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Friday, February 28, 2014

The Cold Hard Truth About Immune Boosters

Funny Seasonal Ecard: At least an exploding nuclear missile would clear out my sinuses.

I hate colds.  They really suck.  Adam is vulnerable to coughs when he gets a cold, but me, I always produce enough mucus to gum up Niagara Falls.  Breathing becomes a chore and I usually end up with a very sore nose from blowing it so much.  Blech!

 Honestly, I would rather get a gastro bug than a cold.  Why?  Because if you are barfing, you have no choice but to stay home in bed, and generally those types of illnesses are very brief.  A cold, however, can last weeks, and although they usually make you feel completely miserable, they aren't serious enough to justify staying in bed for their duration.  Consequently, you have to continue on with your day-to-day responsibilities even though you aren't 100%.  Also, most of us are hit with many more colds than we are most other types of minor infections...especially when you are a parent to little germ-bags!

These days, there are a bajillion health products on the market that claim to prevent or treat the common cold.  Are any of them actually affective, or are they just a waste of money?

According to the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, most vitamins do not offer any help in this area.  There is some evidence that having sufficient vitamin D levels in your blood improves immunity, and taking vitamin C BEFORE you get a cold can lessen the duration of the cold (by about 12 hours), though it won't decrease your chance of catching one.

Zinc doesn't prevent colds either, however, there is some evidence it can also decrease the duration of them.

There isn't much evidence to support Echinacea or other herbs either.  I have to say, I have never found any of these products (oregano oil, etc.) to be even remotely effective.

So what can you do to prevent annoying colds?

  • Wash your hands regularly
  • Get enough sleep
  • Don't worry, be happy.  If you're not happy, seek help
  • Practice healthy stress-management strategies
The Centre for Science in the Public Interest didn't mention probiotics, but there does appear to be some evidence they can help with immunity, so this might be one supplement you could try, especially since they offer so many other benefits.

So save your pennies, look after your physical and mental health as much as possible and forget about all those expensive products making false health claims.

Have a safe and healthy weekend...and don't forget to keep you hands clean, get enough rest and relax!!!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Rekindling Desire (2nd Edition): Book Review

180425

Let's talk about sex baby, let's talk about you and me...

Come on, you know that George Michael song???  Or am I just giving away my age...I was a big fan of his as a kid.  In fact, I fantasized about marrying him until my brother smugly informed me that he is gay.  I was very disappointed.

So actually I do want to talk about sex.  I do so every day.  Yep, pretty much.  Because I'm a perv?  No...at least I don't think so.  Because I am a therapist, and it almost always comes up in one way or another with clients.  In particular, with couples facing infertility, a number of challenges around intimacy can emerge.  Often too frequent, timed, high pressure intercourse for the purpose of conceiving, coupled with not conceiving leads couples to associate sex with failure and disappointment.  Men often develop performance anxiety because they need to be able to 'produce' at a specific time.  Women are often so distraught over the infertility their interest in sex wanes significantly.

Other times its a history of sexual abuse that causes difficulties with intimacy for people, or a betrayal or emotional trauma.  It is also not uncommon for me to see individuals with major sexual inhibitions and/or phobias due to a very strict or religious upbringing.  There is no doubt that sex is an area of wellness and health that many, many individuals and couples struggle with.

Thus, I happily agreed to review Rekindling Desire (2nd Edition) by Barry and Emily McCarthy.  I am thrilled to say I was not at all disappointed.  In fact, I think this book is so good, I have already been recommending it to many of my clients.

The book is actually meant for couples as a self-help guide, but it is also extremely informative for counsellors and therapists.  Throughout the book, they highlight the importance for couples of working through sex and intimacy issues together, along with a therapist, but I think the information can even be helpful for individuals not currently in a relationship, struggling with sexual issues. 

I should say that this book is very much geared towards heterosexual couples and individuals and does not offer much for those in same-sex relationships.  Nevertheless, I think there are some truths they discuss that most people can benefit from knowing.

First, any sex or intimacy issue facing a couple is something that should be dealt with as a couple.  No matter what the issue, it is not one person's fault and the solutions should not lie on the shoulders of just one partner.  It has to be addressed as a team.  Blaming your partner will do absolutely nothing to improve things.

I also think this passage is extremely important for individuals in long-term relationships:

Premarital sex is a self-defeating and unrealistic standard of comparison...Do not make premarital sex comparisons.  This poisons marital sexuality...Couple sexuality involves dealing with the whole person and sharing the complexities of your lives, including emotional and sexual intimacy.

Similarly...

The factors that drive pre-marital sex, -- newness, illicitness, risk taking, winning the partner over, romantic love, passion, idealization, and exploring sexual boundaries -- are unstable.  By their very nature, romantic love and passionate sex erode with time.  Ideally, hot sex is replaced by the integration of intimacy, pleasuring, and eroticism.  Yet, too often, sex becomes routine, low quality, and infrequent.  Typically, this occurs even before marriage.
 
The McCarthys address how anger, guilt, anxiety, inhibitions, obsessions and compulsions and shame interfere with sexuality and couple intimacy.  Since it is a guide book, they also give specific strategies for overcoming each of these issues.  In fact, they have a number of exercises for couples to practice in order to achieve certain goals or overcome particular difficulties or challenges.
 
Although the book does touch on how trying to conceive can affect a couple's intimacy, there is very little discussion of the effect of infertility.  They do a better job of addressing in a few places the impact of sexual or emotional trauma on a couple's intimate relationship:
 
It is crucial to accept your sexual past, including negative or traumatic experiences such as child sexual abuse, incest, rape being exhibited to and peeped at, receiving obscene phone calls, dealing with an STI, having an unwanted pregnancy, being sexually humiliated or rejected, having a sexual dysfunction, being sexually harassed, being caught masterbating, or feeling guilt over sexual fantasies.  Negative sexual experiences are almost universal phenomena for both females and males.  Sadly, it is normal to have negative sexual experiences -- whether as a child, adolescent, young adult, or adult.  You can accept these experiences and integrate them into your sexual self-esteem.  You are a survivor, not a victim.  Feeling controlled by guild because of past trauma cheats you of your sexual self-acceptance and enjoyment of couple sexuality.

