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Monday, April 30, 2012

New Beginnings

Happy Monday!  Or is that an oxymoron?

Today is my first week working at the fertility clinic.  I am very excited despite things moving very slowly.  The clinic has just instituted the policy that new patients must attend a counselling session, so I suspect it may take a while to implement  the program and really get it up and running.  At least I get to be involved in it's development.

Fortunately, this exciting week was proceeded by a relatively sane, and actually quite lovely family weekend.  Admittedly it started off a bit rocky: Friday I visited a friend while Adam took the girls to his parents' place for dinner.  When they got home Little A was deliriously tired but was refusing to go to bed which led to a lot of drama.  At one point she defeated the door-knob child proofer and opened her bedroom door herself and came out to the hall in defiance.  Saturday morning began equally shaky with Little A refusing to eat her requested PB&H sandwich because I cut the bread wrong.  Big A also woke up at 6:15am just in time to watch me do my Insanity cardio DVD.  Nothing like sweating your butt off to commentary such as, "Mommy, that woman on the tv is jumping higher than you." "Can't you go any faster?" "What you are doing is so easy!" 

Our little early bird seems to be back into the habit of getting up at the crack of dawn (the last few months she settled into a 7am-ish wake-up time).  This morning it was 5:45am. Perfect, just what I need as life gets busier and I start a new job: my morning me-time, GONE!

Anyways, following Saturdays early morning challenges things improved.  We took the girls to the zoo, which was Little A's first visit, and we all had a great time.  It went much better than the one time we took Big A and she got bored and wanted to leave after 30 minutes.  We got almost 2 hours out of it before the girls began whining for lunch.  We actually managed to find them relatively healthy food to eat at the zoo (turkey and cheese wrap, carrots and dip, fresh fruit) before we left and went to Costco.  Both girls went to bed early and inspite of being exhausted from a busy day (we were out from about 9:45am until almost 4pm), they were in good spirits and cooperative right up until they went to sleep. 

Sunday Little A went to my niece's birthday party while Big A was at Hebrew School and her Fit Kids program at the JCC and I was teaching my spin class.  Even though Little A ran around for hours at the party and exhausted herself, she was still in a great mood when my in-laws brought her home.    They were certain she would nap, but she was, of course, unwilling to even have quiet time in her room.

When Adam went off to his book club meeting at 2:30pm, Little A and I played in the kitchen and shared my lunch while Big A played Barbies quietly in her room.  When Adam came home at 4pm, Big A was STILL in her room playing quietly and Little A was still in a good mood, although she was tired enough to need a tv break at this point.  It is very rare for Big A to spend so much time playing by herself and for Little A to be in such a good mood for such a long period of time when she doesn't nap (which she never does anymore).  I actually saw glimmers of the pre-terrible 2 Little A, who used to be so loving, happy and joyful all the time.  We had so much fun playing together!  I can't wait until she comes back to us for good...assuming that happens before she becomes a teen and decides she hates us all. 

Unfortunately, Little A is actively resisting potty training.  This might not bother me so much if she wasn't also refusing to walk around in a dirty diaper.  Now, the minute she even pees, she wants us to change her IMMEDIATELY, no matter where we are or what we are doing.  I suppose this may eventually work to our advantage in terms of convincing her to potty train, but right now it's just a major pain and she is stubbornly refusing to even go near the toilet or potty.  I am going to speak with her daycare teachers this week and see what they suggest in terms of incentives...

At least I have my new career to focus on.  I am so excited to get more deeply involved in the infertility world and will post more about my work in the future.  I have submitted another abstract to the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society and hope to present it at their next conference in September.  I am also doing some outreach activities for Infertility Awareness Week towards the end of May.    I still might be barely bringing in any income (since graduating in December I've been seeing clients for counselling a few times a week (some fertility related, but most not), but haven't bothered to do much marketing for my private practice), but at least I am doing work that is meaningful and rewarding to me AND at least I am fortunate enough to be in a financial position to allow me to do this.  Imagine, never dreading a Monday again because you actually love your work!  I am one lucky girl!!

Friday, April 27, 2012

NYC 2012

I just got back from spending 4 days in New York to visit my grandma Ruth.  Not surprisingly, she has declined since my visit last year.  She still knows who I am, and the first day was relatively energetic, but the rest of the trip she was extremely sleepy and fuzzy-headed and not up to much socializing. 
She is 94, but it still seems so unfair that her quality of life has become so poor.  And she is still one of the lucky ones!  My grandmother's nursing home is supposedly one of the best in the New York area, and still I find it depressing, cold and institutional.  How much pleasure can one get living in such a place, eating - what looked like - yucky food - and being cared for by people who don't know you or your past life enough to be able to put your quirks and foibles into the context of who you once were?  If only we could all live in our own homes right to the end, being cared for by loved ones.  Of course, this is completely unrealistic for most people.  Few of us are in a position to devote our lives to caring for our aging relatives, nor can we afford to hire round-the-clock care-givers to take care of them.  It's a sad reality.

All this unpleasantness aside, it was still nice to get the chance to see my grandma again, something I wasn't sure would happen last year when I thought I might be visiting her for the last time.  Also, I managed to spend some time enjoying the wonderful city and even getting a bit of R&R.

I just adore Manhattan.  The energy, the architecture, the pace, the diversity, the history, the people - who I find incredibly polite and friendly.  Even the grungy areas are as exciting and interesting to me as the glamourous ones.

The only thing I don't love is most of the chain grocery stores like D'Agostinos and Gristides, which I find have low quality products and high prices.  I've decided that the Food Emporium (www.thefoodemporium.com) is the best bet, when it isn't possible to get to a Whole Foods or Trader Joe's.  I even found a new product I fell in love with: Nasoya's new version of shiratake noodles!


They are better suited to Italian-style pasta dishes than the soy-free ones I buy here, but contain no tofu, just some potato-starch and chickpea flour, so they are still gluten-free.  I bought a few bags to cook up this week and I loved them!  Now the question is, when and if they will ever make their way to Canada!

