Friday, November 30, 2012

Racoons Riding Buses...

Did you ever have one of those days that just seems surreal?  That was my Wednesday this week.

I had a terrible sleep Tuesday night after the daycare fundraiser.  I was just too wound up.  I just landed a new gig writing reviews of fitness clubs for BlogTO, a local online magazine.  Wednesday I was scheduled to check out a new fitness studio near where Adam works.  Adam had the car that day, so he recommended the best way for me to get there by public transport and suggested that an hour should be plenty of time to get me there, regardless of my legendary bad luck with the TTC.

The bus arrived at the bus stop down the street from our house almost immediately - in an unusual stroke of luck for me.  I made it to the subway, efficiently caught the first subway going east, and then was thrilled to find the connecting northbound subway pulling into the station as soon as I arrived.  I hopped on and sat down relieved that the trip was going so smoothly.

Then an announcement was made that smoke had been detected at Eglinton station and the entire subway line from Bloor, north to York Mills was being temporarily shut down.  F#*k!  Adam is right, I'm friggin' cursed when it comes to our city's transit system. 

I exited the train along with everyone else and stood for several minutes on the platform trying to decide what to do.  Eventually, I decided to take an alternate route rather than waiting for service to resume.  This entailed hopping on another subway taking me back in the direction I came, and then catching another subway heading north on the University/Spadina line, catching a bus heading east on Wilson, and sprinting 5 blocks south on Avenue Road to the club.  By the time I arrived I was sweating, stressed and completely discombobulated.  I was about 3 minutes late for the Gravity Pilates class I had registered for, but the staff were very forgiving and allowed me to join anyways.

I felt much calmer after the class and walked slowly back to the bus stop on Wilson.  Suddenly a racoon sauntered out of the bus shelter.  He brushed against a woman's legs and for a moment, I thought he was her pet, that is, until she screamed and ran away.  Then he came in my direction.  As cute as he was, I've heard too many stories about racoons being rabid so I kept my distance.  This little guy was so bold that he chased after anyone who came too close to him.  He wasn't being aggressive, in fact, he almost seemed friendly, but everyone was a bit freaked out since you don't usually see wildlife in the city being so bold. When the bus arrived, all 6 of us waiting were hiding out behind the shelter, while Mr. Racoon sat munching on a discarded orange peel by the curb.  The folks on the absolutely packed bus squealed in delight at the situation and highschool children began whipping out their phones and snapping pictures.  It also got perfect strangers, smiling at one another and joking about Mr. Racoon.

I found the whole situation so bizarre and amusing that it completely made up for the frustrations of my earlier trip.  You always have to look for the silver lining in every situation, no?

Happy Friday, have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cool and Crazy Gift Ideas

The frenzy has begun for holiday shopping. I've already gotten all my Hannukah gifts, so I can relax, sit back, and give you all some ideas for those hardest-to-buy-for folks in your life.  It's much easier to be Jewish in December I tell you!!

Recenly we received the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog.  I always find it amusing to look through.  Like every year, there are items that range from clever to outrageous.  Here are some of my favorites.

The Peaceful Progression Wake Up Clock

The catalog's description is as follows:

More gentle than traditional jarring alarms, this clock uses gradually increasing light, stimulating aromas, and peaceful nature sounds to awaken sleepers. At 30 minutes before wake-up, the clock's light begins to glow softly, brightening over the next half-hour. The device can simultaneously release aromatherapy scents into the air to stimulate the olfactory senses. Fifteen minutes before wake-up, the clock generates your choice of six nature sounds (including ocean surf, thunderstorm, white noise, spring rain, mountain stream, and forest stream). The cycle concludes with a chime (that gradually increases in volume) to wake the most stubborn sleepers. Includes four different aromatherapy beads (Ocean Water, Pear Vanilla, Lavender Essence and Clean Cotton, or you can use your own aromatherapy oils in the stainless steel bowl. With snooze, 30, 60, and 90-minute automatic shut off, and 3.5 mm auxiliary jack that allows connection to an iPhone, iPod, or CD player. 7 1/2" H x 5 1/3" W x 6" D. (3 lbs.)

Cooling Pillow:

As someone who is always hot in bed and loves a cool pillow, I love this idea!

Dry Eye Relief Kit

Although incredibly funny-looking, as someone with chronic dry-eyes this intrigued me.  But I have to do research on it's effectiveness before I'm willing to drop $50 on it...

Have a loved one who suffers from really dry hands in the winter?  This might be just the thing!

 Aesthetician's Ultrasonic Hand Moisturizer

If I had $150 to burn, I'd buy one for myself!!

Light Therapy Visor:

Many North Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during the winter months.  Sadly (pun intended), I am one of them.  While I hate summer even more (yes, I'm a crank), by February I do tend to get dragged down by the constant cold, grey weather and by April I'm going batty. 

At some point I'm going to invest in one of these lights, and this is kind of a cool portable option...although if you wore it out of the house I'm sure you'd probably get made fun of...or people would assume you are a lunatic.

How about Insulated Ear Warmer Headphones

These would actually be perfect for Adam who listens to his Ipod on the way to work every day.

There is lots more interesting stuff, however, prices aren't the best and some stuff is absolutely, downright ridiculous...

Two Story Inflatable Reindeer for $380 anyone?

You can check out their catalogue online if you're interested.  Happy holiday shopping!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

No-Bake Bake Sale Snack Mix

If you have school-aged children, than you are probably frequently called upon to contribute to bake sales and/or treats for various functions and events.  Even for those of us who love to bake, this can sometimes get overwhelming.  If you don't bake, then it can be downright terrifying.

But don't fret, there is no need to resort to buying the revolting 2-bite cupcakes in the plastic clamshell package from your local grocery store.  Other options abound.

I whipped this up for the girls' daycare fundraiser last night and it was a huge hit.  It was inspired by my experience being one of the bake table salespersons at their school's spring event this past year.  I noticed that regardless of the actual product, some of the most popular items were those that parents had pre-wrapped, allowing them to be more portable, less messy and enjoyed later.  After all, there is only so many cupcakes or cookies people can gobble down at once.  Well, maybe not, but let's not go there!

