Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sweet and Salty Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Because the girls can't agree on anything, they insisted they each get their own Jack-o-lantern for Halloween this year.  Then they each chose the biggest one they could find.

While I'm grateful we didn't have to pay by the pound for these massive things, it still meant a huge amount of work for me, because each of them also wanted an intricate (based on my abilities) design and for me to scoop, clean and roast the seeds for them.

I got smart this year and bought a carving set with proper tools and stencils.  I think I did a pretty good job, if I do say so myself (again, based on my complete lack of talent in this department).  The cat is Little A's and the witch is Big A's.

When I asked them whether they wanted sweet or spicy roasted seeds, Little A said both.  I asked if she meant half sweet and half salty and she clarified that, no, she actually wanted them both sweet and salty.  And Big A actually agreed with her!

So, their wish is my command!  These smell as good as they taste.  I had tons of seeds because of the size of our pumpkins, so feel free to half the recipe if you don't have as many.

Sweet and Salty Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

4 cups pumpkin seeds, rinsed
2 tbls coconut sugar
1 tsp fine grain sea salt (or more, to taste)
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
Dropper full of vanilla stevia (optional)

Toss seeds with other ingredients until well coated.  Spread in an even layer on baking sheet.* Bake at 350F for 10 minutes and they stir.  Bake another 10 minutes, stir again, and then turn heat down to 275F, bake for another 10 minutes or until seeds are dry.  Make sure not to let them burn!  Keep in an airtight container.

*They will stick a bit to bottom of baking sheet when sugar caramelizes.  I found they come off easily with a spatula, but if you want to avoid this, you can try using parchment paper, just make sure they are completely dry and adjust cooking time if you need to.

I hope you have a happy, healthy Halloween tomorrow.  I won't have a post because I'm driving to Kingston to visit my dad who just had surgery.  More on that later.

See ya Friday!!

This recipe was shared with Gluten-Free Friday and Wellness Weekend.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Harvest Vegetable Curry

After having unseasonably warm weather all fall it very suddenly turned cold.  All of a sudden we've had to dig out the winter jackets and the mittens. It seems like I've gone from slathering on sunscreen to prevent burns, to skin cream to prevent dryness overnight.   But I don't mind. It means gorgeous fall foliage, cosy afternoons with steaming cups of tea, deep sleeps cuddled up under the comforter, and hot, hearty meals...including lots of stews, pastas and curries.

This kind of came together just by throwing together what I had in the house but it turned out so amazingly delicious, I had to share it.  You can sub different veggies based on whatever you have lying around and I am sure it will still me fabulous.  Adam really loved this one too, which given his carnivorous preferences, means it's got to be pretty awesome.

My curry turned out pretty green and white because I used a purple sweet potato that was white fleshed.  You'll get a much more golden curry if you use a regular orange sweet potato.

Harvest Vegetable Curry

1 lb fresh Brussels Sprouts, trimmed and cut in half
1 cauliflower, cut into florets
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tsp coconut oil, melted
1 ripe mango, pureed or 1/3 cup no sugar apricot jam/spread
1 clove garlic, minced
Pinch of salt

1 onion
1 chunk fresh ginger, peeled
2 cloves garlic
4 cups fresh baby spinach

2 cups cooked or roasted sweet potato, peeled and mashed

1 can light coconut milk
1 tbls garam masala
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp turmeric
Crushed red chili flakes, to taste (optional)
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (or 1.5 cups cooked beans)

Toss sprouts and cauliflower with oil, vinegar, fruit and seasonings.  Spread on parchment-lined baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes at 400F. 

Meanwhile, place spinach, onion, ginger and garlic in food processor and puree.  Place in skillet or pan with coconut milk, sweet potato, chickpeas and spices and simmer over medium low heat until veggies are done.  Add veggies to spinach mixture. Simmer another 10 minutes.  Serve with whole grain naan, pita or in a wrap, or over rice, quinoa or another grain.  Serves 4.  Leftovers can be frozen.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child?


I love my girls and would give my life for them in a heart beat.  But man can they drive me nuts!  Of course, I am sure most parents feel this way.  Last week was particularly hard because I was on my own with them, but some of their behaviour that was most difficult for me to take involved doing and saying things they often do, even when Adam is home.  What really disgusts me is when they complain about their life being so hard.  Like this really makes me mad.

A few months back I went on my big Random Act of Kindness kick to try and get them to understand just how fortunate they are and to practice a little gratitude.  Unfortunately, this hasn't done much in terms of getting them to: (1) realize how good they have it, or (2) understand that they will not and should not get everything they ask for.

Several times last week, Big A lay on her floor right after waking and moaned that she was too weak and hungry because I had not yet made her breakfast, to be able to make her bed and get dressed (which is what she has to do before breakfast according to house rules).  I WAS SEETHING.  Maybe she's just trying to press my buttons, but this type of behaviour makes me absolutely furious.

In addition, Little A went ballistic when I pulled out the very expensive, almost-knew winter jacket that was Big A's (purchased by my generous in-laws).  She refused to wear it.  We had several mornings of screaming fights over it until I found another hand-me-down jacket in Big A's closet (the next size up) that Little A decided was acceptable.  And, on a fairly regular basis, both complain about having to walk the 10 minute walk to school and back every day.  You would think it was 10 miles!  Little A also refuses to carry her backpack after about a block, so I end up carrying it for her just so we can get to school on time (instead of her sitting down on the sidewalk and having a full-blown meltdown).  We have seen a dramatic improvement in her behaviour the past two months - meltdowns are far less common - but she still has this oblivious, narcissistic attitude about wanting and thinking she should get everything she asks for.

