Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Simply Vietnamese Cooking: Book Review

Simply Vietnamese Cooking: 135 Delicious Recipes

I consider myself a foodie, albeit not a traditional one.  I am definitely more of a health foodie, but even if I wasn't concerned with nutrition, I have never been a big fan of classic French cuisine or fussy stuff.  I find ethnic food so much more interesting and my favorite cuisines have always been Asian.  You name it, Chinese, Indian, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, I love it all!

Admittedly, I haven't tried to cook much Vietnamese fare at home, so I was happy to review Nancie McDermott's book, Simply Vietnamese Cuisine.

Vietnamese cooking utilizes many of the flavours, herbs and spices I love like cilantro, star anise, fish sauce, ginger, tamarind, coconut, etc.  If you want to cook Vietnamese food, your best bet is to stock your pantry with the basics first.  The book has a glossary at the back that describes many of the ingredients and includes online resources where you can buy them should you not be able to find them locally.

McDermott divides the book into the following chapters:

Appetizers and snacks
Chicken and eggs
Beef and Pork
Fish and Shellfish
Salads, pickles and vegetables
Sweets and drinks
Sauces and other basic recipes

Now there are plenty of healthy and vegetarian recipes, but beware that traditional Vietnamese cooking uses a lot of animal products and sugar.  There are a whole lot that I will never make because they use pork and shellfish, which Adam doesn't eat, or contain a ton of sugar.  In particular, there are a whole lot of recipes using caramel sauce on fish and meat.  While I like sweet/savoury dishes, just the idea of this makes me want to barf.

Virtually every dish contains some sugar, but for many you can just skip it altogether as its only a small amount, or you can replace it with a healthier sweetener.  Pork can also be replaced with chicken.

I decided to attempt a recipe with my own modifications to suit our diet, and chose the Chicken and Pork pate, and Everyday Pickled Carrots to make Banh Mi inspired wraps.

Instead of ground pork and chicken livers, I used just ground chicken for the pate, and instead of just carrots, I used rainbow slaw, and cucumber for the pickle.

It wasn't possible to get the pate as creamy as it would have been with the chicken livers, but the flavours were amazing, Adam and I both loved it.  The fish sauce and star anise create such a unique taste. 

Vietnamese soups are amazing, so I think once the weather cools, I will try one of those recipes.  A lot of the egg recipes look great too.  Usually when I make omelets, I add salsa and cheese, but some of her recipes sound delicious.

The book has photos of some recipes, but what I really like is all the tips and information McDermott includes.  She also encourages you to try the recipes even if you aren't able to get a particular ingredient.

If you are interested in learning about Vietnamese cuisine, and giving it a try yourself, this book will give you very straightforward directions and info to do so.  Or, if you are like me, and not tied to authenticity, you can simply use it as inspiration for your own creations.

Disclosure: The publisher sent me this book for free, but all opinions on this blog are my own.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

How to Manage a Sweet Tooth

Most sane people love sweet things.  If you struggle to control yours, check out my post with suggestions on my other blog.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Perfecting the Kale Chip

Good morning! Its officially fall and we have been having the type of ideal autumn weather (sunny and not too hot) that makes me so so happy.  Amazing what a dramatic impact the weather can have on mood huh?  Although the temp is lovely today, its unfortunately rainy :(

So, lets talk kale chips shall we?

I go through phases of making them a lot and then kind of forgetting about them for long periods of time.  I should make them more often as they are the only form of kale the girls will touch.  Lately I've been making them again because my lovely neighbour who gets a weekly organics delivery box has been sharing kale with me (she is always dropping by some sort of veggie for us, which, of course, I love!!).

I am happy to say I have finally found what I believe to be the perfect way to make kale chips.  If you've tried making them before, you know they can easily turn out too oily, soggy, burnt or bitter.  Some claim you need a dehydrator but you don't. 

Here is the recipe that I find turns out the perfect kale chip...of course I have a fairly old oven, so if yours is a different temp or is a convection oven, the timing may be a bit different, but I encourage you to experiment a bit.

The record speed with which my family devoured the batches I made this way is a testament to how good they are!!

The Perfect Kale Chip

1 bunch kale, washed and torn into pieces, pat dry
2 tsp avocado oil (or other oil of choice)
2 tbsp. nutritional yeast
Sea salt (I like to use Herbamere), to taste

Toss kale with other ingredients.  Lay out on 2 large, parchment-lined baking sheets, making sure the pans are not crowded.  Bake at 275F for 20 minutes, 1 pan on bottom rack, 1 on top.  Switch pans so the other is now on top and top pan is now on bottom rack.  Bake another 20 minutes.  Turn off heat but keep oven door closed and leave kale chips in the oven for 40-60 minutes.  Remove from oven.  Shovel liberally into mouth.

Friday, September 25, 2015

My Spiritual Side

I have never thought of myself as spiritual.  But that isn't why up until recently I had little interest in being a practicing Jew.

