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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Whitefish Salad

This recipe was inspired by my mom's friend Lucille's famous mock crab.  It makes a delicious appetizer, snack or lunch.  Serve with whole grain crackers, or use in place of tuna salad on a sandwich, wrap or on top of fresh greens.
I am not calling it mock crab because I think it is cruel to mock crabs.  Really, what did crabs ever do to you?

Okay, that's not the real reason.  Actually, I think this is delicious in it's own right, regardless of whether or not it tastes anything like crab salad.

White Fish Salad

1 lb light textured white fish (I used wild cod)
2 celery stalks, finely diced
1 onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch of paprika
Salt & pepper, to taste
1/4 cup ketchup (preferably sugar-free)
1/4 cup low-fat mayo/Veganaise, etc.*
Pinch of cayenne, to taste (optional)

Place fish on foil-lined baking sheet.  Scatter diced celery, onions and garlic over top.  Season to taste.  Roast in oven at 425F for about 15 minutes, or until fish flakes easily.  Let cool.  Place fish and veggies in a medium bowl and flake fish with a fork.  Add ketchup, mayo and season to taste.  Will keep for 3-4 days in the fridge...if it lasts that long!

*You could sub plain yogurt here.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Working Mom Guilt

Mornings have been really rough lately.  Not that they've EVER been easy since having kids, but lately they've been extra difficult because of Little A.  Instead of adapting to her new daycare, which she started in October, she is increasingly resisting going to daycare.  Monday to Friday I am faced with screaming, tears and protests while she begs me to let her stay home with me. 

I have no concerns about the quality of the new daycare - it's the same outstanding one Big A goes to, which has a 3 year wait list - but I do have concerns about forcing her to go when she clearly doesn't want to.  Adam and I have identified the issue as being related to the strictness of her teachers.  They are kind and loving, but they run the preschool room with iron fists and there is a lot of structure and rules.  For a kid like Big A, this would be no big deal, but Little A gets very upset when she feels she has been reprimanded and if an authority figure even does so much as remind her of a rule (i.e., "no running in the halls, etc.), she takes that as a reprimand and completely falls apart.  We don't know why she is so sensitive, given what a tough little girl she is in other ways, but she is.

Little A also has not bonded yet with most of the other kids.  She still talks about some of her friends from the old daycare, but only really plays with one kid in the new daycare.  Unfortunately, according to her teachers, this kid bosses her around a lot - I think Little A worships her - so much so, that the teachers often feel the need to separate the two.  I don't know why she hasn't bonded with the other kids, she is an incredibly social child and they seem to like HER.  But when I ask if she wants me to arrange playdates with various kids, or if they are her friends, she emphatically says, "NO".

Aside from being frustrating to deal with her in the mornings, it also induces a great deal of guilt.  After all, even now that I am finished school and my counselling training, I am not working full-time, and may not be for quite a while until the fertility clinic position gets under way.  So there are days when she says she wants to stay home with me, that SHE COULD.  Of course, if I didn't have her in child care I would not have the option of taking any work when it comes my way.  But I was feeling so guilty one day last week, that I left her at daycare only to ponder whether it was worth it - even after working so hard to get to this place - to pursue a career at her expense.  I wondered whether I should just pull both girls out of the daycare and stay home with them.  Yes, I would probably go insane after one day, but perhaps it would be better for them?

I have a hard time believing that actually.  They get so much stimulation and enrichment from their daycare.  I am often blown away by the creative activities they do, and the amazing events and field trips they take part in.  Given that my heart is not in being a stay-at-home mom (for myself, I really want a fulfilling career), I don't think I could provide them with anything that compares to what they are getting now.  Also, speaking with her teachers this past week, I've discovered that even on the days when she seems most distraught about going to daycare, she ends up having a great time.  She seems happy when I pick her up at the end of the day and she is obedient and social with the other kids.  There are no other outward signs of distress.

So not knowing what to think, I turned to the research to, hopefully assuage my guilt.  Hey, I'm trained as a researcher!  Surely the data will tell me that maternal employment is beneficial to children's well-being, right?

Unfortunately, I was surprised to find that this is not the case.  The findings are actually equivocal.  Overall, there appears to be no clear relationship between maternal employment and cognitive, emotional or behavioural outcomes for most children, however, maternal employment has a negative effect on children's health.  It is associated with increased adverse health events (hospital visits) for children and with increased risk of obesity.  The effect of maternal employment on children's academic achievement varies by race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status.  Essentially, maternal employment is more likely to have negative effects on the academic achievement of children in white, upper middle class households, and more likely to have a positive effect on African American children and children from disadvantaged, single-parent homes. 

These findings are NOT AT ALL WHAT I EXPECTED and did not make me feel any better.  I was somewhat relieved, however, to find a study demonstrating that for highly educated mothers, full-time employment is positively associated with self-esteem and negatively related to depression, and that maternal affect is positively correlated with children's affect.  So in other words, if mama is happy, children are more likely to be happy.  That's at least comforting since I can guarantee that I am happier as a working mom!

I guess the long and short of it is that whether or not you decide to work when you have children is a very personal matter, and a decision you have to make based on you and your children's demographic and individual characteristics.  What is 'right' for one person may not be the best thing for another.  Of course, for many people it isn't even a choice because of financial reasons.  I  guess the good news is that if that's the case, maternal employment may actually be beneficial for your children.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Peaches & Cream Quick Bread (Vegan)

This recipe turned out great, only the batter made a bit too much for a standard loaf pan (the consequences of inventing my own recipes!).  I poured the remainder into 2 mini loaf pans.  Alternatively, you could pour all of it into a bundt pan or make muffins.  There is so much sweetness from the peaches, that even if you opt to use sugar, you don't need much, meaning this is as healthy as it is delicious.  As with all vegan baking, I find it is important to let everything cool completely before removing it from the pan. 

1-28oz can peaches (preferably packed in water), drained
2 flax eggs (2 tbls ground flax whisked with 6 tbls hot water)
2 cups Mimicreme vegan cream substitute (made from cashews and almonds)
2 tbls powdered stevia (or sugar or other sugar substitute)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp sea salt

Puree peaches in a food processor and then transfer into a large bowl.  Whisk in flax eggs, cream, sweetener and vanilla extract.  In a smaller bowl, whisk together dry ingredients and then add to wet ingredients.  Stir just until combined.  Pour batter into greased loaf pan until 3/4 full.  Pour any remaining batter into greased muffin cups or mini loaf tins.  Bake at 350F until toothpick comes out clean (this was 55 minutes for my big loaf and 25 minutes for the mini loaves).

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Konjac - The Newest Super (non) Food?

Konjac is the plant used to make Shiratake noodles. These are the noodles I've mentioned many times before, that contain no calories, carbohydrates or nutritional value, and make a great substitute for rice noodles, glass noodles or bean thread noodles in a variety of Asian dishes. They are perfect for anyone who has allergies to wheat or rice, is gluten intolerant, or needs to limit their calorie or carbohydrate intake.