On Tuesday while my grandma napped, I walked around the corner and got a fantastic foot and leg massage at the Blooming Nail Spa on 72nd street.  They are primarily a mani and pedi salon, but I just wanted some relief for my feet and legs which were paying the price for all my pavement pounding.  It was awesome, and I was able to get an appointment on the spot.

I made sure to stop in for a wrap from Energy Kitchen (www.energykitchen.com), one day, a great option for a healthy alternative to fast food when you are on the go, and I visited the great Dag Hammarskjold farmer's market that I discovered last year, held Wednesdays at the corner of 2nd Ave and 45th street (http://www.grownyc.org/daghammarskjoldgreenmarket).  I got some gorgeous mutsu apples, the size of bowling balls (big apples from the Big Apple, ha ha), and admired all the awesome produce, and locally and organically produced meats, cheeses and baked goods they had on offer.



Determined to get at least one strength training workout in this week, I took advantage of the free visit coupon from Crunch fitness (www.crunch.com) and checked out their club on 34th street, between 2nd and 2rd Avenues.  New Yorkers, if you live in the area, I highly recomment this gym!!  Clean and bright, they have an extensive array of quality cardio and strength equipment, as well as well-equipped changerooms and yoga, spin and group fitness studios.  Usually sticking to free weights, I changed things up and used their Freemotion equipment, which I fell in love with at the Can Fit Pro conference a few years ago.



I also went to see a movie while I was there, since I never do so at home.  I want to see Bully, but decided not to see it while feeling a bit down already about my grandma, nor by myself.  Instead, I chose the silly and very funny 21 Jump Street.  Holy F-K is this a funny movie!  I was in tears I was laughing so hard on several occasions.  Definitely a good bet if you want light, humourous entertainment.

I flew Porter airlines and, all things considered, had decent travelling experiences.  The flight leaving Toronto was delayed an hour, however, and there was bad turbulence.  After my experience with turbulence last time, and a repeat this time, I finally have to admit to myself that my hatred of flying goes beyond my dislike of confined spaces and being sedentary: I am terrified of crashing too!  Last time on the way home I screamed out loud during the turbulence, making everyone on the plane stare at me like I was some freak.  It was my first time flying Porter and with smaller planes, the turbulence is far more dramatic.  I anticipated it this time, but still was completely terrified.  On the trip home yesterday, famous author Margaret Atwood was on my flight.  This gave me some comfort since at least if we crashed, it would be an event that would gain notoriety (at least my family could say I died on the same flight as Atwood!).  As it turned out, there was no turbulence this time anyways, so I was spared any major panic attacks.

Ironically, I became smitten with the chicken burritos from Currito Burritos (www.currito.com) that I picked up at Newark Airport.  I got one after I arrived on Monday, and loved it so much, I picked up another on my way out yesterday.  The whole wheat burrito with grilled chicken was massive, satisfying and flavourful, thanks to sauteed onions, lots of fresh veggies, and several salsa options (I choose medium spicy and mango salsas), even though I passed on the tempting sour cream, cheese and guacamole.

As much as I adore New York, I'm glad to be home, but I definitely got pay-back this morning.  Little A screamed for 45 minutes straight (she wanted Adam, she didn't like the socks I put on her, then she didn't like her shirt, she didn't want to go to daycare, etc., etc.).  Also, after enjoying lovely weather in New York, it feels like winter today, and was even snowing a bit when I walked the girls to school.  WTF???  It's hard to believe a few weeks ago it felt like summer had arrived.

We have a quiet weekend thankfully, since next week my parents come in and we have the girls' joint birthday party with family, and the weekend after that is Big A's party for friends. 

Have a lovely weekend wherever you live!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Chicken Not Pie

Even as a kid I didn't really like pie, because as I've mentioned many times before, I hate pastry crust. I just can't think of a bigger waste of stomach space or empty calories.  The one exception was chicken pot pie.  I loved the filling, so I would mash the crust into the filling so that it was unidentifiable.

As a healthier alternative, I came up with  this recipe.  Rich, creamy and comforting, yet low in fat and packed full of veggies.  It's dairy-free for Adam since he is lactose intolerant and doesn't eat dairy and meat together.  You could easily veganize it by replacing the chicken with chickpeas, the chicken stock with veggie stock, and using vegan worcestershire sauce.  Make it gluten-free by replacing the flour with whatever gluten-free flour or thickener you have on hand.  You can also sub in whatever veggies you have on hand.  Leeks would go nicely in this, and any root veggies would make a nice addition too.

In terms of serving, there are many options too.  Scoop out the centre of whole grain buns to make bread bowls, and ladel this stew into them.  Or serve on it's own or over quinoa, like I did, or brown rice or other grain.  You could even serve it over noodles.

Of course, if you are a pie lover, by all means top this with a crust, but for goodness sakes, PLEASE make it whole grain.  No white-flour crap please!

Chicken Not Pie

2 tbls Earth Balance or butter
1 tsp olive oil
2 shallots, minced (I did this in food processor)
1 cup minced cabbage (I did this in food processor using big blade)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (or other flour or thickener)
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 cup non-dairy milk (I used plain organic soy), or dairy milk
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 small onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2+ cups chicken stock (or veggie stock)
1 lb skinless, boneless chicken breasts (or thighs), cut into bite sized pieces
1 bunch broccoli, cut into small florets
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large, deep skillet over medium heat melt Earth Balance or butter with oil.  Add in shallot, cabbage, garlic and thyme and saute for a few minutes.  Add in flour and cook for another minute or two.  Pour in milk and simmer until thickened.  Add remaining veggies and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Pour in stock and add diced chicken and broccoli florets.  Simmer until chicken is cooked through and broccoli is tender.  Add additional stock if you want to thin it out.  Season to taste.  Freezes well.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Healthier Chocolate Cake with Raspberry White Chocolate (pink!) Frosting

You know I couldn't leave well enough alone and make a straightforward, traditional birthday cake, right?  Come on, white flour NEVER finds it's way into this house, nor does artificial food colouring.  So the cake is pretty healthy for cake (no refined flour, no refined sugar) and the icing is...naturally coloured.  It IS a birthday cake after all, so the icing is full-on, over-the-top decadent and delicious.  Both are dairy free (for my hubby), and you could probably veganize the cake by replacing the eggs with flax eggs.
This was the perfect sized recipe for my daisy pan, which is probably equivalent to a 9x12 pan.  You could also probably make about 4 8-inch round layer cakes or a lot (?) of cupcakes.

