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Friday, August 30, 2013

Inside Out


So when I said I didn't enjoy the mother-daughter event Big A and I attended last week, it wasn't because of the event per se, but because I have a difficult time interacting in big groups of people I don't know.

This is because I am an extroverted introvert.  That means I thrive on interaction with others, but generally only one-on-one or in small groups.  I felt like a bit of a fraud at the event, to be honest, because everyone else was in media, a celebrity, or a blogger and clearly had experience networking.  I HAVE a blog, but I wouldn't call myself a blogger.  I am a psychotherapist and fitness professional by training.  Actually, it makes perfect sense that I am a psychotherapist because this involves intimate interaction with individuals and couples, rather than working alone or with big groups.

I have to give the organizers of the mother-daughter even credit though.  They were so concerned when they heard I didn't enjoy the event that they called to chat with me about it.  I explained that it was simply due to my personality, but suggested that for people like me, smaller, more intimate discussion groups would have been a nice option.

I've been thinking about this stuff a lot lately because I just finished reading Quiet, by Susan Cain, a book all about introversion and extroversion and how to each of these traits has strengths and weaknesses.  If you want to take her test to see where you fall on the spectrum, you can find it here.

I had an epiphany when reading the book too: I think I have become more of an introvert in some ways over the last few years since becoming a parent, because with kids at home you cannot necessarily get solitude or quiet when you want or need it, so I think I have had to compensate in other ways.  I have absolutely no interest in going to a big party.  An intimate dinner with a few friends?  Sure.  If I do go to parties where I know lots of people, I have a fabulous time, but after a few hours I hit a wall and need to get out quick.  I just feel tired and overstimulated.  Fortunately, Adam is even more of an introvert than I am, so on most things like that we are pretty in sync.

This book has been very helpful for understanding both myself and the girls.  In fact, there is a lot of great advice for how to nurture the strengths and weaknesses of both introverted and extroverted children.  Through reading it, I've realized that Big A is probably the most extroverted of all of us, while Little A, like me, is more of an extroverted introvert.  She loves hangin' in smaller groups with people she knows, but is very shy and slow to warm up with new people and easily gets overwhelmed by big groups.

Cain's premise is that we often overlook, in our culture, the value of introversion, and some of the wonderful traits and characteristics that often accompany it.  She also gives many examples of how introversion can help people achieve all sorts of goals and successes, despite our tendency to favour extroversion.

I love some of the wisdom Cain shares in her conclusions based on her research for the book:

Love is essential; gregariousness is optional.  Cherish your nearest and dearest.  Work with colleagues you like and respect.  Scan new acquaintances for those who might fall into the former categories or whose company you enjoy for its own sake.  And don't worry about socializing with everyone else.  Relationships make everyone happier, introverts included, but think quality over quantity.

The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting.  For some it's a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk.  use your natural powers - of persistence, concentration, insight, and sensitivity - to do work you love and work that matters.  Solve problems, make art, think deeply.

Figure out what you are meant to contribute to the world and make sure you contribute it.  If this requires public speaking or networking or other activities that make you uncomfortable, do them anyway.  But accept that they're difficult, get the training you need to make them easier, and reward yourself when you are done.

When I told Adam how uncomfortable I felt at the mother-daughter event because of the fact that there were lots of people, none of whom I knew, he said I should approach such things with a goal, such as, have 3 conversations with 3 different people.  This is exactly the kind of thing Cain suggests, and exactly the approach this extroverted introvert will take next time when faced with this time of situation.

I will also stop talking about Little A being shy in front of her.  Cain says one should not label children that way because they will internalize it and see it as a permanent trait.  Also, Adam and I will no longer try to pressure Little A, as we have done in the past, to participate in activities with other kids when she is uncomfortable (we were puzzled and concerned when she refused to participate in her cousin's birthday party activities, but her cousin was the only kid there she knew, so it all makes sense now).  Lots of great lessons learned from this book!

I'm signing off now because Adam and I took the day off work to take the girls to the CNE.  It's freakin' hot and humid today, so wish me luck because I would rather stab myself in the eye with an ice pick than spend any time outdoors.  What we do for our kids...

Have a lovely final long weekend of the summer!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Muscle Masala Protein Bars: Product Review

Chocolate Cherry Cardamom

It's kind of weird that most of the foods that fall into the Sports Nutrition category are glorified junk foods, don't you think?  Gatorade, most protein bars and meal replacement shakes are full of sugar, artificial colours and flavours and a whole lot of crap.

So when Muscle Masala asked me to review their products I eagerly agreed.  I love protein.  I love Indian food and I love healthy, good-for-you products.

They generously sent me 2 of each of their protein bar varieties:
  • Chocolate Cherry Cardamom
  • Vanilla Fig Saffron, and
  • Chocolate Ginger Espresso
They are shaped like cookies and at 78g, 298 calories each, might be a little to hefty for most people for a 'snack'.  They are perfect for very physically active individuals, or those who choose to divide their daily food intake into 5-6 smaller meals rather than 3 square meals and 2 small snacks.

The ingredient list is pretty impressive: no refined sugar or grains (sweetened with agave), whey protein, and choc full of nuts, seeds and dried fruits.  They are not, however, vegan as they contain both eggs and cottage cheese.  I have to say I was pretty surprised about this as it limits their target market.

Adam and the girls tried the Chocolate Cherry Cardamom and they all enjoyed it.  Adam said it tasted much better than expected - given how healthy it is - but he had a difficult time detecting the chocolate flavour. 

I tried the other two varieties.  The Chocolate Ginger Espresso was my favorite.  Both the chocolate and coffee flavours were detectable, however, I would have loved more sharpness from fresh ginger in there.  The Vanilla Fig Saffron was nice too, although I tasted the figs more than the vanilla. 

None are very sweet, so they definitely do not taste like conventional cookies or candy bars, which means they won't appeal to you if you only like that kind of thing.  If you are generally a healthy food lover and enjoy more exotic flavours, you will like these.