Is it just their developmental stage?  Is it our parenting? Most of my friends complain that their kids behave the same way, so are they just being typical kids or are kids today more spoiled and have a greater sense of entitlement than past generations?  I don't really know.  I am sure every generation of parents complains about similar things, but my parents have confirmed that we really did behave differently.  We accepted rules without question (bedtime was bedtime, dinner was what was served or you went to bed hungry, brushing teeth, taking baths, cleaning your room, turning off the television when asked, etc.) were non-negotiable.

Dr Perri Klass had this to say in an article for the New York Times:

I can’t tell you whether children today are more spoiled or whether more of them are spoiled. There are real differences in child-rearing over time, some reflecting the culture’s larger trajectories of affluence and technology. But then there are also the recurring bouts of self-examination and self-criticism that reflect adult engagement with parenthood. Whatever the generation, responding to the wants and needs of children while trying to teach the lessons that will fortify their characters is a tricky assignment. We get it wrong some of the time, no matter what we do.

Interestingly, this is what Rabbi Shmuley, Oprah's buddy, has to say about how and why we spoil our children and what to do about it:

Children today are more spoiled than ever before, Rabbi Shmuley says. He says they have a greater sense of entitlement, help less around the home and are less communicative with parents than previous generations. Rabbi Shmuley explains the reasons why and offers solutions to help parents raise less-spoiled and better-behaved children.

Why Children Are Spoiled:

  • Wealth: America has become a wealthy country, and now, with more disposable income than ever before, Rabbi Shmuley says parents can hire nannies, cleaners and gardeners. "Necessity is the mother of invention, and there is less of a necessity for kids to contribute to families," he says.
  • Overindulgence: Parents want to give their kids all the things they didn't have when they grew up, Rabbi Shmuley says. "They mistakenly believe that those things they lacked were things like $100 pairs of sneakers," he says.
  • Workaholic society: Rabbi Shmuley says many workaholic parents feel guilty and end up giving their children gifts instead of giving them their time.
  • Bad marriages: Not all parents get enough love from their spouse, so the child becomes their principal source of affection, Rabbi Shmuley says. "They spoil the child in order to buy their love—love upon which they have become unnaturally dependent."
  • Exhaustion: When parents work hard and stay up way too late, they lack the energy to really discipline their kids and find it easier to give in to their children's wants, he says.
  • Friendship over parenting: Some parents want to be best friends with their children. They create a false sense of equality with their kids when what they really need is a parent, Rabbi Shmuley says. "Equality means that they have no right to boss their children around."

How to Stop Spoiling Your Children:
  • Be the parent. Choose parenting over being your child's best friend and don't be afraid to assert your authority.
  • Enforce bedtime. Create proper and inviolable bedtimes for your children.
  • Start a chores list. Have each child complete three household chores a week.
  • Give an allowance. Besides the allowance, make your children earn money they want by doing extra chores for you or by getting a part-time job.
  • Have family meetings. Meet as a family at least twice a week and identify and discuss what is functioning in the home and what has become dysfunctional.
  • Talk to your kids. Talk with them individually, and always discuss the kind of character they should want to develop in life.
  • Have family dinner. At least four times a week, at a minimum, sit at the table and eat a meal as a family. Make sure the children set the table and clean up, too.
  • Reduce the hired help. Have your children take on some of the work of a housekeeper or gardener.
  • Go to church or synagogue. Get some sort of spiritual input into the family members' lives. "Give your children a life of the spirit to counteract the culture's rampant materialism," he says.
Today's Shmuleyism
"By spoiling our children, they become brats and we do them the disservice of removing the natural cuteness that makes them adorable and lovable to the world. But by giving our children discipline and purposefulness, we protect their innocence and bring out their natural light, which makes for a brighter, more wholesome world."

If anything, we (mostly me) may be guilty of his last 2 reasons (exhaustion and falling into the 'friend' rather than 'parent' role).  As for the solutions he suggests, we do most of those things except the family meetings...and admittedly we have made great strides lately in terms of getting them to do things like clear the table after eating and unpack their lunch bags when they get home from school.  But they still do - in my opinion - have far too many expectations regarding us doing things for them. 

So, yes, I am sure if this generation IS more spoiled than past generations, our parenting has something to do with it.  That being said, when I've discussed this with my brother and his wife in the past, they've pointed out that our more permissive, democratic style of parenting may be to blame, but that it does have some benefits over the more authoritarian style of our parents' generation.  Our children are more likely to question authority and be critical thinkers, perhaps?  This is where the whole Tiger Mom debate comes in I guess.  I have to tell you though, I often wish my kids were more scared of me, 'cause they ain't scared of me AT ALL!

But I think we are doing pretty well in this house about setting limits overall and we are definitely constantly working on it.  The message of how privileged they are, however, has not gotten through to them.  They really don't get it. 

The last few days I've been doing some research to try and find some sort of video to show them about how many children live (in poverty, without half the material items or comforts they have), but have been unsuccessful finding one suitable for kids their age.  I spoke briefly with a parent on the school's council last year about getting the kids involved in some sort of social justice issue to educate them about inequality, but nothing ever happened.  I think I'm going to have to revisit this idea.  In the meantime, however, I am going to keep looking for a video or perhaps a book, because they really need to SEE it with their eyes.  Describing the way too many people in this world live to them (without food security, shelter, etc.) is not enough, they need to see visuals.  I'll keep searching and if I find anything useful, I'll share it here.

Friday, October 25, 2013

I. Am. So. Done.

I don't have the time or brain power for a real post today.  Adam has been in Ottawa since last Sunday for his annual work trip and while there have been the expected challenges of single parenting, this morning I had to endure over an hour of the girls having screaming fights (I think in part they are also done with not having daddy around) and acting like spoiled brats.  Needless to say, I have probably never been so grateful for the weekend to arrive.  Adam gets back tonight, thank goodness, so at least I have that to look forward to.

