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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Fruit Crumble Squares (vegan)

Yummy, but not overly sweet, these can be made with just about any fruit you have on hand and make a healthy breakfast or snack. Serve plain or with a dollop of dairy or non-dairy yogurt.

They can be cut into squares, but definitely need to be eaten with a fork or spoon, like you would a fruit crumble.

Fresh or frozen fruit (stone fruit, berries, cherries, etc.) to make 1.5 cups puree. I used 2 large apricots, 2 peaches and 1/2 cup blueberries.
2 tbls sweetener, or to taste, depending on how sweet your fruit is (I used stevia)
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbls arrowroot or corn starch
1/2 cup Earth Balance
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 flax eggs (2 tbls ground flax + 6 tbls hot water)
1.5 cups spelt flour
1 cup oats
1/4 cup granular sweetener (I used stevia)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt

Start by placing cut up fruit in a pot with cinnamon and sweetener. Cook until fruit softens and then add starch. Mix well and remove from heat. Dump cooked fruit in food processor and pulse (leave it chunky).

Meanwhile, cream together Earth Balance, sweetener and vanilla. Add flax eggs and whisk until fluffy. Stir in dry ingredients. Mixture will be crumbly.

Press a little more than half of oat mixture into a greased 9x9 square pan. Pour fruit mixture over top and spread out evenly. Distribute the rest of the oat mixture overtop and gently press into fruit layer. Bake at 350F for about 30-35 minutes. Let cool completely before cutting into squares. Serve alone or with yogurt (or ice cream) on top.

Monday, January 30, 2012

It's in You to Give

If you live in Canada, you likely know that "It's in you to give" is the tag line for Canadian Blood Services.
I have been wanting to donate blood forever, but for some reason haven't gotten around to it. Sometime last fall, I decided I wanted to do it for sure. This weekend I actually did it.

There are a number of psychological theorists who have postulated that one of the keys to personal fulfillment and happiness is doing things that have social value. After all, how can you feel bad if you are doing something good for others, which generally makes you feel good about yourself? One of the reasons I left my old career was, in my opinion, it lacked much social value, and hence much value to me. My new career in counselling fulfills my desire to do something more meaningful for work, but why should helping/giving be limited to one's work?

Donating blood is something which I think most people can recognize the value of. A medical emergency could happen to anyone and it seems like such an easy thing to do too.

And it is. They are SUPER cautious, but it is really not hard to pass the eligibility screener. You CAN be taking medications and have certain health conditions, but they do ask you a gazillion questions about where you have travelled in the world, your sexual history and whether or not you have ever used illegal drugs, etc. You have to be between the ages of 17 and 61, weigh at least 110 lbs, and have not had a tattoo, surgery or dental work in the past few months. You also have to have blood pressure of 90/50 or above.

I guess I should be flattered that 2 nurses questioned me about whether or not I am actually 110 lbs? I also almost flunked the blood pressure test because my blood pressure is so low. Fortunately, it was 92/53 when she tested it. I think that's probably because I got nervous that I was going to fail, so my blood pressure went up a bit ;)

After all the screening(they also prick your finger to test your hemaglobin), I was seated in a comfortable reclining chair/bed thing, and they inserted the needle. It hurt a tiny bit for about 1 second. After 8 minutes I had given them the max (2 cups) and I was told to rest for a few minutes. Then I was invited to have a free drink or snack in their lounge. Even with my low blood pressure, I experienced no weakness, fatigue or dizziness. In fact, I felt perfectly fine. All-in-all it was an easy, not unpleasant experience, so I've decided this is something I will do regularly from now on. Seems like a relatively simple way to make a small difference that can help others, so why not?

If you live in the GTA, I went to the permanent clinic in the Manulife Centre at Bay and Bloor. It's upstairs by the movie theatre. Why not drop in on your way to catch a flick and donate a little blood? After all, "it's in you to give."

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Wake-Up Call

Most parents likely find mornings to be challenging. Getting your kids moving and ready to go by a certain time can often feel like a losing battle. Fights over clothes, fights over breakfast, resistance to teeth brushing, hair brushing and putting on appropriate outdoor clothes. It can all be a recipe for tension and stress for everyone. Adam leaves the house at 6am almost every day, so I am generally on my own to deal with these frustrations.

Until a few months ago, it was usually Big A who created the biggest challenge in the mornings for me. From aged 18 months onward, she would wake up grumpy and sulky, and would battle with me over getting dressed, brushing her teeth and putting on her outdoor clothes. It was not uncommon for me to end up putting Little A in her stroller, pushing it out onto the front porch, and then throwing a hysterical Big A over my shoulder, along with her shoes and coat, and carrying her screaming outside where I either forced her into her outdoor clothes, or left her to put them on herself. Between my yelling and her screaming, I'm sure everyone on our street thought we were a family of lunatics.

Fortunately, Big A is finally past this phase. She wakes up later (closer to 7am rather than before 6am), happy, and is generally cooperative. Our biggest challenge with her these days is simply that she dawdles like crazy, so getting her out the door is still tough, even if she isn't actually being defiant. She just simply cannot seem to do ANYTHING quickly.

It is now Little A who has taken over as the biggest challenge every morning. She has become a TERRIBLE TWO and the fact that she doesn't like her new daycare makes it even worse. It's a wonderful daycare, but very, very strict, and this is difficult for Little A, who is very sensitive and gets very upset when she feels she is being reprimanded. She also has become best buddies with another child, who according to the teachers, bosses her around a lot. So during the week when she knows I am taking her to daycare, she is very resistant and difficult. I feel terrible, but Adam and I have discussed the options and basically we have no choice but to keep her in this daycare for now.

The other challenge that has emerged is that Big A, at not yet 6 years old, has become a tween. She no longer wants to watch Calliou or Max & Ruby. Now it's all about Icarly and Top 40 music. This means that the girls cannot agree on what to watch on tv every morning so in order to avoid a huge fight, I came up with a rule that they alternate who gets to watch on the tv in the living room and who has to go down to watch on the tv in our rec room. This solution ended up being a royal pain for me as I have been running up and down the stairs catering to their every whim: More oatmeal please! Mommy I need a drink! My hands are sticky! I want some blueberries! I want some cereal! I want you to turn the channel! By the time we leave the house, I'm in a horrible mood.

Adam pointed out that I am giving into their demands way too much and we need a better system in the morning. So we decided that neither girl is allowed to watch tv until completely dressed AND fed. No breakfast in front of the tv. Period.

Yesterday, after an initial hysterical fit from Little A (the tv addict of the family), this system worked. So hopefully, as things heat up for me professionally (more about all that later!) and getting out early in the morning becames even more critical, I'll be able to continue refining our morning routine so that we all begin the day feeling sane. I suspect, however, that this will be an ongoing challenge!!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Chocolate Chestnut "Fudge"

This was an experiment that went deliciously wrong.