What really sets this product apart from other protein bars and supplements is this:

Fresh from the Oven to Your Door

Although our products are available at select locations in Toronto, our core business is delivering boxes of freshly-baked bars directly to our clients. In fact, for about the same price as you'd pay for a box of factory-made protein bars from a health food shop, we're able to send a box of Muscle Masala bars directly to your office or home, shipped within 24 hours from the time they're baked. The price of a box of twelve individually-packaged bars is only $44, which includes free shipping to any address in Canada. And for orders within Toronto-proper, we'll even deliver your bars by rush bicycle courier for no additional charge.

So would I buy these?  No.  Only because they are pricey(although not much more expensive than many larger protein commercial bars on the market), I live on a budget, and I love baking so I would rather create my own snack bar.  But if you are looking for a healthy, tasty, portable, high protein snack or breakfast treat, than you may want to give these a try.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Changing Bodies

 
Cover Photo

Last week I had the honour and pleasure of being invited to a mother-daughter event hosted by P&G.  It was designed for moms and girls aged 7 to 14 to discuss puberty, so myself and Big A attended.

Now, to be honest, I do tend to be suspicious of big-business and their motives, so I am pretty convinced that these types of events are primarily for marketing, but I am also willing to concede that the corporate world can sometimes do worthwhile things.  This is one of those things.

They broke us into groups with the moms' discussion being facilitated by parenting expert, Kathy Buckworth, and the girls' discussion led by Degrassi Next Generation star, Melinda Shankar.  Big A has not yet seen Degrassi, however, she recognized Shankar from a show on YTV.  Erica Ehm and her daughter were also in attendance as were a number of media folks from various magazines and publications.

Our mom group discussed how we have talked, or plan to talk to our daughters about puberty.  The girls discussed who they would like to get information about puberty and their bodies from, and how they would like the discussion to go.  Fortunately, when we re-grouped, we were told they want to hear this stuff from their moms (rather than peers!).  In our group, most moms admitted that periods, breasts, body hair, etc. were not as distressing issues to address with daughters as is sex and the idea of our children becoming sexually active.

Afterwards, a light lunch was served.  I was anticipating unhealthy food aimed at kids, but instead, they went the other way and served tiny, fancy hors d'oeuvres that weren't really kid-friendly.  Actually, I was pleased because Big A, who was really hungry, was forced to try new foods that she wouldn't have otherwise touched.  She picked at most of it except the beef brisket sliders, which she loved.  Then they had an ice cream buffet with all sorts of candy and cookie toppings.  I wasn't thrilled about that, but, of course, let her have some along with all the other girls.

Next we were separated into groups and sent around to explore different stations focusing on skin care, periods, personal hygiene (deodorant), shaving, and oral hygiene.  This part was mostly about promoting P&G products, but the tampon/maxi-pad station was actually instructive and educational.

Big A and I also got to do a little video talking about the best part of being a girl, etc., which may be featured on P&G's Beinggirl website this winter.  Now, even though this site is clearly for marketing their products to teens, it does provide a forum for girls to ask questions and get accurate information about puberty and their bodies.  They also have a site for parents with tips for talking to your kids about their bodies.

They generously paid the tabs for our taxi rides to the elegant downtown venue where this event was held, and Big A and I each got a massive swag bag full of P&G products including razors, feminine hygiene products, deodorant, lip gloss, gift cards for Well.ca and Big A even got an electric toothbrush!

I actually think it was a great experience for Big A and I, even though I didn't really enjoy it (I'll talk about that in another post), but it totally normalized a lot of things for her that might have been scary or embarrassing before.  That night before bed, Big A asked me to go through her gift bag with her.  She was very comfortable talking about the tampons and pads and told me she still felt she had no clue what to do with them.  I reassured her that when the time came, I would be right here to help and show her what to do.  My own mother's handling of my puberty wasn't stellar and didn't leave me feeling that confident about all the changes, so I am determined to do a better job with my girls.  I want to protect their confidence and lack of self-consciousness as much as is humanly possible.

We put the bag on the top shelf of her closet since, at age 7, she probably (hopefully) still has some years before she needs most of the stuff.  It was also to do something together just the two of us that made her feel really special.  It reminded me just how important it is to have one-on-one time with each child once in a while.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Way Better Snacks: Product Review

snack

Recently, Way Better Snacks sent me a selection of their products to try.  Adam and the girls love corn chips, so healthier options are always nice to find.

They sent me all their flavours except the no-salt variety.  Although they are not 100% organic, they are certified gluten-free and use only non-gmo ingredients.  They are also 100% whole grain and contain sprouted flax, quinoa and just enough sea salt to make them tasty but lower in sodium than most other chips.

They were all a hit, but the girls liked the Simply Sweeet Potato, Simply Sunny Multigrain and Simply Unbeatable Blues varieties best.  The Simply So Sweet Chili was a bit too spicy for them, but they still liked them.

Now snack foods are still snack foods and I still think fruits and veggies are best, however, I didn't feel too bad putting a handful or two of these in Big A's lunchbox and this thrilled her since I rarely include this kind of treat.  If you are looking for a healthier corn chip, these are definitely a great option, just remember they are pretty calorically dense and a serving is only 11 chips...and who ever eats just 11 chips??

Way Better Snacks are now available throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Going Bananas for Blueberries (and other things we did this weekend)

It's Monday.  It's the start of a super busy week.  None of this would be bad (it's good to be busy when you are self-employed!), except it's going to be hot and humid all week.  And no, I can never complain about the weather enough thank you very much.

At least it was nice this weekend and we had lots of fun.

Since my parents arrived Thursday afternoon, I got the privilege of sneaking out to the JCC for a workout before anyone was awake on Friday morning.  I did the stepmill for the first time in years (I usually just strength train before my Sunday spin class) and then tried out this really cool bike called an Expresso.  The handlebars move and have adjustable gears like on a real bike and you choose a course to follow on the screen.  It's like an interactive video game.  It's a great idea for people who love such things but don't love exercise.  It distracts you from the fact that you're working out.
Upright Bike
 I've been dying to take my parents to the Evergreen Brick Works.  Unfortunately, on Saturday my mom thought she had a migraine coming on so she stayed home, but the rest of us went to check out their Blueberry Festival.  It was amazing!  Fresh blueberries of various varieties, of course, as well as sweet and savoury blueberry treats of all types including empanadas, boule loaves, scones, ice cream, cupcakes, pies, etc.

