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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Flying South

We head off to Florida today, well tonight actually. Our flight is 9pm so I can only imagine how it's going to go with two tired girls, especially if there are delays.

I can't wait for some warm weather (relatively speaking...it's going to be 11 celcius in Orlando today!) and relaxation. All in all, it's been a good holiday season so far. Yesterday I took the girls to my brother's house while Adam taught his spinning class and then after Little A's nap, we decided to conduct an experiment and take them to a movie. We went to see Yogi Bear (don't bother seeing this unless you are going for your kids!) and it was a hit with Big A (no scary parts), who has only been to one movie in the theatre so far (Tangled) and ended up having to leave for 20 minutes because one part was too frightening for her to watch. Little A behaved better than expected, although she didn's stay still for more than 30 seconds at a time. I chased her around the theatre most of the time, but there was another family with a little boy her age and he was doing the same thing, so I didn't feel so bad.

I saw my family doctor on Thursday and she was very skeptical of the podiatrist's assessment. She felt circulation in my feet is good enough and does not warrant a trip to see a vascular surgeon. Her prescription? Retail therapy: a good pair of winter boots. She recommended I get Sorel boots and she should know, she spent a year practicing medicine in the Yukon, and that's what she wore for -50 weather. Looks like we'll be checking out the Boxing Day sales for shoes...

We'll be back just in time for our New Years Party. Have a good week!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Sweet New Year Party Mix

We're hosting our 4th New Years Day party for our family and friends this year. Each year I simplify the menu because we have noticed that people tend to drink more and eat less. The first year we didn't serve alcohol, just cider and tons of food and we had way too many leftovers. Slowly we've upped the beverage selection (this year, mulled cider, wine and hot chocolate) and decreased the food (just black bean dip with fresh crudite, organic tortilla and kettle chips, clementines, chocolate truffles, a selection of nuts and candies, popcorn, cookies and this party mix. Yeah I know, we'll probably still have too much food!

Not only does this taste great, but it makes your house smell fantastic. It is a cinch to make and very kid-friendly (Big A loved making it as much as eating it!).

1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbls pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
6 cup cereal squares (I used President's Choice Organic Wheat Squares)
150g pecans

Melt butter in microwave for about 30 seconds, until melted. Stir in vanilla and the spices. Place cereal and pecans in microwave safe dish (I used a big Corningware). Scrape butter mixture into cereal and nuts and stir well until everything is fairly evenly coated. Microwave until starting to brown, 3-5 minutes, stirring every minute. Spread on wax paper or cookie sheet to cool and then store in an airtight container.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Brussell Sprouts

Yes, I really am devoting a whole post to this humble vegetable. I will admit that, along with mushrooms and raw tomatoes, I did not learn to enjoy this tasty veggie until I was an adult. But if you haven't tried them lately, I urge you to. Not only are they packed with vitamins and minerals, but they pack 6g of protein per cup and provide a complete vegetarian protein when combined with a whole grain! I don't usually like frozen veggies as much as fresh, but frozen baby brussell sprouts are actually quite good, if you prefer their convenience. If you can't handle them plain, it's easy to jazz them up. Here are a few ideas:

- Saute with oil-packed, thinly sliced sundried tomatoes and garlic
- Saute with a drizzle of olive oil, chopped garlic and a splash of pure maple syrup
- Saute with orange juice, orange zest and grated fresh ginger
- Add to a curry, stir-fry or pasta recipe

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cold Feet, Warm Heart

The solution to my foot problems are apparently not so simple. My visit to the podiatrist yesterday was, well, weird. He determined that my feet are sore and swollen, not because of my messed up biomechanics due to my twisted pelvis, but because I have poor circulation in my extremities. While I have known about my poor circulation for a while (any exposure to heat or cold and my hands and feet turn bright red), I never considered this. Apparently, my feet are completely intolerant of the cold and I am almost having an allergic reaction to it. Huh? What? Since when?

"So what's the solution?" I asked him. "Move to Florida or alternatively stop walking outside during the winter" was what he told me. Yeah right! Maybe a few days in Florida next week will help but no chance we're moving anywhere any time soon. So he wants me to see (1) A dermatologist (he thinks I have developed eczema from the cold), and (2) a vascular surgeon! Oh boy!

And what about my wicked blisters? He basically told me that's the price I pay for doing such frequent, intense workouts. Really? The feet of Olympians and professional athletes must look like chopped meat then!

Looks like I have to see my family doc to get a referral to a vascular surgeon...and while I'm there, perhaps she can check out my pinky finger, you know, the one I slammed in the car door? It doesn't hurt much anymore but the joint is still a bit purple and is twice the size of the one on my other pinky. Yes, yes, I know, I should have had it looked at weeks ago. But since it doesn't affect my functioning I don't really care that much. My feet are a far more important comodity to me.

I have been wearing my glasses all week to give my eyes a break from my contact lenses. Man, I don't know how people wear specs full-time! When I workout they fog up, and when I'm walking outside, they get so dirty I have to take them off and clean them every few minutes. I hate it! Between my feet, my eyes and everything else, I swear the world is conspiring against me. I am fighting my fate of being an overweight, sedentary, glasses wearing nerd. Okay, maybe I'm already a nerd.

I had my big meeting at Mount Sinai with the head of the ethics board yesterday. Thankfully, it looks like the research project WILL happen. The board just wanted to clarify a few things and have us make some changes to the protocol. So here is what the project will look like. Dr. M and I will make sure that our list of miscarriage support resources is distributed throughout the hospital so that all women who experience an early stage miscarriage receive it. On the sheet it will tell the women that, unless they call us to refuse, we will be calling them in a few weeks to see if they have used any of the resources and whether or not they found them helpful. A month after their loss, I will call them and do a short survey. At that point, I will ask their permission to follow-up 6 months later to see at that point if they have used any of the support resources. The bad news is there is absolutely no counselling component to the project - they reminded me that because I am not done school yet, I am NOT QUALIFIED to do counselling, and reminded Dr. M., that even if they allowed me to do counselling, there are too many legal concerns to make it feasible. SO, it's nothing more than a needs assessment of miscarriage support resources. I guess this may still be useful to my future career if it increases my credibility as an expert in the area and gets my name circulated to the ob/gyns at Mount Sinai. Looks like January will be busy while I make all the amendments to our proposal, questionnaires and the consent form.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Countdown to 2011

Believe it or not we are almost at the end of 2010. This is always the time when I like to take stock of things. How far have I come since 2009? What did this year bring? What do I think/hope/wish next year will bring?

I feel that 2010 was definitely better than 2009 which involved me working at a job I despised and uncomfortably pregnant with Little A until April when Little A was born and then I was pretty miserable for the rest of the year, suffering from postpartum anxiety and depression. The beginning of 2010 things improved significantly when I began school and they improved even more in May when my mat leave ended and Little A moved from being a baby to a toddler (whenever Adam and I see anyone with a small baby now, we feel like high-fiving each other just knowing we will never have to go through that first year again!) and I finally felt like I got some semblance of a life back.

Of course, 2010 has not been without its ups and downs. The biggest ones have been trying to manage parenthood and establish more functional parenting practices, particularly with Big A, along with trying not to get discouraged about my career situation. But on both these fronts, I'm feeling pretty optimistic right now. Things with Big A have definitely improved and my career seems to be moving forward in small, baby steps. [As an aside, the Chair of the Mt Sinai ethics board has requested a personal meeting with myself and Dr. M to discuss our research proposal. We are both puzzled by this request, which we find rather disconcerting, but are meeting with him tomorrow to find out what the issue is. Hopefully this meeting will at least determine whether or not our project is going to go ahead]. Still no word from anybody on whether I have a place to do my practicum, but at least I have contacted all the big players and it is under consideration.

I'm feeling pretty good about my lifestyle, so no resolutions in this area. My cardio has improved because of my regular use of my heart rate monitor and I'm doing some pretty tough workouts 4 days a week, and my strength is slowly improving, although I haven't made any more progress with my chin-ups. I am diligently doing all my core exercises to assist with rehabilitation of my pelvis and hamstring and things have definitely improved. I still have bad days, but even then, the pain isn't nearly as bad as it was prior to starting physiotherapy and my therapist is confident that we will soon be able to go down from weekly to biweekly sessions.

Since the "cleanse" I have been more conscious/careful about sodium and I have tried to get my protein from fish, eggs and beans more often and from meat and processed soy products less often (but I still love my veggie sausages!!) so I am comfortable with the state of my diet for the time being.

But I do have a few outstanding, albeit minor, health issues that I want dealt with in 2011. The first is with my feet. I thought that improving my biomechanics by fixing my pelvis would help improve the weight imbalances I have in my feet, but this has not been the case. I continue to be plagued with serious, recurrent blisters and sore, swollen toes from the problems with my gait. Not even double-socking, band aids, moleskin or vaseline helps very much. So tomorrow I have an appointment with the podiatrist that I saw when my foot problems developed during my pregnancy with Little A. I am really hoping he can help me because despite the discomfort, giving up physical activity IS NOT AN OPTION!

The other health issue I want addressed has to do with my eyes. In the past year, I have had 5 eye infections! I am particularly prone because I have very dry eyes...so dry it affects my vision...and because I wear soft, disposable contact lenses. I refuse to go back to wearing glasses because I look stupid in them but the situation is getting bad. I have actually booked laser surgery for myself twice...and then chickened out at the last minute both times. So finally, I've decided to see my eye doctor, whom I have not seen in well over a year, and get her take on things. If she thinks the surgery is a good idea, I think I will do it...at least I think I will.

