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Monday, November 28, 2011

Panang Curry

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

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

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

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

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

Sauce

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Put Down the Bottle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 26, 2011

I HEART Fiesta Farms

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 25, 2011

New Day, New Name

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Fudge Glazed Banownies (Vegan option)

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

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

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

Banownies

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

Fudge Glaze

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tbls coconut oil

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

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

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Quinoa "Stuffing" (Vegan and gluten free)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What Me Worry?

Here is Part II of my posts about worry.

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

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

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

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

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

The main things most people tend to worry about are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 21, 2011

Today I am Grateful for:

...the perfect family Sunday we had yesterday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 20, 2011

My Soulmate

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


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

Friday, November 18, 2011

PerfEGGtion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Last Laugh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Consuming Culture

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

What is your favorite type of entertainment?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Breakfast Cookies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mortality

I hate to post on a depressing topic on a wet, gray Monday morning, but it's on my mind.

If you live in the Greater Toronto Area, than you probably heard about the 39 year old woman - a married mom of a 4 year old, pregnant with her second child - who was killed by a truck while riding her bicycle last week.

Not only have the newspapers been filled with articles about this story, but because this woman, Jenna Morrison, was a yoga instructor, the fitness industry is also abuzz about this case. I did not know her, but, of course, as a mom and fellow cyclist, it has totally struck a chord with me.

Many cyclists in this city do stupid things - riding without a helmet, going through red lights/stop signs, talking on a cell or listening to an Ipod while riding, etc., but this case just goes to show that even when you are doing nothing wrong, cycling in Toronto is pretty risky.

I have been riding here since I moved to the city in 1994 and my parents have never liked it one bit. I am FORTUNATE to have ONLY been in one accident - in 1999, when a driver made an illegal turn and I ended up slamming head first into her station wagon. Had I not been wearing a helmet, I would not be here today. As it was, my nose was broken in 2 places (hence my now crooked nose) and my tooth split my lip in half.

I love cycling as a means of transportation - it is eco-friendly, good exercise, time efficient and free. But I am left wondering if it is worth the risk. The papers have been going on ad nauseum since the accident last week about the hostility between cyclists and drivers in the city and the lack of sufficient infrastructure, policies and laws to protect cyclists. We lag behind many other Canadian cities and the country, as a whole, is way behind a lot of places in Europe (i.e. Scandinavia) where cycling is a way of life.

Aside from this tragedy, there are other events weighing on me. Big A's school just sent a note to all the parents about a mom that passed away last night - both her children attend Big A's school. I did not know this woman either, but a quick Google search informed me that this young mom was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago and spent the remainder of her life tirelessly fighting cancer and advocating for patient rights.

This woman's kids will grow up without their mother. This is one of my greatest fears. I want, more than anything, to see my children grow up.

Even before the events of the past week, my last birthday had a significant impact on me. I'm not so concerned with the growing number of lines on my forehead, although I'd prefer not to have those, but I cannot deny, even if I still feel like a kid, that at 37 I am no longer a spring chicken. I am still fit and proud of it, but unlike in my younger years, I cannot drink a lot of alcohol (and get only 3 hours sleep and then get up the next morning and teach a high intensity step class!), I cannot do a hard workout and NOT be super sore the next day...and I already cannot remember things unless I write them down.

This is why I do what I can to stay healthy. I make sleep a high priority, I TRY to manage stress, I eat as healthy a diet as I can (while still enjoying life) and I exercise every day. I try to do everything in my control to avoid increasing my risk of chronic illnesses like heart disease, cancer and diabetes. But now I also have to wonder if my so-called healthy habit of cycling in the city, is actually too much of a risk?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Chocolate Chip Banana Snack Cake

I've made versions of this before, but this was by far the best...probably because I didn't try too hard to make it healthy. It's healthier than most since it uses whole grain flour and no butter, but it's got a crap-load of sugar. It is so sweet and moist it doesn't need any frosting.

Big A and I made it as a gift and when I'm not sure how keen somebody is on "health" food, I try to restrain myself from going to crazy. I reasoned that it wasn't for us anyways, but then Big A insisted we bake it in our heart-shaped cake pan which is small. The left-over batter fit perfectly into 4 mini loaf pans and each of us got our own cake to sample. The whole family gave it a 10/10!

3 large ripe bananas, mashed
2 eggs
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar (or Splenda or any other equivalent amount of alternative granular sweetener)
1 tsp vanilla extract

1.5 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips

Whisk together wet ingredients in a large bowl. In smaller bowl, whisk together dry ingredients and then add dry ingredients and chips to wet ingredients. Stir just until mixed. Scrape batter into greased 9x12 pan and bake at 350F for about 40 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. If top begins to brown too much before centre has set, cover loosely with foil.