I purchased festive, re-sealable plastic bags from the dollar store and created this mix of goodies.  You can customize it any way you please.  It would even make a nice hostess gift for the holidays, and you could fill pretty tins or mason jars with it.  Simple. Inexpensive. Delicious.

For this mix I used President's Choice Multigrain Alphabet pretzels:
PC Blue Menu Multigrain Alphabet Pretzels

Their Sweet & Salty Popcorn:

PC Kettle Corn Sweet & Salty
Their Chocolate-Covered Raisins:

And festive green and red Smarties I found at Bulk Barn:

You could just leave it there, but

I decided to coat the pretzels in white chocolate just to up the ante for the kidlets...this was for a good cause after all!

No-Bake Bake Sale Snack Mix

1.5 lbs small pretzels (whole grain, if possible)
About 300g popcorn (homemade, store-bought, sweet, salty or plain)
3 cups candy-coated chocolate
2 lb chocolate-covered raisins, cranberries or other fruit
1 1/4 cups good quality white chocolate chips
2 tbls coconut oil

Other options: candied nuts, granola clusters, cut up dried fruit, cereal, animal crackers, etc.

Lay pretzels in a single layer on baking sheets, lined with wax paper.  Melt chocolate and coconut oil over simmering water and stir until smooth.  Drizzle over pretzels and place pretzels in freezer until chocolate hardens.  Toss pretzels with other treats and divide into baggies.  I got 24 medium snack bags out of it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Low-Fat, Grain-Free, Gluten-Free Falafel

I love falafel but have never made them from scratch until now.  I always thought you had to use dried chickpeas or fava beans and grind them and it all just seemed to intimidating and time-consuming.  Then I saw Dreena Burton's recipe which uses canned beans and pan fries instead of deep fries them.  She dredges them with flour (I used chickpea flour) to get the exterior crispy.  I  loved this idea and knew I had to try making them myself. 

Of course, as I always do, I adapted the recipe.  Among other things, I use zucchini instead of celery, and use a bit of konjac flour, instead of oats, to hold them together.  I hate hiding grains in food in a way that you can't appreciate them!  Kind of like I'd rather get my fats from nuts, nut butters and avocado, rather than oils hidden in dishes in such a way that you don't even know they are there.  I am experimenting with konjac flour (glucommanen) more and more these days as a binder and thickener ingredient. It is so amazing!  These are probably not as sturdy as Dreena's because of this substitution, but they hold together pretty well anyways. 

I made HUGE ones that are burger-sized so that I can take one to work and throw it on a flat bun with a smear of tahini sauce and call it a day.  Much less messy than stuffing into a pita, and flat buns are less likely to break and smush in my bag.  You can make them as large or small as you want.  Freeze extras with wax paper between each of them.  Defrost in the fridge or microwave, and then reheat on the stove top.  Yummy!!!

Low-Fat, Grain-Free, Gluten-Free Falafel

2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 small onion, cut into chunks
1 small zuchini, cut into chunks
Large handful fresh cilantro
4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1.5-2 tsp salt
2 tbls fresh lemon juice
1/2 tbls cider vinegar
Chili flakes, to taste
2 tsp konjac flour
1/3-1/2 cup chickpea flour

Place all the ingredients in the food processor and process until dough comes together.  Form into balls of desired size and then roll in chickpea flour.  Place on hot fry pan or griddle (medium heat), coated with non-stick spray or spritzed with oil, and flatten out.  Cook about 6-7 minutes on each side until browned.  Serve with tahini sauce (recipe below) and whole grain pita or flat buns.  Makes 8 burger-sized patties, 16 medium, or 24 smaller falafels.

Tahini Sauce

1/4 cup tahini
Juice of 1 lemon
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp ground cumin

Whisk ingredients together until smooth and thickened.  Keep in fridge for up to 2 weeks.

This recipe has been added to Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten-Free Friday and Diet, Dessert & Dogs Wellness Weekend for the week.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Dark Chocolate Protein Truffles (Vegan + Sugar-Free)

I started out trying to make chocolate mousse...I even almost followed a recipe!  I used Michael Smith's tofu chocolate mousse recipe, but instead of using bittersweet chocolate, I used unsweetened, and used xylitol to sweeten. At first it had the perfect mousse-y texture, but once refrigerated, it hardened into what was more of a ganache.  Oh well, I ended up with intense chocolate, sugar-free, high protein, vegan truffles.  I'll take that, thanks!

Dark Chocolate Protein Truffles

225g unsweetened chocolate, melted
350g silken tofu
1 cup xylitol or powdered stevia
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
Cocoa powder for rolling

Puree tofu, sweetener, vanilla and salt in food processor until smooth.  Add melted chocolate and blend.  Refrigerate until firm.  Form into balls and roll in cocoa powder.  Keep refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Everybody Poops


I am so glad it's the weekend!! How about you?

It's not that it's been a bad week, per se, but it's been exhausting.

For the first time in a long time, I had insomnia.  In fact, last night was the first good sleep I've had since last Sunday night.

This self-employment thing is tough for me sometimes.  The whole uncertainty of it.  You see, this week was looking pretty quiet counselling-wise, so I took on a whole host of other commitments.  Then at the last minute, the appointments started coming in and before I knew it, this week was completely jam-packed.  Not a bad thing, but I was feeling a bit overwhelmed.

A lot of my stress is due to the fact that I'm on the fundraising committee for the girls' daycare and we have our big annual fundraising event next Tuesday.  I volunteered to take care of the catering, which I'm pleased about, of course, because I got to insist on healthier fare than past years, but going with a new caterer, it also means that if it flops for any reason, it's all on my head.  Also, because I'm one of the few parents on the committee with a flexible work schedule, I feel obligated to pull my weight and take care of some of the tasks that are tough for the parents who have less flexible schedules.

Like most weeks, there have been highs and lows.  One of the highs was getting tickets for me and two girlfriends to be in the CityLine audience!  Both my friends even won prizes to take home.  I wasn't as lucky and the giveaways weren't too exciting, but, it was still fun.  Tracey Moore, the host, is just as beautiful and down-to-earth in person as she is on camera.

