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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Kidney Bean Curry

Oh rice and beans how I missed thee!

Grains and legumes may be humble foods, but I love them and I am so glad Passover is over.

I'm not sure why, but I have never made curry with kidney beans before. When making vegetarian curries, I always use chickpeas.

I've heard this curry (Rajma), described as chili's Indian kissing cousin. All I know is it is easy and yummy. But then again, I tend to LOVE the flavours of Southern Asian food...in another life I must have lived in that region of the world. Then again, I also love the flavours of cuisines from all regions of Asia, so it's hard to know what part of that continent I may have originated from in my past life.

Anyways...

1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Large knob fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbls chili powder*
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp salt
Cayenne pepper, to taste (optional)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
2 fresh tomatoes, diced (about 1 cup)
1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can tomato paste
1/4 cup plain yogurt
Several handfuls roughly chopped fresh cilantro

In large skillet over medium heat, add oil and then saute onion, garlic and ginger until onion is translucent. Add spices and cook another minute or two until skillet is dry. Add vinegar, tomatoes and beans and simmer over medium low heat for 3-4 minutes. Add tomato paste and yogurt. Turn heat down to low and simmer until ready to serve (you can serve right away or simmer for however long you want, the flavours will just keep getting better). Add water if sauce becomes too thick. Stir in fresh cilantro just before serving. Serve over brown rice (preferably basmati).

*Don't be scared by the amount of chili powder. Most chili powders have little to no heat, but test yours and adjust seasoning to taste if yours happens to be the hot kind and you don't like spicy food.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Stress Management

I am definitely not myself right now. Between my grandma being unwell, my stupid leg/back pain, the crappy weather we have been having and my two practicum placements officially starting next week, I'm stressed.

I am completely sick and tired of sitting on a yoga block and playing detective with my physiotherapist to figure out what is causing my pain. I have 2 MRIs booked for June, both in the middle of the night. Yes, in Canada we get these tests for free, but we have to have them in the middle of the night. They also won't do a back and pelvic MRI at the same time, so I have to be up all night 2 nights in a row! This alone is stressing me out, seeing as I have a history of insomnia and I have to be very careful about maintaining my circadian rhythms. I am also worried about driving home from the hospital in the middle of the night seeing as I am falling asleep before 10pm most nights.

This has been a seriously miserable winter and spring. I have ALWAYS hated Toronto summers - I detest the extreme heat and humidity, but winters I used to be able to handle. The past 4 years, however, I have become increasingly disturbed by the winters too. Nine out of 12 months of the year, the weather here is either too hot or too cold for me and I'm sick of it. It is really wearing me down. We won't be moving anytime soon, however, I have a long-term plan. When the girls start thinking about university, I am going to send away for brochures from every college and university in Northern California, Washington State, Oregon and British Columbia and hope they both end up on the more moderate West Coast, so we can retire there. Just 16 more years of hell here!

So all this to say, the stress and strain is getting to me. Sunday night I was plagued with more vivid, intense dreams and I bit my tongue again. Like what is up with that? Blood on my pillow and a tongue so sore and swollen I am speaking with a lisp and it hurts to eat or talk.

Then, yesterday morning I developed terrible abdominal pain. I thought maybe I was getting a bladder infection. I cancelled my physio appt but then seriously like 5 minutes later, the pain started to go away. Adam says it must have been stress.

At last week's sedar, I dealt with my stress by drinking too much red wine and eating too many brownies (those Passover brownies are seriously amazing!). This was not a wise thing to do. The sugar and alcohol caused me to have a fitfull sleep and my digestive system was out of whack for most of the next day.

Today I went and taught a boot camp class. I had avoided the instructor's plea for help until her 3rd request. I figured, I enjoyed it so much the last time, why not? Besides, this particular gym is way closer to home and much less of a schlep than most of the others where I get requests to teach.

This proved to be a wise decision. The class was a blast, and the participants loved it. Afterwards, they crowded around and, again, wanted to know where and when I usually teach. Sorry folks, still not taking on anymore classes full-time!

Then I came home and had a loooooooooooong hot shower (yeah, yeah I know, not environmentally friendly, blah, I needed it!). The adrenaline rush and hot water have made me feel much better. Even the pouring rain isn't getting me down.

And there is some good news! I have had 5 straight days with much less pain. Seems that the latest rehab exercises my physiotherapist gave me are helping. We have also finally identified some definite triggers, which are not what you might expect. Most cardio is fine, although I am still avoiding my intense walking workouts, however, certain yoga moves (anything that requires me to balance all my weight on my left leg) and weight exercises (hamstring curls, certain types of lunges, upright rows, etc.) are likely to set it off.

So my advice for the day is, if you are feeling down or stressed or anxious, listen to the health experts and get some exercise, have a bubble bath or a massage, take a time-out, or laugh with friends, but avoid the alcohol and sugar!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Gingerbread Hearts

Big A requested decorated gingerbread cookies and carrot cake cupcakes for the girls' party on May 14. Because the next few weeks are crazy busy, and I don't know what's going to happen with my grandma, I decided to make these this weekend and freeze them for the party.

