Monday, February 29, 2016

200 Best Sheet Pan Meals: Book Review

One thing most of my weight-loss clients have in common is that they rely heavily on restaurant food and take-out meals. This isn't surprising as researchers have found a correlation between number of meals eaten out and BMI.  Remember, the food industry is business. Its goal is to make money and your health is not their concern.  They will add as much fat, salt and sugar as it takes to make you love their food and come back for more.  Trust me, even dishes you think are healthy are generally far more indulgent than they would be if you made them at home (who would think to dump a crap-load of sugar into tomato sauce, or deep fry meat before throwing it into a stir fry?).
I've heard every excuse from time to lack of skill, to not enjoying cooking.  Its all BS.  You don't have to cook anything fancy or time consuming, and it really doesn't matter if you like it or not. I don't like flossing, nor unloading the dishwasher, nor folding laundry, yet there are things we must do. People should start thinking of cooking as a necessity, not an option.

Anyways, the purpose of my rant is to explain why I was excited to review this cookbook, 200 Best Sheet Pan Meals. I loved the idea and had never seen another book on this topic before. 

It doesn't get much easier than throwing a whole bunch of stuff onto a sheet pan and roasting it, and I adore roasting, it brings out the flavour in food better than just about any cooking technique.  I roast veggies all the time, but roasting meat is great too, and roasted fruit, whether for a savoury or sweet recipe, is fantastic!

Overall, I think this book is a mixed bag.  The first chapter: 25 Extra-Simple Pantry Meals, has recipes that are just what I mostly just baked goods (seems a reach to classify these things as sheet pan meals...yes you bake them on a cookie sheet, but come on!), and full of refined flour and sugar, which, you know, makes me nuts.  One exception is the Carrot Cake Breakfast Cookies, made from healthy ingredients and sound amazing!

There is a chapter on Meatless Meals, Fish and Seafood, Chicken and Turkey, Pork, Been and Lamb, that all contain some winners...Ginger Garlic Chicken with Roasted Plums? Yes please!!

The Sheet Sweets chapter doesn't appeal to me because so many of the recipes contain white flour and sugar, but if you are a more experienced cook and baker you can make your own healthier substitutions.

To sum up, I think this book has some great ideas and is perfect for someone just learning to cook and looking for simple but flavourful recipes.  Its not great for a vegan as there is only one meatless chapter and most sweet recipes have dairy and/or eggs.  So if you're embarking on a journey to hone your cooking skills, this may be a useful book to have in your library.  Just skip the sugar and flour-containing recipes.  Hey, if you are going to learn to cook, which can benefit your health, at least don't start cooking the B.A.D. diet! (Basic American Diet).

Disclosure: I was sent this book to review but all opinions on this blog are my own.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Wellness Tonic

Its Friday and we're back to uncharacteristically lovely weather.  All the snow has melted already, and its relatively mild and beautifully sunny.  We really have not had a true winter this year!  Its been delightful!!

Despite the weather, there are still some nasty bugs going around.  Adam has been feeling crappy for a week now and it seems half the people I talk to are down with a cold or flu.  Not me though!  I've noticed a dramatic drop in the number of colds and flues I get over the past year or so. If I had to guess why, I'd say its a combination of the kids getting older and bringing home fewer bugs, taking probiotics daily, and my strict regimen of good nutrition, sleep and exercise.  Of course, frequent hand washing is also a must!  If you are not feeling quite as stellar as I am right now, you might want to try this recipe...

It seems that I am quite possibly the only health conscious person on the planet that hates juice and smoothies.  I can't believe all the juice/smoothie places popping up all over Toronto and charging an arm and a leg (organic, vegan arms and legs, of course) for these concoctions.

I don't know why, but blending up all sorts of different things together into a slurry kind of makes me want to gag.  Come on, tell me I am not alone in this!?!

Lately though, I have been dying to try a beverage that's become pretty trendy: the 'tonic'. I finally got around to it a few weeks ago and I am so glad I did.  I have named my version the Wellness Tonic because most people refer to it as 'cleaning' or 'detoxifying' which is scientific bull shit. It certainly has health benefits but your body detoxifies itself and the best way you can help it do so is simply drinking water and exercising regularly, not consuming restrictive, liquid diets that just leave you tired and/or shitting your brains out.