Healthier Chocolate Cake

2 eggs
1.5 cups xylitol (or other sweetener)
1/2 cup agave syrup (or honey)
1 cup apple sauce
1/2 cup canola or safflower oil
1 cup non-dairy milk (I used unsweetened, plain soy)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp vinegar

3 cups whole grain kamut flour (or whole wheat pastry flour)
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease and lightly flour your pans.  Whisk together wet ingredients in a large bowl.  In a smaller bowl, whisk together dry ingredients.  Whisk dry ingredients into wet until well mixed.  Scrape batter into your pans and bake for 30-45 minutes (depending on what shape size pans you use), or until toothpick comes out clean.  Cupcakes will probably take less time.  Be careful not to overbake.  Let cool slightly, before removing from pans.  Cool completely on a wire rack before icing.

Raspberry White Chocolate Frosting

1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
1/2 cup + more non-dairy milk (plain or vanilla unsweetened)
1 cup good quality dairy-free white chocolate chips, melted
4+ cups icing sugar

Place raspberries in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to a boil and turn down heat, cooking until berries fall apart completely.  Remove from heat and whisk in 1/2 cup milk.  Push mixture through fine sieve into a medium sized bowl.  Beat together with chocolate and icing sugar.  Adjust amount of milk versus sugar until desired consistency is reached*.  Icing will harden somewhat as it cools.  If it hardens too much before icing the cake, beat in a bit more milk or microwave for about 15+ seconds until spreadable. 

*Personally, I like a really stiff icing, almost like fondant, but that's just me...

Little A insisted on helping me decorate, but I can't really blame her - cake decorating isn't my forte.  Nevertheless, Little A was thrilled with it.  Besides, I really don't care much about looks, I'm all about the taste and nutrition and this cake has both.  Regardless of it's 'healthier" status, it was a HUGE hit with both the adults and kids.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Little A's Big Day

Sunday - Earth Day - Little A turns 3.  She has turned into quite the little lady.  So different from her sister, yet similar in certain ways: strong personality, stubborn and opinionated.  As my mother always says, "Geez, I wonder where they get THAT from?"  Nothing to wonder about there!

I am bracing myself for a house full of 2 and 3 year olds tomorrow.  After recovering from my stomach bug last weekend, I came down with Big A's cold, and man is it a doozy!  I am so congested that I can't taste or smell ANYTHING.  Blah!  Hopefully I'll be better when I hope on the plane to New York on Monday.

Anyways, even though I'm feeling crumby, I have an endless list of things to do today.  I just pulled out the birthday cake (recipe and photos will eventually follow), and it looks great, but I'm nervous Little A won't be happy.  She has changed her mind SO MANY TIMES from cupcakes, to cake pops, to the current choice, that I can see her changing her mind again tomorrow when she sees her latest request.  Up until now she has wanted a vanilla cake, but just this morning she decided she wants chocolate instead.  The icing, however, still has to be pink, so I'll be experimenting later today to get the right hue without food colouring.  She has already decided that for next year, she wants rainbow cupcakes.  For THAT, I will spend the $18 and buy the natural food colourings I found online.  I don't know why, but I can't find them ANYWHERE in Toronto, not even Whole Foods carries them!

Also, after months of forbidding me from inviting any boys because boys are "scary", this week Little A decided that EVERYONE is welcome to come, and I mean EVERYONE.  She's been inviting everyone she sees, including our adult neighbours and our neighbours' cat.  I have tried to explain that it's too late for this party, but next year she can have a big co-ed affair if she pleases.

After all, we only got 10 bears from Build-a-Bear, and we have a smallish house so I think we've hit the limit for this party.  The guests arrive at 10:30am tomorrow and will then each get their own bear, and a t-shirt for the bear that they can decorate.  I bought ribbons, adhesive rhinestones and gems, stickers and other items for them  to use to decorate.  Then we will serve pizza (ordered from a place that does party pizzas with whole wheat crust!), fresh cut up veggies and fruit, and then the cake.  Then everyone goes home and I take a valium, a swig of vodka, or both.

Little A has decided that the donations we have requested from folks, instead of a gift, will go towards helping the animals at the Toronto Humane Society, which is no surprise given her love of animals.

Even if we survive tomorrow's soiree, it's not over yet!  May 5th we do the joint party for the girls with family, and May 12th is Big A's party.  Thank goodness birthdays only happen once a year!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Pear Ginger Spice Muffins

I love "breakfasty" foods and am happy eating them for any meal.  Whole grain waffles or pancakes are a frequent dinner for me, and muffins always make a great on-the-go lunch paired with a few hard-boiled eggs and fresh fruit or cut up veggies.

These were a delicious way to use the jar of Filsingers' pear sauce I got in the basket I won.  You can use apple sauce, if you can't get your hands on pear sauce, just make sure you use an unsweetened sauce.  

These are spicy, sweet, moist and delicious, but also low in fat and high in fibre.  Healthy and tasty is always the best combo!  Feel free to change around the spices based on your personal preferences.


Pear Ginger Spice Muffins

500ml jar pear sauce (about 2 cups)
4 egg whites
Granular sweetener equivalent to 1/2 cup sugar (Splenda, sucanat, coconut sugar, stevia, etc.)
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 small zucchini, finely grated (I threw them into the food processor)
Chunk of fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced or grated (I threw it into food processor with the zucchini), or sub 2 tsp dried, ground ginger
1/2 cup flax meal

3 cups whole wheat flour (or spelt flour)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom (optional)
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg (or fresh grated)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Whisk together wet ingredients in a large bowl.  Mix in flax meal.  Whisk together dry ingredients in a smaller bowl and then add to wet.  Stir, just until mixed.  Scrape batter into greased muffin tins.  Bake at 375F for about 20-26 minutes (depending on how big you make them) until a toothpick comes out clean.  Makes about 16 muffins.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Kids are Alright

When I say kids here, I am referring to a lot of things...Adam and I, the girls, my hamstrings, my eyes...