I absolutely ADORE gingerbread cookies, so hopefully there won't be many leftovers or I will likely devour them all myself. This recipe happens to be vegan, but you can use butter in place of the Earth Balance, if you prefer. I use fruit puree, not only to cut down on the fat, but it also keeps them soft and chewy, which I like. In fact, I can't stand crunchy cookies at all. Biscotti is about as appealing to me as raw potatoes. If you like your gingerbread really crisp and crunchy, just omit the fruit puree and double the amount of Earth Balance or butter.

If I was making these for adults, I would cut down on the sugar and add a few tablespoons of fresh, grated ginger for more kick, but these are really for the kids.

Over the next few weeks, I will be perfecting a recipe for pink royal icing to decorate them, which has no yucky artificial food colouring. I will add this recipe once it's done.

1/2 cup Earth Balance or butter, softened
2-4.5oz jars organic baby food prunes or 1/2 cup homemade prune puree (or apple sauce)
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup molasses
2 tsp vanilla extract

4 cups organic whole wheat pastry flour (+ more for sprinkling)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves and/or allspice

Whisk together wet ingredients in a large bowl. Combine dry ingredients and add to wet. Stir with large spoon until dough forms. Press into ball and turn out onto floured surface. Roll out to desired thickness (thicker ones will be softer, thinner ones will be crisper) and cut out using heart shaped (or other shape) cookie cutter or rim of a glass or cup (for circles). Bake at 350F on non-stick baking sheet for 12 minutes, or until golden.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Tribute to G.G. Ruth

My grandma Ruth (aka G.G. Ruth - "Great Grandma Ruth" to my children and my brother's children) is not doing very well.

This is not shocking since she is 92, but at the same time it is very hard to accept.

She is my only living grandparent and, although throughout my lifetime she has lived in New York, she has always been a significant part of my life.

My mom's mom has always been a unique combination of intelligence, strength, grace and determination, especially for a woman of her generation.

She has a history degree from NYU and, until this past year when her short term memory began to quickly deteriorate, she could debate American and international politics with anyone. She loved watching sports like baseball and golf and she was an avid reader of literature and the New York Times.

Ruth also loves film, theatre, music, travel and fine food, and she enjoyed these things in abundance with my grandfather, Joe, before his death in 1989. Joe was the love of her life, and even though she was in perfect health after he died, she never had any interest in ever finding another partner.

Ruth is a woman who was always ahead of her time. She was wearing clothes from the GAP and Swatch Watches in the 80's long before the kids of my generation had any idea what they were. While other Jewish grandmother's pushed blintzes and chopped liver on loved ones, Ruth warned us of the dangers of sugar, fat and salt in our diets. Even as long as 25 years ago, I remember her kitchen filled with fat-free yogurt and cottage cheese, oatmeal, bran flakes and salt-free pretzels (blech!).

She had a wide circle of devoted friends, many of whom began to pass away over the last couple of decades. Ruth was greatly saddened by their passing and had fewer and fewer companions for her daily walks through the streets of Manhattan and visits to the museums.

She has been a wonderful, devoted grandmother to my brother and I, and great grandmother to my children and my brother's children. Her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren were clearly her greatest joy. It was heartbreaking to realize a few months ago that she could not remember the names or ages of my children or of my brother's children.

It has also been heartbreaking for me that for at least the last year, she has not been aware of what I am doing in my life. I know she would have been very proud of me for becoming a miscarriage/infertility therapist.

When I had my miscarriage before I had the girls, it was her admission to me that she too had had one before having my mother and uncle, that gave me strength and hope that I too would one day have a family. I was touched and honoured that she disclosed this information to me, after keeping it a secret until that moment, my grandfather having been the only other person to know up to that point.

I do not know what lies ahead for Ruth. Aside from some congestive heart failure for which she is being treated, she has no other physical ailments, however, her mind has deteriorated significantly. She has been confused and agitated and in the hospital for over a week. Worst of all, she is refusing to eat - which is not a good sign for anyone, but particularly someone in my family! My mom flew to NYC yesterday to be by her side and I fear that the rest of us will have to follow soon.

Fortunately, whenever the end comes, I know that there will be a lot of people who love her, who will be there, with me, to celebrate her remarkable life.

To G.G. Ruth!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Passover Mini Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes

Poor Little A! Her birthday is April 22 (Earth Day), which also happens to fall on Good Friday this year and smack in the middle of Passover. Who doesn't want to be able to eat cake on their birthday? Especially when you are turning 2!!

Little A still loves everything related to birthdays - "Happy to you" - as she calls them. So I knew she would be thrilled if we could serve her a cupcake with a candle for her to blow out at my in-laws on Friday. But I was puzzled as to how I could come up with a Passover-friendly recipe that would fit the bill.

Well my friends, with a little ingenuity, I did it! Even if you don't celebrate Passover, these are wheat/gluten-free and good for any occasion.

4 tbls coconut oil, softened
2 large eggs
2 egg whites
1 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 tbls pure maple syrup
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk

2 cups quinoa flour
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup regular or mini chocolate chips

Using electric beaters, cream together coconut oil, eggs and sugar, until light and frothy (about 3-4 minutes). Don't worry if oil clumps a bit. Add vanilla, maple syrup, and pumpkin and beat for several more minutes until smooth. Add almond milk and beat for another 1-2 minutes. In smaller bowl, combine quinoa, spice and salt. Beat dry ingredients into wet by adding the dry a little at a time. Once batter is completely mixed, stir in chocolate chips. Fill greased mini muffin cups to the top and bake at 350F for 18 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool on wire rack. Makes 38-40 mini cupcakes.

