Friday, June 29, 2012

3 Minute Cucumber Dill Salad

It's the Friday before a long-weekend filled with colour and celebration!  Not only is Sunday Canada Day, but this week is Gay Pride Week in Toronto which culminates in a myriad of wonderful events across the city.

Unfortunately, it is also supposed to be crazy hot this weekend, which means I am going to be very whiney about doing anything outdoors...

In addition, my newest nephew - Stone Cooper Collins - was born last night, so congrats to my brother-in-law and sister-in-law (Adam's sister and husband)!!

View IMG-20120629-00158.jpg in slide show

Isn't he cute??

So you may have lots of leisure time coming up this weekend, or your weekend may be jam-packed with activities.  Either way, who doesn't appreciate a recipe that's crazy quick?

The only thing better than how delicious this salad is, is how ridiculously easy it is to make.  It's a perfect, refreshing side dish for a summer meal. 

As a bonus, it's crazy low in calories too.  Go ahead, eat the whole recipe!

3 Minute Cucumber Dill Salad

1 large English cucumber, cut in half length-wise and then sliced into half circles
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbls fresh dill, chopped, or 1 tsp dried dill weed
1/4 cup rice vinegar  (unseasoned, sugar-free kind)
1/4 tsp Herbamare, or regular sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.  The longer it sits, the better it will taste!  Keeps in the fridge for 3-4 days.

Enjoy the long weekend everybody!!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Gluten-Free Romesco Sauce

I have been wanting to try making this classic Spanish sauce for a while, but while it is typically made using bread to help thicken it up, I wanted to find a healthier option.  I was inspired when I spied a sweet potato sitting on our counter.  I had a hunch that this sweet, creamy vegetable would be a perfect substitute and I was right.

This sauce is sweet, smokey and tangy and can be used in a variety of ways.  Use it as a sandwich spread, or on pasta, as a dip for raw vegetables, or as a sauce for fish or chicken.  I stirred some into a skillet of roasted zucchini, chickpeas and Spanish olives, and served it all over rice.  Fabulous!

Gluten-Free Romesco Sauce

1 large sweet potato, cut into 8-10 pieces
3 red bell peppers, quartered
2 tomatoes, halved
1 large onion, quartered
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 cup almonds
2 tbls sherry vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
1 tbls ancho chili powder (or regular chili powder)
1/2 tsp hot smoked paprika (or sweet smoked paprika + cayenne pepper, to taste)
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste

Place veggies (keeping peels on everything except garlic) on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast at 400F for about 40 minutes.  Remove pan from oven and cover veggies (I did this with another baking sheet, but you can use more foil).  Meanwhile, almonds in a dry pan for about 5 minutes, making sure you do not let them burn. Uncover the vegetables after 15 minutes and remove peel from sweet potato, peppers, onion, and tomatoes. 

Place the almonds, roasted veggies, and remaining ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.  Makes 6 cups of sauce.  Refrigerate for 4-5 days or freeze.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Donate Naturally

Recently I was offered a gift certificate to try out and then review my experiences with .  It's the new sister company of Life Choices, which makes a lot of products my kids love. 

The company describes itself as follows:

Donate Naturally is an online grocery shopping destination that sells organic and natural groceries, including everything from fresh organic produce, dairy and meat, to beauty, personal and household items (Donate Naturally carries Life Choices Hot Dogs & Mac ‘n Cheese by the way). There’s a special diet and child/infant category too, so Donate Naturally really is a one-stop shop for your grocery needs. The best part is, the school or charity of your choice receives 15% of the value of every order you place. All groceries are priced the same, or less, than your local grocery or natural food store and there is no mark up in pricing to accommodate the 15% donation component. Donate Naturally even offers FREE next-day delivery right to your home, with no minimum order. Donate Naturally is easy and convenient, and you'll also be surprised how far your grocery dollars can go towards helping your favourite cause.

I visited the website and had no problem finding products I love.  The prices weren't bad on most things, but still higher than what I pay at my neighbourhood favorites for health foods and groceries: Fiesta Farms and Herbs & Nutrition. 

Using the $25 gift certificate, I ordered all-natural dishwashing liquid, organic brown jasmine rice, organic whole wheat spaghetti, and a box of organic, whole grain arrowroot cookies.  It was delivered to me several days later.  They also included a complementary Green & Black chocolate bar.  Nice!  In addition to dry goods, they offer fresh organic produce, meat and dairy.

Overall, I think it's a great idea, particularly for people who would buy these products anyways, and a great way for a charity or non-profit community organization to add to their fundraising efforts.  That being said, the prices aren't good enough for me to switch to ordering from Donate Naturally on a regular basis.  But I am definitely going to look into using them as a means of fundraising for my kids school and daycare.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Vegan East-Coast Style Donairs

Donairs are now all the rage among trendy foodies here in Toronto.  Upscale restaurants have transformed this nutritional monstrosity, typically eaten in Halifax at 2am by drunk university students after the bars close, into a high-brow delicacy.  But still an unhealthy one.

In case you are not familiar with it, a donair is basically a schwarma made with ground beef and/or lamb and drowned in a sickly sweet, garlicky sauce consisting of sweetened condensed milk, vinegar, sugar and garlic. 

Being as twisted as I am, I thought it would be fun to make a vegan version.  And you know what? It's fabulous! Even my schwarma-loving husband approves.


2 cups sprouted bean mix, cooked and drained (or 2 cups dried red kidney beans, cooked)
15g dried mushrooms
1 zucchini
2 shallots
3-4 cloves garlic
2 tsp sweet paprika
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp crushed red chili flakes, or to taste (optional)
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup chickpea flour
1/4 cup quinoa flakes (or oats)
2 tbls sherry vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
2 tbls vegan worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Donair Sauce

1/2 cup tahini (or cashew butter)
2 tbls xylitol (or other granular sweetener)
1/4 cup (or more) cider vinegar
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
Salt, to taste


1 sweet onion (Vidalia), diced
4 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced

Whole grain pitas

For the donair 'meat', grind up dried mushrooms in food processor, add all the other ingredients except for beans and process for 10-15 seconds.  Add beans and pulse until the consistency of ground meat.  Spread evenly in a 9x12 pan that is lined with foil and sprayed with non-stick spray or brushed with oil.  Bake at 350F for about 30 minutes.  Let cool and then use foil to lift meat out of pan.  Slice with a sharp knife in 2 inch wide pieces.

For the sauce, whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl.  Keep adding vinegar until desired consistency is reached (remember if the sauce is too thin, it will make very drippy, messy donairs!

To assemble the donairs, slice off desired amount of 'meat' and place in the centre of a pita.  sprinkle with onion and tomato, and drizzle with sauce.  Fold pita, grab with both hands and gobble down.  Don't fret if sauce drips down your arm as you eat, that just makes it more authentic!

'Meat' recipe makes about 8 donairs.  Leftover meat can be frozen for future use.

This recipe has been entered into Diet, Dessert & Dogs' Wellness Weekend.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Wild Water Kingdom

There are some weekends when I'm happy to see Monday.  As a friend of mine once commented: When you're a parent, it becomes TGIM - assuming your children are in daycare and/or school.  But I'm sad to see the week beginning because we really had a good weekend.  Saturday we took the girls to Wild Water Kingdom in Brampton.  Adam used to go as a kid and had fond memories of the place, so when we saw a deal on tickets to use in June through WagJag, we jumped on it.

The best thing about this place is that it has stuff to appeal to ALL ages.  There are mega water slides for older kids, a wave pool, and dry and wet playgrounds that are great even for toddlers.  There is mini golf, a drive-in movie theatre, and often special events.  They have this thing called the Lazy River, where you float on an inner tube and drift down a fabricated river.  All four of us loved it, and we went down it several times.

The worst thing about it is that it's a total cash-grab place.  You pay for parking, you pay to rent a locker, and if you don't want to have to wait for an available inner tube during busy periods, you've got to pay to rent one.  What I found most deplorable, however, is their no-food rule.  You cannot enter the park with ANY food or drink at all, which means if you are staying over a meal-time or long enough for your kids to get hungry, you pretty much have to buy your food.  Of course, it is almost all junk and extremely expensive.  There is ice cream, sno cones, shaved ice, pizza, fried chicken, french fries, fish & chips, Subway, candy, etc.  We got the kids smoothies from Booster Juice, which I suppose isn't terrible, and pizza from Pizza Pizza.  Unfortunately, they don't offer their whole-wheat crust here.  Adam got a sub from Subway (on their whole-wheat which is really mostly white flour) and I got a salad (which was sub toppings and a grilled chicken breast).  My treat was some cold lager to enjoy with our lunch on the shaded patio. If alcohol wasn't so bad, I would drink cold beer every day of the summer!  I try to limit myself to several drinks/month now. On our way out of the park, the girls were handed handfuls of free candy.  Little A wasn't a big fan, as she found the fluorescent green 'taffy' hurt her teeth, but Big A was happy to gobble down as much as we would let her.  Sigh!