Little A was also in a great mood, for the most part.  Monday night when I picked the girls up, she asked me if I knew that rhinoceroses make big, ball-shaped poos.  Since I love potty talk and bathroom humour, I thought this was hysterical.  When Adam and I asked how she knew this, she explained that her teacher, Catherine, read them a book called Everybody Poops.  We definitely have our kids in the right daycare!  When I picked her up the next day, I mentioned to Catherine how much I loved this idea, and she showed me the book.  It's absolutely hilarious, and I seriously have to get us a copy of our own!

My SSN also finally arrived from the IRS, so I hopefully don't have to make any more trips across the border.

The weather this week has also been lovely and mild, however, I understand this is ending tonight and the chilly temps will arrive, which I suspect is the beginning of real winter.

The low of the week has to be Wednesday when Big A and I got into it.  She was playing teacher with her school playset in the morning when I announced it was time to leave.  She had a major temper tantrum because she wanted to keep playing and she was worried that our house cleaner would 'mess up' her stuff.  She took the pointer stick (for pointing to the blackboard), and started hitting the dining room table with it, hard enough to leave marks, and a little too close to where Little A was resting her hand.  I exploded and literally picked her up and carried her to the front door.  Once I put her down, she repeatedly tried to dart around me back to her toys.  I kept having to pick her up and physically move her to the front door.  In the end, she agreed to help me put away the play set and save it for another day, but not before there were lots of tears, and admittedly, lots of yelling.

She needn't have worried because our house cleaner ended up cancelling at the last minute, which left me running around, on what was one of my busiest days this week, trying to get the laundry done.  And the house is a still a mess.

Then as I was cycling to my first client appointment, a car swerved and clipped me.  Me and my bike are fine, thankfully, but the a-hole didn't even stop, and I was shaken up and pissed off.

We have a busy weekend of errands, birthday parties, and dinner with friends, but I finally feel like things are back under control.  Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in the U.S., you are all probably going on a major shopping spree this weekend...and happy weekend to everyone else!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Black Forest Granola

This super chocolately, decadent-tasting granola is actually sugar-free, gluten-free and oil-free.  Definitely makes you feel like you can have your cake and eat it too!  Amazing with yogurt, milk or on its own as a snack.  All the chocoholics in this house, even Little A who is not usually a granola lover, have been enjoying this.

1.5 cups unsweetened prune puree (baby food works perfectly!)
1/4 cup-1/2 cup xylitol or powdered stevia, or to taste
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup cocoa powder
4 cups large flake oats (gluten-free, if necessary)
8 large, unflavoured rice cakes, crumbled, or 6 cups puffed brown rice
1-2 tbls chia seeds
1/2-3/4 cup unsweetened dried cherries
Optional: 1/2 cup chopped, toasted almonds or hazelnuts and/or sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc.

Whisk together prune puree, sweetener, vanilla, salt and cocoa powder.  Place oats, rice, and chia seeds in a large bowl.  Poor prune mixture overtop and stir until fully coated.  Spread evenly onto 2 baking sheets, covered in parchment paper and lightly sprayed with non-stick spray.  Bake in the oven at 275F for 40 minutes, rotating each sheet from top to bottom rack, every 10 minutes.  Let cool completely.  Toss with cherries, nuts and any additional mix-ins.  Store in an airtight container for 3-4 weeks.

This recipe has been entered into Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten-Free Friday and Diet, dessert, & Dogs' Wellness Weekend.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wild Wood Tomato & Herb Angel Hair Pasta Slim

Up until now I have not been a huge fan of the shiritake noodles made with tofu.  Aside from the ones I found in New York, which, unfortunately, like so many other yummy products are not available in Canada, I've found the kinds I have tried here not to my liking.  The texture just didn't do it for me.  This has been disappointing because the Asian-style ones, that I love, aren't really well suited for Italian pasta recipes.

Recently, however, I've been noticing Wild Wood's new Tomato & Herb Angel Hair Pasta Slim in grocery and health food stores.  Something about them piqued my interest and I decided to give them another try.  Last week I made some, served with a red clam sauce, and topped with garlic sauteed kale for lunch.  I loved them! 

Definitely a must try.  Just be sure to use the 'drying' method for the noodles, by putting them in a very hot, dry fry pan after rinsing them, and 'cook' until all excess liquid is gone.  Also, make sure your sauce is very thick as these noodles don't absorb liquid, so otherwise you will end up with a soupy dish.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Super Simple Low-Fat Chocolate Truffles

Usually to make truffles, you have to melt chocolate with another high-fat ingredient, usually cream.  In this case, I've substituted amazing, fat-free, high protein quark and the results are fantastic.  I use this kind: 
Fresh Quark Cheese

With just a few ingredients, these are simple to make and make an impressive treat to serve at holiday gatherings or to give as a hostess gift.

Super Simple Low-Fat Truffles

1/2 of a 375g tub quark
270g chocolate* (use chips, or chop into pieces), melted and cooled slightly
2 tbls agave syrup
1/8 tsp salt

Stir everything together until smooth.  Place in the freezer until firm (about 1 hour).  Form into small balls and roll in cocoa powder, or finely grated coconut, or crushed candy canes, nuts, etc.  Keep refrigerated for up to 2 weeks...but don't worry, they'll never last that long!

*I decided to try President's Choice new naturally flavoured mint semi-sweet chips, because everyone in our house loves chocolate mint.  Most dark or semi-sweet chocolates will work.  White and milk chocolate might work too, but I would omit the agave syrup.

Monday, November 19, 2012


Image Source

Literally the day after I posted about the new and improved Little A, she went back to the old and not so improved preschooler we've been dealing with the past 18 months.  She has had her characteristic irrational and incredibly dramatic fits every evening this week.  The change coincided with her catching a bad cough and cold, however, so I'm hoping that it was a temporary blip.  By Saturday when she seemed fully recovered, she was back to her happy, delightful self. 

