Friday, January 31, 2014

The End is Just the Beginning

Here we are: January 31st, 2014 and the final day of my month long gratitude challenge.

So what was the point?  Well most of us start off a new year taking stock of what we want to change, and often this relates to what we don't like about ourselves and about our life.  There is nothing wrong with self-improvement or with having goals, of course, but as research consistently shows us, we are not terribly successful with New Year's resolutions.  We can also do harm to our physical and mental health when we focus exclusively on what is going wrong and fail to recognize all that's right in the world, and in our lives.

I have to admit, it's been a hard month.  My thoughts have been almost exclusively with my friend who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and her family.  Basically witnessing a suicide on the subway this week was pretty brutal too.  Throw in a few natural disasters, political crises and senseless crimes around the world and its easy to see how one can feel overwhelmed by sadness and despair.

So here is what I learned this month: As an individual, I am ridiculously fortunate.  I have everything.  A wonderful husband and children, supportive extended family, amazing friends and community, a cosy, comfortable house, and a career I love.  I have a fit, strong body that allows me to do some amazing things and feels great, and looks not too shabby for 39.  I also live in a great city, give or take, in a great country, generally free from violence or oppression.  I have financial security and more food and clothes than I really need.

What isn't so shiny and happy is the situation for many others around the world.  Its tough not to let that pull me down, but what I am trying to focus on, is that I have chosen a career that helps others.  While I may not be helping millions of people, I know - through some amazingly positive feedback from some of my clients - that I am making a real difference, for the few people who's lives I do touch.  This brings me some comfort and has reminded me that what makes me feel truly happy and fulfilled is helping others. 

I totally fell off the wagon with my Random Act of Kindness project this past year, as I didn't manage to do something nice for a stranger every week like I planned, but I have been trying to weave little favours into situations with family and friends.  I have realized that a Random Act of Kindness doesn't just mean doing something spontaneous for a stranger, it can mean going beyond the call of duty for those already in our lives, which is how it should be anyways.  Finding opportunities to help others as well is just icing on the cake.  I will continue to do so.  There is nothing wrong with committing yourself to a few good causes that have meaning to you.  None of us can take on EVERY problem in the world.

So, my goals for 2014 include:

1. Support my friend and her family in any way I can through her surgery and cancer treatment.
2. Do the 1 day walk in September as part of the Weekend to End Women's Cancers (and raise as much money as I can!).
3. Trying to get more involved with the girls' school (being on the daycare board, I haven't been able to get as involved as I would like).

Have a great weekend and happy Ground Hog Day!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Chocolate Marble Muffins (Vegan & Sugar-Free)

Today, Day 30 of my 2014 Gratitude Challenge, I am grateful for a small little thing that made my day yesterday: I discovered our local Loblaws now sells these stevia-sweetened chocolate chips:


They are also gluten-free and nut-free, by the way.  There is no dairy listed in them either, but they don't say they are vegan or dairy-free on the package.

It was a crazy coincidence actually, as I had the day off and was trying to get a number of things done including making muffins for the girls' lunches.  I was out of my home-made, sugar-free chocolate chips and didn't have time to make more, and was trying to figure out what, besides chocolate, they would find appealing.  Our bananas weren't ripe enough to bake with, and Big A recently decided she hates blueberries.  I wanted to avoid dried fruit for the sake of their teeth (since they don't brush at school) and was grumpily meandering the aisles looking for inspiration.  I almost kissed the woman walking past me when I spied these chocolate chips.  Without even checking the price, I snatched up 2 bags.  I have never seen these before, even online!  I've bought other products from this company, but had no idea they make chocolate.  As it turns out, they were $6.79 per bag, which is definitely more than making them myself, but less than the ones I've seen online.  Awesome!

Little A, who can still be even pickier than her sister, loves doubling up on favorite flavours.  She often requests chocolate vanilla smoothies, which require me to make vanilla, leave some in the blender, and add chocolate, and then swirl them in the cup for her (she likes a bit of fancy...if you ask her what her favorite colour is, she'll tell you, "multicolour".  Thus, I decided to make chocolate marble muffins.  I didn't add any hidden vegetables to these because lately she's been searching for microscopic bits of produce in my baked goods and rejecting them, even if she was enjoying them before she found a 'bit' (Sidebar: She doesn't like bits in anything.  She won't even eat yogurt with 'bits' of fruit or anything with 'bits' of nuts in it).  I settled with just adding a vegan protein powder to give them some staying power.  These were definitely a triumph as everyone loved them!

Chocolate Marble Muffins

3/4 cup coconut oil, melted
4 tbls ground flax
3/4 cup boiling water
1 cup xylitol, erythritol or 3/4 cup powdered stevia
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 38g scoop vegan plain or stevia-sweetened vanilla protein powder
2 cups whole spelt flour, or other whole grain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup sugar-free chocolate chips

Whisk together wet ingredients in a large bowl.  Whisk dry ingredients in a smaller bowl and then stir into wet.  Add chips and gently fold until they start melting.  Quickly scoop into greased or parchment-lined muffin cups.*  Bake at 375F for 18 minutes.  Let cool completely before removing from pan.  Keep in an airtight container for up to 4 days, or freeze.  Makes 12 muffins.

*I found that chocolate on the bottom of the muffins stuck to the cups a bit, so next time I will use parchment liners so as not so lose any precious chocolate.
This recipe has been submitted to Wellness Weekend.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Helping Hand

Today I am grateful that my job, which I absolutely love, allows me to help those in need.  There are few things that can bring as much satisfaction as helping others. 