So all things considered, I feel like life is moving in the right direction and while 2011 is bound to have some challenges, there are also bound to be some exciting developments. I don't routinely make resolutions, but I do have a few this year:

1. Resolve my foot/eye problems if possible

2. Stay positive about my career

3. Hug and kiss Big A more

I know the third one sounds strange but hear me out. I read over a lot of my blog entries from the past year and was reminded of all the times when physical affection diffused her tantrums or moodiness. Also, lately she seems to really be craving physical affection. The reality is, because we carry Little A around, we naturally give her more hugs and kisses because we are holding her in our arms. And Big A has noticed this. She is ALWAYS asking me if she can have a hug or kiss, but most of the time it's when I'm rushing by her trying to: (1) throw in laundry, (2) get the girls' breakfast ready, (3) make dinner, etc. So I am often telling her, "In a minute..." but then that minute never comes. If Adam throws Little A in the air, she wants to be thrown in the air. If I pull Little A on my lap to dry her off in her towel after the bath, Big A wants me to do the same thing with her. At first Adam and I were getting very frustrated with this, feeling like she just wants to be treated like a baby as older siblings often do when the younger one is getting more attention. But I have realized that whether or not this is the case, no one, in my opinion, can ever give their children too many hugs and kisses. So I am vowing to try and put down the laundry basket and give Big A all the hugs and kisses she wants in 2011.

What are your resolutions for 2011?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Popeye Scramble

All the nutrition and health experts recommend that you fill up on healthy, satisfying food before heading to that holiday party or meal to avoid over-indulging. This will certainly do the trick! It is a generous portion of food, very filling and will keep you going for a while...all for just:

450 calories, 6g of fat, 50g protein, 49g carbs and 8g fibre

Warning: Don't attempt to eat this like a sandwich, it is way too much food, it's a knife and fork meal!

300g package frozen, chopped spinach, thawed
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 tbls of your favorite salsa
1 cup egg whites/Egg Beaters/Egg Creations, etc.
Jalapeno flakes, to taste (optional)
Cracked black pepper, to taste
23g cheese (1 cheese string), chopped into small pieces
1 whole grain flat bun (like D'Italiano Thintini), toasted

Place spinach in non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Once spinach starts sizzling, add garlic and stir until garlic starts to get fragrant. Add salsa and stir and then pour in eggs. Season to taste with peppers. Once egg starts to cook, sprinkle cheese over top and gently stir mixture until eggs are done. Spoon mixture over the 2 halves of the flat bun (there will be so much, you'll really have to mound it on) and enjoy!

This makes a very filling and healthy meal ideal for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Berry Healthy Sauce

I thought I would follow up the fudge recipe with a few healthier ones. This is easy, delish, and makes a great topping for oatmeal, pancakes/waffles/French toast, yogurt, ice cream, angel food cake or anything else you can come up with. We are having dinner tomorrow at the home of one of Adam's colleagues and I we are bringing dessert, so I am serving this with a home made banana bread. The girls are still working their way through all the Hannukah gelt they got and I am sure when we go to Florida there will be treats galore, so I thought I'd stick with healthy for this occasion.

3 lbs fresh or frozen berries (I used a mix of strawberries, blueberries and blackberries)
2 navel oranges
2 tbls corn starch

Place berries in a large pot over medium heat and stir frequently. Zest oranges and add zest to pot. While berries are getting hot, juice the oranges. Add corn starch to orange juice and stir until corn starch is dissolved. Once berries are sizzling and hot, add orange juice mixture. Bring everything to a boil and then turn heat to low and cook another few minutes until thickened. Serve warm or cold.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Easy Peanut Butter and Jelly Fudge

I thought it appropriate to follow up a post on calories with a nice indulgent recipe. Ha ha! I made this last Christmas because, for some reason, I had been really craving PB fudge. It is so easy and delicious, it was almost worth the bellyache I had from eating too much of it. Should of followed my own advice and eaten more veggies...

500g pure white chocolate chips
1/2 heaping cup creamy peanut butter (not natural)
1/4 cup jelly (I used Crofters Organic Superfruit, but any will do)

Melt choc chips in microwave or over double boiler, just until melted. Stir in peanut butter until smooth. Pour into parchment or wax paper lined 9x9 pan. Drop dollops of jelly over peanut butter mixture and use a knife to swirl it together. Refrigerate until set, about 3 hours.

Calories

What better time of year to discuss calories? Every magazine and newspaper I have read recently has at least one article on "how to avoid holiday weight gain". But what inspired me to write about this was an interview in the newspaper about a book that just came out by Tim Ferriss called, The Four Hour Body. This guy makes a lot of radical claims, some of which there is truth behind, others I think which are misleading or just plain wrong. In the interview, he states that "the type of calories you consume is more important than the number". This is false. The type of calories IS absolutely important but ultimately it is the number that counts. Why? It is actually quite simple.

You cannot fight biology. The biggest obstacle to weight loss is hunger. We are biologically driven to eat when we are hungry. Most diets fail because people cannot live in a perpetual state of hunger and deprivation and, thus, either start binging/cheating on the diet or return to previous eating patterns (Mr. Ferriss, by the way, recommends a weekly binge, which I don't agree with...nor do most diet/nutrition researchers!). Low calorie diets can actually decrease your metabolism so that every time you do the yo-yo diet cycle, you set yourself up to gain more weight. In order to achieve or maintain a healthy weight, you have to find a lifestyle (nutritional intake and exercise) that you can maintain your WHOLE LIFE.

It is a scientific fact that if you are eating 2000 calories a day and decrease that to 1500, lets say, without changing any other variable, you will most likely lose weight. Those 1500 calories can come from ANYTHING. It doesn't matter if it is Cinnabon classic buns or carrots.

But here is why what you eat DOES matter. Your hunger is primarily controlled by the VOLUME of food you eat (check out the research by Barbara Rolls). When you chose high calorie foods when trying to limit calories, you simply have to eat a much smaller volume of food. For example, 1500 calories of Cinnabon is 1 and 4/5 buns. Could you live on that for an entire day? Personally, I could not. I'd be starving. Not only is the volume small, this food contains mostly trans fat, refined flour and sugar and little fibre so you will likely get a sugar high and then a sugar low, which means it will not keep your appetite in check for very long. If you were able to ignore your lethargy and hunger pangs and live on this diet, than, yes, you would lose weight. Of course you would be extremely deficient in most nutrients...

In contrast, if you were to eat 1500 calories of carrots, you could eat 50 large carrots. That is a large quantity of food, considering 1 lb of carrots is about 6 large carrots! Now, you would still be deficient in various nutrients, but you would not be as hungry as you would be if you ate less than 2 Cinnabons a day. This is an extreme example, but you get my point!

Of course, certain nutrients are more satiating than others. Protein is more satisfying than carbs, which is why people can often stick to low carb diets for longer. And fibre keeps you feeling full longer too. On the other hand, liquid calories do not contribute to feelings of fullness. Most people should drink plain old water as their primary beverage.

You need a balance of protein, fat and carbs to be healthy and exactly what ratio is best, may be a personal matter. Obviously a diet of only vegetables, even if you can eat as much as you want, is not ideal. But the point is, that your diet should be heaviest in foods with a low calorie density (fruits and veggies), followed by medium calorie-dense foods (whole grains and lean proteins) with small amounts of high calorie foods (healthy fats and sugars). Not only will you never have to go hungry, but you will also be doing your long-term health a favour, since many low-cal foods are also packed with nutrients.

There ARE other factors that do affect your metabolism and appetite and should not be overlooked. Sleep is proving to play a key role in weight control and body composition (ratio of fat to lean mass) is important too. The timing of when you eat is also important...but don't believe anyone who says you shouldn't eat anything after 7pm, that's a load of malarky. If you skip breakfast, however, you are less likely to be able to keep your appetite in check for the rest of the day and going for too long without eating can slow down your metabolism.

So what does this mean for the holiday season? Skip the egg nog and cocktails and fill up your plate with fruits and veggies and small quantities of your high-cal holiday favorites. Try to get enough sleep, eat breakfast and regular, healthy snacks between meals, and pump some iron (to build and maintain lean mass). Pretty simple.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Jewish Christmas

It always feels strange to be Jewish this time of year. Living in a predominantly Christian culture, the entire month of December feels like there is a big party going on that we are not invited to.

I love and hate the holiday season.

I love: tasteful Christmas decorations, Christmas trees, fruitcake (yes, I love it...especially with marzipan icing!), the parties and the time off from work/school, etc.

I hate: tacky Christmas decorations (why oh why do the people down the street have a life sized inflatable Santa??), the excessive consumerism, the boredom.

Yes, I said boredom. Because while all you Christmas celebrators are so "BUSY" with whatever it is you are busy with...shopping, baking cookies, cooking, partying, etc., us Jews have very little to do. Hannukah, after all is a minor Jewish holiday that lasts 8 days (compared to the Christmas holiday season which is really the entire month of December) and really doesn't involve heavy gift giving and most of us can't be bothered to make the labour intensive latkas or sufganiyot (jelly donuts) and buy them instead (I personally can't stand fried food so I would never make them anyways). Add the fact that so many businesses and services shut down, and there isn't a lot of ways for us to fill the time. That's why most Jews who have the chance in North America, head somewhere south for a getaway, but that hasn't been an option to us most years for financial reasons or the constraints of having very young children. I have never really understood why Christmas celebrators always complain so much about everything they have to do. I love being busy, I love shopping, baking, cooking and parties. What is really so bad?

I was lucky enough as a kid to have several friends include me in their Christmas celebrations. Two of them even had me overnight on Christmas Eve and their thoughtful, generous parents filled a stocking for me. I loved it. But even then, I felt like an outsider. There are some Jews who succomb to pressure from their children and put up a Christmas tree or participate in other Christmas traditions, but my parents did not, and that doesn't feel right to me. I'm Jewish. I don't celebrate Christmas and that's that.

But there is so much pressure to embrace Christmas, especially when it's all about presents and candy for kids. Big A doesn't believe me when I tell her Santa doesn't really exist. She says, "But mommy, I've seen him at the mall!" And she already feels excluded. After Easter last year, when all the other kids were getting baskets of chocolate, she stated, "Mommy, when I grow up, I don't want to be Jewish!" Fortunately, Hebrew school (and tons and tons of chocolate Hannukah gelt) have given her a more favourable perspective on Judaism.

