Friday, March 29, 2013

No-Bake Double Chocolate Passover Torte (Vegan & Gluten-Free)

Happy Good Friday!  I have a delicious discovery to share with you today.

I wanted to make Angela's No-Bake Double Chocolate Torte for Passover last year but never got around to it.  After all, she claims, "I’m often asked what my favourite vegan dessert is, the dessert that is a dazzler, crowd pleaser, and would fool even the toughest vegan dessert skeptic." And skeptics there are in Adam's family, so I was eager to test it out at a seder.  It also contains avocados which everyone, except Adam's sister and I, claim to hate.  I suspected this would be one dish with the little green fruit that would win everyone over.

So I made it this year.  I made a few adjustments, but kept the recipe pretty similar overall.  I swapped out maple syrup for agave because I think it's a waste to use maple syrup when you are not showcasing the flavour and for this dessert, it's the chocolate you want shining through.  I also swapped the peanut butter for almond butter since peanuts are not permitted at Passover.

I did some research and apparently arrowroot starch is okay for Passover, but, hey, I'm no rabbi.

Oh, and how did it go over?  Let's just say it lives up to the hype.  Even my father-in-law, who is probably the most difficult to please, ate 4 pieces!!!  By the time I snapped a few pics, it was half gone.  I think I will be making this again.

No-Bake Double Chocolate Passover Torte (Find the original recipe here)

No Bake Chocolate Crust:
  • 2 cups pecans
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup agave syrup
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt

Chocolate Avocado Mousse:
  • 2 cups avocado flesh (approx 3 small avocados), pitted and scooped out
  • 1/3 cup almond milk (or other non-dairy milk)
  • 2/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 tbsp smooth almond butter
  • 1 tbsp arrowroot powder
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 250g bag dark chocolate chips, melted
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder, sifted if clumpy
1. Crust: Oil a 7-10 inch springform pan and line it with a circle of parchment paper. In a food processor, pulse the pecans until crumbly. Be careful not to over process them as you still want them a bit chunky. Now add in the rest of the crust ingredients and pulse until just mixed. Scoop mixture onto prepared pan and press down firmly and evenly with slightly wet fingers or a spatula. Pop into freezer to set while making the mousse.

2. Chocolate mousse: Place all mousse ingredients (except chocolate chips) into food processor. Process until smooth. In a small bowl, melt your chocolate chips in the microwave and scoop melted chocolate into food processor mixture. Process until smooth.

3. Remove crust from freezer and scoop this mousse on top of crust. Smooth out as much as possible and then place in the freezer for 2 hours to firm.

4. Once firm, remove from freezer and allow to sit on the counter for about 5-10 minutes before serving chilled. Place leftover torte in the freezer wrapped and placed in a seal container.

Note that this torte should be served chilled as it gets soft at room temperature.

If you are celebrating Easter this weekend, have a wonderful holiday.  We have some lovely plans ourselves for this 4-day weekend (although I have to see clients today and tomorrow).  Today the indoor amusement park...unless the weather is too beautiful to be inside at all, Saturday errands, Sunday we are going to take the girls to a movie because it is supposed to rain, Monday morning playdate at my bro's house.  If the weather is nice I suspect the girls and my niece and nephew will play in the park across the street.  Then I'm hoping we can fit in a Costco trip in the afternoon. 

My random act of kindness this week is the following:  A woman Adam and I have known for years, who used to run the fitness program at the JCC, lost her husband on March 31st, 11 years ago.  This year is the first time since then that Easter has fallen on that date.  She mentioned to me when I saw her last week how hard the day will be for her.  So Adam and I are going to pick up some beautiful flowers and deliver them to her door with a card from us to let her know we're thinking of her. Since his passing, this amazing woman has raised a son by herself and built a successful first aid/cpr training business.  She's quite an inspiration.

We aspire to...act with the eyes and heart of compassion.  We know the happiness of others in our own happiness...We know that every word, every look, every action, and every smile can bring happiness to others.
- Thich Nhat Hanh

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Chocobanana Macaroons

Macaroons are such a classic Passover treat.  Although what I remember from my childhood are those yucky store-bought Manachevitz ones:

These are so much better. Better for you and way, way better tasting.  Oh, and honestly they're simple to make.  No reason to reserve them for Passover either.  Gluten-free and perfect for Easter too!

Chocobanana Macaroons

2 egg whites
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup agave syrup
2 heaping tbls cocoa powder
1 ripe banana, mashed
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbls coconut oil, melted
250g bag unsweetened coconut

Whip eggs with salt until stiff peaks form.  Add remaining ingredients and mix until it all comes together.  Pack mixture firmly into ice cream scoop and drop balls onto parchment paper lined baking sheet.  Bake at 350F for 20-22 minutes.  Let cool completely and then remove from pan.  Store in air tight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Orange Spiced Sweet Potato Wedges

I'm currently obsessed with sweet potatoes.  I've always liked them, but for some reason I just wasn't making them very often.  That's changed my friends.  Any way you roast them, they are guaranteed to be candy-sweet and delicious.  You can tinker with the seasoning, but garam masala goes perfectly with them.  This was one of the side-dishes I brought to our sedar last night.

Orange Spiced Sweet Potatoes

6 medium sweet potatoes, cut into thin wedges
Zest and juice of 1 large or 2 small navel oranges
1 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp kosher salt

Toss sweet potatoes with juice and seasonings.  Place in single layer on parchment-lined baking sheets.  Bake at 400F for 35 minutes, rotating sheets and switching from top to bottom rack half way through.

This recipe has been submitted to Diet, Dessert & Dogs' Wellness Weekend.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Vanilla Cherry Almond Quinola

This is so yummy it doesn't need to be just for Passover. Or for individuals who avoid gluten.  Or for people who like healthy food.  It's good for anyone, anytime.

When it was baking, Big A ran into the kitchen to find out what I was making because it smelled so good. Even picky-pants Little A liked it and had a tantrum when I told her we were waiting until Passover to start eating it.  Well, Passover's now here, so dig in!

Enjoy a handful as a snack or serve with milk or yogurt.

Vanilla Cherry Almond Quinola

180g bag puffed quinoa
1 cup chopped almonds
1-2/3 cups unsweetened dried cherries
1/4 cup almond butter
1/4 cup agave or coconut nectar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup apple sauce
1/4 tsp sea salt

Place quinoa and almonds in a large bowl.  Whisk together almond butter, agave and vanilla in a small sauce pan over medium heat until smooth.  Remove from heat and pour over quinoa and almonds.  Add apple sauce and salt and toss everything together until well combined.  Spread mixture evenly over two non-stick baking sheets.  Bake at 350F for 15 minutes, stirring and rotating baking sheets every 5 minutes.  Let cool.  Toss in dried cherries.  Store in an air tight container.

This recipe has been shared with Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten-Free Friday and Diet, Dessert & Dogs Wellness Weekend for Easter Weekend 2013!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Apple Cinnamon Quinoa Breakfast Porridge

Since Adam usually eats oatmeal for breakfast, I thought I would create a quinoa porridge for him this year for Passover.  After all, it's still freakin' cold here, so I know he will appreciate something hot to eat in the morning.

A few years ago I bought him quinoa flakes to make porridge with and it was a big failure.  The smell made both of us gag, and he thought the texture was awful too.  In contrast, using the quinoa intact produces an absolutely delicious hot cereal.  If apple cinnamon isn't your thing, you could do orange zest and cranberry, cherry and almond extract, apricot and ginger.  The options are endless!

