Monday, October 24, 2016

Wayfair for the Win

Good morning and welcome to a new week!

Until recently, I was a reno virgin. Having just redone 2 floors of our 3 floor house, I learned a lot!

First of all, here are a few tips to keep in mind if you are planning a renovation yourself (and living through it):

1. Consider time of year - It was frickin' hot and humid while ours were being done, so despite having A/C, we were very uncomfortable. The workmen had the doors open a lot, and we were living on the top floor where the A/C is weakest. On the flip side though, if you do them in the dead of winter, your house may get really cold, and I'm guessing, the work may take longer because of snow, wet and other stuff making it trickier to move big equipment, furniture, appliances, etc. Our workmen did a lot of sawing and drilling in our front and back yards, and that wouldn't have been possible in winter.

2. When thinking about budget, think beyond the actual labour costs, equipment costs, and furniture costs - Since our house is only 18 years old, there were no unfortunate surprises in terms of wiring, plumbing, structural problems, etc. But a huge cost was incurred in terms of our day-to-day expenses. For example:
Food - Adam got a food service, and we were getting a lot of take-out and prepared food for the kids.
Utilities - The men were using our hydro to the max during the most expensive hours (running saws, drills, etc.)
Other - We had to store half our house in our garage and park our car on the street for almost 6 weeks, which meant we had to buy weekly parking passes from the city, which aren't cheap!

3. Protect your valuables/remove from space entirely - While packing up our first floor, I made a point of getting everything valuable and breakable out of the house and to the garage, I had a feeling there would be some collateral damage, and there was. The front door was the biggest one and though the workmen likely won't admit it, I am sure it was damaged by some piece of equipment smacking into the latching system, or simply because they opened and closed the door 5,000 times a day. Both our mezuzahs (front and back door) were broken. The plastic cutlery holder from our dish drainer broke (no biggie, but very inconvenient), a hallway light fixture (the men replaced it for us).

I also learned that when it comes to buying furniture, one of the best places to order from is

I'd saw ads that this company was coming to Canada for months, but paid little attention. I'd never even heard of them before. But when I started shopping around for furniture (online, of course, because I would rather eat toenails then drive around Toronto from one store to another), I kept finding great products and good prices on their site.

The first thing I purchased were 2 of these armchairs for our basement for the kids when they want to watch tv.

They arrived within a week and were dropped in boxes on our porch.  I LOVE that if you're not home, they don't make you go pick them up at some inconvenient warehouse! Of course, you may not love this if you live somewhere where packages get stolen off your porch. They were light enough for me to move inside myself and only the legs needed to be assembled, and I actually opted not to put the legs on.

We also got our television stand and living room rug from them, and love both.

Admittedly, the tv stand required us to get the contractor back to assemble as it was WAY beyond our capabilities (or patience, at least). Our bedding for the spare room in the basement also is from Wayfair, as is the new bedding Big A begged for.

In contrast, our experience with Bouclair was crap. I found a coffee table I loved. Our designer told me to order it along with the matching side table. I attempted to do so but discovered the side table was out of stock. I ordered a similar table set, along with a  floor lamp, but our designer told me the table set was too dark in colour. I called to make the change to my order (5 minutes after placing it) and was on hold for 53 hours. I gave up and called back later, finally getting through. They were good about me changing the order (to just the original coffee table, no side table, and the lamp). Unfortunately, the whole transaction process sent alarm bells to our credit card company which ended up frozen for a day or two. Then we waiting for weeks and the table and lamp never arrived. Finally, I got an email from Bouclair asking for me to call them. They informed me the coffee table is no longer available. Frustrated as heck, I cancelled the whole order.

Going back to Wayfair, I found a very similar coffee table and lamp (I decided I didn't want a side table anyways) for less! I should also add that while every order over $75 from Wayfair gets free shipping, Bouclair told me free shipping didn't apply to my order because it was "oversized". Um, you sell furniture folks! So our order from Bouclair was going to cost $130 to ship. Well guess what Bouclair? FU!