Toronto Jewish Christmas day, for those stuck in the city, generally consists of Chinese food and a movie, which is fine with me, and Adam and I did just this before we had kids. But our kids are still too young for a feature film and going out to restaurants with them cannot be a long, drawn out, leisurely affair, so this is not an option for us right now either.

Last year was the pits. Little A came down with a severe ear infection on Christmas day and simply screamed and howled (she was only 8 months old) and we had to cancel going to my brother's house, which made Big A very upset. Aside from taking the girls to a pub (the only place open near us) for lunch, we were pretty much house bound and climbing the walls. I ate too much fudge I made and got a tummyache.

This year Adam actually has to teach a spin class at the JCC (I love that there is a gym open on December 25th!) on Christmas morning and then we are heading to my brother's (assuming EVERYONE is healthy). On the 26th, we fly down to Florida for a few days with Adam's family. His family goes every year. If it's feasible, I have realized that we should really get out of here every year. I can't wait for the sun, the time with family and a break from it all.

But I would like to establish "Winter holiday" traditions of our own once the girls are old enough. I'm thinking something charitable - volunteering at a food bank, etc., as well as something physical (sledding, skating, cross country skiing, etc.) so that my girls feel busy, included and always have something special to look forward to. Then again, maybe going to Florida every year is enough.

Tough as Nails

I did it. I biked to and from my physio (that's an hour of cycling) and it was reportedly closer to -12 celcius here yesterday. I wasn't even cold because of all my clothing...the biggest challenge was the fact that the gears on my bike were frozen so all the uphill work (almost the entire route is uphill on the way there!) was quite the workout because I couldn't lighten the resistance on the wheels. Will I do it again for physio next week if it's this cold? No way in hell! I'm done school on Sunday so next week I can take all the time I need to get there :)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Wimpy or Wise?

If you don't complain about the weather at least once a week, I believe your Canadian citizenship can be revoked. Okay, I'm kidding, but complaining about weather is a national past time along with watching hockey and drinking double doubles from Tim Hortons.

Unlike most sane folks in this fair country, however, I have always hated the heat of summer more than the winter cold. But I have noticed that my tolerance of the cold has declined in recent years. It started when I was pregnant with Little A. Usually pregnancy makes women warmer...not me! That winter, which admittedly was a very bad winter, I just couldn't shake the chill. Several times in March of that year, when I was 9 months pregnant and it was still bitterly cold, I even called in sick to work because I just couldn't take it anymore.

This year I'm struggling again and I'm wondering what has happened to me. All through grad school, I would ride my bike ALL winter long, yes, you heard me...neither rain, nor sleet, nor hail, nor a massive snow storm would stop me. Nutty I know. Now fast forward to last week. Monday was chilly and there was some snow on the ground and even though the streets were clear, I could not bring myself to bike to physio. So I paid $8 to park for an hour and undid all the good the physiotherapist had done by driving home from my appointment (sitting in the car aggravates my hamstring more than anything else). I ended up regretting my choice. Today it is -8 celcius (18 fahrenheit) and while it is colder and there is a bit more snow than last week, the streets are clear. I have been wrestling with how to get to physio all morning. When I got back from dropping off the girls, my nose and toes were numb. Cosy slippers, hot porridge and tea have made me feel better, however, the idea of biking for 30 minutes each way in this is daunting. But Adam has the car today and if I take public transport (either 2 subways and a bus or 2 bus rides, depending on which route I take), it will take me forever to get there and back, I'll have less time to get school work done AND I will be super late for Little A's holiday concert/party at daycare. At this point I think I've convinced myself to ride my bike wearing: waterproof pants over my jeans, warmer winter boots than I had on this morning, an extra fleece vest layer under my winterjacket and my full face mask on my head. Yes, I know, I won't be a pretty site, but this is not a time to worry about appearances. I just want to get there and back in one piece without frostbite on any of my extremities. Okay, let's see if I still have it in me...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Turkey Sausage, Fennel, Rapini and Portobello Pasta Toss

Italian sausage is usually seasoned with fennel seed, which makes it a great match with fresh fennel. I love the sweetness of the fennel and tomato sauce contrasting with the earthiness of the mushrooms and the bitterness of the rapini. There is so much vegetable matter in this dish that it is super healthy. It makes about 4 hearty servings that are more veg than pasta, which is really the healthiest way to eat pasta. One serving is 1/2 a cup...have you ever seen a 1/2 cup of pasta? I could eat it in one bite! Bulking up your pasta with veggies makes it go a lot further and makes for a lighter, but more satisfying dish. Just leave out the sausage or substitute chick peas to make this vegetarian.

1 lb short whole grain pasta (penne, rotini, etc.), cook according to package directions
1 lb hot (or sweet) Italian turkey sausage, sliced, or removed from casing
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp fennel seed (optional)
Hot chili flakes, to taste (optional)
1 bulb fennel, cored and thinly sliced
1 bunch rapini, stem ends trimmed and roughly chopped
4 portobello mushrooms, thinly sliced
750ml jar tomato sauce (I like PC Blue Menu - it has no added sugar or fat, but use whatever you like), or 3 cups homemade tomato sauce

Place sliced sausage in large skillet over medium heat (or squeeze sausage meat out of casings into skillet) and cook until almost fully cooked. Add garlic, oregano, fennel seed, chili flakes and sliced fennel and continue cooking until fennel is starting to soften. Add bigger stem pieces of rapini (setting aside delicate leaves and florets) and mushrooms and cook until tender. Pour in tomato sauce and turn heat down to low. Add the rest of the rapini, simmering gently until rapini leaves have wilted.

Toss veggies and sauce with cooked pasta and have lots of fresh parmesan and black pepper for serving.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Winter Survival Guide

Even with snow on the ground and frosty temps, I prefer this time of year to summer. When it is 30 celcius and 100% humidity there is little you can do to make the climate feel more pleasant in my opinion. In contrast, there are lots of things you can do to make the winter months more bearable.

Warm up from the inside out
Don't underestimate what a big difference your food and drink choices can make. Try eating "season" appropriate foods (i.e. all things warm and hot!!) and you will instantly feel better.

If you usually have cold cereal for breakfast, try switching to hot cereal. If you don't like oatmeal/cream of wheat, etc. try quinoa or brown rice cooked with almond milk, cinnamon, nuts and dried fruit or even take your cold cereal with milk and heat it up in the microwave for a few minutes.

If you usually have a salad for lunch, take those veggies and turn them into a steaming bowl of vegetable soup. You will still have a nutritious meal, but one that will be warm and comforting, which is what you need on cold winter days.

If your afternoon snack is an apple or pear, try cutting it up and baking in the oven or microwave with a little cinnamon. Or swap your carrot sticks for root veggie fries: cut carrots, parsnips, turnips and/or celeriac into thin strips, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on a non-stick baking sheet and roast in the oven at 400 for 20 minutes or until tender.

Trade your coffee for tea. Water for making tea is boiled so tea is served at a hotter temp than coffee and is more soul-warming. Nowadays there are a zillion types from plain or flavoured black teas, to white teas to green tea varieties. And there must be a trillion herbal teas available these days. For a treat, there is also hot chocolate or scalded milk with a touch of honey and cinnamon.

Stay Moist
Adam and I both get dry, cracked skin in the winter, particularly on our finger tips. I've tried expensive creams, oils, lotions and potions and honestly, good 'ol Vasaline works best to soothe dry, chapped or cracked skin. I keep a tube in my purse at all times.

Dress Appropriately
This may seem obvious, but too often we get caught up in trying to be fashionable at the expense of being sensible. Winter is a lot more tolerable if you wear the right things and these days you can be both warm and stylish. I just got the cutest black faux fur hat and mittens at H&M! Be especially careful to cover your feet, hands and head properly and the cold won't seem quite as nasty.

Early to Bed Early to Rise
In northern climates there is limited sunshine this time of year which can negatively affect your mood. Try waking up early and getting outside first thing when the sun is most likely to be visible and/or get outside for a walk on your lunch hour when the sun is shining since it is often dark as night by the time the workday is over and you are heading home.

Keep Moving
If you don't like exercising outdoors, stay active through the winter by taking it indoors. Not a gym-lover? No problem, try working out at home with fitness DVDs or try something new like indoor rock climbing, martial arts or ballroom dancing.

Smile everybody, just about 4 more months of winter until spring. Ha Ha!

"Crab" Stirfry with Soy Miso Ginger Sauce

Since Adam doesn't eat shellfish, using imitation crab (the stuff they use in sushi) is the closest I can get when cooking for the two of us. I admit that I actually really like this stuff, even if it isn't necessarily the healthiest choice. Nevertheless, it helps make a really quick and easy meal. To make the meal even easier, use a 750g bag of frozen Japanese style veggies (frozen veggies are actually very nutritious, although they generally don't taste as good as fresh). You can substitute real crab or other shellfish in this recipe or use tofu or edamame to make it vegetarian. Both miso and soy sauce have a lot of sodium so do not add any additional salt.

1 lb imitation crab meat - chunk not stick variety (or shellfish, tofu or edamame)
1 head broccoli, chopped into medium size florets
2 small carrots, thinly sliced
1 red pepper, thinly sliced
2 dozen mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced

Sauce
1/4 cup minced fresh ginger (you can use less, but I like it really ginger-y)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 heaping tbls miso paste
2 tbls low sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 tsp Japanese chili pepper blend (optional)
Hot chili flakes, to taste (optional)

Whisk together ingredients for the sauce in a small bowl and set aside. If you don't like your broccoli too crunchy, steam it or microwave it for a few minutes and set aside. Heat 1 tsp of oil in wok and add broccoli, cooking for about 3-4 minutes. Next, add carrot and pepper and cook another 2-3 minutes. Add mushrooms and green onions, followed by the "crab" meat or other protein choice*). Once mushrooms are softened and all ingredients are hot, pour in sauce (do not let the sauce boil), remove from heat and serve over brown rice.