I do wish, however, that more people in need could get help.  I was reminded of just how many people do not get the help they need yesterday.  On my way to work, my subway was evacuated just one stop from home due to a 'personal injury'.  A little known fact in Toronto (and I am sure its similar in most big cities) is how many suicides occur on the subway tracks.  I've known this for a while, of course, but I have never witnessed it.  This time, as we were evacuated off the train, I could hear people talking to someone under the train, just one car ahead of mine, trying to reassure her that she would be okay.  As we streamed out of the station, multiple ambulances, fire trucks and police cars arrived with sirens on.  At first it wasn't clear whether it was a suicide attempt or an accident, but later in the day with no word about it in the news, it became clear that it must have been a jumper.  An accident or a crime (if someone had been pushed) would have been reported.

The fact that it was Bell Let's Talk day, which is trying to bring attention to the issue of mental health makes the whole incident seem even more tragic. 

Suicide is never the solution to a problem.  Most problems can be solved.  Most people don't really want to die.  They want to live without pain.  Most of the time this is possible.  Often it requires help.  If you are having suicidal thoughts, please reach out.  There are people who care!  My thoughts go out to the family of this woman.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Stop the Stigma

Today, Day 28 of my Gratitude Challenge, I am grateful that it is Bell Let's Talk Day.

Mental health is an important issue for me, both as someone who has struggled with anxiety for most of my life, as well as someone who, as a psychotherapist, who works in the field.

I am so thankful for this initiative which aims to open dialogue about mental health and to reduce the stigma from mental illness.  This year it is focusing on 3 particularly vulnerable populations who, in Canada, do not get sufficient support: (1) Military, (2) Youth, and (3) Seniors.

To help spread the word and assist with this valuable program visit the website for more info.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Peanut Butter & Jam Muffins (Gluten-Free)

Good grief, it's already January 27th, day 27 of my Gratitude Challenge!  It also happens to be another Monday of a week that is supposed to be stupidly cold and yucky.  Perfect time to practice gratitude and not wallow in self-pity.  Today I am grateful that my kids have no serious allergies...yet (allergies can develop at any point in time).

I was quite concerned my kids would have bad allergies because Adam has some (Marlin, hay, etc.) and lots of people in my family have them (shellfish, morphine and penicillin among other things).  I, luckily, am just allergic to wool and have a ton of skin sensitivities, but nothing that yields a really serious reaction or anything.  While pregnant with Big A, I didn't touch a peanut, since at that point that was the recommendation.  While pregnant with Little A, I ate lots of peanuts because at that point the experts decided early exposure was better.  Now I think its been determined that it really doesn't matter.  In any case, neither of my kids show signs of peanut or other food allergies thus far.

I can't imagine how scary it would be to have a kid with a severe allergy to something like nuts.  So with that, I give you a recipe using peanut butter!

I recently made a massive batch of raspberry chia jam, based on Angela's recipe.  Adam brought home to huge bags full of the berries a few months ago, and not knowing what to do with them at the time, I froze them. 

Little A and I used some of them to make raspberry tarts:

But there was lots left over and after the girls almost made themselves sick eating it straight from a spoon, Big A decided I should bake some muffins for her boyfriend and his family.  I was happy to oblige.

One of his mom's is my good friend who recently got the ovarian cancer diagnosis.  As you can imagine, she hasn't had much of an appetite, so I thought some yummy muffins might be useful to have around.

They are gluten-free because...well to be honest, after I started making them, I realized I was completely out of flour.  Ha!  But I had a huge thing of coconut flour so I figured I'd use that.

You can use other nut or seed butters if you don't want to use peanut, and other flavours of jam, if raspberries aren't your favorite.  But this combo is pretty awesome.

I made mini-muffins, but you can make bigger ones or a loaf if you prefer, you'll just have to adjust the cooking time.

Peanut Butter and Jam Muffins (Gluten-Free)

1 cup of egg whites
1 cup coconut sugar
1/2 cup natural peanut butter (or other nut/seed butter)
1/2 cup milk, dairy or non-dairy (plain or unsweetened vanilla)
1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup coconut flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

About 1 cup of no-sugar jam (I omitted the maple syrup from Angela's recipe and just added a dropper full of plain stevia liquid).

Whisk together wet ingredients in a large bowl.  Add dry ingredients and continue whisking until it thickens.  Spoon batter into greased mini muffin cups or mini muffin tins with parchment muffin liners.  Top each with a dollop of jam.  Bake at 375F for 16 minutes.  Let cool completely before removing from muffin tins.  Keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or freeze.  Makes 32 mini muffins.

I have submitted this recipe to this week's Gluten-Free Friday on Vegetarian Mamma.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Its a Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood

Today, Day 24 of my Gratitude Challenge, I am giving thanks for our neighbourhood.  Toronto, like any city, has its problems, many of which I complain about regularly: major traffic, rude and aggressive drivers, and a shitty transit system.  And all of this is being made worse by our pathetic excuse for a mayor (which I'm guessing you've heard something about by now!).

But there are awesome things about this city too: The diversity, the food (honestly I have yet to find another city that can match us for the breadth and quality of ethic food restaurants and grocery stores), and the neighbourhoods.  In fact, people often refer to Toronto as a city of neighbourhoods.  It has a vast array of ethnic enclaves, but also communities created by geography, like ours, that are diverse and unique. 