I love that it can be imbibed hot or cold, depending on your preference, or, if like me you love bubbly drinks, you can carbonate it by mixing with seltzer, Perrier, etc.  I use our Soda Stream and mix 1/2 carbonated water with 1/2 of the mix, which I keep in a jug in the refrigerator.  I make it pretty strong and concentrated so it actually tastes best when cut with the bubbly water.  I also add enough ginger and cayenne to give it some kick, but you can adjust the flavour to suite your own taste.

I found fresh turmeric at my favorite health food store, but if you can't get your hands on any, you can use dried, ground turmeric powder.  I added some pure, uncut stevia powder to add a bit of sweetness too, but if you want, you can sub whatever sweetener you want, to taste, or add none at all.  Similarly, I love the zing of the apple cider vinegar, but if you are uncertain how strong you may like it, start by adding less, maybe 2 tbsp.

This drink is full of anti-oxidants, and has anti-inflammatory properties.  It also helps with digestion.  I have got to go out and get more fresh turmeric, because this is now my favorite drink!  If you are feeling sick or chilled, just fill a mug half way with this mixture, and fill the other half with boiling water for a soothing hot drink, otherwise, serve it my style, cold, with flat or sparkling water for a super refreshing drink that is also perfect as a post-workout recovery drink.

Wellness Tonic

8 cups water
1 large chunk of fresh ginger, peeled
1 piece of fresh turmeric, peeled (or 1 tsp ground)
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cayenne (or to taste)
1/4 tsp pure, uncut powdered stevia (or other sweetener), to taste
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar (or less)
Juice of 1 lemon

Place water in a pot and set over medium heat.  Add all the ingredients except for vinegar and lemon juice. Heat until bubbling and then turn down to low and simmer about 15 minutes.  Let cool and add vinegar and lemon juice.  Pour through a strainer, or just remove ginger and turmeric.  Place in a glass container and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

Yahoo for the weekend! Its another busy one for us with the girls' activities, a birthday party and a playdate, not to mention I have to see clients tonight and tomorrow.  I'll probably need a whole lot of my Wellness Tonic to get me through...perhaps mixed with some vodka too (ha, just kidding!).  Have a happy, healthy weekend!!

I have submitted this recipe to the Healthy, Happy, Green and Natural Party Blog Hop on Urban Naturale.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Thin from Within: Book Review

Happy Hump Day! I actually love Wednesdays, but its not looking so good right now.  We have abruptly returned to seasonally crappy weather.

Perhaps like many folks you made a New Year's resolution back in January to lose some weight this year?

There are a million diet books out there. It can be very challenging for someone embarking on a weight loss journey to know which one to choose...if any!

Most are a big sham.  Some are downright ridiculous: Cutting out entire food groups; Slashing calories too low; Consisting of hard to find and/or very expensive ingredients; Making all sorts of claims that are unproven. 

When I was asked to review Thin from Within by Joseph J. Luciani, a psychologist, I was definitely intrigued because it focuses on the emotional and psychological aspects of our eating behaviours, which are really most often what are at the heart of our struggles with weight.

Unfortunately, Thin from Within is a bit thin.  I agree with the majority of what he writes about and recommends, but there are two main problems with his approach.  First, what he claims to be his unique solution: Self-Coaching, is really pretty similar to the intended outcome of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).  Second, the book is not written in a very accessible way for most people. 

Nowadays, few people are willing to read a lot.  In fact, I often recommend reading as part of therapy for my clients and a lot of people (most), will not do so.  Some may buy the books, but actually cracking them open is another story.  So if you are going to write a 'How-To' book for people nowadays, you have got to make it direct and succinct.

It should be like:

This is what self-coaching is...
This is how you develop the skill...
This is how you practice the skill...

You get what I mean?

This information is all in there, however, its lost in a lot of irrelevant dialogue and case studies which I don't think are particularly useful. I think quite a lot of people will simply just not make it through this book.

But the overall premise is valuable: its not that you have to find the magic diet or food that will allow you to lose weight, its that you have to alter your relationship with food. 