They do actually have a picnic area where you can bring your own food, but it's reserved for parties of 10 or more, and you have to, of course, reserve ahead of time and PAY extra.

I realized afterwards, however, that you could leave a cooler in your car, and leave the park to eat in your car and then return (they stamp your hand so you can leave and re-enter the park if you want).

This irks me as usual, but probably even moreso now that I'm reading Outside the Box by Jeannie Marshall.  Marshall talks about the dangers of always linking fun with junk food for kids.  I wish junk and fast food could be banned from the friggin' planet!

But beside the food issue, it was amazing.  We were there from 10:30am to 3:30pm and we had to drag the girls out.  If your kids like the water, it's a great outing for a hot day!

Sunday Little A shocked us by refusing to put on a pull-up and insisting on wearing just underwear.  She did amazing all morning, but at the birthday party we went to, she kept getting distracted because of all the fun and had a pee in her underwear and then a massive poo in the one pull-up I brought.  She ended up going commando for the rest of the party with me nervously following her around to make sure there were no more accidents.  Nevertheless, we're thrilled that she's finally showing interest in toilet training.  Perhaps she won't be in pull-ups at her prom after all!

Friday, June 22, 2012

My First Article for the Huffington Post

Please check out my first piece written for the Huffington Post on same-sex parenting!

Have a fantastic weekend.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

New Product Alert!

While time-outs have never been effective with either of my children - instead of calming them down, they make both of them more hysterical - I have learned that they are very effective for me.

This morning when Little A had a huge screaming fit that lasted over 30 minutes because she didn't like how I cut her toast, I had an overwhelming urge to dump her plate of eggs and toast over her head.  Instead, I left the room and went back to our rec room to finish my strength training, which had been interrupted when she woke up grumpily at 6am.  Although she screamed louder because I left, I was able to let off some steam and give myself a chance to calm down.  When I finally reemerged, I was able to calm her down by removing the plate and giving her a bowl of cereal instead (which she only took 2 bites of and left the rest).  Because Big A was such a challenging toddler and preschooler, I really thought Adam and I would get an easy second child.  It only seems fair!  I know, I know, LIFE IS NOT FAIR.

So thank goodness for small pleasures...

Fiesta Farms is a favorite foodie destination for everyone I know in our neighbourhood.  Independantly owned, it has an amazing selection of healthy and gourmet food products at great prices.  I can't go in there without coming out with my arms full of stuff, even if I only went in to pick up, say, a lemon.

Yesterday I found two new products on their shelves that whet my appetite:

Field Roast sausages, which I have previously never seen in Canada but tried in New York a few years ago, are available in their Mexican Chipotle and Smoked Apple Sage varieties.  Like most commercial faux meat products they are extremely high in sodium, but are made from wheat gluten instead of soy protein, along with fruit, vegetables and seasonings.  I now prefer to make my own veggie meat, but when short on time, these are a good option.

Also, Fiesta Farms is now carrying Almond Yogurt, which is currently on special.  This line of dairy-free yogurts are sweetened with fruit juice and contain beneficial live active bacterial cultures, like many dairy yogurts.

 amande - cultured almondmilk

I am very excited about this product because I now have a perfect non-dairy option to use in meat dishes that require yogurt (since Adam doesn't eat milk and meat together and is lactose intolerant).  Of course, Fiesta Farms also carries coconut milk-based yogurts, which I am dying to try too!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Happy Hump Day

I don't know why Wednesday gets such a bad rap.  I love Wednesdays!  By Wednesday I feel like the worst of the week is over.  I certainly hope that's the case today, because it's been a very frustrating week so far.

Our phone system has mostly been down since early Monday morning, and our Internet has been coming and going.  Yesterday morning the Bell guy came and 'fixed' it, but the line went dead again a few hours later.  This led him to the conclusion that the problem is being caused by our alarm system, only the alarm company denies this, and claims that 99% of the time when Bell says this, it is really Bell's fault.

All I know is that this is super annoying and I have 2 phone counselling sessions booked for Friday (the fertility clinic sees a lot of patients from out-of-town), and I would much rather do them from home than from the clinic.

I also had another talk booked for yesterday and this time the clients messed up.  Bailey, who arranges these talks for me, sent them about 4 or 5 confirmation emails about it, yet they failed to communicate to either of us that the talk had to be rescheduled because they are currently in the process of moving offices.  So I got all the way down there only to be told it was a no-go.  At least it wasn't my mistake this time!

We're also in the midst of a major heat wave, with temps of around 34 celcius and 800% humidity.  My absolute least favorite weather!  At least Little A has finally relented to wearing summer PJs at night, although she will not give up wearing socks all the time except for the bath.  Weird kid!

The good news is Little A is now showing some interest in potty training, and even made a poop in the toilet at daycare this week, and a few kibbles in the potty at home one evening.  She desperately wants to be able to wear her Dora underwear without a pull-up underneath.  Thank you Nickelodeon!

The bad news is, she has been waking up this week in a really pissy mood.  This morning was brutal.  The only thing that quelled the grumpies were watermelon slushies (i.e. watermelon and ice thrown into the blender).  As you can see, the girls enjoyed them!

Stay cool and wear sunscreen.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Vegan Caramel Apple Cream Tart

Berries, cherries and stone fruits may be more seasonal, but my father-in-law loves apple desserts and I made this for him for Father's Day.  But really, apple cinnamon is a winning combination any time of year, isn't it?

This dessert was a HUGE hit.  Almost the entire thing got devoured immediately!


1.5 cups whole grain ginger snaps or graham crackers (I used Shasha organic spelt snaps which are not actually vegan because they contain honey), use any vegan and/or gluten-free cookies, if you wish)
1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup large flake oats (gluten-free, if necessary)
2 tbls coconut oil, softened
1/4 cup agave syrup

Put cookies in food processor and grind into crumbs.  Add remaining ingredients and pulse until mixture comes together.  Press firmly into the bottom of a 9-inch round springform pan.  Bake at 350F for 10 minutes.


1.5 cups non-dairy plain or unsweetened vanilla milk
1/4 cup coconut sugar (or other granular sweetener)
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds and pod
2 tbls arrowroot starch or corn starch

Whisk together 1/2 cup of milk and starch in a small bowl and set aside. Place remaining 1 cup of milk in a saucepan over medium heat and stir in vanilla bean seeds, pod  and sugar.  Bring to a boil.  Turn heat down to low and add milk/starch mixture.  Simmer until thickens, about 2-3 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Remove vanilla bean pod.  Let cool slightly and then pour over crust.  Refrigerate until set.


6 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1/4 cup coconut sugar (or brown sugar)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch fresh ground nutmeg (optional)
2 tbls lemon juice
2 tbls arrowroot starch or cornstarch
1/2 cup water

Place apples in a large bowl and toss with all the other ingredients except water.  Put apples into a large pot over medium-low heat.  Add water and cover with a lid. Cook until apples are tender.  Stir often so that sugar doesn't burn.  Pour over cream and crust and refrigerate until set.  Serve alone or with a scoop of non-dairy yogurt or ice cream.

I have entered this recipe in to this week's Diet, Dessert and Dogs Wellness Weekend.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Good Vibrations (Power Plate Training)

Good Monday morning.  I hope everyone celebrating Father's Day yesterday had a great time.  We had a great weekend, filled with family and fun.  But I want to talk about fitness today.

I love working out. Actually, I love working out first thing in the morning. I swear when I don't, I don't feel fully awake. I feel kind of discombobulated, and just not like 'myself'. I guess it's the way a lot of people feel if they don't have a coffee. Of course I gotta have my coffee too!

Even though my hamstring tendonitis is significantly better since I had my cortisone shots, it is still a vulnerable area and I am still limited by it. I have to avoid most types of lunges and deadlifts, and really have to limit the amount of walking I do, particularly on an incline.