Have a safe, healthy weekend!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Book Review: Painted Girls

The reason I have a whole section on books on this blog is I am a book-a-holic.  No Kindles, etc. either.  I like good ol' paper books.  I am ALWAYS reading something.  People frequently ask me when I have the time.  The answer is, it is part of my bedtime routine.  Sometimes I read for just 5 minutes before drifting off to sleep, sometimes a whole hour.  Either way, it is how I unwind and relax. Also, if I have to take the bus or subway to work rather than bicycle, I always tote along some reading.  I even bring books with me to the office to read in between clients.

I just finished The Painted Girls, which my mother-in-law loaned to me, and I loved it so much I had to share.  It is written by a Canadian, Cathy Marie Buchanan.  I have to say, Canada has so many fabulous writers, it's really incredible.  Oh, and in case you didn't hear, our very own Alice Munro just won the 2013 literature Nobel Prize!

Anyways, The Painted Girls is about a family with 3 young daughters in 19th century Paris.  Two of the daughters are involved in the ballet, but don't worry, even if dancing isn't your thing, you'll love this book.  It's not really about dancing at all, although it does provide an interesting account of what it must have been like for most girls involved in the ballet back then (not at all glamorous and very tough!!).

The book was inspired by the work of Edgar Degas, and builds on some of the real life events surrounding the subjects of some of his art, including the Van Goethem sisters and the criminals featured in his work, Criminal Physionomies.

Honestly, I absolutely adored this book.  The characters are engaging and the story provides an interesting snapshot of the Belle Epoque period of Paris history.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Sweet Masala Granola (Oil-Free, Sugar-Free, Gluten-Free & Vegan)


I am always trying to come up with new granola variations.  I dreamed this one up lying in bed one night.  Not sure where the inspiration came from, but man, it was a good one.  Aromatic, flavourful, crispy and chewy.  It is so so good...and super healthy.  There is no oil, no sugar, and the low-calorie puffed brown rice lightens it up, so you can eat it guilt-free.  The turmeric gives it a nice yellow colour, but really I threw it in because it is an amazing super food with anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties.  This granola is great with dairy or non-dairy milk, or yogurt and fresh fruit, if desired.

Don't be scared off by the garam masala, it is a warm, aromatic, but not spicy, spice blend.  I love it in both sweet and savoury dishes.  I didn't add nuts to it, so it could go in the girls' lunch box, if they want, but shelled pistachios and/or cashews would be awesome.  Also, instead of the cherries and raisins, you could throw in chopped dried apricots, dates, or figs.

Honestly, this might be my favorite granola variation yet!!

Sweet Masala Granola (Oil-Free, Sugar-Free, Gluten-Free & Vegan)

2 cups apple or pear sauce
1 tsp vanilla extract
Liquid stevia, to taste
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp sea salt

5 cups large flake oats (gluten-free if necessary)
4 cups puffed brown rice
1 cup whole grain millet

1 cup dried, unsweetened cherries
1 cup unsweetened raisins

Place grains in a large bowl.

Put apple sauce and the rest of the ingredients in a sauce pan and heat over low heat until aromatic.  Pour over grains and toss until they are well coated.  Spread half of the mixture in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 350F for 15 minutes.  Stir, and break up into clusters.  Bake for an additional 5 minutes.  Let cool completely and then transfer into a large, air-tight container.  Repeat for other half of mixture.  Add dried fruit and toss.

This recipe has been shared with Gluten-Free Friday and Wellness Weekend.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Product Review: RW Garcia Snacks

RW Garcia Flaxseed Tortilla Chips

Recently I was sent a generous selection of RW Garcia's snack chips.  They are all made from organic, non-GMD, certified gluten-free corn.

They gave us several flavours of their tortilla chips and a few bags of their dippers.  I could give you the low-down on each, but it's faster just to tell you that every variety they sent was a serious crowd pleaser.  The girls loved them and everyone we shared them with (I brought a bag to our Rosh Hashana party, and served a few more when we had friends visiting), loved them.

Big A said she found them "Very flavourful."  Adam told me they were dangerous (i.e. he could easily devour too many).  Even Little A enjoyed the Thai Sweet and Spicy Flax variety, which I thought might be too overpowering for her.  These really impressed everyone who tried them!

From a nutrition perspective, they are a better choice than most conventional brands of chips because there are no additives, preservatives or artificial crap.  Just keep in mind that they are still chips.  A small handful will still cost you 130 calories, so if you devour a whole bag you might find yourself having consumed a whole day's worth of calories...and that's not including whatever you choose to dip them in.

The only thing I really didn't like is the packaging.  The bags are very strong, which I suppose is a good thing, but they are also impossible to pull open along the top seam.  You have to use the little slit they provide if you don't have scissors handy, but that makes them rip down the side, which is not ideal if you want to try and re-seal them once they are open.

So if you like corn chips, these are delicious, and are a great choice, but just consider them, like any other snack food, an occasional treat.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Book Review: The A to Z of Children's Health

Hey there, welcome to Monday!  We had a delightful, relatively quiet weekend.  How was yours?  Hopefully no one in your home was sick...there is a lot of nasty stuff going around these days.

If you're a parent, than you have probably spent far more time that you would like to desperately searching Google and/or parenting books trying to figure out if your child's rash, cough or fever warrants a trip to the doctor or if there is something that can be done to treat it.  It's hard not to worry that it could be something more ominous that just an every day infection and while you'd make yourself (and everyone around you) nuts if you panicked every time your kid has the sniffles, as a parent, you naturally want to do everything in your power to prevent your child from harm.

