big A and I should bake them something. My mother-in-law loves homemade baked goods, appreciates healthy food, and is a chocoholic, so I thought these would be perfect.

They are soft and cakey, with some chewiness from the granola and dried fruit. You can add chopped nuts too, if you like. You could also melt chocolate and drizzle over the top of them for an extra-cocoa kick.

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 cup granola (I used my homemade with dried cranberries and raisins, but any will do)
3 ripe bananas, mashed
2 whole eggs
1/2 cup agave syrup, honey or maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract

Heaping 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Whist together wet ingredients in a large bowl. Sift together flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Stir in granola. Dump dry ingredients into wet, add chocolate chips and stir until combined. Drop large mounds of batter onto greased or non-stick cookie sheet. Bake at 400 F for 12 minutes. Makes about 18 cakies

Bits and Pieces

It's funny just how difficult it is sometimes to see the big picture. I am speaking both literally and figuratively here. Like most of the time when we look at a problem or a piece of art or anything really, we end up focusing on certain parts or issues and don't even notice others. What we focus on depends on many factors: our personalities, our experiences, our culture and our education. This is why in academia you often find conflictual relationships between various departments, like, say, political science, economics and history. or engineering, biology and environmental studies.

Everyone has their own way of looking at something and it may be no more right or wrong than any other perspective. Just different, and sometimes different perspectives conflict, but other times they may be very complimentary, but the opportunity for real progress and discovery is lost because there is a lack of communication and cooperation.

Within the health and wellness field you get this a lot too. Take the same health problem, and a family doctor, naturopath, homeopath and physiologist, for example, may all have a different explanation and form of treatment.

Originally when, what I thought was sciatica/periformis syndrome, started becoming unbearable many months ago, I saw an osteopath. After one treatment, she said I could expect an improvement but that I might regress, in which case I might need several treatments.

I did improve and then I did regress. But at that point, I decided I should see a doctor to get a REAL diagnosis. He did not think it was sciatica/periformis syndrome, but a compressed nerve in my hamstring due to my pelvic misalignment and sent me to physio. And so, for months now, I have been in physio. I started to see some progress - the pain went from unbearable to bearable - but then I regressed almost completely a few weeks ago. This was very disheartening, especially considering all the time and effort I have put into my exercises and core work as my physiotherapist suggested.

Monday, after almost a month without physio, I saw my therapist and told her about my regression. After examining me, she said my pelvic alignment was holding well, but that the muscles in my lower back and hip on the left side were incredibly tight and my movement one that side was extremely comprimised. Despite my despair, she assured me that recovery is still possible.

Nevertheless, I decided to go back to see the osteopath on Friday. I explained the diagnosis I had been given by the doctor. She was skeptical but said she would not challenge the diagnosis, however, she was concerned that certain things were being overlooked.

She examined my alignment and confirmed that my pelvis is in a better position, however, she pointed out that my upper body is completely crooked! She shifted my torso and shoulders so that I was standing straight and asked how it felt. It felt totally unnatural! The osteopath said she was surprised that the doctor and physiotherapist were focusing solely on my lower half and not looking at what is going on above my waist. Apparently not good things!

She also noted that I still have diastasis (seperation of the abdominal muscles) from my pregnancies and felt there was bound to be some built up scar tissue from my c-sections that could be having an impact on my biomechanics. I had asked my physiotherapist about my diastasis and she thought is wasn't serious enough to worry about.

The osteopath worked on me intensively for over an hour. I left feeling a bit better. Yesterday I felt even better. Today I am completely pain free for the first time in many, many months. I realize now that I had forgotten what it is like to not feel pain! For the first time in such a long time I can actually fully straighten my left leg without crazy pain in my left hamstring! I am really and truly astonished!

Of course who knows how long this will last, but if I have to see the osteopath every few weeks or months to be pain free, that's better than seeing a physiotherapist weekly and just getting to the point of having tolerable pain, right?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Fine Line

As the saying goes, "There is a fine line between love and hate", which to me, simply underscores how easy it is to cause or experience both joy and pain in our relationships with those closest to us. Many of us have experienced this in romantic relationships at one time or another and I would say most of us have experienced these seemingly conflicting feelings towards members of our own family.