Chocolate Icing
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tbls coconut oil

Melt chocolate and oil in a bowl set over boiling water and stir until smooth. Remove from heat and let cool a few minutes. Spoon over cupcakes or dip cupcake tops into chocolate. Allow to cool completely so icing firms up.

OR

Passover Fluffy Chocolate Ganache Frosting
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tbls coconut oil
6 tbls unsweetened vanilla or regular almond milk

Melt chocolate and oil in a bowl set over boiling water and stir until smooth. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes. Stir in 4 tbls almond milk and refrigerate until firm. Heat remaining 2 tbls almond milk (I put it in the microwave for 30 seconds) and then pour the hot milk over the chocolate mixture. Take a wire wisk and beat until fluffy. Mound on top of cupcakes.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Colon Blow

I apologize ahead of time for this post, but if you read this blog you already know I love toilet humour.

Do you remember the Colon Blow skit from SNL?



Well I think I've found the real thing.

A few weeks ago I picked up a box of Kellogg's new Fibre Plus cereal.



Personally, I am not a big cold cereal fan. I don't find them very satisfying (i.e. even if I eat half the box I'm starving again in an hour) and generally speaking, the ones that taste good, like the above, are full of sugar.

But Adam LOVES cereal - particularly the sweet ones - and who am I to tell him what to eat? Okay, I do tell him what to eat. But he only has cereal for breakfast a few days a week, opting for a healthier choice of oatmeal the other days.

Unfortunately, the girls love Adam's "Cookies in a bowl" as I have come to think of them. They took one look at the new cereal box and had to try some.

They opened the box last Monday and devoured it by Friday. Adam didn't even get to taste any. Last week the two of them simply ate bowl after bowl of Fibre Plus for breakfast every morning.

Although it pains me to see them consume so much sugar, it made them so happy that I actually got to eat my power porridge and read the paper in peace...well, relatively speaking anyways.

But things came to a head on Friday.

First, Big A's daycare teacher called me around 3pm to inform me that there had been 4 bathroom emergencies in the span of 30 minutes and did I know what was going on. All of a sudden it dawned on me that perhaps I shouldn't have let her eat so much of this high fibre cereal. Her teacher and I concluded that too much fibre was the culprit, and I vowed to exert more control over her cereal consumption in the future.

After picking up Big A - who decided she needed Adam to give her a bath ASAP, I took off to pick up Little A from her daycare. As soon as I got there I knew something was up because she was wearing her "extra" daycare clothes instead of the cute outfit I had put her in that morning. When I inquired, her teachers told me that she had blown her pants off earlier that day. Hmm, definitely too much fibre.

Moral of the story: if you need help evacuating, Fibre Plus is a tasty way to do it. Just be prepared for the outcome!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Passover Protein Bars

One of the reasons Adam gets so hungry at Passover is that he can't snack on his Clif bars or Optimum bars while he's at work. So I created this recipe to give him something tasty and satisfying to nibble on. For Adam, having chocolate in these babies is a must! This makes a lot, because I wanted to have enough for him to take to work and to have some at home - these are a big hit with the girls too, but you can easily halve the recipe.

If you are not observing Passover, you can use peanut butter instead of almond butter and any kind of unsweetened puffed grain cereal in place of the quinoa. These are a great, nutritious, high-protein snack anytime of year and much cheaper than anything you would buy in the store.

3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
Heaping 1/2 cup almond butter
4 heaping tbls coconut oil

6 cups puffed quinoa (or other cereal)
1 lb (about 4 cups) mixed dried fruit and nuts of choice (I used currents, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, cashews and almonds)

Slowly melt chocolate, almond butter and oil over boiling water. Stir until smooth and remove from heat. Stir cereal and fruit/nuts/seedss into chocolate mixture. Scrape into one 9x12 and one 9x9 pan, spread evenly and press down firmly. Refrigerate until firm. Remove from fridge and cut into squares or bar shapes of desired size. Store in airtight container.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Over My Head

Oh man, it's been a tough week.

I have been fighting the nasty cold going around and despite predictions for sun and mild temps, the weather, for the most part, has been chilly and damp.

Fortunately, a deep-tissue massage on Monday and some oregano oil have improved my cold. Today I am headache-free, my energy is back and I'm not coughing. I actually feel sorrier for Adam who I woke several times this week with my snoring from the congestion, and once, at 2am by sneezing in his face. Awful, I know!

It is also sunny today and feeling a bit warmer.

I am thrilled that Sunday is my last day of class. I mean last day of classes period. Just my practicum and major case presentation left in this Masters degree!