North Americans, in general, have an incredibly toxic relationship with food, and I am not even talking about eating disorders, which are a different thing entirely.  Its just that we have created a status quo, a whole culture, around very destructive eating and lifestyle habits.  Few people can get away with just 'going with the flow' and eating mindlessly because we are encouraged at every turn to consume garbage food (if you can even call it food) and too much food, and this is the case practically 24/7!

The most important thing for every single one of us living in this environment is to be MINDFUL of what we put in our bodies.  I don't mean you have to meditate while you eat every meal.  I just mean you have to be conscious of what you're eating and why.  So many of us eat simply because food is offered or available, or for emotional or psychological reasons, or boredom or habit.

My basic weight-loss guidelines are:
1. Write down everything you eat (this is very important, and there are apps if you are a device addict)
2. Get to know your body and appetite.  Most people are totally out of synch with their physiological energy needs.  Figure out when you are hungry, what times eating works best for you and what foods work best for you (i.e. some people do best on 3 meals, 2 snacks, some prefer 6 small meals, etc.).  Some people will feel best eating vegan, some can enjoy low-carb, others need carbs at every meal/snack.).
3. Don't get hangry.  Most of us should never go more than 4 hours without eating or we get hangry and then make poor choices.  Its not good for mood or energy levels either.
4. Eat mostly unprocessed food and cook it at home.  If you absolutely cannot give up your daily donut or potato chips, find a way to work it into your eating plan, in moderation, but stick with the healthy stuff as much as possible.
5. Plan.  Plan meals for the week ahead of time, shop and prep.  Make sure you are never without a healthy snack in case of emergencies.  Remember if you go without food for too long, the hanger will take over!!
6. Move your body every day, and make sure some of your activity includes strength training.  Building muscle mass increases metabolism and offsets decreases in metabolism that often accompany weight loss.
7. Only adopt a habit to lose weight that you know you can maintain long-term.  Why bother if it makes you miserable, you know it won't stick and then you'll gain all the weight back!
8. Forget about perfection.  There is no such thing as perfection anyways and all-or-nothing thinking is what undermines most people's attempts at making a healthy behaviour change.
9. Make sleep a priority.  Being tired compromises cognitive abilities and mood, and increases stress hormones, cravings and calorie consumption.
10. Get enough fibre and protein because they are what help keep you feeling full and will keep your energy and blood sugar in check.  Simple carbs and sugars fuel appetite and cravings, so minimize as much as possible.

Ultimately, you need to find the combination of lifestyle changes that work best for you.  We are all individuals and have differing preferences and body types.  What really matters is that you find a lifestyle that allows you to reach your goals and be happy and fulfilled and only you know what that is.  To find it, however, may take some trial and error, so give yourself time and experiment.  Try new things all the time until you feel what works.

So do I recommend this book? Not really.  Honestly, the weight-loss book I always recommend to my clients is The Diet Fix by Yoni Freedhoff. I think most people will find it difficult to get through this book and get a clear, coherent picture of how to put the ideas into practice.  I do think its useful to understand the psychological and emotional components of our eating behaviours because often it isn't just what you're eating, its what's eating you that prevents you from losing weight and improving your health.

Disclosure: A complimentary copy of this book was sent to me for review but all opinions on this blog are my own.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Spiced Apple Berry Granola

Its Monday, a February Monday.  But I feel amazing and the weather is spectacular.  Yeah, you heard me!  The whole weekend, in fact, was amazing: very mild temps and sunny.  WTF?  Perhaps that's why, despite having more than several beers Saturday night when we were at our friends' for dinner, and then a kick-ass workout at the gym yesterday morning, I feel so awesome.  Amazing what a little sunshine can do!

Well, perhaps it isn't quite so delightful where you are, in which case I suggest a hearty breakfast to power you through your day.  Here is a delicious recipe that will tickle your taste buds and save you a few bucks.  It is kid-approved, and, in fact, Big A declared this the best granola she's ever had.  The only problem is, the girls are going through it so fast, I may have to hide some for myself!

If you are looking to cut your grocery bill and you love cereal/granola, making your own is worth it.  Its so expensive to buy! Granola, in particular, can be ridiculous, especially the premium/healthier varieties.

It's really easy to make and so much better when you can control what goes into it.  Most store-bought varieties have so much sugar added.