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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Kelp Noodles: Awesome New Product Find!

For the past few months I've been noticing kelp noodles being sold at our local health food stores. I've desperately wanted to try them, but the high price tag ($5-$7/bag) has prevented me from doing so.

Then I spied them at my local Korean grocer for $2.50 and I jumped at the opportunity.

I am so glad I did, these are fantastic!

Like shiritake noodles, they do not need to be cooked, they are vegan, extremely low in carbohydrates and calories and gluten/wheat free, making them perfect for diabetics, celiacs or anyone trying to stick to a restricted diet. A lot of raw foodies like them as a replacement for regular noodles too.

But they do not have the funny smell that shiritake noodles have when you open the bag (it does go away immediately after you rinse them though!), and they do absorb liquid, so they are less tricky to use. The shiritake noodles have to be treated carefully - if you don't drain/dry them well and start with a very thick sauce, your dish can end up extremely watery. The kelp noodles started out crunchy, and can be kept fairly crunchy for raw salads, but when I stir fried them with a miso ginger sauce and some chopped cabbage and scallions to serve with my miso glazed salmon last night, they softened up and, to me, took on the flavours of the sauce and tasted exactly like glass noodles. I would stick to using them with Asian-style dishes though, as I don't think they would work as a replacement for pasta in Italian dishes.

If you find them, I highly recommend you try them!! I'm not telling you where I found them cheap because I want to go back and buy all the rest that they have in stock...and then some!

Caulicumber Maki Rolls

The girls love Japanese food. Not indescriminately of course. But they are fans of edamame, miso soup and cucumber rolls. In fact, they love cucumber maki so much, that we can barely walk past some in the grocery store or at a mall without having to buy them some.

There are definitely worse things, but they're expensive to buy and not great either: usually made with white rice and who knows how much sugar and salt added to the rice. As far as veggies go, cucumbers aren't exactly a superfood.

So when Big A asked if we could try making our own, I was more than happy to oblige. Last weekend we got rolling mats, nori, and I picked up the shortest-grain brown rice I could find at T&T...I have no idea what variety it is since the label was entirely in Chinese, but it ended up working perfectly.

And as per usual, I found a way to sneak in a bit more nutrition. Cauliflower, like most cruciferous veggies, is packed with nutrients. It also happens to be white, which makes it easy to hide in rice!

Both girls LOVED these. We made them for lunch today, but as soon as they were ready (at 8:45am!), they both gobbled down 3-4 each.

3/4 cup short grain brown rice
2 cups water
2 tbls unseasoned rice vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbls sugar/Splenda or other granular sweetener (I used stevia...blasphemous, I know!)
1 cup frozen cauliflower*
1 cucumber cut in half lengthwise, seeds removed, then cut in thirds lengthwise
5-6 sheets of toasted nori (seaweed)

Optional: Sesame seeds for sprinkling, low-sodium soy sauce for dipping, pickled ginger and wasabi (for the grown-ups)

Place rice and water in covered pot and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to medium low and continue cooking until all the water has been absorbed (depending on the type you use, you may want to overcook it a tad bit so it gets 'sticky'). Remove from heat and let cool (I made rice day before so it was ready for us to go in the morning). Meanwhile, warm vinegar over low heat and dissolve salt and sweetener into it. Steam or microwave cauliflower until soft and then process well in food processor. Once rice is cooled, add vinegar mixture and cauliflower and stir well. Turn rice into a flat dish lined with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to use.

To make maki, take a sheet of nori, shiny side down and place on a bamboo rolling mat. Spread rice onto 2/3 of the nori and place a cucumber spear into centre of rice mixture. Start from rice-covered end and roll nori, using mat, around rice and cucumber. Once you reach uncovered nori, dab the seaweed with water and then roll tightly, making sure nori is secured/sticking so rolls stay together. Refrigerate for about an hour. Take sharp knife and run under cold water. Slice rolls into rounds. Serve with soy sauce and garnishes as desired. Keeps in refigerator for up to 4 days. Makes about 30-36 maki (depending on how much rice you use/how big you make them).

*You can use fresh cauliflower but it doesn't get as soft and has a stronger taste so it might be more detectable in the rice.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Don't Settle for a Gym, Find a Family

You can easily stay fit by exercising at home on your own. But fancy equipment, group fitness and saunas are not the only perks of joining a gym to stay fit. In fact, if one of the reasons you go is for the social element, you may be more likely to adhere to your exercise regimen.

No matter how beautiful the facility, your workouts may not be a pleasurable experience if you do not like the social atmosphere of your gym.

