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Monday, October 31, 2011

Tricky Treats

Oh my this past week was a tough one!

Little A woke up with a 104F fever for 5 days straight. Turns out she had strep throat. Poor thing was miserable and I had to cancel/re-arrange clients, which is always tricky. I'm paying for it this week with a jam-packed schedule. Today I even got double-booked between the fertility clinic and the general therapy clinic where I'm working.

Nevertheless, we managed to have a lovely weekend. The only blip being Little A waking up before 6am on Sunday morning. She now has a hacking cough that woke her almost 2 hours before she normally gets up. Adam and I were worried she'd wake Big A, so I brought her into our bed and told her it was still time to sleep. My poor little dumpling was good as gold - she didn't say a word and didn't squirm, but she was coughing so much that none of us got any sleep. As a result, we were all exhausted yesterday. Fortunately, she seems better today, just in time for Halloween!

I am pleased to report that Big A and I have been getting along great. Although it is sometimes tough to remember to use the techniques my new favorite parenting book (How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk) suggests, particularly when I'm stressed/tired/rushed, when I do, they really work FOR US.

One suggestion they have regarding praise, is not to unconditionally dole out praise and tell your child everything they do is perfect/excellent/wonderful, etc. Why? Because they say that kids can sense when you are being insincere, and thus they will learn to distrust your feedback. Then they may be less likely to believe you even when you DO mean what you say.

In the past, anytime Big A has shown me her art work from school or daycare, I pay very little attention (because I'm usually trying to get her and Little A packed up to go home) and say, "Wow, isn't that amazing!" Now Big A has lots of talents, but art is not one of them. The book suggests describing, rather than praising in these situations. So now, I say something like, "You used a lot of purple and blue in that one. I like those colours. What made you choose to use them?" This is more sincere feedback AND it makes both HER and I take time to carefully consider the item.

I have also been trying to figure out a new way to organize feeding the kids in our house. The "3 weekly treats" system for Big A was successful in decreasing conflict around junk, but it has not lessened Big A's obsession with it. Thus, the tons of additional treats she's going to get tonight was distressing me. I couldn't decide what to do about it.

On one dietician's blog, she says she allows her kids to access their Halloween candy anytime they want, with no rules. I really don't want that crap in the house all the time but I was worried anything else would make her obsession WORSE. At first I told Adam I wanted to try this to see what would happen. He was sceptical, and I admit, it didn't really sit well with me either.

Then my friend Jess mentioned that she'd heard a strategy whereby parents allow their kids full access to the treats for a few days after Halloween and THEN get rid of it all. Both Adam and I liked this idea instantly. The problem with keeping it around the house is, unlike Little A, Big A WILL NOT forget about the candy. Little A typically will eat a few bites of candy or cake and then choose fruit. Her taste gravitates toward savoury, rather than sweet or salty, like Big A. Big A will usually NOT make healthy choices at meal times when she has ANY choice, which means she is not making up for the junk she eats at snack times. Regardless of what we have in the house, she gets access to lots of treats at school, daycare, other kids' homes and parties and at her grandparents and great-grandparents. So she is really NOT deprived.

A few weeks ago I told Big A about the plan and explained that after we purged the house of the treats, if she wanted a treat, we would have to bake it healthier from scratch. Instead of a huge protest, which I was expecting, she excitedly asked, "Can we make rice krispie treats?"

I am very pleased. Even if we bake stuff with sugar, chocolate, etc., at least it will all be whole-grain, mostly organic, and contain no artificial colours or flavours.

I also realized something else that I need to change: snacking rules. Before I had kids, I read that babies self-regulate their food intake based on physiological need, so it is best to let them set their own feeding schedule.

While this is true for infants, it is not true for children. Children are vulnerable to the same social and emotional cues to eat that adults are. By age 2, Adam and I noticed that Big A would eat when nervous. Now she tends to snack when bored.

I have never had any rules about snacking and generally dole out snacks whenever the kids ask - unless it is RIGHT before a meal. Then I recently read this article: http://www.raisehealthyeaters.com/2009/09/5-reasons-moms-should-rethink-food-handouts/

I have realized that the girls may be more willing to try new/less favoured foods at meal times if they are hungrier. Most of you parents out there probably already know this. I suppose I always knew it too, but once you get into a habit of doing something one way, it is difficult to change it. But I think it's time we gave it a try.

So tonight is not just Halloween for this household, it is the start of new beginnings, and hopefully a better way to teach my girls about good nutrition.

By the way, if you are wondering what I am going to do with all that left-over Halloween candy, I am letting Adam take some to work to eat share with his colleagues, and the rest, I am giving to a local charity that takes Halloween candy donations http://overloadedstress.com/ccfc.html

Also: Just a reminder that if you have time, I would be most grateful if you'd click the Circle of Moms icon and vote for my blog. You can do so once a day until November 17th!!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Singapore Noodles (New Version)

I haven't made this in months but suddenly had a craving. I changed up how I make it a bit and I think this version is the best one ever. If you don't want to use chicken, you can use pork, shrimp or tofu.

Not only is it BETTER than take out and much healthier, it is also a cinch to make. You don't need to even bother soaking the noodles because once they absorb all the yummy sauce they will be the perfect consistency!

1 lb ground chicken
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 head broccoli, cut into florets (microwaved or steamed a few minutes)
3 Japanese eggplants, sliced
2 red or yellow bell peppers, sliced
1 cup snow peas, trimmed
1 bunch green onions, cut into 1 inch pieces on a bias

300g brown rice vermicelli

Sauce

2 tbls tomato paste or ketchup
2 tbls soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 tbls fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 tbls curry powder
1/2 tsp Chinese five spice powder
1/4 tsp tumeric
1/2 tsp salt
1 can light coconut milk
Cayenne pepper, to taste (optional)

In a large bowl, whisk together all the ingredients for the sauce and set aside.

In a large wok or skillet, brown meat over medium heat. When almost cooked, pour in vinegar and add veggies. Stir fry until veggies are tender crisp and then add sauce and vernmicelli noodles. Toss together until noodles soften and the sauce has been absorbed. Makes 4 servings.

If you like my blog, please don't forget to vote for it on the Circle of Moms site EVERY DAY UNTIL NOVEMBER 17TH!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Blog Nomination

Hello dear readers. I would like to ask you all a favour:

This blog has been nominated to the Top 25 Canadian Mom Blogs list on Circle of Moms!

If you enjoy reading my rants, ravings and musings, along with my most helpful health tips and kooky recipes, please vote for my blog!!

You can vote once a day up until November 17th. Just follow this link:

Circle of Moms Top 25 Canadian Mom Blogs .

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Orange Ginger Glazed Salmon (or Trout)

This is simple and delicious. I used trout because I actually prefer the taste and texture to salmon, but either are fine.

Orange Ginger Glaze

Heaping 1/4 cup sugar-free/all fruit orange spread
2 tbls low sodium soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
Piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated or finely chopped
1 tsp Chinese 5 spice powder
Pinch hot crushed red chili flakes (optional)

1lb salmon or trout fillets

Lay fish on non-stick baking sheet, skin side down. Generously coat top of fillets with glaze. Broil at 425F for about 12-15 minutes (depending on thickness of fillets).

The glaze makes enough for 2lb of fish, but I used the remaining glaze for a stir-fry sauce so I could serve some stir fried veggies and brown rice on the side.