*Note: If adding real raw shellfish at this point, make sure that it is cooked through before you serve. Imitation crab is already cooked.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

8 Crazy Nights

Tomorrow is the last night of Hannukah and I am actually relieved. This holiday has brought an endless amount of parties, which has meant an endless amount of chocolate coins, jelly donuts and cookies that my girls have been eating. If you had told me a few years ago how much crap my kids would be eating at this point, I would have told you that I would never let that happen. Ha! Now I'd probably feed them a KFC Double Down myself if it meant 5 minutes of peace and quiet! Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating just a bit. But it was slightly disturbing to see Little A crawling under chairs at the JCC Hannukah party on Sunday, collecting the chocolate coins that people had dropped on the floor and even more disturbing that she and Big A ended up eating nothing much besides chocolate, marshmellows and a few bites of latka for their lunch that day. Tonight Adam is taking them to the final Hannukah blow out at his grandparents shul tonight so at least I get some extra time to myself to get some school work done.

Speaking of school, it's going extremely well. I am enjoying my group therapy course and am working very well with my project partner. We seem equally responsible and committed to getting a good grade. I have to say though, I'm actually frustrated by the fact that I'm doing so well in my program (in my last course I actually got 100%...yes, 100% in the whole course! Why am I frustrated? Because it doesn't matter! I need this degree to start a practice, not to get entrance into any further academic programs (yes, this really is IT for my schooling). It's not like my future clients will care how many 'A's I have on my transcript and employers in the counselling field will care far more about my experience than my grades...and I still have no #@$* experience!

The great news is that I FINALLY heard back from J.S. at Women's College Hospital. She confirmed that she is fine with me starting my practicum with her in May. The not so great news is that after reassuring me in our initial meeting that her employers give her the latitude to do whatever she wants, she said she has to meet with her supervisor next week and get permission to take me on. Of course, I should have seen that coming.

The girls are doing really well right now and I am enjoying them more than ever. I think we are finally, FINALLY over the worst of the tantrums/defiance with Big A. Mornings are so much better now! This morning when Little A slept so late we had to wake her at 8am (if only Big A would sleep this much, Adam and I might be able to sleep in ourselves once in a while!) and I discovered just as we were heading out that the stroller had a flat tire, Big A was wonderful about getting ready quickly and walking briskly, without complaint so she wouldn't be late for school. She is also developing a very quick wit. Her nickname at school is "Goldilocks" because of her blonde curls. So at swimming on Sunday morning when we were going from the changeroom to the pool she said, "Mommy I'm cold...I'm Coldilocks!" I thought that was very clever.

Little A is still a mischievous little monkey but she is also seriously adorable. She now sings the alphabet song, although she can only really pronounce a few of the letters properly, and she sings the birthday song, "Happy to you...happy to you!" every night when we light the candles on the Menorah and later in her crib to herself at bedtime. She still calls me "Mommy Poo Poo" and gets a big kick out of saying something naughty. Oh my girls!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Dumb and Dumber

I am really eating crow today! I am a complete idiot. As usual.

First, the daycare was right. Something WAS wrong with Little A. When I finally got her in to see a doctor this weekend, he confirmed that she had an ear infection. What??? She really and truly was not acting like it, at least not at home. In the past, when she has had one, she has been hysterical and very obviously in pain. Aside from the daycare's reports of an intermittant fever, she was acting just fine at home. None of the usual signs (constant fever, hysteria, misery, etc.). She's now on antibiotics and doing fine. I don't know how many times the girls have had an ear infection and I tell myself that the next time I will recognize the problem sooner. I now vow that anytime either of them has any trace of a fever, I'm taking them to the doctor immediately to RULE OUT an ear infection. Poor, poor Little A and bad, bad mommy. Or, as she is still calling me, "Mommy Poo Poo".

Second, I finally heard back from Dr M. at Mt Sinai. Oh boy. She apologized for the delay with our proposal, but explained that it took her several uninterrupted hours to make all the necessary changes to our consent form. Huh? I thought I had addressed almost ALL of the consent form changes and had only left her with a very small amount of work (making decisions about medical stuff that I could not do myself). What did I miss? I'm really puzzled as I was, or I thought I was, very diligent about making all the corrections. I feel HORRIBLE and STUPID. In any case, the good news is the research project looks like it's a go, as long as the ethics board now approves our proposal. I profusely apologized to her for overlooking some of the required changes (I'm wondering if I sent her the wrong file, because I really, truly spent hours on the corrections!) and promised that I would shoulder the responsibility for any future tasks.

My head must be full on sand or something. Time to clean my ears out.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Pina Colada Muffins

Big A is refusing her naps again so we told her as long as there are no meltdowns, she is welcome to skip it. So far this weekend, she's handled herself pretty well, although she did snooze a bit in the car on the way to Ikea yesterday. Today she insisted we bake together while Little A was taking her nap solo, so I came up with this recipe and it turned out soooo good.

4 ripe bananas, mashed
2 eggs or 4 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar or Splenda
19 oz can crushed pineapple, with juice
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tbls coconut extract or 2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup finely shredded, unsweetened coconut
1 cup light coconut milk
2.5 cups whole wheat flour
1.5 cups natural bran
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt

Whisk together wet ingredients and coconut in medium bowl. Stir together dry ingredients in large bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour wet ingredients into dry and mix just until combined. Spoon into greased muffin tins (makes about 12 large or 18 medium muffins)and bake at 375 for about 16-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool and remove from baking pan.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Mommy Poo Poo

Oh my girls! They drive me nuts but I love them so. They are such characters. Little A is still refusing to use many words with us. She prefers to point, babble and then scream hysterically when we cannot figure out what she wants. I had a long talk with one of her daycare teachers this morning who assured me that she is using a lot of words there, most of which we have never heard from her before. She did admit, however, that Little A usually just cries first, until they force her to use words to ask for what she wants. She suspects that we given too quickly to her crying instead of encouraging her to verbalize. Of course, yesterday when Big A started calling me Mommy Poo Poo on the way to school, Little A picked this up immediately and they were both yelling "Mommy Poo Poo" and laughing hysterically all the way.

Little A is also still being difficult about her teeth. When we get out the toothbrush, she starts yelling, "No teeth, no teeth!" and it takes Adam holding her head staight and restraining both her hands while I shove the toothbrush in to get her teeth brushed. This means that it is physically impossible for me to brush her teeth in the morning when I am by myself. I end up brushing her lips while she howls and squirms, even if I've restrained her in the stroller.

Big A made us absolutely crazy on Wednesday night, the first night of Hannukah. Her best friend G., was over for dinner. Adam took Little A out for a bit to give the big girls some time to play without interference. After they finished their banana pancakes and carrots and dip (the meal Big A requested), Big A wanted some Hannukah gelt (chocolate coins) for dessert. Both she and Little A had gotten a bag of chocolate coins from the Hannukah party they went to last weekend. I acquiesced but when I handed her a coin, she proceded to break off a tiny crumb for G. I explained to her that she must give G. a whole coin for herself but Big A started yelling that she "Didn't want to waste any of HER coins." I was outraged and grabbed a coin from her bag to give to G. She became hysterical so I grabbed one from Little A's bag and gave it to G. I told her she could have no more chocolate. Big A screamed and cried until I warned her that if she didn't stop immediately, I would throw all the chocolate in the garbage.

When Adam got home I told him the story. After G. went home, he told Big A he was taking one of her chocolate coins and giving it back to Little A. This triggered another screaming fit from her. I asked her how she would feel if G. did the same thing to her when she was visiting her house. She finally seemed to understand why what she had done was wrong and actually offered to call G. to apologize. I was impressed with that and we dialed the number for her. As appalling as her refusal to share was, I really think she understood the lesson we were trying to teach her. I just hope she'll be more gracious about sharing next time...

Little A's daycare is really starting to piss me off. For the third time this week, they just called and told me she has a fever and I need to pick her up. Huh? Each time I come, she is fine and has no fever and doesn't seem sick at all. Is she developing an allergy to the daycare or something? So it looks like my day today is shot. I just had to cancel my meeting with the poor woman who just had a miscarriage and reschedule for next week. Here I go off to get Little A AGAIN...

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Irresistable Winter Fruit Compote

I first had this dessert at a Passover Sedar many years ago. The recipe comes from the Barlings, friends of the family, although I've modified it with a few twists. It is super easy, looks pretty and tastes even better. It's a great dessert to make for a big crowd. In fact, I've learned to ONLY make it for a big crowd or else I gorge on it and...well, you know what happens when you eat too much dried fruit!!!

2 cups pitted prunes
2 cups dried apricots
6 baking apples, chopped into large bite chunks (any variety that will not turn to mush will do)
6 ripe pears (or 1 large can pears, packed in juice or water), chopped into large bite size chunks
1/2 cup dried cherries or cranberries
1/4 cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped
1 large can low sugar cherry pie filling
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Combine all ingredients and pour into large greased oven safe dish (or divide between 2 smaller ones) and cover with foil. Bake at 375 for about 40 minutes or until apples are tender.

This is delicious on its own or served with yogurt or ice cream. You could also have some for breakfast with yogurt, oatmeal, granola, pancakes, waffles, or French toast.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Staying Positive

Most of us have a tendency to focus on the things about ourselves and our lives that we would like to change. Those with "dysfunctional perfectionism" as I have been told I have, tend to discount the positives and focus only on the negatives thereby considering anything short of perfect as a failure. It's a difficult habit to overcome but one which is so incredibly self-destructive. I also tend to catastrophize, or in other words, assume the worst case scenario. Not much optimism here given my natural worrying tendencies (I come by it honestly as my mother is the same in this way). But my recent training in CBT has taught me to reign-in my worries before they spiral out of control. No reason to assume the worst unless there is evidence to support this assumption, right?

