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Monday, December 31, 2012

Farewell 2012

Welcome Back!  I hope you had a wonderful holiday.  We had tons of fun in the sun in Florida.  This year's vacation was a trip full of discoveries.  Here are some things I learned:

1. Little A is not a very good traveller.

2. Even when there are no delays or turbulence, I still hate flying.  Guess I'm not really a good traveller either.

3. Cheap chocolate sweetened with maltitol isn't good for anything except as an emergency laxative.  I'll spare you the details here...

4. Sketchers' GOWalk Oasis shoes are so freakin' comfortable, I had to buy them in 2 colours:

Gray

5. After doing absolutely no exercise for 4 days and consuming a wee bit a lot more beer and chocolate than usual, one's regular workout will feel a wee bit a lot harder!

6. Lilly's Chocolate, sweetened with stevia, tastes awesome, and should be used for pleasure eating and will not cause stomach upset. Of course, like many yummy things, it doesn't seem to be available in Canada. 

Original Dark Chocolate Bar, Wrapper Front

7. Unless you want to freak out everyone on the airplane, don't bring freeze-dried wild blueberries to eat as a snack.  You'll end up with deep purple fingers that are still purple and creepy-looking even after you wash and scrub your hands a dozen times.  Or at least bring a spoon to eat them with.

8. Little A is not a very good traveller...did I already mention that?

9. No matter how dumb it sounds, any movie with Matt Damon is worth watching.  I caught We Bought a Zoo on the airplane.  I just heard a reviewer call this one of the worst movies of the year, but I disagree, I thought Matt Damon the film was cute!



10. Big A will swim in an outdoor pool no matter how cold the temperature of the air.  I'm not kidding!

11. It apparently is  NOT possible for us to do our annual trip to Florida without someone getting sick.  This year, my niece was in the emerg for an eye/ear infection, and everyone in our family had some degree of stomach upset.  Big A is still not 100%.

12.  I don't know what the law is there, but way too many Floridians text while driving.  Bad, bad, bad!!

So here were are, the last day of 2012.  It's been quite a year. 

  • Adam has had a string of professional successes, and I made it through the first part of his sabbatical year travels (he's got a few trips coming up over the next few months, and we'll see if I make it through those after being a lone parent for several weeks at a time!).
  • I finished my Masters of Counselling Psychology, and launched and entirely new career, which I am passionate about...now just gotta find a way to bring in more $ doing what I love!
  • Big A started first grade and has become 6-going-on-16.
  • Little A is finally out of diapers.
  • My parents bought a condo and have decided to sell my childhood home that I lived in between the ages of 10 and 17.
  • We welcomed a new niece and nephew into our family.

I am very lucky to have a wonderful family and friends and I am excited to spend 2013 with them and to share it with all of you.  Happy New Year, and have a safe, healthy and happy celebration.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Happy Holidays!!



Next Monday I will likely be poolside at the Vistana resort, pictured above, watching the kids splash in the water.  We're heading to Orlando with Adam's family for a little break.  For this reason, I'm actually happy that all four of us are currently suffering from a bad cold, because I'm hoping this means we will all be healthy (for once) during our holiday.

I am looking forward to relaxing with the kids and spending a whole week with absolutely nothing to do, except eat, sleep, and play.  No, we're not going to Disney.  We're saving that for a year or so from now when Little A is, HOPEFULLY, past the melt-down stage, so we can ensure, as much as you can ensure anything when you have kids, that we will get our money's worth, and not have to leave abruptly, after spending a fortune on entrance fees alone, because of a tantrum.

In any case, have a happy, healthy holiday (keep eating your greens, getting lots of sleep and exercising!!) and I will be back to blogging December 31st.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Hannukah Cereal Squares


If you celebrate Christmas, there are endless decorating options for your home and food.  The choices are far more limited for Hannukah.  Blue and white are the colours and menorahs and dreidels are the associated objects.  Even though I love Christmas lights, white and blue lights would still look Christmas-y.  I suppose I could make a wreath out of dreidels or something, but I'm not that crafty.

I had a similar problem looking for a way to make Hannukah themed cereal squares for our community Hannukah party.  Red, white and green Christmas sprinkles and candies are everywhere, but there were no blue and white Hannukah ones to be found.  I'm sure they exist somewhere but not in my 'hood.  In any case, I wasn't thrilled about adding some food-colour-filled sugary crap to an already not particularly nutritious treat.  So I settled on dried blueberries!  There ya go, blue and white.  And blueberry and vanilla flavours are so good together, I'm pretty pleased with myself.  Of course, if you are doing Christmas, you could use dried cherries or cranberries instead.

