Thursday, January 31, 2013

Karmaffins - Product Review

Recently I was sent samples of a new health food product called Karmaffins.  Actually, they were hand delivered to me by Tim Sinclair and Paul Do, two of the earnest men behind their development.

Karmaffins are gluten-free, refined sugar-free and nut-free muffins that come in four flavours:

1. Apple Cinnamon with Chia Seed
2. Belgian Chocolate with Banana
3. Smoothie Berry with Coconut
4. Orange Cinnamon and Mango

Now, I hardly ever buy muffins, cookies or cakes as I prefer to make my own.  Most of the commercially produced muffins you find in bakeries, coffee shops and grocery stores are no better than cake and just empty sugar, fat and white flour calories.   Even many of the ones sold at health food stores, while usually made with whole grains, still contain lots of sugar and oil.

Nevertheless, I know not everyone likes to bake, like I do, and everyone loves a good muffin for breakfast or with a cup of tea.  So I appreciate these products because they truly do offer a nutritious snack or part of a meal.

I tried them out on the whole family to see what everyone would think.  The Apple Cinnamon With Chia were the most popular among all of us.  They are dense and not remotely like the cakey ones you can buy, so if you and your peeps are used to that kind, you have to adjust your expectations.  These are neither sweet nor cakey. But I think we should all be trying to adjust our taste buds...I wish refined flours and sugars would be banned, frankly!

We found that keeping them frozen and defrosting for about 30-45 seconds in the microwave made them taste best, as when left to defrost overnight, they ended up being a tad bit dry.  The flavours are nice, but subtle.  These are not going to fool junk food lovers, but if you are used to eating natural, whole food products you may like these.

I think Big A and I enjoyed them the most.  Little A wouldn't touch the chocolate ones because they have a sprinkling of coconut on top, and she doesn't do coconut...or anything that resembles 'bits' of any kind.  She also objected to them being square rather than round.  But, hey, she's 3!  Adam thought they were just okay.

The muffins are full of good stuff, however, they are not vegan, nor organic.  The ingredients for the Apple Cinnamon ones are below:

U-Be-Livin-Smart™ Proprietary Super Food Blend: (Sweet Potato, Egg Whites, Avocado, Apple, Dates, Whey Protein Isolate, Orange, Banana, Blackberry, Cranberry, Blueberry, Pomegranate), Chia Seeds, Coconut, Natural Flavour, Cinnamon, Baking Soda, Baking Powder. Contains: Milk, Soy Lecithin, Eggs.

They have 130 calories per muffin, 2.5g fat, 3g fibre, 7g of protein, and 8g of sugar.  This is only 30 calories more than a Quaker chocolate chip granola bar, the same amount of sugar, but 2g more fibre, 6g more protein, and it's about 3x the weight of the granola bar.  If I had to choose one, I'd choose the Karmaffin!  It's made from wholesome ingredients, and it's likely to keep you energized and feeling satisfied for far longer than the granola bar will!

Overall, I would recommend them as a nutritious snack or part of a breakfast, if you are not into making homemade.  The other thing I like, is that the founders are intent on building a company that is socially conscious and dedicated to giving back to the community.

Will I be buying them? No, because I enjoy baking my own, like my own better, and it's far more economical to make them homemade.  But if you don't like baking and are looking for a healthier option than a granola or cereal bar, you may want to give these a try.

The gentlemen told me they are currently available at some grocery stores across the GTA and at local Whole Foods, and retail for about $5.99 for 4.

Disclaimer: I was given these products for free, but all opinions on this blog are my own.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Middle Eastern Spiced Chickpeas and Vegetables With Tahini Sauce


I love this combination of flavours, although if I'm honest, I would eat just about anything in a tahini sauce.  This meal went perfectly with Freekeh, but it is also perfect with brown rice, bulgur, or any other grain really.

Moroccan Spiced Chickpeas and Veggies

1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (or 1.5 cans cooked chickpeas)
2 red onions, thinly sliced
4-6 small zucchini, cut into 3 pieces, and then quartered
1-28oz can diced tomatoes
3-4 cloves garlic
1/4 cup red wine or pomegranate vinegar
1 tsp harissa Morroccan spice blend (optional)
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste

Place everything in a large, skillet set over medium heat and simmer until onions and zucchini are tender (30-40 minutes).  Turn heat down to low if liquid is absorbed before veggies are done.

Tahini Sauce

1/2 cup tahini
Juice of 2 lemons
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp ground cumin


Cooked grain of choice
1 bunch green onions, sliced

Take some cooked grains and place it on each plate.  Drizzle with tahini sauce and sprinkle with green onions.  Place some of the chickpeas and veggies on top and then drizzle more tahini sauce over top.  Serves 4-6 people.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Gettin' Freekeh!

I love grains.  Obviously.  I could never be on any diet that doesn't permit them.  I would literally go nuts.  I thought I was aware of most existing grains, even the more exotic ones, but I recently discovered a new one: Freekeh!  Okay, I guess it's not a new grain, as it is wheat, but it's young wheat that is dried and roasted.

Here's some info about it:

Freekeh (Pronounced Free – ka) has been appearing in recipes from as early as the 13th Century. It is a grain based food that is made from green wheat that has been dried, roasted and then “thrashed” or “rubbed” to make the flavour, texture and colour uniform. The result is an earthy, smoky grain that has a distinct flavour.  Freekeh is a delicious side dish and a great alternative to rice and other grains. Freekeh has up to four times the fibre of brown rice and provides more protein than mature wheat and most other grains. It is also a source of both prebiotics and probiotics and contains iron, zinc, potassium and calcium. Freekeh is also a low glycemic index food (Source).

I always love discovering new things, so I picked some up and used them in one of my go-to recipes instead of rice (I'll share it tomorrow).

It cooks up similar to rice and looks, to me, like a green-tinged cross between brown rice and barley.  It's got a nutty flavour and chewy flavour that I really enjoyed.  I think I'll be making it again!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Sugar Free, Gluten-Free & Vegan Red Velvet Cupcakes

Our lovely neighbour gave me some beautiful fresh beets from her organic delivery box this week.  I was just going to roast them up for dinner one night, but then I decided to go a little wild and experiment.

I put coconut in the frosting, which I know is not traditional, but I was basically just going through the pantry looking for any ingredients that are white and yummy.  Unfortunately, I forgot that Little A does not 'do' coconut, so she wouldn't even try them.  Big A liked them, but it was Adam with whom they were really a hit.  I'm pleased because he is not a big fan of healthy-tasting junk food.  He prefers junk-food tasting junk food.  That being said, I doubt you could pull off serving these to someone used to white flour, white sugar products.  But frankly, I think everyone should try to adjust their tastes away from such things.  Anyways, you knew this wasn't Paula Deen's blog, so what did you expect?  I omitted any sugar and added lots of fibre.  Oh, and just for the heck of it, made them vegan and gluten-free too.

If you don't like the idea of coconut icing, I am sure there are many other white icing options out there.  You might be able to sub the coconut oil and non-dairy cream cheese for all coconut butter, but I didn't have any.

I was surprised just how red the beets made these cupcakes.  These would be great for Valentine's Day!