Recently I was sent The A to Z of Children's Health, written by doctors Jeremy Friedman, Natasha Saunders, and Norman Saunders, of Toronto's very own Hospital for Sick Children.  One of the contributors is the girls' very own pediatrician!  Love her!!

The book is definitely comprehensive.  It covers every health issue you can think of from allergies to burns, to lice, to night terrors, teething, and warts.  It is organized, as you might have guessed, alphabetically, by condition.

I like that they have included mental health and behavioural issues.  Because sibling rivalry is a big problem in this house, I checked out that section first.  They give some good tips about how to manage sibling rivalry, however, though they mention that some is normal but too much is problematic, they don't explain how to differentiate between what is normal and what is not, nor do they suggest what to do if things are in the problematic stage. I think the book is better for physical ailments and conditions but I think it's good they include behavioural issues too.

The A to Z of Children's Health covers not only the usual ailments and injuries, but also many chronic and congenital conditions.  It does a great job of giving very detailed instruction for things like administering an Epipen, which could be frightening for a parent.  There are lots of photos, and even case studies and extensive information about possible causes of presenting symptoms as well as possible treatments.

Overall, I think this is a great resource for parents to have.  Rather than searching the internet for information, which may or may not be accurate, this book provides credible information that you can have on hand whenever needed.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Healthy Nuts: Stay Prostate Cancer-Free

I know mostly women read this blog, but, then many of you will still have a man in your life you care about such as a father, brother and/or husband.  So I thought I'd do a post about prostate cancer.

Often people get confused about the headlines and research findings, partially because there are two types of prostate cancer: the indolent kind that doesn't usually require treatment, and the lethal kind.

Harvard Professor, Meir Stampfer, has attempted to address this issue by focusing on prostate cancers that lead to death.  He and other researchers have found that the following factors increase the risk of fatal prostate cancers:
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Calcium supplementation
  • High fat dairy intake
  • High intake of eggs (6 or more/week)
  • Low/no coffee intake
  • Low intake of cruciferous vegetables
  • Low intake of fatty fish & fish oil (but decreases risk of indolent prostate cancers)
 For men who are diagnosed with a prostate cancer, the type you have can help determine the best course of action.  Studies are showing that for low-risk prostate cancers (PSA less than 10, Gleason score of 6 or less, and tumour stage T1c or T2a), active surveillance may be more appropriate than surgery.

Ultimately, like most other diseases, your best bet to lower your risk is to maintain a healthy lifestyle.  So skip the bacon and egg brunches this weekend, eat a salad, grab the men in your life and go get active!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Vegan Bacon-Flavoured Roasted Brussels Sprouts

I hate food trends.  Admittedly, it's probably because they are usually pretty unhealthy.  This is definitely the case with the big food trends of the past few years: Burgers, cupcakes, and bacon on everything.  Silly!

Of course, I find diet trends just as annoying.  They are generally based on pseudo science and never end up being very effective.  Mark my words, even with gluten-free and paleo diets being all the rage, I bet there will be few positive changes in the overall health and weight status of the North American population.

The bacon thing is particularly stupid: cured and processed meats are quite possibly the most unhealthy thing you can eat.  Period.  Cancer and heart disease city.  You can poo poo my warnings all you want, but do you really think it will be worth it when you're wasting away from colon cancer?

Okay, enough of my scare tactics.  If you want all the smoky, salty deliciousness of bacon, without the crap, just make these babies.  They taste good and are good for you.  A much better deal, if you ask me!

Vegan Bacon-Flavoured Roasted Brussels Sprouts

1 lb fresh Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half

1 tsp olive or melted coconut oil
2 tsp soy sauce/tamari/coconut aminos
2 tsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp pure maple syrup
Liquid smoke (a few drops, or to taste)
Cracked black pepper and sea salt, to taste

Toss sprouts with all the ingredients and let 'marinate' for at least 1 hour.  Spread on a parchment-lined bake sheet and roast at 350F for 20-25 minutes.  Enjoy!  Your colon will thank you.

This recipe was submitted to Gluten-Free Friday and Wellness Weekend for this week.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Cranberry Chocolate Crispy Squares (Gluten-Free & Vegan)

Happy hump day! Here is a sweet treat to brighten up a rainy Wednesday.

Angela posted this recipe last Monday when I was stuck at home with a sick Little A.  I instantly knew making these would be the perfect activity for us and a great lunchbox treat for the girls. 

Of course, I mixed things up a bit.  I omitted the drizzle and - as per Little A's request - added in some dried cranberries.  I also doubled the recipe because I knew they would disappear fast!

Adapted from this recipe.

Cranberry Chocolate Crispy Squares (Gluten-Free & Vegan)

1 cup coconut oil
1 cup cocoa powder
150 mls agave syrup or other liquid sweetener
Pinch of salt
1 cup dried cranberries
2-1/4 cups brown rice crispy cereal

Melt oil over medium heat.  Whisk in cocoa, sweetener, and salt until smooth.  Stir in cereal and cranberries.  Press into parchment paper-lined 9x12 baking pan.  Freeze for about 20 minutes, until firm.  Remove from pan and cut into squares.  Makes 24 squares.  Keep refrigerated.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Pumpkin Raisin Curry

It's kinda nice to have just a 4 day week ahead.  After a very full and active day running around Downey's Farm and then bouncing on trampolines at Skyzone, all 4 of us were exhausted and starving last night.  I thought the extra long weekend might make it even more difficult than usual to get the girls out the door to school this morning, but things went relatively smoothly.