Since noodles are generally a calorie-dense food, these noodles are also a great way for anyone to lighten up a traditional noodle dish. Although they contain no food energy, they are extremely filling, so pairing them with lean protein, healthy fats and lots of veggies, can provide you with a massive, satisfying, and nutritious meal while keeping calories in check. They also are quick to prepare and do not get soggy or mushy, so they are perfect for noodle soups. They do not, however, absorb liquid, so unless using them in soup, they need to be sauced with a very thick sauce, or any liquid released from other ingredients in your dish, will turn your sauce soupy. They also have a funny smell when you open up the package, and must be rinsed well and then cooked in a dry frying pan, wok or skillet, to remove excess moisture.
If you like shiratake noodles, then, like me, you might feel that they are too good to be true. Calorie-free noodles, that can be used to make fabulous dishes? Well as it turns out, shiratake noodles, and konjac, in general may just be the next super food/supplement.

While konjac flour has no nutritional value (i.e. no calories, fat, carbs, vitamins or minerals), it does appear to have some health benefits. It curbs appetite, lowers cholesterol, improves bowel function/prevents constipation, and can help control blood sugar and Type II diabetes.

I only recently discovered that konjac, also sometimes labelled glucomannan (konjac is 40% glucomannan, which is a polysaccharide that gives it its ability to gel with liquids), is the main ingredient in weight-loss products like PGX and go4trim.  Normally I steer clear of all weight-loss products because most tend to be either fraudulent, dangerous, or both.  So I was stunned that these products are actually using something with some actual science behind it, that has health benefits rather than risks involved.  But I should also point out, that konjac root capsules are available in the supplement sections of most health food stores (sometimes in blood sugar/cholesterol control section) and costs a fraction of what those pricey weight loss products cost.

Konjac might be new to the North American market, but Asian countries have been producing and consuming products with it for a long time.  In addition to shiratake noodles, they also make jello-like snacks and desserts from it.  These products, it should be pointed out, can be risky for children because unlike other gelling agents, konjac does not dissolve, which can create a choking hazard.  Because of this, these products are not readily available in North America or Europe. 

There are two main kinds of shiratake noodles, the pure konjac ones, and the ones that also contain tofu.  The latter are better suited to Italian pasta dishes, but I am not a huge fan of them.  When making Italian pasta dishes, I prefer to use traditional pasta.  The tofu type also have calories and carbohydrates, although much less than grain-based noodles, and they are still gluten-free.

I have also seen konjac flour being sold on its own, but again, you have to be careful because of its ability to gel with liquid.  Even PGX and go4trim have warnings that you should not use these products if you have difficulty swallowing or any health condition that makes it easy for you to choke.  It is precisely this quality which makes it an effective appetite suppressant too.

Frankly, given how easy it is to turn these calorie/carb-free goodies into a spectacular meal, I am surprised that shiratake noodles have not become the latest diet craze among Hollywood actresses looking to get or stay stick-thin without having to starve themselves.  That being said, precisely because they are filling but contain no nutrition, you do not want to overdo it with shiratake noodles.  While eating nothing but the noodles could keep you full, you would still end up malnurished.

By the way, here is my take on appetite suppressants:

Generally speaking, I believe you should honour your appetite because it is your body's cues that you need fuel.  IF you are doing all the right things - getting sufficient sleep, eating high fibre, whole foods, lean proteins, etc., eating at regular intervals throughout the day, getting enough exercise, controlling stress, etc. - than your appetite should not lead you astray and honouring it should allow you to maintain a healthy weight.

Unfortunately, sometimes we cannot do all of these things.  Perhaps you work shifts or are a new parent and you simply cannot get enough sleep, or you are struggling with depression, or maybe you are taking a medication that affects your appetite and metabolism.  If some of these issues cannot be addressed immediately, than your appetite may be out of sync with your body's energy needs.  In this case, an appetite suppressant could be helpful.  But always consult with your doctor first before taking ANY sort of supplement.

But I think allowing you to fit into your skinny jeans without going hungry is definitely not the greatest benefit of konjac.  What is wonderful is that this is a safe, natural and affordable plant-based supplement/food that can help lower the risk of chronic illnesses and health problems that are common in North America.  I would like to see future research examine its ability to lower cholesterol and control blood sugar, relative to statins and diabetes medications that may have serious side-effects.

I was pleased to see the following article about shirataki noodles in the Globe and Mail yesterday: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/food-and-wine/shirataki-noodles-more-than-just-a-diet-fad/article2344978/?utm_medium=Feeds%3A%20RSS%2FAtom&utm_source=Life&utm_content=2344978

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lightened Up Peanut Sauce

Is there anything better than peanut butter?  Really?  It can be sweet, savoury or spicy, but any way you use it, it is bound to make your meal delectable.

So it's a real shame that peanut butter - like all nut and seed butters - is something that should be eaten in moderation.  Waah!  Yes, it's full of good for you monounsaturated fats, but it is crazy high in calories (90 per tbls), and excess calories can lead to excess weight, which - even if it's due to overconsumption of HEALTHY foods, can put you at risk for Type II diabetes, heart disease, and various cancers.

One of my favorite ways to enjoy peanut butter is simply spread on whole wheat bread with creamed honey on top.  I've loved this treat since I was a kid.  But I also love using peanut butter for savoury dishes.  Asian peanut sauces are a weakness of mine, they are so awesome for pouring over noodles or stir-fries, or using as a dipping sauces for salad rolls or satays.  But those peanut sauced dishes you see on most restaurant menus pack a massive calorie wallop, and unless you are Michael Phelps - the Olympic swimmer who needs 10,000 calories a day to fuel his training - than you have to watch these types of sauces.

THIS one, however, you can go ahead and guzzle if you wish.  It's got all the flavour and creaminess of a regular peanut sauce, but is much lower in fat and calories.  It's super thick as is, perfect to sauce shiratake noodles, or you can thin it out with water to the desired consistency and use as a sauce for rice noodles, a salad dressing, or dipping sauce.

It is also crazy easy to make.  I made it yesterday when I was stuck home with Little A.  She has a cold and bad cough, and I thought she might spike a fever if I sent her to daycare (Murphy's Law!), but the minute I told her she could stay home she was suddenly full of energy and happy as a clam.  Sigh!

This kid is something else, I tell you.  Several times she said to me yesterday, "Mommy, you're making me crazy!"  Say what?  I have not the slightest idea where she got that from!  But she poor thing really was miserable for part of the day because she hadn't pooped in 3 days and she has a sore spot in her mouth (a canker? a cavity?) that we can't see, but is making it difficult for her to eat.  Fortunately, a ginger ale and 2 prunes later, things started moving.  I heard grunting from the living room. So I rushed in excitedly from the kitchen to ask if she was pooping.  "No mommy, I'm hiding, go away, I don't want you to look at me!"  she yelled.  I agreed to give her some privacy and told her to find me when she was ready for a diaper changing.  A few minutes later she climbed the stairs to my bedroom and announced she was ready.  She could barely walk due to her wide load.  Ah relief, suddenly I had a much happier child with an appetite again!  So all this to say, it takes nothing to make this peanut sauce.  That's my segue from diapers to peanut sauce...