Things with Big A have been unraveling too.  She has been giving me attitude for a while now, but Friday night she was being so obnoxious and disrespectful that I was flooded with the extreme negative feelings I used to get during our interactions on a regular basis.  I can't even remember the last time that happened.  Adam was out at a concert with his parents and while I was putting her to bed I felt like I was coming close to losing control.  I spoke through clenched teeth and may have said something I shouldn't have...something that starts with S and ends in T.  Things haven't escalated to this level between us in a while.

Friday started off badly too.  It was a PD day and Adam and I had our parent-teacher meeting with Big A's teacher at 9:45am.  So I let the girls stay home with me until the appointment and made them French toast.  But they were at each other's throats the entire time.  Little A had two lengthy screaming fits (the first one was over 30 minutes long...she was so hysterical she practically made herself sick...but then that's actually normal for her).  By the time I got them to daycare, I was almost late for the meeting, and I felt like I needed either a tranquilizer and/or some whisky straight up.

I think I'm a relatively competent, intelligent human being, so I don't understand why I struggle with parenting so much.  Lately when things go off the rails with the girls I often end up silent with my mouth agape trying to figure out how to control them with my mind completely blank.  On my to-do list is going back to my favorite books and reviewing strategies that have worked in the past.  I plan to review Siblings Without Rivalry here soon, and I'm hoping that writing the review will allow me to better digest the information, which will hopefully allow me to actually put it into practice.

There is some good news.  Saturday and Sunday were great.  The girls didn't fight too much, and everyone behaved relatively well.

It's important to focus on the positives, right? So here's another: it may be Monday, but it's a beautiful day here in Toronto. The kind of autumn day we don't get too often. Enjoy!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Cranberry Butternut Squash Bean Chili

This was an experiment gone very right.  I love it.  Adam loves it.  You'll love it. 

It was inspired by Little A.  No not because she'd ever eat it.  Not with 'bits' in it (i.e. detectable pieces of vegetable).  But because last weekend she became mesmerized by a bag of plump, garnet hued fresh cranberries and insisted Adam buy them for her.  He tried to explain that they would not taste terribly good raw, but she wouldn't listen and promised she would like them and would eat them.  As soon as they got home, however, I placed one in her eager hand, she popped it in her mouth, nodded her head for a second to indicate liking, then began shaking her head vigorously to indicate, no, she did not actually like it. 

Sooo, I ended up with a big bag of fresh cranberries in the fridge.

It never occurred to me to add cranberries to chili, but I was making chili and adding butternut squash, and since squash and cranberries work so well together, I figured, "Why not?"  And folks, it works.  Really well!  The sweetness of the cider vinegar and squash perfectly balances out the tartness of the cranberries.  This recipe is definitely going to be a staple this winter!!

I used Cookin' Greens Athlete's Mix to bump up the veggie quotient in here and it was the perfect addition.

I'd never purchased any of these before, but they are a great option if you hate chopping veggies.  Just note that none of their products are organic, so if you only eat organic, you are out of luck.  Either way, you can just sub fresh veggies and your own beans if you wish.

I left it really thick, because I like it that way, but add water, as needed, if you prefer a thinner consistency.  If you leave it thick, not only can you serve this over brown rice, millet or quinoa, but you could use it to make some killer burritos!

Cranberry Butternut Squash Bean Chili

2 lb butternut squash, diced
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper

2 cups diced onion
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped or minced
2 heaping tbls chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
1 jalapeno pepper, finely diced, optional (or hot sauce, to taste)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed (or 1.5 cooked kidney beans)
1 bag Athlete's Mix (or 2 cups finely chopped kale, 1 diced red bell pepper + 1 cup cooked white kidney beans)
1 28oz can crushed tomatoes

Toss squash and cranberries with oil and seasonings.  Spread out on foil or parchment paper lined baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, Place onion, garlic and spices in a large skillet or pot over medium heat.  Once everything begins to sizzle, add vinegar.  Saute until most of the liquid has been absorbed.  Add in kidney beans, squash and cranberries, and remaining veggies, and continue to cook for about 3-4 minutes.  Pour in crushed tomatoes. Add water, as needed and season to taste.  Let simmer for about 15-20 minutes.  Freezes well.

This recipe was submitted to Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten-Free Friday, and Diet, Dessert & Dogs' Wellness Weekend.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Facing Your Fears

Image Source

I haven't mentioned it on the blog before, but Adam and I have been embroiled in a bureacratic nightmare with the U.S. government for the past year or so.

You see, we are both dual citizens: me, because my parents are from New York, and he, because he was born in Boston.  Neither of us have ever worked in the U.S., I've never lived there, and Adam only lived there for a few months before his parents moved back to Toronto.  So it never occurred to either of us, or any of our parents, that we should be filing taxes with the U.S. government.  We pay lots of taxes here, thank you very much. 

When the laws for U.S. citizens living abroad changed, we decided to be honest and went through the process of trying to file.  Unfortunately, this turned out to be not so easy.  First off, we couldn't do so without having social security numbers.  Adam never had one, and the one my parents had for me was apparently 'invalid'.  Adam immediately drove to Niagara Falls and applied for one.  I was told to speak with the U.S. consulate in Toronto, and apply through them.  I waited 3.5 weeks for an appointment.  At my appointment in mid-July, I filled out the application, and was scolded for travelling to the U.S. on my Canadian passport (I hadn't renewed my U.S. passport since I was a kid), and 'highly encouraged' to renew my U.S. passport.  I did so. The woman at the consulate also warned me that getting my SSN through them could take a long time, so if I wanted to speed things up, I should go to the U.S.  I made some calls and was told that the Niagara Falls office Adam visited was closed.  We drove to Buffalo in August.  After waiting almost an hour, the woman at the desk informed me that there was no request for a SSN in the system for me, but that they could not put in another request if the consulate had already done so.  She was mean.  She yelled at me.  I was simply doing what the consulate recommended.  We left with our tails between our legs and waited for my SSN to arrive.  It never did.