I haven't mentioned my tendonitis in a while because...it's all better!  I finally realized that after my initial improvement following the cortisone shots, I began to decline again once I started doing hill walking workouts.  Sigh!  As much as I love them, they just don't work for me anymore.  The awesome news is that I am now able to run without any knee pain!  I still limit my running, but a few runs under 30 minutes a week are not bothering me at all. Seems my second physiotherapist was right about the physio addressing my runners knee (too bad he was wrong about the physio helping my hamstring tendonitis).  So I vary my cardio between stairmaster, running, and Insanity DVDs at home, and teaching spinning at the gym.  I don't actually miss my hill walking anymore, I'm having so much fun.  Also, I am now capable of doing strength training exercises that target my hamstrings, so I'm hoping I can get the area strong enough that I can avoid any future problems.  The absolute best part of all this is simply that I am no longer in chronic pain.  I can sit, I can stand, I can walk, I can run and...no pain!!!  I had literally given up hope that I would ever see the day.  Just goes to show that you can NEVER give up hope.  It took me a lot of trial and error with treatments to get to this place, but I finally did.

Since taking the advice of my eye doctor and using moisturizing drops at least once a day, and removing my contacts before showering, my eyes have stopped their constant watering.  I also get much less irritation from my contacts.  Yay!  Definitely worth the little extra time involved every morning.
I am proud to say that as of May 19th, Adam and I will have been married for 10 years!  I can't believe it, it really doesn't feel like it's been that long.  Looking back, we were so crazy young when we met (me 25, Adam 23) 12 years ago.  We have both done a lot of growing and maturing since then, and, of course, produced to crazy, wonderful girls. That's not to say that - like any couple - we haven't had ups and downs and some difficult times and challenges, but I feel so incredibly fortunate to have found a soul mate, someone who is loving, and supportive, understanding, responsible, reliable, thoughtful and generous.  I am aware that many people never find this in their lifetime.

Perhaps it's premature to make this call, but I think we may be through the worst with Little A.  Things have improved significantly over the past week.  Of course, everything is relative.  For example, she still pitched a fit when I said she had to share the apple and plum slices with Big A that I brought for their snack when I picked them up from daycare yesterday.  She screamed hysterically for about 3 blocks yelling, "I don't want to share!"  She also melted down when Adam called from Ottawa last night and Big A got to answer the phone and talk to him first.  Then while I was putting her to bed last night she began fussing because she claimed that Big A promised her a special sleep toy.  Neither Big A nor I had a clue what she was talking about.  Just when I was ready to start stabbing myself in the eye, Big A - bless her heart - offered Little A her beloved kitty pillow for the night and this settled her down.  Little A is also still very impatient with us when we do not understand what she wants right away, something which happens often.  Her pronounciation of certain words is rather ambiguous, leading to frequent misunderstandings, and this leads her to start screaming at us. 

Inspite of all this, she is STILL behaving better, overall, compared to a week ago.  She has also settled into daycare.  I am so glad we didn't pull her out!  All of a sudden, she seems to be enjoying it, only occasionally shows resistance to going, and more often than not, doesn't want to leave when we come to get her because she is having so much fun.  Go figure?

Big A is doing alright, though she continues to have frequent tearful outbursts over the most minor things.  Even her kindergarten teacher mentioned this to me the other day.  We both agreed it is likely in response to the extra (negative) attention Little A has been getting lately and will hopefully settle down when Little A settles down.

This is a busy week for me.  Adam is away and I've got a lot to do before the weekend when we have Little A's birthday party on Saturday, and are hosting friends for dinner on Sunday.  Monday I leave for New York, to visit my grandma Ruth - it's been a year since she moved into the home, and not much has changed with her condition -, and then April 30th, after many delays, I officially began working at the fertility clinic.  Lots to look forward to, but lots of things making me anxious too.

As always, I find gratitude is essential to survival and well-being during stressful times, whether or not the stress is due to positives or negatives.  And life is usually full of both.  As I get older I am increasingly aware of how fortunate I am.  Sometimes I wonder about my deservedness of all my fortune, but no matter whether it is merely due to luck, chance or perseverance, I am appreciative of all the love and blessings in my life.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Chickpeas and Roasted Cauliflower with Yogurt Mango Curry Sauce

After summer-like temps yesterday, we're back to cooler, spring-like weather today.  Perfect for comfort food.

Sweet, savoury, a little spicy if you wish, creamy and satisfying...this is vegetarian food at it's best.  Also nutritious and easy to make.

1 tsp olive oil
1 head cauliflower, cut into bite sized pieces
Salt and pepper, to taste

1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 tbls fresh ginger, grated or minced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbls garam masala
1 tsp turmuric
Cayenne pepper, to taste (optional)
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 cup mango puree
1 cup plain, low-fat yogurt
A few handfuls fresh cilantro, chopped

Toss cauliflower with oil and seasonings.  Spread on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast at 350F for about 30-40 minutes.  Meanwhile, pour in a large skillet and saute onion, ginger, garlic and spices for about 3-4 minutes.  Add chickpeas and vinegar and cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed.  Turn heat down to low and add mango puree and yogurt.  Stir in roasted cauliflower.  Simmer for another 5 minutes.  Add in cilantro just before serving.  Serve over brown basmati rice or quinoa.  Serves 4 as a main.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Where I'm From?

This weekend we went to Kingston for my father's 70th birthday party.  My mom threw him a big party with all his closest friends and held it in the Radisson Hotel, catered by the restaurant AquaTerra, one of the best in the city.  My mom also generously put us up in the hotel for our stay.

My tummy had not fully recovered from my little flu, but driving the whole way on Saturday kept me from getting car sick - which I'm prone to do, even when I'm feeling 100%, and the girls were relatively well-behaved the whole time.

Unfortunately, my worst fears about us all sharing a hotel room were realized and none of us slept well or enough, so we were all exhausted yesterday.  Nevertheless, we had a lovely time at the party, and it was wonderful to see so many dear friends, who are all really more like family to us.

