Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sweet and Spicy Curried Chickpeas and Kale

1 tsp olive oil
1 cooking onion, diced
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
3-4 tbls fresh ginger, finely chopped or minced
2 tbls garam masala
1/2 tsp turmeric
Crushed red chili flakes, to taste (this is what adds the heat)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup no sugar added/all fruit spread (apricot or peach works best)
1 can chickpeas
1 can tomato paste
1-2 cups water
Large bunch fresh kale, chopped and tough stems removed

Optional add ins: Slivered almonds, raisins, chopped dried apricots

In large skillet over medium heat, pour oil and cook onion until translucent. Add garlic, ginger and spices and cook another few minutes. Add vinegar, fruit spread and chickpeas. Next, stir in tomato paste and then add about 1 cup of water. Start adding in kale, a few handfuls at a time and once it has wilted, add more. Add more water if you want to thin out the sauce more. Once all the kale has wilted, serve over brown rice or quinoa.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tug of War

One of the challenges of being a parent is trying to negotiate the balance between maintaining control over your children, trying to protect them and shape them into compassionate, responsible adults, and encouraging their independence and supporting their individuality.

Big A is "Quirky" and this sometimes leads us to butt heads. She wants to wear purple socks, striped pants and and orange shirt and have 3 ponytails. I just want her to wear the perfectly coordinated outfit I picked out for her, with her hair neatly brushed into one ponytail with a hair elastic that matches the outfit.

At first I wondered if I was getting too caught up in worrying what others would think of ME if my child dressed this way. But I have begun to realize that I don't really care about that...I worry about Big A being ostracized by the other kids. I clearly remember how painful it is to be rejected by your peers, and I will do anything to try and avoid my children having to go through that. Of course this is something I probably cannot do.

The irony is, although Big A is very needy and clingy with Adam and I, this does not come from general self-consciousness or shyness. In fact, she shows little concern with what other kids think. In addition, she has not yet had any problems with other kids. We get nothing but glowing reports from her school and daycare about how she interacts with the other kids and they seem to like her. She has already formed a little clique with 3 other girls and has not reported any teasing, bullying, exclusions or colluding either within or outside this group.

So really it's me that has the problem and I need to let go.

The past few weeks of project "Say no to tantrums" with Little A has gone very well. Why oh why did I not learn the importance of being firm sooner???

She no longer expects any snacks when I pick her up from daycare and I no longer expect that there is any food or toy I can bring that will make her behave in the stroller on the way home. Why? She desperately wants to walk.

Before I had kids, I fantasized about taking long, leisurely strolls with my kids sitting placidly in the stroller, stopping to sip a latte while they just looked at me silently. After all, I saw other kids doing that while their parents relax and re-caffeinate.

Ha! That never happened with either one! They both have always hated the stroller and have protested having to be in it constantly. Looking on the bright side, at least my kids were born liking physical activity! But it did irk me the other day when Big A said she wished she could be a little baby again so she could get pushed home in a warm, weather-covered stroller, like Little A (who was loudly protesting), instead of having to walk home in the cold. I reminded her that she screamed almost every day too and from daycare while I pushed her in the stroller.

Although allowing her to walk makes me anxious (what if she darts into traffic?), I finally gave in and allowed Little A to walk home from Big A's school after we picked her up yesterday. My screaming, grouchy, sullen toddler was instantly transformed into a ray of sunshine. She was so happy she was beside herself. She allowed Big A to hold her hand the whole way, and held my hand part of the way.

I was surprised how briskly she could walk and we only ran into trouble once when she wanted to cross a busy street on her own (I had to pick her up and endure her frantic screams while everyone looked at me like I was torturing my child). She was jubilent and showed her pleasure by repeatedly flinging her arms around Big A and I for hugs and kisses. Oddly, she has suddenly started saying, "No bites!" after she kisses us, which has prompted me to wonder who she HAS been biting lately...

In any case, not giving in when Little A screams for something she can't have or has a tantrum has been very effective at decreasing the frequency of this behaviour.

The only thing I am still really struggling with is how to mediate the fights between the girls. Their adoration for one another is clear, but like any siblings, they battle too. The minute one of them has food or a toy, the other wants it. I have had to break up frequent tug-of-wars between them that result in said item being taken away and me telling them to stop fighting. But lately I have been troubled by this.

I vividly remember feeling the injustice of having my parents order my brother and I to stop fighting and refusing to listen to our claims about who was instigating the fight and who is the innocent victim (I was always the victim, of course). As a kid, I felt that there was right and wrong and my parents should not punish us both, but should side with the child who was right (which was always me).

Yesterday morning I was already in a bad mood because Big A insisted on having me pour her a huge bowl of raisin bran just so she could pick out all the raisins. Soon after, I heard screaming that escalated to crying. Little A had grabbed Big A's bowl (not because she wanted the cereal, but just because she wanted to piss her off) and Big A was upset. Without a word, I took away the bowl. Big A started screaming and protesting and things escalated. She refused to put on her shoes and she was rude and disrespectful while I tried to get everyone out the door. I told her daddy and I were going to discuss a suitable punishment for this inappropriate behaviour.

But all day it bothered me. Did I handle the situation correctly?