Our coffee table should arrive this week, our lamp in the next 2 weeks. And then, the reno/redecorating will be complete!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Sneaky Blends: Cookbook Review

Happy FriYAY!

I am definitely glad its Friday because Adam has been in Ottawa since Sunday for a work trip. It started with our car getting a flat tire on Monday (which I discovered just as I was pulling out of the garage to get to work),

Tuesday I got mixed up and went to get Little A from her Brownies meeting a half hour early. I walked up the street to window shop to pass the time and the heavens opened up and I got soaked. No stores were even open, and I had neither an umbrella nor a jacket. I got back to pick her up looking like a drowned rat.

Wednesday I woke up to find raccoons tipped over our green bin and made a big mess on our front porch.

Thursday I woke up with another MSI (mysterious sleeping injury). My ring finger on my right hand hurt so much I couldn't move it. It is better today but still hurts. And no, I don't sleep walk, or even thrash around much, so I have no idea how I manage to injure myself so often while sleeping!

I also discovered our dishwasher wasn't draining and the plumber informed me it had been installed all wrong, wasn't up to code and was dangerous. Huh? Geez, nice to know that now more than 3 years later! He re-installed it and almost $400 later its now safe to use but still not draining, so we need to get an appliance guy in to have a look. The best part is, had we gotten a new dishwasher while doing our renos, we probably would have gotten a good deal since we bought a new fridge and stove. Sigh!

Finally its Friday and Adam will be back tonight. Phew! I haven't even mentioned all the times this week the kids had me tearing my hair out. But then that's pretty much normal every day stuff.

If your life also requires a lot of stamina to put out all the fires (and who's doesn't?), then you gotta fuel your body right. No better way than increasing your fruit and veggie intake, something most people are short on.

The idea of adding veggie purees and/or fruit purees to recipes to boost nutrition and lower calories is not new. Jessica Seinfeld has based several cookbooks for kids around it.  Way back in my 20s I started a business, Smart Cookie, making low-fat baked goods using applesauce, pureed bananas and prunes, in place of butter and oil. I've also been doing it for my kids since they were babies and I made all their food from scratch. I always had tons of fruit and veggie purees on hand and would always add them to whatever I made for them, whether it was rice cereal, scrambled eggs or muffins. Nevertheless, its a sound idea. A 2011 research experiment, the results of which were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that replacing higher calorie ingredients with vegetable purees into main meals increased overall vegetable consumption and reduced the calorie intake of subjects without subjects even noticing.

This is the basis of Missy Chase Lapine's new book, Sneaky Blends.

The beginning of the book is ideal for kitchen virgins, as it goes over all the equipment and supplies you need to have on hand for the blends and the recipes. For those completely averse to cooking, I suppose you could always just add in her base blends (if that's how you prefer to eat your produce) to your existing diet as snacks or part of a meal.

Chapter 2 makes me roll my eyes. Its a 3 day cleanse which Lapine claims can help you detox without deprivation and lose up to 6 lbs. Fat chance! You know how I feel about detoxes/cleanes in general, but I suppose 3 days is better than the ones that are like 30 days! Still, I don't advise it. But the whole idea turns me off since it involves nothing but drinking fruit and veggie purees (her base purees) all day (with a little cookie like dessert at night). Eek, barf! Its also low in protein. At least in her shake recipes she add in things like flax, Greek yogurt or protein powder (yay some protein!), and honey or maple syrup to sweeten.

I like that she has 2 pages about the importance of exercising. Bonus mark for that.

Chapter 3 provides tips and instructions for incorporating the base blends into your own recipes to make them healthier and lower-cal. This is an important section as most people want to change their diet as little as possible and will be most interested in keeping their favorite foods in their diet while simply making them in a healthier way.

Chapter 4 has all the base blend recipes. Most of the base purees are pretty simple: fruit and/or veggies and water. The key, of course, is having a really good blender.