This year we didn't do a traditional Thanksgiving meal.  But believe me, I didn't miss the turkey, stuffing thing at all.  I cooked up some pretty yummy things this weekend, if I do say so myself!

I dreamed up this recipe, like I usually do, at some random moment.  Actually, I was trying to think of a new way to use pumpkin.  If you like sweet, savoury dishes, you will absolutely love this.  If not...well then you're weird.

If you don't want it spicy, you can omit the chili. No matter what, you'll end up with a delicious, comforting curry to warm you up on chilly autumn nights. 

But in case you're, the girls didn't eat this.  I haven't managed to get them to even try curry yet.  This was a dish for Adam and I...I am still holding out for a day when the kids will like this type of meal, but right now I'm just grateful they will eat pasta with spinach/basil pesto sauce!

Pumpkin Raisin Curry

1 tsp coconut oil
1 onion, diced
2 tbls fresh ginger, minced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 heaping tbls garam masala
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
Crushed red chilis, to taste (optional)
2 cups pureed sugar pumpkin (canned or homemade)
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained (or 1.5 cups cooked chickpeas)
1 can light coconut milk
1/4 cup no-sugar added apricot preserves/spread
1 cauliflower, cut into florets and roasted (or just throw in raw and simmer until tender)
2 cups finely chopped kale
1/2 cup raisins

Cook onion, ginger and garlic in oil over medium heat until softened.  Add vinegar and spices and cook a few more minutes until liquid is absorbed.  Next, add remaining ingredients and simmer, adding water, if needed, to thin out sauce, until veggies are cooked to taste.  Serve over brown basmati rice, quinoa or millet.  Freeze leftovers, if desired.  Serves 4-6.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving for 2013

Today is a family day.  We are heading to Downey's Farm for Pumpkinfest in the morning, and then a trip to Skyzone with my brother and his family in the afternoon.

Find the perfect pumpkin at Downey's Farm in Caledon, Ontario.

Instead of spending the whole day sitting and eating, get outside and get active.  Research studies show that outdoor activity is one of the best ways to improve your physical and psychological health!

So before or after your meal, why not take a brisk walk with the family, or enjoy a friendly game of soccer, football or tag.  It won't be long until snow and cold temps make it harder to get outside.  Enjoy the beautiful fall weather while you can.

No turkey eating this weekend for us, however, I made a great festive vegan recipe instead which I'll be sharing soon.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Thankful for the Many Gifts

 It's the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, which is usually one of my favorite times of year, but it has been quite a week.  Little A seemed to be on the mend and even went to school Tuesday and Wednesday, but Thursday morning woke up with a fever of 104 again.  I cleared off my schedule for the day and whisked her to the doctor again.  This time she got a swab for strep, but it came back negative (no surprise, she hasn't had a sore throat!), so the doctor sent us for a chest x-ray since she was coughing and pneumonia was suspected.  Yep, pneumonia it is!  No wonder this child has been miserable.  I've heard many stories from other people already about how it often isn't suspected at the beginning because the patient seems to have periods of feeling better but the fever keeps returning.  What's odd is that while she does have a cough, it's not severe and she hasn't had the breathing difficulties that often accompany pneumonia. 

 On the bright side, this week we have had spectacular weather.  It's been about 18-20 Celsius and sunny.  It's the kind of weather that makes me feel happy, which has been immensely helpful in dealing with a sick child, an older child jealous of her younger sister who is getting extra attention and time at home, rearranging work commitments, and dealing with exhaustion from Little A waking us up multiple times almost every night this week.  I always remind myself to appreciate every minute of this gorgeousness because the autumn is so fleeting.  Soon I'll be complaining about snow and cold...and then about heat and humidity as winter drags on giving us a short spring that almost immediately turns into summer.
I am also thrilled because several of my favorite infertility clients told me they are pregnant this week.  Ah, this makes me so so happy.  One of the hardest things about doing infertility counselling is that, while I can help people cope, I can't actually make them get pregnant, and when they are really struggling emotionally, I sometimes feel helpless.  It's a good reminder for me that no matter what the challenges of having children, I am very very lucky.
Despite the events of this week, I think (hope!) Little A will be feeling better soon so we can partake in some fun activities we were planning.  If not, that's okay too.  I am grateful to just have my beautiful family and be able to spend this weekend with them.
I should also say that I am grateful to be living in Canada.  With all the doctor visits, x-ray, etc., the only thing we had to spend any money on was the antibiotics, which were mostly covered by Adam's insurance, so we paid less than $4.00.  I know many folks around the world are not so lucky!!

Have a safe and healthy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Honey Garlic Roasted Trout


Here is another simple fish recipe that is easy, delicious and kid-friendly.  I almost had a pretty picture of it, but, of course, broke the fillet in half when moving it into the serving dish. Clearly not only am I not meant to be a food photographer, I'm not meant to be a food stylist either.  Ah well, I only care about the taste anyways.

Honey Garlic Roasted Trout

1 lb rainbow trout fillet
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
2 tbls  honey
2 tbls soy sauce (or tamari, or coconut aminos)
Crushed red chili flakes, to taste (optional)
Season with salt, to taste

Whisk together garlic, oil, honey, soy and seasonings.  Spoon evenly over trout.  Roast at 425F for 8-14 minutes (depending on thickness). 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Herbal Stress Relief: Sainthood Herbs Product Review

SOLUTION: Stress & Sleep

I may be passionate about living healthfully, however, I tend to be a skeptic about herbal remedies.  Not because I think none of them work...although few have for me, but because there is much less scientific research on these products so we know less about appropriate dosages, absorption, etc.  In addition, many of these products are not regulated so what you see on the label may not be exactly what you are getting in the bottle.