Since I began teaching fitness back in grade 12, I have worked in tons of gyms, community centres and university recreation facilities and the one that continues to stand out for it's welcoming/family-like feel is the Miles Nadal JCC in the Annex neighbourhood of Toronto.

In fact, since I had kids and can no longer teach classes or get to a gym regularly, I choose only to devote my time to the JCC.

At other gyms, I usually feel merely like a service-provider. Even when fitness class participants are warm and friendly, they often care little about who I am as a person. At the JCC, I feel like Norm from Cheers. There is genuine caring and interest in who I am, aside from being a fitness instructor. Teaching there is not just a job for me, it is a wonderfully emotionally rewarding experience. I know being a member of the JCC is just as rewarding.

There are many many members who have been coming to the JCC for several decades. They come as much for the comraderie of other long-time members as they do for the workout. Fitness class participants range in age from 20s to 70s. The staff turnover rate is low and they are warm and friendly and extremely responsive to members' needs. The fitness classes are some of the best in the city.

Janet's Thursday, 10:30am Power Yoga is one of the best ever. It is challenging but not the least bit competitive, like many other Power/Ashtanga classes I've tried. There are participants of all ages and abilities and she adds her own twist to the standard sequence of poses so each week there is variation and we never get bored.

Oh and there is a fabulous spinning class at 9:30am on Sunday mornings...sorry shameless plug for myself ;)

Although it is a JCC and aside from the stellar fitness facilities, it provides a wide variety of Jewish education and cultural activities, since I have been working there in 1997, it has always been extremely multi-cultural and truly a part of the broader community. It really offers something for everyone. There are fitness programs targetting kids (Big A does the Fitkids program on Sundays after Hebrew school and loves it), teens, adults and adults over 55, as well as swim lessons in the salt water pool, a gymnasium, music, theatre and literary events, daycare, nursery school, a private Jewish school, ceramics classes, etc.

Of course I owe a lot to the JCC because that is where I met Adam! Yes, if I hadn't been teaching fitness classes, and he hadn't been a gym member (he's been a member since he was 13!), than our paths may never have crossed...and then we wouldn't have our girls!

You may not live in downtown Toronto, but no matter where you live, if you are looking for a gym or recreational facility, I urge you to evaluate not just the equipment and price of what's available, but the richness it may add to your life through the opportunities it may provide to make important connections with others. I guarantee this will do more to improve your physical and mental health than even the most high-tech, fancy-schmancy gym you can find.

http://www.milesnadaljcc.ca/

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Upside Down Apple Cake Bites

These were a HUGE hit with the girls! Even Little A, who isn't a big cake eater was smitten. Both of them ate 3 each in as many minutes and protested profusely when I said they couldn't have anymore since we had not had dinner yet.

This recipe was inspired by the apple pecan olive oil cake recipe in the October issue of Chatelaine magazine: http://food.chatelaine.com/Recipes/View/Apple-pecan-olive-oil-cake. I'd never baked with olive oil before so I thought I'd give it a try.

I overhauled the recipe quite a bit to make it healthier. The original version uses only 1/2 cup whole wheat flour and the rest white, 1/2 cup of oil, and 1 cup of sugar. My version is low in sugar, and high in fibre and nutrition. But the girls never have to know!!

Unless you arrange the apple more artfully, the cakes turn out quite rustic looking. If, like the folks in this house, you care more about taste than presentation, you won't be disappointed. But if you want a nicer presentation, you may have to spend more time than I did carefully cutting and arranging the apple to fit the mini muffin tin bottoms. Alternatively, you could place one dried apple ring on the bottom of each one instead and that would look great.

3 apples - granny smith or mutsu/crispin, peeled and grated (I did the grating in food processor)
2 eggs
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 apple butter (unsweetened)
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbls sugar/Splenda or equivalent amount of powdered stevia (I used stevia)

1.5 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

3-4 tbls brown sugar
1 Gala or other apple, sliced thinly to fit bottom of mini muffin tins

In a large bowl, whisk together all wet ingredients except for grated apple. Stir in apple. In a smaller bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Stir dry ingredients into the wet. Place a paper liner into each mini muffin cup and spray with non-stick spray. Evenly divide sugar between each cup and place and apple slice overtop. Drop a mound of batter over each apple slice and smooth it down. Bake at 325F for about 15-16 minutes. Once cool, remove cakes from paper and flip over. Makes about 34 mini cakes. Keeps for a few days. Can be frozen if they last long enough!

Holiday Gift Ideas

Even before Halloween night, the stores in Toronto were getting out the Christmas and Hannukah decorations and along with our daily newspapers, we were receiving glossy brochures filled with a wide variety of gift baskets.