Although I spent most of my youth being persecuted by my older brother (basically until he left for University when I was 14), the bruises, taunts and insults didn't stop me from worshipping the ground he walked on. There were many, many moments where I hated his guts, but if he was willing to give me the time of day and be nice to me a few minutes later, all was forgiven. Nevertheless, we were not really close, per se, possibly because there were 4 years between us and we were different genders. Therefore our priorities and interests were extremely dissimilar (although Adam claims to this day, my taste in music has been influenced by Dan's).

From the time I was very little, I dreamed of having a sister. To me, a sister would be a best friend and soulmate I would have my entire life. She would stand by me no matter what and we would share everything. Of course I never got to have a sister, but I was thrilled to have two daughters because I was certain that they would be the soulmate to each other that I never had. Ha!

I know that ALL sisters are not best friends and soulmates. I know some who are...and some who are NOT AT ALL.

I desperately want my girls to be close, but I also realize that it really isn't up to me. The relationship they develop between them is theirs.

Most of the time they show absolute love and adoration for each other, but as they get older and play together more, they also fight more. My relaxing Saturday morming was anything but today. The hours before my in-laws came to take the girls out was filled with fights and battles, screaming, whining and door slamming. They fought over food, they fought over toys and they fought over space (the whole "get out of here", "Mommy, she's touching me!" kind of stuff).

By the time my in-laws rang the doorbell, I was ready to give them away to whoever was standing on the front porch, even a complete stranger!

My one consolation so far is that they don't hold grudges. I finally demanded apologies and hugs from each of them. Little A acquiesced immediately and Big A eventually followed suit.

There are so many things in life that you cannot understand until you experience it yourself. I could never understand why our fighting drove my parents so crazy, nor could I understand why my mother has gotten so upset when my brother and I have had falling outs as adults. I get it now. The greatest joy is seeing the love and bond between your children. The biggest fear is that this love and bond will be broken.

Breakfast Risotto

Big A had been begging me to make more rice pudding for her breakfast. But I was in the mood to make a different variation. She loves it, although she finds it more filling than traditional rice pudding, for some reason. What's nice about this dish is, it is vegan and gluten free, but also versatile in what you can use to make it.

I used coconut oil and almond milk, but you could use butter and regular milk or coconut, soy or rice milk instead.

Usually you would use a short-grain Italian rice, like arborio, to make risotto, but I only had Korean short-grain brown rice and it still worked perfectly!

1 tbls coconut oil (or butter)
1 cup short grain brown rice
3-4 cups milk (whatever kind you like - I used unsweetened almond milk)
1/4 cup agave syrup or honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Melt coconut oil in skillet or large frying pan over medium heat. Add rice and stir frequently until rice has absorbed all the oil, for a minute or two. Turn heat to medium-low and start pouring in milk, about 1 cup at a time, adding more once all the liquid has been absorbed by the rice. Keep going, stirring frequently, until rice is tender (kids prefer it on the mushier rather than al dente side). Towards the end of the cooking process, add in sweetener, vanilla and cinnamon.

Note: I got tired of having to stand over the stove, so I eventually turned the heat down to low and just added ALL the almond milk, closed the lid and walked away to do other things...and it still turned out perfectly (ha ha). After it has been refridgerated, it tightens up so when reheating, you will need to add more milk to loosen it up.

Suggested toppings:
*Fresh berries, peaches, bananas, sauteed apples, plum compote, etc.

*Dried berries, dried apricots, figs, raisins, etc.,

*Chopped almonds, walnuts, pecans

*Toasted coconut

*Pomegranate seeds, sunflower seeds, etc.


Variations:
*Omit cinnamon and add 2 tbls cocoa powder for a decadent tasting chocolate breakfast risotto.