Lightened Up Peanut Sauce

1 lb butternut squash, cubed
1 chunk fresh ginger, peeled and chopped into medium pieces
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tbls natural peanut butter
2 tbls low sodium soy sauce
4 tbls rice vinegar
Juice of 1 lime
Crushed red chili flakes, to taste (optional: omit if you don't want it spicy)

Spread squash cubes on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes (no oil needed).  Let cool.  Place squash and all other ingredients in food processor and process until smooth.  Add water as needed until desired consistency is reached.  Will keep refrigerated for 4-5 days, or can be frozen.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Family Day Activities

If you live in Ontario than you likely enjoyed a quiet day off yesterday...if you have no kids.  Or an exhausting day, if you were trying to entertain your brood on Family day.

We were supposed to take the girls to the Fantasy Fair indoor amusement park, but it was only open in the afternoon, and our friends we had plans with wanted to go skiing in the morning and switch our playdate for the afternoon.  So Adam and I were left scrabbling at the last minute to find morning activities.

The ROM was a bust a few years ago (Big A got bored after half an hour), and like all museums around the city, if you have no membership - which we don't - than it's super expensive for a family of four.  The Science Centre didn't seem like a great option either because the girls go regularly with my in-laws and they wanted to do something different.  There was a carnival at the Rogers Center that we looked into, but quickly nixed when we found out it cost $35 per person!!

So I was thrilled to have the opportunity to check out the Family Day activities at our beloved JCC.  We ended up having several hours of healthy, active family fun!  The pool opened at 9am, so we started with a swim.  Little A and I left Big A and Adam (who stayed in the pool for 90 minutes!!) to attend the family fitness class (jumping, running, bouncing, dancing to awesome music) with other parents and kids of all ages, and then we did crafts and checked out the jungle gym.  Then Big A and I did half of the family yoga class while Adam and Little A stayed and played in the craft room.  By 11:30am, the girls were both hungry and tired so we took them for lunch.

Although friends of mine rave about it, we had never been to Aroma before (http://www.aroma.ca/).  It's a chain of espresso bars/restaurants that is very kid-friendly.  We visited the one in the Annex, just a few blocks from the JCC and had a great experience.  Very healthy options, huge portions and super fresh food.  We were able to get Big A's french toast made with whole wheat bread, and it came sided with a pile of fresh fruit.  Little A devoured her enormous portion of scrambled eggs and whole grain toast.  The warm chicken salad was fresh and tasty and the coffee came sided with a little square of chocolate.  My only complaint was I didn't love the coffee, but then again, I really don't like most coffee besides what I make for myself at home.  I found it a bit too bitter.  Also, the girls coerced me into ordering them orange juice, as a treat, and the juice, which only comes in one size, was way too big AND almost $4 each...so Adam ended up drinking most of it.

Overall, it was a great day.  We didn't spend a lot, we were active, ate healthy, and had a ton of fun.  If you are in the GTA, check out the JCC's Family Day programs next year!!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Puppet Shows

I know I've mentioned before that I'm not the biggest fan of live theatre...but I did admit that I adored Two Pianos, Four Hands a few months ago.  I also forgot to mention that I absolutely love Ronnie Burkett. 

If you are not familiar with Ronnie, he does puppet shows.  Yes, puppet shows.  Marionettes, actually.  His work is definitely for adults though, and not for children!

Adam first took me to one of his shows when we were dating.  I thought he'd gone mad when he first told me he was taking me to see a show with marionettes.  But I was completely blown away by this man's brilliance, so I was more than happy to see another show of his with Adam a few years later.

When I heard he was touring his latest show, Penny Plain, here in Toronto, I eagerly bought tickets for Adam and I, and we went yesterday. 

I am sad to say we were both somewhat disappointed, this show pales in comparison to his other ones we have seen.  That being said, there were some very funny moments, and - as in all his shows - some very moving and poignant moments.  Still amazing to see how he coordinates all the puppets too (he does all the voices and movement of the puppets himself).  Even though this show doesn't live up to his others, if you haven't seen his stuff before, you will probably still be blown away.  So if you are lucky enough to have him perform where you live, I urge you to go see him.

Here is an interview with him about Penny Plain:

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Spiced Parsnip Pancakes with Maple Cream Cheese Drizzle

This was another culinary accident gone right.  They are LITERALLY pan-cakes because I baked them in cake pans.

I was attempting to make parsnip waffles forgetting that any time I have ever tried to add fruit or veggies to my waffle batter, they end up sticking to my waffle iron and making a huge mess.  After scraping the first one off, I was stumped as to what to do with the rest of the batter.  The flavour was amazing and I didn't want to waste it.  The obvious solution was pancakes, but frustrated by this time, I was in no mood to haul out my skillet and start flipping a million pancakes.  So instead, I scraped the batter into 2 greased, 8-inch cake pans and stuck them into the oven.

This ended up being a delicious accidental discovery: Make ahead baked pancakes for an easy breakfast, brunch or dessert!  Just warm in the oven (or even microwave) before serving if you make them ahead of time.  You can either serve it in wedges or go totally crazy and serve it like a layer "cake" with some of the topping in the middle and some on top, or adding your own twist (greek yogurt, stewed or fresh fruit, etc.).  Or, simply pour batter onto a griddle or skillet and cook up regular pancakes.

If you are not a fan of parsnips (I've become obsessed with these yummy veggies!), I am sure they will work with carrots too. 

1/2 tsp canola oil
2 lb parsnips
Fresh grated nutmeg

2 cups Bob's Red Mill 10 grain or buttermilk waffle and pancake mix (both are whole grain and have no added sugar or sweeteners)
1/4 cup sugar, or equivalent amount of alternative granular sweetener (I used powdered stevia)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbls fresh grated ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
4 whole eggs or 8 egg whites
2.5 cups water or milk (dairy or non-dairy)

Take half of parsnips and cut into even sized strips.  Toss with oil and nutmeg and roast on a foil-lined baking sheet for 30 minutes at 350F.  Let cool and then puree (does not have to be totally smooth).  Finely grate the rest of the parsnips (I did this in food processor).  Whisk together all the ingredients in a large bowl.  Pour into 2 well greased 8-inch round cake pans (or a 9x11 pan).  Bake at 350F for 30 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.  Let cool completely before removing from pans.  Cut into wedges to serve.

Maple Cream Cheese Drizzle

2 tbls coconut oil, melted and cooled
2 tbls cream cheese
2 tbls maple syrup

Whisk together oil, cream cheese and syrup and then spoon over pancake wedges.

Friday, February 17, 2012

S.A.D.

This winter has been one of the mildest I can remember.  The trees here in Toronto are so confused, I have seen some already sprouting buds.  There has been a notable absence of snow and the usual bitter cold temperatures.  Torontonians have been taking advantage of this by cycling and jogging like crazy through winter months that typically have harsh weather making these activities much more difficult.  Turns out they are definitely on the right track for staying healthy during the winter season.

Given our fortune (probably misfortune for the environment), it seems ridiculous to complain about the weather.  Yet inspite of the mild temperatures and lack of precipitation, I find myself nevertheless affected by the bleak, grayness of winter.