What's nice, is you can make this ahead of time and reheat as needed for a quick, satisfying breakfast.

Apple Cinnamon Quinoa Breakfast Porridge

1-946 ml carton of unsweetened, plain or vanilla almond or coconut milk
1/2 cup xylitol, coconut sugar or liquid stevia, to taste
1/2 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped out
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt, to taste
2 cups quinoa, rinsed
1 cup unsweetened, dried apples, chopped or diced
1/4 cup unsweetened raisins

Place milk, sweetener, vanilla pod and seeds, cinnamon and salt in a large pot.  Cover and bring to a low boil over medium heat.  Add quinoa and turn heat down to med/low.  Cover and cook until quinoa softens and porridge starts to thicken.  Add fruit and stir.  Recover pot and turn off heat.  Let sit for 10-15 minutes.  Serve with additional milk and/or sprinkle of cinnamon, if desired.  Keep refrigerated for 4-5 days.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Passover Chocolate Chip Cookie Squares

It's hard to believe, but Passover starts Monday night!  So here begins this year's collection of recipes and I'm starting with an oldie but goodie.

I haven't made these in a few years because each Passover I end up experimenting with new recipes, but this one is Adam's favorite and he's been disappointed when I didn't whip them up the last couple of Pesachs.  So I decided to indulge him.  And you will want to indulge too.  Sweet, chewy and chocolatey.  This recipe isn't so healthy because of all the sugar, but my attempts to healthify them have failed.  At least they are a once a year treat.  These really do taste like ooey, gooey, chewy chocolate chip cookies, but are made with only matzo meal (100% whole wheat, of course).  Hey, even if you don't celebrate Passover you might want to give them a try because they are so darn easy to make and yummy. 

Just note that the ones in the photo above were still hot when I took them out of the pan, which you should NOT do, which is why they are falling apart.  Have more patience than I did and let them cool completely first!

Passover Chocolate Chip Cookie Squares

1.5 cups whole wheat matzo meal
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
4 egg whites or 2 whole eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips (semi-sweet or dark)

Whisk together sugar, eggs, vanilla and salt.  Stir in matzo meal and chocolate chips.  Scrape batter into a 9x9 square pan that has been sprayed with non-stick spray.  Bake at 350F for about 30-35 minutes, until edges turn golden and centre is firm to the touch.  Remove from oven and let cool completely.  Take a sharp knife and cut into squares.  Makes 32 squares.

So once again no stellar random acts of kindness to report this week.  For some reason each day it just felt like time was slipping through my fingers like sand.  My mindfulness/meditation practice has hit some snags.  Theoretically I love the concept, but putting it all into practice - for me - is pretty challenging.  I've also been feeling pretty down-in-the-dumps.  My resilience to winter has finally collapsed and my annual end-of-winter depression has begun.  I don't know what depresses me more, this cold, grey, snowy weather or the fact that we will likely only get a few days of real spring before we move into the stupid heat and humidity of summer.  I'm trying to turn around my sullen mood by being grateful that we don't experience many natural disasters around here.  Glass half full, glass half full...

Anyways, I did discover a cool website called  It's where you can create a petition to try to stimulate social change on an issue that matters to you, or by signing a petition someone else has already created.  I found a couple there and signed them to show my support.  How about you, what are you going to do?

If you live for love you spread kindness and compassion everywhere you go.  When you stop believing in your heart, you are but a sterile vessel wndering in the wilderness.
- Francis Hegmeyer

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Roasted Sweet Potato, Kale and White Bean Salad With Orange-Balsamic Dressing

This is a complete meal in one bowl, full of nutrition and yumminess.  It can be made ahead and packed up for lunch since the kale is hearty and doesn't get limp and soggy like lettuce does.  This salad is sweet, satisfying and flavourful.  I think this is definitely going to be added to my roster of rotating workday lunch options!

Roasted Sweet Potato, Kale and White Bean Salad

1 large or 2 small heads kale, washed and torn into pieces
2 large sweet potatos, roasted and diced (remove skin if desired, but I kept it on), still warm or reheated
1 can white kidney beans or romano beans, drained and rinsed

Orange-Balsamic Dressing

Juice of 2 oranges
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
4 tbls red wine vinegar
1 heaping tbls dijon mustard
1/4 tsp konjac root flour or guar gum or xantham gum
Salt and pepper, to taste

For the dressing, place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth and creamy (will thicken as it sits).  Pour half of dressing over salad ingredients in a large bowl and toss.  Let salad sit at least 10 minutes to absorb and develop flavours and tenderize the kale.

Remaining dressing can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.

Salad serves 2 for a main, or 4 for a side.

This recipe has been submitted to Diet, Dessert & Dogs' Wellness Weekend.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Find Your Fitness

Living a sedentary life?

Didn't you know that sitting is the new smoking?

What the heck does that mean?  It means we are starting to realize just how many chronic illnesses and deaths could be prevented if people would get up and move more.

Unfortunately, the majority of North Americans are still not getting enough physical activity.

There are, of course, many contributing factors.  Where you live can determine your fitness levels.  People who live in rural or suburban areas that require cars to get around tend to get less exercise.  Individuals in underpriviledged communities may have access to fewer recreational resources and/or may need to avoid public areas for personal safety reasons. 

But some people just say they lack time.  Honestly, this isn't a decent excuse.  To me, this is another way to say, "I am unwilling to make it a priority".

But it should be a priority.  Why?  Long-term physical and mental health is very much dependent on fitness.  You don't have to run marathons, but you should move your body.  For 60 or so minutes.  Every day.

There are others who say they just dislike exercise.  It's you folk I am speaking to today.  First of all, we ALL need to do things we dislike sometimes.  For example, I hate flossing.  But I do it anyways, every night because I know it is critical for maintaining oral, and overall health.  In addition, I find it hard to believe that someone can hate every single activity involving physical movement.  Really?  Come on?

A few months ago I was hired by BlogTO to review fitness facilities across Toronto.  I know, awesome, eh??  It has been so much fun!!  I have also been exposed to a wide variety of workouts the run the gamet from gentle to completely ass-kicking.  Some take place in gorgeous studios and provide all the bells and whistles.  Some take place in bare-bones spaces where the focus is entirely on fitness and pampering is absent from the equation.  I've loved almost all of these experiences.  But it's also proved to me that there really is something for everyone when it comes to fitness.

My favorite was definitely the Muay Thai class I tried at Krudar.  Partially this is because I found the punching and kicking involved in this martial art incredibly cathartic, and partially because I adored the atmosphere at Krudar.  It attracts both males and females and was so welcoming and inclusive.  What a wonderful community to be a part of.  In fact, I'm hoping to bring the girls in to try their kids classes soon!

I also was pleasantly surprised by some of the exercises such as the Lagree Method and Fitwall, which I thought might just be gimicky, but truly offered incredible workouts.

There were some fairly standard yoga and barre studios housed in gorgeous spaces that dazzle the eye, as well as some really serious workouts that are so intense you are barely aware of your surroundings.

Some of these places were full of young, beautiful people in Lululemon.  Some full of sweaty folks in sweats.  Some were more impersonal, while others were clearly tight-knit communities.  Some had mirrors everywhere, while others had none at all.  Whatever you're looking for, it's out there.

Are these places expensive?  Yes.  A group fitness class in Toronto will generally run you $18/class or more, depending on if you buy a single or a package.  Personal training anywhere is a small fortune.  So if money is an issue, should you throw up your hands...and crawl back to the couch?