*Add grated fresh ginger, some cystallized ginger and 1/2 tsp ground ginger + use molassas as your sweetener and you have gingerbread breakfast risotto!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Mexican Spiced Mocha

It's been so f-ing cold this winter that after my pre-breakfast coffee, I've been switching to mugs of steaming hot tea for the rest of the day. But today it is my favorite weather: about 10 celcius and sunny. The girls were dolls this morning and I'm in a great mood so I decided to make myself a treat after breakfast.

I love the kick this drink has because of the cayenne, but if you don't like heat, simply omit it from the spice mix. If you don't have a milk frother, regular milk is just fine.

4 cups steaming hot coffee (dark roast or your favorite)

2 tsp good quality cocoa powder
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of cayenne, to taste (optional)

1/4 cup non-fat milk, frothed

This will make 2 large mugs or fill 1 giant enviro-mug. I consumed it all myself in my enviro-mug, but feel free to divide between 2 people if you aren't quite as gluttonous as I am ;)

Place coffee filter over mug (I simply took one of my unbleached bamboo paper filters and folded edges around my enviro-mug. Place spice mixture into filter and pour coffee through filter to fill mug. Add sweetener of choice and/or milk. If using frothed milk, top with a sprinkle of cinnamon and/or cocoa powder.

You could also make this a fancy after dinner drink by adding liquor!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Creamy Garlic Dill Sauce

The inspiration for this sauce came from a dish created by Chef Michael Smith on his cooking show, "Chef at Home". So if you think it seems pedestrian to make a sauce with pickles, put that in your pipe and smoke it!

This is easy to make, great with fish and is kid-friendly.

Per person:

3-4 tbls low-fat or fat-free mayo or Miracle Whip
2 good quality dill pickles, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp dried dill or 2 tbls fresh dill
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tsp fresh lemon zest (optional)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Spicy Coconut Noodles

This dish is yummy and very versatile. If you don't like spicy food, just omit the crushed red pepper flakes. It will still be delicious and flavourful. Instead of chicken, you can easily substitute tofu, seafood or beef. You can use any number of your favorite veggies. Besides what I used, other good options are snow peas, carrots, celery, baby bok choy, and/or Japanese eggplant.

200g brown rice vermicelli noodles

1 tsp peanut or canola oil
1 lb skinless, boneless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into bite sized pieces
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh ginger
2 tbls lemongrass, minced in food processor or cut into 2 inch pieces and removed after cooking (optional)
1 head broccoli, chopped (steamed a few minutes, if desired)
2 yellow, red or orange sweet bell peppers
2 lb button mushrooms, sliced in half
1 bunch green onions, sliced on bias in 1cm pieces
Couple of handfuls fresh coriander, roughly chopped

Sauce
1 can light coconut milk
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 tbls agave syrup or sugar
1/4 cup rice vinegar
Juice of 2 limes
2 tbls fish sauce
1/4 tsp salt
Crushed red chili flakes, to taste (optional)

Stir together ingredients for sauce and set aside. In large wok or skillet, add oil and chicken, garlic, ginger and lemongrass (if using) and stir fry until meat is almost cooked through. Remove with slotted spoon. Add veggies and cook until desired level of doneness. Add meat back in and pour in sauce. Stir until sauce starts to bubble. Break up noodles with your hands and add straight to wok or skillet, toss together with meat, veggies and sauce, until noodles are tender and most of the sauce has been absorbed(just takes a few minutes). Sprinkle in green onions and coriander.

Manic Monday

Do you have a favorite day of the week? Do you have one that you detest?

Like most people, Saturday is my favorite day. Adam is home until at least 6:45am, before leaving for the gym, as opposed to 6:15am during the week. So I occasionally get help getting Big A dressed and breakfasted, if she is up early (Little A rarely wakes up before 7am).

Saturday also means I don't have to rush the kids out to get Big A to school. I have time for a second cup of coffee, if I want one, and to leisurely eat my breakfast while reading the weekend newspapers, if the girls allow me to.

Sundays are also fun. Adam stays with the girls in the morning while I head off for my one day at the gym. I get to do my intense weights work out for the week, see all my friends and acquaintances at the JCC, and teach my spinning class. After Little A's nap, we usually do family activities (Yesterday we took the girls skating for the first time! It was a big hit with Big A, not so much with Little A).