A few weeks ago I called the U.S. again and asked about the status of my SSN request.  The NICE woman on the phone said there was nothing in the system.  She also told me that, (1) the consulate can't grant me a SSN, and (2) Requests take no more than 2 days to appear in the system so the folks in Buffalo should have known that the consulate had not put through a request and they should have done so for me on the spot.  She was very apologetic but informed me we'd have to drive back to the U.S.  She also informed me that the Niagara Falls office is open. 

Last week Adam and I drove down to Niagara Falls, NY.  After waiting at the border for an hour, we arrived at the Social Security Office.  The woman at the desk informed me that because I did not have my Canadian birth certificate with me, as proof of my age, she could not put in an application for me.  Although their website says they will accept U.S. passports as proof of age, because I was using my passport as proof of U.S. citizenship, I could not use it as proof of age.  None of the other documents I had - including my proof of birth abroad form - nor my driver's licence or other ID with my birthdate were sufficient.  Yep, all that driving for just 45 minutes in the U.S. which got us nowhere in dealing with this crap.

I may have had a little fit.  I may have told this woman that my husband - who had now taken 2 days off work to drive with me down to the U.S. to deal with this, was going to divorce me if I came back to the waiting room and had to tell him I didn't have the proper ID with me.  While this might have been a bit of an exaggeration, I know for a fact he felt like strangling me when I broke the news to him.  Fortunately, the softie that my sweet husband is, he had forgiven my short-sightedness by the time we got back to the border.  But he did tell me that I was now on my own and he was not driving back with me again.  GULP!

The thing is, I only got my driver's license when I was 30.  I am still not so comfortable driving on highways, particularly without Adam with me in the car.  In fact, the only highway driving I've done alone was the few times I did it before my highway driving test.  Ever since, it's been with Adam right beside me for support...although admittedly, he's often been snoozing.  It's not just the high speeds, multiple lanes and massive transport trucks that could flatten me in a second that worry me, I also have this fear of creating an accident by suddenly swerving to avoid missing my exit, or, even more irrational and preposterous, that I will miss my exit and somehow end up stranded in some far away place.  I have this image of calling Adam from a payphone at a gas station in Indiana, bawling because I don't know how to get home.  Of course, now that we have a GPS, this is almost impossible.

In addition, I have never in my life driven in the U.S.  I kept worrying that the transition from KM to miles would trip me up and I'd either get a speeding ticket, or cause an accident by going too slowly.

But I did it!  And it went relatively smoothly! 

Sooo, looking on the brightside, by driving back to Niagara  Falls yesterday all by myself, I conquered one of my big fears.  Two fears actually: driving on the highway alone, and driving in a different country.

I was pretty nervous beforehand.  My stomach was in knots and my hands were shaking.  I decided to break the whole endeavor up, in my mind, into manageable bits.  First, making it to the Gardiner Expressway, then the QEW, then the border crossing, then the Social Security office, then back to the border crossing, back to the QEW, back to the Gardiner, back to the Toronto city streets, etc.

To be honest, I actually enjoy conquering my fears.  It may take an external hand to force me to do it, but once you do it, it is so liberating.  Now I feel like I could drive to Kingston to see my parents without Adam!  Although I don't plan on doing it anytime soon...

Fear can be such a prison, you know?  I look back at my life and think of all the missed opportunities because of my fears/insecurities/self-doubt.  I think I'm going to make a habit of conquering a fear part of my new  year resolutions every January 1st.  Wouldn't it be wonderful to wake up one day and feel fearless?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wild Salmon & Dill Spread

If you're Jewish, particularly if you're a Jew from New York, than you probably enjoy indulging once in a while (or often!) in a chewy bagel slathered in cream cheese, covered with a few slices of salty, buttery lox...and maybe garnished with a sprig of fresh dill, red onion, capers, cucumber and/or tomato slices.  Jewish deli food at its finest!

Cream cheese is found in a lot of Jewish dishes, and honestly, I love the stuff.  But it's not exactly a nutritional superstar.  High in fat and salt, low in protein and calcium, it doesn't really do the body good.  If you're looking for a better alternative, try quark!  What the heck is quark? It's a fresh cheese with the same consistency as cream cheese, but is low in sodium, low in fat, and high in calcium and protein.  It's an amazing versatile product that can be used as a base for spreads, like this one, or used in cooking and baking for both sweet or savoury recipes.  If you are not a big fan of mayo, you will also really love this as an alternative. 

Not only is this spread incredibly delicious, it's also healthy!  High in protein, omega-3 fats from the fish, and calcium, I filled a whole grain lavash with this spread, piled in some fresh baby arugula, and rolled it up. IT WAS AMAZING!  But this would also be great on bagels, crackers, or scooped on top of salad greens.  I am going to be making this again and again for sure!

Wild Salmon & Dill Spread

1 lb wild salmon fillets
zest of 1 lemon
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 tsp dried dill
1/8 tsp Herbamare or plain sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper

1/3 cup quark
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp dried dill
2 large or 3 small dill pickles, finely chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste

Season salmon fillets with lemon, garlic dill, salt and pepper and place on foil-lined baking sheet.  Bake at 425 for 8-12 minutes (depending on thickness of fillets), until desired doneness.  Let cool.  Place fillets in a medium bowl and mash with a fork.  Add remaining ingredients and season to taste.  Enjoy!  Keep in the fridge for 3-4 days.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Back to Yoga

Despite promises to myself, I fell off the wagon and stopped doing yoga for about 6 weeks.  Once my counselling practice picked up, it just got too difficult to schedule clients around the classes, and even when I didn't have client sessions, there always seemed something else to do: accounting, paperwork, errands, baking, volunteer obligations at the school/daycare. 

But, my friends, I paid the price.  My muscles got stiff, and one night when attempting to stretch them out, I re-injured my hamstring.  Although I heard a pop, and the onset of pain was rather sudden, I've healed enough by now that I'm pretty sure it wasn't a complete avulsion (tear), nevertheless, it's not feeling as good as it was before that incident.  Upping my L-Glutamine intake has helped, and I'm pleased that this time most activities feel fine, yet sitting still causes discomfort and that is a royal pain-in-the-ass.  Literally.  I finally get in to see my sportsmedicine doctor this week, so I'll find out if anything can be done at this point.  I doubt I am a candidate for another cortisone shot as they can further weaken the tendons.