Even as a kid when I attended Sunday school, was Bat Mitzvah'd and attended weekly services with my family, I was agnostic.  I just never connected with the idea of a higher power that I couldn't see, hear, feel, touch, etc. I've always swayed towards the rational side and, as is evident from this blog, demand tangible evidence if I am going to believe something.  But the real reason I rejected it was that, as a kid in a small town, being Jewish just made me different, and not really in a good way.

I now embrace practicing Judaism, in my own way.  This doesn't mean following the dietary laws (I love seafood too much and hate the restriction of no milk and meat stomach comes first and foremost!). But attending shul for the important holidays and being part of a synagogue and a community is very important to me.  Judaism isn't so much a religion for me as a culture. 

So why did I mention spirituality? As I've gotten older I've become more spiritual and realized that spirituality doesn't necessarily have anything to do with organized religion.  In fact, it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the belief in a divine power or anything mystical either.  According to Wikipedia, spirituality "...may refer to almost any kind of meaningful activity, personal growth, or blissful experience."

By this definition I realized recently I've become a 'spiritual' person!

For me this means I have become immersed in a constant quest for personal growth, and very slowly have found it.  This has come about through a combination of my professional work and my personal work, which are, inextricably intertwined. 

I believe I have struggled with existential issues since I was a young kid.  I was always asking the big questions and was never satisfied with the status quo.  But even in university when studying Descartes, Sartre, Foucault, etc., I considered the questions raised from a very intellectual perspective, without the ability to connect it to myself on a personal level. Even after a BA, MA and PhD!  I feel like I only had my own personal enlightenment when after Little A was born, I started my Masters in Counselling.  I knew instantly I had found my calling.  Sure enough, becoming a counsellor has woken up something very profound in me.  I love my work so deeply, I am passionate about it, and I believe I benefit from it as much as my clients do.  I have learned so much about the human mind, communication, love, the influence of culture, the world, and about myself. Perhaps because of all this, I have had some extreme highs and lows over the last few years but there is no doubt it has been a period of dramatic learning and personal growth. 

I had desperately hoped that now that I've returned to attending Jewish holiday services, I would connect on a personal level with the content.  I didn't expect to, to be honest, but I am so thrilled to say I have.  Certainly this is largely due to the fact that we chose a synagogue that is congruous with my values, but I also think I am at a stage in my life where I have become open to seeing its value.

Instead of being bored and edgy during services, as I expected to I usually am when having to sit sedentary, for long periods of time, I find myself, just as is intended, being deeply contemplative.

I have spent the past few years reading a lot of social psychology, which has informed my professional work, of course, but also aided in my own personal journey.  I find our wonderful rabbi chooses supplemental readings for the services which compliment the things I've been reading and thinking about.  Finally I recognize my spirituality, and have discovered that it does, actually connect with my religion.

So all this to say that I now realize that being spiritual is really about being contemplative, living and acting consciously and with an intent to honour oneself and others physically, and spiritually.  Seeing one's position in the context of community (both locally and globally). 

What I know for certain is that every human being needs to feel a sense of purpose in order to be fulfilled.  This sense of purpose can come from work, a role in the family or community, a hobby, an artistic endeavor, or by following a religious practice or tradition.  I have found my sense of purpose and now see how being an active part of my 'tribe' enhances it.  I realized that being Jewish doesn't make me different, and not just because there are way more Jews in Toronto than where I grew up! No, its because no matter what our race, ethnicity, nationality or religion, we are essentially all the same.  We all seek a sense of purpose.  We all need to feel loved and appreciated.  We all suffer.

And with that, I sign off.  Have an enlightening weekend everyone!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Sardo Li'l Oliver Olive Snack Packs: Product Review

Olive a healthy snack for the kids, but sometimes convincing them to eat it is a challenge.  Sorry, bad joke, but olive a good pun!

As I have ranted on about many times before, we live in a toxic food environment which encourages overconsumption of highly processed, low nutrition convenience foods...especially for kids!  Most food products marketed to children is fluorescent hued nutritionally void garbage.  But the marketing works.  When I take the girls grocery shopping, it sounds something like this,

"Mommy can we get ____ ?"
"Mommy can we get ____ ?"
"Mommy can we get ____ ?"
"But this one is 'made with whole grains."
"What about this one? Its only got 7 grams a sugar per serving."

Believe me, we are not in the produce aisle! Its usually the aisle with crackers, cookies or snack foods.  Or even the dairy aisle, because, of course, now you can get sugar sweetened yogurt with cookie crumbles or sprinkles on top!


Studies have shown that kids are highly influenced by packaging, no matter what the content.  Even fruits and veggies are more appealing to them if they have a cartoon character on the label. 
For this reason, I was very excited when Sardo offered samples of its new kid packs of olives.  Perfect for a lunch box, these snack sized containers feature a cute mascot, Li'l Oliver and contain stickers. 

Here's the nutritional info per pack:

Know what I like? Zero grams of sugar!!

2802 chart

Now, my kids - despite my love of exotic cuisine - are not very adventurous, so I didn't really have high hopes they'd like olives, but I definitely wanted to try.  They were eager to sample the goods when they arrived (black and green varieties) and loved the stickers, but didn't love the olives.  Grrrrrrrrr! I once dumped a guy I was dating in university because he didn't like olives.  How can you not like olives??