My brother and I talked about how weird it felt to be staying in a hotel in Kingston, something we had never done before.  It felt odd to be behaving like tourists.  We took the girls to play at the park on the Waterfront and then visited the market square where I bought Wilson's Honey straight from the source.  Actually, I gushed so much to him about how much I love his honey that I think he thought I was some crazy-stalker woman.  We took the girl's to Cooke's Fine Foods, a beautiful gourmet food store in a beautiful, old building, where the girls were able to sample their famous cheddar cheese and old-fashioned candy.

Kingston is charming, but admittedly we rarely go back to visit.  It's not that there is anything wrong with Kingston, but travelling with kids is stressful, and since we are both in Toronto, it's easier for my parents to do the under 3 hour drive themselves, or to take the train in to see us, than all of us having to schlep there.

In case you are not familiar with Kingston, it is a small city of about 117,000 people, situated on Lake Ontario, about halfway between Toronto and Ottawa, in the province of Ontario.  Kingston was the first capital of Canada, where our first prime minister - Sir John A MacDonald lived for a time - and is known as the "limestone city" because of all it's beautiful, historical buildings.

Although small, Kingston is a huge tourist attraction because of it's drool-worthy architecture, rich history, many museums and attractions, such as Fort Henry, and because it is the site of CORK, the annual Canadian Olympic Training Regatta.  It is fairly culturally sophisticated for its size because it is the home of Queens University, one of the best universities in Canada, which has top notch Medical and Law schools, among other things.

I have many fond memories of growing up in Kingston.  It was a relatively safe, friendly place that was extremely fun for a teenager - because of all the activities (and opportunities for mischief) provided by Queens and the rowdy students who attend.  Because the academic and Jewish communities are so tight-knit, we have a huge network of families that are like family to us, even though they are not related by blood.  This is wonderful, because we have no blood relatives in Canada.

I suppose this is why, even though I was born in Kingston and lived there until I fled left for university before my 18th birthday, I don't ever consider Kingston my home.  It's true that I have now lived in Toronto for longer than I lived in Kingston, but really, it has more to do with the fact that I have no ancestral roots there.  After all, I was the only one in my family born there.  My parents and brother and grandparents were all born in the U.S. (except my maternal grandfather who was born in Kiev).  I feel more of an emotional connection to New York city, since that is where my grandparents and parents grew up, and it is a city that more closely reflects my ancestor's history and experiences.  New York is a very Jewish city, while Kingston is very much a typical, homogenous small town (or city) where we were a minority, and inspite of having a wonderful, close-knit Jewish community, were always aware of our minority status.

My parents only moved to Kingston in the 1970s, a few years before I was born, because my dad got an academic position at Queens.  The move was initially quite a culture shock for them, since back in those days Kingston was still a cultural wasteland.  This was discussed at my dad's party this weekend quite a bit as my parents and their friends - many of whom are also ex-pats from the U.S., South Africa, and elsewhere - reminisced about having to take turns driving over the border to NY state to pick up the New York Times, which was not yet available in Kingston. 

At the party one of my parents' friends asked me whether living in Toronto felt strange since I grew up in Kingston and I explained that no, it didn't.  It has been so long since I lived in Kingston and I feel like I always had  "big city" in my blood since my roots are in New York, and we travelled extensively when I was a child, to New York, and other big U.S. cities (my dad's parents and sister eventually ended up in L.A.).  And while certain things about big-city living bug me (the traffic!) and it is much more difficult to establish such a close-knit community in such a large metropolis, there are many things about living in Toronto that I would never trade.  I love raising kids here.  Yes, there are more risks involved, but there is also more opportunity.  Also, the diversity of Toronto cannot be matched virtually ANYWHERE.  And because of that, my kids accept differences unconditionally.  They never question a person's skin colour or sexual orientation.  They have grown up seeing other people from all race, religious and ethnic backgrounds and think it's normal for some kids to have either 2 moms, 2 dads and/or look completely different from their parents.  I don't think (and I hope) that that they will ever feel like an outsider, like I did as a kid, and I know that will make up for anything they miss out on that I had in my experiences growing up in a small town.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Discontinued

Have you ever fallen in love with something - a style of jeans, a flavour of ice cream, a shampoo - only to find it is no longer available?

For some reason, this happens to me ALL the time.  Like really, even Adam says it happens to me more frequently than what seems normal.  He says this is evidence that I'm weird - that the things I like are not preferences shared by most other people.

I won't deny it, many of my tastes are not mainstream.  I just have to think of my adolescent Hollywood crushes to see it.  While most of the women I know drooled over Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise (pre-Katie Holmes and all his craziness), etc., I was getting weak in the knees over Jon Cusack and Toby Maguire.

I hate cola drinks, pie, fried foods, and most reality television (Survivor, Bachelor, Real Housewives of, etc.).  I love green vegetables, getting into my pjs before 7pm and waking up to workout at 5am.  Apparently this is all unusual.

When we listen to the radio, I hate almost every song that comes on.

Don't get me wrong, I'm hardly counterculture.  I love Lady Gaga and I watch lots of popular television shows like House, Good Wife, Law and Order, Flashpoint, Mentalist, etc.  But all too often the shows that I fall in love with get cancelled half way through the first season.  It drives me crazy!

I have also had tons of favourite food products disappear from shelves, and when I contact the manufacturer to ask why, am always told demand was too low.  Well, aren't I enough???

This is what happened last week when I could not find my beloved President's Choice organic, fair trade dark roast coffee anywhere. 

I emailed the company and was promptly informed that due to low consumer demand, the product was being discontinued.  Aaaaaaaaaah!  If you are a coffee addict connoisseur like I am than you will understand my distress.  I am very picky about coffee.  I have tried many more expensive brands, freshly ground roasts, etc., and have never found one I like as much.  I recently picked up Melitta's organic dark roast, but I am not a big fan.


Several people have suggested various whole bean coffees to me, but I've been using my coffee grinder as a spice grinder, so I'd have to go out and buy a new grinder, which I'm not in the mood to do right now. 