These went over well at the party and were so easy to make, I think this might be a future bake sale contribution.  I used organic brown rice crisp cereal, rather than the usual snap, crackle and pop stuff, to make them at least a wee bit healthier, but really these are just a sweet treat. 

This recipe makes a lot as I was serving them at a huge gathering, so just cut it in half, if necessary.

Hannukah Cereal Squares

6 tbls butter
8 cups mini marshmellows
2 tsp vanilla extract
12 cups rice crisp cereal
1 cup dried blueberries

Melt butter over medium heat.  Add marshmellows and vanilla and stir until everything is melted and smooth.  Remove from heat and mix in cereal until evenly coated.  Stir in blueberries.  Press firmly into 2 9x12 pans and refrigerate until set.  Cut into squares.  Keep in airtight container for up to 10 days.  Makes lots.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Thai Mango Cashew Chicken (or Tofu)


I know, I know, I'm on a Thai Food kick right now.  But can you blame me?  Thai food kicks butt.  I have always adored the balance of sweet, salty, sour and spicy.  This dish does exactly that with the fish sauce, chili, mango and cashews.  Make it vegan by using tofu instead of chicken, if you wish, and subbing out the fish sauce for plum vinegar (or coconut vinegar).

Thai Mango Cashew Chicken

1 lb ground chicken or chicken thighs, cut into bite sized pieces (or 1lb extra firm tofu)

2-3 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 tbls finely chopped fresh ginger
2 tbls fish sauce (or plum vinegar)
crushed red chili flakes, to taste
I can light coconut milk

2 cups frozen or fresh mango chunks
1 bunch broccoli, cut into florets (lightly steamed, if desired)
2 cups snow peas, trimmed
2 sweet bell peppers, sliced
1 bunch green onions, sliced
1/2 cup chopped roasted, salted cashews

1.5 cups brown jasmine rice

Place rice and 3 cups water in a large pot.  Bring to bowl and turn heat down.  Simmer until water is absorbed and rice is fluffy.  Brown chicken in large skillet or wok and then transfer to a bowl and set aside.  Whisk together ingredients for sauce in a small bowl.  Add mango and veggies to the wok, along with sauce and stir-fry until veggies are tender.  Add chicken (or tofu) and cashews.  Serve over brown jasmine rice, or as I did, add rice right into wok or skillet before serving so it soaks up all the flavours.  Serves 4.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

President's Choice Holiday Insider's Report 2012

It's out: President's Choice Insider's Report for the 2012 holiday season featuring all the latest products available at Loblaws and affiliated grocery chains across Canada.

Honestly, it's pretty much same old, same old.  High fat frozen hors d'oeuvres, and rich, sugary desserts, many of which are probably not worth the calories.  Really, I'm not saying you shouldn't indulge at all over the holidays, just indulge in only the absolute best stuff, and skip the rest.

Here are a few tips to keep you feeling your best all season long:

For savoury bites, stick with good ol' fresh veggies with hummus or dip, pickles, olives, cheese and whole grain crackers, popcorn, etc.  A shrimp platter is another healthy option:
PC Shrimp Platter with Mild Cocktail Sauce
If you do want something a bit more indulgent, go with something like a holiday nut carousel:
PC Holiday Nut Carousel

Personally, I think most appetizer-type foods are icky.  If you are looking to splurge, I say save it for the sweet stuff at the end of your meal.  Go with the dark chocolate covered peppermint patties:
PC Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Patties
 Or if you're really in the mood to indulge, check out President's Choice Black Label premium ice creams:

PC BLACK LABEL SALTED CARAMEL ICE CREAM
Just don't make a habit of it, keep it as a once a year treat, ha ha!!

If you're doing your own baking, check out their new mint chocolate chips:
PC The Decadent Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips - Mint Flavour
Whatever you do, stay away from the PC Candy Cane Flavoured Coffee:
PC Candy Cane Flavoured Ground Coffee
As you may recall, I tried it last year and it made me want to hurl.  Sorry, not into drinking hot toothpaste thanks!  Fortunately, true to their word, Loblaws gave me my money back. 

Enjoy the holidays, but keep in mind that recent research has shown that just one high-fat meal can have serious health consequences.  So this holiday season, try to make as many healthy choices as you can and only indulge on your absolute favorites.  Oh, and don't forget to exercise in between all those holiday gatherings! 


Monday, December 17, 2012

Dark Chocolate Pudding (Vegan + Sugar-Free)


 

Happy Monday morning!  I am glad to say that we have our internet back, but it took until Saturday for it to really be 'fixed'.  Looks like we will be switching to Rogers anyways at some point in the future, but I just have to wrap my head around closing out my Bell email, which will likely cause me many headaches.