Instead of feeling some relief, however, I am completely tied up in knots. I think taking on 2 practicums might have been biting off more than I can chew. D, from the general therapy clinic where I will be working, sent me over 14 files to review last week about policies and procedures. I met with S.D., at the fertility clinic yesterday and there are like half a dozen projects I am going to be involved with there, on top of counselling clients and taking care of paper work. I may have to see clients on Saturdays for D., since 3 days during the week are committed to the fertility clinic. I am very excited about these opportunities, but feeling a bit overwhelmed. The time commitment and learning curve with procedures has my mind so consumed that I haven't even had much time to start freaking out about the fact that I will actually be counselling people solo in a few weeks. Ack, their mental health will be in my hands! Such a huge responsibility!!

I am trying to focus on the big picture - I am so close to my ultimate career goal, and this is just for 4 months, then I can carve out my work activities and schedule as I like.

In order to keep myself on an even-keel, I've been going to yoga classes at the JCC twice a week. I dutifully do the core exercises and stretches my physiotherapist has prescribed after my morning workouts everyday, but I'm not doing any more pilates, ab DVDs or teaching any core-training classes. I'm sick of it. And I missed yoga so much. Regardless of whether or not it makes a difference to my back/leg, I enjoy it as an end in itself and it helps me manage stress.

My current stress is also about my stupid leg/back. Avoiding the treadmill, doing the exercises and sitting on a yoga block help, but I continue to fail to make any linear progress. One day is good, the next is bad, etc. And it seems to have little to do with any activity I do or do not do. At least that means I might be able to get back to the treadmill sometime soon. Or not. Who the heck knows. As I suspected, I don't think this is a discrete injury that will heal on it's own or be cured just by strengthening my core through bridges and planks. What I am really worried about is that I will eventually need surgery. Particularly if the origin of the problem is in my back/spine. The idea of back surgery scares the hell out of me!

Well, back to the books, I gotta finish researching for the presentation S.D. and I are going to give at the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society annual conference in September...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Shirataki Noodles with Shrimp and Veggies in a Creamy Avocado Ginger Sauce

I am digging the shirataki noodles. They are so easy to prepare and yummy. They are also good for Passover since they are made of yam starch. They are also carb, wheat/gluten and calorie free making them great for diabetics, those with allergies and anyone watching their caloric intake...or anyone wanting a great, healthy meal!

This dish turned out so yummy I wanted to cry. Why? Because Adam and the girls hate avocado and Adam doesn't eat seafood, so I will only be able to sneak it in as a lunch when I don't have to worry about pleasing the rest of the family. Geez, how can anyone hate avocado??

You can substitute your own favorite veggies or protein (tofu, chicken, edamame, etc.) here if you prefer.

1 ripe avocado
1 large knob ginger
Juice of 1 lime

1/2 tsp peanut or canola oil
2 Japanese eggplant (the long, skinny ones), sliced into circles
1 red/yellow/orange sweet bell pepper, cut into thin strips
Half bunch broccoli, cut into florets and lightly steamed
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp low sodium soy sauce or ponzu sauce
6 tbls rice vinegar
Crushed red chili flakes, to taste (optional)
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 lb cooked shrimp

1 bag shiritake yam noodles, drained and rinsed under warm water and snipped into smaller strands

Throw avocado (sans skin and pit!) into food processor with lime juice and ginger and puree until smooth. Set aside.

Pour oil into large skillet or wok over medium heat. Add veggies, garlic soy, vinegar and chili (if using) and stir fry until veggies are hot and cooked through as desired. Add shrimp, green onions and noodles and continue stir-frying until everything is hot. Stir in avocado sauce. Makes one gigantic (low calorie, high-fibre, high nutrition) meal or 2 smaller ones for less hungry folks.

The other nice thing about eating these noodle dishes is it is helping me to improve my chop stick skills!

Double Chocolate Cookies for Passover

Now I realize that if you are extremely religious/observant to the point where you only eat products that say "Kosher for Passover" on the label, than my holiday recipes may contain ingredients that you are unable to use or find in K for P versions. These recipes are better suited for those who, in the spirit of the holiday, like Adam, simply avoid grains, legumes (soy products, lentils, beans and peanuts) and leavining agents like baking soda and baking powder. Even if you don't celebrate Passover, they are also great if you need to avoid wheat/gluten.

If you are very strict with what you eat for the holidays, my advice is to stick with whole foods - meats, eggs, dairy, nuts, fruits and veggies, and consume only whole wheat or spelt matzos and matzo meal products. The more processed K for P products on the market are usually full of crap.

4 tbls coconut oil, melted
1 small jar organic baby food apples, apricots or pears*
2 eggs
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup agave syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract

2.5 cups quinoa flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Whisk together wet ingredients in a large bowl. Stir together dry ingredients and add to wet. Stir with a spoon until batter comes together (will be pretty dry). Add in chocolate chips. Using your hands, roll into small balls and place on non-stick baking sheet. These do not spread, so cookies can be pretty close together. They will stay pretty round, so flatten a bit before baking, if you like. Bake at 350F for 10 minutes. Cool on wire rack. Makes about 36 cookies.


*I prefer using (no-sugar added) baby food purees (rather than regular apple sauce, for example) for baking because they are very smooth, but regular fruit puree or apple sauce is fine too. Substitute about 1/4 cup for the baby food if desired.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Laughing With Little A

The words I would use to describe my youngest daughter are: Monkey, Imp, Mischievous One, Daredevil, Pig-Pen, etc. She is adorably affectionate, regularly showering Adam, Big A and I with tight hugs and lots of kisses. But she really is a rascal.