Red Velvet Cupcakes

1 cup finely grated purple beets
1 cup stevia baking blend
2 chia or flax eggs (2 tbls ground chia or flax mixed with 6 tbls hot water)
1 cup non-dairy milk + 1 tbls cider vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1.5 cups buckwheat flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt

Blend all ingredients in food processor until batter is relatively smooth.  Divide into 12 greased muffin cups.  Bake at 375F for 16 minutes.  Let cool completely and then remove from pan and frost.

Coconut frosting

1/2 cup coconut butter, softened
1/2 cup non-dairy cream cheese
1 cup non-dairy milk
1 cup finely grated, unsweetened coconut
2 large scoops vanilla protein powder (70g)
1 tsp vanilla or coconut extract
1 tsp guar gum

Combine all ingredients for frosting in food processor.  Spread on top of cupcakes.

Keep cupcakes in an air tight container for up to 3 days or freeze.

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

Friday, January 25, 2013

Random Acts of Kindness

I have always loved helping others.  I have always done various forms of volunteer work since I was a kid - my favorite experience being a companion to seniors in a hospital when I was a Brownie.  I also got a credit in high school tutoring children with learning disabilities, an opportunity that taught be a number of valuable lessons.  I'm not a saint.  Really, it's somewhat self-interested actually, as helping others makes me feel good.

Unfortunately, as this blog documents, I lost my way.  I fell away from what is true to my heart and ended up in a career that was utterly meaningless to me.  I remember my anger, frustration and resentment of having to spend my days doing what felt like nothing more than helping other people (or companies and organizations) make more money.  If there was some sort of social value involved in the project, I was basically detached from it.  "Why would I ever care about this?"  I always wondering.  I didn't feel like what I was doing had any meaning nor was making any positive impact on the world in any significant way.  I felt empty, useless and wasted.

It was, of course, my experiences with infertility that gave me the impetus to leave my former career and get on track with what I love: helping people!  I love being a counsellor and I am grateful every day to have the opportunity to now do what I love. 

But I want to make a difference outside of my work, in my community too.  I have become a regular blood donor, because it is such an easy yet important thing to do and I am trying to volunteer more at Big A's school and the girls' daycare when possible.  Now, I've decided to try and join the Random Acts of Kindness movement.  I love the idea of making a real difference to someone's day simply by making a small gesture.  Imagine how different the world would be if each and every one of us decided to do so!

Yesterday, the girls and I passed the construction workers fixing the bridge near our house.  It was ass-kicking cold, and we discussed how awful it would be to have to work outside all day in that weather.  I immediately got thinking.  Is there an opportunity here to do something to make a difference?

Why yes, of course!  I decided to bring them each a cup of Mexican Spiced Hot Cocoa to warm them up on my way to catch the bus to work.

I wasn't sure if they were hot chocolate drinkers, but I figured, at the very least, the thought would mean something to them.  I carried them over in a box on which I scrawled, "Random Act of Kindness...Pass it on!"  As luck would have it, they were just getting back from lunch and were in the midst of parking their truck when I arrived.  I knocked on the window, and one of the men rolled it down.  "Are you the guys fixing the bridge?" I asked.  "Yes" they replied, looking scared.  I think they thought I was about to berate them for making noise.  "Well these are for you, stay warm today!" I said.  You should have seen the surprised smiles on their faces.  It totally made my day.

Unfortunately, I must have spent too much time whipping up the drinks because I missed my bus.  Ah well, it was so worth it, and after sprinting a few blocks in the opposite direction, I found another route to work.

It felt so good, I am going to try and do one Random Act of Kindness every week from now on.  I'm also trying to get the girls in on it and I told them they can come up with ideas too. Hopefully, declaring this publicly will keep me accountable!!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Visiting Doctor Google? Get a Second Opinion!

                                                                   Image Source

For much of my life I have struggled with anxiety.  In fact, following Little A's birth, it got so severe that I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), which I have described here.  Essentially, I had serious insomnia, constant intrusive thoughts (mostly disturbing ones about something bad happening to the girls or other loved ones), and a racing mind.  I was unable to listen to any music with lyrics for months because no matter what it was, and how much I liked or disliked the song, it would get stuck in my head and repeat like a broken record.  I obsessed about every little thing, and even developed obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).  I was consumed with worry about contamination - which began during my pregnancy with Big A, to some degree - and worsened to the point where I was constantly washing my hands, using hand sanitizer, trying to sanitize the girls, and avoiding touching any surface in public spaces as much as possible.

It was not pretty.  While few people suspected anything was wrong (for some reason even when I feel like I'm falling apart at the seams, apparently I appear like I'm functioning well.  This is both a blessing and a curse I suppose), this was a very difficult and dark period for me.  What was worse, is I had just begun my counselling training and wondered whether someone as 'crazy' as me could possibly be an effective counsellor.  Several months of cognitive-behavioural therapy with a wonderful psychologist, and a low dose of antidepressants that is useful for managing anxiety got me to a much better place. 

Having studied anxiety disorders during my training, I am aware of how difficult GAD can be to treat and I'm proud of myself for overcoming it.  But that doesn't mean I am not still vulnerable to bouts of anxiety and recently I was struggling a bit.  A few months ago it became all about my health.  Of course, this has always been a concern for me.  Ever since I was a kid, I have worried about my health.  But why now, in particular?  Maybe it's because I just turned 38.  Maybe it's because at my last physical in September the doctor:

1. Recommended I start getting mammograms in 2 years because of my mother's history;
2. Ordered me to get my cholesterol and blood sugar checked 'because of my age';
3. Didn't like the way a lesion on my back looked and sent me to my dermatologist;
4. Said women no longer need to get Pap tests done annually, but then saw in my records that I'd had LEEP surgery when I was 18, meaning that I'm a woman who DOES need one done every year.

Perhaps some people wouldn't be concerned about any of this. Truthfully, I am not the least bit worried about my cholesterol or blood sugar, but it's the part about needing to be tested 'because of my age' that bothers me. 

Actually, what worried me most was her concern about my back.  You see, I've been a little concerned about my back for a few months now.  You see, it's been itchy.  Very itchy.  Now, admittedly, I do have very sensitive skin, I am allergic to adhesive, and easily react to creams, fabrics, and clothing tags.  So I am often itchy.  But certain areas of my back have been constantly itchy since early summer.  At first I thought I had a bug bite, because I did have a little red bump, but after the scab (from my scratching) healed, the itchiness continued.  I was immediately concerned about skin cancer.  This is my next biggest health worry, besides breast cancer...and it probably doesn't help that Adam and I got into watching The Big C this summer!  I consulted doctor Google, but didn't find much evidence that my symptoms indicated any kind of skin cancer.  Phew!  However, when I asked my doctor to just have a look at my back, she said she didn't like 'the look' of the area where the scab had been.  When I asked if itchiness can be a symptom of skin cancers, she said it could be and told me to see my dermatologist.   I couldn't get in to see her for 2 weeks.