My dad loved the Brick Works and in the market, with all the fabulous foodie finds, it was like he'd died and gone to heaven.  The girls and their grandfather literally ate their way though it.  Then the  girls had fun playing in the Chimney Court.  When Big A got bored, she went for a hike with Adam on one of the trails while Little A did some arts and crafts.  It's such an amazing place!

Yesterday they had swimming and I taught spin.  In the afternoon, after my parents left, Adam's good friend from high school and his wife, who were visiting from Texas, came for a visit.

Then all too soon, the weekend ended and we're back to reality.  This week I've got 4 jam-packed work days and then we're taking the girls to the Ex on Friday.

Just keep your fingers crossed for me that it's cooled down by Friday or this will be one whiney mama!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Mr Fix It

 Nail & Screw Cartoon


Good morning!  And a beautiful Friday morning it is.  Are you handy?  Do you do your own renos and/or craft projects?

I wish I was a DIY person with things besides cooking and baking, but sadly I am not.  Neither is Adam.  Consequently, we have to hire someone to do just about any home-related task short of changing light bulbs.  We haven't done many major renos in our lives because we live in a pretty new house, but as any home owners know, little things come up all the time.  What we've found in the past is that its almost harder to find someone to do little jobs.  After all, that isn't where the big bucks are.

Fortunately we found Jason.  I have to do a shout out to him because he total rocks!  Jason runs Top Handyman and really their name says it all.  He and his team are so courteous and reliable, they are really a pleasure to work with.  They never begrudge the fact that every time we call them its for silly things like putting together furniture, fixing a door jam or putting up shelves.  They are always appreciative of our business.  They also show up on time, which in the contractor/construction business is almost unheard of!

So if you live in the GTA and have anything around the house you need help with, give Top Handman a call or email!!

info@tophandyman.ca
1.800.675.1202

 My parents are here so we're going to be having a quiet, family weekend.  Enjoy yours and stay healthy.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Turn On the (Canadian) Television!

Adam and I always use the summer as an opportunity to check out a few tv shows we missed during the year.  While our regular programs are on hiatus, we catch a couple of shows on rerun that have gotten good reviews.  This year most of them happen to be Canadian!

We've come a long way with television in this country since the Beachcombers days!!

A really good detective/crime series we are enjoying is Motive.  I love the central female character.  She is strong and smart.



Another good one is Saving Hope.  Originally the premise sounded dumb: A hospital drama with a surgeon who can see and talk to people's spirits.  But the supernatural stuff is often in the background of the stories and the whole thing has kind of grown on me.  It does, however, irritate me that it's yet another medical show with a whole hospital full of gorgeous people who play musical sex partners.  I'm more interested in the patient stories.



We are also enjoying Crossing Lines, which is not Canadian, but also really good.  It's about a law enforcement team working for the International Criminal Court in Europe.  It's kind of refreshing to see a crime show set in Europe instead of Canada or the U.S. for a change. Oh yeah, and it stars Donald Sutherland!




We're also watching Arctic Air, which we love, despite the fact that Adam and I both have hated Adam Beach in other stuff.  He works in this show.  But we discovered this program a few years ago.

And, of course, Rookie Blue, which is one of our faves.  Love my Canadian television I tell you!

Andy and Marlo on Rookie Blue


It probably sounds as if we watch a ton of tv, but the truth is, we record everything and then choose a program to watch after the girls are in bed so we really just watch an hour a day.

Even if you don't live in Canada, you can watch most of these programs if you are interested.  Most of the episodes are available online.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

CAN FIT PRO Conference 2013 Day 2

Saturday was a very long day!  I arrived at the conference for a 9:30am Kangoo Jumps session.  You may recall me talking about them a few months ago in this post.  I have had them for years but not used them much.  I ran outside with them a few times, but I don't often have the opportunity to run outside, and I also worry - given the dufus that I am - that I'll fall and kill myself on the pavement.  I tried them on the treadmill and that was not an experience I enjoyed.  So I wanted to check out this training session to see how they are being used for group fitness.












First off, I discovered that the newer models are much lighter (2.5 lbs each) and more comfortable than mine!  The weight makes a big difference for a little person like me, but I suppose that just means they provide an even more challenging workout (trying to look for the silver lining here).  I have to say, doing aerobics-type movement with them on IS INCREDIBLY FUN!  I loved it.  I was really surprised by how much I loved it.  So much so, that I plan to buy a workout DVD online but first have to decide which one.  Unfortunately, they weren't selling any DVDs at the conference.  Honestly, if I had time to teach more classes, I would think about certifying to teach Kangoo Jump classes.  Really fun, a great workout, and relatively simple choreography for a dance-phobic person like myself. 

For the first time ever, I did a few yoga sessions at the conference.  I was trying to be really cautious about not overdoing it and I haven't had much time for my yoga practice lately.  I was also curious to learn more about YogaFit, which I have seen advertised all over the place.  As it turns out, it is like a corporatized version of yoga, or as they state on their website,"Yoga for the fitness industry".  One YogaFit class I attended (taught by Paul Golloro) was awesome: a moderate intensity flow class that stretched me out and recharged me for the rest of the day.    The other one was called YogaLean, taught by YogaFit founder, Beth Shaw.  I hate when people associate yoga with weight loss but I was curious to see what it was all about.  It actually is a very gentle yoga class and the "Lean" part refers to the focus on lowering stress hormones, which can affect metabolism and storage of fat.  True enough, but I still think the name is sort of false advertising and gives people the impression that doing some gentle yoga can help them lose weight (which it is not likely to do, particularly if you continue with other lifestyle factors contributing to weight gain/preventing weight loss).

I also attended a BOSU training session which introduced me to the BOSU Powerstax.  They are basically little platforms that increase the height of the BOSU (like risers for STEPs), and can also be used on their own (they are weighted with water inside them).

BOSU® POWERSTAX™ - Single Unit

Adam is rolling his eyes as he reads this because he's thinking, "Oh no, she's going to want one of those!"  Yes. Probably. Some day.  They were selling them at the Tradeshow for $85 but I didn't buy one.