What is most interesting is that she has a great sense of humour. I assumed that a sense of humour was something you develop, influenced by culture and socialization in combination with one's personality and intellect, but I swear hers' is innate. Long before she could say a single intelligible word, she was funny. And she knew it. And she milked it for all it was worth.

Today, like most Sundays, I got home from teaching my spin class at the JCC, showered and then hung out with Little A while Adam went to collect Big A from Hebrew school.

Little A put on Big A's Elmo bike helmet and then asked me (ordered me) to push her around in the laundry basket. Unfortunately, she got cranky very quickly because apparently I don't do this correctly. Despite my ineptitude at giving her a ride in the laundry basket, I suspected her sudden crankiness was due to being either tired or hungry. She was hungry. When I asked if she wanted lunch, she replied, "Da, lunch, lunch, lunch!"

She started asking for something specific to eat, but I couldn't interpret (her pronounciation is still not great), so I ran through the usual list of things. We settled on a bagel and cream cheese and a plum.

She insisted on sitting at the kitchen table, putting her pink bear in Big A's chair, and her stuffed dog in my chair. Then she asked for bowls for each of them. When I tried to sit in the one remaining chair (Adam's usual spot). She started screaming, "No mommy no, daddy's seat!" My only option was to sit on one of the kid-sized Ikea chairs at the kids' pint-sized Ikea table.

I tried to eat while sitting crunched onto my Ikea chair while Little A sat with her stuffed friends at the big-person table. She gobbled down 3/4 of her bagel, until she decided it was more fun to chew up pieces until they were soggy and then spit it on the floor. I quickly removed the bagel and she moved on to the plum. After eating her plum, she decided to entertain me with her latest antic: sticking her finger down her throat and gagging herself. Of course this makes me nuts, and I started yelling at her to stop, but she thinks this is absolutely hilarious and just does it more. Sigh!

She also loves tickling people and sticking her cold little hands on people's bare skin under their shirts. When we holler, this only makes her scream with laughter and do it more. Little A has finally learned to say "Yes" instead of "Da", however, she reserves the word yes for when I am telling her "No" because she is about to touch or do something she is not allowed. Then she grins at me, nods her head and says, "Yes mommy, yes!"

Although she can really drive us nuts, it really is fascinating to see how clearly she understands the concept of humour. I think I see stand-up comedy in her future...

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Fudgy Passover Brownies

I dread Passover every year, from a gastronomic perspective. Sure I like a good gefilte fish as much as the next person, but I hate not being able to cook legumes (peanuts, lentils and beans), whole grain pasta, rice and oats and I miss using some of my favorite condiments - like soy sauce, rice vinegar, miso paste, etc.

I don't keep Kosher for Passover, but Adam does, so really it only effects my dinners. Adam, however, is observant Ashkenazi-style for the whole 8 days, and as a relatively health conscious individual with a large appetite, he often suffers. He says he lacks energy and feels constantly hungry and dissatissfied.

Not this year! I have promised him that this will be the best Passover of his life. I have a slew of new recipes that are guaranteed to knock your matzo balls off, thanks to my new favorite health food store "Herbs and Nutrition" around Bloor and Bathurst. If you live in the Toronto area, check it out! Great selection and prices.

Since discovering that quinoa is okay at Passover (it's a seed, not a grain) a few years ago, I have made many chicken curries and stir-fries with it at Passover time. But this year I found organic puffed quinoa cereal and organic quinoa flour and this has opened up a whole host of options for baking and cooking.

Yes, you can now find ready-made Passover items in the grocery store, but they tend to be full of trans fats and refined flours, not to mention they are ridiculously expensive and taste like crap. These are all 100% healthy and yummy!

Over the next few weeks, I'll be posting my new recipes. Here are the first few...

Fudgy Passover Brownies
2 tbls coconut oil
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1.5 cups quinoa flour

Melt coconut oil and chips in bowl set over simmering water. When smooth and fully melted, remove from heat and add sugar, eggs and vanilla and stir well. Fold in flour and stir, just until mixed. Divide batter into 2 8x8 pans* that have been greased with coconut oil and spread out with knife until top is even. Bake at 350F about 20-25 minutes, until centre is set.

Glaze
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tbls coconut oil

Melt chips and oil in bowl over simmering water, When smooth, pour over brownies. Place in refridgerator until set. Cool and cut into squares. Each pan should make 16 brownies.

*These will be thin because there is no baking powder or soda, so if you want a thicker brownie, pour all the batter into one square pan and bake a bit longer.

Kosher-for-Passover Breakfast Crunch Cereal

2 tbls coconut oil
1/2 cup agave syrup, maple syrup or honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp ground cinnamon

180g bag organic puffed quinoa*
1/2 cup chopped, slivered or sliced almonds
2 tbls sunflower seeds
2 tbls chia seeds

3/4 cup raisins or chopped dried fruit of choice

Melt coconut oil in large bowl. Add syrup, vanilla and cinnamon and stir. Pour in dry ingredients and mix well. Spread out mixture on non-stick baking sheet and bake at 350F for 10-15 minutes, stirring at least every 5 minutes. Careful not to let it burn. Remove from over and let cool. Once cool, break up any clumps that are too large and add fruit. Store in airtight container. Serve with milk, yogurt and fresh fruit, if desired.