I decided that if I didn't want Big A to fight with Little A over food and toys, I need to tell her what she should do when Little A grabs her stuff. So when I picked her up from daycare, I told her that next time this happens, I want her to let go of whatever it is that the girls are battling over, come directly to me and let me handle it. A better solution yesterday could have been to simply pour Big A another bowl of raisin bran. Then I could have sat down with Little A and explained to her that she is not to take her big sister's food while she is eating. Then there would not have been a tug-of-war resulting in spilled cereal, pushing, shoving and screaming, Big A would have gotten what she wanted, and (hopefully) Little A would have learned something about what is, and is not acceptable behaviour.

So I made a mistake, but I learned from it.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

BLT Pasta

1 lb whole grain, short pasta (like rotini)

2 lb (about 8) endive*, halved, bottoms removed
1 tsp olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

1 tsp olive oil
1/3 lb (about 8 slices) turkey bacon**, sliced width-wise in short strips
2 cloves garlic, minced
85g bag julienned sundried tomatoes (or 1 jar sundried tomatoes, julienned)
2 cups chicken stock
4 tsp whole wheat flour
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
Hot chili flakes, to taste (optional)

Toss endive in bowl with oil, salt and pepper. Roast in oven at 425F for 15 minutes or grill for 5-10 minutes. Remove and set aside. When cool enough to handle, roughly chop larger pieces.

Cook pasta according to package. Whisk together stock and flour and set aside. Meanwhile, brown bacon in oil over medium/medium-high heat. Add garlic and sundried tomatoes and cook another few minutes. Pour in chicken stock and turn heat down to low. Simmer until sauce thickens a little bit. Stir in green onions just before pasta is done. Toss together pasta and sauce. Serve with lots of freshly grated
parmesan cheese.

*Endive is quite bitter and I didn't find that grilling sweetened it up that much. If you don't like endive, you can grill romaine lettuce (I saw Chef Michael Smith do it for a grilled caesar salad!), or simply stir in your favorite greens to the sauce while it is simmering (baby spinach, chard, etc.).

**The only turkey or chicken bacon available around here has nitrites, so I don't use it that often. All-natural, nitrite-free pork bacon is readily available, but Adam doesn't eat piggies. If you wanted to make this vegetarian, you could use soy or tempeh bacon instead.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Zucchini Chocolate Chip Muffins

These are so good almost half the batch was devoured while they were still warm from the oven! Most of the sweetness comes from the fruit and they are choc-ful of chocolate.

2 medium raw zucchini, pureed
1 cup pureed cooked fruit (I used peach, but pear would work well too)*
2 ripe bananas, mashed
2 eggs
1/4 cup agave syrup or honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
2.5 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Whisk together wet ingredients in large bowl. Stir together dry ingredients and add to wet. Add chocolate chips while gently folding ingredients until everything comes together. Fill greased muffin cups to the top and bake at 400F for about 20 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.

Makes 16 muffins

*To save time, you can use a few jars of baby food if you don't have pureed fruit handy. Canned fruit thrown into the food processor or blender would work in a pinch too.

Friday, March 25, 2011

More Peas!

Is it weird that vegetables excite me? Wait, don't answer that!

But seriously, I love veggies, particularly green ones. So I'm crazy about the products sold by Mann's in the produce section of the grocery store. They are convenient and healthy. I frequently use the broccoli slaw or rainbow slaw for salads, stir fries and wraps.

But now I have a new favorite...their snap peas! They make a perfect, portable snack.

They are sweet, crisp and delicious and super healthy. A whole 8oz bag is just 100 calories and has 5g of fibre and 5g of protein as well as more than a third of your recommended daily intake of vitamin A, two-thirds of your recommended daily intake of vitamin c, and 15% of your recommended daily intake of calcium and iron.

Granted they are not cheap - I paid $2.99, but snap peas can usually be purchased in bulk for less at most grocery stores or markets. Get crunching!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Leisure Time

While walking to school through the massive snowstorm yesterday, Big A described the weather as "a big pile of dog poo." Although we discussed how lucky we are that we just got snow and are not dealing with the aftermath of a major earthquake, tsunami or flood, like other not as fortunate people around the world, I still have to agree. This weather is a big pile of dog poo.

I am also puzzled with the city's new way of dealing with snow on our street: don't plow it away, simply compress it down so that the road becomes one big, treacherous piece of ice. Mmm, way to go City of Toronto, brilliant idea!

There is no better way to take your mind off of natural disasters and crappy weather than a little R&R. What do you do with your spare time? I am sure almost all of you probably said, "What spare time?"

Yes, life is hectic and complicated, but taking time out for leisure activities is very important for both mind and body health. No matter what, I take time out of each day to do 3 things:

(1) Exercise at the crack of dawn before the girls are up,
(2) Spend an hour with Adam cuddling on the couch watching one of our favorite t.v. shows after the girls have gone to bed, and
(3) Reading in bed before I shut out the light.

I share my favorite exercise tips often, but I thought I would share a few more of my favorite books, shows, etc. that you may enjoy in your "spare" time.

The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million (Daniel Mendelsohn)
This is a true story about how this American Journalist uncovered the details of how his relatives perished during the Holocaust. I admit, this is not light reading - some details about how Jews were tortured by the Nazis, and I had already read lots about the Holocaust, werer so disturbing I was upset for days - but well worth it.

The Elegence of the Hedgehog (Muriel Barbery)
This was an enjoyable, quick read...very hard to describe. It starts off a bit slow but gets much more interesting after that.