Orange Ginger Stir-fry Sauce

1/2 of Orange Ginger Glaze recipe
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 tbls orange juice
1 tbls arrowroot or cornstarch

Stir fry veggies in 1-2 tsp of canola oil. When just about done, add stir-fry sauce and cook until thickened. Serve with fish over brown rice.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Timing Your Meals

It's pissing rain and I'm stuck home today with Little A who seemed to have developed a fever minutes after I dropped her off at daycare this morning, but then seemed to feel better the minute I arrived to pick her up. I still had to cancel all my appointments for this afternoon and I'm taking her to see the doctor, just in case. Sigh! No matter, at least I have time to blog.

Fitness and nutrition myths annoy me. What annoys me even more is health professionals who propagate these myths. That eating in the evening makes you fat is a popular one that I hear repeated by health professionals all the time. I am sure you have probably heard that you should not eat after 7pm?

Ugh, this is so dumb! As if your body suddenly starts storing fat at 7pm! What happens when you go to a place in a different time zone?

No, no, no! The reason why eating at night can sabotoge weight loss/maintenance efforts is that it is the time of day when people are most likely to eat high calorie, low nutrition snack foods. Think about it: you are not typically going to eat a big bag of potato chips for breakfast or on your lunch break at work, but you may very well do so while watching the game in the evening.

The best times to eat meals depends on a number of factors, particularly when you exercise - which all of us should!

If you exercise after work at 6pm, you probably won't want to eat dinner before you do so, so you might have a light snack. If you don't eat dinner after you workout (because it's 7:30pm, let's say), you are probably going to be starving. Moreover, it is important to eat (both carbohydrates and protein) within 2 hours after exercise to enhance recovery and training gains.

If you exercise first thing in the morning, like I do, you may be wondering whether or not it's okay to workout on an empty stomach. The answer is: absolutely, if you feel good that way. Personally, I am not hungry at 5am, and eating something immediately before I exercise leads to bad things. But if you feel dizzy or nauseous on an empty stomach, than by all means, have a snack beforehand.

In order to keep energy and blood sugar levels stable, it is best to eat throughout the day. Some people prefer to eat 6 mini-meals, but most people do best with 3 square meals and 1-2 snacks.

You may have heard "eat breakfast like a prince and dinner like a pauper", with the message being that you should eat the bulk of you calories early in the day. But for weight loss, this has not been consistently found to be the case. If you eat 1,500 calories a day with 1,200 of them before dinner or 1,200 at dinner, it won't likely make a big difference to your weight. Of course, under-eating early in the day can make it tough to control your eating later on because you will become ravenous (as well as possibly weak and light headed!) and when you are super hungry, this is when most people crave sugary, fat-laden treats.

In any case, don't listen to anyone who gives you an arbitrary time of day when you should start/stop eating (or stop eating certain foods). Decide what's right for you based on your daily routine and what keeps you feeling energized, happy and healthy.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pizza Kale Chips

Lately the girls have shown much less interest in kale chips and their intake of other veggies has been less than stellar. So I thought I'd try and liven up the kale chips with some funky flavour.

These turned out AMAZING!! I actually debated keeping them all to myself, but I am willing myself to share with them tonight. Fingers crossed they like them as much as I do!

1 large head of kale, washed, drying and torn into pieces with tough stems removed

4 tsp olive oil
2 tbls nutritional yeast
2 tsp sweet paprika
2 tsp Rustic Tuscan Seasoning from Costco (or 2 tsp dried oregano)
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
Salt and pepper, to taste

Toss kale with oil and seasonings. Spread kale in a single layer on baking sheet (bake in batches, if necessary) and bake in oven at 275F for 20-25 minutes, until crispy.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Artichoke Dip and Spread

This is a great lunch option. It is quick and easy to make and the recipe makes enough for several days.

I simply stuffed it into a whole wheat pita, but it would be great as a filling for a wrap, spread on crackers, as a dip for fresh veggies, or even used as a healthy alternative to mayo in a sandwich.

Artichoke Dip and Spread

(Adapted from "Just Like Tuna Salad" in Calciyum!: http://www.amazon.ca/CalciYum-Delicious-calcium-rich-dairy-free-vegetarian/dp/0968350305)

1 can (540 ml) pinto beans, drained and rinsed
2 cans artichoke hearts - not marinated (about 3.5 cups)
1 bunch green onions
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
A few handfuls of fresh parsely
2-3 cloves garlic, to taste
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper, to taste

Reserve 1/3 of the artichokes. Place all other ingredients in food processor and puree until fairly smooth. Add in remaining artichokes and pulse a few times, leaving chunky or until desired consistency is reached. Refridgerate for up to 7 days.

Wins and Losses

Lately I feel I have made some important gains in the parenting department thanks to my new best friend: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and How to Listen So Kids Will Talk.

Last Friday Big A started to give me a hard time when it was time to leave for school in the morning. This was the first major conflict I'd had with her all week, despite Adam being away and her being sick on Tuesday and Wednesday. That alone is actually impressive.

Even though up to that point we were having a good morning, out of nowhere she suddenly became rude, sulky and defiant and would not put on her shoes, socks or jacket. Admittedly, I couldn't remember right away what the book suggests to do in this situation. But instead of losing it, I bought myself time by getting Little A ready to go until I could think of the appropriate response: Name her feelings, explain my own feelings, and show empathy. I told her I understood that she was sad and frustrated that we had to leave the house because she did not want to yet, but that we had to leave to get her to school on time and her behaviour was making me sad and frustrated. She sulked and whimpered a bit more but put on her shoes and socks, and allowed me to help her get her jacket on. By the time we got outside she'd snapped out of it AND I HADN'T SNAPPED.

The other important breakthrough involves Little A. Up to now she had refused to hold anyone's hand while crossing streets. This means that every time we have had to do so, I am either chasing her and shouting and panicking, or I am scooping her up and she is flailing and shrieking. In the book, they describe parents having this very dilemma and negotiating with their child to at least hold on to the stroller when they cross. Simple solution but I had not thought of it. I suggested it to Little A over the weekend and she easily agreed. Now when she insists on walking, she either holds on to the stroller when we cross a street or holds onto my bag. YAY!

The bad news is that Little A has decided she is done with naps. She has been refusing to nap at daycare for weeks now. At first I thought it was just Coach Luigi's presence in the nap room at her old daycare. But she continued not napping at her new daycare. So we figured it was the transition. But this weekend she wouldn't nap at home either. When I finally gave up yesterday and went to get her, I asked why she would not nap anymore and she said: "Because I 2 and a half, mommy." I guess that's it!

Oh well, Adam and I decided that if we want to turn lemons into lemonade with this one, we can at least be grateful that now we can put Little A to bed earlier because by 6pm she is EXHAUSTED.

Happy Monday!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Want Versus Intent

My supervisor at the fertility clinic insists that we ask every client or couple about their "intent" to have a child. At first a lot of people are confused about what this means. Clearly they want a child or they would not be sitting in front of us.

But the difference is this: you can absolutely want something, but you may not be willing to do what it takes to get it.

In the fertility realm, this sometimes means that a couple wants a child, but is only willing to have their own biological child. So if this is an impossibility, they will remain childless rather than using other means of becoming a parent (i.e. sperm and/or egg donation, adoption, etc.).

I have recently realized that it is intent not our desire for something that determines whether or not we reach the goal.

In the past when I have worked as a personal trainer and/or nutrition consultant, I have always been puzzled when people would tell me they want to lose weight or improve their health, and yet, even after I told them how to do it, they would not follow my advice and consequently would not reach their goals.