*If you can't find puffed quinoa, you can use about 6 cups of rolled quinoa flakes and it will be more like granola.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Bicycle Bliss

Do you want to improve your physical fitness, save money and do something good for the environment? Hey, why wouldn't you?

Buy a bicycle!

Bicycles are an underutilized, underappreciated form of transportation in North America. Many Asian and European countries do a much better job of taking advantage of what bicycles have to offer.

There are also a lot of options these days for toting your kids with you a la bicyclette. So it can be a family activity.

I am loving my bike so much today. I had a meeting with D., the director of the general therapy clinic where I am doing one of my practicums. Her head office is quite a ways north of where we live. By car it's 30 minutes and by public transport it's almost an hour. Last time I drove and ended up paying $14 for 90 minutes of parking! Besides, Adam had the car today. So I decided to ride up to our meeting.

I admit that given the distance (12km each way), I wondered if I wasn't nuts when I started out today. I gave myself 70 minutes and I worried that I was going to end up being extremely late for our meeting. It is also almost completely uphill. But it took me under 55 minutes - about the same as if I had taken public transport!

As an added bonus, riding doesn't bother my hamstring. My physiotherapist and I finally realized that the pain from sitting must be caused by pressure on that area, not necessarily my position (since sitting on a bike doesn't hurt), so I now sit on a yoga block. Between using a yoga block to sit on, going back to doing a lot of core/lower back rehab, and doing no treadmill walking or excessive street walking for the last few weeks, I have finally gotten some improvement in the pain.

But since no one really knows what the cause of all my pain is, yesterday I had x-rays and I am waiting to get an MRI.

I am so glad to have some improvement but I miss my treadmill walks. I am allowed to run all I want, but I know my knees can't handle too much running, so for now, I am doing mostly the stairmaster, plus Insanity Cardio DVD on Saturdays and my spin class Sundays. My physiotherapist would love it if I could spin more often, but I explained how hard it is for me to find time to get to the gym. Perhaps a $1000 spin bike will fall out of the sky into our home gym one day. Or perhaps I'll just have to get out on the road more.

Just a few things to remember:

1. ALWAYS wear a helmet (if you don't you are an idiot)
2. Wear proper clothes and gear (pant protectors so you don't get anything caught in the chain, gloves when it's cold, appropriate foot wear, etc.)
3. Use lights at night and always have reflectors and a bell on your bike
4. Find bike routes whenever possible.

Really why would you not get a bicycle when there are so many advantages? Free transportation, fast and efficient, great exercise and environmentally friendly!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sweet and Sour Chicken

1 cooking onion
1 large knob ginger, peeled
3-4 cloves garlic
1 tsp peanut or canola oil
1 can crushed pineapple, with juice
2 tbls low sodium tamari or soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
Crushed red chili flakes, to taste (optional, if you want heat)

1 lb ground chicken (or ginger)
4 red and green bell peppers (2 of each or whatever), diced
1 can tomato paste

Throw onion, ginger and garlic into food processor and finely chop. Pour oil in large skillet or frying pan over medium heat. Add onion, ginger and garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring to make sure nothing burns. Add pineapple and juice, soy, vinegar and chili (if using). Let everything come to a boil and simmer until liquid reduces. Add chicken and peppers (peppers will get soft and sweet if you add them now, if you want them to remain crunchy, add at the end). Once chicken and peppers are almost fully cooked, add tomato paste. Cook another 5-10 minutes over low heat.

Serve over brown rice or quinoa. Serves 4 as a main course (or more if you have a smaller appetite than I do!).

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Beet Chips

The girls go nuts for kale chips so when my friend Carol mentioned she made beet chips when I saw her at a baby shower last weekend, I was intrigued. I decided to try this myself.

It took 2 tries to get the cooking time and temp right - she had warned me about that. They burn easily so long, slow cooking is better. I cooked them for 40 mins at 325F last night, but they ended up just being roasted (soft and chewy). Today, I spread them back out on some baking sheets and cooked them again at 275F for another hour. They are now crisp, crunchy and perfect! Let's just hope the girls like them.

The best time and temp depends on your oven and how thinly you slice them. I cut them by hand, so they were thicker than if I had used a mandolin or food processor attachment. The thinner you make them, the lower a temp I would use and, obviously the less time they will take to cook.

2 lbs beets, peeled and thinly sliced (I used a combo of candy stripe and harvest gold beets)
2 tsp canola or olive oil
Salt, to taste

Toss beets with oil and salt. Place beets in single layer on baking sheets and bake until crispy.

Gee, can you tell I am SICK OF SCHOOL??? I spent way too much time in the kitchen today and not enough time on my studies.

As much as I loved this program, I'm feeling really burned out. Remember Gary Larson's Farside comic? I feel like the character that puts up his hand in the classroom and says to the professor, "May I be excused, my brain is full?"

Vegan Orange Blueberry Bran Muffins

I replaced the eggs in these with "chia eggs". You can do the same thing using ground flax seeds. Just combine 1 tbls chia or flax with 3 tbls warm water, to replace each egg, and set aside until ready to use.