Not only is this version gluten-free, nut-free, vegan and sugar-free, it is simply fabulous.  I threw in a little protein powder to bump up the protein content too, but that's optional.  The kids are loving this granola.  In fact, I am getting upset that even though this recipe makes a huge amount, the girls have been going through it so quick, I may have to hide some from them!  They love it over yogurt either for breakfast, a snack, or even dessert after dinner.  I don't blame them though, it is so yummy...and baking up a batch makes your kitchen smell wonderful too.

Spiced Apple Berry Granola

1.5 cups unsweetened apple sauce
1/4 cup avocado oil (don't worry, its flavourless)
2 tsp pure, uncut powdered stevia (or other sweetener of choice)
1 scoop vegan vanilla protein powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp apple pie spice (or 1/2 tsp nutmeg + 1/2 tsp ground ginger)
1/2 tsp salt

2 lbs large flake oats (gluten-free, if necessary)
6 cups unsweetened puffed millet cereal
1 cup millet, uncooked
2 tbsp. chia seeds

1 cup juice sweetened dried berries
1/2 unsweetened freeze-dried blueberries (optional)
1/2 cup unsweetened dried apples, chopped
1/4 cup pepitas (optional)

Combine apple sauce, oil, sweetener, protein powder and spices in a small pot.  Warm over low heat for about 5-10 minutes.

Toss oats, millet and chia seeds in a large bowl.  Pour apple sauce mixture over top and toss well, making sure everything is well coated.  Spread evenly onto 2 very large parchment-lined baking sheets*. Bake at 350F for 20 minutes, then remove trays, stir, and rotate their position (placing top one on bottom rack and vice versa).  Repeat twice more, baking for a total of 1 hour until golden brown.  Stir well each time to prevent burning.  Remove from oven and let cool.  Mix in dried fruit and pepitas.  Store in air tight container in a cool place for up to 3 months.

*If you don't have 2 large baking sheets, simply bake in batches.

I shared this recipe with Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten-Free Friday.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Shimmer & Shine: Kids Television Program Review

I know parents of toddlers complain about the irritating television shows their kids love to watch, but trust me, you'll miss them once your kids start watching the teen/tween shows!

Unfortunately, Big A started watching them a few years ago already, and she got her little sister hooked! Ugh, obnoxious, idiotic characters, all adults portrayed as morons, and laugh tracks that make me want to tear my hair out!  I miss the days when they would watch the innocent, animated shows on Treehouse!

So I had no problem allowing Little A to review the DVD of Shimmer and Shine we were sent. I didn't even bother asking Big A, since at almost 10 years old, she is already watching adult shows.

Little A was excited to be able to share her opinion with all of you! She was already familiar with the show, which is produced by Nickelodeon, in the U.S. and airs on Treehouse in Canada. She was more than happy to sit and watch the seven episode DVD all at once.

So what is Shimmer and Shine all about? The premise is summed up nicely on Wikipedia as follows:

A young girl named Leah is helped by her two genies, sisters Shimmer and Shine, fraternal twins who can collectively grant three wishes every day. They do so by traveling from their home, riding on a magic carpet through a genie wonderland to reach Earth.

Shimmer and Shine, being young genies, often mess up Leah's wishes. This causes the girls to work together to undo their mistakes, solving Leah's problems along the way. They learn that mistakes can be undone and there is no reason to get upset. As they are Leah's secret genies, they must hide when Leah's friend, Zac, is around. However, he is mostly oblivious to the magic and strange things that occur as a result of the twins' mistakes.

When not granting wishes, Shimmer and Shine live with their pets Nahal and Tala in a genie palace within the magical land of Zahramay Falls, which is located inside their genie bottle (Leah's necklace). When summoned by Leah, Shimmer and Shine's bracelets glow, informing that Leah is calling for them. Soon, Leah's genie bottle pendant grows to the size of a traditional genie bottle and the twins appear to grant Leah's wishes. After fixing their mistakes and solving Leah's problems, Shimmer and Shine return to Zahramay Falls. Shimmer and Shine also learn new things about Earth and what people do along the way and use it when they return home to Zahramay Falls.

Ah, so innocent and educational to most of the crap the girls watch now!