So lesson learned.  This aging 38-year-old body needs yoga on a regular basis.  Getting to the JCC for my favorite classes isn't realistic, but I lack all motivation to do a practice at home because, up until now, I haven't found a DVD I LOVE, nor have I ever really enjoyed doing a practice at home. 

Well that's all changed my friends!  For $10 I recently purchased Flow Yoga: Strength & Flexibility on a whim.  I tired of all my other DVDs ages ago and stopped doing online classes because I find it annoying to watch the small screen on my computer (we have no Internet on our t.v.s).  I wanted to find something that would as closely as possible emulate the experience I get when I go for a real class.  I'd almost given up hope of finding the perfect DVD, but I'm telling you: I did!!

I actually enjoy this one so much, I really look forward to fitting in a practice a few times a week.  This one DVD provides so much variety, that I can never repeat the exact same routine for a few weeks.  It has an optional warm-up and cool-down, a general practice, and then routines that focus on: hips, legs, back bends, core, and arms.  The arms one actually focuses more on chest and shoulder openers, but whatever.  You can customize routines ranging from 15 minutes to 75 minutes.  I LOVE THIS DVD!!

The best thing is that the instructor's style of teaching and the sequences she uses are very similar to that of my favorite instructor at the JCC.  Her cueing is helpful and clear and the pace is perfect and level of difficulty is perfect for me.  The setting is also beautiful, inspiring and serene: it's filmed in Glacier National Park.  If you are looking for a great yoga DVD, this is the one!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Samko & Miko Toy and Book Sale

It's hard to believe that Hannukah is just a month away, and Christmas less than two months.  Especially since yesterday was a mild 18 celcius here in Toronto!  Unfortunately this warm weather is supposed to end by tonight.

Us Jews are pretty lucky this time of year.  Unless we've bought into the whole Make-Hannukah-a-Proxy-for-Christmas thing, than we don't have the same pressures to buy, buy, buy, that Christians do.

When I read stats on how much North Americans spend at Christmas, on average, and how many go into debt to do so, it really freaks me out.  I've heard from people about the family politics involved and how buying someone the wrong gift or spending too much or too little can cause a rift that lasts years.  Yikes, who needs it???

On the other hand, the Christmas season can be kind of a bummer for us non-celebrators.  It kind of feels like there is a big party going on and we're not invited.  While everyone else complains of being too busy with social events, gift shopping and home decorating.  We're kind of bored and lonesome.  That's why I'm glad we now go to Florida with Adam's folks every year.  We have a different, sunny, pool party all our own!

I also love that my mother-in-law hosts a Hannukah party for everybody.  This usually includes our family, Adam's sister's family, my brother and his family, my parents, if they are in town, and Adam's aunt and uncle and cousins, and their families.

We restrict the gift giving to the children, but the list of kids keeps growing every year (although I suspect almost everybody is done procreating at this point) and so does the shopping list.  For the second year, we hit the Samko & Miko Toy and Book Warehouse Sale.  It has a massive inventory of toys, books, arts and crafts, stuffed animals and small sports equipment.  The prices are fantastic and you are almost guaranteed to find something for every kid on your list.

The girls were in absolute heaven as we explored the warehouse.  Big A decided to spend some of her allowance money on a fashion doll, and Little A suckered Adam into buying her one too (since she doesn't yet get allowance).  The girls could not get home fast enough to play with their new toys.  Big A also bought her 'boyfriend' about a year's supply of Spiderman stickers for Hannukah.   The only thing I didn't find, that was on my list, was a dollhouse, which my parents want to buy the girls for Hannukah. There were some very small ones, but the girls want one big enough for their Barbies.

They have several locations across the GTA, as well as one in Ottawa and one in London, Ontario. If you live nearby one of them and you have a lot of holiday shopping to do, I encourage you to check it out.

Friday, November 9, 2012

And The World Turns...

Over the past few weeks Little A seems to have made some dramatic developmental leaps.  She decided to potty train herself at night and now wakes up most mornings with a dry pull-up.  And with almost no input from Adam and I!  After an absolutely astonishing feeding frenzy she also appears to have grown an inch.  But most wonderfully, she has been at her very best.  The Little A that spreads joy everywhere she goes.  Happy, jolly, fun, spirited, affectionate and funny.  Aside from Halloween, prior to trick-or-treating, she has had no fits or tantrums.  Little things that would have set her off in the past have elicited no adverse response at all.  Although she generally saves all her bad behaviour for Adam and I, even her daycare teachers, have noticed that she is particularly agreeable lately.  It's been wonderful.

And so, parenting has become effortless and blissful.  NOT!

All of a sudden, Big A is copping a bad-ass attitude. It's as if she is 6-going-on-16!  She completely ignores me and is extremely obnoxious, frequently trying to provoke me or Little A into a battle.

She doesn't pull these stunts as often with Adam, likely because: (1) I am around more, and most often the one dealing with 'transitions' during the day, and, (2) I suck at handling these situations. My mind just goes blank as to what to say and do when I am in a state of shock and outrage at her behaviour.  I know I have to nip it in the bud immediately, give consequences, and follow through with them.  But for some reason, in the heat of the moment, I just freeze.  I really suck at disciplining.

I try to remind myself that this too shall pass, as most stages do.  It's just a bit surprising to be dealing with this so early on.  Big A really does act like a 'tween', she is trying to grow up so fast, it's really alarming me. She's taken to wearing a tank top under her shirts every day so that people will see the straps and think she's wearing a bra.  Good grief, she's only 6!!  It's actually a big worry for me that she will hit puberty really early, given the physical and psychological risks associated with precocious puberty for girls.  I really do not want that to happen.

Honestly, from talking to other parents, I have concluded that parenting, regardless of the age of your children, is never easy.  Every stage seems to have it's fair share of challenges, and no one can get it right all the time.  I guess the key to successful parenting is to try your best, keep your sense of humour, and take a moment to appreciate the wonder of having children and be grateful for every minute it doesn't kill you!