While I had been managing to keep my anxieties about this in check up to this point, this did not sit well with me.  I called Adam at work and told him I was dying of skin cancer (half joking...).  He replied, "Well I'm pretty busy right now, so could you do me a favour and plan out your funeral for me before you go?"  Okay, fair enough.  I didn't start totally obsessing or anything, and wasn't losing sleep - although I did have a nightmare that I had terminal liver cancer and had only weeks to live - but I was worrying quite a bit.  More than I wanted to.

Even though I knew I shouldn't, I went back for another consult with Dr. Google.  What is it about the Internet that is so alluring?  I know you should use extreme caution when searching for health information online, I'm a trained researcher!  But somehow it's just irresistable.  I suppose it's because you want information immediately, and few of us have access to health professionals at our whim.

Anyways, a little digging led me to some info suggesting that my itchy back could actually be a neurological thing.  At first I was comforted by this, but later got me stressed out again, when I read that it could be a symptom of multiple sclerosis.  My aunt had MS!

Inspite of this, I was able to actually get my anxiety under control at this point by using some of the cognitive-behavioural strategies I learned from the psychologist.  Partly this involved questioning whether my thoughts were evidence-based, or rational.  I reminded myself that when a toenail fell off last year, I was convinced I had a horrible fungal infection.  Pretty common, and being fairly educated on health matters, I was pretty certain about this. The dermatologist actually told me the nail had been damaged from all my physical activity.  She said she has runners coming in all the time with lots of missing toe nails.  Oh, admittedly, I had never even considered that! 

I also reminded myself of the time when I was first pregnant with Big A.  I had been using a BBT thermometer to track my ovulation.  For some stupid reason, I continued tracking my temps after I got the positive pregnancy test.  Anxious because of my miscarriage just a few months earlier, I freaked when one morning my temp seemed to drop.  I'd read SOMEWHERE online that this could be a sign of a miscarriage.  At 6am, I called my sister-in-law - the OB/GYN - woke her up, and in a state of hysteria spilled the whole story and my fears that I was miscarrying.  She patiently explained in her still half-asleep state that BBT should not be done once you are pregnant since it is unreliable, even at the best of times. 

So anyways, I was finally able to put my worries aside and take my mind off it - except when my back was really itchy - until my appointment with the dermatologist.  I explained my symptoms and said that while my family doctor didn't like the look of a scar/mark, I thought this might be a neurological issue.  She looked at my back and said she saw absolutely nothing of concern and that the scar was simply...a scar, from me scratching.  She said that it could be a neurological issue, that people often hold tension and have tight muscles in their upper backs and that the tight muscles press on nerves and cause what feels like itching.  She suggested stretching and maybe even getting a massage.  Wow, didn't see that coming!

But a few weeks later I figured out the cause of the lesion myself.  My favorite nightie, that I was washing several times a week so I could wear it every night, has metal parts on the straps (like bra straps).  I sleep on my left side most of the time, and the metal piece was pressing into my flesh and causing a reaction.  I stopped wearing the nighty and voila, the lesion cleared up completely. 

Okay so lesson learned:  You can learn useful medical information online, but you should never use it to self-diagnose (get a second opinion from a real health care professional!).

If you are going to use the Internet to research a health condition, stick to credible sites such as non-profit advocacy or research organizations, government, and educational institutions.  Most importantly, try not to panic until you know for certain what you are dealing with!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Ginger Wasabi Almonds

My spicy chili almonds have become a staple snack for Adam while he is at work. Replacing his more processed snacks with this healthier option has helped him get his cholesterol back down to safe levels. But just as importantly, he loves them. When he returned his empty almond jar to me this week, I decided to mix things up and try a new seasoning option. These still have a kick, but they are also 100% oil free! Oh, and there's nothing better than a wee bit of wasabi when you have a stuffy nose. Makes these a perfect snack for cold and flu season. Just make sure you have a box of tissues handy when you munch on them!

Ginger Wasabi Almonds

4 cups almonds
2 tbls soy sauce/tamari/coconut aminos
1/2 tsp wasabi powder
1/2 tsp ground ginger
Pinch of Japanese 7 spice (optional)
Salt, to taste

Toss everything together in a large bowl. When almonds are well coated, spread on a baking sheet and bake at 350F for 8-10 minutes. Make sure they don't burn!! Keep in an air-tight container for up to 3 months.

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

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Low-Fat & Vegan Mac & Cheese With Sundried Tomatoes, Kale and Zucchini

Last weekend Adam and I had a lovely dinner with some of his colleagues.  The hosts are foodies and put out an incredible spread that included all sorts of antipasti and cheeses to start, as well as fois gras (Adam and I skipped this course), and then roast chicken, peas and cauliflower, and an amazing rice pilaf with figs that I am going to have to try and recreate.  There was chocolate, more cheese, cake, lemon ice, and fresh fruit for dessert.  They also had EVERY kind of alcohol on hand, including the best champagne I've ever tasted.  I was good and had 2 glasses of champagne and then quit, despite being offered wine, liquor, and other drinks.

One of the guests indulged in everything except anything involving vegetables.  He explained - while his wife rolled her eyes - that he doesn't eat ANYTHING green.  "Sheesh, you'd HATE my cooking!" I laughed.  It's true.  I can't really make anything without finding a way to toss in as much vegetable matter as possible.  But I do this for 2 reasons.  One, vegetables are good for you and generally increase the nutritional content and decrease the caloric content of meals, and two, I love veggies! 

So anyway, all this to say, that this is one of my typical recipe adaptations.  I often make Angela's Butternut Mac & Cheese, but sub cauliflower for the squash and it's a favorite of both Adam and I, however, when I came across this one from Susan on Fat Free Vegan, I knew I had to try it.  In my own way, of course.  What appealed to me is that it doesn't require a food processor, which means less to clean, and it's lighter because it uses just 2 tbls of tahini, rather than a large quantity of cashews.  Then I fiddled around with the seasoning a bit, and added sundried tomatoes, sauteed kale, and roasted zucchini.  I was very pleased with the results and so was Adam.  This is definitely going to be a staple around here.   Perfect, healthy comfort food to keep us going through the winter!

Other veggies that would be great are green peas, spinach, roasted red peppers, roasted tomatoes, or even brussels sprouts.

Low-Fat and Vegan Mac & Cheese With Sundried Tomatoes, Kale and Zucchini (Adapted from this recipe)

1 lb whole grain short pasta

946ml carton, unsweetened, organic soy milk
3/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 tbls lemon juice
1 tsp salt
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp prepared dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tbls tahini
Pinch cayenne
2 tbls corn or arrowroot starch
2 tsp miso

Bunch kale, washed and torn into pieces
4-6 small zucchini, cut into thirds, and then each third, cut lengthwise into quarters
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup julienned sundried tomatoes, not packed in oil

Toss zucchini with vinegar, seasoning and garlic.  Place on foil-lined baking sheet and roast at 350F for about 30-40 minutes.

Cook pasta according to package directions.

Place 2 cups soy milk in a saucepan, set over medium heat, along with everything except starch and miso.   Whisk together and bring to a boil.  Meanwhile, whisk together remaining soy milk and starch.  Add to pot and whisk until sauce thickens.  Turn off heat and whisk in miso.

In a hot skillet, saute kale along with sundried tomatoes.  Add roasted zucchini and hot pasta.  Toss with desired amount of sauce.  Makes 4 servings.