No!  How about walking?  Cycling?  Running?  Swimming at a community centre?  Fitness DVDs in your home?  You really don't need much space or equipment to get fit.

It really is use it or lose it folks, but it's never too late to find your fitness.

For the full list of my reviews click here.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Weighing the Evidence

Here in North America, as in many industrialized areas of the world, we are obsessed with weight.   The diet, fitness and weight-loss industries are worth billions of dollars, however, regardless of what new 'miracle' weight loss products or diets hit the market, our obesity epidemic continues to worsen.

The unfortunate reality is that most of us care more about our weight for aesthetic reasons than for health reasons.  This is certainly not surprising since our culture is fat-phobic and literally obsessed with thinness.  A higher BMI can mean social exclusion and system discrimination.  If you are lucky enough to be able to buck the pressures to obtain a particular body shape or appearance, than you may still wonder, are there any benefits to being 'thin' over being 'fat'?

For the most part it's been accepted that being overweight correlates with a greater risk of many chronic illnesses such as Type II diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers.  However, if you follow media reports on health, than you may recall a large study published in the Journal of Americal Medical Association concluded that people in the overweight and Grade 1 obesity categories were at LOWER risk of mortality from all causes than those in the normal body weight category.

So does that mean we should all start skipping our spin classes and spreading the butter on our bread again?

No.  Sorry.

As the Nutrition Action Healthletter points out, this study was seriously flawed.  It did not exclude current or former smokers.  Because smoking increases metabolism and depresses appetite, smokers are often leaner, however, their risk of mortality is significantly higher.  It also did not exclude individuals who already have a serious illness, and they too are often leaner because many illnesses cause people to lose weight.  This study should have segmented different age groups significant weight loss among older people is often an indicator of a not-yet diagnosed health problem.

The Nutrition Action Healthletter also points out two other important factors.  First, when the media went nuts over this and started printing all their headlines, many better studies, which ALL consistently find a positive correlation between weight status and risk of death.  Furthermore, it is worth noting that living longer should not always be the ultimate goal, while living well should be.  In other words, does it matter if you live an extra 4 years if you are in chronic pain and totally dependent on others to function?

Unfortunately, we have loads of data that has found a link between excess weight and the risk of many chronic illnesses and death.  So while it is not necessary to obtain supermodel dimensions (for many of us that would be just as unhealthy as being overweight!), it is extremely important to health and long-term wellness to maintain a healthy weight.  Forget about just looking good (Billy Crystal had it wrong, it's better to feel good than to look good!), focus on being healthy and I promise you, you will be beautiful.

And what's the best way to do so?

It always, always, always comes down to the same things:

1. Aim to exercise for 60 minutes a day and avoid sitting for long periods of time.
2. Keep your waist under 35 inches, if you are a woman, and 40 inches if you are a man.
3. Eat a balanced diet that includes lots of fresh fruits and veggies, lean proteins and healthy fats, and avoids processed/refined foods, sugar, and saturated/trans fats.  Avoid liquid calories.
4. Get adequate sleep and practice stress management techniques.

And what about gluten? The Paleo diet? Cleanses?  Low-carb? Intermittent fasting?

The reality is, that there is no one best way to lose or maintain a healthy weight.  Ultimately, you have to achieve the correct energy balance for your body and do so by adopting healthy lifestyle habits that you enjoy and can sustain long-term.

Oh, and if long-term health and well-being is not enough motivation for you to: Stop smoking; Exercise; Lose Weight, etc., than maybe money is?

Recently I renewed my life insurance, so had to undergo extensive medical testing.  My results for everything (blood sugars, blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol, etc.) were so good, that the insurance company voluntarily lowered my premiums!  How 'bout them apples?

Need help figuring this all out?  Visit my professional website and make an appointment, I can help!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Sweet and Sour Turkey (or Tempeh) with Millet

It's a cold, cold Monday.  Spring officially starts Thursday but the weather report is calling for crappy weather all week.  Sigh!  See, this is why I hate March!  We'll have yucky, winter-like weather, about 2 minutes of spring, and then go right into the extreme heat and humidity of summer.  Hmmph!

At least the cold is a good excuse to cook up some yummy comfort food.

Rice ranks up there as one of my favorite foods.  So I've been trying to ignore reports about high levels of naturally occurring arsenic in rice for a while, but the piece about it in the most recent Nutrition Action Healthletter scared me enough to try to cut back.  They recommend no more than 2 cups of any kind of rice per week.  Gasp!  I can easy shovel down that much in a single sitting!


So I grabbed some millet at the health food store the other day.  I've been meaning to try it for a while, and this gave me the perfect push.  Like quinoa and rice, millet is gluten-free and it cooks up much like rice.  I read that it has a bit of a natural sweetness to it, so I thought it would pair well with this recipe.  I was right, this was a winner.  Admittedly, however, I can't say I like it as much as rice.  It doesn't have the same chewy, toothsomeness of rice.  But I am going to make a bigger effort to mix it up a bit more.  I'll definitely be making this again!

My mind is also buzzing with other uses for millet...a sweet breakfast porridge...desserts...stay tuned!

Sweet and Sour Turkey (or Tempeh)

1 lb skinnless, boneless turkey breast, cut into strips or 350g block of tempeh, cut into strips*
1 onion, sliced
1 fennel bulb, cored and sliced
1/2 cabbage, thinly sliced
2-3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 cup fruit sweetened raspberry jam/spread
2 heaping tbls dijon mustard
1/2 tsp Herbamare or regular sea salt
1 can tomato paste
Crushed chili flakes, to taste (optional)

Place onion, fennel, cabbage, garlic and vinegar in a large skillet or pot and cover.  Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes.  Add jam, mustard, and seasonings and continue cooking until veggies are softened.  Add tomato paste and turkey (or tempeh) and cook over medium/low heat until meat is cooked through.  Serve over millet.


1 cup millet
2 cups water

Place water in a pot over high heat and cover.  Bring to a boil and add millet.  Turn heat to medium/low, re-cover and cook about 35-40 minutes until liquid has been absorbed.  Makes 4 servings with Sweet and Sour Turkey.

*If you prefer to use turkey thighs or other dark meat, you can brown it first before adding veggies.  If you use the breasts however, do add after so they don't dry out.

This recipe has been submitted to Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten-Free Friday.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Mindfulness for Picky Eaters?

During the Raisin Exercise we did during my first mindfulness session, I had an epiphany: Perhaps mindfulness can be used to help kids overcome picky eating habits!

You see, mindfulness is growing in popularity as a means of improving people's relationship with food.  In most cases, however, it's ultimate goal is to get people to eat less by, perhaps, realizing that they can be satisfied by smaller portions, or that a donut is not worth the calories, because when they eat one mindfully they realize it doesn't actually taste that good, etc.

But during our exercise, something else happened.  One woman in the group admitted that she was dreading it because she hated raisins.  As we did the exercise, however, she realized that she simply finds them ugly.  When she took the time to really focus her attention on the experience of eating one, however, she discovered that she actually finds they have a pleasant taste.  This got my mind going...