The Kellerman mysteries (Faye and Jonathan Kellerman)
I have been reading the mysteries written by this husband and wife team for years. They each have their own series and they have written a few together. Apparently two of their children are also published authors now. I have tried reading many other mysteries, aside from the Stieg Larsson series, and never like them as much. These are great when you need something to read that will help you relax and take your mind off of everything else.

Steig Larsson series - I have now read the whole trilogy and found them very entertaining and enjoyable. Like the Kellermans, good books for when you don't want to think too much.

Adam and I watch a lot of shows, but tape everything and only watch an hour a day (besides what we watch while doing our morning cardio workouts), so we tend to be several weeks behind on all of them. Our favorites are Flashpoint, CSI (LV), Criminal Minds, House, Law & Order SVU, The Mentalist and The Good Wife.

This season we have added a few new ones and eliminated a few:

The Defenders - Legal show with Jim Belushi, who is surprisingly good, and Jerry O'Connell.

Blue Bloods - Cop/Legal drama with Tom Selleck. This is a good show, but I get irritated by how unrealistic it is. There must be, what, thousands of ADAs, cops and detectives in NYC, and, yet, the ADA, beat cop and detective in this one family all end up working the same cases?

Criminal Minds Suspect Behaviour - Gotta love Forrest Whitaker and janeane garofalo, but I'm not sold on this one yet.

Law & Order LA - This one is okay but they need to develop the characters a bit more.

Nutrition/Consumer Education - A few good blogs

Of course, if you are really short on time, I always vote for making exercise a priority. It is so good for both body and mind. And you can always combine exercise with another leisure activity like tv, reading, or listening to music.

I also find baking and cooking incredibly therapeutic and the nice thing is, you gotta eat, so it's a very productive past-time!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Shirataki Noodles with Shrimp, Veggies and Sesame-Miso-Ginger Sauce

This was today's lunch and it was so good. I mean really crazy good. So good that while slurping up the noodles at the bottom of the bowl while sitting at my desk (yes, I eat lunch at my desk almost every day), I splattered the broth all over the textbook I was reading. Yuck! I guess I know where Little A gets her pig-pen ways!

Shirataki noodles can be made with tofu or with yam starch. The tofu ones, which have just 50 calories a bag are okay, but the yam ones are much better. And they have no calories. No joke. They are perfect for anyone watching their energy or carbohydate intake, like if you have diabetes. They are also perfect if you need to avoid wheat and gluten. Of course, no calories means no nutritional value, so you don't want to start eating nothing but shirataki noodles! That's something that Hollywood celebrities would do!

You could use scallops in this too, or, if, like my hubby, you don't eat seafood, you can replace the shrimp with chicken, tofu or edamame.

1 tsp vegetable oil
1/2 lb shrimp (I used the 40ish to a pound size)

1 bag Shirataki yam noodles*
1/2 bunch broccoli, cut into florets, lightly steamed
1 yellow, red or orange bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 cucumber, cut in half lengthwise, and thinly sliced in half circles
1 bunch green onions, sliced

2 tbls miso paste
2 tbls ketchup (I used sugar-free, low sodium) or (tomato paste+1 tsp brown sugar)
2 tbls ponzu sauce or low sodium tamari or soy sauce
4 tbls rice vinegar
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
2-3 tbls finely chopped fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
hot chili flakes (optional)

Sesame seeds (optional)

Whisk together ingredients for sauce in small bowl and set aside. It will be very thick, but when dish is finished, moisture from veggies will thin it out to create a broth.

Pour oil in large wok, skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat and add shrimp. Stir-fry until just cooked (do not overcook!), Add noodles, broccoli and peppers and cook another minute or two. Pour in sauce, green onions and cucumber and stir-fry until everything is hot. Sprinkle with sesame seeds before serving, if desired.

Makes 1 large serving for a very hungry person or 2 smaller servings.

*Drain noodles in colander and rinse under cold water. Use scissors to snip into smaller strands (they are very long!).

These noodles are perfect for Asian-style soups and stir fries because they do not get mushy, but I wouldn't advise using them for Italian or American-style pasta dishes.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

S'More Bars

Happy Spring!

You are not likely to ever find me around a campfire. Camping is about as attractive to me as getting my teeth drilled. I am definitely a city girl! I need A/C, a hairdryer, and any other luxury I can get, and I don't need mosquitos and wild animals.

But who doesn't love the flavour combination of s'mores?

2.5 cups graham crumbs (I used New Morning organic cinnamon grahams)
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted (or butter)
1/4 cup agave syrup or honey
2 cups mini marshmallows
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 heaping tbls coconut oil, melted (or butter)

Mix graham crumbs with coconut oil and syrup or honey. Bake in greased 9x9 square pan at 350F for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle marshmellows over top in a single layer. Put back in the oven for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, microwave chocolate chips for 2 minutes in microwave. Stir until smooth. Add coconut oil and stir until smooth and shiny. Pour over marshmallow layer and place in fridge for about an hour or until chocolate is firm. Cut into squares. Makes about 36 pieces.

Who needs a campfire? You can enjoy these yummy treats without all the mosquito bites!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Fashion and Beauty

Yesterday's haircut at The Curl Ambassadors was an interesting experience.

Am I happy with the cut? Yes, actually. It isn't so different from how Van cuts it. But the way this woman styled my hair is another story!

She straightened out my bangs completely but then spent a significant amount of time arranging every other hair on my head into a perfect ringlet - Shirley Temple style. In addition, even though we discussed which SIDE I wear my hair on several times, she gave me a middle part while simultaneously pulling my hair up and back so it was BIG. Not even the rain or my bike helmet could put a dent in it!