I now understand that while losing weight, for example, might be something they want to do, they are not willing to make the changes/sacrifices necessary to do it or do not believe they are capable of doing so.

I have been able to reach a level of greater empathy for this situation since I now realize I am in the same situation in particular areas of my own life.

A few months ago I was feeling really down about myself. I started to notice that so many women walk around town looking like they stepped out of a salon with manicured hands, wearing funky outfits, sexy stilletos and carrying designer handbags.

I normally walk around in jeans or yoga pants, a black shirt, and Sketchers, with my un-manicured fingernails cut short, carrying my New Balance single strap backpack. I kept thinking that I wanted to look more like these women, like a fashionista, and less like...like a fitnessista. I now own one pair of stilletos, I have lots of funky clothes in my closet and drawers, and I even have some nice (knockoff) bags. So what was stopping me?

Finally I realized that in order to dress that way, I would have to stop walking and riding my bike everywhere, and start taking public transport or the car. Cycling through city streets in stilletos with a purse that keeps slipping off your shoulder is not terrible sensible! Chasing two young kids down the street in heels is just not possible.

Am I willing to change my lifestyle in that way? Nope. I do want to look more sophisticated and fashionable, but I have accepted that it does not suit my lifestyle and I am not willing to change my lifestyle.

The same thing has been going on with parenting for me. I have mentioned a gazillion times on this blog how I want to be a better mom. Yet I have not done what it takes to make this happen. When conflict with Big A got really bad a few weeks ago, neither Adam nor I were very proud of the things we did and said. But in the heat of the moment faced with an angry, disrespectful, completely irrational child, in spite of everything I've read about discipline, I felt clueless about what to do. I even started to think maybe I should just accept the fact that she and I are going to constantly clash because I am not capable of doing things any differently.

So my want was there but intent was low. Why? Not because I don't think being a mom is my most important responsibility, but because (1) my self-efficacy was low, and (2) I didn't know how to make this happen.

The parenting consultants gave me some good tips, but 2 visits from them was not enough and we can't afford to use them as a long-term solution. In addition, I feel like I am constantly being bombarded by many contradictory messages from magazines, books and other parents: Make all the decisions for them! Give them choices so they feel in control! Praise every little good thing they do! Don't over-praise them!

Who is right? What is the best strategy for disciplining, bolstering self-esteem, encouraging independence? It's enough to make me tear my hair out in frustration!

While chatting about parenting with another counsellor at the conference a few weeks ago, she mentioned a book titled: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and How to Listen So Kids Will Talk. Now people frequently recommend books to me, but often when I buy them or flip through them at the book store, they either don't offer me any new ideas or the ideas simply do not resonate for me. But what she described intrigued me and referred to parenting and discipline strategies I had NEVER tried.

Last weekend I bought the book.

I am so glad I did! This is the parenting advice book for me. Is it for you? I can't say, because the other thing I've realized is that parenting is NOT one-size-fits-all. What is "right" depends on your own values and beliefs, your personality, and the personality of your child.

The book covers how to help children deal with their feelings, engaging cooperation, encouraging autonomy, praise, and freeing children from playing roles.

The suggestions align with my personal beliefs, but also seem very doable for me. I also like that they don't just tell you what to do, but they tell you how and why. They ALSO tell you what to do if it does not work!

For example, they suggest that if your child does not listen to you and you find yourself repeating things to him or her over and over, until you are raising your voice and losing your temper, you should instead, say it once, and then ask them to repeat it to make sure they have heard and understand.

So last night when Little A was stalling going to bed and I found myself saying over and over that it was time to get into bed, I remembered this and asked her, "What did mommy just say?" "It time for bed," she replied. And finally began climbing into her bed. It was a win-win: She got into bed and I didn't raise my voice or lose my cool!

Other tactics for engaging cooperation that I've tried with Big A have also been successful. I am actually excited to try them all.

The book's philosophy has also inspiring me to make other changes. Big A wanted me to come to her school this week for her school's French music concert. I missed them all last year because they hold them at 9:15am on weekdays, which is my best working time. Even though she mentioned other parents went, I figured it was just a few stay-at-home moms and/or nannies from the neighbourhood. But I could see how important this was to her so today I decided I would make it happen. I even drove the kids to school to get them there early, so there was time for me to drive home, eat, do some work and then bicycle back to the school for the concert. To my surprise the school's library was FULL of other parents. Parents who are writers, academics, pharmaceutical executives, physicians, daycare workers, etc. My friend Megan was there and she explained that she had taken the morning off of work. Most of the other parents zipped off right after, so I figure they probably just went to work late. The whole thing was only 30 minutes long and Big A was over-joyed that I attended. I'm not going to miss another one!

I may not ever be a fashionista, but I now know I can be a better mom. I want to be, but I also intend to be.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Date Squares

Today was NOT a great day. Adam is out of town. Big A's wet cough got worse and she developed a fever so the school called right as I was getting ready to leave for a counselling appt. It was my first session with a new client and it sounded urgent so I really didn't want to cancel last minute. My mother-in-law was supposed to pick up Little A for a sleepover so I thought maybe she could pick them both up. But my niece (who is the same age as Little A) was throwing up so she had to got pick HER up. I called the school and told them I'd take Big A with me, but they insisted I leave her there to rest until I could take her home.

So, I drove up to our North York office which is a 45 minute - hour drive in midday traffic. My usual parking spot wasn't available so I had to pay to park. I got to the office right at 2pm but...my client wasn't there!

At 2:20pm I phoned her and she admitted she'd lost track of time and it would still be at least another 15 minutes before she arrived. I told her I couldn't stay late so we rescheduled for tomorrow. Then I had to drive all the way back downtown and pick up Big A.

Fortunately, my sister-in-law was able to pick up my niece and so my mother-in-law was able to pick up Little A and keep her for a sleepover so I can nurse Big A.

All this to say, I ended up house bound with a sick 5 year old. No better reason to bake I say. Besides, my uncle Ed from New York,and my parents are coming to town this weekend and my parents adore date squares. I know we'll be spending a lot of time eating at my brother's house so that's another good excuse to bake treats.

The fabulous aroma of these baking certainly put me in a better mood.

A bubble bath, Children's Advil, animal crackers and playing Caillou computer games has put Big A in a better mood too.

Filling

2 cups pitted dates
Juice and zest of a large navel orange
1/2 cup water

Crust

2 cups oat flour (you can grind oats in your food processor)
2 cups large flake oats
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp Chinese five spice powder (optional)
2 flax eggs (2 tbls ground flax + 6 tbls hot water)
1/2 cup agave syrup
2 tbls coconut oil, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract

Set dates, juice and zest in a saucepan over medium heat. Once it begins to bubble, turn heat down to low and simmer until the liquid is absorbed. Add water and place date mixture in food processor (or use hand blender) and puree to desired consistency (can be chunky). Set aside.

Combine flax and water and set aside until flax eggs "gel". In a large bowl mix together dry ingredients. Stir in flax eggs, agave, oil and vanilla. Press just over 1/2 of mixture into the bottom of a greased 9x9 square pan. Pour date mixture over top and spread evenly. Sprinkle remaining crust mixture over top, distributing evenly. Bake in the oven at 350F for about 18-20 minutes, until top is golden and crisp. Let cool completely before cutting into squares.