Although Fridays still have the morning rush, they also hold the anticipation of the weekend and Adam often takes the girls to his parents' or grandparents' house for dinner to give me some extra time for school work or other just-for-me activities.

Tuesdays, for me, are the worst. While I still feel the weekend glow on Monday, by Tuesday it's worn off, and yet there are still 3 more days until the weekend. Tuesday is definitely my least favorite day of the week.

For Big A - like most people, Mondays are hardest. The transition from weekend to weekday is obviously not an easy one for her. This morning was no exception.

My Valentine's Day gift from Big A was a massive tantrum.

Over nothing. As usual.

But I am feeling pretty good because:

1. I didn't yell
2. I didn't use any 4-letter words
3. I didn't call her any names
4. I ignored her while she was acting up
5. She listened to my threat of throwing her in her sock feet, along with her boots and coat onto the front porch where she would be responsible for getting herself dressed in the cold, and got herself dressed before I had to follow through
6. I came up with an appropriate punishment (took away the Valentine's gift I gave her and will not return it until the weekend)

Yay for small victories on a February Monday morning!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Spicy Kimchi and Beef

One of my recent assignments for school was going to observe the communication style differences of a minority cultural group and compare it to mainstream Canadian culture. So I chose to go to a local Korean grocery store. I've been there many times, but this time I spent over an hour watching staff and patrons and writing down observations for my paper. So I had to buy something, right?

Given my love of ethnic food, I enjoy finding new ingredients to cook with. So I bought a few staples (Chinese five spice powder, Japanese pepper blend, organic edamame for the kids, ponzu sauce) as well as a few new things. I was super excited to find lemon rice vinegar, but unfortunately, I managed to drop my grocery bag and break the glass bottle before I got home.

I also decided to buy a huge bag of cabbage kimchi (marinated cabbage), which I have always enjoyed at Korean restaurants. I wanted to make Adam some red meat this weekend, in honour of Valentine's Day, and I thought it would go well with beef. It turned out great.

If you don't have access to a Korean grocery store or can't find kimchi, you can just slice up some fresh napa cabbage and toss it in.

1 lb grilled or broiled steak, medium rare, thinly sliced

1 tsp peanut or canola oil
2 lb kimchi or 1 head napa cabbage, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbls finely chopped fresh ginger
1 can tomato paste
2 tbls soy or ponzu sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 bunch green onions, sliced
Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste (if you used plain cabbage and want some heat)

Add all ingredients to wok or skillet over medium heat and saute until hot and fragrant. Serve over brown rice.

I also bought some brown rice vermicelli at the Korean grocery store for tonights dinner (recipe to follow) and, I am so excited because I found organic brown JASMINE rice noodles! I had never seen them before!! Now I just have to figure out how I'm going to use them...

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Ya Win Some, Ya Lose Some

One of my New Year's resolutions was sorting out some of my minor health problems that I was dealing with. There has been some wins and some losses here.

My eye doctor has switched me to daily wear contact lenses and I am feeling optimistic that this will improve my vision and avoid the chronic eye infections I had been getting.

Things were also looking up in terms of my pelvic/hamstring injury and chronic blisters on my feet. Unfortunately, I've had a major regression in this area.

My physiotherapist had gotten me down to one session every two weeks and the pain had improved dramatically. The serious blisters I'd been sporting on my heels had virtually healed altogether. Then the pain started getting worse through my hamstring and last week I had to miss my physio appt because Big A was home sick with me that day. It all went down hill from there. This week the pain was almost as bad as it's ever been, requiring me to get off my desk chair periodically every day and sit in pigeon pose on the floor while attempting to get my readings for school done. Along with that pain, the blisters returned, making me suspect that my initial hunch of a connection between my pelvic alignment and the blisters was correct all along.

This has all gotten me a bit down and wondering whether I am going to have to live with some degree of chronic pain for the rest of my life. Clearly the ridiculous amount of core work I've been doing, as prescribed by my physiotherapist and athletic therapist did not prevent me from having a major relapse. I have a lot to discuss with my therapist at my next appointment Monday!