The final effect was circa early 1990s suburban mom. I felt like I should have been wearing tapered, high-waisted jeans with a kelly green mock turtleneck.

She also educated me on proper curl care - apparently I do EVERYTHING wrong. I need to avoid mousse and hairspray, which are drying, and the cheap drugstore shampoos and conditioners generally contain ingredients that also dry out curls and lead to frizz. What should I be using? The extremely expensive products they sell, of course!

Funny thing though, do I care about my appearance? Hell yeah! But am I willing to pay a lot of money for it. Nope. I shop at clothing stores like H&M, Jacob, Joe Fresh, etc. I buy makeup and beauty products from the drugstore. Preferably on sale. I think part of the reason for this paradox is that I don't really believe that expensive products can really make a huge difference. I think overall health (sleep, diet, exercise), confidence and genetics have a much more significant impact on one's appearance.

Speaking of clothing stores, am I the only one who thinks that sizes are growing larger? Vanity sizing I suppose, to make us feel better as we, as a population, get bigger and bigger.

I am 5'2 and somewhere between 110-116 lbs (depends on the scale...I don't weigh myself regularly, so I'm not really sure), so clearly I'm not a huge person, but the Banana Republic jeans I got in Florida are a "00". Really? I'm a "00"? I bet if you put me beside Victoria Beckham, who is a true "00", I would look like I ate her and all of the rest of the Spice Girls for lunch. And the size 2 pants I just got at Joe Fresh were at least 1 inch too big or more around the waist. And I don't even have a waist, I'm completely tubular. And I got size 2 pants there a few years ago that fit well - and they fit the same way now that they did when I bought them.

It's funny that health experts are pressuring the restaurant industry to display calories on their menus in order to increase consumer awareness, but does nothing to prevent the clothing industry from enabling us to deny our growing girth.

I will admit, however, that it was pretty devastating when I bought my wedding dress in 2001 (apparently wedding dress sizes have not changed over the years) and had to let OUT a size 10. You know, I think I'll stick with being a "00"!

Tooty-Fruity Pancakes

Wait! Don't call child services, I swear that feeding these to my children is not cruel and unusual fact, they love them!

I have started taking the same approach to making them pancakes as I do muffins and other baked goods: an opportunity to hide extra nutrition in every bite they eat.

I admit that brussel sprouts are not a common pancake ingredient, and truthfully, this would not have been my first choice of veggie to add, but I had extra in the fridge, so I thought I'd give it a try.

If you use a cruciferous veggies like brussel sprouts, broccoli or cauliflower - you know, the gas-producing culprits, these will be extra "tooty", but if you are less adventurous or you have particularly picky/sensitive kids, other options that would work are spinach, pea, corn, carrot, pumpkin or squash.

Big A actually hates chunks of fruit in her pancakes, even whole berries, but pureeing the fruit makes it even easier to hide the veggies.

I like making a big batch so I can freeze them and then have them handy when I need a quick, healthy meal for the girls (they will eat pancakes for breakfast, lunch or dinner!). They take less than 30 seconds to defrost and heat in the microwave.

Cooked veggies (enough to make 1 cup, pureed)
1/2 cup blueberries
2 ripe bananas
2 eggs
2 tbls maple syrup, honey or agave syrup
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tbls baking powder
1 scoop Greens+ for Kids powder (optional)*
2 cups milk or water

Puree enough veggies to make 1 cup. Ad blueberries and bananas to the blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Dump puree into a large mixing bowl and add eggs, sweetener of choice, and vanilla. Whisk together. Stir together flour, baking powder and Greens+ (if using) in a smaller bowl and add to wet ingredients. Slowly pour in milk or water to mixing bowl, whisking everything together until you have a fairly thick batter. Cook in frying pan or griddle until golden on both sides. Makes about 18 pancakes.

Serve with syrup, or to make this an even healthier meal, serve with yogurt and fresh fruit.

*Greens+ for Kids is a great, albeit pricey supplement that can be easily mixed into smoothies, yogurt, water, juice...or pancakes! My kids love the berry flavour it adds.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fitness at Any Age

Believe it or not, it is never too early or too late to get fit. Physical activity is critical for long-term health. It can help ward off many chronic illnesses, increase longevity and improve quality of life.

I began working out on a regular basis when I was 14. Turned off of team sports due to the competitiveness of the girls at my school, I began doing aerobics classes after school. Before leaving for university I was certified as a fitness instructor and I have been teaching and working out daily ever since.

My goal is to be active for as long as I can. I am inspired by many of the people I have trained over the years. Take, for example, Yvonne (who shares my hair stylist). She is a mother of 4 and grandmother of 7 or 8 who is now in her mid 70s. For the past 40+ years, she has been working out every day, usually doing a triathalon worth of activity (i.e. a run, a swim and a spin class). Now this extremely high level of time and intensity is not necessary for health benefits, however, I have to tell you, in the 14 years she's been coming to my classes, I have rarely ever seen her sick or injured!

Research studies have found that even previously sedentary seniors can benefit significantly from beginning all types of exercise programs - cardio, strength and flexibility. In addition, the most recent research has also demonstrated that strength training is safe and beneficial even for prepubescent children. I love the idea of getting my girls into strength training early on. I think the focus on being strong sends a positive message and could have a positive impact on body image and self-esteem.