I still think its a fantastic healthy snack idea so I gave them to my sister-in-law because my niece and nephew love olives.  So don't let my failed experience dissuade you, you never know what your kids will like and maybe Li'l Oliver might just tip the scales in your favour!  As for me, I will keep trying since, as they say, you need to let your kids try a new food at least 10 times before you give up since familiarity often breeds liking.  Oh yeah, don't you worry, one day these girls will be olive eaters!

Disclosure: I was sent these products compliments of the company, but all opinions on this blog are my own.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Thirst, Hunger and Itchiness

The month of Elul is starting. Now is the time (as we move towards the High Holy Days) to reflect and return and get some at-one-ment.:

Well, we are definitely atoning today, this Yom Kippur.  Yesterday just before I was going to leave to pick up the girls so we could go to shul for Kol Nidre the daycare teachers from their school called to tell me BOTH GIRLS HAVE LICE!

Oy gevalt!!

I called Lice Squad to come help us out but they were all booked up, so I took the pesty situation into my own hands, picked up supplies from the pharmacy and then picked up my two little bug heads.

I don't know why this is, but Toronto is an absolute hot bed of lice.  It is ALWAYS going around the girls' school and apparently its the same at other schools in the city too.  Such a freakin' pain! Or itch, I guess.

I did Big A first and just found a few eggs...Little A on the other hand, ughhhhhhhhhhhhh! I think every louse in North America had taken up residence on her scalp. At least thanks to the shampoo, they were already all dead.  Disgusting!!!  I treated myself as well, just in case, but came up clean.  To be on the safe side, I'm going to be combing out their hair again AT LEAST once every day for the next 7 days, until we have to do the treatment again. 

In the end, I spent last night and this morning doing a zillion loads of laundry, and confiscating stuff from the girls' rooms to put into air-tight bags for a while to suffocate any little critters that might be hiding.

In a way its kind of fortunate that its a holiday for us today as Adam and I aren't working and we were going to keep the girls home from school anyways.

Have a happy hump day!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Luscious Lemon Loaf

If I had to chose favorites when it comes to baked good flavours, lemon would be right up there.  Normally the rest of the family isn't so smitten with it, but this recipe is a crowd pleaser even with them. 

No one will believe its grain-free, sugar-free and vegan...and you don't even have to tell them.  It can be our little secret!!

Luscious Lemon Loaf

1 ripe plantain, peeled
2 flax eggs (2 tbsp. flax + 6 tbsp. hot water)
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
2 tsp pure lemon extract
1 scoop vegan vanilla protein powder, stevia sweetened
2 tsp pure stevia powder, or 1/2 cup baking stevia
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp konjac powder

Puree everything in food processor until smooth.  Scrape batter into 2 mini loaf pans lined with parchment paper (or 8 parchment lined muffin cups).  Bake at 350F for about 20-22 minutes, or until set in the middle.  Timing will be less for muffins.  Cool and ice, if desired.

Lemon cream cheese frosting

3 tbsp. cream cheese (vegan or regular)
1 tsp pure lemon extract
2 tsp water
Powdered erythritol

Stir together frosting ingredients in a small bowl.  Add more erythritol and/or water, as needed to get a thick frosting.  Ice loaves/muffins.  Keep refrigerated for up to 5 days.  If freezing, ice after defrosting.

This has been shared with Urban Naturale's Plant-Based Pot-Luck Party and Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten-Free Friday.

Monday, September 21, 2015

My Beef with Beef

Glenn McCoy, Gatherer vs hunter #vegan #carnivore:

Its Monday! How about making it a Meatless Monday?

Protein is in.  Its hard to not know that.  Everywhere you look there are more products popping up with protein: bars, shakes, beverages...even candy!

After years of hearing we should limit meat consumption, all of a sudden huge slabs of animal protein seem to be back on the menu.  Carbs have now been deemed the diet and health enemy and things like bacon now have a health halo. Hello?  WTF?

So, are you wondering what the deal is? Is it better to be vegetarian? Vegan? Eat poultry and fish? Or is red meat actually the answer to all your health problems?

Sorry, folks, put down the steak and listen up!  High intake of red meat is not a good thing!!!  I am also sorry to say that it matters little if the meat is anti-biotic free, grass-fed, blah, blah, blah.

Sure, you heard the headlines recently that not all studies find a link between heart disease, stroke and red meat consumption, but you have to dig a bit deeper.  It is important what you are comparing.  The BAD (Basic American Diet) not only contains too much red meat, but also too much refined sugar and starch, which also increases heart disease risk.  Studies that compare red meat consumption to consumption of alternative protein sources in overall healthy diets do consistently find higher risk of mortality, cardiovascular disease and diabetes among the red meat eaters.

Beyond that, there is a strong link between red meat consumption and some cancers.  Regardless of how organic, local, grass-fed the meat is, cooking red meats creates carcinogens.  The iron in red meat can also raise the risk of diabetes.  A 28-year longitudinal study found that those who ate 2 servings of red meat a day were almost 37% more likely to die than those who ate 2 servings per week or less.  That's pretty significant!!