Another resolution I made, was to do everything in my power to get my career moving in the right direction, and to try and stay optimistic about it. In this area I have achieved success! I am working on my second last course for my Masters - Multiculturalism in Counselling - which I am loving, and I landed a great practicum placement. I now truly believe that my career goals will be met. This makes me so crazy happy. In fact, I would rather suffer from chronic hamstring pain and bad blisters for the rest of my life while having my dream career, than have no pain and be forced to return to my previous career, or another equally unfulfilling one.

There are some people who can accept not loving their work, and find fulfillment elsewhere. I am not one of them. After all, most people end up spending more of their time over the course of their lives at their jobs, than they do with family or enjoying leisure pursuits.

I am blessed with a wonderful husband, nutty, insane, adorable children, great friends and extended family, a lovely house, enjoyable hobbies including cooking,teaching fitness classes and working out...and now, finally, I believe I can have it all. I can be someone who loves their work. Yipee!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

How to Get Your Kids to Eat Vegetables

I have found the answer that parents have been searching for for centuries, or at least since the advent of Cocoa Puffs and Cool-Aid. I will qualify this by saying that it only works if you have more than one kid and if there is some degree of sibling rivalry between them.

Ready?

Here it is:

Don't put the veggies on your kids' plates. Put a small bowl of veggies on the table between them. I swear this works 2 out of 3 times. All of a sudden it becomes a competition between them. I have actually seen my girls fight over steamed cauliflower! Last night Little A was inhaling edamame so quickly, Adam thought she was going to choke.

You are so welcome for my brilliant insight.

Tiger Nuts

What the #@#% are tiger nuts, you ask?

In whole form, they look like yellowish, shrivelled raspberries. No, not pretty. But they pack a mean nutritional punch.

I recently discovered them at the local health food store and was intrigued by the label on the stone ground tiger nuts I purchased, which claims they are "Nature's Richest Source of Fibre". I love fibre but I have become dissatisfied with the effects of my 2 tsp of psyllium fibre I add to my morning Power Porridge every day. So I thought I'd give these a try instead.

Don't worry, they are not actually the testicles of large wild cats. In fact, they aren't really nuts either, they are tubers.

Not only are they full of fibre, but they are full of good fats, iron, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium. The label also said they are appetite suppressing and naturally sweet tasting.

I can't really comment on the taste because 2 tsp gets lost in my massive bowl of oats, ground flax, egg whites and cinnamon. But my plumbing has been humming and I feel great since I made the change.

Give ground tiger nuts a try in your morning hot cereal or try baking with them.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Warm Up to Limber Up, Cool Down to Slim Down

Betcha didn't know how important a role temperature plays in your fitness and health?

Have you heard of Hot Yoga? This is yoga done in a room heated to about 35 celcius. My first reaction was that I would NEVER survive such a class. Remember, I HATE being hot. Like I wouldn't set foot in a sauna or hot tub...I don't even like summer. At all.

But as a fitness professional, I decided I had to see what all the hype was about. I first tried a Bikram class (the original hot yoga) and although I didn't hate it, I didn't love it either. One thing besides the heat though, was that I wasn't too fond of the Bikram series of exercises.

Nevertheless, last week we had a bitterly cold day, my hamstring was killing me (I've regressed a bit for some reason) and I had a free pass to a hot yoga studio. No way I would do it in warm weather, so I thought I'd try again. This time, it was a hot hatha class, however, the instructor actually did ashtanga poses. While I don't love dripping sweat on my yoga mat, I have to say my hamstring felt much better afterwards and I felt wonderfully "cleansed" and energized.

There is actually good science behind the therapeutic benefits of hot yoga. First off, it is better to stretch warm muscles, and second, having a good sweat can be healthy. BUT don't mistake this for a cardio workout! It doesn't matter how much you perspire, you are not getting any significant cardiovascular benefits, nor are you burning many calories. This is my problem with this type of yoga - people misunderstand and misuse its benefits.