This is relatively new for me.  I have never been a fan of Toronto's hot, humid summers, but it is only a few years ago that the winters also started to bother me.  While the heat makes me crabby and agitated, the lack of sunshine in winter and the cold temperatures can easily suck me down into a vortex of negativity.

This response to winter weather is not uncommon.  Researchers estimate that 3% of people in temperate climates experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), characterized by regularly occurring depressions in winter with a remission the in spring or summer. Along with depressed mood, SAD is associated with increased appetite and an increased duration of sleep during the winter months, and is more prevalent in women.


It has been proposed that neurotransmitters are the biological mechanism responsible for SAD, in particular, a dysfunction in the serotonin system.  Circadian rhythm changes have also been implicated.
There is evidence that SAD can be treated using light therapy whereby individuals sit in front of a light box, exposed to 2000–10,000 lux for 30–120min daily during the winter. Other forms of therapy for SAD are exercise, anti-depressant medications, and cognitive-behavioural therapy.

Given that I already take an anti-depressant to control anxiety, and I exercise every day, I am thinking about trying light therapy.  Winter is also the only time of year that I will attend bikram (hot) yoga classes.  I discovered how therapeutic these classes can be last winter.  Doing a rigorous yoga practice in a room heated to 40C proved very effective in lifting my spirits on bitterly cold, grey days.

If you suffer from SAD, I encourage you to speak with your doctor about the most appropriate treatment for you, and if you are currently sedentary, discuss with him/her beginning an exercise program.  In contrast to light therapy, physical activity has numerous other physical and mental health benefits.

Other interesting health-related information to chew on:

A large-scale Canadian study found some worrisome trends among our nation's youth:  Between grades 6 and 10, low mood and regular periods of depression increase significantly, particularly among girls.  It also found that one third of youth in this age range who are a healthy weight believe they are too fat, and 25% of boys and 30% of girls wish they were someone else.  Less than one fifth of youth meet Canada's guidelines for physical activity, and half do not consume fruits and vegetables on a daily basis.

William Broad, an investigative reporter for The New York Times, has just published a book about yoga titled: The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards.  In it, he addresses many myths surrounding yoga such as it is a completely safe form of activity (you can injure yourself, potentially seriously, just like with most activities), it can help you lose weight (not much fat/calorie burning power), and comfirms the truths, such as yoga has physical and mental health benefits.  Unfortunately, the Toronto Star gave their interview with Broad the headline: Yoga can lower blood pressure, spice of sex - and kill you, which, in typical fashion of media reporting of health issues, over-emphasizes the fact that Broad found evidence that people have experienced strokes while doing yoga poses that involve extreme flexion of the neck.  I wouldn't be too concerned about this and certainly would not let this be a reason to avoid doing yoga.  But it is important to make sure you practice with a knowledgeable teacher and be cautious about engaging in any risky poses.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Passion

Since Valentine's Day was just yesterday, you probably think this post is all about something hot and steamy.

Nope, sorry...I'm talking about a different kind of passion today. 

The passion that you have for an activity, philosophy, belief, or practice.  We all have one in us somewhere.  Maybe it's writing, maybe it's cooking, maybe it's gardening.  Perhaps it's being a mom or dad, doing yoga, or travelling around the world.  Your passion could be knitting, painting, taking in abadoned animals or fighting for the rights of a marginalized group of people.  And you are not limited to just one.  Many of us have multiple passions that drive us every day, give our lives meaning and provide us with spiritual and emotional fulfillment. Really, the possibilities are endless! 

I have always been told that if you follow your passions, you will be successful.  So far, this seems to be coming true for me!

If I had to name my passions, they would be (in no particular order):

*Inspiring health and well-being
*Teaching fitness classes
*Physical activity
*Cooking and baking
*Counselling/working to decrease stigma around infertility and support people going through it

Of course, it's this last one on the list I have dedicated my life to these past few years. 

My expectation has been to begin my own private counselling practice, because jobs in the field are few and far between.  The problem is, launching a practice takes a lot of patience and ability to tolerate risk and uncertainty...I lack both!

So I am crazy thrilled that I seem to have landed a job at a fertility clinic here in Toronto!  I can't give any more details at this point, because there is still a lot that has to be worked out, but it is really a dream come true for me.  It means I will get to do more of what I am passionate about (counselling, helping others, bringing awareness to the world about the emotional toll of infertility) and worry less about the other stuff (marketing, advertising, hustling to get clients, making an income, etc.).

It was a big risk I took a few years ago, quitting the corporate world, going back to school, and pursuing a new career in an entirely different direction, and it hasn't been easy.  I have agonized over the loss of income and being forced to start at the bottom again at this stage in my life.  I've been extremely uncomfortable being completely financially dependant on Adam and often questionned whether I did the right thing, and whether I would ever reach my goal.

Yet here I am, and I am so grateful that I will be able to now build a career on one of my passions.  Not everyone has the opportunity to do so, so I consider myself very lucky.

That being said, you don't have to make a career out of your passions in order for them to give you pleasure.  You just need to nurture them in whatever way you can.  Are you nurturing your passions?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Smokey Maple Beans

It's Valentine's Day, the day celebrating love.  Is there anything better than true love?  What is TRUE LOVE, you ask?

Forget what you learned in The Princess Bride.

True love is about finding someone with whom you feel like you can really be yourself.  You know, like you can pass gas around and not have to ruffle the bed sheets or blame it on the dog, but instead, take pride in your bodily functions.  Apparently I am part of a very close-knit, loving family!

Hey, we all do it!  According to Dr. Oz, we all do it at least 14 times a day!

So instead of paper hearts or chocolate hearts this February 14th, why not make your sweetie something that's good for the one beating in his/her chest?  You know, a dish that includes that wonderous musical fruit?

This recipe is easy, inexpensive, delicious and versatile.  You can use it as a filling for wraps, like I did, or serve it sloppy joe-style on a whole grain bun, as a nutritious vegan meal, along with a salad and whole grain rolls or corn bread, or as a tasty side-dish.

I used truRoots sprouted beans - which are easier to digest, meaning they may produce less music than other forms of beans, but you can easily use 1 cup of dry, regular beans that you have cooked, or 1 can of beans.

Smokey Maple Beans

1/2 cup sprouted beans (or 1.5 cups cooked navy beans or 1 can navy beans, rinsed and drained)*
1.5 cups water

1/2 tsp olive oil
1 cooking onion, minced (I did it in food processor)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp smoked paprika or a few drops liquid smoke
1/4 tsp kosher salt
Cayenne pepper, to taste (optional)
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 tbls cider vinegar
1 tbls maple syrup
1 can tomato paste

If using sprouted beans, combine beans and water in a sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.  Cover pot, remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes.  Drain remaining liquid.

Meanwhile, in a skillet or frying pan, saute onion, garlic, peppers and spices in oil over medium heat (be careful not to let garlic burn!).  Add beans and once peppers have started to soften, add vinegar and syrup.  Cook for another few minutes and then reduce heat to low.  Stir in tomato paste.  Cook for another few minutes and adjust seasonings to taste.

*Feel free to sub whatever kind of bean you prefer or have on hand.  My sprouted bean mix is actually a combo of mung beans, lentils and adzukis, but navy is what you would typically use.