Here is Little A's review:

"I liked it a lot.  It is funny, and cool.  Leah is my favorite character because she always has the problems.  I would watch it again for sure and I would recommend it to my friends."

Well, there you have it, out of the horse's mouth. 

Disclosure: We were sent a complimentary copy of the DVD but all opinions on this blog are our own.

Our weekend is filled with errands, the girls' activities, dinner at our friends' place, a birthday party, and I have a staff meeting for fitness instructors.  Have a lovely weekend yourself and I hope it doesn't include any laugh tracks!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Heart Healthy Peppermint Truffles

Wow, is it ever snowy! It snowed right up until about 4pm tomorrow and we woke up to more snow this morning.  So much for all the shoveling I did.  Such is life in Canada.  So its a perfect day to stay inside and eat bon bons.  Healthy ones, of course.

The girls and I made these for Adam for Valentine's Day, but I will openly admit to have gobbled up my fair share, as did the girls.

Normally, I have little patience for cooking or baking with the girls because I hate mess and I hate waste and there is a lot of both when they are 'helping' me.

Nevertheless, they are old enough now to be somewhat useful, especially for getting them to do tasks I hate: like rolling things into balls and dipping them in chocolate.  They actually did a fantastic job in this case, although, I know a lot of the motivation came from being able to lick their fingers.  I don't think they would have been nearly as eager to assist if I said we were making meatballs. Am I violating any child labour laws? I hope not. 

Adam adores a lot of high fat foods: red meat, chicken wings, chocolate, chocolate chip cookies full of butter and sugar, etc.  Unfortunately, his cholesterol does not.  I knew he would be most happy if I made him a Valentine's treat that both indulged his love of chocolate but was also healthy.  These fit the bill perfectly.  In fact, they are made with a secret ingredient that neither he nor the girls realized, and one that is definitely heart healthy: black beans!  Yep, the centre is made from black beans! So these little treats are also full of protein and fibre too.  Free of sugar, and vegan, if you care. Take that Laura Secord!

If you don't like chocolate mint, you can sub vanilla or almond extract instead.  If you don't want to use the NuNaturals Cocoa Mint Syrup, you can sub the regular Cocoa flavour, or another liquid sweetener such as agave or honey.

Heart Healthy Peppermint Truffles

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup baking stevia (that measures equivalent to sugar)
2 scoops vegan or whey protein powder, chocolate flavour, sweetened with stevia
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup NuNaturals Cocoa Mint Syrup
1 tsp pure peppermint extract

1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (preferably stevia-sweetened)
2 tbsp. coconut oil

Puree the beans in your blender or food processor until smooth.  Add all the other ingredients for the centre and blend until it forms a ball.  Refrigerate at least one hour until firm. Roll into balls.

For the coating, melt chips and oil in a heat-safe bowl set over simmering water.  Stir until smooth and let cool.  Using 2 forks, dip each truffle into chocolate and place on wax paper-lined baking sheet.  Chill until coating is set.  Keep truffles refrigerated for up to 1 week.

I have shared this recipe with Urban Naturale's Plant-Based Pot-Luck Party and Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten-Free Friday.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Feel the Love

Happy Friday!

Not only is this a long weekend for folks in Ontario (due to Family Day on Monday), but Sunday is Valentine's Day.

Its certainly going to be a good time to cuddle up as tomorrow it is supposed to be -18 Celsius here in Toronto, the coldest day this year!

Today is nutzo for me, so no time for a long post...

Have a wonderful love-filled weekend and I'll be back next week.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Vegan Taco Salad

Were finally have snow here and temperatures are supposed to plummet starting tomorrow.  I know salad doesn't usually scream winter food, but this is an epic warm salad recipe that is as delicious as it is healthy.  Its pretty quick and easy too, so don't let its good looks fool you. You'll want to make it all year round!

Ground "meat"

1 tsp avocado oil
1 block tempeh (350-500g)
1 red onion, peeled and halved
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 tbsp. taco seasoning or chili powder
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste, optional)
1 can tomato paste
1/2 cup or more water

Vegan Taco Salad

1 head iceberg lettuce, cored and chopped
2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/4 cup sliced black olives

1/2 cup vegan cheese sauce or shredded vegan cheese
1/4 cup salsa

Finely chop onion in food processor.  Break tempeh into pieces and place in food processor along with onion. Pulse until tempeh is the consistency of ground meat.  Pour oil into skillet over medium heat along with tempeh mixture, garlic, seasonings and vinegar.  Cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add tomato paste and water and turn heat to low.  Simmer for 5-10 minutes.  Add additional water if it gets too thick.