In general, I really have to avoid doing too much of any one thing. I suppose this is good because it prevents me from getting into a rut and forces me to keep a lot of variety in my workout routine. So for cardio, I rotate between our treadmill for walking, running or lateral training, our stairmaster, or various fitness DVDs at home, and spinning on Sundays at the gym. I do two 20-30 minute strength training sessions at home during the week, and a longer, more intense one on Sundays before I teach my class. I love my kick-butt Sunday training, but I do pay for it. Even when I'm super careful, I am usually crazy sore for the next 2 days, and my hamstrings require some TLC (I've discovered icing is useless, but heat pads or hot epsom salt baths help a lot).

So I was intrigued when I started researching vibration machine training for some fitness seminars I've been giving (remember the one I messed up the date for last week???), and what I thought was just a hyped-up fitness trend, seems to really have some major training benefits!

Like virtually every fitness gadget, tool, equipment and type of activity out there, you will hear claims that vibration training is the key to dramatic weight-loss and the rock-hard bod of your dreams. There is no evidence that this is the case, but it can increase muscle strength and explosive power comparable to conventional methods of training. Because no additional weights are necessary, there is very little loading to passive structures such as bones, ligaments and joints. So it is highly suited to people whose training is limited due to old age, illness, disorders, weight or injury OR for highly conditioned athletes who want to stimulate and strengthen their muscles without overloading joints and the rest of the physical system. Hmm...

Since I always like to try the activities I talk about, I decided to head down to the Power Institute in the Yorkville neighbourhood to check it out. They offer a free trial session with a trainer in their beautiful, clean studio featuring Power Plate equipment.
Power Plate pro5
According to the Power Institute's Website:

"Using Power Plate equipment is the next generation of fitness technology, providing highly efficient workouts through Acceleration Training. This revolutionary training technique delivers harmonic vibration to the body, stimulating a natural reflex that contracts the muscles 25 to 50 times a second- using up to 95% of muscle fibers, compared to as little as 20% with traditional equipment.
We offer high-intensity training unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. This unique fitness system burns fat, enhances muscle tone, improves balance, and increases strength. With the PI Platform, you will get a complete full body workout incorporating Stretch, Balance, Core, Strength, and Massage all in only 30 minutes."

Despite the impressive research findings, I was actually expecting to find this training a waste of time. But I was unfortunately incredibly impressed. I say unfortunately because I absolutely cannot justify spending money on regular training, but I could see/feel the benefits of this type of training right away, and I loved it!

A typical session involves full-body training with a combination of dynamic exercises (squats, tricep pushups, etc.) and isometric exercises (plank, etc.). My trainer, a lovely woman who clearly knew what she was doing, put me through an intense workout with 45 minutes dedicated to each exercise. She recommended doing it in bare feet, so I did. Pretty much every exercise she had me do was challenging and my abdominal muscles and triceps, in particular, were burning. In addition to the exercises, she had me use the machine to stretch out my muscles at the end, and incorporated some massage. Yes, I got a massage from the trainer, does it get any better than that???

Aside from that, the best part was that I experienced no post-workout hamstring pain, nor delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) after this intense strength building routine.  Seriously, I felt absolutely no pain, strain or tightness afterwards.  I was sure I'd have to modify my usual Sunday morning workout, but 48 hours after doing the training, I was fresh as a daisy, ready to pump some serious iron. Love it!

Sessions at Power Institute start at $45 for a single 30 minute session, like the one I did, and go up to $80 for a single 60 minute session. The more sessions you buy, the better the deal, so if you buy 50 sessions, the cost goes down to $29/session. Still...we have many other things we can be spending our money on right now, and I am still far away from having a significant, steady income. Nevertheless, you can bet that if the day comes when we DO have money to burn, I'm heading to the Power Institute!!

So do I recommend this training? Absolutely. If you can afford it and are looking for a great way to improve your fitness, I encourage you to give it a try.

If you want to find a facility near you that has Power Plate equipment, visit the Power Plate website.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Vegan Oatmeal Banana Chocolate Chip Squares

I volunteered to bake for yet another fundraiser at Big A's school last week, but could not stand the thought of making more cupcakes, or anything else that takes effort from a presentation perspective.

Squares can be a perfect lazy-person dessert to make because they take less effort than cookies (no rolling, cutting out, dropping or flattening required) and they can be iced simply by pouring a glaze over the top (no piping, etc.).

So I whipped up a pan of Bob's Red Mill gluten-free brownies topped with my go-to fudge topping (chocolate chips and coconut oil - just melt, pour and set), for the gluten-free folks, and these vegan treats for the vegan folks.  The banana fudge topping on these is optional, but I felt I had to make these worthy of attention from school children who might otherwise pass these over in-lieu of less healthy icing-heavy cupcake alternatives on offer.

These are dense, sweet and chewy and bursting with banana and chocolate.  They were a success, as were the gluten-free brownies.  There were quite a few folks who were thrilled to have something available that could accomodate their allergies or special diets.  Admittedly, the younger kids mostly went for the smartie or sprinkle topped cupcakes on the table, while more older kids and adults opted for either my brownies or squares.  That's okay, they just appeal to a more refined palate I guess!

Vegan Oatmeal Banana Chocolate Chip Squares

1/4 cup coconut oil, softened
3 ripe bananas
2 flax eggs (2 tbls ground flax mixed with 6 tbls hot water)
1/4 cup agave syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1.5 cups whole wheat or spelt flour
1 cup large flake oats
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
A few pinches fresh grated nutmeg (optional)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

Mash together bananas and coconut oil in a large bowl.  Whisk in flax eggs, agave and vanilla.  In a smaller bowl, stir together dry ingredients.  Add to wet and stir just until mixed.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Scrape batter (it will be thick) into a greased 9x9 square pan.  Bake at 350F for 20 minutes.  Let cool and then add topping, if desired.  Cut into squares.  Makes 16 squares.  Freezes well.

Banana Fudge Topping

Melt 1 cup dark chocolate chips with 1 tbls coconut oil in a heat-safe bowl set over simmering water.  Stir in one well mashed, ripe banana.  Pour over squares and refridgerate until set.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

What to Say and Not To Say To a Woman About Fertility

Pregnancy Silhouet clip art
Any woman struggling with infertility or who has experienced a miscarriage has probably had to deal with her fair share of stupid comments and reactions from others.  Some people just seem to completely lack any tact when it comes to the issue of fertility and think it is their business to comment and judge, while others are well-meaning but simply do not know what to say. 

So I thought I would put together a little guide for all of you out there regarding what is and is not appropriate to say. 
1. First and foremost, unless you need to know for medical reasons (you are a paramedic, x-ray technician, etc.) or a woman's water has just broken on your shoes,  NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, ask ANY woman if she is pregnant!

Here are some of the reasons why:
  • It's none of your damn business;
  • If she's not, you've just deeply insulted her;
  • If she is, she may not be making it public yet;
  • She may simply have eaten a big burrito;
  • She may have a medical problem that makes her appear pregnant and you've just humiliated her (I saw a woman for counselling who had to use a surrogate because of multiple cysts which made her appear full-term pregnant);
  • She may be struggling with infertility and taking meds that cause bloating or swelling of the ovaries and you are just rubbing salt in her wounds;
  • It's none of your damn business.
2. Never tell a woman struggling to get pregnant to "relax".  Remember, if there is a real medical reason for infertility, that ain't gonna help, and you saying so, is not going to make her do so.   It's going to make her want to punch you out.

3. Never tell a woman that she miscarried because it wasn't meant to be.

4. Never tell a woman who has miscarried not to worry, she'll get pregnant again.  Instead, try I'm sorry for your loss, or I'm sorry, please let me know what I can do to help.

5. Never tell a woman who has miscarried that next time she'll just have to: drink less coffee, worry less, exercise less, eat better, etc. etc.  Miscarriages are rarely caused by controllable factors, and making her feel like it's her fault is a disgraceful thing to do.

6. Never ask a woman if she plans to have children.  Yep, you heard me.  Unless it is someone you know extremely well, it's none of your business.  If a woman decides to remain childless, that's entirely her business.  By the same token, if a woman wants to have 10 kids, that is also her business.

7. Never ask a woman with one child when she plans to have another child.  Same as above.  None of your business.  Also, just because she has a child, does not mean she is not struggling to get pregnant again.  Secondary infertility is extremely common and just as devastating.

8. Never give suggestions to a woman about what can help her get pregnant based on things you've seen on the internet, read in magazines, etc.  If she's been having difficulty getting pregnant, chances are she's already aware of all of that and much of the info out there is horse manure anyways.

9. Never lecture a woman with one child about the importance of having a sibling.  It isn't always possible for a couple to conceive a second child and it's also none of your business.  Oh, and the research shows that while kids with siblings do better in some areas (socially), only children do better in others (academically).  So shut up.