Here's the other thing people forget: Eating animals, particularly cows, and pigs too, is HORRIBLE for the environment!!

For your health, the best sources of protein (from best to worst) are:

1. Plant sources (beans, legumes, nuts and seeds, vegetables)
2. Poultry and fish
3. Dairy & eggs
4. Red meat

Environmental impact from best to worst is:

1. Plants
2. Dairy & eggs
3. Poultry & fish
4. Red meat

So please, for the love of your body and for our planet, carefully consider your protein choices!!

Info is based on the Nutrition Action Healthletter's October issue.

Friday, September 18, 2015


Wow this week has been tough.  Between Rosh Hashana, and everything else, it just hasn't stopped. We haven't stopped.  A huge bomb was dropped at my work last Friday and the shrapnel has been picked up piece by piece this week.  I can't share details but there have been moments when I've been very close to having a panic attack worrying about how some huge changes with the businesses I work with are going to affect my practice.  I am a worrier and a catastrophizer, and all the CBT strategies I use with my clients to manage anxiety fell to the wayside.  I let my fears and doubts get the best of me.  Fortunately, I was able to keep myself together and to my complete surprise, it looks like things are going to be just fine [insert eye roll and "I told you so" from husband]. 

Today is nuts. I see clients then rush to a conference, then rush back to see a client in the evening.  I work tomorrow morning too.  The rest of the weekend is quiet...with the exception of all the girls' activities.  Thank goodness!!

This whole experience was a good reminder for me to practice what I preach to my clients: Be mindful. Stay in the moment.  Everything is okay now and worrying about worse case scenarios neither prepares you for them nor makes them any less likely to happen.  Stay calm. Act when you can.  Accept what you can't change.

My mom gave me a fridge magnet a few years ago which reads:

"Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday and all is fine in the world"

So true!

Have a healthy, worry free weekend!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Totally Ripped Core: DVD Review

I get bored real easy.  This poses a challenge for someone who works out every day.  I gotta change it up a lot.  But this is a good thing because the more you change it up, the better it is for your bod.  I have been rotating my Jillian Michaels ab DVDs for a while now and really wanted to add in another workout to shake things up a bit.  It took me a while to find one I felt might be worth trying.  Bob Harper's DVDs get really good reviews, so I finally settled on his Totally Ripped Core.  Didn't hurt that its only $10!



Perhaps I am just uber picky because I am a fitness instructor myself, I don't know, but I am not sure what all the fuss is over this guy.

The DVD has a 50 minute workout and a 10 minute express workout. 

Now I only have one other of his DVDs, his power yoga, which I also find just okay.  Both have this weird split screen and fancy camera work thing going on, so I am guessing this is just part of his schtick, but its totally unnecessary.

But that's not really my biggest beef with it.  Mostly, I just find it is disproportionally focused on obliques and spends far too much time side bending.  Most fitness experts think its a whole lot more efficient and effective to do rotational work. I have no problem with side bending but enough already!  I am much more interested in working my transverse and rectus muscles at the front, as I am sure most women are.

I guess if you absolutely hate planks and any sit-up/crunch variation, you will like this as there is much less than what you find on most core workout DVDs. 

My other complaint is I just don't find it intense enough.  At least Jillian Michaels does enough cardio intervals, and moves you from one exercise to another fast enough that you get your heart rate up.  Harper has a few short intervals that get your heart rate up, but overall, I just find it less challenging. 

So I would have to say I am disappointed, but I will continue to do it every few weeks, just to break things up a bit.  Yet again, I still have to say that Jillian Michaels' Six Week Six Pack Abs is the best...and you know I am not biased because I think she's an arse!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Beet, Cucumber and Orange Salad

Things have been nuts around here.  Between school and the girls' activities starting, Rosh Hashana, entertaining last weekend, and work, Adam and I feel like our heads are spinning.  When the pressure is on, however, is when it is even more important to take care of yourself: sleep, eat well and exercise.  Admittedly, because of the holiday and my birthday, there may have been a wee bit more eating and drinking, but I always do my best to get back on track as soon as possible.

We had a few days of fall-like weather, but now its searing hot and humid.  Blech!  Seems that summer has returned.  This refreshing salad, which I made for our Rosh Hashana dinner at my in-laws is perfect for warm weather. It is very simple and allows the flavour of the ingredients to shine.

Beet, Cucumber and Orange Salad

2 bunches golden (or red) beets, about 8-10 medium beets, peeled and diced
1 tsp olive oil
2 English cucumber, sliced
4 navel oranges, peeled and segmented, pith removed
1/4 cup pomegranate or white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp dried dill
Salt and pepper, to taste

Toss beets with oil and salt and pepper.  Roast on foil-lined baking sheet for 30 minutes at 350F.  Let cool. Mix beets with remaining ingredients in a serving bowl and toss well.