Yesterday's boot camp class rocked. When I arrived at the club and walked into the fitness studio, I initially got the stink-eye from some of the gorgeous 20-something regulars: "Oh, Mandy is away...who are you?" Not an unusual response to an unknown sub instructor. Given that I am used to teaching people in the age 30-70+ range at the JCC, I figured I better kick some butt. Heck, even the Brazilian Butt Lift crowd at the Toronto Athletic Club were all pretty much my age or older.

Well, well, well. Ironically, my mind went completely blank at the beginning of the class trying to think of moves from my fitness DVDs, so I ended up completely winging it. And you know what? Their butts were kicked! After the class many of them came up and told me how hard the class was. One beautiful 20-something woman told me it was the hardest class she had EVER done and she said she works out 5+ days a week. They all wanted to know when and where I teach and one suggested I start teaching a boot camp class on Thursdays at this club. As fun as it was, I hate the idea of committing to another fitness class for the long-term. Nope. I much prefer being able to teach when I feel like it.

Yeah baby, I still got it and I'm almost 37! Nevermind that I felt like taking a nap at 3pm yesterday.

In any case, no matter how old you are, get moving. You've got nothing to lose and everything to gain!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Good Life

Last week I had a fantastic meeting with S.D. at the fertility clinic to start planning for my practicum placement in May. It was so exciting! She introduced me to all the nurses, doctors and staff, and gave me a tour. The clinic is even bigger than I realized. I am going to have my own office space to see clients and I am going to be helping her with some very interesting projects including:

* Creating and presenting a training program for staff on dealing with the emotional needs of clients.
* Starting a support group for clients who have had miscarriages.

Next week I have a meeting with D.B., from the therapy clinic where I will also be spending some of my practicum hours to discuss how things are going to run there. S.D. confirmed that getting experience doing more general couples counselling will greatly compliment my work in the infertility field, since you end up doing a great deal of couples counselling anyways.

I am so thrilled, I cannot believe that I may finally have a career that I love! I think back to all the years I spent in the research industry feeling miserable, bored and unfulfilled. I thought it was pretty much hopeless that I could turn things around for myself. But I seem to have turned things around and I couldn't be happier or more excited.

The only thing really bumming me out right now is my stupid hamstring. It's hard not to focus on it since it hurts the most when I am sitting or walking and, as the sports medicine doctor commented when I mentioned that months ago, that is a problem unless you are a fish. And I am not a fish.

My new physiotherapist seems to be taking me in the right direction. I have a whole series of new exercises to do - none of them core related! And I am supposed to get up from my desk every 15 minutes and do them. It also finally dawned on me that switching from hill walking to power walking on the treadmill has actually made things worse. Apparently incline is not the problem? So I have slowed down my walking and increased the incline again, which is also helping.

Ironically, my physiotherapist would like me to start jogging again. I'm a bit reluctant as I am worried about my knees. I wonder if he is forgetting that I am a good 20 years older than most of the competitive youth athletes that he trains??

I don't think my age is to blame. At least I hope not. But 2 pregnancies, c-sections and years of running and high impact aerobics have to have taken a toll. Still, my cardiovascular fitness is better than its ever been so it is very frustrating that I am being inhibited by my musculoskeletal system.

Last week I ordered the Insanity cardio DVD program as an alternative way to get a good cardio workout without the treadmill. I have only tried the abs workout so far, but even that was killer! I'm excited but nervous for the challenge. If I can't do it, my ego will definitely be hurt. It will really test if I'm as fit as I think...

Now that I know core training won't alleviate my pain, my motivation to do any additional training (aside from my usual a.m. workouts) has waned. I was doing the Jillian Michaels DVD or teaching an intense abs class twice a week at lunchtime for the past couple of months. But the last 2 weeks, besides trying out the Insanity abs workout, I have done nothing.

Fortunately, today I am subbing a boot camp class at a Goodlife Club, so I plan on taking some of the kick-butt moves from the Jillian Michaels DVD plus some of the plyometrics stuff from the Insanity workouts, to really give an intense class.

Really I only have 6 more weeks to improve my hamstring situation through any additional training or physio, because once I start my practicum placements, I won't have any time!

I leave you with another great move from the Jillian Michaels DVD:

Start in a straight-arm plank position. Start pulling in your knees, one at a time towards the outside of your elbow on the same side. To crank up the intensity even more, add in a push-up by bending your elbow when your knee is pulled in. Try to do 30 reps (15 on each side). I love this one!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Most people I know are somewhat particular about who touches their locks. I am no exception.

Most people also despise their hair and spend a great deal of time and money trying to transform it from it's natural state, into something they deem more desirable. I have definitely been down that road too.

In fact, I feel like I have been at war with my hair for most of my life. It is dark brown, fine and curly. Even a lot of stylists have admitted that the combination of fine-curly hair is very difficult to work with. My hair varies from relatively straight on a dry, cold day when I have flattened it with a winter hat, to super tight ringlets on a hot, humid day.

In 8th grade I permed idea why seeing as it is already super curly...and added Sun-In, which gave it icky, blondish streaks. In highschool I henna'd it, turning it bright red, and in first and second year university I highlighted and low-lighted my locks. I have also attempted to straighten it periodically with a flat-iron or round brush, but I have never really had the patience to do this for very long. I never want to spend more than 10 minutes total on hair and make-up everyday.