Monday, January 21, 2013

No Quick Fixes

A few weeks ago I got the results of my latest MRI: Small tears present in my tendon at the point where the left hamstring attaches to my pelvis. So unlike the MRIs last year that indicated swelling, there now are some small tears. Fortunately, nothing that warrants surgery, but unfortunately, nothing that can be fixed easily either.

My sports medicine doctor suggested two treatments, neither of which is guaranteed to work: PRP therapy, and shock wave treatment.

PRP is when they take some of your blood, and spin it to concentrate the platelets that contain growth factors that can stimulate healing. Then they inject it back into the site of the injury. Sounds delightful, doesn't it?

Shockwave treatment involves administering pulses of high-pressure sound that travel through the skin in order to stimulate healing. He admitted it was a crap-shoot which one might have a better chance of working and both are super expensive.

In the end, I decided to give PRP a try, because, well, it's popular among elite athletes, so I figured if it's good enough for them, it's good enough for me. Ha! I can't really use that reasoning until I'm making the same salary as a professional athlete!! I made an appointment for PRP, or so I thought. When I showed up last week, it turned out to just be a consult, but that turned out to be a blessing. Unlike my sports med doctor, this guy spoke as if PRP is a sure cure, however, he admitted that it might take more than one treatment, and each treatment is $600, not covered by OHIP or private insurance!!! I walked out having serious second thoughts. The shock wave treatment doesn't seem like a great option either. Just as expensive and no guarantees it will work.

So I was kind of feeling stuck in limbo trying to decide what to do about my stupid tendonitis. Meanwhile, I saw a friend of mine who is a marathoner and has chronic problems with one knee. She said her orthopedic surgeon, who works with the Toronto Blue Jays, told her that PRP is a bunch of huey, not supported by science. Hmm!

Ironically, over the past few weeks, the pain has been the worst it's been in a very, very long time. Although, really its not ironic. I know exactly why: I have been doing a lot of what I shouldn't do (sitting) and none of what I need to do (yoga). It's no surprise I'm paying the price. I was diligent, before the holidays of getting 2 yoga practices in per week, using my new favorite DVD But I haven't done it since we left for Florida for 2 reasons. First, work has been much busier, and second, I've taken on a lot more writing commitments, which takes time and requires sitting for long periods. One of my new writing gigs is doing gym reviews for BlogTO. At first they were sending me to mostly yoga and pilates studios, which allowed me to sub my yoga DVDs with similar classes, but lately I'm being sent for some very different types of training (I'll write more about that later), that has been more about strength and endurance and much less about stretching.

Going to aerial yoga this past weekend was just what I needed, but I could feel just how compromised is my balance and flexibility due to the pain and tightness in my hamstrings. I've had my two one-on-one consultations required prior to beginning my meditation program, and I'm thrilled that it involves a lot of yoga. I'm really hoping I can intregrate a meditation practice with my yoga.

So, all this to say, I've realized there really is not quick fix. I love the idea of a procedure that will cure the problem and won't require any further thought about my damn hamstrings, but I don't think that's going to happen. The reality is, I can manage the condition very well by sticking with my yoga and taking extra L-Glutamine (I love that stuff) when I have flare-ups. Yes, it's going to take time, patience and diligence, but, most things that have value, involve hard work, no?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Freakin' Freezing Friday

Holy crap it's cold today!  Toronto is really not a good place to live if you hate temperature extremes:  stinking hot in the summer and ass-kicking cold in the winter.  But to be honest, I'll take the cold over the heat.  At least warming up can be fun with some comforting hot drinks and a cosy fireplace!  Also, there are added bonuses to the colder weather like not having to deal with frizzy hair, and not having to coat your entire body every morning in sun block (which of course you all do every day on every part of your body exposed to the sun...right?!?).

Image Source

Despite the chilly weather, the sun is shining bright, which is good because I'm in a snit right now.  Blogger is no longer allowing me to upload pictures from my computer.  I wasted far too much time already this morning trying to fix the problem but have not succeeded.  Fabulous!

Such frustrations are just what I need on what is the beginning of a crazy busy weekend.  But it's all good. 

Today is nuts.  I have a consult w ith the head nurse from one of the fertility clinics I work with this morning, then I am meeting with Lucinda Sykes, in preparation for the meditation course I'm starting with her soon, then I have several appointments with clients.  Tomorrow  I am doing another aerial yoga class (yipee!), Big A has gymnastics, and then we have a landscaper coming to discuss our plans for our front yard this coming spring.  Saturday night Adam and I actually have a date - we are having dinner with some of his colleagues - so my in-laws are babysitting the girls.  Sunday I teach my spinning class at the JCC, Big A has Hebrew School and Fitkids class, and Little A has swimming.  Sunday afternoon, Big A is going to her boyfriend's 5th birthday party and then we have to take the girls to the mall because they both need new shoes.

What do you have planned this weekend?  What to you do to get through the cold winter months?

Well my friends, have a great weekend.  Keep warm and carry on...

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Lemon and Garlic Roasted Potatoes

Adam loves it when I make anything involving meat and/or potatoes.  This is kind of funny to me, because I would NEVER describe him as a typical 'meat and potatoes man', but he was brought up on traditional Ashkanazi Jewish cuisine, which is, essentially, a lot of meat and potatoes.  So while I may never get him dancing with joy over beans and grains, he's still pretty easy to please.  Simple roasted potatoes and he's smiling.  These are extra special because of the lemon, garlic and seasoning which makes them irresistable.  Also, they are 100% oil free, which means you can eat them guilt free.  How 'bout them apples???

Potatoes get a bad rap, but the reality is, they are full of fibre, vitamins and minerals and can easily fit into a healthy diet.  It's not usually potatoes that are problematic, but the way they are prepared.  I make potatoes a lot at home, but I never order them in restaurants because they are always fried or prepared with copious amounts of oil and/or butter.  Honestly, all the added fat is so unnecessary, honestly, give these a try and you'll be pleasantly surprised!

Lemon and Garlic Roasted Potatoes

2 lb small new potatoes, halved or quartered (depending on their size)
Juice and zest of a lemon
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp Costco brand Rustic Tuscan Seasoning (or Mrs. Dash, or regular Italian seasoning, or Herb de Provences, rosemary, dill or whatever fresh herbs you love...really anything will work here)
1/4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp konjac flour (or corn or arrowroot starch)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Toss potatoes with other ingredients in a large bowl.  Place in a single layer on parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 350F for about 40 minutes, or until potatoes are cooked through and outside is crispy.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Cooking with Quinoa for Dummies: Book Review

Cooking with Quinoa For Dummies (1118447808) cover image

You would literally have to be living under a rock to not have heard about quinoa.  In case you have been sleeping under boulders, quinoa is a seed that cooks up like a grain and is gluten-free and high in protein and fibre, making it perfect for people on a gluten-free diet, vegetarians and vegans, or anyone interested in healthy eating.  It is also kosher for Passover, which has made that holiday much more tolerable for many Jews!  It has been a staple in parts of South America for ages, but just recently gained popularity here.  I have been using it as an alternative to rice or other grain, as well as baking with quinoa flour at Passover and using quinoa flakes for baking and cooking.