Unfortunately, they  don't give tips on how to deal with these traumas, but in any case, I would recommend seeking professional help to do so.

I also like that the McCarthys challenge traditional gender stereotypes related to sexuality, arguing that men are socialized to associate sexual prowess with masculinity while women are socialized to value feelings and emotional attachments, and that these differences are not based on genetic or hormonal differences.  Both genders, they assert, are capable of desire, pleasure, eroticism and satisfaction, as well as empathy, closeness, sadness and anger.

And I am sure you are wondering what they have to say about extramarital affairs?  Well, first, affairs, of course, threaten marital bonds.  They suggest that should it occur, the following steps should be taken to repair the bond:

1. Deal with meaning of the affair
2. Attempt to rebuild trust bond
3. Develop a new couple sexual style
4. Make a firm commitment not to have another affair
5. Discuss high-risk situations that emerge (opportunity, temptation, etc.) with partner before allowing a potential affair to begin

A couple will most likely have to work with a couple's therapist in order to survive an affair.

The McCarthys also explain why affairs are tempting (they hold the same allure as new relationships) but also discuss how the unrealistic expectations actually set up affairs to becoming unsuccessful relationships (all that newness, illicitness, etc. eventually ends).

I think this is an excellent book to help both individuals and couples address issues with sex and intimacy.  In combination with the help of a counsellor, I think most people looking to improve their relationship with their sexuality or the sexuality in their relationship can benefit by picking up Rekindling Desire.




Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Pines Beet Root Powder Product Review + Pink Princess Smoothie Recipe

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It's funny how kids are so affected by colour, you know?  Or maybe it's not that weird, I guess we all are.  They've done studies that colours affect our mood, appetite and various aspects of our behaviour.  But kids are particularly funny about colour when it comes to food.  Naturally vibrantly coloured foods (like fruits and veggies!) they often shy away from, while artificially coloured bright foods (like gummy bears and fluorescent frosted cupcakes) attract them like moths to fire. 

I have even heard about some kids who won't touch any food of a certain colour under any circumstances.  Normally, like my kids, its foods in the green family that can be a turn off for young people.  Apparently pink foods are appealing.  This is just another reason to love beets!  By the way, aside from being packed with antioxidants, beet juice can improve performance in endurance sports.  So you might just want to dump the coconut water and sugary sports beverages and pick up some beet juice!

Anyways, back to colours.  When I was offered a sample of Pines Beet Juice Powder, I was thrilled to give it a try.  I already love beets, but I suspected the fact that this stuff will turn anything pink would make it an easy sell to the girls.  Yup. 

I threw together a Pink Princess Smoothie for them and they went nuts.  Little A was so proud of her pink mustache, she asked me to take a few pictures.



My mind is racing with all the possibilities of what I can do with this stuff: Smoothies of course, but also baked goods, puddings, savoury grain and pasta dishes...just imagine all the foods I can get the girls to eat by just colouring it a beautiful fuchsia with this stuff!


Like the Wheat Grass Powder made by Pines, this stuff is top quality and comes in bottles that are:

 1. Made of nitrogen-packed amber glass that is completely non-toxic.

 2. Oxygen-free inside and stops oxidation. The only other way to stop oxidation is to freeze the product.

3. Keep food fresher than plastic, even after being opened. Plastic is a porous material that cannot hold a 100% nitrogen environment. Glass is not porous and gives off no chemical residue.

 4. So, if you want the best, look for products packaged by PINES under our rigid quality control standards. 

 
I think we're going to be seeing pink around here for a while...

 
Pink Princess Smoothie
 
1 tsp beet root powder
1 scoop stevia-sweetened, vegan vanilla protein powder
1 banana
2 cups unsweetened milk of choice
Ice, if desired
 
Blend everything in blender or food processor.  Serves 1 adult (or 2 little princesses)
 
 
 

 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Post-Partum Wellness Course

Are you a new mom in the Toronto area?

If so, sign up now for my upcoming Post-Partum Wellness course!!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Ethiopian Berbere Chicken and Lentil Stew (Vegan Option)


Is it Monday again already?  Why do weekends go by so quickly?  After some relief from the cold temps, I hear they're coming back this week.  Grr!

Well here is a hearty recipe to warm you up.  We enjoyed it for dinner Saturday night.  It is kind of a mash up of African-inspired dishes.  I found the Berbere spice blend I got in Kensington Market a few months ago and realized I hadn't yet opened it.  I started to think about what to make with it.  Traditionally its used to season chicken or meat, or to spice up a pulse stew made from lentils or split peas.  I kinda did both here.  But - maybe because it's winter - was looking for something a bit richer, so I threw in some peanut butter like I do when I make Nigerian Groundnut Stew.  Cabbage, peppers and sweet potato made their way in too because that's what I had in the fridge.  Best of all, I created a dish that is both healthy and delicious, containing meat for my carnivorous better half, but can be easily transformed into a vegan dish for those who eat a plant-based diet.

Had I had more time or planned further ahead, I would have got some injera bread (there are actually quite a few Ethiopian restaurants and markets in our neighbourhood, or gotten some teff flour and tried to make something, but since I didn't have any of that on hand, I stuffed this stew into whole grain wraps.  It would also be amazing over brown rice, millet or quinoa.

Ethiopian Berbere Chicken and Lentil Stew (Vegan Option)

1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 inch piece fresh ginger, minced
2 tsp Berbere spice blend
1 tsp salt
1 lb ground chicken or turkey*
1 can green lentils (or 1.5 cups cooked)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
2 red or yellow bell peppers, cut into strips
8 cups finely shredded green and/or purple cabbage
1 grated carrot
1 cup mashed cooked sweet potato (or squash)
1/4 cup natural peanut butter
1/2 cup hot water
Crushed red chili flakes, to taste (optional)

Saute chicken and lentils with onion, garlic, ginger and spices in oil for 2-3 minutes in large skillet or pot over medium heat.  Add vinegar and veggies and turn heat down to medium low.  Simmer until meat is done, cabbage has cooked down and peppers and carrot have softened.  Whisk together peanut butter and hot water, add to pot, along with mashed sweet potato, and simmer another 5-10 minutes.  Add additional water, if needed.  Season to taste.  Serves 4.  Keep leftovers refrigerated for up to 4 days or freeze.