I spied a bag of peeled chestnuts in my cupboard and was inspired to try and make a healthy nut-free alternative to Nutella. The result was nothing like what I was going for, but delicious anyways.

Irish Moss is a sea vegetable with a number of culinary uses and wonderful health properties. To learn more about it and how to prepare it check out:http://meghantelpnerblog.com/2012/01/04/the-mystery-revealed-how-to-prepare-irish-moss-sea-moss/

This is one of those items I found in Kensington Market at House of Spice. I was not able to find it ANYWHERE else in Toronto where I usually shop. If you want to try it, you can buy it online from Meghan Telpner: http://www.meghantelpner.com/product/irish-moss-sea-moss/

That being said, I don't think it's necessary for this recipe, so you can just omit.

Big A went absolutely CRAZY for this stuff and I love that it has all the nutrition of the chestnuts, unsweetened chocolate and Irish Moss, and no sugar (I used Splenda for this).

Chocolate Chestnut Fudge

100g bag peeled chestnuts
2 tbls prepared Irish Moss gel
2 heaping tbls granulated sweetener (Stevia, Splenda, xylitol, coconut crystals, or sugar if you wish)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp salt
1 square unsweetened chocolate, melted

Place chestnuts in food processor and process until you have an almost flour-like consistency. This will take several minutes. Add Irish Moss, sweetener, vanilla and salt. Process for another minute or two. Add melted chocolate and process for a few seconds until mixture forms a ball. Press into a small square container (something about the size of a bread plate or saucer). Refridgerate until firm and then cut into squares. Keeps refridgerated for several weeks.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Vegan Picadillo

What the heck is picadillo, you ask? No it's not the prehistoric-looking creature you've probably seen at a zoo silly...that's an armadillo! Besides, how would that be vegan?

Picadillo is a traditional Cuban dish made with ground beef, lots of aromatic herbs and spices, and olives and raisins, giving it that irresistable sweet-salty combo. I'm recreated it here using tempeh instead of meat.

I love using crumbled tempeh in place of ground meat, it is so versatile, healthy and yummy. Last time I made a dish this way, Adam said, "Yum, I love chicken!" before I told him what it was. Ha ha!

1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, minced (I did this in food processor)
1 carrot, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
350-400g package organic tempeh, crumbled (I pulse it in food processor)
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 bay leaves (optional)
Cayenne pepper, to taste (optional)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup Spanish green olives, pitted and sliced (can use pimento stuffed from jar, but marinated ones are better!)
1/2 cup raisins
1 28oz can crushed tomatoes

Set large skillet or pan over medium heat and saute veggies in oil until softened. Add crumbled tempeh and spices and cook for another few minutes. Pour in vinegar, and add olives and raisins, cook for another few minutes. Turn heat down to low, add crushed tomatoes and simmer until ready to serve. Remove bay leaves if using. Serve over brown rice or quinoa. Makes 4-6 servings. Freezes well.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Common Scents

I finally got down to one of the downtown Toronto Lush Cosmetics stores last week and tested out their Gorilla perfume line.
Unfortunately, I found them better suited to...well, gorillas.

I really, really wanted to like them, since they are 100% natural, never tested on animals, and, as the heavily pierced, tatooed, dread-locked sales girl told me, they are not made with beaver anal glands.

But just because I don't want any beaver anuses harmed in the making of my perfume, doesn't mean I want to smell like one.

I'm just kidding, they aren't THAT bad. But they just aren't for me - they all smell too much like incense - and as any perfume lover knows, scents are highly personal.

Fortunately, I went to Sephora yesterday and FELL IN LOVE! I discovered the LaVanila Laboratories line of fragrances and personal care products.

I have always loved the smell of vanilla, and it should come as no surprise that I generally favour gustatory scents. My old favorite: Angel by Thierry Mugler, also falls into this category with notes of both vanilla and chocolate.

LaVanila has a whole line of fragrances combining vanilla with other ingredients. I chose the vanilla grapefruit because I love how the freshness of the grapefruit balances out the sweetness of the vanilla.

But best of all, all of their fragrances are free of: petrochemicals, phthalates, propylene glycol, mineral oils, silicone, synthetic dyes, sulfates and parabens. The ingredient list also doesn't include castoreum (beaver anal gland extract).

So now I can bask in a beautiful scent that makes me feel calm and happy and I know that there are no toxins in it that can harm me or my family, nor were any beaver anuses harmed in it's production. Hurray!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Nutmeg Spiced Parsnips

I know I have an unusual affection for vegetables that not everyone shares. I guess it isn't necessarily "normal" to get giddy over kale or to inhale a whole bunch of broccoli in one sitting. But hey, I never claimed to be normal!
I always tease Adam because, although he eats everything I cook for him, his stomach seems to have half the available space for vegetables and grains as it does for, say, meat and chocolate.

After far too much worry and anguish about the girls' vegetable consumption, a more relaxed approach to feeding them has resulted in both of them developing a fairly healthy relationship with this food group. Some of the strategies that have helped are:

1. Using frozen cauliflower and broccoli, instead of fresh, because they have a softer texture, and less pronounced flavour;
2. Using veggies to make "faces" or other designs on their plates;
3. Putting one bowl of their favorite veggies on the centre of the table. Sibling rivalry makes them fight over it, and increases the chances they'll eat some;
4. The one bite rule: they have to "try" everything on their plate;
5. Using kid plates with sections and putting new/less favoured veggies in one section and filling the other sections with foods they love (sometimes they'll gobble down all of it, sometimes they'll only give the requisite single taste);
6. Giving them very small portions;
7. Roasting instead of steaming and seasoning with olive oil and Herbamare seasoned sea salt.

The most difficult thing is always getting them to try something new. Sometimes, no matter what I do they simply refuse. But an article about parsnips in last week's Toronto Star got me obsessing about this humble vegetable.
Parsnips are actually one of my favorites, but for some reason I rarely use them. I guess it's probably because I cook so many dishes inspired by the cuisines of China, Thailand and India, where they aren't often used.

According to the article, I am not the only one taking this vegetable for granted. Apparently Canadians really don't consume a lot of parsnips relative to other veggies.

It's a shame really, because they are absolutely delicious and chock full of nutrition. Related to the carrot, 1 cup of parsnips has 100 calories and 6.5 grams of fibre, and are a good source of vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, and potassium.

Regardless of their stellar nutrition profile, I just think they are amazing. To me, they are as sweet as candy, particularly when roasted. So I got thinking that if I prepare them correctly, the girls would have to love them.