A few weeks ago, I was sent Cooking with Quinoa for Dummies to review.  It was written by Cheryl Forberg, a registered dietitian in the U.S. who has worked as the nutritionist for the NBC show The Biggest Loser.  This is not much of a selling feature for me as I can't stand that type of reality show, however she is apparently also a James Beard Award-winning chef and New York Times bestselling author.  That definitely impresses me more!

Now, I personally don't use cookbooks that much, because (1) if I'm searching for how to make something specific, it is often quicker to search online, and (2) more often than not, I prefer to create my own recipes.  Nevertheless, I like to look at them now and again for inspiration.  What's nice about this book, is that it is not just a cookbook, it is also a guide for how to cook quinoa and ways to use it.

Forberg provides a lot of information about the origins of quinoa, something the sociologist in me appreciates.  She also includes a lot of information about it's nutrition and the health benefits.  In addition, there are recipe sections that include: soups, salads and appetizers, main courses, snacks and desserts.

Overall, I wasn't too impressed with the recipes.  A lot of them are fairly standard recipes into which she incorporates quinoa for no apparent reason.  For example, adding quinoa into a quesadilla filling.  Why?  If you have cheese and whole grain tortillas, you've got protein and fibre, and if you have a bean filling with a whole grain tortolla, you've got protein and fibre.  So I'm not sure why you'd want to add quinoa to that.  In other cases, the recipes are basic pastas that she swaps out regular pasta for quinoa pasta.  You can do that with any pasta recipe, I don't really need someone to show me how to do that!  A lot of the recipes also use prepared quinoa polenta, a product that I've never seen in Canada. 

Although I wasn't inspired by most of her recipes, I did learn a few new ways to use quinoa, that had never occurred to me before: using cooked quinoa as a crispy coating for meat, tofu or vegetables, and using cooked quinoa in baked goods (rather than using quinoa flour).  I value new ideas, so I'm excited to try these, but, likely will incorporate the techniques into my own recipes.

All of the recipes are gluten-free, however, only one chapter is devoted to vegetarians and vegans while there are entire chapters devoted each to seafood, poultry, and meat.  This book is ideal for someone who is not yet familiar with quinoa, and/or someone who is attempting a gluten-free diet, and is concerned about nutrition quality.  So many gluten-free commercially-made products are nutritionally void, not to mention crazy expensive.  This book can help you develop a repetoire of gluten-free, nutritious meals for you and your family.  If you are a quinoa dummy, you just may want to pick up a copy!

Disclaimer: I was sent this book for free, however, all opinions expressed on this blog are my own.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Monkey Muffins (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Low-Fat and Sugar Free Banana Muffins)

This is probably the healthiest banana muffin recipe you'll find, but they are also super-duper delicious.  I guarantee it. But don`t just take my word for it.  Adam loved them.  Little A and Big A loved them, but so did Little A's good friend F, and his mom who were over for playdate - folks who are not necessarily used to all the crazy healthy stuff we eat in our house.  Within a very short period of time, two-thirds of the batch had been devoured.  The next morning, the remaining ones disappeared.  Sweet, moist and delish.  I'm definitely going to be making these again!

Monkey Muffins

4 large, ripe bananas
2 chia eggs, or flax eggs (2 ground chia or flax + 6 tbls hot water)
1/2 cup xylitol or stevia baking blend (or coconut sugar, if you prefer)
2 droppers full of liquid stevia, or adjust to taste
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon juice
2 cups gluten-free oat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Whisk together wet ingredients in a large bowl.  Stir together dry ingredients in a small bowl.  Add dry to wet and stir until well mixed.  Divide between greased muffin cups and bake at 375F for 14 minutes.  Let cool and then remove from pan.  Makes 12 muffins.  Extras can be frozen, but they may disappear quickly if you too have a few monkeys in your house!

I have entered this recipe into Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten-Free Friday and Diet, Dessert & Dogs' Wellness Weekend.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Orange You Glad It's Not Pop?

I have always told people that one of the easiest changes they can make to their diet to lose weight and improve their health is to stop drinking calories.

Eat fruit instead of juice.  Skip the whip cream, whole milk and sugar syrups in your coffee drinks.  Alcohol should be consumed in moderation and should be considered a treat, NOT part of a healthy lifestyle.  Sorry folks! And pop (soda, if you're in the U.S.)?  Well, come on, who doesn't know by now that it's bad for your health?  Aside from all the sugar and calories, it usually contains some scary ingredients such as caramel colour, brominated vegetable oil, and phosphoric acid.  Even if you go for diet sodas, a lot of these chemicals are still present.

But hey, I understand the appeal of soda.  Sometimes there is nothing more refreshing and palate cleansing than something with bubbles.  I've been known on occasion to give in and drink a diet Dr. Pepper or diet ginger ale, but I try to do this as seldom as possible.  Instead, I usually reach for a club soda with a twist of lemon or lime, or a Zevia.  My problem, however, is often when my craving for bubbles hits, we have no fresh citrus in the house.  The other is that Zevia, a better alternative to conventional pop, is really expensive.  So, I was intrigued by a product I spied at Essence of Life - probably my second favorite health food store in Toronto - the other day. True Orange (also available in Lemon and Lime), claims to be 0 calorie/0 sugar packets of crystallized orange that can be used to flavour your beverages, cooking and baking.  At $3.99 for 32 packets, it was certainly more cost effective than Zevia, which costs at least $1 a can!  I also thought perhaps the girls might like it, since we don't routinely allow them to drink juice.

The box describes 1 packet as providing the orange flavour equivilent of 1 orange wedge, while 2 packets is akin to 1 tbls orange, and 8 packets is equal to 1 whole orange. 

I tested it out by adding 1 packet to a glass of plain seltzer and found it was sufficient to make it orangy and sweet enough for me.  If you are used to drinking much sweeter beverages, you can add more packets.  I like that I can use it in a pinch should I have no fresh citrus in the house.  It's also perfect for travel or if you are just on the go.

The one thing that's odd is that the last ingredient is organic evaporated cane juice, which is a fancy name for sugar.  I'm guessing that there must be so little of it, that it adds negligible nutritive value to a packet, but I have to wonder if this could add up significantly if you are using multiple packets at once.  In any case, this is a much better option that sugared pop!  They do sell some products specifically for flavouring water that are sweetened with stevia, but they are more expensive.

If one of your resolutions for the new year is to cut out pop, you might want to give this a try.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Changing Perspective on Parenting


I had an epiphany recently: I am an imperfect parent, I do many things wrong...but that doesn't make me a 'bad' parent, and just possibly I'm a good parent.

If you read all my parenting posts, then you know I spend a lot of time berating myself because of all my parenting weaknesses and mistakes. 

One of the things that bothers me most is how much like my own parents I am in certain ways: impatient, distracted, task-oriented and very career-focused.  I remember always promising myself that I would be a more 'fun' parent than my own were.  But frankly, I don't think I'm always so fun.  In fact, I believe the girls both consider Adam to be the fun parent.  I think I've made a lot of improvements in this area through my efforts to manage my anxiety and stress, but I probably still have a ways to go.