Gift cards are increasingly popular as they allow the receiver to choose what they want, but if you are looking for a more personal, fun and affordable gift option, consider making your own gift baskets for loved ones.

Unlike the ones you buy which are usually extremely costly, and contain a lot of filler, you can make ones perfectly suited for friends and family on your gift list, and with a little thought and creativity, you can create beautiful baskets on a tight budget.

To keep costs down:

*Look for gourmet food manufacturers, kitchenware and other companies that have discount warehouses or outlets.
*Before you run to specialty food stores and expensive boutiques, check local grocery stores and chain stores like Sears, The Bay, Canadian Tire, etc. for high-end products that you may be able to find at better prices.
*Dollar stores are great places to find basic items, as well as cellophane and ribbons for wrapping and decorating.

Think outside the "basket" for a vessel for your gifts. Instead of a wicker basket, choose:

*A wine cooler
*A decorative waste-paper basket
*A large metal collander
*A plant box
*A multi-purpose plastic container

Start with a theme that suits each person best:

*Fitness (ex. weight-lifting gloves, a water bottle, fitness towel, workout music, protein bars, yoga class pass, etc.)
*Sushi (rice, chopsticks, soy sauce, pickled ginger, nori, etc.)
*Gardening (gardening gloves, small gardening tools, kneeling pad, etc.)
*Baking (ex. assortment of whole grain flours, baking chocolate, baking mixes, small cake or muffin tins, cookie cutters, etc.)
*Cooking (ex. assortment of exotic spices and condiments and a few cooking utensils)
*Eco Herb Garden (ex. seeds and equipment needed to make an indoor, organic herb garden)
*Do-it-Yourself (ex. make an assortment of mason jars filled with the dry ingredients so he/she can make your favorite cookies or scones or make your own spice/seasoning blends for someone who loves to cook)

Making your own gift baskets is fun and I guarantee that anyone who receives one will love it!

FYI:

Wildly Delicious gourmet food warehouse sale on from Nov. 2 - December 22: www.wildlydelicious.com

Discounted toys and books at the Samko & Miko warehouse sale at various locations in the GTA: www.samkosales.com

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Explore Ethnic Food Markets to Liven Up Your Healthy Cooking

Even if you are not an adventurous eater or cook, ethnic markets can be a great place to find new, healthy ingredients to add interest and variety to your food.

One of the best things about living in Toronto is that because we have such a diverse population (one of the most diverse in the world!), you can find a wide variety of ethnic foods.

I love shopping in Kensington Market, St. Lawrence Market, and China Town. If I care to venture further away, there is the Pacific Mall, and Little India. Aside from these hubs of wonderful food shopping, the Greater Toronto Area is sprinkled with grocery stores specializing in everything from Polish food, to Mexican food, to Middle Eastern delicacies.

Although it can be intimidating, particularly if product labels are not in English, and/or salespersons do not speak English, I encourage you to take a risk and try something new.

T&T (http://www.tnt-supermarket.com/en/index.php)is a large Asian grocery chain with several locations across the GTA. I have been wanting to go for a while now, but the nearest store to us is still a 20-30 minute drive (because of traffic in the downtown core!) so we only managed to get there this past weekend.

It has a huge selection of well-priced Asian groceries as well as prepared foods (sushi, kimchi, etc.). They do carry mainstream products as well, but the prices for these items aren't great.

They had an impressive array of fresh and frozen seafood, meats, noodles and rice.

Big A has been wanting to make our own cucumber rolls so we picked up nori, sushi rolling mats, and the shortest grain brown rice I could find - which will hopefully stick together enough to make maki).

We also found:
*Unsweetened mango pulp in tetra pack (I love using this to sweeten curries and make marinades/dressings, etc. - I usually can only find sugar-added versions in the regular grocery stores)
*Unsweetened/preservative-free dried mango snacks for the girls (much cheaper than what I find in the health food stores), which also comes in pineapple, mangosteen and some other fruit versions)
*Dry wheat gluten (great meat alternative, but most prepared versions in health food stores are super expensive and high in sodium)
*Pickled Korean turnip...not sure yet what I'll do with this.

If you have allergies or health/dietary concerns, just make sure to always read labels and, if they are not in English, find someone who can read them, or stick with products that do have labels you can understand.

A lot of Asian condiments are VERY high in sodium and sugar, and many also contain MSG. Either use things like teriyaki or hoisin sauce very sparingly, or try making your own and limiting the sodium and using fruit to sweeten, instead of sugar.

I encourage you to explore ethnic markets in your area for new cooking/food ideas. Don't be scared...just be creative and open-minded! As we always tell our kids, you never know until you try.