When we moved here, it was not at all trendy.  Most of our friends had never heard of, or been to the area, and there is STILL little agreement on its name.  Sometimes its called Christie Pits, because of the huge, famous park in the south east area.  Our real estate agent recently told me it is considered part of Wychwood, but really it isn't. Wychwood starts a block north and is much more trendy and expensive.  That being said, a house (a smaller semi) on our street recently sold for well over $600,000, and just south of our street houses are starting to sell for $750,000 or much more, depending on their size and condition.  This is a huge jump from when we moved here almost 8 years ago.

But while all of our friends at the time chose swankier neighbourhoods, we chose this one, frankly, because it is the closest thing we could afford to where we were renting: the Annex, which is the neighbourhood closest to the University of Toronto and is prohibitively expensive for most mere mortals.  We now could not be happier with our choice.  It's central, has several awesome community centres and recreational facilities, our kids' awesome school and daycare (which are in the same building), several great grocery stores, and an increasing number of great restaurants and funky cafes.  It is relatively close to public transit (a 4 minute bus ride to the subway) and walking distance from 2 major streets with tons of amenities (Bloor and St. Clair). 

What makes me love this area, however, is the people.  We have great neighbours and have become part of a fabulous community of families through the girls' school and daycare.  I feel so lucky to be party of this wonderful community.

This weekend's going to be busy.  I work tomorrow and we have the usual activities for the girls: swimming, soccer,  fit kids and Hebrew School, along with 2 birthday parties.  It's going to be fun.  Have a good one.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Berry Lemony Muffins (Low-Fat, Vegan + Sugar-Free)

If you have noticed that the photos on this blog are even worse than usual, its because my camera is incompatible with my computer's new operating system.  Stupid Windows 8!  I now have to use my phone to take pics.  The muffin loaf above looks un-baked in this picture, which is so weird because in reality it was fresh out of the oven and looked (and smelled and tasted) delightful.   Oh well, I'm not about to get a new camera anytime soon so my phone pics will have to do.

I am really not technically inclined.  My phone (Samsung Galaxy S4) couldn't be better quality and has some ridiculously amazing features and functions, but I don't know how to use most of them.  I really just use my phone for communicating with my clients.  Actually, I have to tell you, what I am grateful for today (It's now Day 23 of my Gratitude Challenge), is that Adam and I are not device abusers/addicts (we don't have PVR, we still use a VCR, Adam doesn't have a Smart phone, and I am a very light user of mine). 

Honestly, I think this overreliance/addiction most people have to their phones is extremely problematic.  Spending all their time connecting with others virtually, some folks end up isolating themselves, because instead of being present with loved ones, they are distracted by the devices.  In my counselling, I see how this can cause jealousy, anger and resentment inside intimate relationships. 

In some contexts, this gadget obsession is also dangerous.  I still see lots of people using their phones while driving, even in places it is illegal.   Just walking down the street texting and/or wearing headphones can also be dangerous because these people become completely oblivious to their actual surroundings. 

All the texting, internet surfing, Tweeting, and game playing can also interfere with other parts of people's lives.  I have clients who can be late for work because they can't stop playing games on their phone, and clients who spend all their free time playing games, which compromises their physical health by preventing them from being active and/or causing insomnia due to exposure to the artificial light in the evening.  Often gadget usage/game playing creates problems in marriages and relationships as the user spends increasing amounts of leisure time online instead of being present with their loved one.  Many of these folks unwilling and/or unable to scale back their use, no matter what the cost.

So while I may know almost nothing about how to use most technology, I can at least say I am not addicted to it.  Nor is my phone use interfering with my relationships or health. Actually, I still forget to take my cell phone with me a lot, or forget where I've put it.  I am therefore grateful (albeit still a bit embarrassed about my ignorance) that I am not a tech addict.

So listen up, why not put down your device right now, go bake these delicious muffins that taste as sunny as a warm summer day.  Perfect for the dead of winter!

While they are baking, do an exercise video, when they are done, drop by a friend's place with some warm muffins for a little coffee date.  Exercise, lemony muffins and coffee with a good friend, what more do you need?  Certainly not your phone!

If you love lemons like I do, than you will love these uber-moist, super lemony muffins bursting with berries.

Berry Lemony Muffins (Low-Fat, Vegan + Sugar-Free)

2 organic lemons, ends cut, then sliced thinly and seeds removed
28oz jar of unsweetened applesauce
4 flax eggs (4 tbls ground flax + 12 tbls hot water)
1/2 cup powdered stevia baking blend, or sweetener to taste
2 droppers full of lemon stevia
2 tsp pure lemon extract

 3 cups whole grain kamut flour (or other whole grain flour)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

1 lb berries, fresh or frozen (I used half blueberries and half cranberries)

Puree lemons in food processor.  Scrape into a large bowl, add all other wet ingredients and whisk together.   Whisk dry ingredients together in a smaller bowl and then add to wet ingredients, along with berries.  Mix, just until combined.  Batter will be very thick.

Scrape into greased loaf or muffin pans (I made 10 mini loaves).  Bake at 375F until toothpick comes out clean (was 24 minutes for mini loaves, will be shorter if you bake in regular muffin tins, a lot longer if you go for one big loaf).  If not eating within the next 3 days, freeze and defrost as needed.

This recipe has been submitted to this week's Wellness Weekend.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Pulled Chick-un

6 8 oz. Soy Curls
I always say I'm a carb-a-holic, but the truth is, I am also a protein-a-holic...actually, I'm a fruit and vegetable-a-holic maybe I'm just a food-a-holic.  A healthy food-a-holic, of course.  But seriously, I think I crave protein as much as I crave carbs, possibly even more so.  Protein is so satisfying.  It must be all that weight lifting I do!