10. Never assume what a woman dealing with miscarriage or infertility wants or needs.  Come out and ask her if she wants to talk about it.  Avoiding the issue may make some women  feel worse while others may not feel like discussing it.  Just ask!

11. Never begrudge a woman dealing with miscarriage or infertility for failing to be happy for others' pregnancies and/or needing to avoid baby showers, etc.  Feeling angry, resentful and jealous is a NORMAL reaction and women feel bad about having these feelings anyways, you don't need to make them feel worse about it.  Allow them the time to do what they need to in order to heal.

12. And if I didn't mention it before, NEVER ASK A WOMAN IF SHE IS PREGNANT, EVER!!!!  It is none of your f*&^ing business!!!

For more information check out this new informational website: funded by the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR).

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Lentil, Green Bean and Brussels Sprout Curry

I make curries a lot, and I change them up from time-to-time, but more often than not they include chickpeas or chicken for protein, and spinach, cabbage, or cauliflower for veg.  This time I decided to be radical and do lentil, green beans and brussel sprouts.

I have to admit, green beans are one of the few veggies I don't really enjoy just plain. I would never just steam some for myself.  But I do adore them stir-fried in Chinese restaurants and one of my favorite dishes from Banjara, a fabulous Indian restaurant in our neighbourhood, is their sauteed green beans.  It was that dish that inspired this recipe when I spied a bag of green beans in our freezer.  I added brussels sprouts and lentils to it, to bump up the protein and make it a complete meal.  Awesome served over brown basmati rice!

3/4 cup red lentils, soaked for several hours or overnight (to cut down cooking time)

1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, minced
1 chunk fresh ginger, minced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbls garam masala
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp amchur powder (green mango powder)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste (optional)
1/2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
1 ripe mango, diced
1 28oz can diced tomatoes
2 cups water
1 lb baby brussels sprouts*
1 lb trimmed green beans
Juice and zest of 1 lemon

Pour oil into a large pot or skillet over medium heat.  Add onion, ginger, garlic and spices and cook for 3-4 minutes.  Add soaked lentils and cook another 2-3 minutes.  Next, add mango, tomatoes and water and simmer until lentils are soft and most of the liquid has been absorbed.  Add sprouts and beans.  Once veggies are desired doneness, add lemon juice and zest.  Serve over brown basmati rice.  Serves 4-6 as a main.  Freezes well.

*I opted to roast the sprouts first with a bit of oil and garlic to bring out their sweetness.

This recipe was entered into Diet, Dessert and Dogs Wellness Weekend.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

North America's Health Crisis: Who's to Blame?

I'll apologize, up-front for this rather long editorial post, but this is an issue I've wanted to write about for a while...

Through my role as a fitness instructor, personal trainer, researcher, or speaker, I have been involved in health promotion in one way or another since I was 18 years old.  So naturally I am interested in understanding health behaviours.

I read everything I can get my hands on regarding chronic disease prevention, nutrition and fitness.  The factors responsible for North America's obesity epidemic and skyrocketting rates of associated chronic illnesses are hotly debated among academics, policy makers and health professionals.

Some feel it's entirely personal responsibility.  Others believe it is systemic, due to a toxic food environment that promotes the overconsumption of high fat and calorie, low nutrition foods, or fraudulent advertising that misleads the public about the health benefits of what they are eating.  Theories have cropped up about toxins or synthetic hormones in our environment that may encourage us to gain excess body fat and make it difficult to lose.  Still others believe the problem is our increasingly sedentary lifestyle.

Like everyone else, I have been looking for, and hoping for a simple answer to the question and a simple solution.  Unfortunately, after years and years of examining available information, my personal view - and many experts would agree with me - is that the cause is extremely complex and multifactoral, and therefore the solution likely is too.

First, there is the issue of poverty.  This is something which I feel a lot of what I will call, nutrition elitists/idealists, fail to acknowledge.  A recent study in Canada found that more children than ever in this country are living in poverty.  If people are facing food scarcity, there is not much chance that they can concern themselves with food quality.  In Toronto, the proportion of people using the food banks has increased dramatically.  Do you really think these users can afford to refuse a bag of pasta because it's made from white flour, or a can of tuna, because it's lined with BPA and isn't dolphin friendly?  Not a chance!!  Even most North Americans who can manage to put enough food on the table, can not necessarily afford frozen blueberries, let alone super-pricey superfoods like acai or goji berries, and really there is little evidence that they are any better.  Organic food?  Not an option for most people because of the cost.

There is also no doubt that we do indeed live within a toxic food environment.  Not only is high fat and sugar foods available everywhere, our culture encourages mindless rather than mindful eating, and consumption of on-the-go eating and convenience foods.

I recently began reading Outside the Box by Jeannie Marshall.  She describes how different the culture around food and eating is in Italy, where she lived with her family for several years before returning to Canada.  What has struck me the most so far, is that she explains how in Italy meal times and snack times are very structured.  There is no on-the-go eating.  Parents do not give their children food to eat in the stroller and THEY DO NOT TRY TO PLACATE THEIR CHILDREN WITH FOOD.  I am very, very guilty of this.  Instead, children are taught at a very early age to eat what their parents are eating (there is no 'kid' food nor convenience food) and eat with their parents as a family, sitting down and taking time to eat mindfully.  Of course this is beginning to change in Italy, as influence from North America increases and our products and advertising infiltrate their market.

Health experts have warned for years that eating out at restaurants should be limited because you have no control over the ingredients and their first priority is making the food palatable, no matter how much sugar, fat and salt they have to add.  Yet people eat meals out more and more.

Cooking has become cool - as evidenced by the growing number of celebrity chefs and the popularity of the Food Network and various cooking shows.  But this doesn't seem to translate into families eating more home-cooked meals, and food trends these days run in the opposite direction of healthy.  It seems most folks would rather sit on the couch and watch others cook than cook themselves.  The few who are interested in cooking seem to take one extreme or the other: full embrace of the traditional North American high fat, high sugar comfort foods (trendy foods right now are charcuterie, burgers, poutine, mac&cheese, cupcakes, ice cream, etc.), or on the other extreme (and there are far fewer of people at this end of the spectrum) complete rejection of virtually every component of the North American mainstream diet (no gluten, no meat, no dairy, no refined sugar, etc.). 

One food trend that bugs me is the locavore movement.  First, there is conflicting evidence that eating locally is any better for either the environment or the local economy (see this article for more), and local, and even organic, DOES NOT NECESSARILY MEAN HEALTHY.  There are restaurants popping up all over Toronto that are devoted to using locally sourced ingredients, yet their menus are often dominated by charcuterie, white flour breads and pastas, and butter- and cream-rich desserts.  Sorry folks, but cured meat, refined flour and saturated fat is not healthy even if it is organic and locally produced!  And, again, the cost of local food is too high for most people.  I am not arguing for or against eating locally here, merely pointing out that the two (eating locally and eating healthfully) should not be at odds and I don't see why they have to be.

Of course the lack of sufficient physical activity in our lives is a serious problem too.  Our culture thrives on speed and convenience, which often means less physical exertion.  But while we may now live in a highly automated culture with an abundance of food energy available, our bodies were designed for a more prehistoric lifestyle.

The reason humans are so efficient at getting fat and struggle so much with losing weight is that this was a necessary mechanism for survival back when we had to hunt or gather for our food, and often faced food shortages.  It also required quite a bit of exertion just to secure some sustenance.  Wooly mammoth meat may be fatty, but it probably required a fair bit of energy to hunt that beast down!  Even 150 years ago, if a person felt like ice cream, he or she may have had to milk a cow and churn it by hand, whereas now, you just have to open your freezer door and pull out the Haagen Daz.  And very few people worked sedentary jobs where they sat at a desk for 6 or more hours straight.

We also face a different kind of stress than our ancestors.  They dealt with intense but discrete stressful events - like running into a saber-toothed tiger - rather than the chronic low-grade stress that most of us in North America face (job stress, commuting, parenting, finances, etc.), that stimulates subcutaneous fat storage around the mid-section - the kind that poses the greatest risk to our health.

And there is the whole sleep thing.  We don't get enough.  Sleep deprivation is linked with obesity and chronic disease.

The influence of food producers, manufacturers and advertisers cannot be dismissed either.  They go to great lengths to convince us of the benefits of their products, or to minimize their risks.  Skirting the regulations set out by our governments as much as they can, the grocery store can be an intimidating place and even fairly nutrition savvy individuals can feel overwhelmed and confused about how to make healthy choices.