So assessing life right now from this vantage point, things are pretty good. I have my allergies and sinus headaches under control with my frequent nasal/sinus saline rinses and have managed not to touch a single pain killer in 2 weeks. My butt is feeling better and the physiotherapist confirmed that my pelvic alignment is much improved. In fact, this week she sent me to an athletic therapist to give me some serious strengthening exercise and stretches. She was so impressed with my form and technique that we were done the 30 minute session in 10 minutes and she said she didn't need to see me again unless I had questions. Unfortunately, between these exercises and the rehab exercises from the physiotherapist, I have like 20+ minutes a day of exerices to do. The core exercises the athletic therapist gave me are kick-ass! I'll post a few as my exercises of the week.

Little A's daycare made me come early Monday and pick her up saying she was sick. Huh? She was perfectly fine when I got there but the policy is still that I couldn't send her back yesterday. So my mother-in-law, bless her, took her for the morning and I had her for the afternoon. SHE WAS PERFECT, there was nothing sick about her (except the cough she has, which EVERY kid has right now, which she has had for 3 weeks now!). We had fun playing together until it was time to go to Big A's school for the fundraiser/holiday party. We had a blast. It was craziness with all the kids, but there was food, prizes and musical entertainment. The best part was seeing the girls together. They were both having so much fun and when Big A went to sit with her friends for the show, Little A ran over and wanted to be with her. Big A happily took her little sister on her lap and they cuddled while watching the performers. It was absolutely precious. Unfortunately, we got home late and that's when it all fell apart. The girls started fighting and didn't want to take their bath and we basically had two wired, over-tired kids screaming...and Adam and I were thoroughly worn out at that point ourselves. Oh well, when I ran into other parents this morning, they reported that it was the same scenario at their house so I suppose it was to be expected.

So far I have been contacted by one woman about my miscarriage/infertility support group. Since two people don't really make a "group" I have offered to meet with her on my own or given her the option of waiting until others express interest. At least this is a start.

My biggest concern right now is that I haven't heard back from J.S. at Women's College Hospital since our wonderful meeting a few weeks ago. She did warn me she gets busy, but it's been a while since I sent her a few emails with no response. Of course my head has been spinning all sorts of explanations for the silence: she changed her mind about wanting to work with me; she talked to S.D., who teaches the certificate program I'm doing and found out that I've also asked to work with her (I gotta cover my bases AND I'd be happy to work with BOTH of them if I have the chance), she mentioned me to someone at the hospital and was told there is no possibility she can get permission to bring me on, etc, etc.

At a party last weekend, I ran into a woman I know who is a counsellor and knows J.S. She said she often gets busy AND goes to NY a lot to visit her mother who is unwell, and very difficult, so she thought she might be away. This has given me a bit more hope and helped keep my paranoia from escalating. Remember the worry tree, remember the worry tree! One of the many useful tools used in CBT:

http://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/docs/worrytree.pdf

Exercises of the Week: For a Rock Solid Core!!

Prone Ball Walk with Hip Abduction/Adduction
Use hands to walk forward on the ground while lying on top of stability ball until ball rests under thighs. Extend one leg out to the side and alternate legs until you complete 2 sets of 10-15 repetitions on both sides. For progression (to make harder), walk further forward over ball so your toes come off the ground.

Prone Ball Walk to Skier Position
With stomach on ball, walk forward until ball rests under your shins. Supporting weight on your hands, roll ball forward slightly, and side to side by pulling with knees to target obliques. Do 2 sets of 10-15 repetitions.

Kneeling Ball Walk to Toes
Roll forward over ball so toes are resting on ball, hands are on the ground and you are in a pike position. Bring yourself down to a plank position (flat back, in line with your hips) and then use your abs to draw back up into pike. Do at least 2 sets of 10-15 repetitions.

Monday, November 29, 2010

It's a Good Thing Not ALL Dreams Come True!

Do you remember your dreams? I have remembered mine vividly since I was a very small child. And they have always been extremely bizarre. So much so, that I would not disclose the details of some of them to anyone I do not know well, for fear that they would think I should be institutionalized.

Take for example last night's slumberland escapades. I can't make sense of the first part but I think I had adopted a little boy with some sort of behavioural/developmental challenge and I had hired Sherma to help me take care of him. It was night time and I didn't want him to see me so he would go to sleep...there was also a huge, long slide involved, like a mega water slide.

Then Little A and I were at the Boulevard Club (where my bro and sister-in-law have a membership) along with my parents. The club had a pain management clinic and I was there for my sinus headaches. The place was full of all sorts of very rich, important people and I felt out of place. There was an old woman there (remember Charlotte's mother-in-law on Sex in the City when she was married to Trey?) with her grown son and she looked at my face and announced, "Disgusting"! I was mortified and terribly insulted. Then I was sitting with the whole family in the dining room of the club and my mom asked me to get snacks for everyone from the self-serve buffet table. I kept trying to fill little bowls with fruit, nuts, yogurt and granola, but each time I did, someone would take the bowl for themself or it would fall on the floor and make a huge mess. After an hour, I returned to the table and told everyone I could not get them snacks. At that point, I realized I had left Little A alone in a room (in my dream the club also had hotel rooms you could rent) for several hours and I became hysterical. Then my brother was there pushing her in a stroller and reassured me she was fine. We walked to a nearby dive/diner/bar where my sister-in-law had a part-time waitressing job (on top of her full time job of being an ob/gyn). I decided I had to get Little A home ASAP, so I started trying to hail a cab. A cab (that looked like a traditional British taxi) pulled over abruptly but then flipped over and burst into flame. The driver got out unhurt but then a fellow cab driver/bystander discovered the guy was hiding stollen jewellery in the trunk and I decided I didn't want to take a ride with either guy. So my mom and I found a rented car (somehow) and started driving. We eventually became lost and pulled over to ask an old bearded man to give us directions. He informed us that we had driven all the way to London, Ontario (several hours from Toronto), which was astonishing since we had only been in the car for 20 minutes. Then I woke up. As far as my dreams go, this is far from the weirdest. But it was, for some reason, somewhat disturbing and very intense and I woke up feeling kind of exhausted.

At school we have studied dream analysis from the perspective of several psychoanalytic theorists. I have to say, I do not really think there is a lot of significant latent meaning to dreams. Dreams are just the outcome of various neurological processes. Of course I have had weird coincidences where I dream of someone I haven't consciously thought about in a long time and then I see them or hear from them a few days later. But I think those are just coincidences. If the content of our dreams really does tell us something about who we are as a person, then I probably should be put in a straightjacket.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Coconut Layer Cake With Buttercream Frosting

I don't often cook or bake with butter or white sugar, but I volunteered to make a few things for the bakesale being held by Big A's daycare, so I thought I would go whole-hog. Big A and I made chocolate cereal squares, however, I also felt like playing around with coconut so I created this recipe. For a layer cake, use 2 8-inch round pans. I have to carry this to her school while pushing a stroller, however, so I made it a big single flat cake. You could also make it in a bundt pan, if you wanted.

2.5 cups organic whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2.5 cups coconut milk
1 tbls coconut extract or vanilla extract
1 cup unsweetened, finely shredded coconut

Mix together dry ingredients in large bowl and set aside. In medium bowl, beat together butter, sugar, eggs, milk and extract. Add dry ingredients and coconut and stir, just until mixed. Pour into greased pans. Cook at 350 for about 25 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. You will likely need more time if you cook in a bundt pan.

Frosting:
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon coconut or vanilla extract
4 cups confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons coconut milk
1 cup unsweetened, finely shredded coconut

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and extract. Blend in the sugar, one cup at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the milk, and continue mixing until light and fluffy. Keep covered until ready to ice cake.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Occam's Razor

It is bitterly cold, grey and rainy today. But it might as well be warm and sunny with birds singing. This is the fourth consecutive day without a sinus headache and significantly less congestion because of my new regime of frequent saline rinses. I finally feel like I have my mojo back! And yet I am also feeling somewhat sheepish about the fact that the solution was so simple, painless and much less risky than the approach I was taking before. If only I had really listened to my brother's advice a few months ago!

Actually this seems to be a theme in my life lately. The solution to what seems to be a major problem is quite simple. Look at what happened with Big A? Things between us have been so much better since the consultants came. It really is quite astonishing!

It makes me wonder if all sorts of common problems and dilemmas we face really have very simple solutions - weight loss, marital problems, debt, etc. and it is just our emotions, prejudices and cognitive distortions that complicate things and inhibit us from reaching our goals. It's a weird paradox that humans have an innate survival instinct but are also somewhat self-destructive. Of course, one problem is that as pleasure seeking beings, it doesn't help that we derive pleasure from all sorts of things that are destructive to us (junk food, cigarettes, unprotected sex, etc.). But that doesn't explain why we often do things that cause ourselves pain. I guess no matter how smart or educated we are, we all have a limited awareness and cognitive understanding of the world around us and we are complex emotional beings who do not always behave rationally, even if we do possess all of the relevant information. I'm not arguing that the Middle East crisis could be solved with a handshake, I'm just saying it may be worth considering small, simple solutions to a problem you are facing before you try more drastic ones or give up and conclude it is unsolvable.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pilates

There was an article in the Globe and Mail last week that made me very happy. Titled "The End of Pilates As We Know It" http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health/is-this-the-end-of-pilates-as-we-know-it/article1797501/ , it discusses the drop off in popularity of pilates classes and a resurrgence of popularity in intense cardio classes at North American gyms.

Now don't get me wrong, I love pilates. I have now replaced my biweekly yoga with pilates sessions in my living room and after a few weeks, I am seeing a real improvement in my pelvis/hamstring. In fact, this past week is the first time that the pain did not increase between physio sessions. Nevertheless, I was very frustrated when pilates became the new fitness trend 5 years ago. Why? Because people replaced cardio classes with it and it is not a replacement for cardio. Sorry folks, you still have to sweat. With the number one problem for most of us being too many calories in and too few out, you cannot overlook the importance of cardiovascular exercise for weight maintenance and prevention of a myriad of chronic illnesses. Pilates is functional exercise that is ideal for (1) rehabilitation, (2) prevention of injury, (3) facilitate everyday activities, and (4) improve sport performance. Do not replace cardio, or even resistance training with pilates.