If you are a parent, then you know that kids often draw prejudicial conclusions about foods because they don't like the name (eggplant!), or the colour, or the texture, etc.  So maybe showing children how to eat something mindfully could help overcome this.  In addition, since the table often becomes a battle of wills between kids and parents, trying new foods, or giving foods a second (or third, or 100th) chance frequently fail.  Perhaps, I thought, if tasting was introduced in a positive way, with kids being given the opportunity to voice their opinions (rather than being yelled at for saying something is 'yucky' maybe this would put them in a better frame of mind for being open to new things.  So I designed an experiment for the girls.

I made up a plate for each of them with a small taste of a variety of foods.  Some that I knew they don't like, some that they do, and some that even I wasn't sure of.  The plates consisted of:

1. Raw cabbage
2. Dried cherry
3. Fresh basil leaf
4. Pecan
5. Marshmellow
6. Raw scallion/green onion
7. Chocolate chip

I then explained to them that we were going to play a game.  That they had to taste each item, in order, and that they must not spit out anything.  They had to slowly examine each one, smelling, listening to, and visually examining it BEFORE popping it in their mouth.  They also had to describe each item to me.  Then they could put it in their mouth and describe how it tastes and what they thought of it.

The experiment was a HUGE success!  Little A would usually refuse to even try any leafy things, and she generally tries to spit out what she doesn't like.  In the end, both girls discovered that they like fresh basil - previously referred to as 'green bits' that had to be scraped off anything -, and Big A discovered she likes green onions!  Even though Little A did not like the onion, she ate it pleasantly and simply described it as 'yucky'.  Both girls also really liked the cabbage, and Big A also liked the pecan.  Little A did not, but we already knew she doesn't really like whole nuts that much.  Both loved the dried cherry, marshmellow and chocolate chip, but I already knew that too!

The best part was that they loved the whole process and have been begging me to do another one with them.  To be honest, I am guessing that what appealed to them most about the whole thing was being able to taste things in a relaxed environment, and feeling like their opinions mattered and they were being heard.

I am very excited about this revelation...I'm thinking there may be real potential here for overcoming pickiness in children...

I didn't do wonderfully this week with any random acts of kindness.  I did donate a whole whack of pretty much brand new books to our local library, but, sadly, not much else.

Maybe I can do something this weekend.  Maybe you can too!  Maybe you will also try eating something mindfully and discover something new.

Kindness is an inner desire that makes us want to do good things even if we do not get anything in return.  It is the joy of our life to do them.  When we do good things from this inner desire, there is kindness in everything we think, say, want and do.

- Emmanuel Swedenborg

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pizza Puttanesca (Vegan Option)

Don't ask me what inspired me to make a pizza with anchovies!  Okay, since you asked: I had a tube of anchovy paste in the fridge and couldn't figure out what to do with it.  Why I decided on pizza, however, I don't know since the only time I ever had anchovies on pizza I found it as distasteful as the ex-boyfriend who suggested it.

But boy I'm glad I did.  This was AMAZING! If you don't like anchovies, don't worry, this pizza really doesn't taste fishy.  The proof is in the pudding.  Adam doesn't like fishy fish and he LOVED this pizza.  In fact, until he reads this, he has no idea that there were anchovies on it.  Believe me, the man gobbled this down at lightening speed and declared it amazing.

For plant eaters, I did a bit of research and discovered that you can sub umeboshi plum paste for anchovy paste to get that umame/salty quality.  Both are quite high in sodium, as are olives, so make sure you don't add any additional salt.

This makes enough for 2 large sized pizzas (when I make pizza, I make A LOT of pizza!), but you can use as much as you like and freeze the rest, or toss it with whole grain pasta.

Pizza Puttanesca

1 can tomato paste
3/4 cup water
1 tsp dried oregano
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
Fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
Crushed red chili flakes, to taste (optional)

300g box frozen, chopped spinach, thawed
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
3-4 tbls anchovy or umeboshi plum paste
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
Crushed red chili flakes, to taste (optional)
Fresh basil leaves
Fresh Italian parsley, chopped

300g low-fat mozzerella or vegan cheese alternative, grated

2-1 lb whole grain pizza doughs, rolled out to desired thinness

Stir together tomato paste with seasonings in a small sauce pan set over medium heat.  Turn to low and let simmer 4-5 minutes.  Turn off heat.

Saute spinach, olives, paste, garlic, vinegar, Italian seasoning and chili flakes over medium heat for about 5 minutes. 

Spread sauce over dough.  Sprinkle cheese evenly over sauce.  Spread topping mixture over the cheese and sprinkle pizzas with fresh herbs.  Bake on pizza stones, or in oven as desired (ours took about 22 minutes at 500F on regular baking sheets).  Leftovers (if there are any!) can be frozen.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

President's Choice Spring Insider's Report

I love Loblaws.  I know, it's a big chain store.  But it makes me nostalgic.  My parents used to take us there to food shop since I was a little kid.  I have always loved grocery shopping and would happily accompany them.  Admittedly, part of the draw may have been the riding horse at the front of the store near our house.  Even if my parents wouldn't give me a quarter to make it gallop, I loved sitting on top and pretending to ride.

Loblaws is a Canadian company, at least, and they do have some genuinely healthy products that they offer at competitive prices.  Let's face it, while it would be ideal if we could all shop exclusively at farmer's markets and health food stores, most Canadians simply cannot afford that.  I took Big A to a local market last weekend, and the prices almost made me fall over.  Like $8 for a loaf of bread?  Seriously?  I am not saying organic, artisanal breads don't offer more than conventional, factory-produced bread.  I'm just sayin' few people can afford to pay those prices!

Anyways, Loblaws is definitely not perfect.  While they offer many nutritious products, they also continue to offer a lot of crap, and some of it they try to pass off as healthy.  So lets take a look at some of their new offerings.

The good news is that, unlike their holiday Insider's Report, which focuses, of course, on indulgent, high-fat treats, the spring issue focuses on making healthier choices.  So here are some of the best and worst.

My favorites:

Organic Kale, Chard and Spinach Salad Mix

PC Organics Kale, Chard, Spinach Salad Mix

Organic Baby Kale

PC Organics Baby Kale

New Varieties of Citrus Fruits

PC Easy to Peel Orri Mandarin Oranges
Fat-Free Greek Yogurt

Note that high fat dairy is NOT a healthier choice.  I don't know why people acknowledge that the fat on meat is unhealthy, but seem to think the saturated fat in dairy is healthy.  It's not.  Also, avoid the flavoured kinds with added sugar.  Sugar is not healthier than artificial sweeteners.  Avoid both if you aren't comfortable consuming artificial sweeteners.
PC 0% Greek Yogurt- Plain - 142 g
Whole Grain Ciabatta Breads

I know I say it all the time but I don't think I can say it enough: Lose the white flour folks!

PC Ciabatta Multigrain Buns

Here are some of the duds...

Turkey and Chicken Bacon

Better than pork, perhaps, but still a processed meat that contains toxic nitrites.

PC Blue Menu Chicken Bacon-Style
Granola Boosts

Very high in calories and contain added sugars.  Better to make your own!

Greek Yogurt Smoothie Bars

With just 100 calories, 2g of fat and 5g of protein these are definitely a better option than most ice creams or other alternatives, however they also have 12g of sugar.  So just make sure you still treat them like a treat.

PC Blue Menu Caramel Greek Yogurt Smoothie

Coconut Water

PC Coconut Water
This stuff is all the rage, but really, unless you do endurance exercise, you likely don't need anything more than 100% calorie free and free-of-charge, tap water.  Avoid all the other juices and other beverages, even the Blue Menu ones with reduced sugar.  Just. Drink. Water.