I guess the only good thing about being sick this week is I haven't felt like drinking coffee.  Anytime I have any sort of stomach bug, it's always the first thing to go, just the smell is enough to have me heaving.  In fact, after a few bad flus, I had months where I couldn't resume coffee drinking.  This time around, this would not be such a bad thing, seeing as coffee drinking is much less pleasurable now that I don't have my favorite coffee anymore.

Frankly I don't think I'm weird...perhaps unusual, but what's weird is that the rest of the world doesn't love the same things I do!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Slowing Down

I like to be busy.  I like to be productive.  No, make that I NEED to be busy and productive or I go a little nuts. 

Yes, yes, I'm the first to admit that I am a classic Type A, neurotic personality. I thrive on functioning at a very high level.

This means that anything that slows me down, really irks me.  This would include a bad night's sleep (I'm useless when I'm tired - no short term memory, grumpy, poor cognitive skills, etc.), and pesky colds and flus.

Unfortunately, this means that sometimes I push myself a wee too hard.

This began way back in high school.  In 11th grade I was going to school and the gym EVERY day for about 2 weeks before I finally admitted to my parents that I wasn't feeling well.  By the time they took me to the doctor, where I was diagnosed with mononucleosis AND strep throat, I could barely stand up straight.

I was in a bit of denial this week too.  Sunday I woke up feeling tired, nauseous and headachy.  I figured it was from indulging in wine and chocolate at the sedar.  But Monday I felt the same.  I figured it was my allergies.  Tuesday I felt the same.  Finally, after dropping off the girls at daycare yesterday, I realized I was in really rough shape.  My muscles ached, my head ached and I was chilled to the bone.  Still, I had some work to do (putting together some handouts for Infertility Awareness Week at the fertility clinic), so I forced myself to sit at my desk and work.  I finished by mid-afternoon and at that point I could not deny that I needed a break.  All I could think of doing was lying down.  I got into my pajamas, bundled up, and lay down.

It being Wednesday, however, made things complicated with the girls.  Adam was able to fetch them from daycare, but he had to take Big A to swimming, which meant I had to take care of Little A by myself.  When Adam brought them home, she was in her customary late-afternoon mood: hysterical.  Even though I got dizzy each time I stood up and my muscles were screaming, I somehow found the strength to carry her up and down the stairs and give her a bath (because she was refusing to walk), and make dinner for her, Big A and Adam.  I swear this is the toughest thing about being a parent: The fact that even when you really NEED a break, ya can't take one!  At least once she was bathed and fed, Little A's mood improved.  In fact, she then decided to play nurse-maid to me and kept giving me hugs and telling me to get better.  She even gave me one of her dollies as a sleep toy.

I ate nothing but steamed potatoes with butter and salt and then went to bed last night at about 8:15pm, and slept until about 7:15am today, when Adam brought in Little A to see me.  She melted my heart with her concern and desire for "mommy to feel better".   She covered me with her favorite blankie and both girls kissed me goodbye before Adam whisked them off to daycare and school.  I'm up now and feeling better, although definitely not 100%, however, probably capable of checking almost everything off my to-do list today.  Although I still bristle thinking about what a write-off yesterday was, I'm proud of myself for listening to my body.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Holiday? Oy Vey!!

For many of us, today is the first day back after a long holiday weekend.  If you have young children, or at least young children who do not always act like angels, than this may mean that you are feeling a little more tired than refreshed this morning.  I'd have to say Adam and I fall into this category.

Like most family weekends, it was good, it was bad and it was downright ugly.

Friday started off nicely enough.  Friends came over for a playdate in the morning and then we took the girls for a walk and a stop in the neighbourhood gelato cafe where we bought them fresh, homemade pizza and gelato for lunch.  Adam took Big A to his office in the afternoon and although Little A refused a nap, the 10 minutes of "quiet time" in her bed was somehow enough to get her through to bedtime without any major meltdowns.

Saturday morning Adam and his dad took the girls to the Science Centre while I did errands and finished preparing all the food for our sedar.  Little A refused a rest of any sort and this time we paid for it with much grumpiness at dinner.  After a rushed sedar, we scooted home to get the girls to bed before any more fireworks could erupt.

Sunday morning Adam took the girls to Christie Pits park while I taught my spinning class.  After lunch we packed up the girls in the car and headed out to a farm north of the city (http://www.downeysfarm.com/) for some Easter activities.  Unfortunately, the beautiful weather turned to cold, wind and rain soon after we began driving.  By the time we got to the farm, it was too miserable to enjoy being outdoors.  We stayed just long enough for the girls to do the Easter Egg scramble and collect some chocolate rewards.  Then we packed it in and drove back to my in-laws for a visit.

Yesterday Adam took the girls to Dufferin Grove park while I picked up a few things at Dufferin mall.  By the time I picked them up from the park, Adam was completely fed up with Little A and her tantrums.  Lately it takes nothing at all to set her off and yesterday was full of whining punctuated with multiple dramatic meltdowns.  We headed home for lunch and then packed ourselves up for a long promised trip to the Fantasy Fair indoor amusement park.  The predicted rain, however, held off, and instead there was the beautiful weather that had been promised for Sunday - when we went to the farm.  Sigh!  Nevertheless, we could not renege on our promise, so off we went. 

We had hoped that since some people did have to work yesterday, that it would not be too busy.  But we did not anticipate that there would be a massive festival for Orthodox Jews hosted by DJ Phil at the fair!

Oy vey!  DJ Phil, a rotund, bearded fellow, managed to attract about 200 Orthodox Jewish families, each with at least 3 children...this meant that the place was ridiculously crowded!  There was a long line to get our wrist bands, there were long lines for every ride.  It was a mad house.  By 5:15pm Adam and I had had more than enough of the noise, the rides, the crowds and the overheated mall.  But - of course - Little A had other ideas.  Inspite of being deliriously tired, she did not want to leave.  The car ride home involved many tears, yelling and screaming from all 4 of us.  Little A then passed out just as we pulled on to our street.  When trying to get the girls into the bathtub led to another round of meltdowns, Adam had to excuse himself, go lock himself in his study and have a time out. 