Preparing them correctly is the key, of course. Roasting with olive oil and salt is essential, but then I wanted to season them in a way that would make them a bit more interesting, without scaring the kids off. So this means avoiding anything spicy, roasting them carefully so that there are no black/brown bits (caramalization), and adding no seasoning with too many dark, obvious, scary looking flecks of anything (i.e. keeping them as white and plain-looking as possible!).

Because parsnips are so naturally sweet, my first instinct was to just add cinnamon, but Little A easily gets turned off by the sight of the "brown" spice on her food. So I decided to experiment with some fresh grated nutmeg. The result: Fantastically yummy! And did the girls go for it?

Well, Little A refused to try them. Period.

Big A refused, although after I begged her to take one taste, she finally complied. Instantly (before it even reached her tongue!) she declared them disgusting. However, after Adam took the leftovers out to eat at lunch yesterday, Big A asked if she could have some, because she told us that she "loves them", and she gobbled them up! See, with kids you just never know.

Spiced Parsnips

2 lb parsnips, peeled and cut into sticks
1 tsp olive oil
1/4 tsp sea salt
Fresh grated nutmeg, to taste

Steam or microwave parsips for a few minutes, until slightly softened*. Toss parsnips with other ingredients and spread on a foil-lined baking sheet. Roast at 350F for about 10-15 minutes until tender.

*You can skip this step and simply roast parsnips for longer if your kids are okay with "black and brown bits" on their food.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Silent Night

I have a problem that I am really embarrassed to admit: I SNORE!

I don't know about you, but when I think of people who snore, I tend to think of...

Well, lets just say, I don't usually think of snoring being a problem for persons like myself!

Common causes of snoring include:

* Age. As you reach middle age and beyond, your throat becomes narrower, and the muscle tone in your throat decreases.

* The way you’re built. Men have narrower air passages than women and are more likely to snore. A narrow throat, a cleft palate, enlarged adenoids, and other physical attributes that contribute to snoring are often hereditary.

* Nasal and sinus problems. Blocked airways make inhalation difficult and create a vacuum in the throat, leading to snoring.

* Being overweight or out of shape. Fatty tissue and poor muscle tone contribute to snoring.

* Alcohol, smoking, and medications. Alcohol intake, smoking, and certain medications can increase muscle relaxation leading to more snoring.

* Sleep posture. Sleeping flat on your back causes the flesh of your throat to relax and block the airway.

For me, the cause is my constant congestion from hay fever and seasonal allergies. I am basically ALWAYS stuffed up to some extent. Of course, the problem is more Adam's than mine. I end up disturbing his sleep often.

I have thought about trying Breathe Right strips, but I am extremely allergic to adhesive so I have never wanted to risk ending up with an angry rash across the bridge of my nose.

So when I walked down the personal care aisle of my favorite health food store the other day, I was intrigued when I saw another potential solution: the Snore Free nose clip which relies on magnets, rather than adhesive to stay put.

Since it was only $6.49, I figured it didn't hurt to give it a try. When I first put it on, it felt a bit uncomfortable and I worried that I wouldn't be able to sleep with it on, but on the first night I got into bed, picked up the novel I'm reading, and quickly forgot about it completely. And does it work? According to Adam, he hasn't heard a peep out of me ever since!

If you or your partner snores, it might be worth a try! But always check with your doctor first because chronic snoring can also be a sign of serious medical conditions, like sleep apnea.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Fitness Find for Canucks

One of the best investments Adam and I ever made for our health and well-being was our home gym.

Any parent knows how difficult it can be to fit in regular exercise, and for many folks, the only way it can happen is if it is done at home.

Now you don't need to spend much to be able to keep fit at home - heck, all you need is a DVD player and a little square of space and you can rent a variety of fitness DVDs from your local library - but if you are looking for some fitness equipment, Canadian Tire is having MASSIVE sales right now!

For example, you can buy some kick-ass Horizon treadmills (which is the brand of our treadmill, which we love), less than $800...ours was almost double that! Their Livestrong brand of equipment is now up to 60% off! So if you have been thinking about investing in some larger pieces of fitness equipment, now is the time to do it!!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Vegan Black Forest Muffins

What's the difference between a muffin and a cupcake?

Not much if you buy them at most coffee chains like Starbucks, Second Cup, Tim Hortons, etc. Most commercially made muffins are full of fat and sugar, made with some or all refined flour, and can contain more than twice the calories of a donut! Because they are so processed, high in sugar, and low in fibre, even though they can be huge, they don't keep you feeling satisfied for long and they certainly won't give you any long lasting energy. It's a lose-lose if you ask me.

That's why I love making home-made muffins. It is so easy to make healthy, delicious muffins. Make them in big batches and freeze so that you always have them on hand. All it takes is 15 seconds-2 minutes (depending on size and quantity!) in the microwave and you've got a tasty, healthy treat. Now that's the best way to have your cake and eat it too!

The girls love having muffins for breakfast or snacks and I feel good about giving them healthy, homemade ones.

These ones are a little more indulgent than the ones I usually make for the kids because I wanted to come up with a special Valentine's recipe. Really they border on (healthy) cupcake territory. Actually, they are so fudgy because you chop the chocolate right into the batter, they are a bit brownie-like too.

I often try to make my baked goods dairy free, when possible, because Adam is lactose intolerant, and I enjoy experimenting with vegan recipes because I want them to appeal to the broadest number of people. If you have to avoid gluten, these might work if you sub gluten-free oat flour or quinoa flour for the spelt. I made these nut free as well so that they can be taken to school/daycare.

I guarantee whether or not you eat dairy, are a carnivore, omnivore, or vegan, you will love these unbelieveably chocolatey treats. If you really, truly want them to be a cupcake, you can guild the lily and frost them with chocolate frosting or for a healthier option, add a dollop of non-dairy "healthy top" whipped topping before serving.

1 cup apricot puree*
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup sugar or equivalent amount of alternative granular sweetener (Xylitol, stevia, Splenda, coconut sugar...whatever floats your boat)
2 flax eggs (2 tbls ground flax + 6 tbls hot water, stir and let sit until consistency of egg whites)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup non-dairy milk (or regular milk or water)
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (or 1/2 cup broken up pieces of my healthy vegan milk chocolate bars, which is what I used!)
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1.5 cups spelt flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup dried cherries

*For apricot puree, take about 4-6 fresh or frozen apricots (or you can use pears or peaches...or sub apple sauce in a pinch), pit and chop them and microwave until soft, about 1-2 minutes. Puree in blender or food processor.