I love most proteins, but I do try to limit my animal-based sources.  I have admitted before that there are even a few mock meat products that I love, even though these are not particularly healthy (i.e. heavily processed and high in sodium).  I try to limit their use as much as possible so I am always looking for new vegetable-based protein ideas (aside from beans, which I love...but you can definitely get too much of...or so my husband reminds me frequently!). 

Recently, I heard about Soy Curls and was instantly intrigued.  They are made from soybeans but much less processed than texturized vegetable protein.  They are produced from whole, non-GMO soybeans and are quick and easy to use.  According to the company's website, this is how they are made:

Select certified Non-GMO soybeans grown without chemical pesticides are soaked in spring water. Then the soybeans are cooked and delicately textured after which they are dried at low temperature thus ensuring the natural goodness of the whole soybean high in fiber and omega-3.  
Soy Curls™ are one of the most pure, healthful products on the market containing no chemicals, additives, or preservatives.

They are available online, however, I was not interested in paying the hefty shipping fees.  So when I found them in a health food store in our neighbourhood last week, I was thrilled (though I realize now that even with shipping, they're cheaper than what I paid).

This is the first recipe I tried with them and its a winner.  They definitely have the look and texture of chicken, but I'm thinking at some point I might mince them up in the food processor and see if I could make some sort of meat-less balls out of them.  This made for a comforting, satisfying lunch that, along with some cucumber salad, kept me going until dinner time.

I'll definitely be going online to pick up more!

Pulled Chick-un

2 cups (dry) Soy Surls
4 cups boiling water
1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, minced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbls chili powder (mild or spicy)
1/4 tsp ground cumin (optional)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 can tomato paste
Cayenne pepper, to taste (optional)

Whole grain rolls, wraps, pita, taco shells, lettuce wraps, etc.

Soak curls in water for 10 minutes and then drain excess water.

Meanwhile, saute onion garlic and spices in oil in a skillet or pan for about 5 minutes over medium heat.  Add vinegar and rehydrated Soy Curls.  Cook another 3-4 minutes.  Add tomato paste and turn heat down to low.  Let cook for another 5 minutes.  Spoon desired amount onto bread, wraps, etc.  Makes 2 hearty servings.  Keep leftovers refrigerated for up to 4 days, or freeze for future use.

Today, Day 22 of my Gratitude Challenge, I am thankful to not be in Australia.  Yeah, maybe grasping at straws today.  It's like -23 Celsius with the wind chill which is just stupidly cold.  But honestly, to me its not quite as bad as the dangerously hot weather they are having in Australia.  How is that for looking at the glass as half full?
This recipe has been submitted to this week's Gluten-Free Friday.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Urban Minerals: Product Review

Urban Minerals
Today I am grateful to be 39.  Yeah, I'm serious!  Admittedly, I miss my perky pre-breast feeding boobies from my 20s, and I could do without a lot of the lines that have developed on my face.  But you know what?  I'm stronger and fitter than I've ever been, and more importantly, I am wiser than I was in my 20s and early 30s.  This wisdom has translated into more inner peace and greater self-acceptance.  And I wouldn't trade that for all the smooth skin and bouncy boobies in the world.

 I don't know about you, but it really freaks me out when I hear all the weird toxic shit there is in a lot of personal care products.  I just don't get why our government allows this.  Hello Health Canada!  Get the carcinogens out of our make-up and hair, and body products please!

If you are committed to using natural products, you are going to love this one.  Urban Minerals is a local company (in Toronto) that was started by Sarah Sumnauth, who handcrafts each jar of loose foundation she sells.  She offers 30 shades, but can also create custom tones to match the skin tone of any woman.

I was a bit hesitant to try it at first because my, ahem, mature skin, doesn't really need powder settling into lines and making me look older.  These days I'm into super moisturizing, smoothing products.  But I have to tell you a client of mine last week told me she didn't think I could be any older than 32.  That made my day!!

Anyways, I am pleased to say that Urban Minerals is quite impressive for a powder foundation.  I don't find it accentuates lines at all.  The coverage is very light, however, so if you are used to using something a lot heavier, this may not be enough for you.  But for anyone looking for an all-natural alternative to conventional cosmetics, this totally rocks!  You can order some here.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Spicy Moroccan Vegetable Soup

Happy Monday to you.  Today, Day 20 of my Gratitude Challenge, I am grateful for the JCC.  It's such a special place for all of us.  I've been teaching fitness classes there since 1997 and I think of many of the participants like a second family.  Adam and I met there.  The girls have Hebrew School there and take swim classes.  It's such a unique place, and I think it really reflects the flavour of Toronto: full of culture and diversity!  Yeah, its not just for Jews, there are folks of all kinds who use the wonderful facilities.  Anyways, going there every Sunday morning to teach my spin class makes me very happy.

Man, its super cold here again.  The milder temps just won't stick around.  Stupid Polar Vortex! So I have a lovely recipe that is sure to warm you up.   Before I get to that, I just wanted to ask my readers a favour: I have a survey I've put together, hopefully to provide me with some data to present at the CFAS conference in September.  Its about people's experiences using fertility clinic services.  If you or anyone you know has ever used the services of a fertility clinic (anywhere in the world), I would be very grateful if you would fill out my short questionnaire.  You can link to it here.

While I've called this Spicy Moroccan Vegetable soup, don't be scared, if you don't like heat, you can make this healthy, comforting soup without the spice.  But personally, there is nothing better on a cold winter day than a soup that is both hot - in temperature - and spicy.