Even people who can afford the most nutritious food possible and follow the health information presented in the media, are not always well-informed in this area.  This is because it practically takes a PhD to decipher what sometimes seems like conflicting messages and recommendations.  The media also simply does a very poor job of reporting research findings, and because most people do not understand how to evaluate the credibility of the information or the source.

My parents who are ridiculously smart and well-educated, upper middle class Canadians, cannot always keep their nutrition facts straight. My mother eschews rice because, for some reason, she thinks its very fattening, yet she seems to barely consider the calories in pasta, crackers and cheese or wine. 

But I suspect that the real reason my parents have both struggled to maintain healthy weights their whole adult lives has more to do with their lifestyle choices.  No, they don't eat potato chips, fast food or 32oz slurpees.  They are foodies.  They eat at restaurants and travel a whole lot.  Very social people, they either throw a dinner party, attend one, or go out for dinner several times a week.  They exercise, but they do not stick to their routines whenever they travel...and they seriously travel A LOT!  Not even my mother's breast cancer diagnosis was enough to get them to make any drastic changes to their lifestyle. 

This has frustrated and worried me for years, but the reality is they are simply unwilling to give up their lifestyle.  And I suspect that this is the problem for many North Americans who have the resources to improve their health.

I don't think this can be put down to merely laziness or lack of willpower.  We are by nature hedonistic beings that seek pleasure and avoid pain, and our entire culture is based on the notion that consumption = pleasure.  To resist all the temptations around us that derail our health, is to practically reject our entire culture.  That's difficult for most people to do when you are steeped in it.  Similarly, it is challenging for anyone to give up a bad habit and adopt a new one.  Most people fear change, and people often like what they are used to.  If you grew up eating fried chicken and white bread, it may be far more difficult to convince you that you can like grilled tofu and sprouted grain bread.  But the reality is, you could most likely adapt to such a dietary change, and eventually even enjoy it.

But our cultural practices are not healthy ones and they are well-entrenched.  What is typical "American" cuisine, for example?  Fried chicken, hotdogs, hamburgers, grilled cheese, donuts, mac&cheese, pie, etc.  Canadian cuisine?  Poutine.  Nanaimo bars.  Maple syrup.   Not much else really.   And then all that American stuff we've appropriated.

There is a strong pull for many of us through social practices and traditions towards these traditional, less than healthy foods.  Asking many people to give up unhealthy foods is not just asking them to give up pleasures, it is oftten, also, asking them to reject an aspect of their cultural or family heritage.

Because of custom and social practices, we are constantly being offered or tempted with food, most of it unhealthy.  A lot of North Americans practice what I call, "The See-Food Diet".  We eat what is presented to us, mindlessly, without any thought of what our bodies need or whether we are even hungry.  The reality is staying healthy in our society generally requires a degree of social exclusion: saying no to food we are offered, turning down invitations to restaurants, etc.  This can be ackward and in some cases, can cause offence.  Not everyone feels comfortable doing this or is willing to risk social isolation.

Also, humans have a tendency to rebel against rules.  We are constantly being bombarded with the message that we are a fat, slothful culture and we need to eat less of the stuff we love and are used to eating and more of the stuff we don't like as much.  Personally, I think this is why the dominant food trends have swayed so far to the unhealthy extreme (i.e. gigantic hamburgers served on donuts instead of buns, bacon added to everything, etc.).  Many people are chafing against all the health warnings and lectures.  Sometimes I wonder if ignoring these warnings is as much a political statement for some folks as is veganism for others.

Another contributor to our health crisis, that I think is often overlooked, is substance use.  Yes we all know smoking is bad, but while smoking has declined among men recently, the same is not true for women.  And personally, I think the risks of alcohol consumption are often overlooked, even by health professionals.  In case you didn't hear, the research on the heart health benefits of red wine was largely recently discredited, and there is mounting evidence that even what many people consider to be moderate drinking significantly increases the risk of various cancers.  While health experts are all over the health costs of soda and other sugary drinks, most fail to mention all the empty calories North Americans get from alcohol.  Moreover, when people drink, their inhibitions decline, and they are more likely to over-indulge in food calories as well.  The social and health costs of alcohol consumption are massive, yet drinking continues to be socially sanctioned.  But drinking is not a health promoting behaviour, and should be treated as an occasional indulgence, not a regular part of everyday life.  But again, drinking is a deeply entrenched part of many cultural traditions and social practices.

Of course, there is also the more serious issue of substance ABUSE, which often involves addiction and mental health issues.  Substance use - like eating - can be an avoidant coping strategy used by people who lack more functional coping skills, or it can be a concurrent disorder, common among individuals we serious mental illnesses.

So What is the Solution?

Just like there are many, complex causes of our growing health crisis, the solution too is complex and multifaceted.  Here are some of the things that I've been thinking need to happen (whether or not these things are realistic, or even possible, I don't know, but I'm throwing this all out there anyways):
  • Address poverty and hunger in Canada and the U.S.;
  • Making healthy food more affordable;
  • Stricter regulations for food manufacturers and restaurants (trans fat use has finally been restricted, but what about added sugars, sodium, BPA, refined flours, caramel colour/artificial colours, etc.?);
  • Stricter regulations on the health claims food manufacturers can make about their products;
  • Stricter regulations on advertising (i.e. not targetting children);
  • Making education about physical activity and nutrition an integral part of school curriculums;
  • Making cooking an integral part of school curriculum (it's an important life skill!);
  • Designing cities, towns and urban spaces to promote active living;
  • Better access to mental health services (in Ontario, for example, only psychiatrists are covered by the provincial health care plan, and getting to see one can be difficult. In addition, many extended health insurance plans only provide $500/year to see a registered psychologist, or sometimes a social worker, and this usually covers no more than 3-4 sessions, max.);
  • Providing incentives to employers to give employees flex-time and other benefits that can assist with work/life balance and wellness (fitness facilities, on-site kitchens, ability to work from home, etc.);
  • Making the media more accountable for presenting accurate health information.
Even if you believe that individuals who are suffering from obesity and associated chronic illness are entirely to blame because of their poor lifestyle choices, I think the problem is that if we leave it up to individuals to change their lifestyle, this growing health crisis will be a losing battle.  Why? Because we have developed a society, culture and infrastructure that makes it too easy to do all the wrong things and too difficult to do all the right ones.  Healthy living requires constant effort and vigilence.

Regardless of what the reasons behind it are, I think most people cannot or will not make the necessary drastic changes.  That's why I think most of the focus has to be on the environment and addressed at a macro level.  Being as contentious an issue as this is, however, I don't even hold much hope there will ever be enough agreement or support of this position for this approach to ever come to fruition.

Inspite of all this, I don't plan to give up my micro-level health promotion efforts.  While I do think the majority of North Americans cannot be inspired or convinced to make drastic changes to their lifestyle in the current state of our society, some are, and I can help even a few through education, inspiration or motivation, than I feel my efforts are worth it.  Lately though, I have been mulling over how I can have a bigger impact through some community activism.  I'm still working on this one...

Monday, June 11, 2012

Zesty Vegan Bits & Bites

Happy Monday!  Is my cheefulness annoying you first thing in the morning on the first day of the week?

I am happy to say that after a challenging week, we had a fantastic weekend.  Despite no naps as usual, Little A was actually in a wonderful mood.  I'm wondering if her especially stormy mood last week was due to not only fatigue, but the bad cold she and I were suffering from, and perhaps this weekend she (like I) finally started to feel better.  Whatever the case, she was her delightful self that we haven't seen in a while.

We had a birthday party and several playdates and the girls had a fantastic time.  Yesterday Big A had a 'date' with her adorable boyfriend.  Big A proudly gave him a bag of this recipe, our latest culinary creation to enjoy.

With the exception of during my pregnancies (when hormones were doing all sorts of strange things), I am not a salty snack person.  You can shove a bowl of potato chips right up to my face and it doesn't tempt me in the least.

The only exception is certain nuts - I love peanuts, cashews and almonds.  But pretty much everything else in the salty snack food category I can do without.

Adam, on the other hand loves them.  He doesn't eat them often, but if they are around, he'll sneak a handful here and there.  Big A has almost as big a salt-tooth as she does sweet-tooth.  Fortunately, she isn't too discriminating, so she's just as happy with rice cakes or homemade popcorn, as she is with potato chips.

However, of her favorites, is Bits & Bites, you know, the snack mix made from preztels, cheese crackers, Cheerio-like cereal and Shreddie-like cereal, thats chock full of refined flour, trans fat, sugar and chemicals?  So unfortunately for Big A, this mama ain't buyin' it!