I have to say, the conference left me feeling pretty proud of my fitness.  During the Todd Durkin session, I was paired with a tall, skinny, gorgeous, 27-year-old stay-at-home mother of 3 who teaches classes in a small town.  As 'old' as I felt compared to her, I kicked her ass in terms of strength and endurance.  I also held my own with the BOSU work (I use it so much as home, that I've gotten pretty good at it!), the Kangoo Jumps and the yoga.  Sometimes I worry that being my own trainer, I may be slacking more than I think, but I now feel more confident that I'm keeping myself on par.

Really, if there is anything I learn from this conference every year, it is that there is some type of fitness activity for EVERYONE regardless of age, body type, ability and interest.  Being active is critical to long-term physical and mental health and well-being and it's never to late to start.  As Nike says, "Just Do It!"

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

CAN FIT PRO Conference 2013 Day 1



I am a fitness fanatic but I've always been ambivalent about fitness conferences.  I love exercise, I love teaching and training people, but I am not the "Ra Ra" type and these events always involve a lot of that.

I've been going to the CAN FIT PRO conference since 1998.  I kinda have to.  It's the only way I can get all the CECs so I can maintain my professional fitness instructor and personal trainer certifications (short of trying to find time throughout the year to attend various training seminars here and there).  Some things about it are great and some are downright irritating and annoying.

This year I did my best to minimize the annoyances.  The first thing was the getting to and from the convention centre downtown.  At this point, I do not need to prove anything by riding my bike and then, after a day of exercise, having to cycle home the 30-40 minute ride in the summer heat.  But door-to-door public transport from our place is 3 connections and inefficient, and parking down there is a fortune.  So this year, I rode my bike the 6 minute ride to the nearest subway station on the north/south line and then hopped on.  BY FAR THE MOST EFFICIENT WAY TO GO!  Success.

Unfortunately, one of the things that is most annoying is going to a session that sucks, but my first one was absolutely pathetic.  It was a spinning session sponsored by Madd Dog Athletics .  The presenter was awful.  It was a session on Negative Intervals, which she defined as intervals of equal length and intensity with decreasing rest in between.  That's about all I learned, and it's not even something I haven't done before in my own class (but just didn't have a name for).  I forced myself to stay to the end, convinced I was just being a negative nelly and I was sure to get something out of it.  Nope.  This woman doesn't know the meaning of the word coaching.  A good instructor coach inspires and motivates and this involves not just what you say, but the way you say it (Ra Ra stuff is not what I'm talking about here).  She barely said anything at all.  Sigh.  That was 90 minutes of my life I'll never get back.

I did learn that when I lean over too far in the spandex top I was wearing, you can see my boobs.  Guess I won't be wearing that top again.  Oh, I also learned that Kiku apples are awesome.  But that has nothing to do with the conference except I brought some as snacks.


KIKU Apples

They are apparently a variant of Fuji apples.  I guess I have a thing for Japanese apples.  Mutsu are my favorites, followed by Fujis and these babies.  Yum!

After the horrible spinning session, I decided I was not going to attend any more spinning sessions and rearranged my whole schedule.  This turned out to be a good thing.  Because I discovered this guy:

Todd Durkin

Meet Todd Durkin

He rocks.  His session was a boot camp of sorts with ladders, BOSUs, etc.  Loved it, loved him.  Partly I love that he seems like a total mench.  One of the first things he did was thank his wife and 3 kids and all the people who work for him.  Love it.  If I lived near him in California and had lots of money, he'd be my personal trainer.  He trains all sorts of professional athletes as well as everyday folks like you and I.

The Tradeshow this year felt a bit overwhelming the first day.  I swear it gets more crowded each year!  I was pretty restrained with my spending though.  I bought some Quest protein bars, which were a good price, a dress (they sell clothes and not just workout clothes!), compression calf sleeves for Adam, wind screens for my mic when I teach fitness, physio tape and a weight lifting belt.  That's it!  Then, of course, I loaded up on the free stuff and samples.  Believe me, there was lots more I would have liked, but a lot of the stuff is really expensive and not really discounted.  Like 20% off of stuff that's already too expensive, is still too expensive!

At a booth where they were selling fancy schmancy foam roller thingies, I got one of the salespeople to show me some good ways to use the roller for calves, hamstrings, and inner thighs - areas I had not figured out on my own to rehab effectively with the roller.  Unfortunately for her I didn't buy her products 'cause we already have a perfectly good roller at home.

One thing that was weird is that it seemed like every 4th woman I saw at this conference was pregnant.  My infertility clients would have hated it!  There are always some, of course, but, I swear, there were TONS this year. 

The nice thing is the 'relative' diversity of the attendees.  Not really much ethnic diversity - visible minorities are sorely under represented among Canadian fitness professionals, but in terms of age and body type.  You do get the 20-something bleached blonde, over-tanned hard bodies and steroid-fuelled muscle heads that you'd expect, but they're a minority.  At the not-so-tender age of 38, I'm not even close to being part of the oldest cohort there.  In fact, I saw folks ranging in age from teens to seniors.  And this year they even had specific activities just for kids in the tradeshow!  Body types also range from magazine-cover worthy to clinically obese.  You can be fit and fat!

So that was Day 1.  Day 2 was much longer so I'll save all of that for the next post.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Chickpea, Okra and Mango Curry


Good Monday morning!  I am going to be a total grumpasauras this week because it's going to be super hot and humid.  Blech!

I will have a few posts about the CAN FIT PRO conference to share with you the latest and greatest and not so great fitness products and trends, but today I'll share a recipe.  One of the things that came up in several different contexts was the health benefits of turmeric (among other things its a potent anti-carcinogen).  It's not a spicy spice, so it's safe for folks who like their foods mild. The bright yellow colour, actually, is a lot stronger than it's flavour.  It's traditional in Indian cuisine, but you could add it to all sorts of things for a little health boost.

Okra is another frequently overlooked nutrition superstar.  Okra is one of those things you either love or hate.  Haters tell me it's a texture thing - that it's slimy.  Okra contains a substance that naturally thickens your dish, which is why its a great addition to soups, stews and curries.  I love it and I don't find is slimy.  One of the best okra dishes was one Adam and I had in an Indian restaurant in Manhattan, which also had mango in it.  This curry is completely made up by me and not really 'authentic'.  But I don't care.  It's delicious.