Have a healthy, musical Valentine's Day!

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Little Things

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day, which unless you are living under a rock in North America, you already knew.

The grocery stores, dollar stores, pharmacies, card stores, jewellers, lingerie stores, liquor stores, candy shops, and flower shops make sure you are aware of this!

While I like the idea of a day that celebrates love, I hate that like pretty much all holidays, it has become tied to consumption and materialism.  Is love really about diamonds, champagne, chocolate, flowers, and cards? No, of course not!

I also don't think that grand gestures made on specific days of the year or occasions (rose petals sprinkled everywhere, candlelight dinner on a rooftop - not possible here in February anyways!, love song serenades - my hubby's not the greatest singer..., horsedrawn carriage rides, white doves, etc) are necessary.

To me, it's the little things that are done every day that mean the most, and I think the rest of my family feels that way too.

When Adam remembers to organize the garbage/recycling/compost, fills the car with gas, and gets Big A's swim bag packed for her lesson before he goes away travelling for work, I am reminded of why he is so special: he goes out of his way to try and make things easier for me because he appreciates how difficult it is for me to manage things with the girls when I'm on my own so much.  And that's how he is all the time.  Helpful, thoughtful and caring.

On the days that I actually remember to make Adam's lunch for him to take to work the next day, he is so grateful, I think it means more to him than any bauble, trinket or gadget I can buy.  He is so tired in the evening after a long day, that he loves being able to crawl into bed even 10 minutes earlier.

A few months ago, I slipped a little love note (scribbled quickly on a folded up piece of scrap paper) into Big A's lunch bag, along with her snack for the day.  When I picked her up from daycare later on, she gushed about how much she loved the note, and how happy it made her.  I now do it for her every day.  It takes 2 seconds, it gets her to practice her reading skills (I write something different each time), and it makes her incredibly happy.

Whenever Little A is watching television (which is too often!), she asks me to come and sit with her so we can snuggle.  This is hard for me to do because (1) I am usually busy trying to get something done, and (2) I hate sitting in front of kid shows, they are so annoying!  But lately I have realized that if I can take even a 5-10 minute break, and even if I bring a few sections of the newspaper to read while I sit there and cuddle with her, it can change her whole mood.  It makes her so happy!


Last week there was an article in the paper about how the latest trend is proposal consultants - individuals you hire to help you plan and execute your marriage proposal.  Seriously?  It's not about money or over-the-top gestures.  To me this is just further evidence of our culture's distorted values.  I wonder how different the world would look if we were more concerned with being kind to each other on a regular basis instead of acquiring STUFF?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Mixed Greens with Cranberries, Toasted Pecans and Apple Butter Vinagrette

My parents are here for the weekend and for the first time EVER since we've had kids, we attempted a real sit-down dinner with them at our dining room table. 

Aside from Little A refusing to eat the grown-up meal (balsamic glazed trout, brown rice with spinach, tomato, garlic and lemon, and this salad) in lieu of Life Choices chicken nuggets, it was pretty successful.  Normally we end up sitting in the kitchen with the kids and my parents at the kitchen table and Adam and/or one of the kids squeezed around the IKEA kiddie table.  This was much more civilized!

Salad

142g organic mixed greens or baby romaine
1/2 cup toasted pecans
1/2 cup dried cranberries


Apple Butter Vinagrette

2 tbls no-sugar apple butter
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp honey or agave syrup
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste

Toss salad ingredients in a large bowl.  Whisk together all ingredients for dressing in a medium bowl.  Slowly pour in vinegar, continuing to whisk until dressing is creamy and emulsified.  Thin out with apple juice or water, if desired.  Extra dressing will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

The "C" Word

Do you have a fear or phobia?

I really don't like insects and I'm extremely scared of bees and wasps, but I don't really think I have anything that would constitute a phobia...except, perhaps dying. I mean, I know we all die, but I mean more like dying prematurely. I suspect that most parents hold this fear, to some extent, because you worry who will look after your family, and you worry about not having the chance to see your children grow up.

Related to my fear of premature death is my fear of cancer.

Even as a young child, it's threat to life seemed to loom large. It seemed like a mysterious disease that always ended in extreme pain, suffering and death. It also seemed to strike randomly, as everyone seemed to have a story about a young, healthy person in the prime of their life who died tragically from cancer.

Both my grandfathers died of cancer and a childhood friend's mom died of cancer too. Even children died of cancer. A close friend of mine lost a friend of hers to leukemia when we were very young.

My own cancer scare came when I was 18. I got a call from the nurse at my doctor's office saying that my routine pap had come back showing abnormal cells severe enough to warrant localized surgery (actually, lacking any proper interpersonal skills she told me I "might have cervical cancer". This incident terrified me and made me acutely aware of the fragility of life and the threat posed by cancer, and this was reinforced by my mother's breast cancer diagnosis in 1998.

The randomness of many cancers was always what frightened me most. It always seems like most chronic illnesses can be avoided through healthy living, but some cancers just seemed to strike without reason, no matter how a person lives. Nevertheless, my cancer scare and my mothers' diagnosis prompted me to go into research mode - always the control freak, I was determined to find a way to manage my risk. Even back then, there WAS evidence of links between lifestyle and some cancers. I was talking about the dangers of trans fat and the link between alcohol and breast cancer YEARS before I ever saw anything about it in the media. The data has been around for a long time now.

Unfortunately, her diagnosis did not inspire my mother to change her lifestyle dramatically. She still drinks alcohol, which I don't think she should, and she still maintains a higher than healthy body weight. But after a few years of constant nagging and fighting, I realized I was powerless to make her change and she had to live her life her way.

She is not the only one. I have a close friend who was diagnosed with colon cancer when we were 32. It runs in his family, which is his primary risk factor, but my friend is also not one to be too concerned with living a healthy lifestyle. He is physically active and doesn't smoke, but when it comes to food: he lives for red meat and fois gras. Since having cancer this has not changed despite research showing that red meat consumption is a strong predictor of colon cancer reoccurrences. I worry about him, of course, but I have to accept that this is his choice to make.

For myself, my philosophy has always been I don't want to ever say "What if?" As in, if I am struck down by some terrible disease, would I wonder if I could have prevented it? For that reason, I have never smoked or spent time tanning, and I am committed to eating healthfully, exercising regularly, limiting my alcohol intake, and getting sufficient sleep.

Now my friend who had colon cancer does not have children and I wonder if that's what the difference is. I can think of nothing worse than not being able to watch my children grow up. But then again, what about my mom? And my father too, has been overweight most of his life and has never shown much concern for his health when it comes to his food consumption and weight.

Given my fears about cancer, I was very excited by some breakthroughs announced this week.

First, researchers have discovered that ovarian cancer, an often deadly cancer, begins in the fallopian tubes, which means it can now be diagnosed and treated much earlier and may save many women's lives.

Also, fasting before and after chemotherapy may starve cancerous tumours and increase the effectiveness of treatment.

In addition, the Nutrition Action Healthletter, from the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, has a story in their January/February issue about how to lower your risk of various cancers through diet, weight and exercise.