So it was with much doubt that I agreed to try out Sainthood Herbs' Stress & Sleep formulation.  After all, as a woman who has struggled with anxiety and insomnia forever, I have tried a multitude of herbal and alternative therapies and found absolutely none did anything for me at all.  But I had nothing to lose.

The supplement is made up of Lemon Balm, and a 'proprietary blend' of Chinese Mint, Silk Tree, and Jujube.  The bottle recommends consulting at doctor before taking if you are on any meds and since I am, I decided to chat with one of the naturopaths I work with.  In particular, I wondered if it would interact with my thyroid pills.  She looked at it and deemed it safe and the ingredients generally effective for anxiety and insomnia.  Okay, cool.

Still, I didn't expect these pills to work.

They did.

I've been feeling particularly stressed the last few weeks because of work, the new school year beginning (meaning mornings are even more rushed), and having to start organizing the girls' daycare's fundraiser in November.  While I've been sleeping, my quality of sleep has sucked.  My wild, crazy dreams are more vivid than usual and I wake up feeling like I've run a marathon rather than slept.

What I've found is that when I take these pills, I sleep much more soundly and feel awesome the next day.  Holy cow!

Could it be placebo effect?  Sure.  No way to know since this is not a controlled study.  But even if it is, its helping me, so who cares?

The only problem?  These babies are expensive: $28.95 for 90 capsules (you are supposed to take 3 at a time).  So now I'm annoyed because I want to buy some.  See that's the one good thing about prescription drugs.  Assuming you have a drug plan, at least some of the cost is covered.  I wonder if one day products like this will get covered.  I guess it's possible seeing as some people get coverage for acupuncture now.

Sainthood Herbs also has formulations for weight maintenance, menopause, blood sugar control and other issues and can be bought online.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Pumpkin Spice Harvest Bars (Sugar-Free, Gluten-Free, Oil-Free & Vegan)

Ah, it's fall and that means many of my favorite foods are in season.  These bars combine several of them into one and are just as delicious as they are nutritious.  These make a great breakfast, snack or lunch box treat.

Batter Base

1/2 of a medium pie pumpkin, roasted and mashed (about 2 cups)*
2 cups oats, ground into flour (gluten-free, if necessary)
1 cup xylitol, or stevia baking blend (or coconut sugar, if you prefer)
2 flax eggs (2 tbls ground flax + 6 tbls hot water)
1 tsp vanilla extract
Dropper full of stevia liquid (if desired)
2 tbls lucuma powder (optional)
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Fruit compote

2 apples, peeled, cored and chopped
1/2 cup dried, juice sweetened cranberries
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Liquid stevia, to taste (optional)
1/2 cup water

Place compote ingredients in a pot on the stove over medium heat.  Bring to a boil and turn heat down to low.  Simmer until liquid is absorbed and fruit is softened.

Place all the ingredients for batter into food processor and blend until fairly smooth.  Add in fruit compote and pulse a few times, just until mixed in.

Scrape batter into greased 9x12 baking pan.  Bake at 400F for 25 minutes.  Let cool completely before cutting into squares and removing from pan.  Makes 24 squares.  Keep refrigerated for up to 1 week or freeze.

*For the pumpkin, I cut it in half, scooped out the seeds, and roasted, skin side up, on a foil-lined baking sheet at 400F for about 40 minutes.  Then I let it cool and threw it into the food processor.  Feel free to use canned pumpkin, if you prefer.

I have included this recipe in Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten-Free Friday and Wellness Weekend for this Thanksgiving 2013 weekend.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Book Review: Conquer Your Stress With Mind/Body Techniques

Book Cover - Front

Its a very rainy Monday morning here, and we've got a pretty sick little one in the house.  Saturday night Little A woke up with a fever and yesterday she was a mess.  She tends to spike crazy-ass temperatures and she was absolutely sizzling.  What freaked me out is she was complaining her neck hurt!  Fortunately, the doctor said it is NOT meningitis, and that many viruses can be accompanied by neck pain.  Who knew?  In the middle of the night last night her fever finally broke, but I am going to be at home with her today. 

If you are feeling a bit stressed about another week ahead of you, perhaps this book will be of interest.

I was sent Conquer Your Stress With Mind/Body Techniques by Kathy Gruver to review.  Gruver is the host of The Alternative Medicine Cabinet.

The book starts with an explanation of why she wrote the book and then some background and history on mind/body medicine.  Next, there are sections that give a brief explanation of various mind/body techniques.

Honestly, I don't have much to say about this book.  I can't say I really learned all that much.  I don't think it's target audience is health care providers.  The very simple, brief explanations of the various therapeutic techniques are better suited for individuals with little prior knowledge about them who are curious to learn more or are looking for which one might be appropriate for them.  The beginning of the book that discusses mind/body medicine, in general, is definitely the most interesting, and she has a clear, engaging writing style.  If you want an introduction to the concept of mind/body techniques that can be helpful for managing stress, this book may be useful.

Friday, October 4, 2013

And the Axis Shifts Again

The dynamics in this household have changed dramatically over the past month.  Little A has transformed back into the delightful, joyful child we used to see more of before she turned 2.  The frequent shrieking fits we've been dealing with in response to absolutely everything for the last 2 years have significantly declined.  I am so enjoying this adorable child again!  She is so gleeful and fun to be with again. I can't tell you how happy this makes me as she goes through the final vestiges of being a baby-ness.  She is still so cute and squishy.  The way she talks, giggles and laughs is so sweet...I just want to gobble her up.  It is such a pleasure and I can't stop hugging and kissing her.

Why the change?  I really can't say.  Perhaps starting school has made her feel more grown up.  Or, perhaps she just happened to go through a major developmental phase at the same time.  I just know that I want to take advantage of every minute of it.