Chapter 5 is full of recipes that use the blends.  Lapine's recipes definitely pass my standards. They use whole grain flours, are easily adaptable to be vegan, and limit added sugars or use stevia. There are sections for:

Wake - breakfast
Plate - main courses and light lunches
Nibble - Dips, spreads & portable snacks
Sip - Smoothies & drinks
Indulge - Sweet bites

The end of the book includes a section where you can find all the recipes using a particular base blend to make things easy.

The book includes lots of lovely photography for those who need the visualization.

So do I recommend this book? Yes, its great for anyone wanting to lighten up their favorite recipes, or discover new healthy recipes using a sound nutrition approach that doesn't require cutting out an entire macronutrient or food group. And cooking at home is always, always the best way to go!

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

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Turkey, Sweet Potato and Cranberry Chili

Happy hump day! I have a festive recipe for you today. Its perfect when looking for an easy, cost-effective way to cook for a crowd.

This is the chili I made for our family Thanksgiving meal and not only was it so much easier to make than a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, but everyone loved it!

I don't know why I lost my taste for the classic meal: roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, etc., but I have, so this was a great alternative, and no one was disappointed. No, the kids didn't join us, we ordered pizza for them...but they wouldn't eat a traditional turkey dinner either!

Of course, this recipe is healthy and delicious and great to make anytime, not just at Thanksgiving. If you love chili, give it a try for something different. This recipe makes a ton, so its perfect for entertaining, but feel free to halve if you want less. I think its worth making the whole recipe though, because leftovers freeze well.

If you are a non-meat eater, replace the turkey with a few more cans of beans, and/or crumbled tempeh.

Turkey, Sweet Potato and Cranberry Chili

2 lb ground turkey
1 onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 red or yellow bell pepper, diced
2 zucchini, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup finely chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
Chopped fresh or dried jalapeno, to taste (optional)
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 cup sprouted beans and lentils (optional, or 1 can lentils)
1 can red kidney beans
1 bag fresh or frozen cranberries (250g)
1 jar passata (strained tomatoes)
2 cooked, peeled and mashed sweet potatoes
1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)

Place large pot over medium heat. Saute meat, veggies and spices in vinegar and adobo sauce until veggies start to soften.  Add beans, cranberries and passata to the pot. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Stir in mashed sweet potatoes and turn heat down to low until read to eat.  Add cilantro just before serving. Keep leftovers refrigerated for up to 4 days or freeze.

I have shared this recipe with Urban Naturale's Plant-Based Pot Luck.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Morning Rituals

Good morning! Its Monday morning. Are you smiling?

Whether you are an early bird or a night owl, I believe your morning routine is really important. What you do, or don't do, upon waking can affect your mood and physical wellness for the entire day.

Coffee, first thing in the morning is how most people start their day, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that, but your A.M. routine should ideally include a lot more than just java.

My day has started with exercise of some sort, first thing, for the past 25 years or so (before that I used to exercise in the afternoon), and I don't see this ever changing. Ever. There are so many reasons to workout first thing in the morning, but that's a whole other post.

Aside from getting my sweat on, my morning routine has changed significantly over the past few years. The reason is certain things just stopped working for me.

First, about 3 or so years ago, it was switching from mostly cardio, to mostly weights. I wasn't enjoying endurance workouts anymore. They just felt like a slog. I asked myself what I did enjoy, and the answer was weights and HIIT type training. It was the best decision ever as I immediately looked forward to my daily workouts again and felt better than ever.

Then, and I think this is related to my change of workout routines, my beloved oatmeal breakfasts stopped being satisfying. No matter how big the bowl, and no matter what else I added to it, I found about 2 hours later I was becoming dangerously hangry (like dangerous for everyone else!). I wasn't ready to give up my oatmeal yet, so I started to eat it less often and experimented with other things here and there.

But then my tummy troubles started. As I posted about a while back, I eventually traced them to flax seed, which I often put in my oatmeal. I finally decided to cut out oatmeal and do more experimenting to see what breakfasts make me feel best. I eventually fell in love with one, even though, I now admit, it wasn't the best for my tummy. Clearly, drawn to oat-y things, I started eating my own version of overnight oats, with chia seeds, yogurt, berries or other fruit, and konjac powder, instead of banana as a thickener.