Aside from all that, it was a pretty good weekend.  Dinner out with colleagues Friday night, a massive Hannukah party on Saturday, and a whole bunch of errands on Sunday with a whiny, hysterical 3 year-old.  Okay, Sunday wasn't so hot.  In fact, Adam and I both had moments of wanting to wrap Little A up in wrapping paper, placing her on somebody else's front porch, ringing the doorbell, and then running like hell.

I'm kidding of course...we like our neighbours too much for that.

Actually, like pretty much all parents around the world, regardless of their antics, we were feeling extremely lucky to have our little ones safe at home with us, following the tragic events in Connecticut last week.  There really are no words...

Okay, on to happier topics like CHOCOLATE PUDDING!

Stuck at home with Big A for 2 days last week while she had strep throat, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to experiment with a healthy pudding recipe.  She only wanted soft foods because of her sore throat but quickly got sick of oatmeal and yogurt.  This ended up being a hit with EVERYONE and the whole recipe disappeared within 24 hours!

In fact, Big A loved it so much, she insisted I take a photo of her enjoying some.



Dark Chocolate Pudding (Vegan + Sugar-Free)

1 945 ml carton unsweetened chocolate almond milk (I used Almond Breeze brand), or other non-dairy milk
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 cup xylitol or stevia baking blend
1 tbls chia powder
2-4 tsp guar gum

Place milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Whisk in cocoa, sweetener, and chia powder.  Bring to a boil and then turn down heat.  Simmer for about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and let cool.  Transfer to a container and refrigerate until cold.  Remove from fridge and pour into blender.  Add guar gum, 1 tsp at a time and blend.  Only add as much guar gum as you need to reach desired consistency.  Keep refrigerated for 4-5 days, if it lasts that long.

I have included this recipe in this week's Wellness Weekend on Diet, Dessert & Dogs.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Technical Problems


I don't have time for a real post today as Big A is home with a bad case of strep throat.  It's the third time she's had it and apparently if she gets it too many more times it may be that she needs to get her tonsils out.  Oy!

It's been a trying week for other reasons too: our internet service has been very intermittent since last Saturday.  I've been on the phone with Bell Canada at least 5 times and they've even sent someone to our house and each time they claim they've fixed the problem and then it goes down again.  So I'm writing this as fast as I can before it conks out again.

I hope you have a lovely weekend and that I am back online - for good - by Monday.  If not, you can bet I will be SCREAMING at the Bell Canada folks and perhaps considering a different service provider.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Truffles


Adam refuses to use natural peanut butter.  He doesn’t object to the taste, but he can’t stand the mess and difficulty of spreading it on bread, particularly when you get down to the bottom of the jar.  Although I do insist on buying the all natural stuff for myself and the girls, I can’t really blame him.  Somehow it never seems possible to get the oily part mixed all the way through so the top is liquidy, the middle lumpy, and the bottom, a dry, solid mass.

So what to do with that dry stuff at the bottom of the jar?  Make truffles!  Easy, decadent but not too unhealthy, delicious truffles.

1 cup ‘dry’ peanut butter or other nut/seed butter
½ cup coconut sugar
2 tbls coconut oil (not melted)
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp sea salt
250g dark chocolate chips

 

Place nut butter, sugar, coconut oil, vanilla and salt in food processor, and process until it comes together and is smooth.  Place mixture in freezer for 30 minutes, until firm.   Meanwhile, melt chocolate and let cool slightly.  Remove from freezer and roll into balls or flatten into disks.  While still cold, dip into chocolate and place on wax paper-lined baking sheet.  Place in freezer until chocolate sets.  Store in a cool dry place for up to a month.  Makes about 20 disks or 30 small balls.

This recipe has been entered into this week's Gluten-Free Friday on Vegetarian Mamma.
 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Chinese "Un"Fried Rice


This is an easy dish that can be customized based on your tastes and what you have in the fridge.  I’ve listed the veggies I used, but you can use any you want, fresh or frozen.

1.5 cups brown rice

¼ cup soy sauce/tamari/coconut aminos
¼ cup rice vinegar (the unseasoned kind)
¼ cup sugar-free orange or apricot fruit spread
1 tsp sesame oil
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup finely chopped fresh ginger
¼ tsp salt, or to taste
Crushed red chili flakes, to taste (optional)

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed (or 1.5 cups cooked black beans)
1 bunch broccoli, cut into small florets (lightly steamed, if desired)
2 sweet bell peppers, sliced
1 lb mushrooms, halved or sliced
1 bunch green onions, sliced

 Place rice and 3 cups water in a big pot.  Bring to a boil, turn heat down to low and simmer until all the water has been absorbed.  Whisk together ingredients for sauce in a medium bowl.  In a large skillet or wok, stir fry beans and veggies in sauce until veggies are tender-crisp.  Add rice and cook until sauce has been absorbed and everything is well mixed.  Serves 4-6.