*Omit meat for vegan and double the amount of lentils.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Good Mornings

Back in my day: we played outside, not online. Parents called your name, not your cell phone. And if you
didn't eat what mom
cooked, you didn't eat.

Yes, I know I'm
fucking old!

Wow, have mornings been up and down this week!  Unfortunately, when they are bad, they are really bad.  It usually starts with one of the girls waking up in a bad mood and then goes downhill from there.  It's usually Little A who wakes up in a snit (particularly on Mondays, or in the case of 4 day weeks like this one, Tuesdays) but then Big A sees this as an opportunity to taunt her.  There has been lots of fighting.  Big A also gets obnoxious and defiant and complains about the unfairness of her life when asked to simply dress herself or clean up after herself.  The only morning when there was peace and quiet, I discovered (too late) that the girls were playing tattoo parlour with those stupid washable tattoos that actually do not wash off.  They both now look like members of a motorcycle gang.  This morning Little A was positively delightful while Big A had me wanting to tear my hair out with her obnoxious attitude.

Oh well, at least the new breakfast rules are still working like a charm and helping us get out of the house earlier.  And, as my friend Megan pointed out, once I finally drop them off, at least the hardest part of my day is done.  Amen to that!

This weekend is a quiet one.  We have errands to do and Big A has a birthday party...relatively speaking.  The girls have a double playdate, we have a shiva to attend, and the kids have all their usual activities.  The milder weather is going to hold, but only until Monday when temps are supposed to drop again.  Poop!

So have a happy, healthy weekend.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sundried Tomato Pate (Vegan)


I love sundried tomatoes.  If I hadn't met Adam, I think I would marry them.  Every time I make something with them I wonder why I don't eat them more often.  Which is why I came up with this recipe.  It made enough for 3 lunches for me, which meant I got to eat them several times in one week with minimal effort.  Yah for that! 

Don't mind my awful photos.  This stuff may look like poop, but it doesn't taste like it.  It tastes fabulous.  I actually found that it tastes better a day after you make it.  The bean flavour kind of disappears and the sundried tomato flavour takes over.  If you use less basil than I did it will retain more of a red, rather than brown colour.

I put it on Ryvita crackers, but you can also spread it on bread or in a wrap, or make it a dip for veggies, or just spoon it into your mouth.  It is strongly flavoured, which is how I like it, but you can adjust everything to suit your own tastes with the amount of sundried tomatoes and basil you add.

Sundried Tomato Pate

85g bag sundried tomato halves (not in oil)
2 tbls balsamic vinegar
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup water
1 can (or 1.5 cups cooked) white kidney or romano beans
1-2 handfuls fresh basil leaves
1/4 tsp fine grain sea salt, or to taste
Cracked black pepper, to taste
Crushed red chili flakes, to taste (optional)

Place tomatoes, vinegar, garlic and water in small pot over medium high heat.  Bring to a boil and then turn off heat.  Let sit on burner until liquid has reduced.  Transfer to food processor and puree.  Add remaining ingredients and puree.  Add additional water, if needed until desired consistency is reached.  Keep refrigerated for up to 5 days.
 
 
This recipe was shared with this week's Gluten-Free Friday and Wellness Weekend link-ups.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Developing the Core: Book Review

Click to hide.

Recently I was sent Developing the Core to review from Human Kinetics.  As a big fan of core training, I was excited to receive it.

Core strength is important for pretty much everything we do, whether its high performance sports, or everyday activities.  It affects our posture, susceptibility to injury and our mobility.

Unfortunately, the book doesn't have all that much to offer for someone like myself except for detailed anatomical and physiological information about the core.  It is geared towards athletes or individuals training for a particular sport, rather than just a fitness enthusiast like myself.  I guess if I have clients I am training for a specific sport or event it could help me create a training program for them but most of my clients don't fall into that group.

Nevertheless, it does what it intends to do very well and if you are, indeed, someone training for a sport or event and need some background on how to use core training to enhance your performance, than this book will be perfect for you.

It starts with a very detailed chapter on core anatomy and biomechanics.  It might be too scientific for some people, but its not a bad idea to know this stuff, particularly if you are really serious about your training and conditioning. 

The second chapter explains how to assess your core strength while chapter three goes through how your core muscles function during various types of exercise and activity. 

Chapter four contains all the exercises and drills with accompanying diagrams.  None were new or novel to me, but then again, I have been working in the fitness industry for over 20 years.  There are lots of solid exercises for anyone without significant training experience.  Some use a medicine ball, but for many of them (excluding ones that require throwing the ball!), you can sub a hand weight.  Others require cable machines you find at a gym, but you might be able to simulate them at home with a resistance band.

Chapter five explains how to design a core training program and chapters 6-16 are devoted to sport-specific core training for each of the following activities:

- Baseball/softball
- Basketball
- Football
- Golf
- Ice hockey
- Soccer
- Swimming
- Tennis
- Track & field
- Volleyball
- Wrestling

Within each of these chapters, there is an explanation of how core strength affects performance in that particular activity, what aspects of core conditioning are most important, and there are sample training programs you can follow.

Essentially, if you are training for a particular sport and want to add core conditioning to your regime (which you should!), than this is a solid, information-packed book that can help you improve your core strength, power and overall performance.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Your 2014 Detox Guide

Every morning I decide that today will be the day I do a juice cleanse. And then I eat a donut.

For the next year, you are going to consume nothing but water with lemon juice and cayenne pepper and green juice. 

JUST KIDDING!

I don't believe in detoxes or cleanses actually.  Why?  The body is designed to detoxify on its own and basically most people use these absurdly extreme diet regimens in the hopes of compensating for a shitty lifestyle.  Well it don't wok that way folks!  There is no evidence these cleanses do anything except maybe lead to a few pounds of weight loss, which will just be regained once regular habits are resumed.