If you want to add a protein, you can throw in some chickpeas and you pretty much have a whole meal in a bowl.  I kept it light to make it a side for my sandwich at lunch a few days last week.  Anytime I make soup, its an exercise in batch cooking so this recipe is big.  I have tons in the freezer now so I can defrost, as needed, for future lunches.

Spicy Moroccan Vegetable Soup

1 cauliflower, chopped
6 small zucchini, chopped
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp Harrissa spice blend (*See note below)

1-795 ml can diced tomatoes, with juice
1 litre vegetable stock
1 300g package frozen chopped spinach, or finely chopped fresh spinach
4 cups water
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Salt and additional Harissa, to taste

Toss veggies with oil, vinegar and seasonings.  Spread on parchment-lined baking sheets and roast at 350F for 40 minutes.  Toss veggies into large pot set over medium heat.  Add tomatoes, stock and water and heat until bubbling.  Use immersion blender to blend out some of the veggies, but leaving some chunky, or ladel about 1/4 of the soup into a food processor and puree and then add back to the rest of soup.  Add remaining ingredients and adjust seasonings, to taste.  Keep refrigerated for up to 4 days or freeze.  Makes a lot.

*Note: If you don't like spice, make your own harissa blend omitting the chili and combining  dehydrated garlic, ground cumin, ground caraway seeds, ground coriander, and dried mint leaves.

We had a nice quiet weekend, how about you?

I have shared this recipe with Gluten-Free Friday and Wellness Weekend.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Bittersweet Truth About Chocolate

Today I am grateful for my wonderful husband, Adam.  How lucky is it, that we got on side-by-side stair climbers at the JCC over 13 years ago and discovered each other?  I counsel a lot of clients who are unhappily single or unhappily married and it reminds me every day how good I have it. 

So in his honour, I am going to discuss one of his favorite things: chocolate.

Do you, like millions of people around the world, love chocolate?

If so, you probably were thrilled by the headlines that started coming out a few years ago that chocolate is a health food or superfood?  Full of antioxidants huh?  Bring on the Hershey Kisses!

All of a sudden chocolate bars were being marketed as health bars.  You can even get them infused with all sorts of vitamins, minerals, and other superfoods/supplements, etc.  There is raw chocolate, organic chocolates, vegan chocolates, spicy chocolates, and, of course chocolate with bacon.

Okay, come on, you have to know anything with bacon is not a health food?!?

The unfortunate reality is that the chocolate you are likely eating barely qualifies as a healthy choice.  White chocolate has no health benefits really, and most milk chocolate has barely any.  And of course, don't forget about all the sugar and calories (and I'm not even talking about 'candy' bars with caramel, nougat, etc.!).  But you are probably overestimating the health benefits of your favorite indulgence even if you stick to organic, vegan, extra dark varieties.

Researchers suggest that it likely takes regular consumption of at least 200 mg flavanols (the health promoting phytochemicals found in chocolate) to achieve any health benefits.  According to the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, this equates to 300g of milk chocolate (that's 1,580 calories worth!) and 55g (320 calories worth) of dark.  Few of us can afford this many calories to splurge on chocolate on a regular basis.  But as you can see, you really shouldn't start thinkin' milk chocolate and kale are interchangeable in your diet!

If you love chocolate and want to get its health benefits what should you do?  Go for UNPROCESSED cocoa powder!  You only need 1-3/4 TBLS (20 calories worth!) to get 200 mg of flavanols.  Brew your coffee with some, add it to smoothies yogurt, milk, etc. 

Oh, and those headlines about chocolate helping with weight loss?  An oversimplification of study results from cross-sectional research.  Don't count on it.

So have a great weekend and if you get a chocolate craving, go for unprocessed cocoa or the dark moderation, of course!

I should also mention that Adam weaned himself off of milk chocolate a few years ago and now almost exclusively eats dark (and minimizes even that as much as any chocoholic can)!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

How to Get Your Kids to Wear A Hat: Flipeez

Flipeez Hat - Kitty - - Toys"R"Us
Given that the temps have been very up and down lately and when they are down, they are REALLY down, today I am giving thanks (Day 16 of my gratitude challenge) for the fact that the girls are relatively cooperative about getting all bundled up.  When it's seriously cold, the last thing I want to be doing is fighting with them about hats and mitts.  In case you're not so lucky, you might be interested in this post on a hat for kids we recently discovered.

I am embarrassed to say that Little A is a TV junkie.  Seriously, when we talk about what our dream day would be she always says the same thing: stay home all day, eat treats and watch TV.  Sigh!  We limit screen time but we worry that she still watches too much.  Case in point, she can pretty much recite word-for-word most commercials and infomercials.  She recently told Adam to get a NO NO when he was complaining about being too hairy.

Sometimes though, she finds out about some cool products.  She insisted on getting Stompeez slippers, and soon Big A decided she had to have some too.  To date, they are the only slippers the girls have ever worn more than once. 

While we were in Florida, Little A was watching TV, of course, and she saw a commercial for Flipeez winter hats.  She immediately started begging for one.  Big A started saying she wanted one too.  Essentially they are animal toques with either a tail or ears that flip up and down when you squeeze one of the side flaps.  No batteries required.  The commercial said they were sold at Walgreens, and there is a Walgreens right on the resort where we stay.  Adam and I took a stroll there one day and I decided we would get each of the girls one as a treat, particularly because Little A has been very picky about hats this winter. 

We got them both the purple cat so there would be no fights about who got which one, but they still ended up fighting over which one originally claimed which hat even though they are exactly the same.  Yep, that's how things go in this house.  Anyways, they were an instant hit and they wore them nonstop around Florida despite the warm weather.  Fortunately, they are also happy to wear them here so they were definitely a good purchase.