This recipe has been entered into Diet, Dessert & Dogs' Wellness Weekend.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Frosted Apple Cinnamon Rolls

I think fast food, and fried foods, in particular, smell horrendous.  On the other hand, I am the first to admit that the smell of a Cinnabon is absolutely mouthwatering.  But it’s been at least 20 years since I had one since those babies are absolute nutritional nightmares.  Nothing more than trans fat, white flour, and a whole whack of sugar.

 Instead, I make my own cinnamon rolls, using a whole grain dough and minimal fat or sugar.  This variation, in fact, has no refined sugar even in the frosting.  They are also A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!  I can’t be bothered to make dough from scratch, so I cheat and use Bob’s Red Mill dough mix, and make it in our bread maker, but if you are more ambitious than I, just prepare your favorite whole grain dough recipe, vegan, gluten-free or whatever suits your fancy.  You could also add in chopped nuts, dried apples or raisins if you wish.

I have discovered that quark is a fantastic base for icing.  It is thick, rich and creamy, but low-calorie and fat-free!  Hello!  No need to even use a blender, I mixed up the frosting by hand.

Cinnamon Rolls

650g whole grain dough (I used Bob’s Red Mill 10-Grain bread dough mix and prepared as per directions)
1 cup unsweetened apple butter (or pear or plum butter)
2 tbls stevia baking blend (optional)
3+  tbls ground cinnamon
¼ - ½ cup molasses or maple syrup (use ½ cup if you choose to make 8 smaller rolls)

Roll out prepared dough into a long rectangle, about 1 mm thick.  Spread with apple butter, stevia, and cinnamon and roll up.  Slice into desired number of rolls (I made 4 gigantic ones, but you can make 8 smaller ones).  Spray baking dish (8x8 for 4, 9x12 for 8) with non-stick spray, pour molasses or maple syrup into the bottom and spread around.  Sprinkle with cinnamon.  Place rolls side-by-side in the pan with spiral side up.  Bake at 375 for 15 minutes.  Cover with foil and bake for another 20-30 minutes, until golden.  Let cool and then frost.


 Frosting

 ½ 375g container of quark
2 tbls stevia baking blend, or to taste
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt
¼  tsp cinnamon

Mix  together ingredients for frosting and spread onto rolls.  Keep refrigerated and warm in the microwave before serving.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Kids Say the Darndest Things


I am relieved to say that the girls' fighting has lessened recently.  Don't get me wrong, eruptions still occur, but they are not constantly yelling and bickering anymore, thank goodness.  Of course, I can't take any responsibility.  I still have yet to sit down and review the things I read in Siblings Without Rivalry, nor have I gotten Adam to read it, so few of the ideas and suggestions have been implemented.  Lately I've been thinking that I need to make myself little cue cards because of the fact that my mind seems to go blank regarding effective parenting strategies just when I need them most.  Perhaps if I have something I can whip out of my pocket to jog my memory, I might be a better parent and disciplinarian/teacher.  And, admittedly, I still need to work on being more patient.  That will always be my greatest challenge.

Little A has also been having fewer meltdowns, although we still shouldn't dare cut her toast the wrong way or give her anything but the pink cup for her milk.  Somehow her ridiculous cuteness manages to make up for her, um, foibles.  Each night, before she'll go to sleep, she insists on reciting this monologue, which goes something like this:

"Make sure there are no monsters, no pirates, and tell me to have sweet dreams.  Make sure I have a little light (i.e. her blind pulled up an inch from the bottom of the window), make sure nobody wakes me and tell everyone to be quiet, and sit outside my door and wait for me [until I wake up]."

The other night she also added, "Mommy, if you need to do something noisy, do it quietly."

Although she is easier to understand, she still talks with what sounds like a strong Boston accent.  Somehow the fact that Adam was born in Boston seems to have gotten into her genes.  It's really weird.

Little A is not as much of a pigpen anymore.  Adam is thrilled, and while I admit it's nice not to have be constantly cleaning up gross messes, I miss that funny quirk about her.  She can now actually eat something without her face, hands, clothes, the table and the floor getting filthy.

A few days ago, we were heading home from daycare and there was the strong smell of marijuana wafting out on to the street from who-knows-where (a common occurance in our neighbourhood).  Little A exclaimed, "Mommy it smells like broccoli!"  Ha, no wonder the kids behave so much better at daycare...the teachers are probably feeding them 'broccoli' for lunch every day!!