A lot of things necessary for effective parenting besides patience,  also don't come naturally to me.  Like discipline and not personalizing defiance and conflict.  I really have to work on this stuff, which seems to come so easily for others.

Nevertheless, I have realized that there are at least a few things, I think, as a parent, that I am doing right.

My epiphany occurred because of a few recent events.  First, on the way to school/daycare a few weeks ago, Little A was shrieking as if I'd just pulled off her toenails with plyers.  Why?  Because I was in the middle of a conversation with Big A and she was interrupting.  I told her to allow me to finish my conversation with Big A and then I would be happy to address her.  She was not satisfied with this, and insisted she had to talk to me right away.  Then she started screaming.  As we approached the school, one of their daycare teachers passed us and asked Little A what was wrong.  I explained the situation.  She looked and me and shook her head and said, "Wow, I don't know how you do it, I always see you trying to manage them in the hallway and you always look so calm!"  Ha ha!  Calm?  I couldn't believe it!  Most of the time I feel like I'm about to do this:

But it struck me: even when I'm feeling anxious and out-of-control on the inside, I'm actually keeping it together most of the time.  Admittedly, I do raise my voice on occasion.  But I also manage NOT to react a lot of the time too.  And that's something, right? 

I grew up in a home where yelling was the norm.  I mean ALL THE TIME.  My parents at us, and at each other.  And by the way, excessive parental conflict is extremely damaging for children.  In fact, if a child feels unsafe, it can be considered child abuse these days.  When I told my parents this fact recently they were floored.  "We just thought it was better to get everything out in the open", my dad said.  While there may be a genetic component to my anxiety issues, I can guarantee you that having explosive parents also contributed.

I am very proud to say that Adam and I never fight in front of the girls.  Actually we don't fight much period.  But aside from snapping here and there, and only occasionally, we never fight in front of them.  I know the girls feel safe and comfortable at home with us and trust that they are in a stable family.  Any time I complain that they are much less well behaved with Adam and I than anyone else, I am told that this is likely because they feel so much security with us.  A double-edged sword for us, I suppose, but definitely good for them.

Adam and I also never discuss our financial concerns in front of the children, something my mother did incessantly, which only added to my anxiety and feelings of insecurity as a kid.  We are careful to try and teach the girls about the value of money, but we would never want them to feel worried about our financial situation.

The other thing that happened recently, is my mom brought a bag of old pictures and writing of mine from when I was a kid that she found in their house.  There was a note pad I had turned into a book which featured two best girl friends as the central characters.  Each page details some aspect of these characters and their lives.  As I flipped through it, I was increasingly disturbed.  I describe one of them as thin and the other as fat.  I even list their heights and weights. Throughout the book, it is the thin girl who has the nicer clothes and house and gets the better marks.  I was only a few years older than Big A when I made this book.  As upsetting as it was to see this association with thin = good in me from such a young age, I wasn't surprised.  I was aware of my mother dieting from the time I was very small.  In fact, I remember telling her I was going to diet with her when I was 5.  My grandma Ruth also monitered my food intake from day one, and frequently warned me not to get fat.  She often criticized my mother's weight in my presence and my mother turned around and began to warn me about getting fat as soon as I hit puberty.

So there's something else I'm doing right: I NEVER EVER EVER talk about my weight or body shape in front of the girls, nor do I discuss food in the context of weight, nor do I comment on ANYBODY'S weight or shape in front of them.  They're both young right now, but neither of them ever talk about weight.  Big A, who is heavier than most of her friends (and taller too), is not the least bit self-conscious or self-critical, nor does she even seem to be aware of this.  I know this may all change as she gets older.  But I know I am doing everything I can do to make sure my girls love themselves and don't judge themselves or others for how they look or how much they weigh.  And you know what?  That's another thing I'm doing right!

I'm not saying I am not going to continue striving to be a better parent and to work on my weak areas, but I am going to try and stop focusing ONLY on my weak areas and try to acknowledge some of my strengths.  Heck, I need to be in a positive headspace over the next few months, because Adam is going to be away for a few lengthy work trips.  In particular, he is going to be away for 17 days in February, which will be the longest period of time I will be a lone parent to date.  Gulp!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Sundried Tomato Pasta Sauce

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This is another vegan recipe that was a total hit with my meat-loving husband.  Ah, success! 
Comforting and satisfying and incredibly delicious.  The sauce contains beans, but the bean-haters in your life will never know...they'll be too focused on enjoying this rich, flavourful dish.

Sundried Tomato Pasta Sauce

1 lb whole grain short/gluten-free pasta

1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
175g sundried tomatoes, not in oil
1 can romano or white kidney beans, rinsed and drained (or 1.5 cups cooked beans)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2-3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 cup vegetable stock or water
2 tsp Rustic Tuscan Seasoning from Costco (or Italian Seasoning)
Crushed red chili flakes, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 cups reserved pasta cooking liquid

Optional: Roasted or sauteed veggies of choice (I used roasted zucchini and bell peppers, and garlic-sauteed kale - pictured below) and/or garnish with a few handfuls of fresh chopped parsley and/or basil.

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Cook pasta according to package directions, or until al dente.  Reserve at least 2 cups of the cooking liquid before draining.  Place all the ingredients for the sauce in a food processor and process until smooth.  Add reserved pasta cooking liquid, a little at a time until desired consistency is reached.  Toss with cooked pasta and any additional veggies/add-ins.  Serves 4.  Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 4 days, or frozen.

I've entered this recipe into Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten-Free Friday for January 10, 2013.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Chocolate Treasure Cookies (Vegan + Gluten-Free)

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I have been dying to try my hand at some gluten-free baked goods.  It irks me when people assume that just because something is gluten-free, or vegan, or organic, that this means it is healthy.  Many commercially-made gluten-free products are made with white rice flour and corn starch, arrowroot starch or other binders, and are low in fibre and nutrition. 

This was my first attempt at gluten-free cookies that don't contain nuts or oat flour and they turned out great!  One of my sister-in-laws said these cookies taste like cookie dough.  Aside from being gluten-free, they contain whole grain brown rice flour, and no refined sugar.

If you want to dress them up, you could drizzle melted chocolate over them, once they have cooled.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Treasure Cookies

2 chia eggs (2 tbls sprouted ground chia seeds + 6 tbls hot water)*
4 tbls coconut oil (softened to room temp, but not melted)
1 cup xylitol or stevia baking blend
1/3 cup coconut sugar
1.5 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups brown rice flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp guar gum
1/2 tsp konjac flour
1/2 tsp salt

130-150g dark chocolate squares, chocolate chips, or mini filled chocolate candies (peanut butter cups, etc.)*

Place chia eggs, oil, sweeteners and vanilla in food processor and blend until smooth.  Add dry ingredients and pulse until dough comes together.  Form into small balls and press several chocolate chips/candies or a square of chocolate into the middle, making sure the entire thing is covered with dough.  Place balls on a greased baking sheet and bake at 350F for 14 minutes, or until golden.  Let cool and then remove from pan.  Makes 32.  Keep in air tight container for up to 3 weeks or freeze.

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*Flax eggs might work too.