All I can say is thank goodness the weekend is OVER.  Not many relaxing weekends ahead, though.  Next week we go to Kingston for my dad's 70th birthday, the weekend after that is Little A's birthday party, two weeks after that we do the joint birthday party for the girls with family, and the week after that is Big A's birthday party with her friends.  At least Adam and I are getting away, just the two of us, to Washington D.C. the first weekend in June.  Hopefully, we will have a chance to relax and celebrate our 10 year anniversary which is coming up on May 19th.  Hey, if your marriage can withstand the stresses and strains of children like ours, you know you must be doing something right!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Quinoa Salad With Roasted Red Pepper Pesto

It's Easter Monday.  No school.  No work.  So of course the girls were both up before 7am.  Again.  Sigh!

Anyways...

This made a lovely addition to our Passover meal this year.  We had a light, springy menu of salmon, along with this dish, roasted asparagus, green salad and tzimmes, followed by my decadent chocolate desserts and fruit.

Of course, it doesn't have to be Passover to enjoy this.  For a non-passover dish, you could add chickpeas to it for a complete vegetarian meal.

Salad

1.5 cups quinoa
3 cups water
1 English cucumber, cut lengthwise into quarters, and then thinly sliced
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved

Pesto

A few handfuls fresh basil (about 40g)

1/2 cup almonds
500ml jar roasted red peppers, drained (or 6 homemade roasted red peppers, peeled)
2 cloves garlic
1/4 tsp Kosher salt
1 tbls extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste

Cook quinoa and then let cool until warm or room temperature.  Transfer to a large bowl or serving dish.  Place basil and almonds in food processor and process until nuts are well chopped.  Add remaining ingredients and process until pesto is at desired consistency (does not need to be completely smooth or pureed).  Season to taste.  Add pesto, cucumber and tomatoes to the bowl with quinoa and toss well.  Serve at room temperature.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Roasted Halibut with Banana Coconut Curry Sauce

Why is it on any given school day the girls will happily sleep past 7am, but on a holiday like today, they are both up early?  In particular, Big A was up at 6:15am!!  Oh well, such is the life of parents of young kids, huh?

Now, this isn't a strictly Passover recipe, but can easily be Passoverized (is that an actual verb?).  I just had to share because it turned out so tasty.

I often bake with bananas but I've never cooked with them until now. I got thinking about how frequently I use tropical fruits, such as pineapple and mango, to naturally sweeten curries and stir-fries, so why not try bananas?

A Google search led me this recipe: http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/steamed-fish-with-banana-curry-sauce-10000000665375/, which peaked my interest. Of course, I modified it significantly, but the central flavours are the same.

At first I was worried the banana flavour would be too sweet or overpowering, but the sourness of the lime, the saltiness of the fish sauce, and the tang of the vinegar balance it out nicely.  I love finding new flavour combinations and this is a definite keeper.

You can make this a Passover meal by replacing the rice vinegar with coconut vinegar and replacing the fish sauce with plum vinegar (which is more salty than acidic), and then serving it over quinoa instead of rice.

Roasted Halibut with Banana Coconut Curry Sauce

2 lb halibut fillets or other firm-fleshed white fish
Juice and zest of 1 lime

1 tsp vegetable oil
1 onion, minced
2 shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup fresh ginger, finely chopped
2 tbls fresh lemongrass, minced
1 tbls yellow curry powder
2 tbls fish sauce
4 tbls rice vinegar
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1 can light coconut milk
1 bunch green onions, sliced
A few handfuls fresh cilantro, finely chopped

Saute onion, shallots, garlic, ginger, lemongrass and curry powder in oil in a large skillet over medium heat for about 5 minutes.  Add fish sauce, vinegar and mashed bananas and turn heat down to medium low.  Pour in coconut milk and lime juice and simmer for about 20 minutes.  Season to taste.  Add green onions and cilantro just before serving.
 
For the fish, place fillets on a foil-lined baking sheet and spinkle with lime zest.  Season to taste, with salt and pepper.  Roast in the oven at 425F for 8-12 minutes (depending on thickness of fillets) until cooked.  Place fillets on a bed on brown jasmine rice or quinoa and spoon sauce over top.  Serves 4.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Almond Choconut Crunch Passover Breakfast Cereal

Step aside Chocolate Cheerios and Cocoa Puffs!  You've got nothin' on this baby from both a taste and a nutrition standpoint!!

This variation of last year's Passover cereal recipe (one of the most popular on my whole blog) is crunchy, chewy, chocolatey and delicious.  At the same time, it's packed with protein, fibre and energy to power you through a busy Passover season.  Even if you don't celebrate Passover, it's a perfect option for anyone who is avoiding gluten.  Pair with milk, almond milk, or yogurt and some fresh fruit for a complete, satisfying breakfast or even snack.

1 square (28g) unsweetened chocolate
4 tbls coconut oil
1/2 cup almond butter
1/2 cup agave syrup or honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 cups puffed quinoa
1 cup finely shredded unsweetened coconut
2 tbls chia seeds
1 cup chopped almonds
1 cup dried fruit (I used 1/2 raisins and 1/2 cranberries)

Melt chocolate and oil in heat safe bowl set over simmering water.  Remove from heat and whisk in almond butter agave and vanilla until smooth.  Stir in quinoa, coconut, chia seeds and almonds.  Spread mixture in a thin layer on a baking sheet (or 2) and bake at 350F for 30 minutes.  Every 10 minutes, remove from oven and stir. Watch carefully to prevent burning.  Let cool.  Add dried fruit and store in an airtight container.

I promise there will be at least ONE Passover recipe coming up that doesn't involve chocolate, but I haven't gotten any compaints yet...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Chewy Butterscotch Protein Bars for Passover

Another variation of protein bar for Adam this year.  Instead of nuts, chia seeds and eggs provide the protein.  But these would also be delicious with the addition of chopped walnuts and/or pecans.

The fudge topping is optional, but Adam's gotta have his chocolate fix (daily!). 