Eat This Daaling

When it comes to nutritious, affordable food, lentils can't be beat. Also, unlike dried beans, dried lentils cook quickly and do not have to be soaked. They are also incredibly versatile. They can be added to salad, pasta dishes, stews, etc. A few weeks ago I made a lentil chili that was yummy. Daal is a staple Indian dish that is comforting, flavourful and delish. You can serve it over brown rice or other grain, spread it in a whole wheat wrap or flatbread or simply serve it as a side dish with your meal. I like to make up a batch ahead of time and then have a quick and filling lunch for the next few days. Perfect chilly, autumn food!

1 cup red lentils, rinsed
2.5 cups water

1 tsp olive oil
1 onion minced (I threw the whole thing in the food processor)
1 piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp mustard seed
1 tbls garam masala or good quality curry powder
1/2 tsp turmuric
1/2 tsp salt, or more, to taste
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional, if you want heat)
4 tbls cider vinegar or lemon juice (the vinegar will give a sweeter taste)

Place lentils and water in saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to medium low and simmer, uncovered until lentils are soft and have absorbed most of the liquid (about 40 minutes).

Set a large skillet or frying pan over medium heat. Add oil and cook onion for 1-2 minutes. Add seasonings and spices and cook for another 5-6 minutes. Pour in vinegar or lemon juice and stir. Scrape lentil mixture into pan and simmer for about 5-6 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste, and thin out daal with a bit of water if it gets too thick (I like it thick!).

Serves 2 as a main, or 4 as a side dish. Leftovers can be refridgerated for a few days or frozen for up to 3 months.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Worry Much?

Do you worry too much?

How is "too much" defined?

Some degree of worry is normal and even useful. If we never worried about anything, we might never have the motivation to get anything accomplished.

But there is definitely such a thing as too much worry, and too much worry can significantly impair functioning. Excessive worrying is associated with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), a psychological disorder that is classified as an anxiety disorder in the DSM-IV, along with panic attacks, phobias, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

GAD is characterized by excessive and uncontrollable worry over everyday stimuli and involves 4 main characteristics: (1)intolerance of uncertainty, (2)poor problem solving, (3)cognitive avoidance, and,(4)positive beliefs about worry.

Individuals with GAD tend to believe that: worrying helps to solve problems, it increases motivation, it minimizes distress from future negative outcomes, it demonstrates a positive personality trait, and that worrying can directly alter actual events.

GAD is thought to be caused - like most psychological conditions - by a complex interaction between biology and experience.

GAD is associated with a variety of somatic complaints, insomnia, intrusive thoughts, ruminations, and major depression. Because with GAD, apprehension and distress are chronic and diffuse and not strongly associated with external stimuli, GAD can be very difficult to treat.

The most effective treatments for GAD are cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and/or anti-depressant medications such as venlaxafine (Effexor).

I am definitely a worrier and I think I probably have been since I was a child. My mom is too, but whether my worrying is due to our shared biology or the social environment in which I grew up is impossible to know. Probably both.

I have been told in the past that I have "generalized anxiety disorder" traits, but it wasn't until I did CBT following Little A's birth, that I was diagnosed with GAD. At first I was shocked and horrified that I was being diagnosed with a clinically-significant disorder...particularly as I was studying to become a counsellor. But eventually, not only did this diagnosis - and the treatment I received - change my life, but I believe it prepared me far better to be a counsellor.

When I first saw the psychologist, I had not slept well in months, in fact I had slept barely at all. Every night I would fall into bed exhausted and fall asleep instantly. But if Little A woke me at 11pm, 1am, 2am, it didn't matter the time, or if I woke up to pee, or if I woke up for no reason at all (which I did often), that was it. I was up for the rest of the night.

My mind was on constant over-drive. I could not listen to music. AT ALL. Because whatever song I heard would get stuck in my brain and replay over and over. If I was concerned or upset about ANYTHING, even the most insignificant thing, I would be up ALL night trying to problem solve.

I was MISERABLE.

Through our discussions, many of my core assumptions (beliefs about my self and about the world) became clear and I realized I had all the typical symptoms and beliefs of someone with GAD. It was very humbling and enlightening to realize that even though I am a pretty self-reflective person, there was a lot about myself that I was not consciously aware of.

By the end of our several months of CBT, the psychologist declared me "cured" and honestly, I have never felt better. I almost never get insomnia, I don't catastrophize (as often), I can listen to any music I want (the whole family is happy about that!), and I no longer ruminate or blow small issues out of proportion. I have more confidence in my own coping abilities and am able to identify and challenge dysfunctional thoughts when they emerge.

If you feel like worry is affecting your life, don't hesitate to seek help. It can make all the difference to your physical and mental health!!

For more info, follow this link: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001915/

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Reading With Your Kids

If you are a parent, then you know how important it is to read with your children. In fact, so far that is the only "homework" that Big A has been assigned during her Kindergarten career (to have us read with/to her).

So I am pleased to introduce to you mommy blogger and author "Anna Deskins". I have interviewed her about her new book. She also interviewed me several weeks ago for her blog, you can check out this interview here: http://annadeskins.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=94:an-interview-with-mommy-blogger-erica-berman&catid=1:news&Itemid=3


Interview with Anna Deskins

Your children's book, The Adventures of Smitty looks magically. Tell us about it.

It's the story of a magical island of little creatures called Smilies and the mischievous little main character, Smitty. He's such a naughty boy. Haha! All the moms and kids I've shared it with have been giving me such a wonderful reaction. I cannot believe it. I have to tell you how excited I am to finally have a life-long dream come true. Writing The Adventures of Smitty was really about finding a story that I would want to read to my children at night. It has to be exciting but not scary so that my two daughters can go to sleep. Basically, I was looking for that perfect blend to read to my kids at night and decided, "Why not try writing my own?"

We've had a lot of changes in our life recently, so I want to make sure that when I put my daughters to sleep that they feel safe. I have short chapters because I know how busy we moms are but if you can just sacrifice 5 minutes at night reading to your kids, it makes a world of difference. Your kids will never forget it. And although we're running around the whirlwind of life, our kids grow up so fast, and that time that we'd rather finish watching what happened in our favorite soap opera instead of reading to our kids will never come again. I hope that The Adventures of Smitty and books like it help moms do exactly that.


And it's only 99 cents this week. That's what I love about it. Now, You are recently divorced. How have you been able to continue writing when going through such a change?

Yes, it is by far one of the most challenging points in my life. To see a marriage you thought would last forever to not last forever was difficult for the two of us. I really learned a lot about myself and most importantly, it's brought me closer to my daughters. I think that's what really motivated me to finish this children's book no matter what. When you're going through changes in your life like this, you need something to hold on to. There's a part of you that wants to prove that you can make it, that you will be a success even if it's not with the partner you originally imagined building a life with. I had to keep writing, for my kids. I want to show them that they have to keep strong, no matter what.

We as women, as moms really need to stick together to support each other and our dreams. We're living in an age when I think we're finally realizing, although we want love, the men in our life aren't the answer to everything. We have to stand up on our own two feet and keep going. True love will happen, but until then, we have to keep moving forward. Our children depend on us and we depend on us.

In addition to being a children's book author, you're also a small business owner. How do you juggle taking care of two daughters and at the same time running a business?

Yes, I am a fashion designer and have a retail store. Any type of creativity is what I'm passionate about. That's why writing The Adventures of Smitty was so important to me. Let me tell you, running a small business in today's economy isn't easy especially when raising two girls at the same time. But somehow, it seems someone's watching over me because my dreams are coming true no matter what. To have that many moms glowing about my children's book, means so much to me. And I know my girls are proud.

When do you ever have time to write?