I am continously amused and amazed by Big A's increasingly 'mature' interests.  She watches tv for tweens, she's into The Biebs, One Direction, Katy Perry, Carly Rae Jepsen and such, and don't even get me started on her fashion taste!  If I left it up to her, she'd wear tube tops and miniskirts every day.  She's been begging me for 'grownup see-through tights' (i.e. stockings) and while I've refused, I did relent and buy her some girls tights that were not quite opaque.  She's thrilled with them.

At the girls' daycare fundraiser last week, Big A and her boyfriend did a lot of smooching and then sat side-by-side through the magic show.  As nutty as this romance is, given their age, it's undeniably adorable.  Besides her devotion to him, however, I was shocked when she recently told me she enjoys chasing around another boy in her class, and kissing him.

Big A can still be extremely obnoxious and completely ignore me.  This often happens on the way home from daycare and I come home furious.  Adam keeps telling me to give her immediate consequences if she doesn't behave, and while I know that's what I need to do, this tends to be when my mind goes blank, I can't come up with a consequence so I just end up yelling, "Stop it" over-and-over which is totally ineffective.  This is when the damn cue cards would be handy!  Adam suggested threatening no tv for the whole evening if she doesn't stop whatever it is she's doing.  I actually remembered his suggestion the other day and, low-and-behold it worked!

She is finally old enough that we can give her some responsibilities around the house, such as making her bed and putting away her clothes, which is nice.  I draw the line, however, at allowing her to use knives.  She convinced Adam and I to allow her to cut up her dinner the other night, but since she doesn't really know how to do it, and the food was moving all over the plate, I got nervous.  So she said, "Geez mommy, it's just me with a sharp knife!"  Ha, she didn't even recognize the irony in what she was saying!!

She and Little A have discovered the latest music craze from Korea, which they call, "Gum gum style".  It was quite entertaining to watch them dance along with the video they downloaded onto their Ipad.  I love my kids but I'm not sure they have a future as entertainers...

A few days later, I was getting the girls ready to walk home from the daycare and Big A tells her boyfriend's mom (loud enough for everyone to hear), "I have homework every night and I'm supposed to have at least one parent sign my agenda book, and they, like, almost never do,  it's the worst!"  For the record, we DO sign her agenda and Adam, in particular, is obsessive about making sure she's done her reading and/or homework, so I don't know what she's talking about, but she sure succeeded in making me mortified, and feel like the worst parent on the planet.  Although in all honesty I think I do that to myself most of the time.

Big A has also become my harshest beauty critic.  On days I am not seeing clients and am wearing 'comfort clothes' (i.e. yoga pants and a jersey top) she will say to me, "You aren't working today, are you?  Because those are NOT work clothes!"  This is from a kid who goes to school with pink hair, leg warmers and temporary tatoos all over her body.  Even better, yesterday I woke up looking particularly 'rumpled', you know, with pillow lines all over my face.  Although I was just going to the gym to teach my spinning class, I decided a wee bit of makeup was in order.  Big A came into the bathroom and asked what I was doing. I explained that I was trying to make it less obvious that I'd just rolled out of bed.  She watched quietly and when I was done she said, "Mommy now it just looks like you slept with your makeup on." Ha, I can't get away with anything!

Yesterday Little A also had a winning comment.  After Adam spent nearly 2 hours putting together the Barbie Dollhouse my parents got the girls for Hannukah, we went out to do some grocery shopping.  Adam was exhausted and frustrated because it was a challenging task and the girls were neither grateful nor coopoerative about playing with the dollhouse together.  He was rewarded for his hard work with the girls' fighting non-stop once it was completed.  We decided to get out of the house and do some errands.  Later on, as we were loading groceries into the trunk, Little A commented, "This was the worstest home day ever!"  When I asked her why, she exclaimed, "Because we had to do so much work!"  I thought Adam was going to tear his hair out.

There is no doubt both our children are 'spirited' and somewhat challenging.  The volume in our home is always high.  Both girls are dramatic, strong-willed, opinionated, competitive, and stubborn.  I am told these are mostly all qualities that will serve them well in the future, but right now they are things that drive Adam and I crazy.  Lately, we are both finding ourselves having difficulty maintaining our equilibrium when things start going out of control.  It's a good thing we have a holiday coming up.  We leave for Florida on December 24, and the trip can't come soon enough.

Once when Big A was an infant, my father commented that the best things about having children is watching them learn, grow, and develop both their cognitive skills and their personalities.  I try to focus on the humour involved and remind myself every day how lucky we are to have 2 healthy, smart children who challenge us to be better people...and, of course, drive us COMPLETELY NUTS!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Cheezy Vegan Popcorn

What do you think, could I win an award for the world's worst food photographer?  Not to state the obvious or anything, but my interest in taking photos of food is almost non-existant.  So while I can't make anything LOOK good, you'll just have to trust me that it TASTES good!
 