Check out this article about chips from the Toronto Star today:

Truth about potato chips revealed: Baked is not better than fried
November 8, 2011

Paul Irish
STAFF REPORTER, TORONTO STAR

Are you one of those who browse the snack rack at your local convenience store looking for those “healthier” baked potato chips as opposed to the artery-clogging fried variety?

If so, you may be wasting your time.

Reports from the United States confirms that baked chips — although featuring a lower fat level — have high levels of acrylamide, a cancer-causing and potentially neurotoxic chemical.

It’s not an additive but is formed — as a general rule — when food is heated enough to produce a fairly dry and brown/yellow surface.

The research supports work in Canada and other countries that point to the chemical as being a concern.

According to U.S. Food and Drug Administration data on acrylamide levels in foods, baked chips may contain more than three times the level of acrylamide as regular chips.

Same holds true when you bake French fries in your oven hoping to avoid the issues of deep fat frying. That golden-brown hue contains acrylamide.

A lot of bake goods, such as toasted bread and cereal, contain the chemical but chips are notoriously high.

So high, in fact, that in 2005 the State of California actually sued potato-chip makers for failing to warn California consumers about the health risks of acrylamide in their products.

A settlement was reached when the chip makers agreed to reduce the dangerous level of the drug, thus avoiding a cancer warning label.

Health Canada scientists were among the first to demonstrate how acrylamide forms in certain heat-processed foods and both the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization have identified the chemical in food as a potential concern.

However, Health Canada says its currently not possible to determine the precise level of risk for humans.

Although acrylamide is known to cause cancer in experimental animals the agency says more research is needed before total risks can be fully understood.

It also says it’s impossible — at this time — to determine recommended maximum exposure to acrylamide but, like the American research, states French fries and potato chips typically contain the highest levels.

By the way, next time you’re munching on those designer chips that come stacked in cylinders (you know the ones we’re talking about), you just may be swallowing more than potato.

Some manufacturers use rice, wheat, corn with a sprinkling of potato flakes that are pressed into shape and then fried.



Also, read Leslie Beck's article about prolonged sitting, soy, and Vitamin D relating to cancer risk in the Globe and Mail:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health/new-health/health-nutrition/leslie-beck/prolonged-bouts-of-sitting-increase-cancer-risk/article2229466/?from=sec434

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Go Insane and Get Fit!

Before I had children I never believed it was possible to be REALLY fit without going to a gym and using expensive machines.

It was only when I became a mother and that was no longer possible that I realized the truth: You don't need a gym OR any expensive machines. You don't even need a lot of space!

Granted we have a nicely equipped home gym, but if you have nothing more than a DVD player and are looking for an AMAZING workout you can do at home, I definitely recommend the Insanity fitness program by Beachbody.


Although it retails for about $150, you really get your money's worth. You get:

*An introductory DVD with a fit test
*9 workout DVDs
*A calendar that shows you how to put it all together into a 60 day fitness program
*A nutrition plan

Now I have not done the 60 day plan, but have tried out the DVDs on my own schedule (I usually do one on Saturdays) and I can tell you they are as promised: a seriously kick-ass workout!

The best part is you need no equipment and you don't even need much floor space. So I have also discovered that if you are travelling and your hotel has an in-room DVD player, or you bring along a portable DVD player, you can workout anywhere!

Most of the workouts are interval/circuit style and very high intensity, offering an amazing cardiovascular workout, as well as exercises that help build muscle strength and power.

My only major criticism is that the instructor, Shaun T., does 5-7 minutes of static stretching after the warm-up. Recent research has demonstrated that static stretches at the beginning of a workout actually decrease performance and can increase your chance of injury. So I always fast forward through it or jog on the spot.

The moves are all easy to follow and execute so you don't need to have a background in dance to keep up and it is perfectly suited for men and women.

The nutrition plan is pretty sound and offers a number of options depending on your food preferences and energy needs. But I don't think you need to purchase their expensive protein shakes. There are all sorts of whole food options that you can consume to come up with a snack made up of the shake's 280 cals, 34g of protein, 34g carbohydrates, 2g fat and 6g of fibre if you don't want to spend the extra money.

Just keep in mind this is a SERIOUS workout program so it is important to get the "okay" from your doctor before beginning.

Monday, November 7, 2011

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Healthy Birthday Fun

Kids learn early on to associate birthdays and parties of any kind with cake, candy, etc. So I love anything that uses these celebrations to encourage physical activity instead.

Adam's cousin Shawna recently launched a business that does just that:

STARting Pointe Productions offers dance classes (private/semi-private/group), dance classes as extra-curricular programs in various schools in and around the Greater Toronto Area, and birthday parties for children looking to incorporate dance (amongst other fun activities) into their special day!