In your food processor, add apricot puree, sweetener, oil, vanilla and flax eggs and milk or water. Process until blended. Scrape down sides of bowl and add cocoa powder and chocolate chips/pieces. Pulse a few times. Add all remaining ingredients except for cherries and pulse, just until combined. Stir in cherries by hand. Scrape batter into greased or paper lined mini muffin tins. Bake at 375F for about 12 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean, but muffins are still moist. Let cool completely before removing from tins. Makes about 28-30 mini muffins. The recipe makes about 14 large muffins - which will take about 16-18 minutes of baking time (just be careful not to overbake!). Freezes well.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Do Yoga With Me

One of my goals for 2012 is to try and continue to do yoga at least 1x week. Now that I've mostly recovered from my hamstring tendonitis, it's not so much the physical benefits I crave (although I love those too!) as the mental benefits. I really enjoy it (like I find it fun and pleasurable) and I find it calming and therapeutic.

Unfortunately, I can't always make the classes I like best because the times aren't always convenient. Also, in bad weather, or when I have a lot of client appointments, it becomes more difficult for me to get to the JCC in the middle of the day and fit in a class.

I've considered buying some yoga DVDs, but I can't stand the idea of doing the same routines over and over. I love that my favorite yoga teachers vary things each week. Besides, in the past I've had a lot of difficulty finding yoga videos I like. So I am very excited about my latest discovery: http://www.doyogawithme.com/

It's a website where you can choose from a large library of yoga videos and watch them on your computer/phone/etc. for free!! There is a wide variety of styles and levels available.

Yesterday I had a working from home today and even though I had no client sessions booked, I couldn't motivate myself to go to the JCC in the rain, nor did I feel I could spend the time to get there, plus the 75 minutes for the class, and the time to get back home. So I choose a 45 minute class on www.doyogawithme.com to try. It was a great class and just what I needed midday to get me off my butt in front of the computer (my physio advised me to get up every 20 minutes, but I find this hard to do when I am busy) and feel refreshed to get back to work for the rest of the day. My tendon, which had been feeling achy from all the sitting felt much better afterwards. I chose an intermediate level flow class and not only was it the perfect level of difficulty, the instructor did a few things I had never seen before. I love that!

For me, part of the appeal of yoga classes is the energy and comradarie you get doing it with others, but when it isn't possible to make it to a class, this is the perfect option. Next time I think I might light some candles to try and make my space more cosy and relaxing, but overall I really enjoyed it.

This is a great option if you can't make classes at your local gym or studio, or cannot afford it. Yoga studios often charge $20/class or more, which ain't cheap! You could also use this site to keep up your yoga practice while travelling.

Just be careful that you choose a class appropriate to your level of experience. Yoga, like any other form of exercise can cause injury when incorrectly executed and since there is no instructor to adjust your positions and help you out, you have to be cautious.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Flatout Good

One of my favorite things to do when I am in the United States is go grocery shopping. Yep, forget about clothes, electronics, etc. I want to check out the grocery stores. I love finding new, healthy products that aren't available in Canada...and there are many!

That being said, it is also kind of frustrating to fall in love with something, knowing I won't be able to get it in Canada.

Since I first discovered them in Florida a few years ago, I have been buying Flatout flat breads (http://www.flatoutbread.com/) every time we are down in the Orlando area.


I LOVE these things! I end up living on breakfasts and lunches of wraps stuffed with scrambled eggs, cheese, chicken, and/or sauteed veggies. You can, of course, get whole grain wraps here, but I like Flatouts better: They are thicker and don't tend to get soggy or gummy from your fillings like the ones we get here do.

What's more, they come in several whole grain, high fibre varieties (just stick with the whole grain ones, and avoid the white ones and "Hungry Girl" varieties made with refined flour), are low in calories (90-120 cal each instead of 180 for most large sized wraps found here) and are sturdy enough to use as a base for pizza. My favorite is the whole grain with flax.

This year I got smart and bought an extra package in Florida and brought it home with me. But one package doesn't last long for me, so I was thrilled to discover they are actually available in the GTA!

Last week Adam forwarded me a WagJag deal promotion for Low Carb Canada and some other grocery stores. Not being a low-carb follower (with no medical reason to limit carbs and a very active lifestyle, I need my carbs!), I was initially not interested, but then decided to check out what this place carries. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they carry Flatouts (http://www.lowcarbcanada.ca/tortillasandpitabreads)! I quickly purchased their $20 of groceries for $10 deal. The store is unfortunately a half hour drive from us, so I have no idea when we'll have time to get their (they deliver but I don't want to pay the delivery charge!), but when we do, I'm going to be stocking up!!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Mole Chicken with Lime Cilantro Rice

You gotta make this! Seriously, so devine.

Don't be intimidated by the ingredient list. Mole is one of those dishes that has many variations, so you can customize it to suit your tastes or whatever ingredients you have in your pantry.

I was also thinking that if you are vegetarian or vegan, you can make this delicious, complex, flavourful sauce and serve it over the rice, adding tofu or black beans, to make it a complete meal.

Because this dish does take some extra effort, I made a large quantity and we froze the extra. Along with the rice, I served some roasted veggies (chayote squash, zucchini and bell peppers) as a side.

2-2.5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs

Mole Sauce

1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground cinnnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 heaping tbls chili powder*
2 heaping tbls cocoa powder
1/4 cup cider vinegar
12 pitted prunes (or 1/2 cup raisins)
1/4 cup pumpkin seed butter/almond butter/sesame butter/sunflower seed butter (or 1/4 cup roasted pumpkin seeds, almonds, sunflower or sesame seeds)**
1 can tomato paste
2 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
A few handfuls fresh cilantro
Cayenne pepper, to taste (optional)

Pour oil into large pan or skillet and saute onion and spices over medium heat. Once pan is dry, add vinegar, prunes and nuts/seeds(butter) and continue cooking for 2-3 minutes. Add remaining ingredients, stir, and turn off heat. Alow sauce to cool somewhat before transferring to food processor. Process until it comes together as a thick sauce.

*I used ancho chili powder, but regular, generic will work too. You can also use a few chipolte peppers in adobo sauce. Ancho chili powder can vary heat-wise, depending on climate where peppers grew, if you want to ensure a mild sauce, make sure to use a mild chili powder. If you like heat, go for the chipolte peppers, which are fiery hot!

**Everything goes into the food processor, so it doesn't really matter whether you use a nut/seed butter or whole nuts/seeds at this point.

Meanwhile, lightly brown chicken thighs in an oiled skillet or pan (you can skip this step if you want). Transfer to an oven-safe dish and pour sauce over top. Bake in oven (uncovered) at 350F for about 35-40 minutes, or until cooked through. Serve over lime cilantro rice. Makes 4-6 servings. Extra can be frozen.