Big A adores cheese flavoured popcorn so I thought I'd try to whip up a healthier version of her favorite.

Cheezy Vegan Popcorn

1 cup popping corn
1/3 cup Earth Balance
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 heaping tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp sea salt

Pop corn in an air popper or paper bag in the microwave.  Place popcorn in a large bowl.  Melt Earth Balance in a saucepan over medium heat.  Whisk in remaining ingredients and pour over the popcorn.  Toss to coat.  Enjoy immediately!

We have a fun weekend ahead.  It's my mom's birthday today so my parents are coming to town and we are going out for an adult-only dinner.  Tomorrow Big A has a birthday party and then we have my mother-in-law's annual Hannukah party. 

Happy Hannukah to everyone who celebrates and have a lovely weekend to you all!  Make it a safe and healthy one.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Sticky Spiced Caramel Corn (Vegan option)


As I've said before, most things that fall into the 'snack food' category are crap, no matter how you sugar-coat it (ha ha!).  Low fat, reduced sodium, gluten-free, organic, most of it still has little nutritional value and lots of calories. The only exception is popcorn.  Too bad I don't like it.  But my peeps do, so I make it a lot because I'm happy to feed them this low fat, low calorie, whole grain snack and they are happy to eat it.  This is one of the least healthy versions I've made before, but it was for a holiday party and was being shared by all, so an exception was made.  He he!

Here is a recipe you can customize to suit your fancy. It's so quick and inexpensive, it's an easy thing to have handy for holiday entertaining and, unlike me, most people love it.  This is not a crunchy caramel recipe, its more ooey gooey.  To get it crunchy, you have to do the whole sugar boiling, make it reach a certain temperature thing, which I've never been very successful at.  Besides, this is easier, and I've always preferred soft caramel over crunchy.

Hopefully the suspense will not kill you, but I'm going to post a savoury popcorn recipe tomorrow.

Sticky Spiced Caramel Corn

1 cup popping corn
3/4 cup butter or Earth Balance buttery sticks
1/2 cup coconut sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, plus more for sprinkling

Other seasoning options: Chinese 5 spice, chipotle chili powder, pumpkin pie spice, garam masala, etc.

Pop corn in air popper or in a paperbag in microwave.  Spread in single layer on wax paper-lined baking sheets.  Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat.  Whisk in butter or Earth Balance, sugar, salt and spice.  Drizzle over corn and place baking sheets in the fridge or freezer until caramel firms up.  Store in a cool, dry place for up to 2 weeks.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Morrockin' Quinoa



I made this as a side dish but add some chickpeas or tofu and it can be a whole meal.  Colourful, flavourful and delicious!

Morrockin' Quinoa

1 onion, diced
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3-4 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp harissa spice blend (purchased or homemade)
1/2 cup red quinoa
300g box frozen, chopped spinach, thawed, or 1 lb fresh baby spinach
1 cup olives, pitted and halved (Spanish or sundried are best)
8 artichoke hearts, quartered (canned, or frozen, not marinated in oil)
1 cup white quinoa
1 28oz can diced tomatoes, with juice
2 cups water
Juice and zest of a lemon

 
Saute onion, garlic and red quinoa with vinegar, garlic and seasonings in a large skillet over medium heat for 3-4 minutes.  Add all remaining ingredients, except lemon, turn heat down to medium-low, cover and cook until all the water has been absorbed.  Add lemon zest and lemon juice just before serving.  Serves 6 as a side dish and 4 as a main. Freezes well.

This recipe has been submitted to this week's Wellness Weekend on Diet, Dessert & Dogs.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Thai Yellow Curry Noodles


This tastes just like something you'd get at a Thai restaurant, only I can guarantee this version is much lower in fat and calories.  So, so good.  I made it with chicken, but it would be just as good with tofu if you want a vegetarian version.

Rice vermicelli are a cinch to use.  I don't even soak them beforehand, I just add them to the dish dry and let them soak up the yummy sauce to soften.

Thai Yellow Curry Noodles

Stir Fry

1 lb brown rice vermicelli noodles, broken up
1 lb chicken (boneless, skinless breasts or thighs, or ground), or extra firm tofu
1 bunch broccoli, cut into florets and lightly steamed
2 lbs mushrooms, cut in half
2 bell peppers (red, yellow or orange)
1 bunch green onions, trimmed and sliced in 1/2 inch pieces

Sauce

2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup fresh ginger, minced
2 tbls fish sauce (or plum vinegar for vegetarian)
2 tbls yellow curry powder (mild or spicy)
2 tbls tomato paste
Siracha hot sauce, to taste (optional)
1 can light coconut milk
1 cup water, plus additional as needed
Season, to taste*

Whisk together all the ingredients for the sauce in a large bowl and set aside.  Stir fry chicken in a large wok or skillet until lightly browned.  Add veggies and sauce and stir until veggies are tender.  Add in noodles and 1 cup water and stir frequently until all the liquid is absorbed.  If all the noodles have not softened, add more water.  Serves 4.