I have shared this recipe with Urban Naturale's Plant-Based Party Pot-Luck and Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten-Free Friday.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Nerium Age-Defying Night Cream: Product Review

In most ways I think I am aging pretty well. I am as fit as I've ever been, energetic, and, as far as I know, healthy.  My contact lens/glasses prescription hasn't changed, and my hearing has also stayed constant (although Adam has always complained that I set the television too loud).  Not a single grey hair yet too.  But I would certainly love to lose the wrinkles between my eye brows.  If I had to guess, they are from, more than anything, the fact that I scrunch up my face a lot, whether its from exertion while working out, or because I am focusing on something or wrapped up in the intense thoughts that are always running through my head.  And then there are the wild dreams I have every single night which often have me perplexed even during the dream.  Seriously, my unconscious mind is messed up!

Preventing wrinkles, as far as they are preventable, is possible by:

  • Avoiding sun damage/wearing SPF
  • Not smoking
  • Not drinking excessively
  • Eating a healthy, whole foods diet
  • Exercising (yes, seriously!)
  • Sleeping well/managing stress
But once you got em, what's the best way to get rid of them?  I have no idea.  Sorry! 

There are a million claims made by different cosmetic companies about various ingredients, and a ton of supplements, etc. promoted by health gurus.  But I've also read a whole lot of scientists who say almost all of this is bullshit.

That being said, I am not one to give up the opportunity to try a new product even if it 'might' help, as long as its not harmful.  So I was thrilled to receive Nerium's Age-Defying Night Cream to try.

I can't really say whether or not it works because I have only used it for a couple weeks and I am a sample of 1.  But it didn't give me any reaction, and given how sensitive my skin is, that's a very good thing.  It has no scent at all and is not at all greasy or heavy. 

What I will review instead, is the evidence behind its ingredients.

Apparently the product was created with the help of a biochemist from Princeton.  Sounds impressive.

One major ingredient is aloe vera leaf.  I found some studies that said it can help skin retain moisture, but nothing beyond that.

There is also Sig-1273 a 'specially patented ant-aging molecule.' I found no published research studies on this nor any details about what it actually is.  Just this Newswire article that announces its introduction into the market.  Same with SAL-14 the other proprietary ingredient. But at least they explain it a wee bit more as, "...a synergistic combination of various botanicals, including Bidens Pilosa, which is organically harvested in Brazil." Uh huh.

Centella Asiatica is a plant that is purported to have therapeutic benefits like helping to heal scars and burns.

Adenosine? I found nothing on anti-aging skin properties. 

Licorice root? Often used to reduce hyperpigmentation, or to lighten skin, but very little evidence it is actually effective.

Vitamin C? Sure, its an antioxidant often used in skin products.

Sodium hyaluronate has been used to treat radiation recall dermatitis...which is apparently a common side effect of cancer treatment.  According to the Nerium company it hydrates the collagen in the skin.

CoQ10 works on mitochondria and can reduce oxidative stress, but I didn't find any studies specifically about improving the look of skin.

So what you ask? Why am I boring you with all this?

Well, while there may be some evidence that these compounds have therapeutic benefits of some kind, I don't think there is a lot that this will translate into making a person look younger, or reducing wrinkles.  Many scientists point out that if all the skin products on the market really did what they said, they would be 'medicines' not cosmetics, and would be available by prescription only.

So do I recommend it?  Well, if you are eager to spend $100 on face cream, go for it.  After all, I have super sensitive skin, and it didn't give me a reaction which is good.  But if that isn't in your budget, I suggest you just dab a bit of organic coconut oil on your face at night and you may just get the same result.

If you are concerned about the condition of your skin...I give you the same advice I started out with:

  • Avoiding sun damage/wearing SPF
  • Not smoking
  • Not drinking excessively
  • Eating a healthy, whole foods diet
  • Exercising (yes, seriously!)
  • Sleeping well/managing stress
If you already have wrinkles, like I do, well, I guess we may just have to accept them...or get botox!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Shana Tova

Its a gorgeous, sunny Monday, and the first day of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.  I am filled with joy and optimism about this coming year and am excited to celebrate with family and friends today.

Shana Tova!

Friday, September 11, 2015

In Fighting Form at 41

Today is my birthday.  I'm 41.  Nope, I'm not ashamed of it.  After all, I think I'm doing okay. And we all age...the only alternative is not a good one!  The objective is to age well, like wine or cheese ;) Aging well doesn't necessarily mean looking like Christy Brinkley at 60...she clearly one the genetic lottery! It means looking and feeling healthy and vibrant. A 46 year old cousin of mine, with 3 kids, was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, as was a 48-year-old mom at the girls' daycare.  Just being healthy and mobile is enough motivation to get me up every morning and working my butt off to stay that way.

I will admit that turning 40 was a bit of a shit storm for me.  It brought up a lot of existential angst about who I am and what I've done with my life.  This past year has involved a whole lot of soul searching (thinking, reading, talking, observing).  Fortunately, just in time for this birthday, I feel like I've come out swinging. 