Should you add pilate to your workout routine, if you have time? Absolutely! But be clear on what it is and what it is not. According to the Globe article, the reason interest in pilates is waining is because former devotees have realized that (1) it does not really help you lose weight/fat on its own, (2) results are gradual and slow.

That leads me to my review of pilates DVDs. I currently own 6 and some are excellent while others not so much. I've ordered them from best to worst.

Denise Austin - Hit the Spot Pilates
I cannot tell you how much I love this DVD! It is broken up into 7 segments, all 10 mins except the last one which is 15 minutes. If you do them all, it is a KILLER workout for your core, you can REALLY feel it. The segments are titled by what body part they supposedly focus on (thighs, buns, etc.), but really just ignore this BS, all the exercises are designed to primarily target your core, and they are really effective for that. It is fast paced and ideal for people with previous pilates experience. There is no focus on breathing and very little discussion of pilates principles or techniques, so not very suitable for beginners. I actually find Denise Austin very annoying (she comes across like an infomercial host), but you can actually mute her out of every segment. I guess I'm not the only one who is irritated by her! The last segment is done standing and is a very creative twist on traditional pilates exercises, I really love it!! I have started using this DVD most often and am not sick of it yet. I highly recommend it to anyone who is intermediate/advanced.

10 Minute Solution Rapid Results Pilates
This DVD is also broken into 10 minute segments based on body parts it focuses on. Unfortunately, one section is arms and shoulders, which is useless to me because that is not what I need to focus on. Nevertheless, it is straightforward and effective and I like the instructor, Lara Hudson. This workout is good for intermediate level folks as it also does not go through basic pilates principles and techniques, although Lara does cue breathing.

Stott Pilates Intermediate Matwork
This DVD is one integrated workout just under an hour. It is very true to classic pilates. Moira Merrithew and the Stott Pilates company are widely known as being a leading authority in the pilates world...and their head office and studio are in Toronto! Pretty much any Stott DVD is guaranteed to be high quality. This is a good, solid workout, but I got bored of it pretty quick.

Pilates for Life - Pilates on the Ball
This is produced by another studio in Toronto! I like the option of using a stability ball for the exercises and some of them are extremely challenging. What I don't like about this DVD is it claims to have 2 20-minute workouts, one beginner and one intermediate, however, it is the same workout both times, you can just focus on the instructor doing the beginner or the advanced option either time. False advertising, if you ask me!

Kathy Smith - Peel off the Pounds Pilates
I realized once I viewed this DVD that the reason it claims to help you lose weight is, it includes a 20 minute cardio workout! Well okay, but that's not pilates! In fact, I'd say that only 10 minutes of the whole DVD (the lower body and core mat workout segment) is actually pilates. So I would say this DVD is good for a beginner who wants a total body workout with low intensity cardio component. Useless for me, unfortunately.

Kathy Smith - Fat Burning Pilates
This one also has a cardio component. But it also has two other segments that are pilates focused. I like Kathy Smith and she does a good job going through the basic principles and techniques so I think this is a good DVD for anyone who is new to pilates. Unfortunately, this one is also just not very useful for me.

Live and Learn

When I was a kid my parents used to always tell me that you continue learning throughout your life. I doubted it though, as I thought of learning only as something you do sitting in a classroom with a teacher blabbing at you. Of course, now I know they were right and I marvel at how much I learn every day. Some of the learning is from school, of course, but lots of it is simply from life experience.

Take the past two days, for example. One lesson I learned was that sometimes it makes sense to suspend your own doubts and listen to someone else's advice. When my allergies and sinus headaches re-emerged this fall, I called my brother, who also suffers from the same thing. He recommended I take an antihistamine and decongestant, but he stressed the importance of regularly flushing out my sinuses with a saline rinse. He did not mention any pain relievers.

I get the antihistamine and decongestant in the Claritin, however, I was doubtful that a simple saline rinse could do much good. I did buy one and have been using once a day. As my past posts have shown, however, I have continued to be plagued by serious sinus pain and have been popping handfuls of various painkillers, which aren't even effective. Sunday morning I woke up feeling great and decided to see what would happen if I skipped the rinse. BIG MISTAKE! By 1pm I had intense pressure in my sinuses and it was just getting worse. Still nervous about taking the Tylenol 3s, I tried the Excedrin Migraine, my mother-in-law gave me to try. They had seemed to help last week one day when I had some mild pain. This time no luck and the pain continued to worsen but because the Excedrin has acetominophin and aspirin in it, I could not take the Naproxen, Tylenol 1s or 3s at that point. In desperation, I took 2 of the oxycontin. BIG MISTAKE #2. We got in the car to do our afternoon activities with the girls and I became severely nauseous. I don't know if that was from the meds, the pain or simply the car ride. But I felt absolutely horrible until about 8pm at night when the nausea finally subsided. Yesterday I decided to take the opposite approach. I took no pain meds and simply flushed my sinuses with saline about 4-5 times. To my surprise, by yesterday evening I felt so much better. And today, even though I was woken up by Little A 3-4 times last night (she has a bad cough that seems to only bother her at night), I feel fine. I just keep flushing my sinuses out. I am so happy! Not only do I feel better, but the cure is much healthier than handfuls of pain meds. Looks like big brother was right! To my sister-in-law, Elin - if you read this, don't tell Dan, I don't want him getting a swelled head (no pun intended, ha ha!).

I also had to admit to Adam that he was right about something. I attended the seminar for small businesses/entrepreneurs yesterday. I learned a lot of valuable information and it was very helpful. But I was advised to forget my idea of developing the fitness consultant business. The facilitator said the number one mistake small business owners make is becoming fragmented/unfocused from their original vision. This happens because they start to have doubts about their primary goal and begin moving in multiple different directions. She recommended I focus exclusively on developing my psychotherapy practice. Adam had been saying this right from the start. Actually, I am relieved. Unlike therapy, where there is a proven need for the service, I was trying to develop an untested service for which there is no proof of a market. Would people actually pay for that service? Who knows. So the problem is that the majority of my time would have to be spent on the marketing and that's really not what I want. Besides, the facilitator also said to put your energies into what you do best and spend as little of your time as possible on the stuff you hate/aren't good at.

There was a social worker in the seminar who has a counselling practice. She was also very helpful. She said the fact that my services will not be covered by OHIP or private insurance should not be a problem and will not prevent me from getting clients. She also suggested we have coffee because she said counsellors often network with each other so that if someone comes to them with a particular problem outside their area of expertise, they can then refer to someone else.

I also learned about some websites and women's groups that provide networking opportunities for female entrepreneurs. It never occurred to me that I should do this, but given the area of counselling I intend to focus on, it makes perfect sense.

I realized on Friday after my meeting with J.S. at Women's College Hospital, that my anxiety over not having an income right now has more to do with simply feeling ineffectual because of my inability to get my career aspirations moving forward in the way that I desire. Now that I know I have the opportunity to get directly involved in counselling and get some critical experience, my passion and drive for my original goal has been re-ignited and the fact that I have no paid work right now seems to matter a lot less. After all, if I can get the experience and networking opportunities I need now to ensure the viability of my future career, I'm more likely to actually have some income from doing what I want to do, sooner rather than later.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Salmon Burgers 4 Ways

At least twice a week we have "low cook" dinners which consist of burgers, sandwiches, salads, etc. and/or leftovers. Burger night used to be veggie or chicken burgers but lately I've become addicted to the wild salmon burgers from our local grocery store. On a whole wheat bun with a side of steamed veggies, it makes a relatively healthy and very quick meal. If you don't like the idea of frozen seafood, you can just get some wild salmon fillets from your fishmonger. Personally, I can't afford that - fresh wild salmon is exhorbitantly expensive.

Here are several ideas for how to top your salmon burgers/fillets. Each makes enough for one serving, so simply multiply by number of servings that you need. Simply slather sauce on both sides of bun or if you want to go bunless, just dollop on top of fish or brush it on before broiling/pan frying your burgers or fillets.

Sushi Style
Sauce:
2 tbls low-fat/fat-free mayo
1 tsp wasabi paste

Garnish:
Thinly sliced cucumber
Thinly sliced avocado
Pickled ginger

Indian Style:
Sauce:
2 tbls low-fat/fat-free mayo
2 tsp regular or spicy mango chutney
1/2 tsp good quality curry powder

Garnish:
Organic baby spinach leaves

Classic Seafood Style:
Sauce:
2 tbls ketchup
1 tbls prepared horseradish
pinch cayenne pepper (optional)

Garnish:
Organic spring mix

Horseradish Dijon:
Sauce:
2 tbls dijon mustard
1 tbls prepared horseradish
1 tbls lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced

Garnish:
Thinly sliced tomato

Good Friday

I had two meetings today that made me very happy. First I met with Big A's kindergarten teacher for our first parent-teacher meeting. She is doing fine with her numbers and learning to read and write, but what the teacher spoke at length about was her empathy. She said Big A has a knack of finding the children in the class that need help/companionship/guidance and then she takes care of them. She emphasized what a good person she is and also mentioned that she is very independent. She said that she plays by herself a lot because she is very specific about what activities she likes to do. So unless any other kids want to play her games - and apparently she is always happy to let them join - she just does her own thing. She won't do something she doesn't really want to do just because the other kids are doing it. Wow, empathetic and independent. I'm definitely not a perfect mom, but we must be doing something right. I am so proud of her!

Later today I met with the miscarriage/infertility counsellor at Women's College Hospital. All I can say is, I LOVE THIS WOMAN! We connected on a cultural (she's originally a New York Jew just like my folks!), professional (both particularly interested in helping women who have experienced early term miscarriage and feel this is a population that is particularly neglected), and personally (she is an interesting and lovely person and was a pleasure to talk to). The best part is...I've got it! What's it, you ask? Well, basically she is giving me whatever opportunity I want. One-on-one patient contact ASAP (or as soon as I feel ready to start), developing a miscarriage support group, AND a practicum placement for my program at school. I am jumping up and down right now!!!