You mean, in between laundry, running a business, chasing my girls around the house, cleaning the house, and flying back and forth fromMiami to New York? Haha? That's one thing I've learned, when you really want to do something, you find a way. Things fall into place if you just go for it and that's what I want to encourage all the moms who are reading this right now. Whatever your goal is, you can do it. Don't let the challenges in your personal life stop you from going for your dreams. Just go for it and it's almost magical how things fall into place.

Where can we get a copy of "The Adventures of Smitty"?

Right now, it's available online by going to: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/94655 You can also visit my website:http://www.AnnaDeskins.com where you can read more about my writing process, my recommendations for other books and my own adventures in Mommyhood.

I'm so grateful for your support and the support I'm getting from so many wonderful moms who dream of writing children's books one day too. Writing The Adventures of Smitty has been such an emotional experience for me, a true journey as I was going through so many changes while writing it. It's truly been a blessing in my life. It, along with my daughters, and that guy upstairs have really pulled me through a challenging time.

Thanks for the interview, Anna. And let's go out and support a fellow mom by getting a copy of The Adventures of Smitty today. I know I will!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Vegan Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies (Wheat/Gluten-free)

I love oats. In fact, I consume them in such large quantity that my mother once suggested that I must be part horse.

I sincerely hope she wasn't alluding to some bizarre extramarital affair she had...

Anyhoo.

My latest obsession is baking with oat flour. It is not only healthy and inexpensive (particularly if you make your own in the food processor!), but it works beautifully in the right recipe.

Those peanut butter chocolate chip cookies I made a few weeks ago were so outrageously good that I hid them from Adam and the girls and ate most of them myself.

Is that bad?

So today I created these and they are awsome. Chewy, chocolately, flavourful and not too sweet. But this time I am generously sending them to my mother-in-law. It's better if I don't eat them all myself anyways.

Vegan Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies

3 cups oat flour (use gluten-free oats if you have to avoid gluten)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

2 ripe bananas, mashed
1 flax egg (1 tbls ground flax + 3 tbls hot water)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tbls coconut oil, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips

Prepare flax egg and set aside until ready to use. Meanwhile, whisk dry ingredients in large bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk together bananas, flax egg, sugar, oil and vanilla. Pour wet ingredients into dry and mix until all the dry ingredients have been incorporated. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop heaping spoonfuls onto non-stick baking sheet and bake in the oven at 350F for 8 minutes. Let cool before removing from pan. Once cookies have firmed up, transfer to wire rack. Makes 20 cookies.

P.S. Note to my husband - Please stop eating all my chocolate chips! I promise if you do I won't hog all the cookies again.

Find Me an Exorcist!

The past few weeks have been really tough with the girls. Big A hasn't had a huge tantrum in over a week, so hopefully whatever little phase she was going through has passed. But she is really copping an attitude lately. She ignores me on a regular basis, which is infuriating and disconcerting. When she began playing with the universal machine in our home gym last week, I warned her to stop because she was going to either break something or hurt herself. She didn't listen and jammed the weight stack, which ended up stretching the cable. Now Adam and I have to pay to have someone come and fix it.

Big A also talks back. If I say, "Please brush your teeth so we can leave for school," she will come back with something like, "The only way I am going to brush my teeth is if I get 10 more minutes to play first!"

Little A has become, well...a really terrible two! She has been melting down over every tiny thing, no matter how irrational or absurd.

For example, the other day at breakfast she was eating red grapes. When she asked for more, I asked her if she wanted red or green. She said, "pink." Since she was smiling, I assumed she was just joking, which she does a lot. But when I returned with another bowl of red grapes, she pushed them away and started screaming that she wanted pink grapes. Trying to explain that there is no such thing did little to help.

She also refuses to take turns with Big A. In order to try and curb fights between them, we make rules that they alternate taking turns on coveted activities (pushing the button at cross-walks, getting out of the bath first, holding the snack bag, etc.), but Little A will go bananas if she doesn't get her way EVERY TIME.

Her daycare teachers, who swear she is a perfect angel all day, have suggested she is still adjusting to the transition from her old daycare. This may be true. She has been asking to go back to her old daycare and I think she is starting to really miss her two best friends there.

Little A does occasionally show glimmers of her old sweet and funny self. Yesterday she made me chase her around the house in order to get her undressed and into the bath. Her favorite trick is to stick her little bum over the drain in the tub while I am trying to drain it so that the water can't go down. She thinks this is hilarious. And she continues to be the dirtiest, messiest child on the planet. She LOVES rain and refuses to let me cover her in the stroller or put on her rain jacket or boots in wet weather. Instead she adores getting soaked and jumping into mud puddles. She also continues to show no interest in toilet training and, in fact, when we were at a playdate at my girlfriend's house a few days ago, she would not even stop playing and allow us to change her diaper after she'd pooped.

If I didn't talk to my friends and know that they are not the only ones dealing with this kind of stuff, I would think I needed another parenting intervention (perhaps an exorcist this time?). But for now, I've decided to let things ride for a bit and see what happens. I know transitions are difficult for kids and the girls are going through some big ones with the start of the school year. Hopefully by Christmas they will have adjusted??

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Life Choices Italian Meatballs - Product Review

I know I am not the only parent who finds feeding their kids a challenge! Dinner time, in particular, can be very frustrating. Most nights they eat a seperate dinner from us, which can mean twice as much work for me.

Little A will usually try anything off our plates, but try putting it on HER plate and it will end up on the floor or stuck to the kitchen wall in a matter of seconds.

Big A groans at virtually ALL the meals I make and is NOT willing to try many new things, and neither of them are willing to eat foods at our house that they are willing to happily eat elsewhere (at daycare, friend's homes, my in-laws', etc.).

Oh, and what they love and demand one day, they despise and won't touch the next. It's enough to make me want to run to my room and curl up in a corner and cry most nights.

I could just stop serving them dinner altogether...and believe me I've thought about it, but what I often end up doing is serving them what I know they BOTH like and is reasonably healthy: Life Choices products.

I've talked about these products on my blog before because they really are a staple in our home. The chicken nuggets, fish sticks, hotdogs and Italian meatballs get happily gobbled down by my picky girls. The meatballs, in particular are a favorite. In fact, Little A can easily devour a dozen at a sitting, if we let her, and twice over the past couple of weeks she has asked for them for breakfast!!

On top of being of a much higher quality than the standard versions of these kid-foods, Life Choices products are quick and easy to prepare. Often what I do is cook up the entire package, and then re-freeze them and heat up as needed. This means I can have them ready in seconds when the girls are hungry and tired and want their dinner NOW.

The meatballs are so flavourful and juicy, they don't even need any sauce. I serve them plain, with some cut up veggies on the side. Whenever I cook them, the aroma even has Adam (who claims to have no sense of smell) salivating.

The only thing, in my mind, that would make them better, is if they used only whole grains as binders. They use some refined flours, but at least also have flax and oats to give them some fibre. It would also be nice if they came in a chicken or turkey variety.

You can check out the meatballs here: http://www.lifechoicesfoods.com/italian-meatballs/

Also, there was an article about their hotdogs in the Toronto Star today: http://www.thestar.com/living/food/article/1068034--how-to-build-a-healthier-hot-dog

The girls also LOVE the hotdogs and they are the only brand I have been able to find that doesn't have added nitrites, aside from the ones from Beretta farms, which cost twice as much!

Disclosure: I was given a free product sample in exchange for writing this review. The opinions in this blog are my own.