That being said, there are many things you can do to minimize your risk from external toxins.  So what's the best way to keep yourself as "Detoxified" as possible?  Don't eat donuts.  And here are some more tips.

1. Exercise.  Sweating eliminates toxins naturally.  You also get all the other health benefits that go along with physical activity.  Get to it!

2. Drink lots of water.  Not pop. Not juice. Not coconut water.  Not sports drinks.  Not coffee and tea loaded with cream and sugar.  Water.  From the tap, not a plastic bottle.

3. Limit alcohol.  I tell my clients to aim for no more than 2 drinks/week.  Yes. Just 2 drinks per week!

4. Eat lots of fresh fruit and veggies, organic whenever possible.  Frozen produce is good too.  Avoid canned. 

5. Avoid using chemical-laden beauty products.  Look out for phthalates and parabens. 

6. Have your furnace and/or air-conditioner cleaned and serviced once a year.  Avoid using chemical air-fresheners.

7. Change your tooth brush every few months, and brush and floss regularly.  Poor dental hygiene can cause inflammation and all sorts of systemic health problems.

8. Change your sheets regularly and get a new pillow every few months.  Dust, mold and mildew can lead to allergic reactions and respiratory problems.

9. Quit smoking, don't start, and/or avoid second-hand smoke.  Enough said.

10. Limit your use of acetaminophen and other anti-inflammatory medications.  Chronic use and/or overuse can cause liver damage.

11. Eat lots of high fibre, whole foods.  The faster you food moves through you, the better.  Exercise and water helps with this too!

12. Don't wear your outdoor shoes in the house.  You track in all sorts of yucky stuff and potential allergens.  Leave 'em at the door.

There you go, no juice cleanses required!!

Funny Missing You Ecard: I miss you like a person on a cleanse misses their sanity.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Family Day 2014

funny ass family picture

Today is Family Day in Ontario.  It's a provincial holiday meant for families to enjoy some time together.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of families out there who are not having a happy relaxing holiday today.  Some of them are very close to us, including my friend whose family is gearing up for her post ovarian cancer diagnosis hysterectomy and my friend Megan, who is STILL in the hospital after the emergency last week.  Oh, and, Little A's friend who is still in the hospital, along with his mom, who has been basically living there the past few weeks. 


Of course, there are also many others dealing with crises, or who simply don't have the time (they still have to work today) or money to do something special, never mind put food on the table!

Just another reminder of how fortunate we are.  We've had a great weekend.  I had clients Friday night, Saturday and even yesterday, but Saturday Adam took the girls skating while I grocery shopped in the afternoon.  Yesterday he took them swimming while I taught my spin class and then trained a client, and last evening, Little A went for a sleepover at my in-laws while Big A and I had our first ever Big girls' date night.  Adam, the kook, went to the office with his free time, to get extra work done, then came home and did a run on the treadmill.  Big A and I made fruit popsicles, did her kids yoga DVD, and then made homemade pizza and ate it watching Monsters Inc.  At 8:30pm, a half hour past her usual bedtime, I was falling asleep and she was still full of energy.  Ha ha!

Today, Big A and I are getting long overdue haircuts and then we are taking my friend Megan's 2 youngest kids with us to the LEGO movie.  Hopefully, this will give her husband some time to himself to get things organized for the school week since he is all by himself until Megan is discharged from hospital.  Oy!

Have a great day!!

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Note on Valentine's Day

I hope you prepare more
for Valentine's Day 
than Russia prepared
for the Olympics.

Ah Valentine's Day!  I holiday for retailers to guilt us into buying sappy cards, ridiculously over-priced, heart-shaped chocolates, and red roses grown with toxic chemicals that have poisoned the underpaid pickers in developing countries for our loved ones.

As you can see, I grew up in a home where Valentine's Day was not observed.  Neither was Mother's Day and Father's Day really, as my parents see all these holidays as commercialized nonsense.

I wholeheartedly agree that they are commercialized nonsense, but the sentiment is nice.  Few of us acknowledge our loved ones as often as we should.  As a counsellor, I often have clients tell me how much they love, appreciate or empathize with various people in their lives, but when I inquire, rarely have they thought to tell that person.  I honestly think that we tend to forget how important this is, or we assume that a person knows how we feel.  Even if someone does know, it always feels good to hear it!  I think telling someone how much you care is a lot more meaningful that picking up a card and box of chocolates from the drug store.  I think its even more special when you initiate telling someone how you feel on a day that doesn't dictate that we do so.  Imagine how wonderful it would be for someone to open up their mailbox (or email) and find a personal message from you telling them how much they mean to you?

That being said, as a kid I always envied the other kids that would get treats on Valentine's Day, which is why I made homemade truffles for the girls, and one giant peppermint patty for Adam, but this year I also decided to write each of them a letter about what I love about them and how much they mean to me.  I am hoping to make this a new little Valentine's Day tradition around here, but I am also making it a goal to do the same on other random days for friends and family.

So here is what I wrote to the girls (the letter for Adam is for his eyes only!):

__________________________________________________________________________________
February 14, 2014
Dear Big A,

You were my first baby and you were beautiful and I have been in love with you from the day you were born.  You came out flying and you’ve continued soaring to new heights ever since.  Never very interested in toys or things, you have always been wise beyond your years.  What I admire most about you are your confidence and kindness.  These are wonderful qualities that will take you far in life.  I am so proud of you and the wonderful personal you have become.  You never judge others based on superficial things, you value how a person behaves towards others above all else and this is truly what is important.
I look forward to seeing you develop into a grown-up, I am certain you will achieve a great many things and make a difference for the lives of many people.  You are very special and I will love you and be here for you always.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
XOXO
Love, Mommy
________________________________________________________________
February 14, 2014
Dear Little A,

You have been screaming since the minute you were born.  You are never shy about sharing your feelings.  Although you voice your complaints loudly, you are also the most joyous person I have ever met.  When you are happy, you are a ray of sunshine.  You are also incredibly clever and impish.  You can be so funny and goofy and you make us all laugh.  Your giggle warms my heart and your smile is contagious.