Just for the record here is what the rest of us would do on our perfect day:

Adam: Go to the gym and then have a very long nap.  Eat pizza and go to bed early.  (Adam's favorite thing to do is sleep which is ironic since he usually wakes up at 4am). 

Big A: Go swimming, watch a movie and eat popcorn and treats.

Me: Get a good workout and then spend the rest of the morning at the spa.  Have late afternoon drinks with friends, get home in time to put the kids to bed, then have a quiet dinner with Adam snuggling in front of one of our favorite TV shows and get into bed by 9pm to read until I fall asleep.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Fiction Book Review: Fielder's Choice

Today, Day 15 of my Gratitude Challenge, I am giving thanks for my awesome in-laws.  As a therapist, I often hear stories about in-laws from hell.  It's actually quite shocking how crazy things can get because of petty jealousies, misunderstandings and/or disputes over money.  My in-laws have always been extremely warm, loving, generous and supportive.  Just yesterday, Adam and I both had to work late, so my mother-in-law picked the girls up from daycare, brought them back to our place, and fed them dinner. She rocks!

Okay, and now for another book review...

I get asked to review a lot of books.  It should come as no surprise that most of them fall into the fitness/nutrition/health category.  But recently I was asked to review a novel called Fielder's Choice.  I am an avid fiction reader and the premise sounded interesting, so I eagerly agreed.

The book, a first novel for author J. Mark Hart, is about a 17-year-old boy who plays baseball, growing up in Birmingham, Alabama in 1969.  It is a coming-of-age story revolving around how the protagonist (Brad) negotiates his typical teenage priorities (girls and baseball) with his burgeoning interest in civil rights and peace activism.

I have always found the 1960s to be a very interesting period of American history.  Perhaps this is because my parents lived through it, and, having grown up in the U.S., they were closer to the civil rights/anti-war movements than most folks I know who grew up in Canada.  Or, maybe its simply because being socially conscious lefties, they instilled in me the importance of social activism.

 In any case, I actually have read very little history or fiction about the time.  For this reason, I would have appreciated a lot more background on what was going on socially and politically at the time.  Only after researching it later did I discover what a central role Birmingham played in the American civil rights movement, but I am assuming this book was written with an American audience in mind and Americans - despite their incredible ignorance of everything that happens OUTSIDE of the U.S. - are much more familiar with this history.  You can read a little summary of it here.

My other biggest complaint about the book is that there is far too much description of baseball games being played.  While not superfluous to the story, I simply hate watching or reading about organized sports.  But that's just me, and I suspect baseball-crazy Americans will be fine with this.

I think Hart writes well and does an excellent job of capturing the voice of a 17-year-old boy, although I think he could have developed in more depth Brad's thoughts and feelings about segregation and the Vietnam War.  While seemingly bothered by racism, he doesn't express much thought or emotion about his parents' efforts to keep black families from moving into their neighbourhood, and even seems to support their opinion that this was necessary.  But perhaps this was an intentional attempt to convey his conflicted feelings about a complex situation.

I also think the book is a bit too long, but that being said, I had no problem continuing to turn the pages and was eager to finish the story.

Overall, a very good effort for a first time novelist and definitely worth a read.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Peppermint Dreams


Peppermint Patties are popular in this house.  We all love the whole chocolate and peppermint combo.  Actually, Adam used to eat like 2-3 of the York ones a day and the girls quickly developed a liking of them too.  More recently he has tried to cut down his consumption as he has become increasingly careful about his diet. 

I've been wanting to create a healthier version for a while now.  Many healthy food blogs have whole food recipes that look great, but they usually still use sweeteners that raise blood sugar, and are generally made with gobs of nut or coconut products, which although nutritious, are seriously calorie-dense.  And the truth is, most of us DO have to consider calories because too many can lead to weight gain and health problems, even if they come from healthy sources.  Particularly if you, like all the folks in this family, have difficulty with portion control, its important not to overdo it when it comes to fats and oils.

In this version, I use a wee bit of coconut oil in the fondant middle and a wee bit in the chocolate coating.  But these are definitely going to be lighter in calories than the commercial kind and most whole food versions filled with nut or coconut butter.  Oh, and they are vegan and sugar-free too!

Even my Peppermint Patty connoisseurs loved these.  After letting them all sample some, I quickly hid them away.  I'm not sure how willing I am to share!

Peppermint Dreams


2 tbls melted coconut oil
1 tsp pure peppermint extract
2 droppers full of peppermint stevia liquid (optional)
1.5+ cups powdered erythritol (or other powdered calorie-free, low-glycemic sweetener)*
2 tbls non-dairy milk

Combine all the ingredients for the filling in a bowl.  After adding the milk, if it is too runny, add additional powdered sweetener.  It should be stiff enough to form into disks.  You can chill for a bit first as well, if needed.  Take any leftover fondant, roll into a ball and freeze or refrigerate for future use.


175g unsweetened chocolate
2 tbls coconut oil
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
2 droppers full of plain stevia liquid (or to taste)

Melt chocolate with oil over simmering water.  Add remaining ingredients.  Pour small amount of chocolate into molds or candy liners.  Place a small disk of fondant in the centre and pour more chocolate over top.  Chill until set.  Makes 24 chocolates.

*If you have a high power blender, you can pretty much powder any sweetener.  Note that erythritol is a safe, natural sugar alcohol that, unlike more commonly used sugar alcohols like maltitol, is not likely to cause stomach upset.