And then there is Big A.  Accompanying Little A's shift in demeanor has been some behavioural changes with her big sister.  Big A is often being really mean to her for no reason.  I suspect she is feeling jealous because Little A is not getting in trouble much anymore.  Up to this point, Little A was getting sent to her room to calm down from her tantrums on a daily basis.  Now there hardly are any tantrums.  So I have had to really put my foot down about their fighting and squabbling.  I just hope Big A can adjust to the new situation and stop trying to strike up conflict.

I am so glad it's Friday, although this will hardly be a relaxing weekend.  Tonight and tomorrow morning I have to work.  Big A has a birthday party tomorrow and then we have friends coming for dinner.  Sunday Big A has a playdate and Adam had his book club.  Oh, and it is supposed to pour all weekend.  Lovely.

Nevertheless, I am grateful for where we are right now.  Overall, things are great and I have so much to be thankful for.  This is something I am reminded of every day when I work with my clients who are facing such tremendous loss and seemingly insurmountable challenges.  As my counselling experience increases, I am more and more certain that the most important thing in life is our connections with others.  A sense of belonging is key, whether it comes from family, friends or community.  So have a safe, healthy weekend and hold your loved ones close.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Think Fast: The 5:2 Diet Book Review

If you have been reading this blog for long, than you know I abhor quick fix weight-loss schemes and have no time for detoxes, cleanses, or extreme diets.  There is no evidence to support the efficacy of detoxes or cleanses and most people cannot sustain a really restrictive or low calorie diet long-term.  The goal for anyone should be to establish healthy habits that can be maintained over the lifetime. 

So initially when I started to hear about intermittent fasting, I rolled my eyes and sighed.  "What now," I wondered, "A diet where you just don't eat at all?"

But intermittent fasting is actually a weight loss or maintenance technique that is backed by science and supported by weight-loss experts I respect like Yoni Freedhoff.  So when I was asked to review Kate Harrison's The 5:2 Diet Book, I enthusiastically agreed.

There are many variations that one can take on this eating pattern: short cycles of complete fasting (1-2 days a week consuming nothing), a few days a week of restricted intake with normal eating on other days, or even limiting eating to specific hours every day (eating between 10am and 7pm, and then not eating again until 10am the next day). 

Regardless of what physiological benefits may underlie brief periods of fasting, what makes this approach so effective for many people is the psychological benefits of only having to restrict their eating for short periods of time and being allowed to resume regular eating patterns the rest of the time.

Harrison is not a physician or dietician, but a journalist who has become an advocate for this weight loss strategy.  It helped her shed significant weight through a cycle of consuming just 500 calories 2 days a week, and a 'normal' diet of about 1,800-2,000 calories on the other days and maintain the loss for a number of years.

The book is surprisingly entertaining.  Who knew a book about dieting could be enjoyable to read?  Given that Harrison is a journalist, I guess it should be no surprise that she writes well, and in an appealing way for lay folks.  If you like to know basic information about things but don't like reading a lot of detailed science info, than you will like this book.  That being said, if you do like to know the how and why of things, she lists a lot of resources at the end.  It is mostly a description of how she adapted to this eating plan as well as many anecdotal stories from others who use intermittent fasting to lose and maintain their weight.

One thing she mentions at the beginning which is very important is, do not attempt this type of eating plan without first consulting a doctor.  It is not suitable for anyone who is pregnant or breast feeding, or who has a history of an eating disorder.   If you are prone to clinically significant binge eating, this eating pattern is probably not for you.  If you have any type of chronic illness, such as diabetes, it really is critical that you speak to a health professional first.

What's great about this diet is you can eat whatever you want: vegan, omnivorous, low carb, gluten, gluten-free, paleo, the traditional foods of your culture, etc.  Eliminating entire food groups is not necessary.

I think, given most North American's reticence to making major changes to WHAT they eat, changing HOW they eat in this way may be a good solution for some people.  The periods of restriction are short, which makes them more psychologically manageable.

Now, to be honest, I have my doubts that I could pull off eating just 500 calories in a day.  But I am extremely physically active, and have always had a very large appetite.  But Harrison does say that as she got used to this system, she became able to workout, even on fast days.  She even says that she actually enjoys her fast days as she has a sort of set routine, and therefore doesn't have to think about what to eat, and they make her feel 'cleansed.'

What I object to is what she recommends eating on fast days.  There is some theory about protein interfering with the physiological processes underlying the health benefits of fast periods.  But - and she does admit this herself - protein helps you feel full.

Actually, if you would like to attempt intermittent fasting, I would refer to Barbara J. Rolls' book Volumetrics, which outlines what foods to eat to allow you to feel full on fewer calories.  It should come as no surprise that lower sugar fruits, veggies, lean proteins and high fibre foods are tops.  Understanding glycemic index is also important.  Ultimately, you want to fuel yourself with nutritious low-calorie foods that will keep you blood sugar as stable as possible.  Harrison does mention this too, however, some of the foods she mentions having as staples on her fast days are not necessarily ones I would recommend, like canned soups.

I also don't love the meal/food suggestions she gives at the end (packaged, sweetened oatmeal and white flour products would not be what I would recommend!), but that's what is so great about this: you can adapt it to suit your needs and preferences, as long as you stay within the calorie limits, which is 500 calories on fast days for women, and 600 for men, and then 1,800-2,000 calories on the other days.  She does, however, give suggestions for what to eat if you are out at a restaurant, etc., which, of course, can make things challenging. 

One key thing to remember is that 'other' days are not 'binge' days.  The key, like with any diet, is creating an overall calorie deficit, and you can easily negate the deficit on fast days if you go overboard on the other days.