I've worked through all my shame about 'not keeping up with the Joneses' since I've finally fully realized what I've always preached to my clients, which is, money and material items don't lead to happiness.  We may never have a house or car as big or nice as most of our peers' but I am in all ways that count incredibly blessed.  I have 2 healthy, wonderful kids, the best husband anyone could ask for, great friends and family, and a career I love.  I may not be famous, powerful or rich, but I like who I am. I am smart, kind, loyal and honest.  I try to stay true to my principles. I go out of my way to help people. I am a good person and I'm proud of that. I believe that happiness is feeling loved, loving yourself and loving what you do.  And I have all that. I am truly lucky!

I also feel fantastic.  This past winter I did not, I was a lethargic, mopey mess.  I quite by accident realized my antihistamines were causing extreme fatigue, and the cold weather had me huddled indoors and more sedentary than usual.  I met my goal this summer of bumping up my endurance by tweaking my workouts and riding my bike everywhere as much as possible.  I am very happy with how I look and feel now.  I am full of energy and fitter and stronger than I ever have been.  41? Bring it on!

While I feel young and energetic, I am still a homebody, so, no, no going out to celebrate this weekend.  Working tonight and tomorrow morning (but, hey I love my work, so no sweat!), and hosting a neighbourhood get together on Sunday.

Have yourself a happy, healthy weekend.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life ~ Confucius

This summer Adam and I started watching the series, House of Lies, with Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell. Its a fantastic show, but very cynical and rather depressing.  Most of the characters are positively vile and it reveals the dark underbelly of the corporate consulting industry.
Watching it was a reminder of all the reasons I hated the corporate world and working an office job.  Ah man, it was never for me!  My first job out of university and I was clinically depressed within 2 weeks. 
I realize I am unbelievably lucky.  So many people dislike their jobs, but are unable to leave them.  Because of my incredibly supportive husband, who has a stable job and health benefits, I was able to transition to an entirely new career.  One that is unstable and doesn't pay well, but that I LOVE.  I love my work and I am so grateful for that because for so long I thought that was an impossibility.  I went down the entirely wrong road, and I blame both my parents (for emphasizing prestige and stability as important factors when considering a career) and myself (for letting fear and self-doubt hold me back from pursuing what I should have in the first place - med school or a PhD in clinical psychology).
Nevertheless, I still managed to get to a place I want to be. I am self-employed, have a flexible work schedule, work with people, help people, which gives me a great sense of fulfillment and have a career that always challenges me both professionally and personally, which helps me grow, not only as a counsellor, but as a wife, mother and friend too.
If you don't love your work, I encourage you to explore your options.  Its never too late and you never know what's possible until you look!  Its so important to get intrinsic satisfaction from your job, after all, you spend more hours doing it than virtually anything else.  You spend more time at your job than you do with your family for goodness sakes!  Job strain and dissatisfaction can have a negative impact on both your physical and mental health.  If you don't love the actual work you do, at least find a pleasant environment to do it in.  For women, in particular, having positive relationships with coworkers is extremely important.
Unfortunately, one of the reasons we often fall into jobs we dislike is that we are forced to make decisions that affect our career path when we are too young to know what we want or to fully understand the implications of our decisions. 
Because of my own experiences, here are some of the things I plan to discuss with the girls when they are considering their post-secondary education options: (I wish someone had asked me these questions when I was 17 and choosing university programs!)
1. What do you enjoy doing/what is your passion?
2. Are you comfortable with risk/financial instability?
3. Do you want to work flexible hours or 9-5?
4. Do you want to sit at a desk/computer most of the day?
5. Do you want to work for others or for yourself?
6. How important is income?
7. Where do you want to live?
Of course many 17 year olds may not know the answers yet, but I think if they keep going back to these questions as they move forward this could help guide their decision making.
Do you love your job? If you could do anything, what would you do?
The moment that you realize that you've been at work for only an hour.:

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Book Review: Weight No Longer - The prescription for amazing fitness and Living

Weight No Longer: The Prescription for Amazing Fitness & Living

I learned something extremely important from this book: NEVER waste your time on a health or medical book that is self-published!!!

I should have learned my lesson after reviewing this one.

Weight No Longer is written by Philip Caravella, an American family doctor who seems to think he has the secret to weight loss that everyone else has overlooked.  I'll save you the time and money you would spend on this book and tell you that is so-called secret is that - despite what most other credible health experts have concluded - he believes exercise is far more important for weight loss than diet.

While I agree with him wholeheartedly, that exercise is pretty much the most critical lifestyle factor (aside from not smoking or drinking excessively) for your overall health, it is not MORE important than diet for weight loss.  Health maybe, weight loss not likely.

When I mentioned this to Adam, he suggested that Caravella probably works for Coca Cola.  Ha, maybe!!

But this is only one of a trillion problems with this book. 

First of all, his research is very shoddy.  He only backs up some of his many claims and arguments, but when he does, he mostly refers to very old (like 1994) studies, all from the New England Journal of Medicine.  Its a good journal, but it seems like he just pulled what he had off his book shelf and flipped through them to find evidence for his hypotheses, rather than doing real research.  There are millions of studies on diet, exercise, weight loss and chronic illness that have been published since 1994!!! And normally you don't want to use studies published in only one journal to try to avoid editorial biases.