I think these are my least favorite, however, the Oats with Vanilla Yogurt Filling:

PC Biscuits For Breakfast • Oats with Vanilla Yogurt Filling
Better than a jelly donut, perhaps?  At least they are whole grain.  But they are still cookies!  Definitely not a good breakfast option!

Oh, and all their new Gluten-Free bakery products?  Please remember, just because something is gluten-free does NOT mean it is healthy!
PC Gluten-Free Banana Loaf Cake
Most are still full of sugar and use mostly refined rice flour.

You are much better off baking your own stuff.  Need recipes?  I've got lots of gluten-free options on the blog!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Caribbean-Style Veggie Roti

Toronto is a mecca for ethnic food and Caribbean food is no exception.  I fell in love with roti shortly after moving here and my love affair continues to this day.  A rich, savoury curry stuffed into a dhal puri (lentil, split pea or chickpea) roti skin?  Yes please!

Around here you can find them in almost every variety, from the traditional (goat, chicken, beef, shrimp or chickpea) to the not-so-traditional (tofu, spinach and squash, etc.).  Some are super spicy, some not at all.  But that's what's so awesome, they are pretty easy to make, AND can be customized to your liking.

Now, if you are super ambitious, you can make your own roti skin, or, if you live in Toronto, you can purchase some authentic ones at any of the Caribbean grocery stores around town.  Or, if you are lazy, like me, just use a whole grain wrap or tortilla as your skin.

This recipe does not have to be followed to the letter.  Sub your own favorite protein and veggie choices, and season to taste.  Chickpea just happens to be my favorite and I used what veggies I had available.  This is one of the few vegan recipes I make that Adam also adores, so that definitely makes it a winner in my book!

Aside from the veggies I have here, other good ones include potato, sweet potato, squash, spinach, kale., etc.  Protein suggestions are: Beef, chicken, shrimp, lentils, tofu, tempeh, etc.

Caribbean-Style Veggie Roti

1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (or 1.5 cups cooked chickpeas)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbls fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1/2 cabbage, thinly sliced
1-2 tbls Madras curry powder (mild or spicy)
1/4 tsp ground allspice
Caribbean Scotch Bonnet hot sauce, to taste (optional)
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup coconut milk powder
1 pint Brussels sprouts, halved and roasted
2 tbls coconut flour
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste

4-6 large tortillas or roti skins

Saute chickpeas, garlic, ginger, onion and all the veggies except sprouts (unless your sprouts are raw, rather than roasted) along with the seasonings in the vinegar until they soften.  Add coconut milk powder and turn heat to low.  Check seasoning.  Simmer for about 30 minutes.  Add roasted sprouts, if using, and coconut flour to thicken up gravy.  Adjust seasoning as needed.  Take desired amount of filling and place in the centre of skin or tortilla, fold in all 4 sides over filling to form a square.  Flip over onto plate and spoon more filling over top, if desired.  Serves 4-6.  Leftover filling may be frozen.

This recipe was submitted to Diet, Dessert & Dogs' Wellness Weekend.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Little Divas & Love Child Organics Review

Although the two Little Divas in this house have given some award winning performances lately, we still had a pretty good week, and a great weekend.

The girls had a great check up at the dentist: No cavities!  Also, we had arranged for a free musical assessment offered by the Ontario Conservatory of Music for Big A.  Our wanna-be rock star wants voice lessons.  We were a bit nervous she'd have her heart broken because, um, she doesn't really show much natural talent in that department.  In fact, when she sings, Little A generally starts whining and complaining and begs her to stop.  To our surprise, however, the tester concluded that she has good enough range and pitch to start lessons. Her unusually deep voice (alto/soprano) for a 6-year-old female, is also apparently a good thing. Who knew?  So we signed her up!

The weekend was a blast.  Big A had a playdate Friday night.  Little A had 2 birthday parties on Saturday.  Unfortunately, that proved a bit too much for the non-napper and she was so exhausted during party #2, that she completely melted down half way through.  Yesterday, Adam took the girls bicycling in the morning while I taught spinning.  Little A mastered riding a 2 wheeler with training wheels on her first try, and Big A had a great time trying out her brand new 2 wheeler.  Then in the afternoon, we took them to a Passover event organized by a friend of mine at a local indoor playground.  The girls had a blast running around, doing crafts and taking part in a scavenger hunt.

But there have also been some major challenges.  Both of our Little Divas are total drama queens.  Big A was complaining about her stomach hurting for several straight days last week.  She told us she was pooping constantly.  When I asked her if it was diarrhea, she was evasive.  She even had the school office call us on Thursday to tell us her tummy was bothering her.  Adam mentioned to them that she can be a bit of a whiner, and they actually admitted they were aware of this (this was the 4th or 5th time she's had them call us this year due to little boo boos, etc.).  Finally, I told Big A that next time she pooped, she needed to show me what was going on before she flushed.  The evidence?  Nothing out of the ordinary.  "But isn't it black?" She asked me.  "It's darker than it should be!"  I told her it looked fine and that was the end of her tummy complaints.

Likewise,  Little A did a face-plant on the way home on Thursday and scraped both knees.   Normal little kid stuff, however, Little A claimed the pain was so severe she could barely walk.  She made us ice them and give her Advil.  She complained so dramatically that I honestly did start to get concerned and wondered whether it was possible that she broke something.  After all, Big A's boyfriend broke his arm a few months ago by just tripping and falling at school!  I examined her knees and there was no bruising or swelling nor were her legs looking deformed in any way.  Then I noticed that she was completely capable of running around and playing when she temporarily forgot about her boo boos.  By Friday, after getting me all worried and mulling over making a trip to the ER, she had forgotten about them altogether.  Grr! We've tried to warn both girls about the dangers of crying wolf with this stuff.  Honestly Adam and I never know when the girls really are hurt or sick or when they are faking, it's maddening!

The morning routine has also been driving me totally nuts lately.  The girls sit in front of the television and order me around like I'm their servant.  In addition, they insist on sitting on the same couch, practically on top of each other, and then fight constantly over space and over what to watch, despite the fact that we have multiple couches in the living room and a whole other television in the basement rec room.  The reason we have allowed television in the mornings is because Big A used to get up at the crack of dawn, and we needed something for her to do, particularly when Little A was an infant and I was usually tied up nursing her, etc.  But things are different now.  Little A is almost 4 and Big A now usually sleeps closer to 7am.  The television is really just causing problems.  So, no more t.v. in the mornings, period.  Clearly this is something we should have changed a long time ago, but sometimes I honestly forget that I'm in charge.  Yes, I know, it's weird.  I guess I just thought there would be a total mutiny around here.  When I told the girls this was going to happen, to my surprise, they accepted it pretty easily.  However, this morning Little A seemed to have completely forgotten and she did, in fact, have a total cow when I reminded her about the new rule.  So I guess the transition may not go as smoothly as I'd hoped.

Oiky doiky, on to the topic of babyfood.  I'm starting a new diet that involves only eating babyfood. NOT! However, if the media reports are to be believed, apparently this is very trendy among Hollywood stars.  Frankly, I'd call that an eating disorder, not a diet!

No, I was asked to test out a new Canadian baby food company and I thought what better guinea pigs than my two picky girls.  They may not be babies, but I can guarantee that if these two like it, than most babies will.  And heck, if I can get more fruits and veggies into them by giving them baby food, so be it.