Lime Cilantro Rice

1.5 cups brown rice
3 cups water
1 tsp olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp annato powder (optional)
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
Juice and zest of 1 lime
A few handfuls fresh cilantro, finely chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste

Place rice and water in a large pot over high heat. Once it comes to a boil, turn heat down to low and simmer until water has been absorbed. In a skillet, saute garlic and spices in oil quickly over medium heat (do not burn garlic!). Add broth, followed by rice and remaining ingredients. Remove from heat and serve. Makes 4-6 servings.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Healthy "Milk" Chocolate Bars (Vegan)

The girls saw the dentist this past week, which for Little A is only the second time. Already, she has a "vulnerable" area (i.e. sign of beginnings of decay) in a top back tooth. I can't say I'm surprised since even when she does let us brush, she rarely lets us get all the way back there.

So I was excited to come across this recipe posted by Chocolate Covered Katie on her blog: http://chocolatecoveredkatie.com/2012/01/13/three-ingredient-chocolate-bars/

Everyone in this house is a chocoholic, and while chocolate in its purist form has many healthful properties, the sugar added to it is not so healthy. Since Katie's recipe uses stevia, which does not promote tooth decay, I thought this was a perfect opportunity to come up with something the girls would like that won't end up costing us $$$ in dental bills down the line. I also happened to have a bottle of vanilla stevia liquid in the pantry that I've never used.

In the end I had to adapt it, because when I told Big A I was making her chocolate, she told me I better not make dark because she only likes milk chocolate and chocolate chips (semi-sweet). As a compromise, I added 1/4 coconut cream instead of milk. I figured the natural sweetness of the coconut would also offset the bitterness of the cocoa powder.

4 tbls coconut oil*
4 full droppers full of vanilla stevia liquid
1/4 cup coconut cream (creamed coconut mixed with equal part water to make 1/4 cup, or skim top off of a can of full-fat coconut milk)
1/2 cup + 2 tbls good quality cocoa powder

Melt oil and stir in stevia and cream. Add in cocoa and stir until thick. Spread thinly on wax paper (I spread it across the entire bottom of wax paper lined 9x9 pan) and put in the fridge or freezer until firm (this didn't take long). Cut or break into pieces. Use in baking, or melt for a chocolate sauce.

*Unrefined extra virgin coconut oil has a sweet, coconutty flavour, while more refined coconut oil has a more neutral flavour. For this, I would use the unrefined, if possible.

So what was the verdict??? They love it! Yay, now we can all have our chocolate (cake) and eat it too!

Just be sure to keep them in the fridge or freezer, or they will get too soft.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Stroke of Genius

I never think of parenting as one of my greatest skills - it's something I have to constantly work on, but this week I had a stroke of parenting genius.

Adam and I have been thinking that Little A's beloved "Pink Bear", the stuffy that goes EVERYWHERE with her, may be responsible for her frequent illnesses. After all, our little pigpen has a knack for finding mess, filth and grime where ever she goes, and she drags Pink Bear with her and then brings him home and sleeps with him every night. We can only wrestle bear away from her so often for "a bath".


My first instinct was to forbid her from bringing him to daycare, however, when I tried to implement this rule last week it led to tears and much drama.

Given our other problem of trying to get Little A back to napping, I suddenly came up with a better use of her attachment to this object: a new rule whereby bear can only go to daycare if she takes a real nap every day! Guess what? She's napped every day this week and evenings are SO MUCH EASIER!! (I'm taking a bow right now, humbly acknowledging my brilliance as you all applaud loudly). Admittedly, we still have the issue of Pink Bear being a germ factory, but perhaps if Little A starts getting the extra rest she so desperately needs, her immune system will be able to fight things off better.

I am particulary relieved that we found a solution to the nap issue NOW since Adam starts travelling to Ottawa regularly next week to begin research for his next book. I'm going to be a single parent a lot over the next few months and ANYTHING that can make things go more smoothly is critical for me!

Here are also a few funny things my kids said/did this week:

Big A and I were cooking in the kitchen:
Big A: What is that mommy?
Me: Olive oil.
Big A: Ohhh...mommy, did you know that oil is a miracle? (clearly this kid has spent too much time in Hebrew school!).

On the way home from daycare:
Little A: Mommy I want a snack please.
Me: Blueberries, grapes or raisins?
Little A: Mommy, I want raisins, capiche?
Me: Did you just say capiche?
Little A: Yep.
(Okay, I know she's picked up some Spanish from watching Dora, but where the heck is she getting the Italian from?)

And one evening this week we were playing in the living room when one of the cushions on one of the couches began sliding off. Suddenly Big A and I noticed that (along with the raisins and Cheerios hiding under there, unquestionably dropped there by Little A), all the money from the girls' play cash register was stashed there. (It seems that Little A has been reading the business section recently and decided this was the best place to invest their money?).

Have a happy weekend!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Fish Provencal

This has always been one of Adam's favorite dishes, however, I haven't made it in ages. So when I asked him for dinner requests for this week, this was the first one he suggested.

If you Google it, you will see there are many variations to this recipe. Some use chopped tomatoes instead of paste or puree, some add capers (I hate capers!), some use different seasonings. All use olives but hey, if you don't like olives, don't use them. Although if you don't like olives I question your sanity...

My twist is to add tons of veggies to boost the nutrition and make this a complete, healthy dinner. I also make a large ratio of sauce to fish, because I always serve it with rice, and I like to be able to spoon the extra veggies and sauce overtop.

2 lbs firm fleshed white fish fillets (haddock, halibut, etc.)

1 tsp olive oil
3-4 shallots, thinly sliced
1 bulb fresh anise/fennel, cored and sliced
2 red bell peppers, sliced
2-4 zucchini, sliced into thin rounds
2-4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup (about 12 or so) black olives, pitted and sliced
1/2 tsp herb de provence (or dried thyme)
1 jar strained tomatoes (680 ml)
Pinch crushed chili flakes, to taste (optional)
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper, to taste

Place fish fillets on a baking sheet lined with foil that has been sprayed with non-stick spray. Sprinkle fish fillets with a pinch of lemon zest, lemon juice, and a bit of the dried herbs. Season with salt and pepper. Preheat oven to 425F.

Place large skillet or pan over medium heat. Pour in oil and add shallots, and whatever veggies you are using. Once veggies have softened, add remaining ingredients and turn heat down to low. While sauce simmers, place fish in the oven and roast for 12-15 minutes (really depends on thickness of your fillets). Serve the fish over brown rice (or quinoa, whole wheat couscous, etc.) and spoon sauce overtop. Serves 4.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Lush-ious

Although I have been concerned with nutrition since I was very young - for some reason I never had the "I'm invincible" mentality that a lot of youth have - it was only around the time that I became pregnant with Big A that I began to worry about the effects that things I put on (perfume, shampoo, soaps, etc.) or near (house cleaning products) my body, rather than just in it, might have on my health.

Since then, we have switched to using only all-natural, non-toxic cleaning products in our home without much difficulty, but finding affordable, effective personal care products has proven more challenging.