Apple Cinnamon Breakfast Risotto

Big A begged me to make her rice pudding again. This has as consistency more like a risotto, but is perfect as a healthy breakfast, snack or dessert.

I was a bit nervous about adding apples to her standard favorite but it was a hit. She had 2 large servings for breakfast this morning!

You could probably make this vegan by using a non-dairy milk like almond milk and thickening agent like corn starch or arrowroot.

1 cup brown rice, preferably short grain
2 organic sweet apples, finely grated or chopped in food processor (I used golden delicious)
3 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar, Splenda or stevia
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 eggs

Place rice in pot with 2 cups of water. Bring water to a boil and then turn heat down to med-low. Cook until all the water has been absorbed and then let it cool.

Pour milk into a large pot over medium heat and wisk in sweetener, vanilla and cinnamon. Bring milk to a boil and then turn heat down to low, whisking every few minutes. Beat eggs in a medium bowl until frothy. Temper eggs by adding a 1/2 cup of hot milk to eggs very slowly and then slowly pour egg mixture into pot with milk. Stir in rice and apples and simmer for a few minutes. Pour the entire mixture into a Corningware or other serving dish and refridgerate for at least 2 hours. If desired, serve with a sprinkle of crushed walnuts and a drizzle of maple syrup.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Marinated Portobello Mushrooms with Arugula

Many years ago, I had a salad at a restaurant in Toronto called Terroni, the Funghi Assoluti and I was blown away. Ever since then if I am ANYWHERE where they serve a similar salad, I usually order it. Ironically, I rarely ever go to Terroni (and they now have multiple locations), because aside from the salad, there isn't much of interest on the menu for me (mostly white-flour pizza, pasta and sandwiches). I also find it rather pretentious as they do not allow substitutions on their menu and do weird things like throw whole olives (with the pits!) on their pizzas.

I decided to re-create my own version this weekend and it was spot on. Unlike theirs, however, I did not add parmegiano to the salad since my cheese-hating husband was dining with me. I also threw in slices of grilled yellow peppers I had lying around. You can customize it anyway, but it's best to stick with a few ingredients and keep it simple to let the mushrooms take the spotlight.

These mushrooms would also be fabulous as a veggie burger or on a sandwich. I LOVE these mushrooms, they are seriously addictive!

Marinated Portobello Mushrooms with Arugula

4 large portobello mushrooms, tough stems removed, scrubbed or washed (yes you CAN wash mushrooms and it won't alter the texture, David Rosengarten proved it!)
1/4 cup good quality balsamic vinegar
1 tsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp Costco Rustic Tuscan Seasoning (or Italian seasoning)
Salt & pepper, to taste
340g organic baby arugula
6-8 shavings of fresh parmigiano reggiano (optional)

For the mushrooms, whisk together all the ingredients for the marinade. Place mushrooms in a shallow dish and pour over top. Marinate in the fridge for 6 hours-24 hours. Grill mushrooms until tender (mine were huge and this took about 7 minutes on our indoor grill) and then slice thinly.

If you want to make this salad like the restaurant does, and you have a good quality balsamic vinegar, than you can just arrange the mushroom slices over arugula and drizzle some of the vinegar over top before adding the cheese (if using). Or if you prefer, you can make a dressing which I opted for since I wasn't adding cheese.

Dressing

2 tsp olive oil
1 heaping tsp dijon mustard
2 tbls balsamic vinegar
2 tbls red wine vinegar
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp Costco Rustic Tuscan Seasoning (or Italian seasoning)
Salt & pepper, to taste

Whisk together all the ingredients for the dressing and toss with arugula before plating. Arrange mushrooms over top.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Giving Muffins and Thanks

In spite of the fact that Little A spiked a fever so high she was speaking in incoherent non-sequiturs last night and neither she, nor I, nor Adam got more than about 3 hours of sleep, we have a lot to be thankful for.

Although it feels more like summer even though it is the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend (and I HATE summer), we are blessed.

Despite a decline in the state of my behind (i.e. hamstring tendonitis flaired up again) and the fact that I had to get another needle (cortisone shot) in the ass on Thursday, I am filled with gratitude.

Our life is rich and full even with the usual ups and downs. This is not the case for everyone.

I have been volunteering for almost 2 years now with an organization providing social services for seniors in the Toronto area. My "phone pal" is a woman in her 60s who, because of poorly controlled diabetes, is legally blind and has dialysis at least 3 times a week. She lives with one of her daughters, but this daughter works a lot and my pal has no other family in the city.

I had thought at the beginning that this would be a sort of counselling assignment, but it's really more about offering social support to someone who is socially isolated. She ends up spending most of the holidays alone. So I decided this weekend is the perfect time to reach out to her in a slightly bigger way than merely a phone call every week. She has been dying to meet the girls, so I promised to bring them over for a visit, and I thought I would bring her some sugar-free muffins to enjoy.

Unfortunately, if Little A is still feverish, she may not be able to accompany me on this mission, but at least my pal will get some moist, sweet and spicy muffins to enjoy. If these are not for someone who requires a low-sugar diet, they will work just as well with sugar, rather than Splenda.

Apple Cinnamon Muffins

2 large apples (I used organic Golden delicious), grated or finely chopped in food processor
2 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup Splenda or other diabetic-friendly sweetener (or sugar)
2/3 cup milk or water

1.5 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup ground flax
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp sea salt

In large bowl, whisk together eggs oil, vanilla and sweetener. Add apple and milk or water. In medium bowl, whisk together dry ingredients and mix into wet ingredients, just until combined. Spoon into greased or lined muffin cups and bake at 350F for 18-22 minutes. Makes 12-16 muffins, depending on desired size. Freeze if not eating within a few days.

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Popeye Brownies

If you're a parent, you know how kids go on food jags, loving one thing (and only one thing) one day, and hating it the next. My kids are particularly this way with fruits and veggies.

We're currently in a bad veggie phase. The coleslaw they used to love gets left untouched and few cooked vegetables get past their lips. This week I've resorted to raw sliced red bell peppers, carrots, cucumber, and celery at dinnertime. But as far as green veggies go, cucumber and celery are hardly nutritional superstars.

Unfortunately, hiding veggies in savoury foods is only hit or miss with these guys, and more often miss than hit. The only sure-fire way to get veggies into them is hidden in baked goods. I've had great success with muffins and pancakes, so I decided to try brownies this time. Both girls love chocolate, and it's a flavour and colour that can hide a lot.

Of course, it's better to get your kids to accept (and hopefully love) vegetables in their original form, but in this case I feel that what they DON'T know won't hurt them.

These are also wheat and gluten free, dairy free and nut free for those who have allergies.

Popeye Brownies

1-300g frozen spinach, thawed and drained
2 eggs
2 tbls coconut oil, melted and cooled
1/2 cup sugar, Splenda or equivalent amount of stevia powder (I used stevia)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Puree spinach in food processor and empty into mixing bowl. Whisk together with eggs, oil, sweetener and vanilla. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Batter will be quite dense. Scrape into greased 8x8 square pan and bake at 350F for about 22 minutes. Let cool completely and then cut into squares and remove from pan. Store in the refridgerator in an airtight container for a few days or freeze.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sports versus Exercise

Do you like sports? Do you like to exercise? Or both?

Sports and exercise activities overlap but are not one in the same.

Sports are: Activities involving physical exertion and skill that are governed by a set of rules or customs and often undertaken competitively.

Exercise is: Activity that requires physical or mental exertion, especially when performed to develop or maintain fitness.