*Both fish sauce and plum vinegar are both very high in sodium, so taste before you add too much additional salt.

This recipe has been added to Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten-free Friday.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Aerial Yoga


Image source

I love love love discovering new forms of physical activity.  I've never much been into organized sports, but I love movement and exercise and finding new ways to challenge my body and improve my fitness.

I heard about aerial yoga a while ago and started scoping the city to find classes, but couldn't find one that fit my schedule.  Then I saw a WagJag deal for 4 classes for $24 and I couldn't resist. After all, most studios charge that much for just one class!  I had never heard of the club before, and it's not particularly convenient for me, but I figured I'd never find a better deal.

The class is offered at 10am on Saturdays at the Cardio Go King West Club in the Entertainment District of Toronto.  Cardio Go has 4 locations, but only this one offers aerial yoga.  It was clearly a popular deal as I bought the deal months ago but could only get space in a class this past weekend.

It involves doing yoga poses, core exercises, and inversions suspended from a hammock-like contraption that hangs from the ceiling.  It fully supports your weight and you are rarely touching the floor the entire time.

I will caution you, this is seriously intense!  I would not do it if you are pregant, nor is it a good idea for anyone who has any sort of back, shoulder or neck injury.  Frankly, I don't actually think it's appropriate for anyone who doesn't have some degree of physical conditioning.  I was very pleased, however, that despite my relative lack of flexibility, coordination or agility, I was able to do everything.  I think my brute strength and extensive yoga and pilates experience helped.  The other newbie in the class beside me was not so lucky.  She struggled to follow the teacher's directions and to execute virtually everything.

While everyone is required to sign a standard health club waiver before taking the class, I was surprised that the teacher did not ask anyone about injuries or limitations.  She did ask if anyone gets motion sickness.  Although I do, big time, I didn't say so because I felt fine even though I had a belly full of oatmeal. 

It was really an amazing experience, partially because it was just so different from anything I have ever done before.  It also allowed me to do inversions, which I generally avoid in yoga, because I hate doing anything that puts pressure on my neck.  It just doesn't feel comfortable and makes me feel claustraphobic.  In aerial yoga, you are suspended in mid-air so there is no compression on your neck.  I still didn't love being upside down, but I could tolerate it, which is more than I can say about inversions done on the floor.

What I didn't expect, was the major focus on core work.  Holy moly cow!  I was a wee bit worried I'd be hurtin' the next day, but I actually woke up feeling awesome on Sunday, and was in top form to go the the JCC, do my hard-core weights workout and teach my spin class.

I have 3 more classes and I am excited to try it again now that I know what to expect.  The question is, what should I try next...?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Racoons Riding Buses...



Did you ever have one of those days that just seems surreal?  That was my Wednesday this week.

I had a terrible sleep Tuesday night after the daycare fundraiser.  I was just too wound up.  I just landed a new gig writing reviews of fitness clubs for BlogTO, a local online magazine.  Wednesday I was scheduled to check out a new fitness studio near where Adam works.  Adam had the car that day, so he recommended the best way for me to get there by public transport and suggested that an hour should be plenty of time to get me there, regardless of my legendary bad luck with the TTC.

The bus arrived at the bus stop down the street from our house almost immediately - in an unusual stroke of luck for me.  I made it to the subway, efficiently caught the first subway going east, and then was thrilled to find the connecting northbound subway pulling into the station as soon as I arrived.  I hopped on and sat down relieved that the trip was going so smoothly.

Then an announcement was made that smoke had been detected at Eglinton station and the entire subway line from Bloor, north to York Mills was being temporarily shut down.  F#*k!  Adam is right, I'm friggin' cursed when it comes to our city's transit system. 

I exited the train along with everyone else and stood for several minutes on the platform trying to decide what to do.  Eventually, I decided to take an alternate route rather than waiting for service to resume.  This entailed hopping on another subway taking me back in the direction I came, and then catching another subway heading north on the University/Spadina line, catching a bus heading east on Wilson, and sprinting 5 blocks south on Avenue Road to the club.  By the time I arrived I was sweating, stressed and completely discombobulated.  I was about 3 minutes late for the Gravity Pilates class I had registered for, but the staff were very forgiving and allowed me to join anyways.