Enjoy your weekend.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Japanese 7-Spice Kelp Noodles

I love trying new spices and seasonings, so I am very excited that the President's Choice Black Label line now has a bunch of new spice blends available.  My most recent find: Shichimi Togarashi, or Japanese 7-Spice blend.


It's a combination of crushed red chili flakes, sea salt, Szechiuan peppercorns, black and white sesame seeds, poppy seeds, orange zest, wasabi powder and nori seaweed flakes.

I make Japanese-inspired dishes all the time, but resort to the same old flavours most of the time: miso, soy, sesame, ginger and garlic.  I was so excited to be able to liven things up a bit.

This dish is easy and tasty, although be warned that this seasoning packs punch.  I used 1 tsp, which ended up being too spicy for me, and I have a high tolerance for heat!  I recommend 1/4-1/2 tsp, or, if you don't like heat at all, make your own at home and omit the red chili flakes.  You'll get all the flavour without the heat.

I served these noodles with a mix of seafood (shrimp, calamari, mussels and clams), but you can use cubed tofu, cooked adzuki beans, chicken, beef or fish as your protein instead.

Japanese 7-spice Kelp Noodles

1/2 can tomato paste
2 tbls soy/tamari/coconut aminos
4 tbls rice vinegar, divided
3 tbls finely chopped, fresh ginger
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4-1/2 tsp Japanese 7-spice blend
1-340g bag rainbow or broccoli slaw (or chopped veggies of choice)
1 bunch green onions, sliced
1-340g bag kelp noodles, drained, rinsed and snipped
Protein of choice (optional)

Whisk together ingredients for sauce (tomato paste, soy, and 2 tbls vinegar) and set aside.  Place kelp noodles into a skillet or wok, along with 2 tbls of vinegar, garlic, ginger, and spice blend and cook over medium heat until noodles soften.  Add sauce and remaining ingredients and cook until veggies are tender.  Makes 2 main dish servings or 4 side dish servings.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Gingerbread Latte

It's been so many years since I've been a regular customer of coffee shops, I sometimes forget how many folks visit a Starbucks or 'indie' equivalent every day.  When I remember this, I'm always astounded to think about how much money people spend on beverages every day, and on the amount of sugar, fat and calories they consume if they purchase the specialty drinks.

So if you love all the seasonal offerings in these places, but want to avoid blowing your whole gift-giving budget for the holidays, and slurping down a Big Mac worth of calories, I have the solution for you! 

This gingerbread latte can be made at home in seconds and is just as sweet and spicy as any you can buy.  It's also low-fat, low-calorie, and sugar-free and vegan, if you use non-dairy milk.  Drink up...

Gingerbread Latte

1 gingerbread tea bag
2 heaping tsp espresso powder
2 cups boiling water
2 tbls milk of choice
Liquid stevia, to taste (optional)
Ground cinnamon, to taste

Place tea bag and espresso powder in a large mug.  Add milk and sweetener, and pour in boiling water.  Steep for 4-5 minutes.  Remove tea bag and sprinkle the top with cinnamon. Voila!

So go save your wallet and your arteries, skip the sugar- and fat-laden beverage from the coffee shop and whip up one of these to celebrate Obama's victory!!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Banana Bread Bites (Vegan, Sugar-free & Gluten-Free)

Unlike most folks, I am so relieved when the oppressive, summer heat comes to an end.  Admittedly, we only had about 5 or 6 weeks of fall before winter weather started creeping in.  I know a lot of people experience low energy and mood in the winter.  I'm okay with it until about March when I've definitely had enough.  Right now, I'm still enjoying the return of the seasonal comfort foods I love like squash, pumpkin, root veggies, and everything cinnamon and spice.  I'm excited to dig out my sweaters and soft, comfy jeans and curl up with a hot cup of tea.
My energy levels are also sky high because I sleep so deeply in the chilly weather, and perhaps because of my now higher hemoglobin levels.  I didn't think I had any symptoms of anemia, but now I seriously feel like wonderwoman!  I'd like to also think that aside from the iron supplement, my energy is due to my stellar diet, and regular exercise, of course.
If you are finding your energy levels slagging already, perhaps this little snacky snack can help!

These are so amazing.  All the sweet tooths in this house loved them.  Even fussy, particular, unpredictable Little A.  What more do you need to know?

Banana Bread Bites

3 bananas, cut as thinly as possible
4 cups pitted honey dates
2 cups boiling water
1/2 cup freeze-dried bananas*
2 cups oats (gluten-free if necessary)
1 tbls lucuma powder (optional)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4-1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt, or to taste
Fresh ground nutmeg, to taste

Place banana slices on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper, sprayed with non-stick spray or lightly wiped with canola oil.  Bake in oven at 275F for about 35-40 minutes.  Let cool. 

While bananas are baking, cover dates with boiling water and let sit for 30 minutes.  Drain and let cool.  Place freeze-dried bananas in food processor and pulse until almost powder.  Add dates and pulse until dates break down.  Add all remaining ingredients, including banana slices, and pulse, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary, until dough comes together.  Chunks of banana and date are okay.  Roll into balls and refrigerate until firm.  Keep refrigerated for up to a week.

*The crunchy kind with no added sugar or oils.  These are usually available in health food stores, or in grocery stores as toddler snacks.

This recipe has been added to this week's Gluten-Free Friday on Vegetarian Mamma and Diet, Dessert & Dog's Wellness Weekend.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Health Warrier Chia Bars

So it's been just over a week since I started taking an iron supplement.  I am pleased to say I haven't had any adverse side-effects yet.  The plumbing is still working smoothly.  I have noticed that I have a bit more of a spring in my step, most notable in the mornings after I've had my coffee when I feel like I could scale a large mountain in a single bound.  Perhaps that's just the placebo effect, but yesterday several of my spinning participants came up after my class and asked how I could talk through teaching such an intense class and not be least bit winded.  Nevertheless, this extra energy hasn't interfered with my sleep as I feared, in fact, I've been sleeping really well lately, which I suspect is due to the chilly weather.  I always sleep better in cold weather.