If you are trying to lose weight or decrease body fat, you are better off exercising in the cold. Researchers speculate that one factor contributing to the growing obesity epidemic is our increasing reliance on artificial climate control. When you are cool, your body shivers, which increases your metabolic rate. Exposure to cold can also maintain brown fat cells, which we are born with, which are more metabolically active and less harmful than white fat cells. So keeping your home cooler can help you maintain a healthy weight. Exercising in cold also uses more energy because it takes your body more effort to warm up. So even though exercising in heat FEELS harder, it does not help you burn more calories.

It is also better to sleep in a cool environment. A drop in body temperature assists the body's natural ability to sleep. Researchers have also linked body temperature dysregulation with insomnia. I believe this just from personal experience. As Adam always teases me, I am a human radiator at night. Even in the dead of winter, I sleep in almost nothing and sweat profusely. If the room is not chilly, like really chilly, it is virtually impossible for me to sleep.

So the bottom line is: If you enjoy the heat, go ahead and use it as a way to improve flexibility and/or "detoxify", if you are into that. Otherwise, turn down the thermostat.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Snow Daze and Sick Daze

This week was a complete write-off for me work-wise. Big A was home with me because she had a fever and Wednesday the school was closed anyways because of panic over the snow storm, which didn't end up being that bad.

Nonetheless, I feel like a lot of significant things happened this week. First, Big A and I spent more time together than we have probably since I was on mat leave with her...and we didn't kill each other! In fact, she was incredibly well-behaved. I believe this is partly due to the fact that she loves being sick and was thrilled to be able to stay home. I tried very hard to be patient with her neediness. While I can (not that I would, hee hee) plop Little A in front of the tv and she'll happily sit there by herself while I shower and cook a four-course meal, Big A wants companionship at all times. This makes it really tough for me to get anything done. But I'm working hard at trying to relax and not worry so much about getting things done, or compromising and, for instance, doing my readings for school on the couch, cuddling her while she watches Treehouse.

She is finally fever-free today so it's back to school tomorrow, I just hope that as her health returns, the tantrums do not.

The biggest news I have is that I rocked my interview last Friday and finally landed a placement for school!! I am so insanely excited!! I will be working in a therapy clinic that provides counselling in a number of areas. So it is not specific to infertility/miscarriage counselling, but in some ways, this is an even better opportunity for me. They do actually do a lot of couple's counselling, and since this is a big part of infertility/miscarriage counselling, this will be great experience. But more importantly, because it is a private practice, my supervisor makes sure that student interns learn all aspects of running a practice including record keeping, accounting, billing, etc. Since I know nothing about this side of things, this is great for me. She also wants me to begin before May, maybe a few hours a week, so that I can shadow some of the other counsellors and then be (somewhat) prepared in May to take on my own clients. I am so looking forward to this, I just can't wait. It feels so good to know that I am FINALLY moving towards a career I am passionate about. And to think I almost gave up because I thought once I'd hit my 30s it was too late. Ha!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Quinoa, Chickpeas and Veggies with Orange Pomegranate Dressing

I didn't intend to create a new recipe for supper last night but I looked in the fridge and realized I had a variety of random ingredients that needed to get used up. The whole inspiration for this came from the pomegranate seeds Big A begged me to buy. Unfortunately, whenever she does this, she rarely ends up eating whatever she requested. One pomegranate produced about 3 cups of seeds and I think she nibbled 4-5 before she decided she was done with them.

This turned out really great. Even Adam loved it and he rarely gets excited about vegetarian dishes.

Use whatever veggies you have handy - I just used what I had lying around (1 head cauliflower, cut in pieces + 1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut in 1 inch pieces).