I was sent Love Child Organics new Apple, Banana and Blueberry, Apple, Sweet Potato, Carrot and Blueberry, and Apple and Mango varieties.  The ingredients are all organic and they come in BPA-free pouches.  They retail for $1.48 each, or 3 for $4.00.

I gave both girls half of each pouch and asked them to tell me what they thought of each one (I didn't tell them what was in them, just described them by colour (purple, red and orange).

Little A did not like the red one (Apple, Sweet Potato, Carrot & Blueberry), and that was Big A's least favorite one.  They both said it tasted too much like vegetables.  At first Big A liked the purple one best (Apple, Banana, Blueberry), and Little A liked it just fine, but eventually, they both decided they liked the yellow one (Apple Mango) best.  In fact, they fought over the remaining yellow flavour.

Overall, if you are looking for a nutritious, baby food, with tasty products, this is a great option.  Personally, I never bought any with my girls, because it is just so so so much cheaper to make your own, particularly if you want to use organic ingredients.  I do, however, understand new parents who don't want to be hassled with making baby food from scratch so it's nice that options like this exist.  I also like that its a Canadian company owned by a mom and dad.  Don't worry too much about my girls not liking the red flavour.  Honestly, I think they probably would have eaten it as babies.  In some ways they are pickier now!  Also, we did this experiment first thing in the morning (hence the bed-head and pjs on Little A), so they may just not have been in the mood for veggies.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Slow Pitch

I would love to tell you all about week one of my Mindfulness course, but the first rule about Mindfulness Club is: You don't talk about Mindfulness Club!

I can, however, share a few things with you.  First, if you want to read a bit about the practice of mindfulness, I recommend the 'text book' we are using: Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is really one of the pioneers of bringing Mindfulness into the mainstream and into the field of medicine.

I am finding meditation just as difficult as I knew I would.  I am hard-wired to be goal-oriented, so the concept of doing something without a goal is hard for me to wrap my brain around.  My thoughts also run a mile a minute and getting them to slow down is tough.  But I am told that this is true for most people.

I found this passage in Kabat-Zinn's book and I thought it was really powerful:

"Many people are greatly relieved when they come back after practicing meditation on their own during their first week in the stress clinic and discover that they were not the only ones who found their thoughts cascaded through their mind like a waterfall, completely beyond their control.  They are reassured to learn that everybody in the class has a mind that behaves in this way.  It is just the way the mind is."

"This discovery amounts to a revelation for many of the people in the stress clinic.  It becomes the occasion of or sets the stage for a profound learning experience that many claim is the most valuable thing they get out of their meditation training, mainly the realization that they are not their thoughts. This discovery means that they can consciously choose to relate or not to relate to their thoughts in a variety of ways that were not available to them when they were unaware of this simple fact."

Also, he explains meditation this way:

Letting go of our thoughts, however, does not mean suppressing them...What matters is whether you are aware of your thoughts and feelings during meditation and how you handle them.  Trying to suppress them will only result in greater tension and frustration and more problems, not in calmness and peace.

I would never claim to find any of this easy, but at least I am starting to understand it on an intellectual level.

We also did the famous Raisin Experiment

This experience inspired me to do a little experiment with myself.  I have been aware, for a long time, that my obsession with task completion and efficiency is not always a good thing.  It comes at the expense of quality sometimes.  I've gotten away with it most of my life, but it's started to catch up with me.  I have been having trouble staying on task lately because I just find I now have so many distractions competing for my attention.  If I am interrupted in the middle of something, I sometimes never get back to it.  As an example, my billing/admin for clients has multiple steps.  I have to put through the charge, if they paid by credit card, record the authorization number, fill in the monthly spreadsheet, upload session notes, create an invoice, send the invoice to the client, write a report - if needed, and then send the report to the fertility clinic.  If my phone rings or an email comes in that I have to respond to while I'm in the middle of this process, sometimes I forget a step.  Yes, I should probably make a checklist to go through for each client.  I think I'll do that!

I can also tell myself something like, "We're out of paper towel, I better go write it on the grocery list." Yet before I do it, I'll have 50 other thoughts and I will forget to do it.  Then I'll do the same thing 4 more times before I finally remind myself and actually do it.

But taking the minimal amount of time to do EVERYTHING and always trying to speed through life has other consequences.  Simply from forgetting to zip up my pockets or purses has led me to lose a pair of sunglasses, my cell phone, and a lip gloss all over the span of 2 weeks.  I am just not paying attention and things are LITERALLY falling through the cracks.

I may be getting a lot done, but I'm also NOT getting a lot done.  So all this efficiency isn't so efficient after all!  Believe me, it's not like I haven't known this intellectually for a long time, it's just that I kind of felt powerless to it, like there was nothing I could really do to change this about myself.

So.  Yesterday was a home day with no client appointments.  I decided to see what happened if I did not try to rush through anything.  If I tried to focus on the task at hand, and only that task, until I was certain it was completed.  As always,  I had a list of things I wanted to get done, so I was curious to see how things would turn out if I slowed down.  After all, Kabat-Zin points out:

"It is remarkable how liberating it feels to be able to see that your thoughts are just thoughts and that they are not "you" or "reality".  For instance, if you have the thought that you have to get a certain number of things done today and you don't recognize it as a thought but act as if it's "the truth," then you have created a reality in that moment in which you really believe that those things must all be done today."

I started after I dropped off the girls.  I slowly ate my breakfast and read ENTIRE articles in the newspapers that caught my interest.  Then I started on my admin work.  After getting it all done I went through my email inbox and returned all the emails that have been lingering there - which I always tell myself I'm going to get to, but never do.  Then I cleaned my desk, a process which made me realize I need to renew my CPR certification ASAP.  I emailed the woman I go to for training to book a re-cert session.  Then - even though there was still a list of things I wanted to get done - I put in my Body Scan meditation CD I am supposed to do each day (which got interrupted by the girls' when they got home with Adam from the dentist early on Tuesday, and didn't get done at all on Wednesday because I had client sessions all day), and did the whole thing.

Then I took care of a few more work/professional matters via email, and tried not to worry about the fact that I'd hoped to get out to do errands sooner than was going to be the case.  Then I left the house to do the errands.  I carefully made sure I had everything I needed, although I still managed to forget my sunglasses.  In my defense, it was raining when I left and in typical Toronto weather fashion, the sun came out 5 minutes after I left the house.

When I went to park the car, the only thing available on my usual street was a small space between 2 cars.  While I think I'm a pretty awesome driver (don't we all think that?) I am an abysmal parallel parker.  If only a tight spot is available, I often won't even attempt it.  I CAN do it, but it takes me a very long time to manoeuvre in, and if there are cars waiting to get past me, I get very anxious.  This time, I just said to myself, "Take all the time you need."  And I did it.  When I returned to the car later I noticed I had one wheel up on the side walk, but hey, I got in the spot AND I got out without dinging either car beside me!  How?  By taking my time!  Really this SAVED me a lot of time, because had I not taken this spot, I likely would have been driving around trying to find another one for quite a while.

When I got home I put away the groceries, taking my time to put them into the packed fridge in ways that wouldn't mean cabbages and oranges rolling out and attacking the next person to open the door.  Then I sat down to eat lunch and took my time even though there were many more things to do before going to pick up the girls.

Then I wrote this post.  And I even spell checked it, which obviously I don't usually take the time to do.