Some people like to play competitive or recreational team sports (basketball, volleyball, soccer, rowing, ultimate frisbee, etc.) as a means of getting exercise and maintaining physical fitness. Others like to perform physical activities solely for the purpose of getting fit (cardio machines, group fitness classes, cycling, walking, strength training, etc.). Neither is better, it entirely depends on what is most appropriate for the individual. It is also possible to align fitness goals with competition goals (i.e. running races, triathalons, etc.) if you so desire.

You can reap equal health benefits from sports or fitness activities, the important thing is that you are physically active. I may have said it a hundred times, but I really can't say it enough: physical activity is essential for getting and staying healthy!

Personally, I DETEST sports and LOVE fitness activities. I believe this is because of the negative experiences I had in sport as a child. I was never particularly concerned with winning, nor was I particularly gifted at any team sports - actually the only sport I didn't suck at was soccer. Unfortunately, many of the girls at my elementary school and high school were extremely competitive and I (and others like me) were socially ostracized for not being athletically-gifted. Even worse, the butt-munch of a gym teacher at my elementary school blatantly treated kids like me as second-class citizens and favoured the "sporty" kids. This did nothing good for my self-image or body esteem. By 10th grade, I no longer even bothered trying out for the school's sports teams.

Fortunately, in 9th grade when I decided I wanted to get more physically fit, my brother suggested I try going to the fitness classes that many of his female friends attended. A girlfriend and I got a pass for a local gym and after just one class I was hooked. There was no winning or losing. There was no performance evaluation. There was just fun music, fun movement and the energy of the participants feeding off one another.

By 12th grade I'd gotten certified as a fitness instructor and the rest is HISTORY.

Of course not everyone has a negative experience with sports. In fact, research shows that overall, children who participate in organized sports generally have higher self-esteem and better academic achievement than those who don't.

Just be aware that they are not appropriate for every child. If your child does not enjoy team sports, there are lots of other ways to get them hooked on exercise. There are individual sports that they can do non-competitively like swimming, running and cycling, and there are also a growing number of fitness options for kids. Toronto has a number of yoga for kids programs as well as gyms which offer strength training and group fitness for children and teens. At our local library yesterday, while Little A pulled all the Barney DVDs off the shelf, I spied a fitness DVD for kids, that a child can do right at home.

It's also important to know that some sports carry risks when children get to an elite level. We all know the physical dangers of things like rugby, football and hockey, but the aesthetic sports (gymnastics, ballet, skating, synchro swimming, etc.) can have psychological risks.

When I was a PhD student, my supervisor and I did a study that found that national level gymnastics coaches were emotionally abusive to their athletes and encouraged unhealthy behaviours to manage their weight. A frightening number of the gymnasts in the study admitted to having had or currently having disordered eating and body image distortion because of these experiences.

Children and adults need to be physically active - ideally 60 minutes of activity a day! Whether you and your children choose to do sports or fitness activities is not what's important. Just remember that whatever you do choose should inhance both physical and mental health. Get your kids moving, just be sure to find the right activity for them.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pie-r-Round

I know that I am not normal. I love exercise, I love green vegetables and I HATE heat. I think summer absolutely sucks. I also hate pie.

Once you have gotten up from fainting, let me explain. I think many pie FILLINGS are delicious, but I CAN'T STAND PASTRY. Does that make me seem any less weird?

I just don't get what is appealing about something made of nothing but refined flour, saturated fat, salt and water. What a big waste of empty calories! I hate pie crusts, I hate danishes and I hate croissants. Please don't put me in a straight-jacket for that one!

That's why I have been dying to try Chef Michael Smith's recipe for apple pie, using a whole grain pie crust (which is more cookie-like than pastry-like).

I decided to make it for our Rosh Hashana dinner last week (since Adam's mom had already made a honey cake and his sister had baked an apple cake). Although neither Adam nor his dad usually gravitate towards healthier desserts, they both have a weakness for anything involving apples baked with cinnamon, so I thought this might pass muster. It was a hit with everyone!

If you are looking for a relatively healthy Thanksgiving dessert option, give this a try. It's pretty fail-proof. I don't even have a pie plate, but it worked in a cake pan, though this didn't produce the nicest looking product. But hey, I've already stated that I'm more concerned with taste than with presentation.

I didn't make the yogurt topping, but I'm sure it would be a nice addition, as would vanilla or maple walnut frozen yogurt or ice cream.

I love Michael Smith, he shares my philosophy about cooking: just use a recipe as a guide and adjust it to suit your own taste. Be inspired by the flavours you enjoy most and the ingredients you have on hand.

Whole Grain Crusted Apple Pie with Maple Yogurt Topping

Courtesy of : Michael Smith http://www.foodnetwork.ca/recipes/Fruit/recipe.html?dishid=8556

Yield : A recipe is merely words on paper; a guideline, a starting point from which to improvise. It cannot pretend to replace the practiced hand and telling glance of a watchful cook. For that reason feel free to stir your own ideas into this dish. When you cook it once, it becomes yours, so personalize it a bit. Add more of an ingredient you like or less of something you don't like. Try substituting one ingredient for another. Remember words have no flavour, you have to add your own!

Ingredients for the Crust

•1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
•1 cup rolled oats
•2 tablespoons brown sugar
•1 teaspoon salt
•1/2 cup vegetable oil
•1/2 cup or so of water

For the Filling

•6 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored and cut into 6 even pieces
•1/2 cup honey
•3 tablespoons whole-wheat flour
•1 tablespoon of cinnamon

For the Topping

•1/2 cup yogurt
•1/4 cup maple syrup

For the Crust

1.Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
2.Whisk the flour, rolled oats, brown sugar and salt together in a large bowl. Add the oil and mix well. Add the water and stir just until the mixture comes together. Knead it once or twice to gather up all the dry ingredients. Add a few drops more of water if needed. Divide in half and form into 2 flattened discs. Chill until ready to use.

For the Filling

1.Toss the apples with the honey, flour and cinnamon.
2.Flour your hands, the work surface, the roller and the dough then roll one pastry disc out into a 12-inch round and fit it into an 8-inch pie plate. You may find it easy to fold the disc into quarters than pick it up and unfold it over the pie plate. Add the apples.
3.Roll out the other disc into a 12-inch round and place over top of the apples. Trim and seal edges of pie and poke 3 or 4 vent holes into the top of the pie so that steam will be released and not blow out the crust. Place onto the bottom rack of the oven and bake for 1 hour, until crust is golden and juices are bubbling.

For the Topping

1.Whisk the yogurt and maple syrup together and serve with the pie.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Public Displays of Poor Parenting

Before I had children of my own, I used to look at parents screaming at their kids in public places and think that they must be cruel tyrants, and that I would never subject my children to such humiliation.

Ha! I have already lost count of how many times I have raised my voice at my kids in public. But I think tonight I outdid myself for public displays of incompetent parenting.

At the school fundraiser, my cupcakes were a huge success - by the time we got to the table most of them had disappeared and I was told that the gingerbread ones (with the gummy worms!) sold out almost immediately.

Unfortunately, everything else about the event was a disaster for us. I was on my own with the girls but I really thought I could handle things. Clearly I over-estimated myself. Or under-estimated the chaos the girls could create. Or both.

First, the line for the bbq was long and slow-moving. We stood in the same spot for about 15 minutes and the girls were getting antsy. Big A also kept yelling at me that I had lost my place in line, which was absurd because neither we, nor anyone else had moved - which is what I yelled back at her. She eventually erupted in tears saying I had ruined everything and they were never going to get their hotdogs. About 90 seconds later each of them were happily holding a refined white flour bun filled with processed animal parts and nitrites.