The second big problem with this book is it meanders all over the place and the content of the chapters doesn't necessarily relate to the chapter titles at all.  It is also extremely repetitious.  Come on folks, even if you are self-publishing, get someone else to edit the manuscript for you before you put it into print!

It is also puzzling that he believes that exercise is the secret to weight loss, but then spends a great deal of time talking about diet.  He basically contradicts himself all over the place.

I do agree with what he calls, "Dieting's Biggest Taboos and Mistakes:" (although I don't see how these are taboos)
  • Fasting
  • Skipping meals
  • Fad diets
  • Yo-yo dieting
  • Impatience
  • Diet meds (actually some of the experts I respect feel these sometimes have a place in weight loss treatment for the obese)
Caravella believes that obesity is a 'social disease' but barely acknowledges the role of poverty and socioeconomic status. He does say both big business and government should take some responsibility for dealing with the obesity epidemic, but then spends a lot of time pontificating about how individuals have the control and responsibility to manage their weight. He does mention emotional eating but doesn't really address how to deal with it.  Some of his arguments have a bit of a "blame the victim" tone and he seems to try to use guilt (look at the health care costs you fat people incur on all of us!) as a motivator.

Caravella argues that one cannot be fat, by our conventional understanding of the word, and healthy.  This is still an area of debate in the medical world.  To make his point, he says,"...I have never seen an obese marathoner." Ha, well one was just recently featured in Runner's World Magazine, so there Dr. Caravella!

He refutes the assumptions of many supporters of the low-carb movement by challenging the notion that blood insulin levels are primarily responsible for weight loss.  A recent study found that this is not true, so he may be right in this case.  In addition, he argues that physical activity is the key factor.  Exercise does affect insulin control, and as sport nutritionist Nancy Clark, pointed out, the way you process carbohydrates is determined, in large part, to your activity levels.  Love your carbs? Then get moving!

Probably the most egregious error he makes is defining anaerobic activities as those exercises that use large and/or small muscle groups and are less physically demanding than aerobic activities. WTF?

Anaerobic activity is actually:

While “aerobic” means “with oxygen,” anaerobic means “without air" or "without oxygen." Anaerobic exercise is short-lasting, high-intensity activity, where your body’s demand for oxygen exceeds the oxygen supply available. Anaerobic exercise relies on energy sources that are stored in the muscles and, unlike aerobic exercise, is not dependent on oxygen from (breathing) the air. Examples of anaerobic exercise include: heavy weight-lifting, all types of sprints (running, biking, etc.), jumping rope, hill climbing, interval training, isometrics, or any rapid burst of hard exercise (source).
Caravella actually starts Chapter 15 - Resistance Training, with, "Resistance training is another word for anaerobic exercise." Okay, a) its 2 words, and b) this guy doesn't know what he's talking about!!

Later on in the book, he also makes the absurd claim that diet is not important because, "...even overeating can be overcome with more exercise." Wrong! He says he'll prove this in the book, but where he does this, I don't know...especially since he doesn't provide any references for these claims.

After repeatedly arguing about the primary role of exercise in weight loss and management, he then has a whole bunch of chapters devoted to nutrition and diet.  While he seems to promote the paleo diet at the beginning of the book (oy!), he is less specific by Chapter 30 and suggests a diet 'must' contain 25-35% fat, 20-25% protein, and 40-45% carbohydrates, although he repeatedly mentions the benefits of what gorillas eat (we've moved from our ancient ancestors to gorillas!).  At least he emphasizes whole foods.

Honestly, I don't want to waste any more time on this book.  I know you won't buy it, and you shouldn't. 

I think the point is that when deciding how to spend your precious time to find accurate health information about diet and health, evaluate:

1. Credentials of writer (this guy is an M.D., but that's not necessarily enough!)
2. Is it self-published or was it published by large/credible or small/unknown publishing house?
3. Was the book adequately researched?
4. If secondary sources were used, are they peer-reviewed, scientific studies (rather than magazine articles, popular books, etc.)?

Disclosure: I received this book for no charge and all opinions on this blog are my own.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Launch

Good morning and happy first day back at school!

I hope you're weekend was as good as ours...we had a blast: birthday dinner for my father-in-law, Costco trip with a little lot of retail therapy, movie (Shaun the Sheep...very cute!), and visit with my brother and his family.  But today its all business.

I was expecting the worst today seeing as it is the first day of new routines and Little A not only doesn't really like school, but she doesn't always adapt to change well.  I am thrilled and shocked to report, however, that this morning went incredibly smoothly!  Sometimes it pays to set your expectations low.

Our new morning rule is that nobody gets to eat breakfast until absolutely everything else is done (clothes on, sunscreen, lunch and school bag packed, etc.).  Since the girls are highly motivated by food (and only motivated by food), this seems to be working well.  It also helped that it is raining, so I drove them, which saved time, and meant we arrived at morning daycare.  Little A always prefers the transition to daycare more than if we arrive late and I have to drop her directly at her classroom.  Unfortunately, I know I can't expect every morning to go this well, but maybe this year won't be as incredibly stressful as I'm anticipating?  In any case, I'm eager to hear how the girls enjoy their new classes when I go to pick them up.