And so?  The only thing I didn't get done that I'd hoped was a yoga session.  But in all truthfulness, I'd say 3/4 times I plan to do yoga, I run out of time anyways.  Fortunately, my foam roller seems to be helping me much more than yoga usually does, so I've been feeling pretty great lately.  And in the end, I think I got a lot of other things done, and done better, than I would have if I'd speeded through the day as per usual. 

Hopefully this is a 'teachable moment' I can look back on in the future when I'm tempted to try and be Speedy Gonzales again.

Only one measly act of kindness this week: The mailman delivered a letter to us meant for someone else in the neighbourhood several blocks away.  Instead of just dropping it back in the nearest mailbox, I walked out of my way after dropping off the girls yesterday and hand delivered it to their mailbox.  I know, it's nothing major.  Hopefully I'll do better next week.

Have a lovely SLOW weekend.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Dark Cocoa Almonds

This time round, to re-stock Adam's almond snack supply for his office, I decided to experiment with a sweet, rather than savoury/salty option. 

These make a perfect, healthy snack that can satisfy those sneaky chocolate cravings...

Dark Cocoa Almonds

4 cups almonds
1 tbls almond oil (I poured it off the top of our almond butter), or melted coconut oil
2 tbls cocoa powder
1/4 cup xylitol, erythritol or powdered stevia
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp sea salt
A few drops chocolate, vanilla or plain liquid stevia, to taste (optional)

Put all ingredients into a large bowl and toss until almonds are evenly coated.  Spread nuts on a single layer on a large baking sheet.  Place in a 350F oven for about 8 minutes.  Let cool and store in an air tight container.

This recipe was submitted to Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten-Free Friday.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Cereal Crimes: Kashi Blueberry Oat Clusters & Flakes Review

I'll admit right up front that I am not a big fan of breakfast cereal.  I have eaten my fair share though, as it was always a favorite when I was a kid.  My mom says if you stacked all the Shreddies I've eaten over my lifetime, they'd likely reach the moon.

But the honest truth is that I really don't think cereals do a body good.  Oh, and I don't really enjoy them anymore anyways.

It wasn't until after my mother's cancer diagnosis, in 1998, when I really go serious about nutrition, that I kicked the cereal habit.  Up until then, I thought cereal was a healthy choice.  After all, I never ate Fruit Loops or Frosted Flakes, only Mini Wheats, Shreddies and Low-Fat Harvest Crunch.  Good grief, I look back and realize that while these may not have been the worst choices out there, they are - like most cereals on the market - all completely full of sugar!  Cookies in a bowl, I say.

The only time since then I've eaten cold cereal was during my pregnancy with Little A, when the thought of oatmeal, my usual breakfast, made me want to hurl, and I had strong cravings for Raisin Bran.  I was downing about a quarter of a box a day.  I'm not proud of it, but I also learned you can't mess with pregnancy cravings (unless you want someone to get hurt).

Aside from simply having loads of sugar, I don't find that breakfast cereal provides lasting energy or satiation.  Even if I eat half a box (which is probably 5x the recommended serving size), I'm starving an hour later, and this is consistent with research studies that show high protein breakfasts, like eggs, help people control their appetite better for the rest of the day.  Obesity expert, Yoni Freedhoff also discusses his anecdotal experience with cereals among individuals seeking help for weight loss on his blog.

Are there healthy options out there?  Sure!  All those organic puffed grain cereals with no added sugar or salt, but I think they taste like styrafoam.  There are also some companies making organic, whole grain cereals with less sugar than the conventional brands, but I don't find most of them particularly appealing, nor satisfying.  Even a large bowl, containing 2-3 servings of these cereals with almond milk or whatever milk you favour, isn't likely to keep you satisfied for long.  Others like Holy Crap or Sexcereal and full of nutritious seeds and other ingredients, but are crazy-calorically dense.  Oh, and cereal is freaking expensive!  Like it blows my mind how expensive it is.  Adam only buys his favorites on sale, or if they are a good deal at Costco.

Personally, I'd much rather have a steaming hot bowl of whole grain oatmeal with cinnamon...which is my breakfast EVERY morning.  I alternate adding a few tbls of either ground flax or whole chia seeds.  Honestly, I can't think of a tastier, more satisfying way to start the day.

But I also realize that not everyone digs hot cereal.  Adam likes it, but he LOVES cold cereal.  The sweet, high fibre kinds.  Fortunately, he now limits himself to having it only one morning a week.  But it means we always have cereal in the house, and occasionally the girls eat it too.  At least it isn't an everyday thing for them either as they both prefer toast or pancakes for breakfast.

Anyways, despite my lacklustre feelings for breakfast cereal, I agreed to review  Kashi's new Blueberry Oat Clusters & Flakes cereal.  It's called Kashi Oat Flakes and Blueberry Clusters in the U.S., which I'm guessing is because the formulation is slightly different and/or it was easier to translate the Canadian name into French as per our bilingual packaging laws.

The Kashi brand tends to have a bit of a health halo on it, so you may be surprised to know that it is owned by Kellogg.  So, how does this cereal stack up?

I think it tastes okay...crunchy and sweet...but I'm not the biggest cereal fan.  Adam thought it was okay but 'bland' which in Adam-speak generally means not sweet enough.  Big A shrugged her shoulders after I forced her to try it (she probably was reluctant because I was pushing it at her) and Little A simply refused to try it.

And what about nutrition?  I certainly didn't expect it to be fabulous, but I was surprised to find it really isn't any better than any other high fibre cereal out there.

Here is the ingredient list:

INGREDIENTS: Oat blend (whole grain oats, oat bran), rice, evaporated cane juice syrup, whole grain oats, cracked seven grain blend (whole: oats, hard red wheat, rye, brown rice, triticale, barley, buckwheat), brown rice syrup, barley malt syrup, multigrain crisps (whole wheat flour, brown rice flour, corn flour, dried cane syrup, whole grain oat flour, wheat starch, salt, calcium carbonate), blueberries, expeller pressed canola oil, salt, natural flavour, colour (vegetable juice), mixed tocopherols (for freshness).                       

The second ingredient is 'rice' which most likely means white rice.  The third is evaporated cane juice syrup which is sugar.  There is also brown rice syrup and barley malt syrup which are two more kinds of sugar.  The multigrain crisps are made from several types of flours plus more sugar.  The blueberries, at least, are actual blueberries and are not coated in MORE sugar.

1 cup has 220 calories, 2.5g of fat,  5g of fibre, and 6g of protein.  But it also has 13g of sugar, most of it added sugars (i.e. not naturally occurring sugars from the fruit).

1 cup of Oatmeal Crisp Maple Nut Flavour, one of Adam's favorites, clocks in at 220 calories, 2g of fat, 4g of fibre, 5g of protein and 15g of sugar.  All-Bran Cranberries and Clusters gives you 180 calories, 1.5g of fat, 7g of fibre, 4g of protein and 12g of sugar in a 1 cup serving.

The Kashi does get brownie points for using only natural flavours and colours and fewer creepy preservatives, like BHT.

So would I recommend the Kashi cereal.  No.  But I wouldn't recommend breakfast cereals period.

If you love cold cereal, I recommend making your own, whether this is overnight oats (you'll find a billion recipes on food blogs out there), muesli, or taking unsweetened grains, nuts, seeds and/or fruits and making your own unique mixture.  Or if you simply cannot fathom the idea of giving up your sugary favorites, try making them a little addition to your meal rather than the star.  Eat eggs and have a small serving of cereal and milk on the side.  Have Greek yogurt and fresh fruit and sprinkle a small amount of cereal on top.  Or, take plain oats or other unprocessed grains and mix them 2:1 with your favorite commercial cereal.