But then the tummy troubles got worse again. I finally had to admit that chia seeds are problematic too. Ya know, its especially annoying when you discover you can't eat a favorite food, that also happens to be healthy? I guess I will have to get my omega-3s from fish instead.

Anyhow, I know alternate between eating fried egg and cheese sandwiches on whole grain flat bread and grain-free cakes and squares (so no, I don't in any way feel deprived. Kind of privileged actually!) that I bake from beans, like this one. After much trial and error, I have finally found a way to fuel my body in the morning that leaves me feeling satisfied, energized and tummy-trouble free!

Then something else cropped up. After not drinking my usual morning coffee for a lot of the summer (because it was too stinking hot to even be appealing), I reintroduced it once the temperature cooled off. Then I noticed that just after I would start drinking it, I would start feeling nauseous and develop a killer headache. Its not the caffeine, as I am fine with caffeine in any other form, but its the coffee itself. Hmm. This really sucks since its chilly mornings when I really used to enjoy my coffee routine. At first I thought it might be because I was drinking it after eating breakfast, instead of after my workout, like I used to, but drinking it at a different time hasn't helped.

Well, out with it then! This week I have switched to drinking tea, and I am feeling much better. All day long. I have also suspected that coffee wasn't doing much for my tummy either because its so acidic.  I can still have an iced one or frappe later in the day, but right now, I'm loving just drinking water and tea.

If you are not feeling your best, either physically or emotionally, I suggest you start by evaluating your morning routine. Everyone is different and has their own unique needs, but here are a couple of tips:

1. Shake it off. Don't just open one eye when your alarm goes off, think about how cozy your bed is, and hit snooze. Push past the initial inertia and get up. If you automatically shut your alarm off, put it across the room, not beside your bed. Even I feel groggy at first, because if my alarm has woken me, than I was absolutely deep in REM sleep having some weird dream, and if I have waken before my alarm, my ultra low blood pressure has me feeling a bit woozy. But I always get up, because I remind myself that as soon as I start my workout, I wake right up and feel great.

2. MOVE! If you refuse to do an actual workout, or wake up early enough to fit in a sweat session, at least spend 5 minutes after you wake up stretching and maybe doing some basic body weight exercises. Seriously, there is no better pick-me-up than physical activity!

3. Hydrate. Drinking coffee or tea is fine, but maybe start off with a glass of lemon water, or something to get the pipes moving. This is particularly important if, like me, you drink very little in the evenings so you aren't up all night peeing.

4. Nourish with nutrition. Everyone knows your first meal of the day is important. But its not just a matter of eating SOMETHING, its a matter of eating the right thing. Again, its not one size fits all, but most people feel best starting the day off with a meal that provides protein, fibre and a bit of good fat. A croissant and coffee or a bowl of Sugar Puffs gives your body nothing good to work with!

5. Experiment. Just because you try a new healthy habit and it doesn't work for you, do not throw in the towel. Keep trying new things and experiment until you find what works best for you.

6. Make it pleasurable. The morning can set the tone for the whole day, so make sure you fit in the things that you enjoy, whether its drinking your coffee out on the deck, taking an aromatherapy bath, or listening to your favorite music. Mornings are actually the very best time for 'me time'. You are far less likely to be derailed by a distraction or crisis. I get pleasure from my whole routine: exercise, shower, breakfast while reading the paper (a proper paper paper, not online!)...

7. Start the day with gratitude. Whether big or little, there is always a reason to be grateful. Every morning when I open my eyes, I am grateful for a good night's sleep. Sleep is so critical to physical and mental health! I am always grateful for my husband and family, and when I start my workout I remember to give thanks for my health and mobility.

Of course, nothing will make your morning better than getting adequate sleep so if this is not the case for you, you gotta start there!