Although I am lucky to have never yet had a grey hair, childbirth has really done in my mane. After both girls were born, my hair started falling out like crazy. Since I have a lot of hair - it's fine, but plentiful - this wasn't such a big problem. What was a big problem was the regrowth of short spiky hairs that began coming in around my hair line. It was incredibly unsightly and forced me to chop off my locks that I had painstakingly grown out between Big A and Little A's birth. It just looked too weird to have long hair with spikey, short ones all around my hair line. I also feel like it has lost its lustre, and seems dry and dull. I can't go a day without using some Moroccan Oil to give it a bit more sheen and life.

Because of my fine-curly curse, I have had great difficulty finding a stylist I am happy with. Since living in Toronto, which is coming up on 17 years now, I think I have seen a dozen different hairdressers or more. With shorter cuts I find it even more frustrating because most stylists are unable to provide a consistent cut. One time it's perfect, but the next time I go back and ask for the same thing, I end up with something completely different.

Overall, I have been extremely pleased with my current stylist, Van, who I have been seeing on-and-off for the past 5 years. She originally worked in a posh Yorkville salon but opened up her business out of her home. She is very reasonably priced and an absolutely lovely girl.

So imagine my dismay when Yvonne, a woman who takes my spinning classes at the JCC, and also goes to Van (she too has difficult-to-work-with curly hair), informed me that our stylist seems to have gone AWOL. NOOOO! I had been putting off getting a cut because I have been busy, but it is long overdue. Sure enough, when I called to book an appointment, I got Van's machine and she never called back. I'm distraught, what do I do now??

I have an appointment Wednesday with the "Curl Ambassadors", who, obviously, specialize in curly hair, but Yvonne warned me that she has tried them and was not happy with the results. Oh Van where are you???

Hair is also a source of conflict between me and my girls. While I do not favour dressing them up in flounce and frills, I adore pigtails and cute dos on little girls. Unfortunately, Big A was pretty bald until she was 3 years old, and then it took another year before she was willing to let me style it, let alone run a brush through it. Now, she periodically tells me that she wants to cut it short, but I pretend not to hear. I adore her shiny, honey coloured curls and can't bear the thought of chopping it off.

Little A already has hair down to her shoulders, but won't even let me come near her with a barrette. Her hair is light reddish-brown and still baby fine, but I am sure it will get thicker and start curling soon, since neither Adam nor I have straight locks. What I wouldn't give to see my little monkey in pigtails!

As for me, if the cut I get on Wednesday is a bad one, I may actually start hoping for a late spring so that I can keep my head covered with a hat for a few more weeks until it grows in...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Whole Grain Truth

Here I go, jumping up on my soap box again. But as regular readers know, I HATE REFINED CARBS. I think the reason why is that, while most people consider candy and chocolate a "treat" and know that it is not nutritious, people go along eating tons of white bread, white rice and white pasta and think it's healthy. Really, it has nothing good in it and is actually harmful to your health.

A great article in the latest edition of the Nutrition Action Newsletter points out that refined carbohydrates can increase trigycerides and lower HDL (good) cholesterol. White rice has also been found to raise the risk of diabetes. In contrast, whole grains lower the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Whole grains keep you regular, because of their fibre, and contain a multitude of vitamins and minerals.

So PLEASE, do yourself a favour and avoid the refined carbs! There are so many whole grain breads, cereals, and pastas available. Just be sure to READ EVERY LABEL!!! Just because something says "multigrain" or even "whole grain" on the cover, doesn't mean it is actually 100% whole grain. It often just contains "some" whole grains. ONLY buy products that are 100% whole grain.

When a label says a product is made with "wheat flour" this does not mean whole grain flour, it simply means it is made with flour made from wheat, rather than rice, corn, spelt or some other type of grain.

Be aware that most restaurants, particularly chains, do not offer whole grain products. Even the "whole grain" blueberry muffin at Tim Hortons is made from mostly white flour. The solution? Eat out as seldom as possible. Restaurants load their food with salt, sugar and fats anyways, so experts recommend no more than 1-2 restaurant meals per week. You'll also save yourself a bunch of cash!!

In other nutrition news, while a previous study found a link between grapefruit consumption and breast cancer, two follow-up studies did not confirm these results. I am thrilled as I gave up eating grapefruits after the first study came out in 2007. I wouldn't normally be so concerned about one research study, however, it was based on a sample of 46,000 women. But the two follow-ups were even bigger, with 77,000 and 115,000 women. So unless it interferes with any medication you may be taking, bring on the grapefruits!!!

By the way - if you are interested in receiving the Nutrition Action Newsletter, published by the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, I think it's like $25 for a one year subscription. They have both Canadian and American editions. Check it out at:

Mediterranean Roasted Veggie Stew

I'm obsessed with roasted veggies right now. They just become so sweet and flavourful, I find them addictive. This was a warm, comforting dinner on a cold, rainy night.

2 small or 1 large zucchini, cut lengthwize in 4 strips, then strips cut into thirds
4 red, yellow or orange bell peppers, cut into quarters
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
2 tsp EV olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper, to taste

1 tsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced or finely chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
1 large can, crushed tomatoes
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup chopped, pitted calamata olives
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
Hot crushed chili flakes, to taste (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Toss veggies with oil, garlic, salt and pepper and arrange on baking sheet. Roast in the oven at 400F for about 45 minutes. Remove from oven and when cool enough, roughly chop.