You can check out her website at:
http://www.startingpointeproductions.com/home.html

Also, she is offering you lucky blog readers 15% off of birthday parties as well as private and semi-private dance classes!!

Penne El Paso

My latest culinary experiment, inspired by the corn pasta I bought at the health food store, was a great success! Although I frequently buy whole wheat, brown rice, kamut and spelt pastas, I had never tried corn pasta before. It has a great firm consistency and slightly sweet taste. It has a similar fibre content to brown rice pasta (the whole 1lb bag that I used has 15 grams of fibre), but much less than most other whole grain pastas. Nevertheless, it's a great option if you are avoiding wheat and/or gluten.

This dish encorporates some southwestern influenced flavours and it a nice balance of sweet (squash, tomato sauce), salty (olives, cheese) and spicy (jalapenos). If you omit the cheese (I added it only to my own since Adam won't eat it) or use a non-dairy substitute, than this becomes a well-balanced vegan dish too.

1 lb whole grain short (penne, rotini, etc.) corn pasta or other whole grain pasta

1 lb butternut squash, diced
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp chili powder
2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp olive oil
1 red onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
3/4 cup sliced olives like Spanish, kalamata, sundried, etc.(I used sundried)
1/2 cup of your favorite salsa
1 jar Passata (strained tomatoes)
1 bunch kale, washed and torn into pieces, tough stems removed
1 small jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
A few handfuls fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste

1/2 cup shredded reduced-fat pepperjack cheese (or other cheese)

Roast squash in the oven at 350F for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, saute onion, garlic and spices in oil for 3-4 minutes in a large skillet set over medium heat. Add vinegar and cook a few minutes longer. Add beans, olives and salsa and saute for another 3-4 minutes. Turn heat down to low and add strained tomatoes, kale and jalapeno (if using). Simmer until kale has wilted. If sauce becomes too thick, add a few ladles full of the pasta cooking water. Add cilantro just before serving. Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente and then add to skillet with the sauce. Sprinkle each serving with cheese, and additional fresh cilantro, if desired.

Casserole option: After combining pasta and sauce, turn it into an oven safe baking dish and top with the cheese and crumbled, baked corn chips. Bake in the oven at 350F for about 10 minutes until cheese has melted.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Get MOOving to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair

Believe it or not, I had never been to the "Royal" until yesterday! Adam went ever year as a kid and my in-laws have taken Big A at least once.

So we took the girls yesterday afternoon and had a great time!

Although I was initially upset about not bringing snacks when we arrived and they immediately began complaining they were hungry, we were able to keep them fed and satisfied relatively healthfully (they had snacked before we left home and my new strategy is not to allow them to mindlessly graze all day so they are hungrier at meal times).

There are all the usual suspects: poutine, pizza, cotton candy, fudge, ice cream, etc., but the girls were happy to fill up on the abundant free samples of fresh apples and locally produced cheeses and bison sausage. We did buy them apple chips (ingredients: apples) and real fruit smoothies, so overall it wasn't that bad considering the alternatives!

The girls loved the animals (cows, goats, llamas, alpacas, pigs, bunnies, etc.), and the Superdog show. Big A got to try to milk a (fake) cow and Little A jumped her heart out in the bouncy castle.

Very fun, but admittedly not a cheap outing:

Family pass - $50
Parking - $13
Apple chips x 2 - $6
Smoothies x 2 - $8

The Royal runs until November 13th at Exhibition Place in Toronto.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Oscar-Winning Performance

I thought given her propensity for getting dirty and her gross-out sense of humour, that Little A was going to be the next Tom Green.

I think I'm wrong. I think she is going to be the next Meryl Streep.

Today after Little A's gymnastics class we took the girls to Costco. It was crowded craziness and everyone seemed to have a case of the grumpies. So Adam and I kept trying our best to keep the girls, who were running around, out of everyone's way.

Towards the end of our shopping, Adam took off to look for something and I had both girls. They were horsing around and ended up with Little A lying on top of Big A on the ground in the middle of a busy aisle. I ordered them to stand up but they both claimed they were "stuck" and needed my help. I grabbed Little A's right arm and pulled her up. She began howling that I hurt her arm. At first I wasn't worried, but she kept holding her arm and wailing...and she usually gets over even major booboos very quickly. When she was still screaming and holding her arm 20 minutes later when we piled into the car with our groceries, I was in a panic and told Adam we might have to take her to the hospital.

All I could think about was how I would explain to the doctors that I accidently broke or dislocated my child's arm!

We got home and Little A asked to go up for her nap (really her quiet time because she doesn't nap anymore). Adam and I decided that we would let her lie down and if she was still complaining about her arm, one of us would take her to the ER when she got up. I took her upstairs and the minute she laid eyes on her favorite teddy, she forgot all about her arm. She had 90 minutes of quiet time (singing happily in her bed) and then she called for me. No mention of her arm. As I write this, she is zooming around and seems 100%.