Here is a summary of their findings:

                                                          Ways to Reduce Your Risk:


                     Diet & Smoking                      Weight                                     Exercise

Breast            Avoid alcohol                         Maintain healthy weight           Get regular exercise

Colon/rectum Avoid red/processed meats,   Maintain healthy weight           Get regular exercise
                     get calcium & Vit D

Esophagus    Limit alcohol and red meat,     Maintain healthy weight
                    do not smoke

Lung            Get sufficient B-6,   
                     do not smoke


Ovarian        Eat mostly plant-based diet    Maintain healthy weight           Get regular exercise

Pancreas      Do not smoke                        Maintain healthy weight

Prostate       Don't take calcium suppl,       Maintain healthy weight            Get regular exercise
                     limit ALA intake


Uterine        Maintain healthy weight

One of my greatest motivations for living a healthy lifestyle is doing what I can to reduce my risk of cancer.  Yes, some cancer risk is genetically-based, some seems random, some are due to environmental factors beyond our control.  But personally, I never want to be in a "what if" situation. 
 
In 2011, there were about 75,000 cancer deaths in Canada, about 1/3 of which Health Canada estimates could have been prevented if no one smoked, while another 1/3 could have been prevented with weight loss, exercise and healthier eating.  That is both frightening and encouraging at the same time.  It means we CAN fight the war on cancer, but it will require a massive change in the lifestyle of Canadians.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Berryful Breakfast Bread Pudding

This recipe looks, sounds and tastes decadent, but is actually healthy enough to make the perfect power breakfast. It's loaded with protein, calcium, fibre and vitamins. Of course, it can also be a healthy dessert, if you so desire.

Either way, this is a great recipe to serve your loved ones on February 14th. Not only is it delicious, it's pink, thanks to all the berries, and pink is a very popular colour in our house!

It can be made ahead and even frozen until you want to serve it.

2 cups skim milk or non-dairy milk (I used unsweetened, plain almond milk)
2 cups non-fat Greek yogurt
2 eggs
Granular sweetener equivalent to 1/2 cup sugar(Splenda, xylitol, stevia, coconut crystals or regular sugar)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract (optional)
1 large loaf of whole grain bread, cubed
1.5 lbs fresh or frozen berries (I used a mix of strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and raspberries)

Warm milk over medium heat until bubbly. Remove from heat. Meanwhile, place eggs, yogurt, sweetener and extracts in a medium bowl and lightly whisk together. Add warm milk to egg mixture, no more than 1/2 cup at a time, whisking constantly to avoid cooking eggs. Stir together bread cubes and berries in a large bowl and pour liquid mixture over top. Stir well, making sure all the bread is well coated.

Preheat oven to 350F. Fill your kettle and boil enough water to fill the bottom of a large roasting pan. Grease oven safe dish (I used 2 oval Corningware dishes) and scrape in bread pudding. Place dish or dishes inside roasting pan (I used a foil one) and place on middle rack of your oven. Carefully pour hot water into roasting pan so that at least 1/3 of pudding dishes are covered. After 20 minutes, place foil over top of puddings if tops have sufficiently browned. Continue baking for another 25 minutes, or until centre is set and toothpick comes out clean.

Carefully remove pudding(s) from roasting pan, then carefully remove water-filled roasting pan and when water has cooled, pour it out. Serve warm or cold, plain or with berry sauce.

Berry sauce (optional)

1.5 lbs fresh or frozen berries
Juice and zest of 1 naval orange
1 tbls arrowroot or corn starch

Place berries and zest in sauce pan over medium heat. Meanwhile, whisk together juice and starch. Once berries are starting to soften, add juice mixture and turn heat down to low. Once sauce thickens, remove from heat. Let cool and serve over bread pudding.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Let's Talk

This January, Bell launched it's second annual "Let's Talk" campaign to address the stigma surrounding mental illness. Today is the program's official "Let's Talk Day".

The issue of stigma is of great concern because it creates shame and misunderstanding about mental illness and prevents many people from seeking help.

1-in-5 Canadians will experience mental illness at some point in their lives. At any given time, over 3 million Canadians are struggling with major depression!

Unfortunately, there is a great deal of fear surrounding mental illness, which tends to only be reinforced by the media. Coverage tends to focus on the extremist cases which has created the misconception that individuals struggling with mental illness are all unstable, violent, threatening and dangerous.

Just this week in Toronto we are hearing about the young man killed by police after leaving the Toronto East General Hospital wielding scissors. He reportedly stabbed someone prior to his confrontation with the police. Little is known, however, about the mental health status of this man at the time.

According to an article in the opinion section of the Star today, Toronto police officers received training last week, organized by the Toronto Police Services Board mental health subcommittee, to address the misperceptions the police have about "emotionally disturbed persons." That is a step in the right direction!

The Bell initiate is a 5-year multimillion dollar program providing support for mental health ventures across Canada. Today, Bell will donate 5 cents for every text message or long-distance call made on the Bell system to the program.

Canadian Olympic cyclist, Clara Hughes, is the spokesperson for the campaign, which is, perhaps why the story about the initiative was relegated to the front of the sports sections in both the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail today. A pity since, if like me, you tend to toss away the sports sections without a second glance, you'd miss it altogether. There are paid advertisements from Bell about it in the middle of the front sections of both paper, but again, I am sure like me, many people don't pay much attention to ads.

Fortunately, Canada AM did a story about the campaign this morning, and TSN broadcaster, Michael Landsberg's documentary about depression airs tonight on CTV at 7pm. In it, well known athletes share their stories about battling depression. I hope that this demonstrates to Canadians that depression and mental illness is not a sign of weakness or something to be feared or ashamed of, and encourages them to get help if they need it.

Even as someone who now works as a mental health professional, I understand the courage it takes to admit struggling with mental illness. I have battled anxiety, to various degrees, probably for most of my life. My mother said I began showing signs of anxiety when I was 3, when we moved to England for a year for my father's sabbatical at Cambridge University. My parents thought it was due to the stress of moving to a new environment. But it did not end when we returned from England.

What is fortunate for me, is that I was willing to seek help as a teenager when I was going through a particularly difficult period. I have sought counselling on and off ever since, when I have felt like I needed help. Mostly this has been in the form of psychotherapy, but I have also been on and off various anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications. Since my post-partum anxiety crisis after Little A was born, I have been taking Effexor, an anti-depressant that is very effective for treating anxiety, and it has changed my life. No more intrusive thoughts, no more insomnia, no more chronic worrying. If I have to be on it for the rest of my life, so be it. Yet even so, I am always fearful to disclose this fact when asked in various situations whether or not I take any medications. I do worry what people will think.

Why do I struggle with anxiety? Is it genetic? My mother is an anxious person. Is it a biological defect that throws my brain chemistry of kilter? Is it because we went to England when I was 3? Is it because I was brought up in a home with parents with exacting standards who put immense pressure on my brother and I to succeed?

Although there are still many questions that are yet to be answered about mental illness, a growing body of research supports the diathesis-stress model. Essentially, there is reciprocal causation involved. In other words, biology affects emotions, thoughts and behaviours, which affect our experiences, and our experiences can actually alter our biology. A person may have inherent vulnerabilities or risk factors, which combined with an environmental trigger, lead to the development of a mental illness.