You ask us difficult questions and make insightful comments, making it clear that you have lots of complex thoughts going on in that head of yours.  Your memory and keen observation skills amaze us.

Like your sister, you are very caring and generous with others.  I am very proud of you.

Because you are my youngest child, you will always be my baby, but I am very excited to watch you grow up into the wonderful woman I know you will become.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

XOXO

Love, Mommy

If you are single, spend this Valentine's day focusing on the important people you do have in your life, be it friends, family or colleagues.  Really, life can change on a dime, so make sure the people in your life know how you feel about them.  Just this week, I had a friend have a medical emergency.  I went to see her in hospital yesterday and she's on the mend, but it was very scary.  Little A has a friend from school whose appendix burst.  Then he developed an infection and bowel obstruction.  He's been in hospital now for 3 weeks and his (single) mom, has had to take all this time off work to be with him.  I went and visited them too!  My friend who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer goes into the hospital next Wednesday for her hysterectomy.  This will be just the beginning of a difficult journey for her and her family.

Have a Happy Valentine's day.  Now put down the Hallmark card and go tell/write/text all your loved ones how much they mean to you!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sweetheart Truffles (Sugar-Free & Vegan)


 

Of course I had to make a healthier version of the standard sugary Valentine chocolates most of us buy!  No way I was buying cinnamon hearts or kisses for the girls.  I knew they'd love the pink filling on these and I was hoping they would make up for the fact that I ate most of the Peppermint Dreams (Oops!).

You can flavour these anyway you want, and if you are better at fiddly things than I am, you can make them look beautiful.  I had hoped to find heart-shaped candy molds or silicon molds, but didn't manage to before I made these.  I guess I'll aim to get better prepared for next year.

I promise your sweetheart will love these, not just because they taste amazing, but because they won't get a sugar rush from them and they are pretty guilt-free...unless you eat them all at once maybe!

Sweetheart Truffles

Chocolate Coating

175g unsweetened chocolate
4 tbls coconut butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp pure powdered stevia (or more, to taste)
1 dropper full of vanilla stevia liquid (or more, to taste)
Pinch of salt

Cream Filling

1.5 cups powdered erythritol (or other powdered natural sweetener)
2 tbls melted coconut butter
2 tsp pure vanilla, almond or cherry extract
2 squirts natural red food colouring (like this one), or beet juice
Unsweetened, non-dairy milk (plain or vanilla)*
Coconut flour (optional)

Melt together chocolate and coconut butter over simmering water.  Add remaining ingredients and stir until smooth.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Use a whisk or fork to mix together filling ingredients.  Add just enough milk until it has a fondant-like consistency and colour is evenly distributed throughout.  If it is too thin to roll into balls, you can add more powdered sweetener or some coconut flour to firm it up. 

Take candy molds or papers and drizzle the bottom of each with chocolate.  Roll filling into balls and place one on top of chocolate.  Pour remaining chocolate over the tops of each until filling is completely covered.  Refrigerate or freeze until firm.  Makes 24 large truffles.  Keep in an air-tight container at room temperature for 1 week or refrigerate for up to 3 weeks, or freeze for several months.

*If you use beet juice for colour and use a lot to get a deeper pink, you probably won't need any milk.


 
 
Sorry, I couldn't get a decent shot of the truffle with my phone.  But you get the idea.  They actually don't look that bad in my gold foil wrappers, but they would definitely look better in proper chocolate molds or silicone heart molds.

This recipe has been shared with Gluten-Free Friday, Wellness Weekend and the Saturday Night Fever Blog Hop.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Purple Passion Quinoa


 

This dish was inspired by the beautiful organic beets my lovely neighbour Lisa gave us last week.  I love beets and I decided they were the perfect ingredient to create a super-healthy Valentine's dish. 

Admittedly, my love doesn't get all that turned on by beets...nor by most grains, beans or greens.  These things are more my thing.  But he doesn't have to worry, I will be sure to make him one of his favorite meals (anything involving chicken, pizza or pasta) next weekend, which is Valentine's weekend, after all.

Nevertheless, while Adam confessed that he was initially scared by how healthy this dish appeared, he was surprised by how good it tasted.  It's never going to rank up there as one of his favorites, but then he has never been a big fan of quinoa and the most complimentary thing he says about beets is that they are 'fine'.

I think this dish rocks, and even the girls were thrilled by the colour, the beets turn everything purple...Big A even stole a few pieces of the cauliflower (the girls would never actually eat this whole dish because they don't like different foods mixed together), and declared it "Yummy!".

If you use beets with their tops attached, you can use them in place of the rainbow chard, but I found this package at our market and couldn't resist picking some up.


Just be warned that you may pee purple the next day.  Adam got quite the scare for a minute thinking he was going to have to visit the urologist!

Purple Passion Quinoa

6 beets, washed, trimmed and sliced (you don't have to peel them if they are organic)
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets (you can even use purple cauliflower, if you want!)
1 tsp coconut oil, melted
Salt and pepper, to taste

1.5 cups quinoa (red quinoa if you like to go with the whole colour scheme thing!)
1 can light coconut milk
2 cups water
1 can (or 1.5 cups cooked) chickpeas
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp sea salt
6 cups chopped greens (rainbow chard, beet greens, kale, etc.)

Toss beets and cauliflower with oil and season, to taste.  Spread on parchment-lined baking sheet and roast at 400F for 35-40 minutes.

Combine quinoa, spices, coconut milk and water in a deep skillet or pot.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat.  Add chickpeas, roasted beets and cauliflower.  Simmer until most of the liquid has been absorbed.  Stir in greens and continue cooking until they have wilted.  Adjust seasonings to taste.  Makes about 4-6 servings.  Refrigerate leftovers for up to 4 days or freeze.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Amazing 20-Minute Coconut Curried Potatoes



Cooking yummy things doesn't have to take a long time.  Really!  And cooked from scratch foods tastes so much better than what you buy premade.  Usually, it's also way healthier.

Want an amazingly delicious dish in 20 minutes?  This has just 3 major ingredients, and all you do is stick it in the microwave. 