Enjoy your morning, whatever you are doing and have a great day!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Super Easy Peach Jalapeno Cornbread Muffins

Good morning and Friyay! Give yourself a pat on the back, because you made it through the week.

I have a little recipe for you today that's super easy, even if you are a non-baker.

In order to keep myself from getting stressed preparing for our Thanksgiving dinner, I promised myself I'd keep it simple.

The main was turkey chili, and I decided to make cornbread with it. I did intend to whip some up from scratch but while I was out shopping, I found Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free cornbread mix, and thought, why not make it easy for myself? I can always dress it up, and dress it up I did! These came out fantastic!

Though I used eggs as per the bag instructions, you could swap it out with flax eggs and make these vegan.

These are so yummy, and if you love sweet and spicy flavour combos, you just have to make them!

Super Easy Peach Jalapeno Cornbread Muffins

1 bag Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free cornbread mix
1/2 cup avocado oil (or other oil)
2 eggs or flax eggs
500ml jar of peaches with juice (no sugar added)
2-4 tbsp finely chopped dried or fresh jalapenos (to taste)

Pour peaches and juice in blender or food processor and pulse to chop.

Place cornbread mix in large bowl and add peaches with juice, oil, eggs and jalapeno. Whisk until fully combined and then divide batter between 12 greased muffin cups. Bake at 375F for about 18 minutes. Let cool and remove from pan. Freezes well.

Have a lovely weekend my friends.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Yummy Kippers

Today is Yom Kippur so there's no work or school for us, we're just heading to shul. Even me, the previous shul hater, is excited. I love our shul, I love our Rabbi, and I love the thoughtful prayers and readings. I may not be religious, but it nourishes the philosophical part of my soul.

Have a wonderful hump day!

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Harvest Holiday

We are currently in my favorite season: fall, autumn, the harvest...whatever you want to call it, I adore it! The foods (apples, squash, all root veggies...), the sights (leaves changing colours), the smells, and sounds.

We always celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving in our home. Though my family is from the U.S., they quickly adopted the Canadian holiday, which takes place in the midst of this heavenly (and short) season here, rather than at the end of November as they do down south. It certainly seems to make more sense to celebrate the harvest during the harvest, not after it!

When Adam and I travelled to Chicago back in 2008, we did so over the American Thanksgiving weekend. What a mistake! Not only was the travel a nightmare (hello 5 hour delay in O'Hare!), but the weather was awful and there was a major snowstorm that shut down the city and the airport. That was not fun, nor was Chicago an attractive place that time of year!!

Despite my love of Thanksgiving, Adam and I haven't really celebrated it. You see, Adam's family never celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving. What? Unbeknownst to me, a lot of Canadian Jews think of it as a Christian holiday. This is very different from the U.S., where it is recognized as a non-denominational holiday. For a while I really missed it, and even a number of years ago did a traditional dinner here, when my parents were visiting, with a big turkey and the whole kit and caboodle. But more recently I realized I lost my taste for the whole traditional meal. Why? I have no idea!

It just so happens that this year my parents are visiting again, and we now have our lovely renovated house to show off, so I decided it was time to host another dinner. But this time, I decided to break tradition and do something a little different.

You may recall that we've decided to discontinue hosting our New Year's Day party. This is mostly because I have come to hate formal hosting. I just find it too stressful. So for this occasion, it being only close family anyways (my parents and my brother and his family), I decided to keep it simple so I can enjoy myself. Here is the plan:

Kids - Ordering pizza for them and turning on the Wii. Dessert is ice cream and fruit [Ultimate goal is to minimize whining and keep them all out of our hair as much as possible].

Adults - Thanksgiving chili (made with ground turkey, sweet potatoes, cranberries and other goodies), salad, peach-jalapeno cornbread muffins, and pumpkin spice cheesecake and fruit compote for dessert.

The weather is supposed to be my favorite: sunny and mild (~16 Celsius). So I am hoping maybe Monday afternoon, we can get the girls outside maybe to one of the local farms or conservation areas.

Whether you are celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving or not, have a wonderful weekend!