The 5:2 Diet Cookbook: 120 Easy and Delicious Recipes for Your Two Days of Fasting

I was also sent the accompanying recipe book by Laura Herring (sounds fishy to me, he he!).  I wasn't thrilled by this book.  Unless you really don't know how to cook and/or have no idea about how to track the calories of your meals, I don't think this is a must have.  Again, if you are limiting calories, there is no place for refined carbohydrates and there was white flour and sugar in these recipes, which I felt was really unnecessary.

In any case, if you have struggled to lose weight and are looking for something new to try and this sounds appealing to you, than see your doctor and/or a registered dietician and explore whether intermittent fasting may be for you.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Adoration Above the Clouds

I mentioned this incredible encounter I had on my way home from Victoria on Sunday. 

Don't worry, I did not cheat on my husband and join the mile high club!  Why would I when I am the luckiest woman in the world?  While I was away, Adam spoiled the girls with food and fun, all the while taking over all the domestic duties including laundry and even cutting up mountains of fresh vegetables for this week's meals!

No, I did not find romantic love on the airplane, but I fell in love in a different way.

I was seated beside a couple on the airplane, the husband beside me, as we departed from Vancouver.  I kept to myself reading the whole time (my television was broken, of course!).  About two-thirds of the way through the flight, both got up to use the washroom.  When they returned, they switched seats and the wife sat down beside me and immediately struck up conversation.  She proudly told me that she and her husband were on their way to Rome for a 50th wedding anniversary celebration trip.  I instantly knew these were special people.

The woman (I'll keep their names confidential), said she had a son and daughter in Vancouver and three grandchildren.  Their son is a lawyer and their daughter a banker.  She spoke proudly and lovingly of them all.

I asked her the secret to a 50 year marriage and she said: patience, understanding and...if I might read between the lines, the ability to pick your battles.  She also said you have to accept your partners differences, giving the example that her husband (who was giggling through this whole conversation), does not ever give apologies, but she knows him well enough to know when he is sorry for something.  Hmm, very wise.

I couldn't place their accent, so I asked her where they are from originally.  She explained that they came to Canada over 40 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya, after being forced to flee following independence in the 1960s (they're Ismailis, I discovered, after she quoted the Aga Khan).  They had to leave everything behind and arrived here with nothing.  She told me she worked for a bank until her retirement (they are both in their 70s) and he owned several businesses and still works several days a week in a post office to keep himself busy.

She asked if my family is all in Toronto and I explained that my husband and children, and extended family are, but my parents are in Kingston.  The woman literally almost fell off her seat.  She was shocked and explained that she thought I was a university student and couldn't believe I was old enough to be married with kids.  Ha!  I thought I would kiss her right then!  I informed her that I actually just turned 39 and she was astounded.  I'm thinking that maybe her eye sight is starting to fail her, although admittedly, with my hair pulled up, yoga pants on, and back pack, I was definitely dressed like a university student. 

The couple asked what Adam and I do, and about our children and our lives.  They were so impressed by all of our credentials, which, to be honest, made me feel like a fraud, since having lots of degrees doesn't necessarily mean you are smart or successful...particularly in my case!  But we discussed the importance of education and learning and she was very impressed with my counselling practice.  She was quite knowledgeable about infertility and IVF. They were also astounded by how humble they thought I am.  She exclaimed that she couldn't believe someone so smart and accomplished was dressed so casually and unassumingly.  I laughed since I rarely get praised for being a lazy bum (since the airport shuttle picked me up at 6:05am, I literally rolled out of bed, got dressed in my comfy clothes, ran a brush through my hair, and put on a bit of mascara).  Honestly, I do not deserve any of this admiration and praise, but I love the place where they were coming from.  I just loved them and felt this intense connection.

I shyly took a business card out of my back pack, hesitating before I offered it to her.  But the minute I did, she exclaimed that it must be God's will as she was just going to ask me for one.  I told her if they ever come to Toronto, to call me.  In return, she insisted I program their phone number into my phone and call them if we ever go to Vancouver.  I said we very well may, seeing as we have friends and family there.  She said it would be their honour to host my family at their house for Indian food (my favorite!!).

While I might assume that some people might say such things to be kind, I know they were sincere.  I would bet anything that even 2 years from now, if I called them up, they would remember me.  Honestly, I will always remember them as their kindness and warmth was absolutely dazzling.

Most people loathe when others start conversations with them on planes, but really, who knows when or where you might meet the most amazing people!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Think Pink (Lady)

File:Pink lady and cross section.jpg
Did I ever mention that I love apples?  Like really love them?  I'm sure I've mentioned it at least 1,000 times on this blog.

But an apple snob I definitely am.  No Delicious (either red or yellow), Granny Smiths or Macs for me thank you very much!  My favorite varieties are Mutsu (Crispin), Fuji, Kiku, and Honeycrisp.  And, now, I can add another to this list: Pink Lady (or Cripps Pink)!  I have had them before now and again and liked them, but the ones I am getting this season absolutely ROCK!  I discovered them at our market last week and they looked so gorgeous, they were calling my name.  They are large, sort of oblong, and pale green with a pink blush.  Oh, and absolutely delicious.  Firm, crisp, and the perfect balance of tartness and sweetness...I'm drooling just thinking about them now...

The girls love them too, and, of course, they love that they are called Pink Lady apples.  They are actually a hybrid of Yellow Delicious and Lady Williams (which I've never had) apples, which originated in Australia.  They are now also grown in New Zealand, Chile, Canada, Argentina, South Africa, Uruguay, Brazil, Japan, Italy, Spain, France and the United States.

If you can find them at your local market, buy 'em immediately!!