Okra is incredibly healthy too, with a good amount of protein for a vegetable (12g/10 ounces), and an abundance of vitamins and minerals (vitamins A, C, K, folate, choline, calcium, magnesium, potassium, manganese). 

If you've never tried them, you really should!  They are readily available in the grocery store either fresh or frozen.  Okra virgins might want to start by tossing them with a bit of olive oil and your favorite spices and roasting them, since that will do the best job of keeping them from releasing their slightly gelatinous insides.  Or, just make this dish, it's super yum.

Chickpea, Okra and Mango Curry

1 tsp coconut oil
1 onion, peeled and quartered
Chunk of fresh ginger, peeled
3 cloves garlic
2 cups frozen mango + 1/2 cup water, pureed
1 tbls garam masala
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
Crushed red chili flakes, to taste (optional)
2 tbls cider vinegar
2-300g bags frozen, sliced okra (or 4 cups fresh)
1 cauliflower, cut into florets*
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (or 1.5 cups cooked chickpeas)
1 cup plain yogurt (dairy, soy or coconut)

Brown basmati rice, quinoa or millet


In a large skillet or fry pan, saute onion, ginger garlic, mango puree, vinegar and spices in oil for about 5 minutes.  Add okra, cauliflower and chickpeas and simmer until veggies are tender.  Stir in yogurt.  Serve on top of grain of choice.

*I like to roast the cauliflower with some garlic and oil first, but that step is optional.

This recipe was submitted to Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten-Free Friday and the last Wellness Weekend for this summer.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Cats, Kids & Conferences



The girls and I finally discovered Mr. Wuzzles' true identity.  His/her name is actually Mittens and is indeed the neighbours' new cat (I don't yet know if Mittens is truly a Mr or actually a Ms).  Mittens didn't visit us for almost a week and I have to admit, I was pretty bummed.  But the past few days we've been getting lots of cat love.

We've also been in a really good place around here.  The girls have been fighting less and behaving more.  Unfortunately I'm pretty sure its an aberration of sorts.  Things will right themselves back to the usual chaos soon I'm certain.  But I have also been better about using some of the strategies from How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and How to Listen So Kids Will Talk and they really do work.  Just articulating Little A's feelings to her often diffuses her tantrums (i.e., Are you sad because Big A won't let you go into her room?).  Even her bedtime antics have diminished...mostly because I now tell her that if I have to come back into her room after we've tucked her in, I will take away her precious Pink Bear for the night ("Except if I throw up or am bleeding, right mommy?").  Yes, except in the case of an 'emergency'.  Little A has even been waking up with a smile on her face for a change!  Adam thinks we've turned a corner, but I'm still waiting for a regression.  I guess we'll see...

I've also got conferences on the brain right now. The CAN FIT PRO conference is this weekend so its several straight days of fitness training sessions, checking out the latest fitness equipment, gadgets and supplements, and spending way too much money in the tradeshow.

I also found out this week that one of the fertility clinics I work with is giving me a grant to attend our annual conference (the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society) in September to present research we are doing.  I am very excited as this is a great conference and this year it's in Victoria, B.C. and I've never been there before!!

So busy weekend but the timing works out well.  It's supposed to be hot which means I am actually beyond thrilled I have an excuse to spend most of it inside air conditioned buildings for the conference.

Have a good one!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Banana Pops: Fun Activity & Healthy Snack for Kids!


 

 

Earlier this week Big A had a dinner 'date' with her boyfriend.  This led to some tears because Little A wanted to play with them and Big A told her in uncertain terms that she was not welcome to join them.  So I told Little A I would play with her until dinner time and right away she asked if we could cook or bake something together.  Ironically, what she asked to make requires no baking or cooking - which makes them perfect to prepare with little ones.  She made these at daycare and wanted to recreate them at home and we had a great time doing it.  They're healthy and only require 3 ingredients that most folks have on hand.  No sharp knives are necessary so even toddlers can help make them!

The only problem was explaining that it would take a little while for them to freeze.  Eager to eat them, the girls ended up having them for breakfast the next morning.

Banana Pops

2 large medium ripe bananas
4 tbls peanut butter (or other nut/seed butter)
Raisins (or dried cranberries or other dried fruit of choice)
4 popsicle sticks

Options: Use chocolate chips, coconut or chopped nuts instead of, or in addition to the dried fruit.

Cut or break bananas in half width-wise
Push popsicle sticks into the flat (cut) end of each half of banana
Spread with a tbls of peanut butter
Push in desired amount of dried fruit

Place on baking sheet, large plate or flat pan lined with wax paper and freeze for several hours.

Here are my little monkeys enjoying their banana pops (don't mind the bed head...no one likes brushing their hair around here!):



Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Vegan Thai Lettuce Wraps



Here is a vegetarian version of the Asian lettuce wraps that are so popular these days.  I guarantee no one will miss the meat!  These make a great appetizer, snack or light meal.

1 lb crumbled tempeh (or veggie ground 'meat')
2 tbls fresh ginger, minced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbls Ume plum vinegar
1/2 cup light coconut milk
1 tbls lemongrass paste (the kind in the tube you find in the produce section), optional
Crushed red chilis, to taste (optional)
2 green onions, thinly sliced

8 large iceberg or Boston lettuce leaves

Place all the ingredients for filling in skillet or frying pan and simmer over medium heat until coconut milk is absorbed.  Spoon into the centre of lettuce leaves, fold up and eat up!  Makes 8 lettuce wraps.

I have shared this recipe with this week's Wellness Weekend and Urban Naturale.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Japanese Seaweed and Cucumber Salad


One of my favorite things to order at sushi restaurants is the seaweed salad.  So when I saw bags of seaweed on sale at the Korean grocery store I frequent, I eagerly picked some up. 


I paired the seaweed with cucumber for a refreshing, flavourful salad that is also a cinch to make.  If you don't have a Korean or Japanese grocer near you, you can probably find seaweed mixes like this at your local health food store.