I now use only Live Clean hair products and a few years ago stopped wearing my beloved French perfume (Angel by Thierry Mugler). This is because I read that it was full of carcinogenic compounds and anything that is inhaled gives me particular concern. But I LOVE perfume and I have not yet found anything "natural" that compares.

Last year I purchased a series of perfume samples made in small batches from organic ingredients from a woman in British Columbia. I hated ALL of them. First off, they all smelled the same to me, and secondly they all smelled like Pinesol. Since then I've been using the Red Tea Source scent made by Roots.
It has a nice, light scent, and is very affordable, but it's "natural" claims are somewhat dubious. So I am still on a quest to find a natural perfume I can fall in love with.

I have managed to discover some lovely bath and body products made by Lush Cosmetics.

Lush is a British company that has actually been around for a long time. They have stores in 43 different countries across the world.

Unfortunately, I was turned off of it years ago by the overly soapy smell of the stores, and my memory of buying a fairly expensive bar of soap with a short shelf life that ended up having to be thrown away before I was finished with it. Fine for folks with money burning holes in their pockets, but not for someone like me who has spent the vast majority of my life being a student.

So when I received a huge free swag bag of Lush products at a Wychwood Barns (one of the biggest gems in our community: www.wychwoodbarnscommunity.ca) natural living event, I brought it home and threw it in the closet without much thought. It was only a few weeks later when I ran out of body moisturizer, that I pulled out the bag and looked inside. Fortunately, the products had not yet hit their expiry date, and the shelf life is definitely longer than what it was on products I purchased in the past.

I spied their Vanilla Dee-Lite body lotion and eagerly decided to give it a try, since vanilla is one of my favorite scents.


The verdict? It is dreamy! For the first few days, I kept wondering who it was around me that smelled so good...until I realized it was me! It is rich and moisturizing, without being too greasy or heavy. I used it up quickly.

Next I broke open the Dream Cream, a rich body lotion perfect for dry winter weather. This stuff is great for preventing dry, itchy winter skin. My only complaint is that it doesn't have a nice, perfumey scent, but rather, since one of the first ingredients is extra virgin olive oil, it has more of a "salad dressing" aroma.

To prevent the usual chapping and cracking of my fingers that I usually get in winter time, I have been using their Lemony Flutter on my hands before bed. This product is very effective and has a delicious lemon candy-like scent.

The last product I received was their Creme Anglaise, another rich hand and body moisturizer. I love this one too, and it has a very pleasant scent thanks to the almond oil, vanilla, myrrh and orange oil it contains.

All of the company's products are 100% vegetarian and are never tested on animals. They also offer discounts and incentives for returning the pots and bottles to the store so that they can be recycled.

After discovering how much I love these products, I checked out their website and found out that they have a whole line of natural perfumes, as well as other yummy-looking products, and they are very reasonably priced. I have almost finished my Roots Source Red Tea perfume, so I plan to head down to one of their Toronto stores in the next few weeks to do some testing of their scents. I'll keep you posted if I fall in love!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Cream the Competition

One of my awesome finds at Kensington Market last week was: MimicCreme, a substitute for dairy cream made from almonds and cashews. It can apparently be used in all the same ways that you would use dairy cream.

The company makes several varieties: sweetenened with sugar, sweetened with "natural" sugar substitutes, and unsweetened. There is also a product made specifically to replace coffee cream and another one that can be used in place of whipping cream called Healthy Top.

This product is perfect for vegans, individuals who are lactose intolerant, and those simply looking to limit their intake of saturated fat. Note that recent research studies have found a link between consumption of high-fat dairy products with various illnesses and mortality. This product provides a healthy alternative to dairy cream.

I used the sugar-free sweetened version, along with coconut milk, to create a vanilla ice cream recipe that was a hit with Adam and the girls, despite Big A's new ice cream maker malfunctioning (she got it for Hannukah).

I love discovering new products like this that can expand the options of healthy, delicious eating!

Vegan Vanilla Ice Cream

2 cups plain or unsweetened vanilla coconut milk or other non-dairy milk (I used coconut milk in tetra pack made for drinking)
1/2 cup sugar or equivalent amount of alternative non-liquid sweetener (I used Splenda)
1 vanilla bean
1 cup MimicCreme sweetened cream (sugar-free or regular)
1 tbls arrowroot starch

Place milk in saucepan over medium heat. Split vanilla bean and scrape out seeds with knife and add, along with pod, to milk. Bring to a boil and then turn heat down to low. Add sweetener, cream and arrowroot. Once mixture thickens, remove from heat. Place in refrigerator for at least one hour, until cool. Place in ice cream maker and follow manufacturers directions. Serve immediately. Note: if you place this mixture into the freezer, it will freeze completely solid. So if you have leftovers from your ice cream maker or do not have an ice cream maker, I suggest you freeze it in ice cube trays and pop a few out and throw into the blender or food processor before serving to make a soft-serve type of ice cream.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Role Reversal

I can't believe what a transformation Big A has undergone over the past few months.

Adam and I have noticed a dramatic leap in her emotional maturity. She is rarely ever defiant anymore (I honestly can't believe I'm saying that!), and significantly less whiney. She no longer seems jealous of Little A and she is helpful and affectionate with her little sister, and with us.

I honestly haven't enjoyed spending time with Big A this much since before she was 18 months old, and her LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG "terrible two" phase started. I am so happy and relieved, it was not so long ago that I had thought that my relationship with her was simply hopeless and we were destined to a lifetime of conflict and strife.

Unfortunately, things with Little A have now taken a turn for the worse. This may be due to her age - she's now 33 months old, which is prime "terrible two" age - but we suspect it is largely due to her refusal to nap.

Nope, as I've said before: NEVER underestimate the importance of sleep! But you really can't force someone to sleep (through legal/ethical means!). Putting Little A in a moving vehicle, whether it's a car or stroller, is no more likely to make her fall asleep than putting her in her bed. Adam and I have started trying to enforce nap or at least quiet time for her, something we gave up on before the holidays, but the days she doesn't actually fall asleep she is a different child.

When she does nap, she is usually her typical self: Mischievous, impish, affectionate, funny and absolutely, irresistably adorable. On days she does not nap she ranges from somewhat difficult to downright impossible. Unfortunately, it is still more often than not that she skips her nap. Not even her daycare teachers can get her to sleep when she is determined to resist.

If you have any tips for encouraging sleep, please leave me info in my comments section...I will be eternally grateful!!

FYI:

The Toronto Star ran an interesting series last week on motherhood after 40: http://www.parentcentral.ca/parent/newsfeatures/article/1108972--motherhood-after-40-meet-the-mid-life-mama

The Globe and Mail had an article on pre-implantation genetic diagnosis: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/parenting/pregnancy/pregnancy-trends/unnatural-selection-is-evolving-reproductive-technology-ushering-in-a-new-age-of-eugenics/article2294636/

PGD is used in IVF frequently when a parent has a serious medical condition they do not want to pass on to their child. Some people are uncomfortable with this technology because it opens up the possibility of parents "customizing" their children in terms of gender and physical traits.