I have been avoiding chia for a while because I first tried it in my oatmeal - the same time I added the dreading pumpkin to it - and I thought the glutinous texture was revolting. But the nutritional profile of chia seeds is impressive (protein, fibre, omega 3 fats, antioxidants, etc.) so I decided to try using them this way.

Turned out yummy, so I think I'll stick to my chia in baked goods and leave it out of my oatmeal!

Don't be scared by the zucchini. It adds nutrition and moistness but you can't taste it. The oranges, blueberries and ginger provide all the yummy flavour.

2 tbls chia seeds + 6 tbls warm water (or use flax or use 2 whole eggs)*
4 small zucchini, ends trimmed and cut into 4 pieces
2 navel oranges, washed and cut into quarters
1 knob fresh ginger, peeled
1/4 cup canola oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup Splenda or sugar
2 cups orange juice or water

2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups natural bran
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

Throw zucchini, oranges and ginger into food processor and puree. Dump into a large bowl and whisk together with chia eggs, oil, vanilla, sweetener and juice or water. In medium bowl, combine dry ingredients and then add to the wet, along with blueberries. Mix everything, just until combined. Batter will be thick. Spoon into greased muffin tins, filling them right up. Bake at 400F for about 20-25 minutes. Allow muffins to cool COMPLETELY** before removing from muffin tins.

Makes 12 muffins

*Note that they won't rise quite as much if you use the chia or flax eggs.

**Muffins will be very wet and soft when warm so if you try to remove them, you'll make a mess. Once they are completely cool, they firm up and can be easily transferred to wire rack (or your mouth).

DON'T Bite Your Tongue

I'm not sure what's going on with me at night lately, but my dreams have been even more cuckoo than usual.

Two nights ago I was being stalked by a psycho and the dream was so intense, I woke up soaked in sweat.

Last night Adam and I were getting married. Again. And we were having a huge wedding. I had knowledge that this guy at the wedding - not sure exactly who he was - was going to kill himself the next day. So I spent the whole wedding trying to figure out what I could do to stop him. This must have been an intense dream too because I woke up with my pillow covered in blood (ick!) due to having bitten my tongue badly. Ow!

The girls have been amusing us lately with the things they say. Little A's new favorite thing is, when there is conflict, mess or any other event that may lead to punishment, she points at Big A and says, "Big A do it!". Wow, they learn fast! She is also still trying to pin her flatulence on others. Sunday she ate raisin bran for breakfast and then proceded to break some nasty wind all day. Driving home from my sister-in-laws after she had a playdate with her cousin, Adam said, "Who has been having some serious gas today?", and she replied, "Daddy...daddy's gas."

Big A also cracked me up this morning. She decided to push one of her doll strollers to school with a doll and a bear sitting in it while I pushed Little A in her stroller. She told me that we were the two moms of the kids (Little A, the bear and the doll) and there is one dad. "So we are half gay and half not gay." "What?" I sputtered, laughing. "Just like our neighbours, L, J & R", she explained. I had to explain to her that L & J are married, but R is their nanny, they are not all married to each other. So funny to see the world from a child's perspective!

This morning was rough, but I feel like I'm dealing with these day-to-day parenting challenges better lately. When we got to Big A's school, Little A demanded to be let out of the stroller. I decided we had enough time that I would give her a chance to walk a bit on the way to her daycare. But her motive was really to try and nab Big A's doll stroller for herself. Big A carefully left it under her coat hook before she zipped into her classroom. I tried to explain to Little A that it was Big A's and she wanted it for later. Little A refused to leave and sat on the floor by the doll stroller and howled. Finally, I had to pick her up and strap her back into the stroller. She then hollered and screamed the whole way to her daycare.

I'm getting better at ignoring the looks from strangers on the street when this happens. I remind myself that if they are judging me for having a hysterical toddler, they: (a) have never had a toddler, or (b) don't remember what it is like to have a toddler.

If you disagree because you have the perfectly behaved toddler who never does this...well, bite your tongue!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Healthy Living on a Budget

You would have to be living under a rock to not have heard (or already witnessed) the fact that the cost of food, fuel and other essentials is skyrocketing.

But fear not, you do not have to resort to living off of Walmart brand potato chips and cola (you won't be living long if you do!). Healthy living is still possibles on a tight budget. Here are a few tips:

Food

Inconvenience yourself - Sorry, but it is much more economical to avoid convenience foods, even things like pre-cut fruits and veggies. Set aside some time to slice and dice what you need for your meals for a few days. Involve the kids and have them do some age-appropriate tasks (wash the produce, spin and tear lettuce leaves, pack everything into containers, etc.).

Plan ahead - Plan your meals for the week so you know exactly what you need. Do one big grocery shop, stick to your list and avoid impulse buys. This will also help you avoid waste, which is really throwing away money.

Comparison shop - Even if you hate getting paper flyers in the mail, it pays - literally - to check out where the sales are. Most grocery stores have their flyers online now. Yes, you may have to stop at several different places to get everything you need, but hey, if you do this on foot or bicycle, it can count as part of your daily physical activity!