Japanese Seaweed and Cucumber Salad

1 bag salted seaweed, soaked, rinsed and drained to remove excess salt
1 English cucumber, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 tbls sesame seeds

Combine all the ingredients, toss and serve.  Geez, that was easy!  Keep refrigerated for up to 3 days.

I thought it most appropriate to serve this salad in one of the adorable Japanese kitty bowls I picked up at the Pacific Mall years ago...


 
This recipe has been shared with Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten-Free Friday.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Over the Rainbow

 

Hello!  It's Monday yet again.  And holy cow, we had another great weekend! 

But first things first...I'm all for self-acceptance and everything, however, I'm back to straightening my hair.  I couldn't take it anymore.  My hair is so darn curly, particularly in the heat and humidity, that it shrinks like 3 or so inches and I feel like a big frizz ball.



Despite frizz issues though, the past few days were a blast.  Saturday morning I had a few clients to see, but in the afternoon we had friends over for dinner and got take-out from Tabule.  Pretty yummy stuff, although our favorite place for Middle Eastern food is still Mashu Mashu.  The girls had so much fun playing with their kids, it was great, but a bit of a circus around here...and very loud.

Yesterday I taught my spin class while Adam took the girls to swimming, and then we took them to see the Wizard of Oz!  Last week they came home from daycare and started complaining that ALL their friends had seen it.  I had no idea it was something they'd even be interested in!  We were initially reluctant given how pricey it is and that we had our doubts they - particularly Little A - would like it, but Adam found a discount for tickets through Wag Jag.  We warned the girls that we were not going to be able to get great seats, but they said they didn't care, they really wanted to go.

The show is playing at the Mirvish Theatre, which I had never been to before.  The theatre was first opened in 1920 and still retains some of the beautiful original architecture.  I am not a huge fan of musicals, but it was actually pretty great and the girls loved it.  Little A did start getting whiney by intermission but buying the girls each a Haagen Daz ice cream bar fixed that.

I am really glad we took them, particularly because Big A continues to show growing interest in performing.  She's still taking voice lessons and although she no longer shatters glass, I don't think she has much of a future in singing.  But dance and/or acting are possibilities.  So we've signed her up for the Randolph Academy's Broadway Babes program.  I'm just amazed by her confidence.  As a kid I did not love getting up in front of an audience one bit.

Well that's all folks, I'm off to work, so have a fantastic start to your week.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Coconut Caramel Frosted Brownie Squares (Vegan, Sugar-Free & Gluten-Free)


Its Friday!  So here's a sweet treat you can whip up over the weekend.

I have heard so many good things about JK Gourmet Almond Flour for baking that I picked some up at the health food store recently.  These little treats were my first experiment with them, which turned out very well, I have to say: Sweet, rich and satisfying without giving you a sugar-rush.

If you don't like coconut, use the substitutions I have suggested for the frosting.  Little A absolutely hates coconut, so she would only eat the brownie base, but everyone else loved the frosting.  In fact, the frosting was Big A's favorite part.

 Coconut Caramel Frosted Brownie Squares

1/2 cup + 2 tbls coconut oil, melted
2 flax eggs (2 tbls ground flax mixed with 6 tbls hot water)
1/4 cup powdered stevia or stevia baking blend
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 droppers full of liquid stevia
1-1/4 cups almond flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/8 tsp salt

Whisk together oil, flax eggs, stevia and vanilla.  Stir in almond flour, cocoa powder and salt.  Spread into greased, parchment paper-lined 8x8 square pan.  Bake at 350F for 14 minutes.  Let cool completely.  Use parchment paper to remove from pan.  Frost as desired.

Frosting

1/2 cup room temperature coconut oil*
2 tbls lucuma powder
2 droppers full of English Toffee stevia liquid (or vanilla)
1/4 cup coconut milk powder**

Place all the ingredients in food processor and pulse until light and fluffy.  Spread onto cooled brownies.

Keep brownies refrigerated.

*If you don't want the frosting to taste 'coconutty', use refined coconut oil.
**Use soy milk powder in place of coconut milk powder if desired.

Have a lovely weekend, I'll 'see' you on Monday.

This recipe has been submitted to Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten-Free Friday, Wellness Weekend and the plant-based pot luck link-up on Urban Naturale.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Summer Reads

I have always been a voracious reader.  From the time I learned to read around age 4, I have loved getting lost in novels.  I remember as a kid spending hours just lying on my bed reading and reading.  People always ask when I find time to read now.  I make it a part of my bedtime routine.  Sometimes I read for an hour, sometimes just 5 minutes before I start falling asleep.  But I find it the perfect way to turn my brain off from life and relax.

I have read some pretty awesome books recently.  Here are a few of them.

My absolute favorite was The Imposter Bride:

Front Cover

I always tend to be drawn to stories involving the Holocaust, but this truly was a fantastic read.  Even better than her earlier novel Your Mouth is Lovely (which is also excellent!):

Front Cover

I also loved The Dress Lodger: 

 Front Cover

It's a very interesting, disturbing, engaging story about 19th century England during a cholera epidemic.

The Cat's Table was pretty good too and it had been a long while since I read anything by Michael Ondaatje:

Front Cover

This is How You Lose Her was my least favorite.  Parts of it I liked, but overall I just found it strange.

Front Cover

I am currently working on The Lemon Tree, which I am also really enjoying so far.

Front Cover

I am very old school: I read everything in hard copy.  I just can't get into reading books electronically.  By the same token, I still read both the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail in hard copy too.  I just don't find it the same to read newspapers and books online.  How about you?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Weights on the BOSU Balance Trainer: Book Review

Weights on the BOSU® Balance Trainer: Strengthen and Tone All Your Muscles with Unstable Workouts

If you ask me what the most underutilized, underappreciated fitness equipment at most gyms is, I will always say 2 things:

1. The Stepmill cardio machine, and
2. BOSUs

Most people I see at the gym ignore the BOSUs available for members to use and fight over the elliptical machines (which I think are pretty useless) while the Stepmills sit idle.

Adam and I got a BOSU a few years ago and it is so fabulous.  Years ago when I still taught a lot of fitness classes, I used to use them all the time in my athletic training/boot camp classes and I just knew we had to have one for our home gym.  Unfortunately, I don't think we have the money or space to ever get a Stepmill!