My question is, is there any way to screen out the "genes" that cause the "terrible twos"? JUST KIDDING, OF COURSE!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Kensington Market

One of my favorite places in all of Toronto has always been Kensington Market.

When I first moved here in 1994 as a university undergrad, I quickly discovered the vintage stores there as a source of great, affordable fashion finds.

It was also a place I visited regularly to satisfy my dried fruit habit (I used to eat POUNDS of dried pineapple in the days when I could still convince myself it was "healthy"), and to pick up fresh produce.

A lot has changed about the market - like many more trendy/upscale restaurants and swanky clubs - but a lot has also stayed the same. There is still a cornicopia of fresh produce markets, as well as Latin American and Middle Eastern grocery shops. There are still lots of grundgy cheap and cheerful bars and cafes, and virtually no chain stores (not a single Starbucks in the market!), and it remains a treasure-trove of ingredients for anyone who loves to cook or eat.

Sadly, although it's only a 45 minute walk, or 15 minute bicycle ride from our place, I rarely get there anymore. However, yesterday my allergist cancelled my appointment at the last minute. Since the weather was unseasonably warm and it was a lovely day, I decided I had time for a market visit. I hopped on my bike and rode down. I had the best time!!

Here is a roundup of my favorite places in the market:

House of Spice - A MUST if you love to cook, they have an amazing selection of herbs and spices and the prices are great. I have found things here that I have never been able to find ANYWHERE else!!

Essence of Life - Health food store with an abundant array of products and good prices.

Blue Banana Market - Fabulous place for crafts and gifts.

Dancing Days - My main source for funky clothes back in university. Very good selection of vintage wear.

Courage My Love - Well-known shop full of unique new and used fashions.

Of course there are many, many other fabulous restaurants, cafes, grocers and stores full of fashion and home decor items. If you live in the city and haven't been in a while, you should go!! And if you don't live here but ever come to visit, put it on your list of places to see, I promise you won't be disappointed.

Stay tuned for some new recipes over the next few weeks using some of the excellent ingredients I picked up yesterday!!

It's wonderful places like the market that make the not-so-awesome aspects of living in Toronto (i.e. the constant, constant, CONSTANT traffic) bearable. Note that the market has pedestrian only Sundays, which makes it the perfect day to head down, grab a healthy brunch and stroll through the charming,quirky streets while picking up exotic ingredients to make a spectacular dinner.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Very Vanilla Vegan Rice Pudding

Big A frequently requests that I make her rice pudding, and each time I do, I make it differently. This recipe was the clear winner: she ate 3 bowls for breakfast this morning!

Using a vanilla bean made all the difference, Big A described it as "Very vanilla-y". It is also super easy. The chia seeds are optional, but add a lot of nutrition to it which is great, particularly if this is being eaten for breakfast.

1 cup short grain brown rice
1/2 one whole vanilla bean
2 tbls white chia seeds
2 cups unsweetened plain or vanilla non-dairy milk (or low-fat dairy milk!), divided
1/2 cup sugar or equivalent amount sweetening alternative (i.e. stevia, Splenda, xylitol, etc.)
1 tbls arrowroot starch (or corn starch)

Place rice in a large pot with 1 cup water and bring to a boil. Split vanilla bean in half, lengthwise, and scrape out seeds with a knife. Add seeds and pod to pot with rice and water. Once water boils, add chia seeds and reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until most of the water has been absorbed. Add 1 cup of milk and sweetener and continue to cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Mix arrowroot starch with another cup of milk and add to the rice. Turn off heat and stir until thickened. Remove from heat, discard vanilla bean pod, and serve hot or cold. Pudding will thicken more once refridgerated, so add more milk before serving if you would like to thin it out a bit.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Citrus Pound Cake

Are you sugared out from the holidays?

I totally am! I managed to avoid some of my usual indulgences when we were away this year, like fudge and cookies (usually when I travel I manage to convince myself that the calories, saturated fat and white flour in the giant cookies from Starbucks don't count when eaten in an airport), but I caved around chocolate. I ate way, way too much chocolate. Not just when we were away either, after our new year's party there was tons of chocolate treats left over, which I have been happily helping to get rid of (first in my belly, but now that I've hit overload, I'm giving it away) - I guess our guests were sugared out too, because while they nibbled on the sweets, they completely devoured all the savouries! But I am not feeing guilty - dark chocolate covered nuts and fruit has some sound nutritional value, at least moreso than fudge and Starbucks cookies, right??

Oh well, in case you didn't get your fill, here's another decadent treat. Nothing like following up a healthy recipe with a not-so-healthy recipe. But hey, if you make a nutritious, low-cal meal using shirataki noodles, there's more room for cake!

There is a reason pound cake is called pound cake - originally it was made with a pound of butter, sugar, flour, etc.

I opted to use regular sugar here, not so much for the sweetness, since that can be replaced, but for the moistness and lightness it lends to baked goods. I did cut back the fat by using half butter and half apple sauce, and I used spelt flour instead of white. If you like citrus, you will love this, the flavour is so intense and it is so moist and yummy.

This is one of those things I gotta share, because if it sits around our house, I'm likely to eat it all myself (Adam isn't a huge citrus fan and the girls can only eat so much cake...so it would be up to me to make sure it doesn't go bad (ha ha)...of course it can easily be frozen but I probably wouldn't have the will power to do that). So this is one treat that will have to be brought out of the house to share with others.

3 lemons, washed, sliced and seeds and stems, etc. removed
4 limes, washed and sliced
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup apple sauce
2 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups spelt flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Put lemon and lime slices in food processor and process until very finely chopped/pureed. Add butter, eggs, sugar and vanilla and process well. Add dry ingredients to food processor and pulse a few times, just until flour is incorporated. Scrape batter into a greased bundt pan and bake at 350F for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Check after about 40 minutes, and if top is browning too much, loosely tent top with foil for the remainder of the baking time. Let cool about 15 minutes before removing from pan. Run knife along edges first, before inverting on to a wire rack.

Citrus Glaze

2 cups icing sugar
Juice and zest of 1 lemon

Mix together sugar, zest and juice. Add a bit of water if you need to thin out to make a pourable glaze. Pour glaze over the top of cooled bundt cake and let it drip down the sides. Freeze any leftovers (if there are any!) after 3-4 days.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Use Your Noodle

Are you full of new year resolution plans?

If so, the only way most people can reach their goals is to actually have a PLAN. What I mean is, just saying, for example: "I'm going to exercise more!" is not enough. If you really want to exercise more, use the S.M.A.R.T principle to devise an action plan to reach this goal.