This recipe has been entered into Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten-Free Friday.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Stir Fried Snap Peas with Mango and Black Beans

I love snap peas.  They are one of the few veggies I really love eating raw, they make such a great snack.  So much so, that I don't usually cook with them.  But recently I've had a hankering to stir fry them.  So I did.  And boy am I glad I did.  This was so yummy.  Even Adam gave it top marks, and when he praises a vegan dish, you know it's a winner!  Of course, adding some natural sweetness from fruit always makes vegan savoury dishes more appealing to him.  On top of being delicious, this recipe could not be easier to make.

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Stir Fry

2 lbs snap peas, washed and trimmed, as needed
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed (or 1.5 cups cooked black beans)
2 cups fresh or frozen mango chunks


2 heaping tbls fermented black bean paste*
1/4 cup all-fruit/sugar free orange or apricot spread
1/4 cup rice vinegar
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 tbls finely chopped fresh ginger
Crushed red chili peppers, to taste (optional)

Whisk together all the ingredients for the sauce.  Add peas, beans and mango to a large skillet or wok and pour in sauce, stir fry until snap peas are tender-crisp and everything is hot.  Serve over brown rice.  Serves 4 as a main dish.

*Black bean paste is quite high in sodium, so taste the dish before you add any additional salt.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Get a Fit Fix (For Your Kids)

Recently I wrote a review of Fit Fix for the Huffington Post.  Fit Fix is a personal training studio in the Yonge & Eglinton neighbourhood of Toronto owned by husband and wife team, Jonathan and Tania Skelcher.  Their clientele range in age from kids to seniors, however, they recently expanded their business to include FitFix Junior, which provides specialized fitness programs, camps and birthday parties for children aged 18 months to 12 years.

Following my first visit, Jonathan generously offered to have me bring the girls to check out their new facility and do a private class with Michelle Deremo, manager of Fit Fix Junior.  We booked our visit for this past Saturday morning.  Unfortunately, Little A had a major meltdown 5 minutes after we arrived and stubbornly continued to sulk, cry, scream, kick her legs and whine the entire time we were there.  Just what you want from your child when people are meeting her for the first time!  Needless to say she ended up not participating in the class at all and completely mortified me. 

Big A, however, was wonderful.  She was not at all intimidated to do the class as a one-on-one session with Michelle - a certified ECE and personal trainer - and followed direction very well.  She had an amazing time and was very disappointed when the class was over.  She begged me to bring her back.  Adam and I are discussing whether to sign her up for their March Break camp or replace her gymnastics with a Saturday class next year, or enroll her in their summer camp for a week this summer.  Somehow we'll have to get her back, because she absolutely LOVED it!

The focus in these classes is not on playing a sport, but on mastering various aspects of fitness, appropriate to kids developmental stage, and to educate them about physical activity and health.  Obviously I LOVE THAT!!!!  Michelle put A through a cardio warm-up, then did a series of strength activities with her, followed by some cardio and some hand/eye coordination drills.  It was the coordination drills that really impressed me.  Given what a poor athlete I was with a kid - and paid the price because of it in a competitive, althetically-oriented school - something like this class would have been perfect for me.  Michelle also did some balance drills with her on the BOSU ball, some stretching, and some climbing on their climbing wall.  Big A got a great workout, but more importantly, she had FUN.  Michelle did an amazing job of using analagies that Big A could relate to, to explain how to perform various exercises and movements.   I also love the fact that the focus in these classes on on fitness and fun and not on winning or losing.  It's also not about competition, and for some kids, thats ideal.

Unfortunately, I spent the entire class trying to keep Little A from disrupting everything.  Her tantrum began because she didn't like the particular water bottle I brought for her from home.  After about 30 straight minutes screaming about that, she just began to scream that she wanted to go home 'RIGHT NOW'.  It was really embarrassing!  She continued to be a monster after we left, while we were in the health food store down the street getting them a snack, and during the whole walk to the bus stop.  Then, a few minutes after we boarded the bus, it was like a switch, and she was her delightful, happy, alter ego.  Grr!

In any case, families living in the neighbourhood are really lucky to have such a wonderful facility.  Even though we don't live nearby, Big A had such a great time, that we're going to have to find a way to get her to a class or camp very soon!  If you live in Toronto, check it out!

Fit Fix: 2409 Yonge St. Suite 201. Toronto, Ontario M4P 2E7 (416) 322-6770

Friday, January 4, 2013

Going Over to the Dark Side (of Chocolate!)

I've admitted several times on this blog that I am not a true chocoholic.  Believe it or not, you can actually find the term in the dictionary, which defintes a chocoholic as: a person who craves or compulsively consumes chocolate.

I know lots of chocolohics, including my mom, my mother-in-law, and Adam. 

While I have always liked, or maybe even loved chocolate I know I don't qualify as a chocoholic because I don't often crave it.  Actually, I am not one to 'crave' particular foods very often at all aside from when I was pregnant.  In fact, as my diet has improved over the years, I get cravings less and less often.  Also, chocolate has not often been my first choice for sweets.  I generally prefer spicy stuff like gingerbread, oatmeal raisin cookies and carrot cake.  Also, REAL chocoholics like the good stuff: the darkest of dark chocolates; expensive; artisanal; local, or imported from somewhere like Belgium or Switzerland, etc.  Me? I can't stand chocolate ice cream or chocolate that's been in the freezer.  In other words chocolate that is hard and crunchy is not my thing.  I ONLY liked plain milk chocolate, and Dairy Milk was just fine by me, as was a Hershey Bar.  And even then, it had to be soft and melty, never frozen.  Unfortunately, milk chocolate retains virtually none of the health benefits of chocolate.  I knew it was possible to transition my taste buds to dark, but since I try to avoid sugar as much as possible, it wasn't high on my list of priorities to make myself love something that still should be eaten in moderation.  So I've just not eaten that much chocolate on a regular basis.

Recently, however, this all changed!  I noticed myself appreciating semi-sweet and even dark chocolate a bit more.  Then, my parents bought me a bar of milk chocolate from Stubbe, a chocolate shop in our neighbourhood that is one of  the best in Toronto.  I eagerly chomped into it and then paused in surprise...even this fine milk chocolate didn't taste chocolatey enough!  It almost tasted like vanilla to me.  I couldn't believe it.  For the first time ever, I found milk chocolate disappointing.

My mind started buzzing...if I like dark chocolate, I can eat more chocolate, because it's HEALTHY after all!  Of course, there is still all the added sugar in most dark chocolate, so I decided to start making my own stevia sweetened chocolate.  Yep, I've been tinkering in the kitchen and the results so far have been outstanding.  So much so, that I have to hide my goods from the other 3 folks in my house who will fight me for my chocolate should they see it.  That's right, I am now hiding dark chocolate in a secret stash...Dare I say I may be becoming a chocoholic??

Don't worry, eventually I will share these recipes eventually but in the meantime, I'm keeping it all to myself!