Meanwhile, pour oil into large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and stir for a minute or so, until fragrant. Turn heat down to low and add crushed tomatoes and oregano. Cook a few minutes more and then add chickpeas, olives, lemon zest and juice and desired seasonings. Add roasted veggies into the sauce and simmer for about 5-10 minutes.

Serve over quinoa (this is how I made it) or rice, couscous or pasta. Sprinkle with light feta cheese, if desired.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Most parents will recognize CIO as standing for: Cry It Out, a controversial parenting technique where you allow your child to cry without reward until the undesired behaviour ceases.

I had absolutely no problem allowing my children to CIO when they were infants. Although a good sleeper once she fell asleep, Big A resisted going to bed, both at night time and nap time and we had to let her CIO for a very long time.

After 4 months of pure sleepless hell with Little A, we moved her from the bassinett in our bedroom to the crib in her own room and let her CIO until she started sleeping through the night.

Listening to your child cry is never pleasant, but I was able to follow through with the sleep training plans with relative ease.

Yet as soon as my children are old enough to understand my words and figure out how to manipulate me, I seem to lose the ability to listen to them cry and become instant putty in their hands. I can't seem to give up the hope that I can reason and negotiate with a toddler.

Just as Big A seems to be giving up her 2 and half year tantrum phase, Little A is officially in the Terrible 2s. My former ray of sunshine is suddenly pissy and whiny and throwing tantrums about everything.

I have found myself falling into the same trap that I used to with Big A, of giving in to her ludicrous demands just to placate her. But I am putting a stop to it right now!

Starting this week, I no longer bring Little A any snacks to eat in the stroller on the way home from daycare. It got to the point where no matter what I brought, she found a reason to throw a snack-related fit. Even if I had 3 different fresh fruits, some dried fruit and some cereal, she would whine and complain and have me stopping 20 times in the freezing cold on our walk between her daycare and Big A's, to give her more water, more blueberries, take away the blueberries, find the raisin she dropped in the stroller, etc, etc. Finally I told her on Friday, "No more snacks!" Yesterday, day one of this experiment, I discovered that she will find any reason to throw a fit on the way home from daycare so no point bending over backwards to placate her with snacks. It was all about wanting her mittens off and then on and then off and then her hat and then she got mad and kicked off her boot and then she wanted her boot back on, etc, etc. But I did not stop in the cold. I informed her that when we got inside Big A's warm school I would fix her boot and her mittens...and I didn't give in.

Little A is going to learn that I am the boss, and if she doesn't like it, she can just CIO!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Cranberry Orange Cornmeal Muffins

If you think it's weird to throw whole oranges into the blender and use in baking...just trust me on this. It provides a ton of flavour and moistness and extra nutrition, as all that pith (the white stuff) is full of fibre and vitamins.

2 whole navel oranges, pureed in blender*
4 egg whites or 2 whole eggs
4 tbls canola oil
1/2 cup sugar or Splenda
3 cups orange juice or water
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup fine cornmeal
1/2 cup ground flax seeds
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
340g bag fresh or frozen cranberries (about 2.5 cups)

Whisk together wet ingredients in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Stir cranberries into dry ingredients. Dump dry ingredients into wet and mix just until combined**. Spoon batter into greased muffin tins, filling to top, and bake at 400F for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on wire rack.

Makes 12-15 large muffins.

*Be sure to use seedless oranges, wash them well, and remove the hard thingies that attach to the stem before putting into food processor. I generally cut the oranges into quarters first.

**Many recipes add wet ingredients to dry, but I prefer to do it this way, as I find the batter mixes easier and you aren't left with flour clumps on the bottom. You never want to over mix muffin batter or the finished product will be tough.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


A lot of my courses at school, particularly the one I am currently taking, require a lot of self-disclosure. After all, if you cannot admit your own challenges, foibles, fears and vulnerabilities, how can you expect your therapy clients to?

So I have learned quite a lot of personal information about many of my classmates and I am simply awed by them. So many of these individuals - most of them already working in the counselling/social service field - have overcome enormous hardship and trauma. We are talking about things like losing a parent at a young age, losing a child to suicide or accident, divorce, and emotional and physical abuse. Yet, they have all come out swinging, with more strength and optimism than I think I could ever muster if I were in their position. It is really inspiring.

The courage and bravery with which these folks approach their lives has made me acutely aware lately of just how lucky I am. My biggest challenges right now simply pale in comparison with the hurdles that they have overcome. So I wanted to publicly acknowledge everything I am grateful for:

* My health
* My loyal, reliable, supportive husband
* My beautiful, healthy children
* My wonderful friends and family
* My financial security
* Living in a free and peaceful country

Unfortunately, it is human nature to become consumed with the minutiae of daily life, so I am sure this acknowledgement of the bigger picture will be obscured with my usual rants about toddler tantrums and hamstring pain. But at this moment I feel blessed, fulfilled and grateful for everything and everyone in my life.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Pasta FlorenLEAN

During the cold winter months who doesn't occasionally crave a bowl of steaming pasta with a rich creamy sauce? (Unless you're Adam, but he's weird)

But the nutrition and health experts recommend that adults avoid creamy sauces since they are filled with saturated fat and excess calories. So here is a good compromise. A low-fat, low-cal sauce that's high in calcium, protein, iron, B-12 and many other nutritional goodies, but still creamy and comforting.