Forget about French fries, this dish made with healthy fats and seasonings blows em' out of the water!!

This can be a side dish, or, if you add a can of chickpeas and some chopped kale, it can be an entire, superfast meal.

Amazing 20-Minute Coconut Curried Potatoes

4 large potatoes (white waxy or yellow-fleshed baking potatoes both work fine), cubed
1 can coconut milk (full fat works best)
1 tbls curry powder (mild or spicy)
1/2 tsp sea salt, or to taste

Toss all ingredients together in microwave-save baking dish and cover.  Cook on high for 10 minutes and then stir.  Cook for another 10 minutes and serve.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Chewy Caramel Chocolate Chip Granola Bars


Its the start of another cold, snowy week here, but this morning the sun is shining bright.  I am happy to say our new breakfast rule is continuing to make mornings go much smoother.  We were out the door in good time today, which always puts me in a better mood.  The girls were also in good spirits, partially because they were thrilled to have one of their new favorite treats packed in their lunches.

This recipe I made for the girls got me the ultimate compliment from the girls: They thought they tasted as good as all the ones, "Made by big companies".  In other words, just as decadent as the sugar-filled nightmares you get at the grocery store.  Believe me, coming from them, this is a big compliment.  In fact, they taste so sweet and delicious, they were actually a bit surprised I let them eat them.  Well, no sense bursting their bubble and telling them these are healthy.  In fact, they are sugar-free, gluten-free, nut-free and vegan.  That can be our little secret!

I loved the idea of using a date-caramel base that Angela from Oh She Glows used in hers.  I also love that hers are sugar-free and nut-free (so the girls can take them to school), but hers are filled with seeds and seeds are a no-go for Little A, who classifies them in to the 'bits' category that she refuses to eat from.  [She was initially suspicious of the millet, because they "look like seeds", and, in fact, like quinoa, they are actually a seed, not a real grain, but once she tried them, she was smitten and didn't complain about these 'bits'.]

So I modified the recipe...quite a bit to come up with what I thought would be appealing for my kiddos.  These were a massive, massive success.  I'm pretty proud of myself, if I do say so myself.

I didn't have Medjool dates, so I used what I had and they worked perfectly.  You can use either kind, but Medjool are way more expensive than honey dates.  Whatever kind you use, just make sure they are pitted!!

Chewy Caramel Chocolate Chip Granola Bars (Inspired by this recipe)

2 cups dates
1 cup boiling water
2 tbls lucuma powder (optional)
1 dropper full of English Toffee stevia (or vanilla or plain*) liquid, or to taste
2 tbls chia seeds
2 cups oats (gluten-free, if necessary)
1 cup millet
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup sugar-free chocolate chips

Cover dates with boiling water and soak until very soft.  Drain dates, reserving all the soaking liquid.  Stir chia seeds into 1/4 cup of hot soaking liquid and set aside.  Puree dates in food processor.  Add another 1/4 cup of date soaking liquid, lucuma powder (if using), and stevia and process until smooth.  Add oats and pulse until well combined.  Add millet and salt and pulse a few times until mixed.  Stir in chips by hand. 

Press mixture firmly and evenly into a parchment-lined 9x12 baking pan.  Bake at 350F for about 16 minutes.  Let cool completely and then cut into desired size bars.  Store in the fridge for up to 3 weeks (guaranteed they won't last that long!!).

*If you use plain stevia, add 1/2 tsp of pure vanilla extract.

I have submitted this recipe to this week's Gluten-Free Friday, Wellness Weekend, Saturday Night Fever, and Urban Naturale recipe roundups.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Splurge-Worthy Beauty Must-Have: Derm-Organic Argan Oil Leave-in Treatment




First off, I want to wish my Grandma Ruth a Happy 95th Birthday today!  I am sad that her dementia for the past few years has made it difficult for us to communicate, but I am looking forward to seeing her again in March when I go down to New York City for a visit.

Compared to a lot of women, I'm pretty low maintenance.  I can very happily live with discount beauty products and clothing.  My beauty products come from the drug store, and my clothes mostly come from H&M, Winners, etc.  You will not likely catch me buying clothes, make-up or accessories in luxury stores or buying luxury brands.  There are a few exceptions, such as fragrance (I am still hooked on Lavanila Vanilla Grapefruit scent) and running shoes - since I workout so much it is really important to have good ones...although I almost always buy them when they are majorly on sale).  Another thing I will never again skimp on is my DermOrganic Argan Oil Leave-in Treatment!

My hairdresser told me about it years ago and I'd been using it and loving it (helps your hair dry faster and is a great moisturizer, de-frizzer).  I had to go to specialty beauty supply stores to find it and it's $30 for a small bottle.  But after I had my hair straightened, I figured I didn't need it anymore.  I picked up a bottle of argan oil leave-in treatment for about 1/3 the price at the drug store.  The consistency was completely different and I knew right away the oil was cut with other ingredients, but started using it anyways.

 Lately, I have been finding my hair was becoming coarser, dryer and less shiny.  I was thinking that my straightening treatment must be fading out, but I was also at the end of my bargain-bottle of argan oil.  At the mall last weekend, I found my DermOrganic at 50% off so, of course, I picked up 2 bottles.  As soon as I started using it again, I realized just how much better it is than the cheap stuff.  Oh my, I am never skimping on this again.  And really, a little goes a long way, so one bottle can last me over 6 months.  Just a few drops and my hair is soft, shiny and much easier and faster to blow dry in the morning. 

Speaking of mornings, I am so loving the breakfast rules around here.  It is saving me so much time and energy in the mornings.  Nevertheless, I'm still really glad its Friday.  We've got a pretty quiet weekend coming: I work tonight and tomorrow, Little A has soccer, Hebrew School, Fitkids, and a playdate, and Big A has swimming, Hebrew School and a playdate.  Adam and I will just hopefully have some time to relax together.  Unfortunately, I think we are in for more cold, snowy weather.  But I guess at this point we gotta just accept that this is going to be a super cold winter.  Have a healthy, happy weekend.