After consuming this abomination of a meal, they started demanding cupcakes. I made my way to the table and let them each choose one. Big A chose the last of my lemon ones and Little A choose a small chocolate one with green icing. As I tried to converse with some other parents, both girls ran off to the playground.

Little A gave me her cupcake, and then took off with me in pursuit trying to clean off the crumbs, ketchup and frosting covering her whole body. Once I had her wiped down, I turned my back for 2 seconds to return the cloth to the stroller and heard her screaming. She was on the ground with an older girl standing above her. Big A came over and accused this girl of knocking Little A to the ground and then dragging her. Say what? I didn't believe this for a second, but the girl's mom hauled her off for a private talk. Later she assured me that there was an inadvertant collision, but her daughter hadn't meant any harm. I assured her that I had not believed there was any ill-intent involved.

Then, a split second after Big A yelled, "Watch me mommy!" from the monkey bars, she took a fall. Now Big A is undoubtedly the biggest cry baby, but this was a hard fall which clearly knocked the wind out of her. In fact, she fell on her back, groaned, rolled over and her face turned red. For a few minutes I was in a complete panic thinking she really seriously injured herself. It was one of those moments that makes you realize no matter what (they do), you would do anything for your children. Just thinking about this moment gives me chills. She was so shaken up that she crawled into Little A's stroller and just sat and cried.

Meanwhile, Little A decided she wanted her cupcake back, only I had thrown it away. She freaked in a way that only a toddler can. I was so frustrated, that I dug it out of the garbage can and simply broke off the part that was touching other matter. This made things worse as I forgot that Little A gets hysterical over broken food. So I threw both cupcake pieces back in the garbage. She got EVEN MORE upset and began digging through the garbage can.

This all happened right in front of a group of mothers who were giggling, but looked pretty horrified at the scene. "You need to get her another cupcake!" one said. I did not agree but Little A did.

When I said another cupcake was out of the question, Little A ran off toward the cupcake table. She made it half way and then just stood and screamed. I left her there, while keeping an eye on her, to blow off steam and stayed with Big A. After about 10 minutes - and several parents approaching her thinking she was lost so that I had to intervene and explain we were having a stand-off* - she came back to us and told Big A to get out of her stroller. Big A refused and the girls began pushing each other which ended with both of them in tears.

As a distraction, I had the brilliant idea of offering them each another cup of juice from the bbq. You know I'm desperate when I am offering them SUGAR WATER! Little A wanted more so I carried her over to the bbq only to discover they had run out. This led to yet another round of hysteria.

Thank goodness my father-in-law showed up a few minutes later to take Little A home for a sleepover! Unfortunately at this point Big A demanded we go home immediately and I was not able to stay to meet her teachers at Curriculum Night. That being said, I felt I'd made a big enough spectacle of myself tonight and wanted to go home and hide.

At least the cupcakes were a success...

*One of the parents who approached Little A happened to be Moe Berg, lead singer of the Pursuit of Happiness (Canadian 80s band). Fortunately, he and his lovely wife were very sympathetic. Still humiliating though!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Frosted Lemon Cupcakes and Gingerbread Cupkies with Fluffy Vanilla Frosting

It was cupcake HELL here today. I volunteered to bake 2 dozen cupcakes for Big A's school fundraiser tomorrow. I had good intentions of being on every parent committee when she started there last year. Seeing as I am not in a 9-5 work schedule, I thought it would be a cinch to get involved. Unfortunately for me, they work the committee meetings around people WHO DO have 9-5 jobs so they are all in the evening, which is when I have NO desire to leave the house - it's rare that I'm not already in my PJs (or at least yoga pants and a tank) by 7pm. As a result, I've not participated in ANY committees so far.

So to assuage my guilt, I thought I'd wow everyone with 2 different not-so-run-of-the-mill flavours for the fundraiser. I figured everyone else will be doing chocolate or vanilla.

Unfortunately, the only person I think I'm going to wow (and not in a good way) is Adam when he sees the mess in the kitchen. I also was far too cocky and made some silly booboos...like not getting the first batch when they dinged because I was busy with something else...and figured a few extra minutes wouldn't kill them - didn't KILL them but did slightly burn the edges!!...and (I blame this on my pathetic spatial-reasoning abilities), I kept overfilling the muffin cups so some of them rose up too much and then sank in the middle when they cooled.

As a result, they vary in size and shape and some had edges a bit too "golden" to be seen in public, but they are fortunately still delicious. Don't make the mistakes I made, and they'll turn out PERFECTLY.

Frosted Lemon Cupcakes

1/2 cup butter, softened
1.5 cups sugar
2 eggs
Juice and zest of 1 large or 2 small lemons
2 tsp pure lemon extract
1/2 cup milk

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

In a large bowl, beat together butter, sugar and eggs until light and fluffy. Add lemon zest, juice, extract and milk, beat another minute or two. Whisk together dry ingredients in a medium bowl and then dump into wet ingredients. Beat together until mixed. Spoon into muffin cups lined with paper liners (only fill about 1/3 full!) and bake at 350F for about 18 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Makes about 24 cupcakes. Cool before icing.

Frosting

2 tbls butter, softened
Juice and zest of 1 large or 2 small lemons
2 tsp pure lemon extract
4-5 cups icing sugar

Beat together all the ingredients for the frosting. Add icing sugar a bit at a time until desired consistency is reached. Pipe onto cooled cupcakes.

Gingerbread Cupkies

I call these cupkies because they are sort of a cross between a cookie and a cupcake. The molasses gives them a denser, chewier consistency closer to a cookie - amazing if you like that sort of thing (like I do!) but definitely not a light and fluffy crumb.

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup molasses
1 tsp vanilla extract

1.5 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 tbls ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

In large bowl, beat together butter sugar and eggs until fluffy. Beat in molasses and vanilla. In medium bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Beat dry ingredients into wet until mixed. Spoon into muffin cups lined with paper liners (only fill about 1/3 full!) and bake at 350F for about 18 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Makes about 24 cupcakes. Cool before icing.

Fluffy Vanilla Fosting

1/2 cup butter, softened
5-6 tbls milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
4-5 cups icing sugar

Beat together all the ingredients for the frosting. Add icing sugar a bit at a time until desired consistency is reached. Pipe onto cooled cupcakes.

Decorate as desired (I put gummy worms on top of the gingerbread ones but left the lemon ones plain as the icing has pretty yellow flecks from the lemon zest).

The ugliness of these cupcakes can only be beaten by the "sperm" cookies I made for the girls' birthday party back in May:


Oh well, for me the taste is more important! Just hope others feel the same way so the school can sell these babies tonight.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Tuscan Green Beans

This turned out to be a nice edition to our Rosh Hashana dinner.

1 lb haricots vert (the skinny kind of green beans)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp olive oil
1 tbls dijon mustard
4 tbls white wine vinegar
1 tsp Costco brand Rustic Tuscan seasoning (or Italian seasoning)
Salt and pepper, to taste

4 roasted red peppers (homemade or from a jar), julienned

Whisk together garlic, oil, dijon, vinegar and seasonings. Toss with beans and spread out on a baking sheet. Roast at 350 for 10-15 minutes*. Remove from oven and stir in red peppers. Serve hot or cold.

*I used frozen because that's all I could find and they took just over 10 minutes. Fresh ones might take longer.