Today I am grateful that I had a good morning with the girls.  It wasn't perfect, but they weren't fighting and were generally behaving, which does not always happen.  They are sweet, adorable girls.  I know I'm lucky to have them, but parenting is so challenging its easy to forget...even though I do infertility counselling and hear the painful journeys people go through in their quest to have a family.  I really am grateful for mine!!

This recipe has been shared with Gluten-Free Friday, Wellness Weekend and Urban Natural's Pot-Luck Party Link-Up.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Let the Sun Shine In

It's another dreary January Monday, but I'm up and at 'em trying to squeeze every last drop out of that lemon.  What lemon you ask?

My father was hospitalized on Friday for a major, and I mean MAJOR blood clot in his leg.  He had hip replacement replacement (his first hip replacement had to be replaced) surgery a few months ago.  He has been wheelchair-bound ever since because he has not been able to put any weight on that foot.  For weeks he has been complaining about swelling and discomfort in the area, but all the health care practitioners kept telling him this is normal after surgery.

On Friday they met with the surgeon who told them, based on x-rays, the hip was healing very well and everything looked peachy.  My father mentioned, yet again, the swelling, and the surgeon finally agreed to send him for an ultrasound.  When my parents came back (after a long wait for the ultrasound), the surgeon took one look at the report and said, "This is very serious, you could die at any moment."  Needless to say this was extraordinarily traumatic.  Gotta love the bedside manner of some physicians!  My dad was then taken to hospital in an ambulance immediately.

I have gone through worrying about my mother's health already, given that she went through a breast cancer diagnosis, surgery and treatment, but this is the most serious health event for my father.  Of course it brings up all sorts of thoughts and feelings.  Part of me is really angry that for weeks everyone ignored his concerns about the swelling in that leg.  But being angry doesn't help anything, so what I'm focusing on is being grateful that the blood clot was discovered when it was and he is being treated for it.  He will be in hospital until tomorrow, and possibly may have to be on blood thinners forever, but I am going to be optimistic.

The whole incident is a reminder of how quickly life can change: my mom said the most traumatic thing was that one minute they were being told all is well and the next that the situation is dire.  Life is like that though, you never know what's around the next corner.  That's why it's important to acknowledge the beauty in our lives and not get caught up in the minutia that can way us down.

In order to assist me in my Gratitude journey, I finally bought a mood light to get me through the winter.  I want to prevent the weather from dragging me down this year. 

Just 30 minutes each morning and I'm hoping it will keep me smiling into March/April (when I usually want to jump off a bridge because if seems like winter is never going to end).  I've only been using it for 2 days so far, so I'll keep you posted.

Right now everything outside is wet and grey.  But on the bright side, the temperature has warmed up significantly.  The rain might not be nice, but it's melting all the snow, and I was even able to bike to the gym yesterday!  I think I'm even going to ride to work today.

So today, day 13 of my Gratitude Journey, I am grateful the blood clot was caught last week and it looks like my dad is going to be okay. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Navan Foods Bean Pastas

Explore Asian Organic Black Bean Spaghetti

Today I am grateful that the Globe Real Estate Section is back.  Hey, sometimes its the small stuff that makes us happy!  I love me some good Real Estate Porn, and nothing makes me happier than having the Real Estate section from the Globe and Mail to read on a Friday morning while I eat my breakfast.  But every year, they take 3 weeks off from publishing it over the winter holidays.  I always miss it!  Today is the first week its back after the break.  Hallelujah!!

Alright from real estate to the dinner plate, lets talk noodles...

Who doesn't like pasta?  It's so satisfying and comforting, not to mention relatively inexpensive and versatile.  You can dress it up a gazillion different ways. 

Don't eat carbs/grains/gluten, you say?  Well there are still noodles out there for you.  And I am not talking about spaghetti squash or spiralized zucchini, which are really just veggies posing as noodles.  If you think pasta only comes in the white wheat flour variety, you better get the raviolis out of your ears, 'cause clearly you haven't heard about all the options that exist now.

I would definitely recommend staying away from the white flour kind, but you can pretty easily find whole wheat, spelt, kamut,quinoa, corn, and brown rice varieties, not to mention Shirataki, kelp noodles and now...bean noodles!

I found these Navan Foods noodles and picked up the black bean and mung bean varieties, at my favorite health food store.  Not only are they vegan, gluten-free, organic, and low in carbs, but they are also high in protein!  I threw the black beans into an Asian stir fry and they were delicious.  Adam and I both, however, prefer Shirataki noodles.  My beef with these were simply that they get a bit clumpy and gummy, like rice noodles.  I would also recommend cooking them for much less time than it says on the package.  The package says boil for 8 minutes, however, I took them out after 5 and they were definitely done. 

Next up, I think I'll throw the mung bean ones in with a curry of some kind...

Have a super duper weekend.  If you live in the Toronto area, you may be happy to know its supposed to be 9 degrees Celsius tomorrow...unfortunately it's supposed to rain like crazy too.  But at least all the snow and ice will melt!!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Turkey Tacos for Tots

Today I am grateful that I recently found a healthy dish both kids like.
Trying out a new recipe on my children is always scary.  New things are not always welcomed and often are not even given a chance.  So I was a bit hesitant to give tacos a try when Big A mentioned she likes them.  On many occasions she has made such claims only to decide she doesn't like said item, because I didn't make it 'right', although she can't often articulate what that means and/or even if I made it the same as my mother-in-law/daycare/friend's mom or whoever happened to make it the way she does like it.  I have been especially reluctant to try anything new because Little A is going through a phase of extra-pickiness right now and has suddenly decided she hates all sorts of food she used to love (sweet potatoes, potatoes, chicken, fish...).  But I bit the bullet and decided to give tacos a try.