And cheers to Grandma Ruth, who was and always will be, far more elegant than I!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Pines Wheat Grass Product Review & Not-So-Green Monster Muffin Recipe

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When I was offered a sample of Pines Wheat Grass powder, I thought it would be a perfect way to get more green stuff into my kids.  Just 1-1/4 tsp is packed with nutrition.  I thought the simplest thing would be to mix it with a bit of juice, which is a treat for them, and then, at least on days when they've eaten nothing that is plant based, at least I'd know they got some goodness.  If you want to know all about the health benefits of wheat grass, and the value of their products over other on the market, visit the company's website.

Here is the nutritional analysis for 1 serving of their Wheatgrass Powder:

Nutritional Analysis of PINES Wheat Grass

This is not a complete list of the nutrients in PINES Wheat Grass. This analysis simply lists those nutrients shown on our labels. Most whole plant foods, including PINES Wheat Grass, contain hundreds of nutrients, including carotenoids, pigments, trace minerals, and phytonutrients.

NOTE: Percent Daily Value (%DV) amounts are based on a single 3.5 gram serving (1 teaspoon or 7 tablets). An asterisk (*), that means the Daily Value of that nutrient is less than 2%. An “na” means no Daily Value has been determined.


NUTRIENT AMOUNT %DV
Calories 10 *
Calories from fat 0 *
Total fat 0 g *
Cholesterol 0 g *
Sodium 0 g *
Potassium 105 mg 2%
Total Carbohydrates 2 g *
Dietary Fiber 1 g 4%
Sugars <1 font=""> na
Protein 1 g 2%
Vitamin A (100% as Betacarotene) 1250 IU 25%
Vitamin C 7 mg 10%
Calcium 15 mg *
Iron 1 mg 4%
Folic Acid (Vitamin B9) 35 mcg 8%
Chlorophyll 15 mg na

Unfortunately, things with the girls did not go as planned.  I realized later, this was due to my poor judgement.  Wheat grass, in case you've never had it, does have a distinct taste, and apparently the pure mango nectar I bought them did not make up for it.  Big A drank about 2/3 of her cup, but Little A was only willing to take 2 sips.  Unfortunately, they then decided it was a no go, which I knew would prejudice them against anything else I made in the future with it.  Sigh!

I don't mind the occasional wheat grass shot, but I'm not really in need of much additional green matter.  Seriously, as most people who know me like to tease, I probably eat more fruits and veggies in a day than most people in a whole week!  I also couldn't think of what I might use it in, in terms of baking or cooking.  I know its great for smoothies, but I don't like them.  I also wasn't sure what it would be like in a baked good and was especially nervous about experimenting with anything for the girls.  I figured it would make everything bright green and that alone, would turn them off.  If it didn't, any admission from me that it was in the said product would likely make them refuse to even try it.  I know my girls, and they can be super stubborn and irrational about food...like most kids!

So when Adam expressed muffin envy the other day - because I always bake muffins for myself and the girls but never for him - I thought it would be a good chance to try out baking with the wheat grass.  He's a good guinea pig for such things.  His only specification for me is that it contain chocolate.  Okay, no problem!

To my surprise, 1 tsp of the wheatgrass powder imparted almost no colour, and no flavour to these muffins.  I do believe that I can use a whole lot more next time and now that I know this, I think I'll be adding some to virtually all my baked goods.  Hey, why not?    These turned out incredibly moist and delicious actually.  But being the good wife that I am, I am going to let Adam take them to work.

If you don't like the idea of downing the powder, you can also get it in capsules too!  All Pines products can be purchased online and they have some recipes on their website.

Not-So-Green Monster Muffins (Vegan and Sugar-Free)

3 ripe bananas, mashed
1-1/4 cups non-dairy, plain yogurt
1/2 cup powdered stevia
2 flax eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 scoop (about 32g) stevia-sweetened, vegan protein powder
1 tsp or more wheatgrass powder
2 cups whole spelt, or other whole grain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar-free chocolate chips (optional)

Whisk together wet ingredients in a large bowl.  Stir in dry ingredients and chips, just until mixed.  Fill greased muffin cups and bake at 350F for about 18 minutes.  Let cool completely before removing from pan.  Makes 14 muffins.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Limited Choices


 
I won't lie, no matter how mindful I am, how much deep breathing I do, how much gratitude I practice, weekday mornings are hard.

The girls can drive me nuts in a very short period of time.  If one of them wakes up in a bad mood, in particular, things can go downhill pretty fast.  Some days they can't even be in the same room without fighting.  Other days they make a big fuss over the smallest little thing (like the injustice of having to dress themselves or make their beds).  Every day breakfast is an issue.  I've mostly given up on trying to get them to eat what I would like them to eat (oatmeal, fruit, protein, etc.), but the battle is about getting breakfast made and eaten in a reasonable amount of time and me not ending up feeling like their servant.

This didn't used to be as much of an issue because they were both - particularly Big A - super early risers.  But lately they are sleeping later, which means they get started with the whole routine later, which means that we get out the door later.  So when Little A takes 15 minutes just to decide what she wants to eat, or Big A claims that she is STILL hungry after she has already eaten a peanut butter and honey sandwich, 2 yogurts and a bowl of cereal, I end up feeling like getting them to school on time is about as likely as running through quicksand.  I then become really resentful of the fact that I can't get out of the kitchen because I am acting as short-order cook, often with my bathrobe on and hair dripping wet from the shower.  And that's when I start to lose my cool.

Many months ago Adam suggested that I give them no choice of breakfast.  I didn't think that would ever work.  The girls usually want different things (Little A often wants grilled cheese while Big A only wants sweet things).  There was also the parenting guilt about sending my kids to school when they might be hungry.  But no matter how much I fed them, they were always 'still hungry', even requesting additional 'snacks' to eat on the way.  It has been getting absurd, but since Adam and I are huge eaters (If only I had a dime for every time someone told me they couldn't believe, "someone so small can eat so much!"), so its not implausible that they just have big appetites too.  I had visions of one of their teachers stopping me one day to tell me that my child can't concentrate because she starving, or, worse, police showing up to take me away in handcuffs for willful child neglect.  Oh the guilt!!