I'll keep you posted!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Ready, Set, GO!

Well, here we are, summer vacation is officially over. 
Tomorrow we have the beginning of a 4 day weekend starting with a trip to the Toronto Exhibition.  Whoopee!  At least we're meeting up with friends so I will be distracted by how hot and crowded it is...hopefully!

After the Ex, I actually have to see a client, and I see several clients on Saturday.  We also have to fit in a trip to Costco to get ourselves ready for school, and Monday, Labour Day, we will probably hang out with my brother and his family. 

Tuesday its back to the grind for all of us, and I'm just hoping the school year starts smoothly.

Have a lovely long weekend and I'll be back Tuesday.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Mediterranean Cauliflower Rice Salad

I know I complain about the summer heat and humidity a lot.  Okay, constantly.  But there is one thing I'll miss come winter: all the refreshing salads I've been eating!

Occasionally I'll have salad other times of year, but on blistery, snowy winter days, um, I don't think so.

I'm making the most of these scorching temps by getting in all my salad eating.  This one is super yummy and both light and satisfying at the same time. 

I was planning to add feta cheese but found my feta looked more like blue cheese when I opened the container.  Into the compost it went!  Oh well, there is some good fat from the olive oil, and protein from the chickpeas, but feel free to add some feta if you wish.

It is best served just warm/room temperature.

Mediterranean Cauliflower Rice Salad

1 cauliflower, pulsed in food processor into 'rice'
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 small zucchini, diced
1 red onion, diced
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (or 1.5 cups cooked chickpeas)
1/2 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped


1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 tsp good quality extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp salt (or to taste)

Toss zucchini and onion with garlic and vinegar and roast on foil-lined baking sheet at 400F for about 30 minutes.*

For the dressing, combine all the ingredients in a jar, screw on lid tightly and shake until fully emulsified. 

Place cauliflower, roasted veggies, chickpeas and olives in a pan or skillet over low heat. Add about half the dressing and toss well.  Place in a serving dish and garnish with grape tomatoes.  Serves 1-2 as a main and 4 as a side dish.

*If you don't have time to roast veggies, put them in skillet first, along with an extra tsp olive oil, and saute until softened, then add cauliflower, chickpeas, olives and dressing.

I have shared this recipe with Urban Naturale's Plant-Based Pot-Luck.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Eat Your Water

 List of 21 natural foods (Vegetables and fruits) with high water content.

The forecast for Toronto today and all week is stupid, gross, disgusting hot and humid.  Perfect time to discuss hydration!

Most people know that it is important to drink water, so I am always surprised how many people don't.  A life of sweetened beverages has left some people with a distaste for what is really, the most important nutrient we all need! Water is considered plain and boring, so when faced with water versus pop or juice, most people will pick the latter options.  This is a big mistake because drinking calories is the best way to add extra pounds, and sweetened beverages are associated with chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, etc.

You can, as I am sure you already know, lightly flavour your water with cucumber and lemon slices, or even naturally flavoured, stevia-sweetened water enhancers, but if that doesn't float your boat, fear not, you don't actually have to chug water to get the hydration you need.  Yeah, that's right, turns out the whole 8 glasses of water a day recommendation is bull.  In other good news, caffeine isn't nearly as dehydrating as we once thought, so coffee and tea (leave out the cream and sugar), are actually hydrating.  Alcohol is a diuretic, however, so beer, wine and cocktails are not a good choice.

The best news yet for you water haters out there, is that pretty much all of your hydration needs (but please do sip some water while working out, especially if you do endurance exercise), can be gotten from food.  Yes, you can eat your water!

Some of the foods with the highest water content and lots of health benefits include (source):

  • Cucumbers have the highest water content of any solid food at 97 percent.
  • Iceberg lettuce may not have the highest nutrient rating, but it is 96 percent water.
  • Celery has folate and vitamins A, C, and K and is also 96 percent water.
  • Radishes have high-antioxidant content and also a water content of 95 percent.
  • Tomatoes are high in the antioxidant lycopene and have a water content of 95 percent.
  • Red, yellow, and green peppers all have about 92-93 percent water content.
  • Cauliflower may look pale and devoid of nutrients, but it is actually filled with vitamins and phytonutrients and is 92 percent water.
  • Watermelon can thank the powerful cancer-fighting antioxidant lycopene for its red hue and is 92 percent water.
  • Spinach is rich in lutein, potassium, fiber, and folate and is 91 percent water.
  • Berries are all great sources of water, hovering in the high 80th percentile, but strawberries have the highest water content with 91 percent.
  • Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable, which means it is great at fighting cancer cells, but it is also 91 percent water.
  • Grapefruit is high in vitamin C and contains 90 percent water.

  • Did you notice anything? Yep, they're all fruits and veggies.  So drop the slurpee and grab some fresh produce.  Just another reason (to add to the 6 million others) to eat your veggies!!