So when Big A started pestering me for some this past weekend, I got the idea to make some ourselves.

I still favour the girls snacking on fruits and veggies over anything else.  But if they do want a treat, this ain't so bad.

I strayed from tradition and didn't include any o-cereal, but used the healthiest versions of the other standard ingredients I could find at the grocery store: 

PC Whole Wheat Cheddar Little Penguins Snack Crackers PC Organics Wheat Squares

You can adapt the recipe to suit your tastes. If not making it or children, feel free to play around with the seasoning and try curry, or something spicy.

Zesty Vegan Bits & Bites

4 cups whole wheat cereal squares
1 box whole grain cheese snack crackers (180g)
1 bag Mary's Gone Crackers pretzels (or 2 cups whole grain pretzels)

1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp Herbamere or regular sea salt
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tbls vegan worcestershire sauce
2 tbls lemon juice
1/2 cup organic canola oil

Toss dry ingredients together in a large bowl.  In a smaller bowl, whisk together the seasoning mixture.  Pour over the dry ingredients and toss until well mixed.  Spread mixture on a baking sheet (covered 2 large sheets for me, you can do it in batches if necessary) and bake at 350F for 10 minutes, stirring 1-2 times.  Let cool and then store in an airtight container.

This recipe was entered into Diet, Dessert and Dogs' Wellness Weekend.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Shrinking Mountains to Mohills

Mountain and a Molehill
Image Source

This has been a really tough week.  Like it has really and truly sucked.  Like there have been moments...a number of them...when I have felt like curling up in a fetal position in the corner of a room and screaming...or poking my own eyes out with an ice pick...or tearing every hair out of my head.

Actually, it all started last weekend.  It all went down like this:

While we were in Washington, I received an email from the director of the counselling clinic where I do non-fertility related counselling.  She dissolved her contract with the company we rent offices through and decided to look for new space.  In the meanwhile, we have no downtown space.  Um, big problem.  Most of my clients at this clinic live and work way downtown and can't travel far for appointments.  Also, I get referrals from various doctors for their fertility patients, and usually sublet office space for these patients through this clinic.  Since the clinics are all competitors with one another, the clinic where I work 3x week wouldn't be so thrilled about me seeing them there.  I was in a total panic, but helpless to deal with it while we were away.

After picking up the kids from my in-laws when we got back to Toronto, Little A completely lost it.  As per usual, she hadn't napped and was beyond exhausted and over wrought by our return after several days away.  I can't really describe in words what a complete mess she becomes when she is this tired, but the fact that this is what happens pretty much every day with her now means that evenings are exhausting and frustrating.

My alarm didn't go off and when Adam woke me at 5:30am, Little A was already up.  She wouldn't go back to bed, so while I worked out, she watched television.  I spent the day trying to figure out where to see all my non-fertility clients.  One client was willing to do a 'walk' therapy session, another decided to simply put her counselling on hold until we get new office space.  Another offered to rent the board room at her condo for us to use.

Little A and I woke up with a terrible cold and I heard there is a strep throat epidemic at the daycare.  On my way downtown to meet a client for our 'walk' therapy session, I get a call...turns out that the talk on fitness I thought I was supposed to give NEXT Tuesday was scheduled for today.  There was a room of almost 50 people waiting for me to show up at a company an hour north of the city.  This was by far the worst event of the week.  I felt awful.  I have never screwed up so badly like that in my life.  Fortunately, talk got rescheduled for Thursday.  Little A was a disaster again from the time I picked up the girls until she went to bed.

Day was alright until the evening when I dropped a glass plate at dinner and it shattered ALL over the kitchen.  Little A was in a state and just completely out of control of her emotions.  I developed larygitis because of the cold.

Little A was pissy in the morning.  My voice was worse than ever.  I drove out to do the talk, which went well because, thank goodness, they had a microphone for me to use.  Afterwards, my throat hurt and I felt like crap.  I volunteered at a fundraiser at Big A's school.  Big A had a great time hangin' with her friends, but Little A, totally exhausted AGAIN, fell apart and Adam had to leave early to bring her home to bed.

Friday (today)
Little A's exhaustion is now carrying over into the morning on a fairly regular basis.  Anything can set her off and today eveything did.  She shrieked and kicked her legs in the stroller so hard the entire way to daycare that she probably gave herself bruises.  Everyone can see how tired she is and how strong-willed she is to be able to resist napping when she so desperately needs the rest, but even her doctor and daycare teachers are at a complete loss over what to do. She. Simply. Refuses. To. Nap.

But I got through all of this.  And for someone who has struggled with anxiety in the past, even though there were some really challenging moments where I felt I might be on the brink of a very deep abyss, I kept myself from falling apart.  I consider it a major victory that I didn't lose a night's sleep over anything, nor did I ruminate endlessly over any of the events that occurred.  Before, I would have for sure.

Now some of you may be thinking, "Yeah, that sounds like a crappy week" while others are thinking, "So what, this is all part and parcel of everyday life."  And really the latter is completely true.  But as anyone who has struggled with an anxiety disorder knows, that reality is sometimes impossible to see.  A key feature of Generalized Anxiety Disorder is the tendency to exaggerate the threat of various events and to catastrophize.

Tuesday, in particular, was really awful for me.  Missing the presentation truly felt like a major crisis to me.  I'd let a lot of people down and jeapardized my reputation and credibility.  It was a really stupid and irresponsible thing to do.  But just a few days later, I can already look back and acknowledge that it really wasn't the end of the world.  I made an honest mistake.  I've learned from it.  I did what I could do rectify it (i.e. rearranged my Thursday so I could give the talk and apologized profusely to all parties involved), and all I can do now is move on.

What helped?  I made a point of reminding myself of all the things I have to be grateful for, and putting this all into context.  Given the truly horrendous circumstances, misfortune and adversity, millions of people face all over the world, this is all really nothing, and each time I was tempted to give in completely to my fears and doubts about my ability to cope with all this, I thought about both the many challenges I have successfully overcome in the past, and the relative insigificance of all of these issues.

So I am going into the weekend feeling blessed, rather than steamrollered, and confident that I am strong enough to cope with everyday challenges, that in the past, would have consumed me with anxiety and self-doubt.  Yay for me!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Beano Brownies

Brownie recipes using black beans are all over the Internet, however, I first saw this idea on a Food Network show a while ago.

I have been dying to try one out, but for some reason never got around to it until now.  Given that neither of my children will knowingly go near a legume, I was eager to see if they would go for them.

I sifted through a ton of recipes, found one I liked most, and then adapted it to my liking.

I think they turned out great, and the girls loved them too.  Adam, on the other hand said, "You can tell something [healthy] has been hidden in them".  Oh well, the point was to make them for the girls so I'm satisfied.  They may not instantly win over folks used to sugar, butter, white flour products, but I think they are really tasty, and they are sugar-free, gluten-free, and high in protein.  A perfect midday snack.

Beano Brownies (adapted from this one)

1 14oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
4 egg whites
2 tbls coconut oil, softened
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup powdered stevia baking blend
2 tsp instant espresso powder
1 tsp vanilla extract (or peppermint)
Pinch of salt

Puree everything in a food processor until smooth.  Scrape into a greased 8x8 pan.  Bake at 350F for 25 minutes.  Let cool and then cut into squares.  Makes 16 brownies.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

President's Choice Summer Insider's Report Review

Every season I look forward to President's Choice Insider's Report.  What new healthy and yummy products will they have?

Unfortunately, along with the great new items, there are always a ton of nutritional duds.
The Summer 2012 issue came out recently and I was underwhelmed, to say the least.  As a company, Loblaws has vowed to eliminate all artificial flavours and colours from their products over the next year or so, but, Hey Loblaws, what about all the refined flour and sugar??

On a positive note, they have a slew of new condiments out, some of which look and sound great.

PC ® Thick & Juicy™ Jalapeno Cheese Beef Burgers

Just check the ingredient lists, I suspect they are all full of sugar, except perhaps the sofrito.

They also have a precooked grains blend, which is good for people who feel they don't have time to cook.

Their organic fresh produce is always a good bet, of course, and usually found at a great price point. 

For fans of frozen desserts - of which I am not one - there are greek yogurt smoothie bars, fruit smoothie bars and regular fruit bars.  All are low-fat or fat-free, but contain refined sugar.