I also have always abided by the parenting advice I have read so many times, that is to give kids choices to make them feel in control and less likely to be defiant.  Yeah, well what I've learned is that (1) Not all parenting strategies work for all families, and (2) Giving kids too many choices is never advisable.  Things were sliding down a slippery slope in this house, breakfast options had become too plentiful, and we needed to step back a bit. 

So last week I finally told the girls we were putting an end to this whole scene.  We would sit down, agree on a set menu (1 breakfast choice for each day of the week), and there would be nothing else.  Period.  Weekends, when we aren't in a rush, they can have whatever they want.  To my surprise, they showed almost no resistance to this idea, and got excited about making the chart.  Wow, who knew?  [YES ADAM, I AM ADMITTING YOU WERE RIGHT!]

So the options they chose are not too bad (yogurt and flat breads with jam, oatmeal, cereal, grilled cheese and peanut butter and honey sandwiches), and so far, the new system has worked like a charm.  Because its already decided what's for breakfast, I can get it ready before they get up, if necessary, and once they are done, they are done.  We have been getting out of the house earlier and I have been feeling less like their highly underpaid and underappreciated personal chef.  I have also been refusing them additional snacks to "eat on the way." I realized that even if they do go to school with some stomach space available, I always pack them a lunch and snacks, and maybe now they won't leave over half the food as sometimes happens. 

Its funny how we think the solution to a problem is so much more complicated than it really is.  Looking back, many of the problems I have had with the girls come from giving them too much power and control.  Yes, I do think kids should have some choices, but, at least in this house, there needs to be firm limits.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Preventing Brain Drain

Yesterday actually turned out to be a rather mild, sunny, lovely day.  Today, unfortunately, isn't looking so promising so far and apparently there is a lot of snow coming tonight.  But a good night sleep and a great morning workout have left me feeling full of spunk. 

I know I have written about brain health before, but its worth reporting on the most updated research in this area.

Lifestyle affects not only our weight and risk of heart disease, Type II diabetes and many cancers, but also our risk of dementia and Alzheimer's Disease. 

Wondering what you need to do to minimize your risk?

Here are some tips based on the most recent research findings, summarized in the Nutrition Action Health Letter for January/February 2014:

  • Keep your blood pressure in a healthy range;
  • Keep your blood sugars/insulin low (stick to foods that are low on the Glycemic Index);
  • Perform aerobic exercise regularly;
  • Train your brain (read, play, learn new skills, socialize, etc.);
  • Drink caffeinated coffee;
  • Get adequate Vitamin D;
  • Get adequate sleep;
  • Eat more fish full of omega-3 fats and berries.
If all of this sounds familiar, it should.  Most of these things are helpful for preventing most chronic illnesses.  There just ain't no gettin' around it.  Popping a vitamin or pill will not correct for a poor lifestyle.

Monday, February 3, 2014

I Am Thankful For Deep Dish Cookie Pie!!! (Vegan, Gluten-Free & Refined Sugar Free)


 

It's the first Monday in February.  Once again we're in for a cold, dreary day.  If you're feeling a little down in the dumps, than this recipe should brighten your mood.  It is one of the most unhealthy/decadent tasting healthy desserts I have ever tried!  Honestly, it is so good.  This one isn't mine, though, but heck, I wish I came up with it!!

But before I get to the recipe, we'll talk weekend.  I know my Gratitude Challenge is over, but I have so many things I am thankful for.  First off, my foot.  Yes, my foot.  Friday morning after my workout in our home gym, I tripped over our BOSU ball.  I am the first one to admit I am a total klutz!  My foot rolled in a really not good way and it hurt like absolute hell.  I iced it and taped it and it seemed okay.  I took the girls to school, did some things around the house, and then took public transport to work.  At about 5pm, I was in a session with a client, and my foot started throbbing.  By the end of my last client session of the day, it was so painful, I couldn't put any weight on it.  I limped to the subway station and somehow made it home, but by the time I got in the door, I had to resort to crawling.  It was really freaky.  I knew it wasn't a fracture, but I was thinking I had sprained it so badly, I was going to need crutches. I started to think about how complicated that would make life.  Forget about just putting me out of commission from working out or teaching fitness classes, I was wondering how I would even get the kids to school!  I iced it and taped it up again and went to bed feeling pretty low. 

Miraculously, when I got up Saturday morning, it had improved so much that not only could I walk, but I was able to do a modified workout.  Sunday morning I was able to go to the gym, lift weights and teach my spinning class.  Its still definitely swollen and tender when I touch the affected area, but compared to Friday night, the improvement is incredible.  I am so thankful!!  Actually, one of the things I tell my clients that have trouble motivating themselves to be active, is that they should remember how lucky they are to have the ability to be active!  Really, its a gift.

I am thankful for our good friends we shared dinner with on Saturday night.  Adam and I have dinner with them about every 4-6 weeks, and our 4 kids all have fun playing together.  Our dinners have been a tradition from before any of us even had kids.  Its so nice, because we always have great fun.

I am thankful that, although he likes watching football, Adam isn't a big enough fan to have to insist on watching the Superbowl.  Yay!  I despise watching sports on TV.

I am also thankful that I discovered this dessert which I think could win over most of the healthy dessert haters I know.

Chocolate Covered Katie is probably one of the best known healthy dessert blogs on the Internet.   One of her most popular recipes is her Deep Dish Cookie Pie, and I have been dying to try it out like forever.  I am thrilled to say I finally got around to it and it was a hit with everyone.

Follow the link to her site to find the recipe.  The only substitutions I made were using coconut sugar in place of brown sugar, and my homemade vegan and sugar-free milk chocolate chunks in place of regular chocolate chips.  You know, with beans and oats in this, I'm thinking it could be considered healthy enough to eat for dinner!

I cut the piece in the photo below when it was still warm, which is why it's so gooey.  Once it cooled, it actually firmed up quite a bit, which is how I like it.

 
 
Honestly, give the recipe a try, I am sure you won't be disappointed.  Everyone in this house loved it.  I am definitely going to be making it again.