Spoon desired amount of tempeh mixture over iceberg lettuce (about half of mixture for 1 head of lettuce).  Sprinkle with tomatoes, and olives.  If using cheese sauce, stir with salsa and spoon over top.  Makes  a main for 2.  Leftover tempeh mixture can be refrigerated for up to 4 days or frozen.

I have shared this recipe with Urban Naturale's Plant-Based Pot-Luck Party,Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten-Free Friday and No Croutons Required.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Piloxing DVD Review

The Original PILOXING® Workout
Last week was definitely challenging with Adam away.  But it was also a stellar week fitness-wise.  On top of my own workouts, I had the kick-butt session at Lucid Fitness on Monday, and then Thursday I got on skates for the first time in years and skating with Big A's class.  Saturday morning, since my parents were visiting, I took the opportunity to get up early and go outside for a run. I was nervous as I haven't run in about 10 months, but I easily did 8km.  I'm proud of myself!!  Then later in the day, I went skating again with Little A at a birthday party.  I've avoided skating for past few winters because the idea of an outdoor activity in ridiculously cold weather doesn't appeal, but its been so mild this year, it was wonderful.  Unfortunately, the weather report is calling for temps to dip to insane levels by next weekend.  Of course, we've all been waiting for it.  Its pretty unrealistic to think we can get through an entire winter without the cold visiting at some point.  Anyways...I am starting the week with a fitness post.

Perhaps you'll recall that I described seeing a demo of Piloxing, a hybrid of boxercise and Pilates, and thought it looked really fun.  It was one of my discoveries I was determined to try out...I like core work, I love boxing workouts...and the demo looked both super challenging and really fun.

So I was thrilled to find a Piloxing DVD on sale through Amazon a few weeks ago.  It was a great deal and has both the original workout, and a 60 minute toning workout, which are usually sold separately for a heck of a lot more money.

Sadly, I am disappointed by this DVD.

The creator, Viveca Jensen, a Swedish professional dancer, comes across, I am sorry to say, as a clichĂ©.  She could easily be a Madam or a Burlesque dancer and what turned me off almost immediately is the attempt to make this workout sexy.  No thanks. I'm into being tough, strong and fit, not doing stripper-moves and twerking.

By the look of the women (really girls) she has doing the workouts with her, it is aimed at 20-somethings and/or teens. 

But the cardio workout itself was most disappointing simply because, for me, it wasn't challenging enough.  Piloxing also clearly rips off moves from Tae Bo. Now, if you are a workout newbie, and you aren't into kicking butt in the same way I am, you may really like this workout. I certainly don't think it's bad...and perhaps if I am looking for a low intensity workout I will flip this on once in a while.

To my surprise, I actually like the toning workout more.  It is divided into 3-20 minute segments, one for arms, one for glutes and one for abs.  The arms one, isn't really for me.  Rather than doing a million repetitions of exercises with no weight, I would much rather lift some freakin' huge dumbbells and get freakin' strong and ripped.  But the glutes and abs sections I actually liked.  You will too if you are someone who likes the whole Tracy Anderson method type thing. 

Just remember, that type of body weight or no weight high repetition exercise is best for already very lithe and lean people who just want to add a wee bit of muscle definition.  Its not great for shedding large amounts of fat or really building muscle.  If you want to make significant transformations to your physique, you gotta lift heavy weight!

The abs section is very much Pilates-inspired and is pretty challenging and kind of fun.  Jensen does have a few exercises in the toning workout that are quite original (I particularly like her version of a one arm tricep pushup).

Oh, the other thing I didn't like much is the music, which, again, reminds me of a porn movie or strip show.  Not for me, thanks.

I guess I'll stick with my Tae Bo, Tapout XT and UFCFit workouts for now.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Serenity Now

I am really really really REALLY glad its Friday.