Recently I was sent Weights on the BOSU Balance Trainer by Brett Stewart and Jason Warner to review.

BOSU, in case you don't already know, stands for Both Sides Up because it is a dome-shaped apparatus that can be used dome-side up or dome-side down, making it incredibly versatile.  Either way, it provides some instability which assists with balance and kinesthetic awareness (or the connection between our brain and our musculoskeletal function).  The BOSU can be used for strength training, stretching and cardiovascular activities ranging from fairly basic to extremely advanced levels of difficulty.

The book is geared primarily towards those not yet familiar with the BOSU.  It begins with a section introducing the reader to the BOSU and answering basic questions about how to get started using it for strength training.  The BOSU may be risky for some people who have health problems or injuries so the authors prudently advise readers to see their doctor before starting BOSU training.  They also spend some time in this section explaining why strength training is important for fitness, athletic performance, and even fat loss for both men and women, even if the goal is to slim down rather than bulk up.  I appreciate this as some women still worry lifting weights will turn them into a WWE wrestler.

The next section guides newbies through how to get on the BOSU, warming up appropriately for your workout, and tips for avoiding injuries.  Following this are the programs, which range in difficulty from basic to advanced. 

Part 3 of the book describes each exercise mentioned in the programs.  I was impressed with the level of detail and the number of pictures included for each one.  For someone like me that has difficulty picturing movement without actually seeing it, this is extremely helpful.  The authors also give you quite a lot of exercises to work with, as well as variations for many of them.  I was already familiar with all of the exercises they include in the first section, however, the exercises in the "Extra Credit" section are extremely advanced and, frankly, I am a little afraid to even try most of them!

The last section provides warm-up and stretching exercises along with more detailed descriptions and ample photos.

Overall, I think this is an excellent book for just about anyone wanting to incorporate the BOSU into their strength training routine.  If you have any health problems or injuries and/or have very little strength training experience, I would recommend first meeting with a personal trainer to help you get familiar with the BOSU and/or give you some tips/feedback on your technique and form before you start any of the programs.

If you don't have a gym membership, getting a BOSU for your home is a great idea.  They don't take up much room and are only about $140.  Not only can you use them for strength training, core work and stretching, but they can also be used for cardio workouts and there are lots of DVDs out now that can guide you through various types of workouts.

So go BOSU yourself fit!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Curling Up With Family

Good morning.  Wow, we had a great family weekend!  Aside from some minor meltdowns and tears here and there, we had so much fun.

It started with a dinner to celebrate Adam's birthday Friday night at my in-laws.  Unfortunately, Adam's mom got an idea to try to find Adam a healthier version of his cookie.  Now I love that idea, but Adam doesn't want ANYTHING but his usual Mrs Field's ginormous cookie for his birthday.  This year his mom got him a cookie from Two Moms Bakery, and got them to make an oatmeal version (that probably wasn't any healthier anyways except they used butter instead of shortening like I am sure Mrs Field's does.  Adam was distraught.  He doesn't any oatmeal or anything else in his birthday cookie.  I ordered him one from Mrs Fields on Saturday.

Saturday morning we hung out with my bro and his family and visited the Withrow Park Market across the street from their house.  The girls and my niece and nephew had a great time eating ice cream and getting their faces painted.

In the afternoon, Alana's best friend came over and Adam and I had drinks with her lovely parents at our place.  Unfortunately, Little A was in a snit and refused to play with their son, who is going to be in the same kindergarten class with her in September.

Saturday evening, my in-laws took the girls for a sleep-over and Adam and I ate dinner, watched some shows, and went to bed.  Our usual date night.

Sunday morning taught my spinning class at the JCC.  I had to modify my usual Sunday morning strength training routine because several major body parts were seriously hurting.  I tried out an Asylum DVD Saturday morning and...Whoa!

Adam had mentioned that the girls wanted to go swimming at the JCC Sunday afternoon.  I tried to talk them out of it.  I suggested a bike ride, a walk, a park visit.  But they were insistent.  I gave in finally.  I did have a new bathing suit to wear and the JCC has a saltwater pool, so at least there is no yucky chlorine smell.  And the JCC change rooms are awesome.  Not at all like the yucky ones at Christie Pits.  Also, as Adam pointed out, the JCC is much less of a meat market.  It's mostly bubbies doing the side stroke and young families rather than teens and 20 somethings strutting around in their bikinis.

Since we were going to be in the water and seriously testing my tolerance yet again, I decided to do something else to push myself out of my comfort zone: I gave in to my curls. There was no point spending time straightening my hair out if we were going to be getting in a pool.  Don't mind this awful picture with red eye and lock of hair in front of my left ear that looks like I have side burns. I don't.  Really.


I can't say I like my curls.  But I did try them out again yesterday.  It certainly does save me a lot of time in the morning! I am not sure this will be a long-term thing, we'll have to see.  My hair is still wet out of the shower and I'm debating whether or not to blow out my curls or leave them.  My ambivalence has not been helped by Little A who has told me several times that she doesn't like my hair curly. 

Anyways, I have to admit it was nice to see the girls having so much fun at the pool.  I didn't enjoy our swim really, but it was alright.  By the end I was just freezing my arse off.  But this did make the walk home more pleasant as I didn't find it too hot like I did on the walk there.  And the girls gobbled down a healthy dinner of salad and salmon because they were so hungry and then went to bed that night without any fuss because they were so exhausted.

Yesterday we had a park play date with friends we hadn't seen in ages.  In the afternoon, we took the girls to Indigo to buy some books and toys with gift certificates they were given for their birthday that we hadn't yet gotten around to using.

At the end of some long weekends, Adam and I just feel worn out and exhausted, but this was a really great one!  Furthermore, a great weekend usually means the first morning back to real life is extra challenging because the girls are sad to see their 'home days' come to an end, but so far they've been delightful this morning. 

As I start another week seeing clients dealt such a lousy hand in life or struggling with serious mental health challenges I am counting my blessings.  And as I express my gratitude for having such a wonderful life, I can hear the kids erupt into an argument downstairs so I better go.  Have a great Tuesday.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Stay Safe. Protect Yourself. See You Tomorrow.