Meanwhile, there may be a lot of choco-therapy happening around here this weekend.  Big A recovered from her strep right before we left for Florida, however, Little A now seems to have come down with something.  Today is the last day of Adam's holiday - it's been so amazing having him home more - and he's got to spend it taking care of our little monkey.  I've got to work today and won't be home much, so, unfortunately, he's going to be on his own with her for much of it.  Fortunately, she's definitely more chipper, and seemingly less uncomfortable than she was last night, so hopefully all our weekend plans aren't completely shot.  Here's wishing you a happy first weekend of 2013!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Banana Bread Granola (Vegan + Sugar-Free)

We've been a granola-free household since we devoured the Black Forest batch I made.  I haven't felt like making the usual and lacked inspiration for something new.  So I headed to my favorite health food store and explored the aisles.  It was the Funky Monkey snacks that gave me the idea.  These snacks are made from 100% organic, freeze-dried fruit and nothing else.  I purchased 2 bags of the Bananamon (banana cinnamon) flavour.

Product Details

Hmm, banana granola...with cinnamon.  Yep, that sounded good, and I knew all the monkeys in my household would love it too.

This makes a lot, because it disappears quickly, and it's a great thing to share with friends and neighbours, but feel free to cut the recipe in half, if you wish.

Banana Bread Granola

1 kg large flake oats (gluten-free, if necessary)
2 tbls chia seeds
2-128 ml pouches, or a heaping cup of organic banana puree (baby food)
2 droppers full of stevia liquid, or to taste
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Fresh grated nutmeg
24g freeze dried banana snacks
1 cup raisins (and/or dried cranberries/blueberries/cherries and/or toasted walnuts or pecans)

Stir together oats, chia seeds, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl.  Add banana puree, stevia and vanilla, and stir until well mixed.  Spread on 2 large baking sheets and bake in the oven for about 25-27 minutes until golden, stirring at least 3 times, and rotating sheets from top to bottom racks.  Let cool and add banana snacks and any additional fruit and nuts you wish.  Keeps in an air-tight container for 3 months.

I think this recipe ranks up there as one of my all-time favorite granolas.  And the girls seem to feel the same.  Makes a delicious and relatively guilt-free breakfast or snack that can fit in to all your health-related new year resolutions!

This recipe has been entered into Diet, Dessert & Dogs'  Wellness Weekend and Urban Naturale's Plant Based Pot Luck Party.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Vegan Stuffed Mushrooms (Gluten-Free Option)

This year our annual New Year's Day drop-in party was a busy one!  Every year I vary what I serve, but this time around the menu included:
  • Homemade mini tomato basil pizzas
  • Stuffed Mushrooms
  • My vegetarian maki sushi
  • Baby carrots and snap peas
  • Clementines
  • Chocolate dipped strawberries
  • Chips, popcorn, and pretzels
  • Several types of nuts
  • Shasha spelt ginger snaps and whole grain cheese crackers for the kids
  • Homemade rice crispy squares
  • Wine, juice and mulled apple cider
The stuffed mushrooms were a new experiment, and they went over very well.  Makes a great appetizer and they are simple to make.

Vegan Stuffed Mushrooms

3.5 lbs stuffer mushrooms (I had 32 mushrooms)
2 cups whole grain or gluten-free cracker crumbs (measured after crushing crackers, if making your own)
1 cup oil-packed sundried tomatoes, drained
2 cups fresh basil
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
4 tbls balsamic vinegar
2 tsp Rustic Tuscan seasoning from Costco (or Italian seasoning)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients for stuffing in food processor until it comes together.  Pull out stems from mushrooms and carefully wash and pat them dry.  Pack about a tablespoon, or so of stuffing into each.  Place on parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 375F for 40-45 minutes, lightly covering them with foil after the first 20 minutes.  Serve warm or room temperature.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Goal for 2013: Mindfulness

GOOD MORNING!  If just seeing those letters in caps is giving you a headache, you might want to check out these hangover remedies.  Just when many of you were probably heading to bed after your new year revelries, Adam and I were getting up to workout.  Yeah, I know, we're a bit nuts around here.

You might say that both of us are a wee bit on the Type A, obsessive-compulsive, perfectionistic, OCD side.  I have always been very organized and task-oriented, but over the last couple of years, my ability to complete tasks has declined.  Increasingly, I have become distracted, scattered and my short-term memory is totally shot.  If I don't write everything down, it's almost instantly in one ear, and out the other.  It's become so bad that when my good friend Emily, who is a genetic counsellor specializing in dementia, was visiting last summer, I told her I thought I was losing my mind.  She told me she frequently has women, not much older than us, coming into her office, concerned that they are experiencing cognitive impairment.  She explained that most often, it is simply stress and too many distractions.  Essentially never focusing enough attention on any one thing.  I realized that this is completely ME. 

I never used to have a problem with focus.  Back in university, even with music and television in the background, and a party next door, I could sit down and write a paper, hand it in without even proof-reading it, and pull off an A.  But the world has changed a lot since then.  I didn't own a cell phone, and I didn't even use email or the Internet until 1997! 

Now, if I sit down at my computer to write something, it's unusual that I complete it without my cell phone ringing and a client booking an appointment.  I then flip from my document to my Google Calendar to put in the appointment.  Then I get a 'ping' indicating a new email, I check the email and that sends me off in a whole new direction, returning an email, doing an Internet search for some piece of information, and then, since I work at home a lot, the doorbell might ring with a package that's arrived, then the dryer buzzes, because I threw a load of laundry in, then I notice the skirt of Big A's laying on the table - that's been there for 3 weeks - with the hem needing stitching and just as I pick it up, the phone rings again, etc., etc.  What's started to happen far too often, is that I didn't actually put the appointment into my Google Calendar.  Or I did, but wrote in the wrong office location where I'm meeting my client.  While forgetting to hem a skirt is not such a big deal, screwing up client appointments is.  I decided something has got to change.  So my goal for 2013 is to master the art of mindfulness.

You've probably heard the term mindfulness before.  The definition, according to Wikipedia is:

...a spiritual or psychological faculty that is considered to be of great importance in the path to enlightenment according to the teaching of the Buddha. It is one of the seven factors of enlightenment. "Correct" or "right" mindfulness is the seventh element of the noble eightfold path. Mindfulness meditation can also be traced back to the earlier Upanishads, part of Hindu scripture.
Enlightenment is a state of being in which greed, hatred and delusion have been overcome, abandoned and are absent from the mind. Mindfulness, which, among other things, is an attentive awareness of the reality of things (especially of the present moment) is an antidote to delusion and is considered as such a 'power'. This faculty becomes a power in particular when it is coupled with clear comprehension of whatever is taking place.
The Buddha advocated that one should establish mindfulness in one's day-to-day life maintaining as much as possible a calm awareness of one's bodily functions, sensations (feelings), objects of consciousness (thoughts and perceptions), and consciousness itself. The practice of mindfulness supports analysis resulting in the arising of wisdom.  A key innovative teaching of the Buddha was that meditative stabilisation must be combined with liberating discernment.
In order to reach my goal, I am enlisting some professional help.  I've registered for the Meditation for Health program, run by Dr. Lucinda Sykes.  It involves 2 one-on-one sessions, followed by a 5 week group course. 

I am actually really excited as I think learning these skills will help me - and those around me - greatly.  Not only do I hope to become more focused and organized professionally, but also more present for my children.  I am determined to get out of my head and back into my life!

What are your goals for 2013?