Adam has been in  Washington, D.C. since Sunday and he gets home in the middle of the night tonight.

I am absolutely done in the way you can only be done when you both completely physically and mentally fatigued.

Although its much easier to be on my own with the girls now compared to when they were younger, I still don't sleep well when Adam is away. I have fitful nights and crazier than usual dreams.  I got the same number of hours most nights this week but the quality of my sleeps just sucked.  Especially last night. 

I am proud to say I only had one major parenting fail this week: I forgot to help Little A prep for her spelling test today, because Adam usually deals with that stuff. He's been spending a huge amount of time with her every night on her reading lately, and I was focusing on trying to keep up with what he's been doing with her and completely ignored her teacher's email with the list of words the kids needed to study. It wasn't until Wednesday when Adam called and asked about it, did I start working on the words with her.  I hope she does okay today...if not, its entirely my fault!

I was pretty good at keeping on top of everything else, although, admittedly, when the girls asked if they could eat granola bars for breakfast the past 2 mornings (from Adam's stash), I gave in.  Frankly, if they'd asked if they could eat deep fried Mars Bars, I would have said yes.  As I said, I'm DONE.

This weekend will hardly bring relief, unfortunately.  My parents arrive for a visit this afternoon, and I have to work this evening and tomorrow morning. I think there are going to be a few beers happening...

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Lucid Fitness & XBody (EMS) Training: Review

 You know me, I'm a skeptic.  I want evidence of something if I am going to believe in it...especially if something, whatever it is, is claiming to be a quick fix.  So when I was invited to try the XBody Electric Muscle Stimulation (EMS) workout at Lucid Fitness, I was eager to do so, but mostly because I thought I would end up writing about what a scam it is.

 The gym itself is hidden in the basement of a commercial building in Toronto's exclusive Yorkville neighbourhood.  It is run by owner Aman Hasebenebi, who does the XBody training, as well as regular personal training.  She also offers yoga and dance classes in the small space.

While I might be a skeptic, I am also happy to admit when I am wrong and folks, I was so so wrong!  I definitely should have done some homework on exactly what XBody is before going.  Despite the lofty claims that it can give you crazy results with just 20 minutes 2x a week, it is not what I thought at all!

I thought it would be like my Omron Electrotherapy Pain Relief device, which just makes the muscles pulsate. That certainly isn't going to give you results comparable to doing strength training or cardio, that's for sure! I thought I would lie down on a table and basically get what a massage.  I was actually excited to relax. Ha ha ha...

If I had known just what I was in for, I definitely wouldn't have booked my session for a Monday, the day after I do my mega weight training and teach my spin class at the gym.  I am usually sore until Tuesday from the heavy lifting. 

In a 20 minute session, this freakin' machine, and Aman, kicked my ass!

First off, you have to put on the undergarments (no clothes of any kind allowed), which basically are like cotton long underwear.  Then Aman puts the suit on you and secures all the straps, making it feel like a pressure garment, and you get hooked up to the machine with electrodes:

Then the torture starts.  You are definitely not relaxing on a table.  You are standing in front of the monitor:

While thing is VERY STRONGLY stimulating all your major muscles (the intensity can be adjusted depending on your ability and fitness level), you are doing exercises: squats, military presses, bicep curls, standing crunches, planks, push-ups, etc.

It is awesome!  When I left, I already felt it in my biceps, triceps, quads and abs.  In fact, the short bike ride home afterwards was incredibly tough as I felt extremely wobbly. 

Of course, even though I was impressed with the whole thing, I had to check the research to see what the scientists say.  Sure enough, there are indeed legit studies showing that EMS training improves muscle strength and endurance even more efficiently than doing the same exercise without it, for both obese, sedentary individuals, as well as already fit, active folks.

Here is what they say on the XBody Website:

Save time
As all muscles work simultaneously, you’ll spend only just 20-25 minutes with training.
Build muscles
The electrodes are placed directly on the body to each important muscle group; so all the impulses reach their target. It’s easy, and you can’t go wrong.
Improve posture
As there are electrodes built into the training suit along the spinal column, those rarely trained muscles get worked as well. So muscles get stronger which can lead to a better posture and enhance lower back muscles.
Achieve toned body
Since it is an effective strengthening workout, it transforms how the body uses up calories. It is a very effective tool for the shrinking of body part circumferences and fat deposite under the skin.
Relieve joints
The electric impulses work on the muscles directly, there is no pressure on the joints, so they are not over worked – as it is often the case with weight workouts.
Balance out the muscular system
The built in electrodes can stimulate and develop all the muscle groups or just selected ones if desired, so the otherwise ’weaker links’ of the body can be strengthened.   