Still enjoying the long weekend here so my apologies, no real post today.  Meanwhile, take a look at my latest review of a new self-defense program in Toronto: Elite Martial Arts Toronto

Elite Martial Arts Toronto

Friday, August 2, 2013

Take a 'Paw's for Your Health

I used to be a major cat person.  Well okay, if I'm honest, I actually was a crazy cat lady.  It started very young.  By 18 months of age, I was smitten with felines.  No one knows where this affinity came from.  We didn't have cats because my brother was allergic.  Maybe it was the stuffed cats my grandma Ruth bought me at Bloomingdales.  I say 'cats' plural because I loved these stuffies so much, I went through 3 of them.  Unfortunately, by the time I got to the third one, the company stopped making them.  This left my mom responsible for trying to keep my last one from completely falling apart.  As embarrassing as it is, this is what it now looks like (eventually thread no longer worked so she had to start using my brother's hockey tape):



 
Don't laugh.  I know she looks a little worse for wear now.  But I loved her dearly.

Nevertheless, stuffed cats wasn't enough for me.  I smothered all the neighbourhood cats with love and begged my parents practically every day for a pet cat.  The fish and hamsters we had just didn't cut it for me.  Finally, when I was 11, my parents gave in.  A colleague of my mom's had a cat that had kittens and she told us we could take some home and if my brother's allergies acted up (he was no longer testing positive for cats on his scratch tests), than we could return them to her.  Fortunately (because I probably would have gone bananas), he was fine and we got to keep 2 kittens: Mittens (my dear calico baby) and Ziggy (my brother's tabby).  Mittens and I were best friends, I loved that cat to bits.  She was so loving and demonstrative: she would lick your face like she was a dog, no exaggeration!  Both cats died when they were about 14 years old, after good, long lives.

I got more cats in 1998: Lester, a Bluepoint Siamese and Milo, a Russian Blue.  Milo was a bit high strung, having been found abandoned by a cat rescue organization, but he was very sweet and loving.  Lester was really and truly my baby.  I got him when he was just 6 weeks old (he fit in my palm) and he immediately adopted me as his mom.  The joy and comfort these babies gave me is indescribable.  Although Adam is allergic to cats, he adapted pretty quickly after we moved in together in 2001 so we didn't think it was a big issue.   Unfortunately, when we moved to our new house and Big A was born (both events happened within a month of each other), they did not adjust well.  Particularly Lester, who felt neglected by me because I was now devoting my attention to a new baby, really suffered.  He meowed incessantly, which annoyed Adam and I and often woke Little A.  He became depressed and lost lots of weight.  His fur lost its lustre and began to fall out. On top of that, Adam's allergist said he should not be living with cats or he would develop asthma.  They had to go.  At first I was distraught, but eventually I was resigned to this and knew it was best for everyone, including me, who felt overwhelmed trying to take care of 2 cats and a newborn.  We were very fortunate to find a loving family that cared for both of them until they passed away about a year ago.

I've been without cats since 2006 and really haven't missed the work involved in having pets.  I also seem to have detached myself from the pleasure I used to get from cats.  For the first time in my life, nothing in me would even stir when I saw a kitty on the street.

And then this recently happened:



This cat has adopted me as a friend.  I am guessing it belongs to one of our neighbours but I have no idea which ones.  He (I haven't actually checked if it is male or female) comes and sits on our front porch or back porch almost every day.  Or jumps onto our kitchen window to watch me while I do dishes.  The girls are delighted and more comfortable interacting with this cat when they see me getting so up close and personal.

I have named him Mr. Wuzzles.  After all this time, all the love has come flooding back.  The soft fur, the purring, the rhythmic breathing when he dozes or luxuriates in my caresses.  Some cat cuddles is just what I needed this week: One of our toilets broke, my credit card was compromised, the girls have been fighting a lot.  Nothing catastrophic, but I've been feeling pretty anxious.  A little petting session with Mr. Wuzzles was just what I needed to calm down and put everything in perspective.

Of course, you probably already know the therapeutic benefits of animals if you yourself have a pet, but this is also supported by research showing that pets can enhance the physical and mental health of humans.

I don't expect to ever have pets of my own again: not only is Adam allergic, he has never really liked animals, but you can guarantee that I will now be peeking out of my doors on a regular basis to look for some snuggles from Mr. Wuzzles!

Have a lovely weekend (a long weekend if you are in Canada), and snuggle your pets (or your neighbours' pets) if you can.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Sugar-Free Korean BBQ Sauce


It's the first day of August!  Which means it's Adam's birthday today.  The only thing he wants, same as every year, is the iced birthday cookie his mom always buys him.  But I also plan to make him some of his favorite meals this weekend pulling chicken wraps and homemade pizza.  We're also getting a treat: his parents are taking the girls for a sleepover Saturday night, so we can have a little date!!

This recipe was a winner from last weekend.

If you've been to a Korean restaurant than you may know that the cuisine can be pretty meat-heavy.  They love their BBQ!  And like BBQ in other parts of the world, the sauces tend to be thick and sweet-savoury.  Yummy, but unfortunately, loaded with sugar.

I have recreated a version here with all the sweetness, richness, viscosity and flavour of the traditional ones, but none of the refined sugar.  You can use it as you would any Asian BBQ sauce, however, I used it in a tofu and pepper stir-fry.  It was yummilicious...so much so that even Adam was impressed (although admittedly he probably would have loved it even more on chicken wings...

Sugar-Free Korean BBQ Sauce

2 cups pitted dates
1 cup boiling water
Small chunk, fresh ginger, peeled and cut into pieces
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup soy/tamari/coconut aminos
1 can tomato paste
Hot chili flakes, to taste (optional)
1/2 tsp salt

Pour boiling water over dates and let sit until dates are soft.  Place dates and water in food processor and puree until smooth.  Add remaining ingredients and process until smooth.  Add additional water if you find it too thick.  Keep refrigerated up to a week or freeze.

This recipe has been submitted to Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten-Free Friday and Diet, Dessert & Dogs' Wellness Weekend.