Adam made it home in one piece today so my single-parenthood is over for now. My parents arrive tomorrow and we have a lovely weekend planned. The only way today could have been better is if I hadn't woken up with a wrenched shoulder (how did I do that in my sleep??) and a headache. The doctor gave me Tylenol 3s yesterday and said I could combine them with the Naproxen (I'm taking way too many meds now!), but I was afraid to try that so I have been taking Tylenol 1s I have from the pharmacy with the Naproxen and that seems to be helping my head. At least my pelvis/hamstring has been feeling better this week. Happy Friday ya'll!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Quality Time

I am so tired. I don't know how single parents survive. They must be superhuman. I am counting the SECONDS until Adam gets home tomorrow. Unfortunately, I don't actually know when that will be since they cancelled his flight from Victoria to Calgary today and if he doesn't make it to Saskatoon in time for his flight booked for tomorrow, he may not get back to Toronto.

The first night alone this week Big A had a HUGE tantrum. It took over an hour for her to get it out of her system but she finally did. Then Little A got crabby and was screaming at the drop of a hat.

This morning Big A got up right after I got on the stairmaster for my workout. I ended up having NO "me" time at all. The good news is she was in a great mood and relatively cooperative. The bad news is she talked a mile a minute all morning and wanted my full attention the whole time. I had had a bad sleep (I can never sleep well when Adam is away) so I was exhausted and grumpy. I tried to remind myself that she was behaving and that I should at least be grateful for that.

The Elmo sticker trick was a one shot deal in terms of getting Little A to brush her teeth. She hasn't been consistently cooperative with the daycare teachers on that front either. However, when they were doing painting using toothbrushes today, Little A was more than happy to paint the entire inside of her mouth.

Tonight Big A is at my in-laws for a sleep-over. It feels like a semi holiday just to have one child. I haven't been able to give Little A much attention lately. At bedtime, I have been plopping her into her crib with no story and just shutting the door to her cries so I can attend to Big A. So tonight we hung out just the two of us. It was going great (aside from when she dumped her bowl of grapes onto the kitchen floor and danced on them) until bath time. She now insists on making pee pee on the toilet. Great news except she just wants to sit on the toilet all the time now even if she doesn't have to go. She made a pee pee before dinner but she didn't have anything come out before bath. Nevertheless, she refused to get off. After 20 minutes I plucked her from the toilet and put her in the tub. She had a mega mega meltdown. When she finally calmed down I put her in her crib and at least got to read her a story.

She hasn't pooped in 4 days which is a record for her (normally she goes at least once a day). Maybe she's saving it all up for Adam when he comes home. Hee hee!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Thank Goodness for Small Victories

The weather is beautiful and I am feeling better about life thanks to a few little developments. On the career front, I have an important meeting on Friday that could get me moving along in my desired direction. J.S., is a well-known therapist in Toronto who works in the miscarriage/infertility field at Women's College Hospital. I didn't contact her before because I was busy getting things moving (or so I thought) at Mount Sinai and have been trying to arrange my placement with S.D., the therapist who is teaching my miscarriage/infertility counselling course. But no one so far is coming through for me so I've got to keep my options open. I emailed J.S. last week and told her I was looking for volunteer counselling opportunities and a practicum placement. She emailed me back yesterday and was VERY enthusiastic. I can't wait to meet her on Friday and see where this goes!

Also, Little A will now open her mouth for the tooth brush in exchange for an Elmo sticker. She doesn't really let me do a thorough job, but this is still a huge improvement from before. Maybe her teeth won't all rot out before her 2nd birthday after all!

Adam is away again for work this week. Sigh! But then he has no more trips until after the Christmas holidays...I think. Fortunately, although the weather report is calling for rain, it is a beautiful day. I woke up with pressure in behind my eyes which usually means a killer sinus headache is coming on, but I have been okay so far today. Thursday I see my doctor again at which point I will ask for a new prescription since the Naproxen is useless. My butt/hamstring has been feeling better since physio last week and my physiotherapist confirmed yesterday that my alignment and muscle tension seems better.

If I can just make it to the weekend on my own, there is lots to look forward to. My parents are visiting and it is my nephew's first birthday. We're having a party for him at my brother's on Saturday.

A big victory for me is looking at where I am now relative to a year ago (when Eli was born). I was overwhelmed with postpartum anxiety and depression and desperately counting down the days of my mat leave. It's good to remind myself of this whenever I'm feeling mopey. Both girls are now in full-time care during the day so I am free to pursue my own interests. Then again, I guess that's why I get so down and frustrated when I don't feel like I'm accomplishing as much as I should. Glass full, glass empty.

I'll take some small victories...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Singapore Noodles

I have made this a few times and each time I make it a bit differently, but I think this version turned out best. It is a fusion dish that did not originate in Singapore, that has a million different recipes. I like the addition of coconut milk, but you can substitute chicken broth instead. Traditionally it is made with chicken, bbq pork, shrimp, and/or scrambled egg, but I've opted for just chicken here. A vegetarian version could simply use tofu. Do NOT overcook these noodles or you'll get mush. Use whatever veggies you like best.

250g brown rice vermicelli, soaked in boiling water for 1-2 minutes and then drained
1 tsp peanut or canola oil
1 lb minced chicken, (or chicken breasts or thighs sliced thinly)
2 sweet red bell peppers, thinly sliced
4 cups bean sprouts, rinsed
6 baby bok choys
1 bunch green onions, sliced

Sauce

2 heaping tbls curry powder
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup minced or grated fresh ginger
1 tbls soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/2 cup coconut milk (or chicken or vegetable broth)

Whisk together all the ingredients for the sauce in a bowl and set aside.

In a wok, add oil and cook meat. Remove when no longer pink and set aside. Add veggies, one at a time and removing when done how you like (i.e. crisp-tender, etc.) and set aside with meat. When all the ingredients are ready, throw them back into the wok with the sauce and noodles, and cook until sauce is absorbed.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Be Proactive

Inspite of all my positive self-talk, I am still feeling increasingly disheartened and pessimistic about my professional life. I passed up several valuable opportunities over the past months, such as applying for a counselling position with Planned Parenthood, because of the Mt Sinai research project, which has still failed to materialize. With no counselling experience yet, I am still very unqualified for my new desired career path. I have so much damn education and so little experience, what a waste of my life...and here I go again with the negative spiral of self-criticism and doubt. Sigh! Many thoughts and ideas have been swirling through my mind in terms of how to improve my situation. My family fitness coaching idea is percolating and I am attending a seminar for small businesses run by the business consultants my friend connected me with. They very much liked my idea and felt they could help me refine my business plan. And yet, like the million of business ideas I have had in the past, I fear this one will fail to come to fruition because of, well my fear of failure I guess. I never have the guts to follow through.

One thing I am following through with for sure is my recent other idea. I am starting a miscarriage/infertility peer support group. Although I do not yet have any formal counselling/therapist designation, there is nothing stopping me from doing this since I am doing it simply as someone who has been through these experiences myself, yet there is also nothing stopping me from adding to my resume in the future that I ran support groups. I feel like I'm stuck in the frustrating position of not having the experience to get the job I want and yet not being able to get the experience because I don't yet have the experience. Like WTF? I just want to help people damnit!!! I know I'll get experience from my practicum for school, but I also know it would be advantageous to have more than that. I would say the majority of other students in my Masters program are already working in the counselling field. Well, it's time for me to take matters into my own hands and direct my fate. So I've designed posters announcing my support group and I'm putting them up all over the neighbourhood. I figure I'll hold the groups in my living room, unless I can possibly convince someone at the JCC to let me borrow some space there for free.

Aside from my career issues, I am still tied up in knots about my children's dental health. Little A refuses to let us brush her teeth. Period. Big A refuses to even try the fluoride rinse the dentist recommended. I now agonize over everything they eat, not from a nutritional perspective, but from a dental health perspective. When Big A was little and fought us brushing, I always thought of asking the daycare for help, but was too afraid (I thought they would see me as too demanding). Finally, this morning I decided to try for Little A. To my surprise, the daycare said if I bring a toothbrush and paste for her, they are happy to give it a try. Just goes to show, no matter how big or small, we really shouldn't let fear get in the way of trying things or getting what we want/need. I must make this my mantra as I work at building my new career...

Monday, November 8, 2010

Headaches and Digit Disasters

After last Wednesday's sinus headache from hell, I made an appointment with my doctor. Taking handfuls of Advil and Tylenol is a bad idea AND it does nothing to lessen the pain. Time to get help. She took one look in my nose and said she could see a lot of swelling in my nasal passages. She gave me more steroid nasal spray, which I'd run out of, and a prescription for Naproxen. I woke up today feeling great but now I feel another one coming on so it may be time to see if these babies work. I don't like the fact that I'm a walking pharmacy right now (Claritin, Nasonex, Naproxen, etc.) but I'll do anything to get relief.

On Saturday, I stupidly slammed the car door on my pinky finger. The bad news is, it was my left hand, and I'm left handed, the worse news is that I think it might be broken. As stubborn as I am though, I haven't gotten it looked at. No way I'm waiting hours at the ER and what will they do anyways, splint it? But after icing it last night for a while, it feels better today and I have more range of motion in the knuckle joint...so maybe it isn't broken? I am going to have my physiotherapist look at it today and tell me what she thinks. Perhaps I'll call my doctor again this afternoon. Stupid finger!