If you want more visuals of how a session works, check out this article.

Aman has the portable version and offers office place and home training sessions for clients.  You can get packages of sessions for as low as $60/session, which is actually cheap compared to regular personal training sessions.  If I had the money to spend on my fitness, I would so do it 2x a week! But since I am a trainer, have a home gym and a free gym membership, I can't justify it...or afford it even if I didn't have all that.  If you are already spending on personal training on a regular basis, this is a fabulous alternative way to spend that money.

I actually thought about buying a machine for our home until Aman told me the cost (more than many people make in a year!), but she also said its so popular that its already almost paid for itself in less than a year.  Wow! She also said her clients using it range from those who just want to lose weight to very fit people who love the challenge and the fact that the sessions are so short.

I admit it, I was wrong, this kicks ass, its legit and you should definitely try it if you have the chance!!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Fudgy Double Chocolate Brownies

Its February 1st. The first day of what is usually one of the most dreary, yucky months in Canada.  But you know what? Its gorgeous! Yes, you heard me! Its sunny and incredibly mild...and its supposed to be mild all week. I know I should technically find this concerning since it is likely a symptom of global warming...but its hard to feel bad on a day like this.  You can bet I'm going to be out on my bike today soaking it up!!

Unfortunately, even great weather cannot make Monday mornings much easier with the kids.  Big A, in particular is making things tough these days.  She insists on showering in the morning, but the kid cannot get her butt in gear.  Its a constant battle to get her out of bed, then to get her in the shower.  Once in the shower, its fight to get her out.  Then if she doesn't have enough time to sit down and eat breakfast, she starts screaming at me and Little A, like its our fault.  On days like this I have to give myself a pat on the back for just getting us all out of the house in one piece.

It is absolutely essential I have something on hand in the mornings that the girls are excited about eating and, if need be, Big A can eat on the way to school.  Generally chocolate is a must.  This recipe saved me this morning, unfortunately, the girls are going through the brownies so quickly, they aren't going to last long.

I bought a few avocadoes at the market to make guacamole for a party we hosted but come the day of the party, one was still rock hard.  Fast forward a few more days and I realized it was ripe yet had no plans for it.  Well, in my world that always means: a kitchen experiment!

Big A had been begging me to make my black bean brownies so I decided to make brownies, but try a new twist using the avocado. 
I am relieved to say that although my husband still hates avocados, the girls have become fans finally. Yahoo! Of course, they are bigger fans of chocolate, so I was pretty sure these would be a hit...and boy was I right!

These are dense, moist and fudgy.  If you want them less fudgy, you can bake for a bit longer, and/or omit the chocolate chips...but I don't advise it.   You need no excuse to make (and devour) these as they are gluten-free, refined sugar-free, vegan, high fibre, high protein, and full of good fats.  These are simply divine and you really must try them!!

Fudgy Double Chocolate Brownies

1 ripe avocado, skin and pit removed
2 flax eggs (2 tbsp. flax meal + 6 tbsp. hot water)
3/4 cup coconut sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk (plain, vanilla or chocolate)
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup vegan chocolate protein powder (stevia sweetened)
1 cup whole buckwheat flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips + 2 tbsp. (preferably stevia sweetened)

Place avocado flesh, flax eggs, sugar, vanilla and milk in blender or food processor and puree until smooth.  Add cocoa, protein powder, flour, soda and salt and blend until well mixed.  Stir in 1/2 cup chocolate chips by hand.  Spread batter evenly into greased 9x9 square pan.  Sprinkle remaining chips over top.  Bake at 350F for 16 minutes.  Let cool and cut into squares.  Makes 20 brownies.  Keep refrigerated for up to 5 days or freeze.

I have shared this recipe with the Healthy, Happy, Green & Natural Party Blog Hop on Urban Naturale.