If you want some healthier breakfast alternatives, check out my breakfast recipes.  Remember, having the right meal in the morning is the best way to ensure you stay energized throughout the day and are able to manage your appetite with appropriate food intake later on!

Disclaimer: I was sent a free box of Kashi Blueberry Oat Clusters & Flakes but all the opinions expressed on this blog are my own.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Decadent Dark Chocolate Fudge (Vegan & Refined Sugar-Free)

After bitching about the weather yesterday, it turned out to be a sunny, pretty lovely day.  The sun is out this morning too, and according to the weather forecast, it is going to be in the plus teens (celcius) by the weekend.  Is there anything sweeter than true spring weather?

How about deep, dark chocolatey fudge that's vegan and refined sugar free?

This is a delectable way to use my Vegan Sweetened Condensed Milk/Dulce de Leche recipe.  Super simple and devine.  Really ya gotta try it.  Now!  A perfect treat for Passover or Easter.

If you like bitter dark chocolate, you may not need to add any additional sweetener beyond what's in the sweetened condensed milk, sweeten to taste.

Decadent Dark Chocolate Fudge

1 recipe Vegan Sweetened Condensed Milk/Dulce de Leche (made with 2/3 cup boiling water)
225g unsweetened chocolate
1/2 tsp fine grain sea salt
Clear stevia liquid (plain, vanilla or chocolate flavour), to taste (optional)

Melt together all ingredients in a double boiler, or heat safe bowl set over simmering water.  Stir frequently until eveything is melted and completely combined (it's okay if it appears grainy).  Pour into parchment paper lined square baking pan and spread out evenly.  Freeze until firm.  Remove from pan and cut into squares.  Store in air tight container at room temperature for 1 week, or refridgerate for up to 3 weeks.

This recipe has been entered in Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten-Free FridayWellness Weekend and Urban Naturale's Pot Luck Link Up.

Monday, March 4, 2013

My April-Fresh Addiction

Happy cold, dreary Monday.  Yep, I knew March would suck, just like very other March.  You THINK it's going to be spring, but it never really is.

I'm also not thrilled about starting another week after we had a pretty great weekend.  At least I start my meditation program this afternoon.  I'm excited about that.  I really need to slow down my mind.  There is way too much clutter in there!  I feel like I've developed ADHD half the time because my mind skips from one thing to another, distracting me from tasks and making me feel scattered and disorganized. 

Anyways, on to other things...

I have a confession: I'm addicted to having April-Fresh clothes!  I can tell you why too: As a child I was deprived of this pleasure.  Yes, please get out your tissues and weep for me.

You see, even though I have very sensitive skin, I have never had problems with scents or fragrances, however, my mother and eczema-prone brother do.  So we only ever used scent-free, hypo-allergenic laundry soap, and no fabric softeners.

I would smell my friends' heavily scented, Downy-soft clothes and sigh enviously.  Why oh why did I have to endure a childhood of scent-free laundry?

So one of the first things I did when I left home was start buying the strongest smelling fabric softeners I could find. 

Until Adam and I started our family and I became more conscious of products I was using in our home.  I realized all the toxic crap that goes in to these fabric softeners, and hence into our clothes, and onto our skin.  And the dryer sheets create additional paper waste, which isn't great for the environment.

Unfortunately, the party was over.

But to be honest, I am now addicted to having perfumed clothes.  Luckily, I found 'natural' scented dryer sheets at Wholefoods and other health food stores, but they still create paper waste, and I often wondered just how healthy they really are.

So I was thrilled to find Nellie's All-Natural products at my favorite health food store recently.  I purchased their dryer balls with a scent stick insert.  These scent sticks are just soy wax and essential oils.  Not only do the dryer balls cut down on drying time - which can save you money on energy costs - but they leave your clothes lightly scented.  Perhaps not as heavily perfumed as generic fabric softeners, but basically April-Fresh enough for me!  Yahoo, I think I've finally found a compromise I can live with.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Farewell to February

Funny NickMom Ecard: Let's put the kids to bed early tonight, turn on some music, and sleep like crazy.

February gets a bad rap around here for being a crappy month, but frankly I think March is worse.  I am only beginning to get winter fatigue in February and its the shortest month of the year.  By March, I am definitely sick of winter and often the weather still sucks and the month is 31 days long!  Unfortunately, as I often complain, Toronto really only has two seasons: winter and summer, and I hate them both.  Our beautiful 'transition' weather in spring and fall is more like a blip in what is our usual temperature extremes.  Oh well, looking on the bright side, I am grateful that we rarely have natural disasters in this area, so hallelujah for that.

It was an interesting week around here.  For the first time in as long as I can remember, I made a meal intended for Adam and I (a vegetarian pasta with roasted zucchini and peppers and sauteed kale in a tomato sauce) that the girls were BOTH willing to eat!  Big A even ate the vegetables!!  I'm trying not to get too excited, but I'm hoping this is the start of a new trend...

Little A has been pretty good, although she has had her moments.  Twice this week she insisted on leaving her beloved Pink Bear at home even when I repeatedly asked her if she was certain she wanted to do so.  Both times as soon as we got to daycare she pitched a huge fit and began screaming at me to go home and get her (she insists Pink Bear is a girl).  Both times her daycare teachers had to take her hand and shove me out the door and calm her down.  Both times she ended up having a stellar day and was actually in fine spirits at pick up time, proving she really can live without Pink Bear!  But believe me, I wholeheartedly encouraged her to bring Pink Bear along for the remainder of the week.  She can take the stuffy with her to university, for all I care, as long as she spares me the crying fits.

In a better moment, she summed up what she feels is the difference between the sexes: "Girls have 3 holes and boys only have 2."  Yep, that's pretty much it.

Last night was also a bit of an adventure.  Little A decided she was ready for us to remove the railing from her bed.  Unfortunately, she got scared and woke up several times during the night and then decided she'd had enough at 5am.  Luckily, Adam was able to convince her to go back to bed about 20 minutes later, by agreeing to put the railing back on, and she then slept until almost 7am.  Nevertheless, I am sure she will be tired and extra cranky by late this afternoon.  Perfect!

Random acts of kindness this week included shovelling snow for our neighbours on both sides and making a point of asking everyone around me who looked like they might need help if they needed help (disabled man struggling to get to a seat without falling after the bus lurched out of the station suddenly, couple trying to carry their large stroller down the stairs of the subway station, guy across the street spinning the wheels of his car in the ice as he attempted to pull out).  I know it's nothing major, but I think it all makes a small difference in some way.  One thing I've noticed is that beyond the usual bystander apathy that occurs in public spaces, the use of modern technology has also made people oblivious to what's going on around them.  I don't have a smart phone and my Ipad has no SIM card, so I don't use technology when I'm in public spaces.  Instead, I do a lot of people watching and what I see is that everybody else is completely engrossed in their technology (surfing the net, sending emails, talking on the phone, playing games, etc.).  We know about the physical dangers of doing these things when driving, however, I worry about what this trend is doing to social relationships.  We seem to be engaging with our gadgets more than we do with each other!

Well not in our house anyways.  Mostly because we are too cheap to have the latest gadgets, but none of us are technophiles either.  So this weekend, we are going trampolining (more on that later), Little A has a birthday party and Adam has a book club meeting.  And none of it involves any gadgets!

Have a lovely weekend.