Big A had another huge tantrum on Thursday night. Adam was still away for work so it was just me and the girls again that evening. It all started on the way home from picking her up at school when I gave her dinner options she didn't like. She screamed all the way home and then continued for an hour. At one point she grabbed my face and pinched me HARD. After mostly ignoring her screaming up to that moment, I lost it and picked her up, carried her upstairs and threw her in her bedroom, telling her she better not come out until I got her. I think she realized she crossed the line at that point and she started to calm down. Eventually I got her to apologize. One of the punishments I doled out for this behaviour was no treats whatsoever for the whole weekend. This actually turned out to be a good idea because she was extremely upset, and the parenting consultants emphasized that punishments need to mean something to her. While I've threatened this punishment many times in the past, we've never fully carried it out because we seem to always end up in circumstances where treats get offered to her and we cave in. This time, as per the parenting consultants, I was determined to follow-through. So I called my mother-in-law, who was having the girls for dinner Friday night. I warned her that under no circumstances was Big A allowed any dessert (not one cookie or piece of cake). Although this led to a huge meltdown Friday evening, Big A got no dessert. Nor did she get a single treat Saturday or Sunday, even when she and I made chocolate cereal squares. I wouldn't even let her steal a single marshmellow. Luckily, by then she had accepted her fate. The weekends are usually when our nutrition plans fall by the wayside anyhow (she always goes to her grandmother's or great-grandmother's for Friday dinner and gets treats that never see the light of day in this house), so I was thrilled to see her forced to forgo the junk food for a few days.

Little A, our picky little eater, has actually grown into quite a good eater. In fact, she will eat a lot of grownup food that Big A won't go near. This weekend she surprised us by gobbling down some of the spicy sesame noodles I made (and they're quite spicy!) and she shared a Perrier with me (Big A hates "bubble" water). At the grocery store yesterday, Big A insisted I buy them some cucumber rolls from the sushi counter. Then she proceded to tell me she doesn't like seaweed and just wanted to eat the cucumber and a bit of the rice. Thankfully, Little A was more than happy to devour the entire rolls, as well as the leftover scraps from Big A. She also ate the whole pile of accompanying pickled ginger in one bite and would have drank the packet of soy sauce if I'd opened it for her (I confiscated the large ball of wasabi because I thought the heat bomb from that, while short-lived, might be a bit much). Perhaps if there is 3-1 in favour of my cooking, Big A will eventually come around to eating the spicy, ethnic dishes I usually make.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Caribbean Chicken, Pumpkin and Collard Green Stew

This turned out as an exceptionally delicious way to use up some of our Halloween Jack-o-lantern, but you can always use butternut squash instead. Serve over brown rice or fill a roti shell/whole wheat tortilla and roll up.

1 lb ground chicken or turkey
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 onion, diced
1/4 cup minced fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbls curry powder (preferably West Indian style)
1 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp sea salt
Scotch bonnet hot sauce, to taste (optional)
3-4 cups cubed pumpkin or squash, lightly steamed
1 can light coconut milk
Large bunch of collard greens, leaves chopped, stems removed

Place onion in large skillet or fry pan with vinegar over medium heat. Cook until onion is softened and translucent. Add ginger, garlic, curry powder, allspice, salt and hot sauce (if using). Cook 1-2 minutes. Add ground meat and stir with spice mixture, cooking until meat is no longer pink. If it gets too dry, add another couple tbls of cider vinegar. Next, add pumpkin/squash and coconut milk and simmer 5-10 minutes. Last, add the greens and continue simmering until then are wilted (about 10 minutes).

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Thai Seafood Curry

Since Adam is away this week, I used his absence as an opportunity to make something he won't eat: seafood! The fact that I made this on a night I was alone with the girls, is a testament to how easy it is. Although I made is super spicy, to suit my tastes, Little A gobbled up a lot of the shrimp! It was sooooo good, especially over organic brown jasmine rice.

1 lb fresh or frozen seafood (shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams, calimari, etc.)
1 bag fresh vegetable slaw (broccoli, carrots, cabbage)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbls grated, fresh ginger
1 tbls green Thai curry paste
1 cup coconut milk
2 tbls fish sauce
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
hot chili flakes, to taste (optional)

Whisk curry paste with coconut milk in large frying pan, over medium heat. Once smooth, add in veggies, seafood, garlic, ginger and fish sauce and cook a few minutes until seafood is cooked (but be careful not to overcook!). Sprinkle in green onions and chili (if using). Serve over rice.

Pain and Suffering

P1: I FINALLY heard back from Dr. M at Mount Sinai, who promised she will get her part of our ethics proposal completed and will submit to the ethics board ASAP. I feel a bit better but am still anxious to get the project under way. I also inquired about doing my practicum for school with the counsellor who teaches the miscarriage/infertility certificate program I'm doing. She works out of one of the cities most prestigious fertility clinics and also has her own private practice. She would love to take me on but needs to get approval to do so. Fingers crossed!!!

P2: The dentist was a nightmare on Monday. Big A screamed through the whole procedure. In fact, she was so hysterical, the dentist would only fill the cavities on one side of her mouth and we have to go back AGAIN. Adam commented that they must have accidently given her crying gas instead of laughing gas since it seemed to have no positive affect on her. The dentist was actually getting pissed with her and kept snapping at her to stop crying. Since then, she has been milking this thing for all it's worth. She is still claiming her mouth hurts and she can only eat certain foods. Now, I would be more inclined to believe her if she wasn't claiming that the only food that she can eat are the pumpkin chocolate chip cookies I baked. Then again, it's impossible to judge another person's suffering. Maybe the freezing and the laughing gas didn't work? Maybe her teeth are still hurting? I might be convinced if she said broccoli was the only food she could eat.

At 18 months, Little A is absolutely delicious right now. I've whined a lot about wanting my kids to grow up, but I have to say, I would be relatively happy if she stayed just like she is for a while. She is so funny and affectionate and happy most of the time. I just want to eat her up. By this age, Big A and I were already entrenched in regular battles over everything. Aside from refusing to brush her teeth or wear mittens (or put on her Halloween costume), Little A shows few signs of defiance at this point. I just wish she would learn so talk better. Her comprehension is amazing (Adam told her last week that he was disappointed in her because she wouldn't let us brush her teeth and she burst into tears as if her feelings were deeply hurt), but her pronunciation is far off. Somehow bagel gets translated into "meemyl" and mango into "mamo". Yet she can say "pizza" and "eyeglasses" coherently. We still struggle to understand her a lot of the time which leaves us all frustrated.

F1: I've been thinking a lot about sugar lately. Some researchers believe that sugar in our diets is more harmful than sodium. Yet many people malign "artificial" sweeteners in favour of "natural" sugar. Should you avoid saccharin? Well yes, of course, but I don't see it that often anyways anymore. I remember in the 80s when we would go to the U.S. to visit family I would always buy "Chewels" gum, which was filled with this sweet liquid centre that would squirt out when you bit into it. It had a warning on the label that it contained saccharin, which has been shown to cause cancer in laboratory experiments. Huh? Why was that on the market? And a better question is, why was I buying it? The flavour ran out after 2 seconds of chewing anyways.

But there are much better alternatives to saccharin (and aspartame) available now. Sucralose (Splenda) is really no more processed than regular table sugar and has been shown to be safe in over 100 peer-reviewed scientific studies. It is also recommended by the Centre for Science in the Public Interest. It has no after taste and is as sweet as sugar with zero calories. I use it in my oatmeal and coffee and tea and sometimes for baking.

If, for whatever reason, using Splenda gives you the heebeejeebees, there are more "natural" options to sugar. Organic Zero, made from erythritol, a sugar alcohol, is organic and "natural" but it is less sweet than sugar, so you have to use more and it is insanely expensive. I used up a whole $18 bag in one week when I was doing my cleanse. Or there are Xylitol products available that are similar, but they are also pricey. There are also a number of stevia products you can use as an alternative sweetener. I used to use stevia for years until I switched to Splenda while Adam and I were family building because there was limited research available about it's safety during pregnancy. I've tried to go back, but have not been able to tolerate the after-taste. Admittedly, I haven't tried Truvia or any of the newer product lines that are supposed to have no after taste.

In any case, the reality is that even if you are eating "natural" and organic foods, if you are taking in too many calories, you are going to have excess body fat and associated health problems. Using a low calorie sweetener is a good way to cut out empty calories. If you are going to use a natural sweetener, avoid the granulated white sugar and at least try something that has some nutritional value and great taste such as agave syrup, honey, maple syrup (the darker the better for a rich flavour!!), or molasses.

F2: This has been a bad fitness week for me. My workouts have sucked because (1) My butt has been hurting more than it has since I started physio, and (2) Yesterday I was plagued with a horrid sinus headache. Fortunately, my physio yesterday improved things in my bottom half. The therapist confirmed that my pelvis and twisted again, which is why I was in so much pain. She yanked it back into place again and said the rehab exercises should help keep it from shifting back. My rehab involves doing core exercises including ones to target the back extensors. These are so effective and low-tech. You don't need ANY weight or equipment. If you haveany postural issues or lower-back pain, I urge you to make them a regular part of your routine.

Performing the back extension:

Lie on your stomach, facedown, arms straight out in front of you, palms down, and legs straight out behind you. Keep your chest, shoulders and hips in contact with the ground and lift your left arm and right leg about one inch off the floor, and stretch out as much as you can. Hold this position for five slow counts and then lower your arm and leg back down. Repeat the same move with your right arm and left leg. Continue alternating sides until you complete 3 sets of 15 repetitions.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Last year I chopped up a ton of pumpkin after Halloween but the frozen chunks sank to the bottom of the freezer and were forgotten. I recently turfed them. This year I vowed not to let our entire jack-o-lantern go to waste. Pumpkin is so incredibly versatile, healthy and delicious. So I've put some aside for a Caribbean stew with chicken and collard greens I'll make this weekend and I made these cookies today to share with my mother-in-law (who is kindly taking Little A to her 18 month check-up today while I take Big A to the dentist).

These are huge, soft, cakey cookies my mom used to make us after every Halloween with our left over pumpkin. I don't have her recipe, but these actually taste pretty much the same although I am sure they are healthier (nobody I know was using whole wheat flour or agave syrup back in those days!).

1.5 cups cooked, pureed pumpkin (or canned)
2 eggs
1/4 cup organic canola oil
1/4 cup agave syrup
1 tsp vanilla
2.5 cups organic whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup mini dark chocolate chips

Whisk together wet ingredients in large bowl. Combine dry ingredients and add to wet. Stir just until combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop large mounds on a non-stick baking sheet. Bake at 375 for 15 minutes, cool on wire rack.