If you are lacking energy, you should always see your doctor to rule out any medical problem, such as anemia, depression, or a thyroid condition, but you should also review your lifestyle to identify any energy-sapping culprits.  Poor nutrition, inadequate sleep, excess stress, and physical inactivity can all contribute to low energy.

I'll use that as a seguay to introducing a new snack that's now on the market.

Recently, I was sent a package of new Health Warrier bars to try.  These are small, 100-110 calorie snack bars that come in chocolate peanut butter, coconut, and berry flavours.  The bars are made from chia seeds and each one contains:

- 1000mg Omega 3
- 4g dietary fiber
- 3g plant-based protein
- 5 critical antioxidants

They are also gluten, dairy and soy free, 100% vegan, and 100% natural.

I gave a few to Adam to try and here is what he had to say:

"Most people look to protein/health-type bars to get the nutritional benefits in a convenient way that, ideally, does not remind them that they are eating healthy. The convenience is here with the Health Warrior bars – they’re small, low cal, an easy to digest – but the taste is not. Put simply, they taste much too healthy. These bars taste like soft sesame bars/sticks, so if one likes those things, then one will probably like these too. The three different flavours that I tried add only a limited amount of additional taste to what feels much more like eating a generic healthy bar than anything else. I might consider continuing to eat these because they are good for me, but I’d never look to them voluntarily as a healthy treat."

Given Adam's opinion that they taste 'too healthy', I wasn't even going to dare offering them to the girls.  I intended to save the rest for myself, but Big A spied them and asked if she could try them.  She chose the berry one, and gobbled it down in 2 seconds, declaring it, "Yummy!"  She hoovered down the coconut one just as quickly.  So, feeling brave, I offered the chocolate peanut butter flavour to picky, fussy, Little A, and, to my surprise, she devoured it almost as quickly and also claimed it was, "Delicious!"

So if you want a kid-friendly snack that is definitely more nutritious than your standard granola/snack bar, look no further.  Just keep in mind that these contain nuts, so they cannot be put in a lunch box.

Health Warrier bars are currently available online, and at Whole Foods Markets.

Disclaimer: I was sent these bars for free in exchange for the review, but all opinions on this blog are my own.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Fiesta Chili and Cheezy Rice Bowl (Vegan)

This is another great recipe for a crowd, or to give you several meals.  Healthy, economical, but most of all, YUMMY!

Don't be scared by what seems like a long ingredient list, once everything is prepped, you just dump all the stuff for the chili into the pot and let it cook.  Also, feel free to use your food processor to speed up the veggie chopping, like I did.

Fiesta Chili

1 large or 2 small onions, minced or finely diced
4 large, ripe tomatoes, diced, with juice (or 1-28oz can diced tomatoes, with juice)
2 carrots, diced
4 celery stalks, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, minced (optional)
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup cider vinegar
350g package tempeh, crumbled
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed (or 1.5 cups cooked beans), or kidney beans
1 cup fresh or frozen sweet corn
3-4 tbls taco seasoning (recipe below)
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
1 can tomato paste

Place everything into a large pot or skillet and simmer until veggies are desired doneness.  Serve over Cheezy Rice (recipe below).

Cheezy Rice

1.5 cups long grain brown rice
1 lb cubed, roasted butternut squash
2-3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
1/2 cup salsa
3 cups soy milk, or other plain, unsweetened, non-dairy milk
1 tbls lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste

Place rice and 3 cups water in pot, bring to a boil and then turn down heat and cook until water has been absorbed.  Meanwhile, place all remaining ingredients, reserving 1.5 cups of milk, in food processor and process until smooth.  Add additional milk, as needed, to thin out sauce.  Stir in about 1/2 of cheeze mixture into cooked rice.  Either freeze the rest or save for another purpose (great over baked potatoes or pasta too!).

Homemade Taco Seasoning

2 tbls chili powder
2 tbls paprika
2 tbls ground cumin
1 tbls oregano
1 tbls onion powder
1 tbls garlic powder
1 tbls salt
Cayenne pepper, to taste

This recipe has been entered into Diet, Dessert & Dogs' Wellness Weekend for November 1-5, 2012.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Halloween Hangover + Giveaway Winner Announced!

I'm a wee bit tired today.  So is Adam. 

Believe it or not, it's not because the girls were bouncing off the ceiling on sugar highs all night.  Nor is it because we were bouncing off the ceiling from sugar highs.

Nope, it's because Little A had a middle-of-the-night tantrum.  Yep, that's right.  In the middle of the night!

You see, she has suddenly decided to potty train herself at night.  Until a week ago, she was happy to fill her pull-up with pee while she slept.  Last week, she began waking up at night and calling us to take her to the bathroom.  Okay, no problem.  We went through this with Big A when she began night-time potty training.  It goes with the territory.

But last night, the call for help wasn't for a bathroom run.  It was to fix her blankets.  Little A has always been very particular about her blankets.  She has, up until last night. refused to sleep under her covers.  Instead, she has slept on top, covered by one of her baby blankets.  Last winter this whole arrangement got a bit out of control when she worked her way up from 1 to 5 blankets, which had to be arranged in a certain order, in a certain configuration each night, until Adam put his foot down and limited her to one blanket to stop the madness (delayed bedtime, shrieking fits when all was not perfect, etc.).  This weirdo child also likes to have her head covered entirely by blankets (as someone mildly claustraphobic, just the thought of this gives me chills), but the blanket she currently favours is no longer big enough to cover her from head to foot.  So in the middle of the night, she had Adam and I getting up multiple times to fix her blanket, get her a second baby blanket, and then FINALLY, when Adam was ready to toss Little A, her blankets and her entire bed out the window, she agreed to sleep under her quilt and sheets, like 'a big girl'.  Sigh!  At least in the end it was a victory.  Next, we're hoping she'll give up the side railing on her bed, which makes bed making a friggin' pain-in-the-ass.

Fortunately, I have a winner to announce for my Cutco Knife Giveaway: Devyn!!   Please email me (erica AT healthcounsellingtoronto DOT com) your full name and mailing address and you will be shipped your new knife directly.  Congratulations and thank you to everyone who entered.