2 cups non-fat or low-fat cottage cheese
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp dijon mustard
1/4 cup milk
2 tbls nutritional yeast
2 tbls grated parmesan cheese, low-fat or regular
300g frozen chopped spinach, thawed or fresh baby spinach
A few handfuls fresh herbs (optional)
Fresh ground pepper, to taste

If using fresh spinach, throw everything into blender and puree until smooth. If using frozen, chopped spinach, add spinach after the rest of the ingredients are blended. Cheese sauce will be green if you use fresh spinach and add to blender, use frozen and add at the end if you don't want the spinach to be completely blended into sauce.

Optional add-ins to pasta dish: sundried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, olives, chopped roasted or grilled chicken, green onions, mushrooms.

Makes enough for about 1 lb of pasta.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

My Tasmanian Devil

Both my girls are strong-willed individuals with very unique personalities. But one thing I've learned from them, is that while some personality traits are present straight from birth, other characteristics babies have can change quickly. This can be both good and bad, but it demonstrates how important it is to avoid labelling your child. Particular characteristics may endure, but many difficult habits and behaviours can be outgrown.

Big A has been a high-maintenance from day one. She has never been good at entertaining herself and always wants adult attention as well as physical contact and closeness (she doesn't even like to watch t.v. without Adam or I sitting on the couch with her...wanting to stab our eyes out with an exacto because we are forced to watch a repeat episode of Caillou for the millionth time!).

She has always been a big wimp about boo boos.

Thankfully, Big A did not get into a lot of trouble around the house so we didn't have to do much baby proofing.

Big A started out as a champion sleeper who was doing 7 straight hours every night by the time she was 5 or 6 weeks old. Since then, however, we have had to deal with periodic bouts of night terrors, bed wetting, night time bathroom calls, and some very, VERY early wake-ups.

Little A was a terrible sleeper for the first 4 months until we sleep trained her. I was ready to lose my mind because of the frequency of her wake-ups. But now? She is a great little sleeper, generally clocking 12 hours a night, plus another 90-120 minutes for a midday nap. I often have to wake her around 8am, just to get Big A to school on time! I think I can count the number of times Big A has slept until 8am on one hand.

If you have been reading this blog from the beginning, than you will also recall that Little A was a TERRIBLE eater. She literally had me tearing my hair out for the first 9-10 months of her solid food eating life. And now? She is a human vacuum cleaner. When I come to pick her up at daycare, she only wants to eat "nacks" all the way home in the stroller. I always worry she will ruin her dinner, but as soon as we get home she is screaming for dinner and she routinely eats twice as much as Big A.

Adam and I decided she must not be eating the lunches they serve at daycare, but when I checked with her teachers last week, I was told she eats a HUGE lunch and lots of "nacks".

She also loves to eat off of our plates and will even gobble down some of the spicier, more exotic dishes I make for Adam and I (as long as we don't serve it to her on her own plate!).

Little A's least attractive feature is her high-pitched, hysterical scream which she emits whenever she doesn't get her way. And that has been present since birth. In fact, she was doing this glass-shattering shriek when Dr. M pulled her out of my uterus. This is one trait I would very happily see her get rid of!

Little A had serious seperation anxiety for at least the first year of her life, to the point where I could not get 2 feet away from her before she would become hysterical. And now? She rarely cries when I drop her off at daycare, but will sometimes cry when I pick her up because she is having so much fun. Last week when Adam said we were taking them to my in-laws (whom she loves), she went and got her coat and shoes and said, "Bye mommy".

From the moment she first got her hands on solid foods, Little A has been the master mess-maker. She reminds me of the Tasmanian Devil because not only does she constantly move at warp speed, but she also leaves a path of destruction in her wake. Some of it is intentional (throwing food, dumping out hundreds of puzzle pieces, flinging all the contents of her play kitchen onto the floor, colouring her face and hands with markers, pulling out all the Kleenex, shredding rolls of toilet paper, etc.), but some of it just seems to be innate.

Even if we have her eating dinner seated at the table with a full-body bib (my mom's thoughtful gift), she still manages to get food on her clothing, the chair and the floor. Adam and I cannot get close to her without getting our own clothes dirty, stained and sticky.

If it weren't for Maria, who cleans our house every Wednesday, we would live in a complete pig sty.

The pale pink winter jacket and snow pants she inherited from Big A are constantly filthy. My mother-in-law is so grossed out by it, she throws them in the wash each time Little A visits. I think I had to wash the jacket maybe 3 times the whole winter Big A wore it.

Little A actually seems to revel in filth. Give her a lollipop and within minutes her entire sticky face looks like a lint brush. She seems to enjoy finding and eating food off the public places. She also enjoys rolling around on the floor of public places - this partially explains the state of her pink jacket.

Little A also regularly pees in the bath and has now pooped in it about half a dozen times (Adam and I don't think Big A ever did this). Last night, after finally taking ownership of her flatulence - normally when she toots, she yells "daddy's gas!" but last night she squealed with delight when she tooted, pointed at her bum and yelled, "Gas, gas!" - she had a poo explosion in the tub. Adam had to scramble to get both girls out ASAP. He wanted to chuck all the bath toys but I argued that a good soaking in soapy water could save them. While I cleaned out the mess, Little A watched and kept yelling, "Stinky, stinky", until finally I got rid of all the filth and she began waving, "Bye Bye Poo".

Little A also enjoys sticking her fingers in any orifice she can find...both her own and other people's.

Am I worried that she will grow up to have poor personal hygiene? No, not really. I'm anticipating (and hoping) that this too shall pass. If not, perhaps she can co-host a show on cable television with Tom Green.