To my surprise and delight, BOTH girls gobbled these up.  I honestly couldn't believe it.  I am so thrilled to have another meal to add to the (short) repertoire of things I make for them.  Hallelujah!

Turkey Tacos for Tots

1 lb ground chicken or turkey (or crumbled tempeh)
1 lb frozen cauliflower florets, steamed and pureed in food processor
2 tbls cider vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbls minced onion
1 tbls mild chili powder
1/2 tsp salt
127 ml tube of tomato paste (or 2 cans)
1/4 cup water

Cook meat in skillet over medium heat.  Add cauliflower, vinegar and seasonings.  Mix well with meat.  Add tomato paste and water and simmer until thickened.

Serve with taco shells, shredded cheese and veggies of choice (peppers, tomatoes, shredded lettuce, etc.).  Keep leftovers refrigerated for up to 3 days or freeze.

P.S. Although Little A enthusiastically ate up these tacos, she would now allow me to take her picture (she's become very sensitive about how dirty her face gets when she eats), so I only have shots of Big A here devouring this meal.

I have submitted this recipe to the Gluten-Free Friday for this week.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Vegan Chocolate Chip Cranberry Banana Muffins


Today (Day 6 of my gratitude challenge) I am grateful that I have a safe warm home for myself and my family.  Yesterday it was INSANELY cold here in Toronto.  I luckily didn't work yesterday so I only went out to drop off the girls and then pick them up from school.  Just running from car to school and back was painful.  I seriously cannot imagine what life would be like in this weather for someone without a home, or even those unable to afford appropriate outerwear. 

So in light of the chilly weather in these parts, here is a yummy recipe guaranteed to go great with a steaming cup of coffee, tea or cocoa.  Perfect apres ski, skate or sled fare!

When we got home from Florida, there was a big bunch of very ripe bananas on our counter.  This made it easy to decide what to bake for our New Year's Day drop-in: banana muffins!  Little A, who was my helper, decided on adding the dried cranberries...they are like one of her favorite things of all times.  I wasn't sure if the other kids will be as thrilled with them, but they were a huge hit at the party with adults and kids alike.  Not one was left over.

Vegan Chocolate Chip Cranberry Banana Muffins

3 very ripe bananas, mashed
1 cup coconut sugar
2 flax eggs (2 tbls ground flax + 6 tbls hot water)
1/2 cup oil
1 tsp vanilla

2 cups whole grain flour (spelt, kamut, whole wheat or gluten-free blend), I used kamut
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup dried cranberries (preferably juice-sweetened)

Whisk together wet ingredients in a large bowl.  Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl and then add, along with chips and cranberries, to wet ingredients.  Stir just until mixed.  Spoon into greased muffin cups and bake at 375F for 16 minutes.  Makes 22 muffins.

This recipe has been submitted to Wellness Weekend recipe roundup and Saturday Night Fever Link-Up.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Road Ends: Book Review

Front Cover

Today I am grateful for fiction.  I recently realized that reading fiction is my form of meditation.  The lying on the floor doing nothing type of meditation will just not work for me.  The only way I can completely clear my mind is by immersing myself in a good piece of literature.  I have loved losing myself in books from the time I first learned to read.

The silver lining about being sick while we were in Florida, is that I spent a whole heck of a lot of time reading.  My mother-in-law gave me this novel, Road Ends, by Mary Lawson, and I could not put it down.  I am a slow reader, but I almost finished it before we left Florida because I was enjoying it so much.

I also loved Lawson's previous novel, Crow Lake, but I liked this one even better.

I don't want to give too much away about the story, but it's about a family living in a small Northern Ontario town.  Here is a little blurb about it:

"He listened as their voices faded into the rumble of the falls. He was thinking about the lynx. The way it had looked at him, acknowledging his existence, then passing out of his life like smoke. . . It was the first thing—the only thing—that had managed, if only for a moment, to displace from his mind the image of the child. He had carried that image with him for a year now, and it had been a weight so great that sometimes he could hardly stand.
Mary Lawson’s beloved novels, Crow Lake and The Other Side of the Bridge, have delighted legions of readers around the world. The fictional, northern Ontario town of Struan, buried in the winter snows, is the vivid backdrop to her breathtaking new novel.
Roads End brings us a family unravelling in the aftermath of tragedy: Edward Cartwright, struggling to escape the legacy of a violent past; Emily, his wife, cloistered in her room with yet another new baby, increasingly unaware of events outside the bedroom door; Tom, their eldest son, twenty-five years old but home again, unable to come to terms with the death of a friend; and capable, formidable Megan, the sole daughter in a household of eight sons, who for years held the family together but has finally broken free and gone to England, to try to make a life of her own.
Roads End is Mary Lawson at her best. In this masterful, enthralling, tender novel, which ranges from the Ontario silver rush of the early 1900s to swinging London in the 1960s, she gently reveals the intricacies and anguish of family life, the push and pull of responsibility and individual desire, the way we can face tragedy, and in time, hope to start again."

The one thing that bothers me, is that it follows the theme of most Canadian literature: death, dysfunction and despair.  I don't know why Canadian writers are so obsessed with the 3 "Ds", I don't really think life in Canada is so dark.  Of course I realize there is lots of poverty, tragedy and dysfunction here...I'm a therapist, so I see it everyday!  But I don't think you have that here any more than any other industrialized country...except maybe among our native communities.  But I digress.  The point of this post was to tell you that this book is fabulous, so go out and get it right now!