S - Specific (I want to do 3 hours of intense cardio per week)
M - Measurable (Time your workouts and use a heart rate monitor)
A - Achievable (Be realistic about what you can achieve so you don't set yourself up for failure)
R - Relevant (Is 3 hours of cardio the best way to improve your health and fitness?)
T - Timed (Don't have some nebulous start and end point, decide to start TODAY, or at a realistic date - i.e. I am going to do 3 hours of cardio per week starting this week so I can run a 5km race in April)


Remember this: If you change nothing, nothing will change. All too often I see clients - both counselling and personal training clients - who want to change something in their life (a toxic relationship, their health, etc.), but are not willing to commit to doing what it will take to achieve their goals. Rarely do things change for the better on their own. If you are suffering from health problems due to a poor lifestyle, it is doubtful that your health will improve unless you make positive changes.

I'll get off my soapbox now, but if you are looking for easy, painless ways to improve your diet this year, I urge you to try some of the various calorie/carbohydrate/gluten-free pasta substitutes out on the market.

Regular pasta (WHOLE GRAIN ONLY), can easily be a part of a healthy diet, but the problem for many people struggling with their weight is that even before you add sauce, it is relatively calorically dense. One serving of pasta is 1/2 cup, and I don't know about you, but that doesn't even fill up a baby toe for me!

So if you have a healthy appetite and love pasta and all forms of noodles, like I do, you can easily overdo it.

One way to avoid going overboard is to bulk up all your pasta dishes with tons of veggies, but another strategy, is to use alternatives to traditional grain-based noodles.

I have mentioned several times before my love of shiratake noodles, of which there are two kinds: (1) yam starch/calorie-free, and (2) yam starch + tofu/low-calorie. I love the yam starch ones, but am not a fan of the tofu kind. The yam starch comes from the root of a konjac plant from Asia and does not contain any funky ingredients, it is simply a form of dietary fibre that has negligible food energy. The yam-only ones work best with Asian noodle dishes, so since I don't like the tofu ones, I use regular, whole-grain pasta if I am in the mood for an Italian style pasta dish.

I love shiratake noodles because they do not require boiling and are quick to make, and they are impossible to overcook because they do not absorb liquid. That being said, they can be tricky to cook with if you are not familiar with them, so here are some tips:

* They smell funny when you open the bag, but ignore this, it imparts no taste and goes away if you rinse them well.
* Put noodles in a collander and rinse well, then snip with scissors, until you have shorter strands.
* Dry them well so you don't water down your sauce. The easiest way to do this is drop them in a hot skillet or frying pan (they don't burn easily) and cook until excess water is gone).
* Pre-cook and drain any ingredients you are adding to your dish that release a lot of liquid when cooking (i.e. veggies, particularly ones like mushrooms, spinach, etc.) before adding to the noodles.
*Start with a very thick sauce, it will thin out on it's own once added to the noodles (things I use to make a thick sauce: tomato paste, nut butters, avocado, powdered coconut milk, etc).
*Keep the strands long and use in place of regular rice noodles in your favorite Asian soup recipe.

I am also now addicted to kelp noodles, which also have no calories. These are easier to use than shiratake noodles, if you can find them because they do absorb liquid, so you can sauce them with just about anything. You can eat them raw, but they are crunchy. If you want a noodle-like consistency, rinse and snip them, and then throw them into a wok, skillet or frying pan with your sauce until they soften (it only takes a few minutes). If you are really turned off by the smell of shiratakis when you open the bag, you will like that these have no smell.

Some people suggest using spaghetti squash in place of grain-based noodles, but if I am craving noodles, that just doesn't cut it for me. I know I'm eating squash. Shirataki and kelp noodles, on the other hand are filling and satisfy that noodle/carb craving.

Here is one of my favorite shiratake noodle dishes (If you don't like 'spicy' food, just omit the crushed chilis):

Korean Kimchi-style Noodles

1 lb skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces (or 1 lb of firm tofu, cubed)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 tbls fresh ginger, minced
2 tbls plum vinegar
2 sweet red peppers, cut into thin strips
1/2 head cabbage, thinly sliced
1 bunch green onions, sliced in 1/2 inch pieces
1 can tomato paste
Crushed red chili, to taste (optional)

2-1 lb bags of shiratake noodles, rinsed, snipped and dried

Saute chicken over medium heat until cooked on the outside. Add garlic, ginger, vinegar and peppers and cook a few more minutes. Add cabbage, and onions and cook until tender and chicken fully cooked. Stir in tomato paste and noodles and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Serves 2-3.

Here is an easy goal for the new year: If you eat noodles several times a week (particularly if you usually eat WHITE FLOUR noodles), replace your usual noodle with shiratakes once a week and see what happens!

For more recipes, type "shiratake" into my blog search bar and quite a few will come up.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

It's Worth the Drive to Etobicoke

Wow it's cold in Toronto today, like -12 celcius! That's 10F for those of you not on the metric system.

As any parent knows, it's tougher to entertain little ones when going outdoors isn't an option, and if your kids are like mine and often resist mittens and hats, then going out in this weather ISN'T AN OPTION!

Yesterday we took the girls to one of our favorite winter venues: the Fantasy Fair (http://www.fantasyfair.ca/). The Fantasy Fair is literally an indoor amusement park with rides ranging from a merry-go-round, and a ferris wheel to bumper cars and even a little roller coaster. There is also a large playground with slides, and things for the kids to climb and explore. The girls absolutely love it.


The Fantasy Fair is located inside the Woodbine Mall in Etobicoke, but I swear it's worth the 30 minute drive from downtown Toronto. If you are a shop-a-holic, most of the mall will disappoint you, however, there is one gem of a store there: Bonnie Togs (http://www.bonnietogs.com/index.html). It's a kids clothing store that carries primarily Osh Kosh and Carter's brands and the prices are ridiculously good. I can NEVER go in there without getting the girls a ton of stuff. Yesterday I got Big A (who continues to outgrow her clothes at an alarming rate!) two winter dresses (aka long sleeved dresses), tights, and 3 long-sleeved shirts for about $50 and they are so adorable!

There are Bonnie Togs stores across Ontario, but none in downtown Toronto, so it's only when we go to the Fantasy Fair that I get the opportunity to shop there. Aside from Bonnie Togs, the mall has a decent Bulk Barn to buy snacks for your hungry little ones but aside from that it's pretty blah. Woodbine Mall has a Sears and The Bay, but they are yucky compared to the ones you'll find at more upscale malls like the Eaton Centre and Yorkdale.

So if you are looking for a fun way to spend a cold afternoon with the kids, check out the Fantasy Fair (and Bonnie Togs!).