12 cups puffed quinoa
1 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled
1 cup coconut sugar (or brown sugar or sucanat)
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 eggs, beaten
2 tbls chia seeds (optional)
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Place quinoa in a large bowl.  In a medium bowl whisk together oil, sugar, vanilla, eggs, chia seeds and salt.  Pour mixture over quinoa and stir until quinoa is completely coated.  Press firmly into a greased 9x12 pan.  Bake at 350F for 12-14 minutes, until edges pull away from pan and top is lightly golden.  Be careful not to burn!  Top with fudge topping, or cool and cut into squares.

Fudge Topping
2 cups dark chocolate chips
2 tbls coconut oil

Melt chips and oil in heat safe bowl set over simmering water.  Pour over squares and refridgerate until chocolate is set.  Use a sharp knife to cut into squares.  Keep in an air tight container in the fridge.



Adam has a 2 day conference at UofT next week and there is not likely to be much he is able to eat.  Since he doesn't eat plain eggs, cheese, tuna or salmon salad, his portable food/protein options are limited.  These should satisfy his appetite/sweet tooth/chocolate cravings!!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Cherry Almond Chocolate Fudge (Vegan)

This is the other treat I am bringing to the sedar at my in-laws this week. I'll warn you right now, a lot of my Passover recipes this week involve chocolate.  Hey if you can't have bread...

Turns out my mother-in-law is making salmon (yay!), so I could have made something with dairy, but this recipe is vegan, and thus suitable as a dessert, no matter what you are serving for your main course.  In any case, this recipe will be much appreciated by the folks in our brood who are lactose intolerant.

If you aren't sure what I mean when I say creamed coconut, it comes in a box and looks like this:


It is generally available in health food stores and some grocery stores.  It's a solid block that, for this recipe, you cut in half, and then dissolve in 1/2 cup boiling water, before stirring into the melted chocolate. 

Even if you typically don't like fudge because you find it cloyingly sweet, you will probably like this version because it is less sweet.  If you don't like the almond/cherry combo, you can vary it any way you want with shredded coconut, dried cranberries, dried apricots, dried pineapple, pecans, hazelnuts, walnuts, etc.  You could also omit nuts and fruit and flavour it with some mint extract.

2 cups dark chocolate chips
100g creamed coconut
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 cup roasted almonds
1 cup dried cherries

Melt chips over double boiler or heat-safe bowl set over simmering water.  Meanwhile, combine creamed coconut and water and stir until dissolved.  Once chips have melted, remove from heat and stir in coconut mixture.  Once completely combined, add remaining ingredients.  Line a 9x9 square pan with waxed paper and scrape mixture into pan, and spread evenly.  Refridgerate until firm.  Remove from pan and cut into squares.  Keep in an air tight container in a cool, dry place.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Passover Cookie Dough Truffles

I can't believe it's almost Passover again!  It seems like the year has flown by.

I used to dread this holiday so much when Adam and I were first together.  As a completely non-observant Jew who did not grow up in a Kosher home, it seemed like such a drag that for 8 days I had to cook him (and me) food that abides by the stringent rules of Passover.  Not only is dairy/meat combos, pork and shellfish off the table as per standard Kosher law, but so are grains and legumes!

But now I see this holiday as an exciting culinary challenge, and one that is more enjoyable as the available alternatives (like quinoa, coconut and nut-based products) to our usual cooking and baking ingredients continues to grow.

Although my Fudgy Passover brownies were a huge hit last year,  I always like trying new things.  These babies are pretty spectacular, if I do say so myself.  They are healthier than their conventional counterparts, but still pretty decadent.  Adam's mom is hosting the sedar again and I've learned over the years, that Adam's family are not the biggest fans of overly healthified desserts.  I can get away with using whole grains, but really low-fat, low-sugar items are more hit and miss with this crowd.  I managed to make these without using any refined sugar, at least, and the fat is mostly healthy fats from coconut oil and cashew butter.  But these are definitely worth the indulgence!  If you don't celebrate Passover, these would make a great Easter treat too.  They are perfect for anyone on a dairy and gluten-free diet and they can even be veganized by replacing the eggs with flax eggs.

They are not really "dough" as the filling is baked rather than raw, but I wanted them to maintain a firm, solid consistency at room temperature and not to need to be kept frozen.  Personally, I can't stand cold or frozen chocolate.  Cold, crunchy chocolate?  Yuck!  Warm, melty chocolate?  Yum!
I'll be coming up with more Passover recipes, so stay tuned...

Passover Cookie Dough Truffles

Cookie Dough

4 tbls coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup coconut sugar (or other granular sweetener)
2 eggs (or you can try it with flax eggs to make them vegan)
1/4 cup agave syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup coconut flour
2 cups quinoa flakes
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 cup cashew butter (or almond butter)


Coating

2 cups dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tbls coconut oil

For the dough, whisk together oil, sugar, eggs, agave and vanilla in a large mixing bowl.  Add coconut flour, quinoa flakes and salt and mix well.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Press dough into greased 9x12 pan and bake at 350F for 8 minutes.  Let cool.  Cut dough into pieces and then crumble pieces into a large bowl.  Add cashew butter and stir.  Roll dough into balls and place on a baking sheet.  Freeze until firm, about 30-45 minutes.

Meanwhile, to make the coating, melt chips with oil in a double-boiler, or heat-safe bowl set over simmering water.  Let cool slightly.

Remove dough balls from freezer and using 2 forks, roll balls in chocolate and coat completely.  Return balls to baking sheet, covered in wax paper.  Return balls to freezer or fridge until chocolate sets.  Store in a cool, dry place. Makes about 48 two-bite balls.

This recipe is family tested and approved.  I allowed everyone to sample.  Actually, they looked so good that Adam inhaled one before I even gave him permission.  I allowed the girls to share one and after she finished her piece, Little A asked for more.  I explained that we had to save the rest for our sedar and she responded by shrieking at the top of her lungs so dramatically the rest of us were stunned. 

After a few seconds Big A said, "Mom, they are THAT good!" 

Ha, enough said!!  These are definitely worth the splurge and the little bit of extra effort they take to make.