For more information about the campaign visit: http://letstalk.bell.ca/en/

Monday, February 6, 2012

Vegan Egg Salad

Some people - like my husband - are happy to eat the same things every day. Others crave variety in their diet. I guess I fall somewhere in the middle.

I am more than happy to eat oatmeal EVERY SINGLE DAY for breakfast. I never get sick of it. I never am not in the mood for it.

But when it comes to lunch and dinner, I want variety.

For the past two years while I've been in school, I got into the habit of taking a midday break from working at my desk and whipping up some fairly elaborate lunches for myself. Adam would often come home and tease me about how many pots, pans and dishes I used.

But as I slowly make my way back into the working outside the home world, I need more quick and portable lunch options. That being said, I am still determined NOT to resort to eating the same thing every day.

I don't know how Adam does it. EVERY DAY for lunch at work he has raw veggies, 2 apples, a Clif bar or other similar snack, a few handfuls of nuts, a bit of chocolate and either: hummus, turkey or PB&J sandwich. He doesn't even vary the kind of jam he uses! Only strawberry for this man. Personally, I'd go crazy from so much repetition. But my rather particular sweetie refuses to take anything that is (1) messy, or (2) requires a knife or fork.

In my quest to broaden my quick and portable lunch options I decided to try and make a mock egg salad using tofu. Why? Believe it or not, even though I've never had this before, I developed a craving...I didn't know it was possible to crave something you've never had! But hey, I've never claimed to be normal.

No matter, I was very pleased with the result. It is kind of reminiscent of egg salad, but tasty and satisfying in its own right. So whether or not eggs are a part of a diet, here is another healthy, delicious lunch option to add to your roster!

Lately, any time I am making a recipe with tofu, I use Wildwood's organic, sprouted tofu. It's easier to digest than regular tofu, but any extra firm tofu will do.

Vegan Egg Salad

1/2 lb extra firm tofu, drained and mashed with a fork
2-3 tbls Veganaise or other mayo-type dressing
1 tbls pickle relish
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
Salt and pepper, to taste

Mash tofu in a medium sized bowl. Add all other ingredients and mix well. Serve on bread or whole-grain crackers, or stuffed into a pita or wrap. Serves 2.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Sweet Potato Coconut Curry

Recent research studies have found that if vegetable and fruit purees are added to various foods, it lowers the overall calorie content and leads people to consume significantly fewer calories without knowing it.

I thought this would be a good trick to employ last night because I made dinner for my father. My father LOVES eating, and rarely shows any concern for his health when it comes to what and how much is on his plate.

He doesn't eat junk food, but he's a real foodie who appreciates good quality food of every variety. The only thing he is known NOT to love to eat so much are certain veggies, which, my mom complains, he will only eat when covered in sauce.

So I bulked up this already nutritous, comforting, hearty dish with some finely grated cabbage, cooked into it at the beginning and really undetectable by the end. The result is a warming, aromatic, creamy, satisfying dish, perfect for a cold winter night.

1 tsp olive oil
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
1 cauliflower, cut into florets
Salt and pepper, to taste

1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 large piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
About 1/4 head green cabbage, finely shredded (I used food processor)
1 tbls garam masala
1/2 tsp turmuric
1/2 tsp salt
Cayenne pepper, to taste (optional)
1/4 cup cider vinegar
I can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 can light coconut milk
1-2 cups water

Place sweet potato chunks on a foil lined baking sheet and toss with a bit of oil, salt and pepper. Do the same with cauliflower and place it on another baking sheet. Place both in the oven at 350F with cauliflower on top rack and roast for about 30 minutes. For a totally smooth, creamy curry, dump sweet potato in food processor for a few seconds, otherwise skip this step if you would like to leave it a bit chunky.

Meanwhile, saute onion, ginger and garlic in oil over medium heat until onion is softened. Add cabbage, vinegar and spices and continue cooking for another 5 minutes or so. Add chickpeas and coconut milk and turn heat down to medium low. Add sweet potato and roasted cauliflower and simmer until the sweet potato has melted into the sauce (will still be a bit chunky if you didn't puree it). Thin out to desired consistency with water. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve over brown basmati rice. Makes 4-6 servings. Leftovers can be frozen.

Research reference:

Hidden vegetables: an effective strategy to reduce energy intake and increase vegetable intake in adults

Alexandria D Blatt, Liane S Roe, and Barbara J Rolls

Background: The overconsumption of energy-dense foods leads to excessive energy intakes. The substitution of low-energy-dense vegetables for foods higher in energy density can help decrease energy intakes but may be difficult to implement if individuals dislike the taste of vegetables.

Objective: We investigated whether incorporating puréed vegetables to decrease the energy density of entrées at multiple meals reduced daily energy intakes and increased daily vegetable intakes.

Design: In this crossover study, 20 men and 21 women ate ad libitum breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the laboratory once a week for 3 wk. Across conditions, entrées at meals varied in energy density from standard versions (100% condition) to reduced versions (85% and 75% conditions) by the covert incorporation of 3 or 4.5 times the amount of puréed vegetables. Entrées were accompanied by unmanipulated side dishes. Participants rated their hunger and fullness before and after meals.

Results: Subjects consumed a consistent weight of foods across conditions of energy density; thus, the daily energy intake significantly decreased by 202 ± 60 kcal in the 85% condition (P < 0.001) and by 357 ± 47 kcal in the 75% condition (P < 0.0001). Daily vegetable consumption significantly increased from 270 ± 17 g of vegetables in the 100% condition to 487 ± 25 g of vegetables in the 75% condition (P < 0.0001). Despite the decreased energy intake, ratings of hunger and fullness did not significantly differ across conditions. Entrées were rated as similar in palatability across conditions. Conclusions: Large amounts of puréed vegetables can be incorporated into various foods to decrease the energy density. This strategy can lead to substantial reductions in energy intakes and increases in vegetable intakes. This trial was registered at clinicaltrials.gov as NCT01165086.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Eye Opener

My eyes have been bugging me for years. First I began noticing that I couldn't see things far away. That was about 1998, and so I got glasses in 1999.

But as a very active person, and perhaps somewhat vain one too, I hated wearing glasses. They get dirty, they're a pain to wear when exercising, and I hated the way they made me look. So a few years later I switched to contact lenses.

But I had difficulty with contacts right from the start because of my stigmatism and extremely dry eyes. It's always been a challenge for my eye doctor to find lenses for me that fit properly and are comfortable and over the years I've tried a zillion different kinds.

After suffering from repeated eye infections and contemplating, and then ruling out laser eye surgery, I switched to daily wear lenses last year and the situation improved...somewhat.

I have not had any eye infections since I made the change, but I continue to suffer from very dry eyes, which means I wake up feeling like they are full of glue, and then when I go out into the cold, dry winter air, they run constantly (messing up my makeup!).

My doctor determined that the dryness is not because I have a low volume of tears, but because my tears are too thick. The cause of this is unclear, although she feels it may be related to my hypothyroid. My endocrinologist isn't convinced of this connection though.

Last year, my eye doctor suggested that I use moisturizing drops several times a day and rub my eyes with a hot compress in the shower every morning. I did this for...a week or two...and then stopped.