Anyone know where you can get Oscar de la Renta gowns to fit a 2 year old?

Double Chocolate Brownie Bites

True to my word, in exchange for ditching ALL the Halloween candy, I'm baking up healthier treats for the girls.

Considering how decadent these taste, they are pretty nutritionally sound! Interestingly, Adam while Adam felt they did taste "healthy", Big A didn't notice and gobbled them up.

100g good quality dark chocolate (I used a bar of Galerie au Chocolaut cinnamon)
2 ripe bananas, mashed
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar, Splenda or equivilent of stevia (I used 1/4 cup of powdered New Roots stevia)
1/4 cup boiling water

1.5 cups organic whole wheat flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2 tbls chia seeds (optional, but adds a ton of nutrition!)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Melt chocolate in a double boiler (or a large heat safe bowl set snugly over pot of simmering water). When smooth, removed from heat and let cool slightly. In a medium bowl, whisk together bananas, eggs, vanilla and sweetener. Add banana mixture to chocolate and mix well. Stir in boiling water. In smaller bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Add dry ingredients to wet and stir to combine. Batter will be very thick. Scrape into greased/non-stick mini muffin tins. Bake at 350F for about 8-10 minutes until set (do not overbake!). Makes 24 brownie bites. Freezes well.

Friday, November 4, 2011

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Hurry, Impeach the President!

If I am going to shop for groceries at a chain store, my first choice is always Loblaws. I am a big fan of many of their Blue Menu and PC Organics lines that offer healthy products at affordable prices.

So I was quite dismayed when I opened the latest President's Choice Insider's Report that came with our newspaper, advertising all their newest products for the holiday season.

I KNOW the holidays is about entertaining and indulging, but I seriously think they've gone overboard.

Deep fried, pastry-covered and breaded frozen hors d'oeuvres, fatty, sodium filled sausages and chicken wings, refined flour crackers, and buttered frozen vegetables are some of the worst savoury options while chocolate coated, peanut butter filled pretzels, molten chocolate chip cookies, red velvet cake ice cream AND red velvet cheesecake round out some of the worst of the sweet options available.

Now I'm not saying NEVER splurge on your favorite indulgences, but what I DO suggest is avoiding unnecessary ones. When you are planning your holiday season celebrations, try to have meals and buffets that are centred around healthy options, like grilled lean meats, raw crudites, fresh fruit, shrimp cocktail, whole grain crackers and breads, whole grain-based salads and side dishes, and stick to only your absolute FAVOURITE indulgences to round it out.

Also, making things from scratch, rather than buying prepared products, allows you to make small changes that can drastically improve the nutritional profile of even treat-foods (i.e. using whole grain flours, lowering the sugar and fat content, etc).

If you need healthy recipe ideas, hey, check out some of mine ;)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Labels

Happy Thursday Everyone!

It may be cold and dreary here in Toronto, but the birds are singing in my world.

Don't worry, I haven't started hearing voices...

Yesterday I completed my required practicum hours for my degree! Even though I still have to submit my Major Case Study, this means I am another step closer to finishing.

I also had a crown put on my cracked tooth this morning - the one that was root canaled back in September. So hopefully, once my gums and inside of my cheek heal from all the poking and proding with sharp instruments, eating will once again be a pain-free, completely pleasurable experience.

I hope NEVER to have to go through the whole root canal thing again so I'm also glad to report that I SOMEHOW seem to be doing better at managing stress lately and have not been clenching and grinding my teeth as much.

This afternoon I see the sports medicine doctor and I am so excited to tell him that I have noticed a big improvement in my tendonitis. I can even sit normally now, without having to contort my body in strange ways, prop myself on the edge of a yoga block or roll up a towel under my butt in order to shift my weight off my left side. Dare I hope that this is really the end of my chronic hamstring pain???

Today I wanted to talk about labels. No, I don't mean brand names like Chanel or Michael Kors. I mean the labels we give ourselves and the ones others give us about who we are and what we can do.

Labels can be very harmful.

As a kid I was labelled as "not athletic" because I didn't excel (and wasn't particularly interested) in competitive sports.

Despite having worked out almost every day of my life for the past 23 years, having worked as a fitness instructor for 19 years, a personal trainer for 8 years, and having obtained a PhD in Exercise Sciences, I still see myself that way.

When other people call me "sporty" I feel like a fraud. I may be "fit" but I still think I'm an uncoordinated, klutz. You will NEVER catch me teaching something like Zumba, I'd make a total fool out of myself!