As someone who loves to cook, and in particular, loves to explore new products and flavours, I am most disappointed by their Black Label collection.  Every cracker, pasta or grain product in this line is white flour and many of the sauces and dressings are excessively high in fat and sugar.

PC black label
The worst new products, from a nutrition perspective are the Decadent Peanut Butter Ice Cream Sandwiches, which are saturated fat and calorie bombs, the pretzel buns which are all white-flour and dense, making them 2x the calories of most buns, the Almost Foot Long Franks - hotdogs are junk to begin with, who needs one that is a foot long?

Other misses include all the sweetened beverages, the S`mores Pie, Cupcake and S`mores Kits,  Loads of Cheese Nachos - although really all processed snack food is basically garbage,  and their whole line of Ice Cream Shop Flavours Ice Cream.

The reality is, most processed foods are not going to be the healthiest choices.  And the vast majority of snack foods and desserts are empty calories and nutritionally void, regardless of whether or not they are low-fat or baked instead of fried, etc.  But I`m not telling you anything you didn`t already know right?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Washington, D.C.

I can't believe that this past weekend was the first time I had ever been to the U.S. capital.  I am part American, after all, and actually the ONLY Canadian born person in my entire extended family.

But better late then never, as they say.

What a lovely city!  I actually liked it MORE than San Francisco and Chicago...but of course, like most other cities, it doesn't compare to New York.

The weather wasn't stellar the first day.  There was a rain storm, along with heat and extreme humidity on the Friday, that worsened over the course of the day.  We got to the hotel around 1pm and Adam and I had a quick lunch before he headed to his conference and I left to go exploring.

I took the bus out to Georgetown, since EVERYONE told me I had to see it.  Inspite of the rain, I had a lot of fun exploring this quaint neighbourhood.  Lovely shops and beautiful historic buildings make it a definite destination point for visitors.  I found the famous Georgetown Cupcake bakery and quickly got in the long lineup of customers, but after a few minutes realized that: (1) I don't like cupcakes, and (2) Any cupcakes I picked up for Adam had no chance, in this hot, humid, wet weather, to make it back to the hotel intact, so I left.

I also explored the Dupont Circle neighbourhood on foot before returning back to the hotel.  We stayed at the Grand Hyatt, which was lovely.  It is located in a convenient spot, right near public transportation, has large well appointed rooms, and one of the most impressive gyms I've ever seen at a hotel.  Unfortunately, Adam wasn't working out because he's nursing a torn calf muscle, and I was taking a real rest vacation, which included no working out.  I've been working out hard lately and felt like my body (and mind) needed a break.

The only real problem is that the phone in our hotel room didn't work.  This created a bit of an issue for us Friday evening when Adam got back from the conference.  It was past 7pm, and we were both tired and hungry.  Adam didn't want to walk far because of his calf injury and I had already gotten soaked by the rain when I was out previously, so both of us wanted to order dinner in to the hotel.  Since our phone didn't work, we attempted to order online.  After wasting about 30 minutes trying to complete an order from an Afghan restaurant, we realized it was quite far and doesn't actually deliver to the hotel.  We then found an Indian restaurant closer by within delivery range, however, providing a Canadian billing address meant that the computer system wouldn't accept the order, and we couldn't call the restaurant to explain (neither of us have cell phone plans that work in the U.S.).

Finally, ready to tear each other's heads off out of hunger, exhaustion and frustration, I suggested we just suck it up and walk to the restaurant.  It couldn't be that far, I reasoned.

Ha!  It was many more blocks than I estimated, and by the time we arrived at Rasoi, Adam's calf was burning and we were both soaking wet.  We must have looked absolutely pathetic!  Nonetheless, the staff were warm and welcoming and we were treated to a delicious meal.  I indulged in a succulent lamb dish, the first red meat I've eaten in I don't know how long, Adam got a tandoori chicken dish, and we shared a green pea and cauliflower curry.  Very yummy!

Saturday the weather was gorgeous.  Sunny and not too hot.  Adam went early to his conference.  I grabbed a quick breakfast wrap near the hotel and walked down to the subway to head over to the Eastern Market.  I love markets and I'd heard the best breakfast in D.C. can be found there on Saturdays.  I definitely still had stomach space after my mediocre egg wrap.  Just before I hopped on the subway, I noticed a bicycle rental across the street.  The city's streets are filled with cyclists and they have bicycle rental and Bixi-type things everywhere.  Intrigued, I went over to check it out.  Within 30 seconds the folks at Bike and Roll had me convinced and I was outfitted with a hybrid bicycle, helmet and lock, all for $35 for the whole day.   I sailed off and arrived at the market in a fraction of the time it would have taken me either by subway or on foot.  No sore, aching legs from walking on pavement, and I got to sightsee the whole way - which would not have been possible on the subway.  It was fabulous!!

I had a great time exploring the market, however, the 2 hour wait in the never shrinking line up for the famous buckwheat blueberry pancakes was too much for me, so I didn't get to sample the breakfast.  But there was an abundance of gourmet foods, fresh produce, arts and crafts, clothing and flowers.  I bought the girls and my niece handmade hair bands by a lovely woman with very cute products.  You can check out her company here: Preppy Style.

I have to say, Washington is a much more bike-friendly city than Toronto!  Nice wide streets, tons of bike lanes and places to lock up bicycles, and the cars seem very comfortable around cyclists.  I was also surprised to learn that in parts of the city it's legal for cyclists to ride on the sidewalk, so long as you give right-of-way to pedestrians!

After the market, I hopped back on my bike, cycled past the White House and the Washington Monument, and rode to the Holocaust Museum, which was on the top of my priority list.  I could devote a whole post to my visit here, which I will perhaps do sometime soon, but I definitely recommend a visit to anyone who has the chance.

Next I went back up to the area near our hotel, grabbed lunch and popped into the famous Crumbs bakery.  Adam had seemed disappointed that I didn't bring him back a treat from the Georgetown Cupcake shop, so I got him a massive brownie cupcake, and I tried their chocolate chip sandwich cookies.  I have a weakness for cookie sandwiches with icing (not ice cream) in between.  I would have preferred if they had been oatmeal raisin cookies, but it was still a tasty and quite rich indulgence.   I tasted their plain oatmeal raisin cookies, however, and was disappointed.  Too crispy and not chewy enough for me, although I liked that they add cinnamon.  Unfortunately, neither of us tolerated all the butter, sugar and white flour too well.  All that crap on top of too little water and fibre during this trip did not make for a happy tummy!  I can't imagine how people's digestive systems function when they eat stuff like that on a regular basis.

Next, I hopped on my bike and sailed back up to the Dupont Circle area.  I was thrilled when I accidently stumbled onto a Whole Foods.  After doing a little happy dance, I raced in to see what things NOT AVAILABLE IN CANADA I could find.

I picked up a few handfuls of their store brand organic fruit leathers since the Kettle Valley ones the girls love have been discontinued.
Kettle Valley Certified Organic Real Fruit Snack, Blueberry, 0.7-Ounce Bars (Pack of 30)
Yet another favoured product in our household that's disappeared!   Even if they like the 365 brand ones, it doesn't help me much as I have never seen them at the Whole Foods here and I have yet to find another brand that the girls like.

I also scooped up a canister of NuNaturals powdered stevia and a bottle of the clear liquid, since rumour has it, it is the best stevia out there.

They were out of the vanilla stevia liquid that everyone raves about.  Nevertheless, I can't wait to start baking with these products and see if they live up to the hype!  I don't know why this particular brand of stevia is not available in Canada, since a bagillion other brands of stevia are.  That kind of thing really pisses me off!

I also picked up some of their sea salt chocolate-covered caramels, which in spite of being a bit too sweet and too salty for my liking, I managed to polish off, as well as some fresh fruit, just so I didn't die of scurvy before the end of the trip.

I then cycled back to the Bike and Roll drop-off, returned the bicycle (renting it really made the visit for me, I will be doing it again on future travels for sure!!), and headed back to meet Adam at the hotel.

He just wanted to rest in the room, so I skipped out for some retail therapy and picked up a few things for the girls.

Saturday evening we once again wanted to eat at the hotel, so we ordered pizza, which is a treat for us since we rarely do so.  Unfortunately the pizza from The Upper Crust was mediocre at best.  Canned black olives instead of kalamatas, and a soggy crust, which they sent made from WHITE FLOUR instead of the whole wheat I clearly ordered.  Blech!

Sunday we didn't have much time before having to leave for the airport so we just wandered around the neighbourhood by the hotel.  Very little was open so early on a Sunday.  Doesn't anyone else wake up early on weekends besides me? Adam says no they don't.  Oh well.