Eat More Rice and Beans - Meat, pasta and bread is less economical than lentils, beans, and (brown) rice, all of which you can buy in bulk. Hey, they're healthier too!

Organic deals - If you want to eat organic, you can usually get better prices by ordering a box through local farm cooperatives that will deliver the produce to your door. Or check out local markets or even the store-brand organic lines at your grocery store.

Supplements

Scale Back on the Daily Vitamin - Most of us like to take a multi as insurance, but truthfully, unless you have a specific health problem or deficiency, you can get most of what you need by eating balanced, varied, healthy diet. Moreover, some multis contain too much of certain vitamins, which can be harmful. You can also take it every other day, or even once a week. Also, stick with basic multis, you don't need the fancy "weight-loss", "stress-management" vitamins, which rarely provide enough of any of the "magic" ingredients to live up to their claims.

Protein - Even vegans can get all the protein they need from real food, and protein powders are extremely expensive. Just make sure if you are eating only vegan sources of protein that you remember to combine legumes with a (whole) grain in order to get a complete protein source.

Exercise

Skip the Gym - You don't need a gym to stay fit. Put a hold on your monthly dues, if you need to and try working out in your home or outside with nature. You don't even need fancy equipment or a lot of space. Check out some of the latest exercise DVDs or put together your own routine.

Take the Shoelace Express - Leave the car at home, skip public transport and either walk or ride your bike. You'll save money, the environment and get fit!

Leisure Time

Use your local public library - Instead of buying new dvds, books and cds for yourself and the kids, check out what they have at the local library for free!

Friday, April 1, 2011

April's Fool

Boy do I have egg on my face!

After my last post where I waxed poetic about Big A's supportive social network at school, it all fell apart the next day.

When I picked her up yesterday, she was acting pissy. I asked her what was wrong and she explained that two of her closest friends had ignored her all day and when she had asked why they were ignoring her, they ignored her.

As if that wasn't bad enough, then her other best friend gave out invitations to her birthday party and did not give her one. Earlier in the week Big A had been very excited because this girl had told her that she WAS invited to the party and told her all about what they would be doing at this party.

My heart broke.

Ever since she told me about what happened, I have had a lump in my throat and I have felt sick to my stomach. Adam and I gave her a big pep talk last night about how sometimes people are mean for no reason and that she should find other friends and always remember to be nice to others because of how hurtful to exclude or ignore someone.

I asked if she had inquired why she did not get a birthday invitation. I wondered, was it because she insisted on going to school yesterday with 3 messy pigtails, a pink skirt, yellow striped shirt and furry purple sweatshirt that is 2 sizes too small? I doubt it. Any female knows how cruel girls can be to each other, and there doesn't need to be a reason. Big A said the girl didn't know why, just said that her name was not on her mom's invitation list. Okay, so was this an oversight on the parents' behalf? This girl is always so sweet and friendly, it seemed very out of character for her to do something deliberately mean.

I have met this girl's dad before, heck I see him almost every day! But I have never met, and not sure I've even seen the mother. Maybe she doesn't know Big A?

So this morning I did something that might get me in trouble with some of you parents out there...I contacted the girl's dad! When I discussed this with my parents last night they said I shouldn't do it. But I just couldn't let it go. I felt that if this was deliberate, they should at least explain to their daughter that it is not nice to invite and then un-invite a child to a party.

Maybe the girls had a falling out and they aren't as good friends as they were and I should just bud out, right? Maybe. But I just want to know.

So I sent him this note:

Hi ____,

Earlier this week Big A told us she had been invited to ___'s birthday party this weekend. Yesterday, Big A was very upset because she discovered she was not actually invited - which is fine - I just wondered if you knew what happened, did the girls have a falling out, etc.? Big A said they did not, but sometimes it is difficult to get the whole story out of her.

Regards,

Spindoctor


Am I being a "helicopter mom"? Maybe. This just strikes a chord with me because I remember how painful it is to be ostracized by your peers. The whole situation just literally brings me to tears.

Predictably, Big A threw a huge fit when I said it was time to go to school today. I ended up having to throw her over one shoulder and put her out on the front porch with her shoes. Then I got Little A and the stroller outside, locked the front door and started walking away with Little A. Big A finally had no choice but to put on her shoes and chase me down the street. She screamed and cried the whole way there. Part of me wanted to punish her until she is 20 for her defiance and rudeness she displayed, but the other part felt nothing but empathy.

I mentioned the events yesterday to her daycare teacher, who always likes to be kept apprised of these situations, and she agreed to keep an eye on Big A and explore what is going on with the other girls. Yes, yes, I know, I am probably getting too involved. I don't care, the ignoring is female bullying, and this is one thing I will not tolerate!!

Update:
Seconds after finishing the above post, I received this email from the dad:

I am so glad you wrote to us! She is invited. I did the invitations by memory late Wednesday night. I am so sorry Big A had to go through that. ___ always wanted Big A there. There is nothing going on between them at all. I hope Big A can make it. It is 100% my fault that she didn't get an invitation. The party is Sunday from 4-7. It is a pajama party and dinner will be provided. ____ wants everyone to watch a movie. Let me know if the time works. We are at 123 Main St. _____

Okay, feeling a bit better now...