I see the effects of labeling with my clients too. A beautiful, successful woman agonizes over every word she chooses because her parents told her that her sister was the smart one.

A woman in an emotionally abusive relationship can't help but believe it when her partner tells her she is a worthless whore.

A combat veteran believes he is worthless because he was not able to save MORE lives.

If you are a parent, you know how easy it is to start labelling your kids. I am guilty of this, and I know I'm not alone. When I get together with my mom-friends, we almost always spend time talking about how Child A is the _________ one, and Child B is the _________ one.

In my case:
Big A is the needy one, Little A is the independent one.
Big A is the junk-food addict and Little A is the t.v. addict.
Big A is the organized one and Little A is the messy one.
Big A is the cautious one and Little A is the mischievous one.

But as my new parenting bible: How to talk So Kids Will Listen, and How to Listen So Kids Will Talk, points out, when you label children you encourage them to play roles. In other words, you may be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In order to free children from playing the roles we unintentionally assign them (or they have assigned themselves), they recommend:

1. Look for opportunities to show the child a new picture of him or herself.
2. Put children in situations where they can see themselves differently.
3. Let children overhear you say something positive about them.
4. Model the behaviour you'd like to see.
5. Remind your child of their successes and special moments.
6. When your child acts according to the old/undesired label, state your feelings and/or expectations.

I have to admit that on Halloween night, both girls bucked their labels with regards to junk food. Big A ate a few pieces of candy after returning from trick-or-treating. Little A, however, insisted on breaking into the candy as soon as she got her first piece and then didn't stop. After she and I returned home and Adam took Big A out for her turn, Little A sat and devoured her pile of treats. Turns out she does have a weakness for one particular type of sweet: CHOCOLATE. She rejected the candy and chips and just sat and unwrapped one chocolate after another until we had to take it away from her, afraid that she'd puke.

By the next morning Little A had forgotten all about the Halloween candy. Big A ate some for breakfast and more before dinner, and more after dinner. Adam and I grew concerned. All the folks who recommend allowing kids full access to their treats for a few days after Halloween claim they will eat far less than you think. But then Big A surpised us. Wednesday she woke up and didn't mention the candy. She didn't mention it after school either. She didn't mention it after dinner. And this morning? Not a word about the candy. Maybe we are making too big a deal out of her affection for confections? This is certainly a situation where I can implement many of the suggestions given above and see if this helps Big A to stop playing the role of "junk-food addict" in our home.

Were you labelled as a kid? If so, what effect has this had on you?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Easiest Ever Lentil Soup

Adam used to always beg me to make soup more often but I would tell him there was no point making big-batch food since we had so little freezer space.

We've had a chest freezer now for about 2 years so I have no excuse. I guess I just forget about soup for some reason. Silly really as I love it too.

My last counselling client of the day cancelled last minute so I got home early. I was suddenly struck with the urge to make Adam soup. Unfortunately, I did not have the urge to go out shopping so I decided I had to make due with what was available. The most obvious choice? Lentil soup!

Lentil soup is one of my favorites. Thick, hearty, tasty and nutritious. It also requires ingredients most of us have in our pantries. Today I was missing fresh onion, celery and green pepper BUT I did have a bag of Arctic Gardens frozen spaghetti mix veggies in the (Chest) freezer! This is my go-to for soups and stews in a pinch. It's made up of diced carrot, celery, onion, and green peppers. Nutritionally, frozen veggies are a good choice and the softer texture works well in a soup. Feel free to use fresh if you have, but this method also saves a TON of chopping time!

Also, if you aren't a fan of curry flavour, omit the curry powder and fresh ginger and try a few bay leaves and some dried thyme instead.

2 tsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 green or red pepper, diced
2 celery spears, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 chunk fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 tbls curry powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
Cayenne pepper, to taste (optional)
2 cups red lentils
1 can diced tomatoes, with juice
1 litre tetra pack vegetable or chicken stockWater or additional stock

Pour oil into a large pot over medium heat. Add veggies, garlic, ginger, curry powder, salt and pepper. Cook for a few minutes and stir often so spices and garlic do not burn. Add lentils, tomatoes and broth and simmer until lentils are soft and lose their shape (about 45 minutes). Add additional water or broth as needed (after soup came to a boil, I turned down heat to low and added about 4 cups of water). You can leave veggies chunky, or use hand blender to puree soup a bit smoother. Alternatively, put 1/3-1/2 of soup in blender or food processor before returning to pot. Keeps in refrigerator for about 4 days and freezes well.

This one's for you Adam!!

Thank you to everyone who has voted for me on the Circle of Moms site...sorry to mention it again, but if you can, please keep voting once a day until November 17th!