I really liked Washington.  It was beautiful and interesting.  Next time I want to visit more of the museums, most of which are FREE!  The people are extremely friendly and very into fitness - lots of joggers and cyclists.  They also love to blast their air conditioning, which is bad for the environment, but good for someone like me who hates being hot.  I was surprised by how visible the homeless people are, much moreso than any other big American city I've been to recently.  I thought that was weird for the capital city.  There were also a lot of smokers, which makes me think the folks there either fall at one extreme or the other with health behaviours.  The other thing I thought was weird, was that aside from that Whole Foods I found, I saw no other grocery stores!  So either folks who live in the downtown area don't cook much, or they do all their shopping at the Eastern market on Saturdays.

Next American city on my list to visit: Boston.  Adam has promised to take me there for a getaway for my 40th birthday, which is - fortunately - still over 2 LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG years away!!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Guilt Trips

Food, love, career, and mothers, the four major guilt groups. ~ Cathy Guisewite

Adam and I just returned from a fantastic weekend in Washington, D.C. 

Adam had a conference there and I'd never been, so since we just celebrated our 10th anniversary, I thought it appropriate to turn the trip into an opportunity for a little vacation.  I'll post more about our trip later this week.

Unfortunately, I left Toronto on Friday with a heavy heart.  Not because we were leaving the girls - we've done that before and I know they have a wonderful time with their grandparents and I feel parents do deserve breaks here and there - no, I was feeling guilty for a few other reasons.


Little A's room at daycare had prepared a show for the parents.  It was scheduled for 5pm, with parents asked to arrive at 4:45pm.  Adam couldn't go because he was at a conference in Waterloo that day.  I was stuck at home waiting for the a/c repairman, who it had taken weeks to schedule a visit with to repair our broken a/c unit.  The window went to 5pm, but Adam reassured me that it was unlikely the guy would show up right at the end of the day.  So I told Little A and her teachers that I would *probably* be able to make the show.

At 4:25pm I assumed the guy got delayed and I was going to have to re-book the appointment.  I knew Adam would be concerned that the repairs would be put off, but I was relieved that I could make Little A's show.  A few seconds later, however, the doorbell rang and the guy was standing on my doorstep.  My heart sank and I told him I had to leave.   He told me I couldn't, that he'd already had a look at our unit and there was serious work to be done.  "Will it take more than 20 minutes?" I asked, thinking perhaps I could still make it to the school for 5pm.  "You can't leave!" He snapped at me.

Once it set in that I was going to miss the show, I was overcome with guilt and sorrow.  I sat at my desk and sobbed.  I know it was such a little thing, but it was a big deal to Little A and I knew she was not going to understand why I missed the show.  I felt like I had really let her down.

At 5:15pm I told the repairman that I now HAD to leave to pick up the girls.  All of a sudden his demeanor COMPLETELY changed.  "Oh why didn't you say you had to pick up your kids?  If I'd known that was where you had to go, I would have left immediately and rescheduled the repairs.  As it is I'm going to have to come back because I believe you need a new coil." He told me.  That's when I realized his hostility was likely due to the fact that I was dressed in my usual yoga pants and tank top attire, and he assumed I was just some rich, spoiled housewife wanting to get to the gym.  Perhaps I AM all those things too, but I was actually just wanting to see my daughter's show!  Sigh.

I raced to the school as fast as I could.  When I got to Little A's classroom, one of her teachers grabbed me and Little A - who immediately starting asking why I missed the show - and pulled us aside.  She quickly explained that Little A had indeed been distraught when I didn't show up, but that she and Little A could now give me a private performance.  I watched, with a lump in my throat as she and her teacher sang "This little light of mine" and did a whole set of corresponding actions and dance moves using pretend flashlights the kids had fashioned out of paper towel rolls.  It was very touching and it satisfied Little A's desire for me to see this performance the class had spent so much effort practicing.  Thank goodness for her awesome teacher!!


Since we switched Big A to the daycare at her school, we felt a duty to try and help her maintain her friendship with G, her best friend from the old daycare.  They had such a special bond, and Adam and I both place a lot of value on loyalty and friendship, perhaps because we both have friendships from our childhood that we still deeply cherish.

Right from the beginning we sensed G's parents were far less motivated to encourage the relationship once the girls no longer saw each other.  They rarely crossed paths since they attend different schools, but we live relatively close by, so Adam and I felt it shouldn't be too difficult to get them together regularly.  Little A and G's younger sister also bonded at the old daycare so I even suggested a double playdate once, but their parents were not in favour of that, claiming that their younger daughter wasn't ready for it.

I eventually began to get irritated by G's parents because they seemed to go from lacking motivation to encourage the friendship between the girls, to simply being rude and thoughtless.  They failed to RSVP to party invitations and didn't always return my email requests to set up playdates.

I know, the writing was on the wall and the message was clear.  But I felt that we at least deserved a little common courtesy.  A few "we're too busy" responses would have gotten the message across in what I think is a more polite way.  So when they failed to RSVP for Big A's birthday party and then didn't follow up my email saying it was a shame G didn't attend, did they want to set up a playdate for the girls, I boiled over.  I told Adam I was done with them and if Big A requests a playdate with G (which she still does, although much less often - she actually didn't even notice G was not at her party), we'll just say they're too busy.  But then Big A wrote a letter for G and implored us to mail it, so we did.  Wednesday I received an email from G's mom saying, "G asked me to thank Big A for the letter."  That was it.  No apology for missing the party.  No explanation for ignoring my follow-up email.

I boiled over and did something I almost never do: I initiated a confrontation.  I replied to her email with this note:

We have sensed for quite a while that you guys are not interested in encouraging the girls' friendship, but we have tried to do so for Big A's sake. We are not going to continue any longer at this point, but would appreciate an explanation. If Big A did something, or if we offended you in some way, we would like to know.
The next day I got this reply from her:

That's a fair assumption. Life is really busy (I'm sure you can relate). G does not ask to see Big A, not because she doesn't like her, but because she's 6 and wants to see the kids she sees every day.  Big A is a lovely girl and I'm sure she has many friends. Who knows, their paths may cross again in the future and the girls can determine their relationship then.
We only wish you all the best and apologize for any offence we may have caused.
At face value - just as we sensed from day 1 - they simply don't see encouraging the friendship to continue as a priority.  If you read between the lines (isn't there always subtext with women?) there may be more to it, like they can't stand any of us.   As Adam pointed out, they may have found it weird or even creepy from the beginning that we wanted to go to great lengths to allow the preschool friendship to flourish.  I think there's definitely some animosity here because the "I'm sure she has many friends" line seems a bit condescending to me.  Big A does indeed have TONS of friends, but I didn't realize that someone can have TOO MANY friends.
The whole thing upset me greatly after I processed it, because I realized that had they NOT disliked us before I sent the note, they most certainly did now.  So in my efforts to protect Big A's feelings, what I had actually done was most likely permanently close the door on her friendship with G.
I should have let sleeping dogs like, so-to-speak, and just butted out.  More mom-guilt to struggle with!
Adam and I were getting the girls ready to take over to my in-laws.  Our plane to D.C. was early on Friday so they were sleeping over at their grandparents' house.  We fed them dinner and then Adam had given Little A a bath while Big A and I were busy downstairs.  While waiting for Big A to come up for her bath, Adam and Little A were playing.  Little A ran into her room and fell, knocking her head on the corner of her wooden stool.  I heard the bang from the kitchen.
It wasn't so much the bang as Adam's panic-filled request for ice that got me freaked out.  Big A and I rushed upstairs to find Little A sobbing.  When Adam released her from his embrace, I noticed her hair was matted with blood on one side.  I moved her hair aside and found a gash on her head.  Initially we thought we might have to take her to the ER for stitches, but a close examination revealed it was a relatively shallow wound.  I am so thankful Adam and I have a lot of first aid training because of our fitness background!  I cleaned up the wound and applied pressure and ice for 30 minutes.  The bleeding stopped quickly but it was in a place that made it difficult to bandage and it was raw and open.  It was in this condition that I had to say goodbye to the girls and Adam drove them to my in-laws.  I was naseous and shaking as they left.  It was shallow, but should we take her to the ER anyways? I wondered?
My in-laws examined the wound and confirmed that it didn't warrant stitches and reassured us that she'd be just fine.  And she was.  By the time we returned from D.C. yesterday, there was no evidence of the cut.  But I still worried about her the entire time we were away.
Is it possible to avoid guilt trips when you are a parent?  I'm not so sure...