Why? Well, as I explained to her yesterday, I didn't think it was helping, and besides, once I ran out of the eye drop samples she gave me, I discovered they were crazy expensive, and since I wasn't convinced they were helping, I just gave up.

To say she was not impressed with me would be an understatement. She patiently explained to me that the drops are not likely to help if I am not regularly doing the hot compress in the shower. The hot compress wasn't working because...I was already wearing my contacts when I was doing it in the shower! This admission made her do a sharp intake of breath and she explained to me that wearing contacts in the shower is a BIG NO NO! It can lead to serious eye infections. Am I the only person who didn't know this?

The problem is, I work out before I shower every day and I hate wearing my glasses when I'm exercising. But clearly what I am doing is putting my eye health at risk.

Later, while sulking at home (because I couldn't see ANYTHING because of the damn drops she put in my eyes!) I thought about how it could be that I am so committed to other aspects of my health and wellbeing, but have not been good about protecting my sight. Not being able to see much, even for a few hours, drove me insane and made it extremely clear just how important my vision is to me.

I guess the nuisance of doing the things I had to do just didn't seem worth it when I didn't see any benefits right away. Suddenly a light bulb went on and I started to understand why so many people have difficulty committing to lifestyle changes. Why do so many people join a gym in January, only to go 4x week for 6 weeks and then never go again before their membership expires? They embark on a new activity expecting quick results and may not even be doing what they should be doing to get the results they are looking for! So they decide the effort isn't worth it and they give up.

So what's my point? I guess the point is that: if you are trying to adopt a new healthy behaviour, (1) give it time (it usually takes 6+ weeks for something to become a habit); (2) don't look for a quick fix - find changes you can make that you feel you can stick to long-term; and (3) ASK FOR HELP! If I had just called my eye doctor, I might have discovered sooner what I was doing wrong!!

Last night I decided to find a way to make it easier for me to maintain my eye health. I put a bottle of eye drops in our upstairs bathroom so I can use them each morning right before I put in my contacts immediately after waking. Then I put a contact lenses container and solution in the downstairs bathroom (where I shower) so that after my workout I can take them out before I get into the shower. I also put a washcloth in the shower so I can do the hot compress and another bottle of eye drops to use again, before putting my lenses back in following my shower.

I tried out this new system this morning, and truly all these extra steps in my morning routine did not take long at all. Besides, when I weigh the costs versus benefits of taking care of my eyes, it is absolutely worth it!

I am fortunate that it did not take a health crisis (a serious eye infection, or other thing causing permanent damage!) to bring me to this realization. Don't let it be a health crisis that opens your eyes to the importance of taking care of your health.

Do not overlook the importance of ocular health! You should have your eyes checked every year. In Ontario, OHIP covers an annual eye exam for persons aged 20 and under and those aged 65 and older. OHIP will also cover major eye exams once per year for individuals with any serious medical condition requiring regular eye exams.

If you have extended health insurance, your plan likely provides you for coverage for an annual eye exam. If you live in the GTA, Richmond's Hill's optician service, Optical Eye Works, is currently offering eye examss for $49 (regularly $70) from now until February 29th. Visit their website for more information: http://www.opticaleyeworks.ca/

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Fish Tacos

This is my new favorite lunch. Feel free to use corn tortillas, but personally I'm not a big fan, so I used some of my Flatout wraps (this made 4 large tacos, which for me made 2 lunches).

4 fillets firm white fish (halibut, haddock, pollock, etc.), about 1 lb
2 tsp chili powder
2 cloves garlic, minced
Juice and zest of 1 lime

1 red onion, thinly sliced
4 tbls cider vinegar

About 7oz/200g cole slaw mix, or 3 cups finely shredded cabbage
1/4 cup of your favorite salsa

1/4 cup low-fat mayo/Veganaise, etc.
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (optional)

Optional garnishes: fresh cilantro, avocado chunks, fresh chopped tomatos

4 corn tortillas or whole grain flour tortillas

Lay fish fillets on top of a foil lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with lime juice and zest, garlic and chili powder. Bake at 400F for 6-10 minutes (depending on thickness) until cooked through.

Saute onions with cider vinegar in a skillet over low/medium heat for about 20 minutes, until softened. Toss cooked onions with salsa and cole slaw.

In a blender or food processor, puree mayo with chipotle pepper, if using. If you don't like heat, use a tsp of chili powder to season mayo instead of chipotle pepper.

If you are using corn tortillas, cook in a dry skillet on both sides until they are cooked.

Spread tortillas with mayo. Place a fish fillet on top and then cover with desired amount of coleslaw and garnishes. Fold tortilla over and enjoy! Makes 4 large or 8 small (1/2 fillet in each) tacos.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Homemade Microwave Popcorn

I can't say I'm much of a popcorn lover. I like the taste and the tantalizing smell, but the way it squeaks when you eat it bugs me, and I hate the way it gets caught between my teeth. Besides, I'm not a big snack food eater. I'd much rather crunch raw carrots or apples than salty snacks. But compared with other alternatives, popcorn is a nutritional superstar! One quarter cup (unpopped) makes 5.5 cups of popcorn, and has 180 calories 7g fibre, 5g protein, and 2g fat. That beats most other snack foods for sure!

Nevertheless, nowadays, companies are coming up with all sorts of ways to market snack foods as healthy:

It really doesn't matter whether you bake, fry or pop most of this stuff, it's still largely empty, highly concentrated sources of calories with no nutritional value.

Popcorn, however, is different. It's a whole grain, and minimally processed. Air popped, it's low in calories and contains little sodium and no added sugar or fat. So I don't mind at all that everyone else in our home loves it.

Unfortunately, when Adam won an air popper a few years ago on the radio show he used to play, we gave it to my sister-in-law, because we have tons of appliances already and a dearth of available space. So Adam usually makes himself microwave popcorn, and I usually buy bags of popcorn at the health food store for the girls.

But neither or these options is ideal because most microwave popcorns you buy have added crap in them (many are loaded with trans fat!!) and the kind you buy in the health food store is expensive and often high in sodium.

So I was incredibly excited last week when I caught a few minutes of a cooking show on CBC television, where the host showed how you can make your own microwave popcorn and it couldn't be easier! All it takes is popping corn, a paper bag and a few staples. Staples apparently contain no aluminum, so they can go in the microwave!! I tried out this method with the girls the other night and it worked perfectly, we were all very pleased and the girls gobbled down every last piece. Inexpensive, easy, delicious!

Homemade Microwave Popcorn

1/4 cup popping corn
Small (lunch sized) paper bag
2 staples

Optional: 1 tbls butter, Earth Balance or Becel, melted + seasonings of choice (Herbamare, chili powder, curry powder, smoked paprika, cayenne, etc.)

Place corn in bag and fold over end. Staple the bag shut and place it in the microwave. Cook for about 90 seconds - 2 minutes (depending on how powerful your microwave is). Carefully open bag and dump out into a bowl. If desired, drizzle with melted butter, Earth Balance or Becel (or even coconut oil or olive oil) and sprinkle with seasonings. Enjoy!