1.5 cups quinoa
3 cups water

1 tsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 tbls fresh ginger, finely chopped
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Veggies (cauliflower, asparagus, broccoli, bell peppers, carrots, parsnips, zucchini, etc.)
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
1 bunch green onions, sliced on the bias

Dressing
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup pomegranate molasses*
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Juice and zest of 1 navel orange
1/2 tsp salt
Pinch or two of cayenne pepper (optional)

1 cup plain yogurt (gelatin free)

Cook quinoa according to directions on package. Whisk together dressing ingredients and set aside. In large skillet over medium heat, pour in oil and add garlic and spices. Cook out 1-2 minutes. Add chickpeas and veggies and cook another few minutes. Add raisins and pomegranate seeds. Pour in dressing and turn heat down to low. Simmer until veggies are tender (add hard veggies first and/or pre-steam or microwave things like cauliflower or broccoli to cut down cooking time). Stir in yogurt. Add quinoa to skillet until everything is well mixed and all the liquid has been absorbed. Garnish plates with green onions.

*Available at specialty food stores. If you can't find it, you can take 1 cup pomegranate juice and slowly bring to boil. Then turn down heat and simmer until reduced to about 1/4 cup.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cocoa Balls

These are a perfect snow day activity to do with the kids. They are definitely not the healthiest treat, but they are a family tradition. My mom used to make them with my brother and I. I am embarrassed to admit they are known as "Doody balls" in our house because my mom always thought they looked like little turds. Yes, I know, my family has an odd appreciation for bathroom humour.

3/4 cup butter (or coconut oil)
2 cups sugar
1 cup milk, any kind (I used unsweetened vanilla almond milk
6 tbls good quality cocoa powder

3 cups oats
1 tsp vanilla

Powdered sugar

Bring butter, sugar and milk slowly up to a rolling boil. Remove from heat and stir in oats and vanilla. Chill in fridge or freezer until mixture cools and starts to firm up. Make mixture into little balls and roll in powdered sugar. Chill. Enjoy!

Today was my second day home with Big A. Yesterday she was sick, today she was all better but the schools were closed. This was a perfect activity to pass the time.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Nature Versus Nurture

I have been thinking a lot lately about why Big A and I seem to butt heads a lot. I do think there is an element of that child-caregiver goodness-of-fit theory at play. I am not a patient person. I am an obsessive-compulsive goal-oriented person. Big A is very needy with Adam and I. I don't really get it. By all accounts she is outgoing and happy at school and daycare and usually with relatives. But her default demeanor with us is to be defiant, moody, sullen and whiny. I am beginning to understand that this is how she tries to command our attention. The problem is it drives me nuts. I am very quick to get snappy and frustrated. Worse, I've noticed that even when she is behaving and acting happy, I still get frustrated with her because she wants my attention every second. Listening to "Mommy, mommy, mommy" a hundred times a minute quickly frays my nerves. That really isn't fair.

What worries me most, is that I remember feeling like I never had my mother's undivided attention. She too is a neurotic, goal oriented person. I always wished she would stop doing what she was doing and (look at me, listen to me, just focus on me!). And yet here I am. I've become my mother.

I do think it would be easier to overcome this tendency of mine - of always flitting about trying to get things done - if I didn't already start out frustrated and annoyed by Big A because she is misbehaving. But obviously it's a vicious circle.

This morning Big A mentioned that she wasn't feeling great, but she's been pulling the sick card almost every weekday since school started up again after the new year. She was in a good mood but she didn't eat as much as normal for breakfast, so on a whim, I took her temperature. To my surprise she actually had a fever! So I kept her home with me. Once she new she was staying home, she was elated. She kept saying, "Mommy I love you." We had a good day together and some positive bonding that we rarely get. She quietly watched tv while I did some work this morning. Then she watched me to my Jillian Michaels DVD. Then she went on the bus with me (public transport is a huge thrill for her!) to the eye doctor, where she watched Angelina Ballerina on her portable dvd player while the eye doctor did my contact lens examination. We came home, she ate a bit of lunch and then I read her a story before she, without any resistance, went down for a nap. And now, 3 hours later, she is still sleeping!

It makes me wonder how much she has internalized the fact that I pack her off for school/daycare every day. It's then when we always have the most conflict. Does she have abandonment issues? Does she interpret this as rejection from me?

I feel Big A is a sensitive soul but is obviously not mature enough to understand her own feelings, let alone articulate them to others. It really is up to me to try and be patient with her and remember where some of her less attractive behaviour is likely coming from. It's not easy. I think this is something I am going to have to continuously work at.