I felt much calmer after the class and walked slowly back to the bus stop on Wilson.  Suddenly a racoon sauntered out of the bus shelter.  He brushed against a woman's legs and for a moment, I thought he was her pet, that is, until she screamed and ran away.  Then he came in my direction.  As cute as he was, I've heard too many stories about racoons being rabid so I kept my distance.  This little guy was so bold that he chased after anyone who came too close to him.  He wasn't being aggressive, in fact, he almost seemed friendly, but everyone was a bit freaked out since you don't usually see wildlife in the city being so bold. When the bus arrived, all 6 of us waiting were hiding out behind the shelter, while Mr. Racoon sat munching on a discarded orange peel by the curb.  The folks on the absolutely packed bus squealed in delight at the situation and highschool children began whipping out their phones and snapping pictures.  It also got perfect strangers, smiling at one another and joking about Mr. Racoon.

I found the whole situation so bizarre and amusing that it completely made up for the frustrations of my earlier trip.  You always have to look for the silver lining in every situation, no?

Happy Friday, have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cool and Crazy Gift Ideas

The frenzy has begun for holiday shopping. I've already gotten all my Hannukah gifts, so I can relax, sit back, and give you all some ideas for those hardest-to-buy-for folks in your life.  It's much easier to be Jewish in December I tell you!!

Recenly we received the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog.  I always find it amusing to look through.  Like every year, there are items that range from clever to outrageous.  Here are some of my favorites.

The Peaceful Progression Wake Up Clock


The catalog's description is as follows:

More gentle than traditional jarring alarms, this clock uses gradually increasing light, stimulating aromas, and peaceful nature sounds to awaken sleepers. At 30 minutes before wake-up, the clock's light begins to glow softly, brightening over the next half-hour. The device can simultaneously release aromatherapy scents into the air to stimulate the olfactory senses. Fifteen minutes before wake-up, the clock generates your choice of six nature sounds (including ocean surf, thunderstorm, white noise, spring rain, mountain stream, and forest stream). The cycle concludes with a chime (that gradually increases in volume) to wake the most stubborn sleepers. Includes four different aromatherapy beads (Ocean Water, Pear Vanilla, Lavender Essence and Clean Cotton, or you can use your own aromatherapy oils in the stainless steel bowl. With snooze, 30, 60, and 90-minute automatic shut off, and 3.5 mm auxiliary jack that allows connection to an iPhone, iPod, or CD player. 7 1/2" H x 5 1/3" W x 6" D. (3 lbs.)

Cooling Pillow:


As someone who is always hot in bed and loves a cool pillow, I love this idea!

Dry Eye Relief Kit

Although incredibly funny-looking, as someone with chronic dry-eyes this intrigued me.  But I have to do research on it's effectiveness before I'm willing to drop $50 on it...

Have a loved one who suffers from really dry hands in the winter?  This might be just the thing!

 Aesthetician's Ultrasonic Hand Moisturizer

If I had $150 to burn, I'd buy one for myself!!

Light Therapy Visor:



Many North Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during the winter months.  Sadly (pun intended), I am one of them.  While I hate summer even more (yes, I'm a crank), by February I do tend to get dragged down by the constant cold, grey weather and by April I'm going batty. 

At some point I'm going to invest in one of these lights, and this is kind of a cool portable option...although if you wore it out of the house I'm sure you'd probably get made fun of...or people would assume you are a lunatic.

How about Insulated Ear Warmer Headphones


These would actually be perfect for Adam who listens to his Ipod on the way to work every day.

There is lots more interesting stuff, however, prices aren't the best and some stuff is absolutely, downright ridiculous...

Two Story Inflatable Reindeer for $380 anyone?



You can check out their catalogue online if you're interested.  Happy holiday shopping!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

No-Bake Bake Sale Snack Mix


If you have school-aged children, than you are probably frequently called upon to contribute to bake sales and/or treats for various functions and events.  Even for those of us who love to bake, this can sometimes get overwhelming.  If you don't bake, then it can be downright terrifying.

But don't fret, there is no need to resort to buying the revolting 2-bite cupcakes in the plastic clamshell package from your local grocery store.  Other options abound.

I whipped this up for the girls' daycare fundraiser last night and it was a huge hit.  It was inspired by my experience being one of the bake table salespersons at their school's spring event this past year.  I noticed that regardless of the actual product, some of the most popular items were those that parents had pre-wrapped, allowing them to be more portable, less messy and enjoyed later.  After all, there is only so many cupcakes or cookies people can gobble down at once.  Well, maybe not, but let's not go there!

I purchased festive, re-sealable plastic bags from the dollar store and created this mix of goodies.  You can customize it any way you please.  It would even make a nice hostess gift for the holidays, and you could fill pretty tins or mason jars with it.  Simple. Inexpensive. Delicious.

For this mix I used President's Choice Multigrain Alphabet pretzels:
PC Blue Menu Multigrain Alphabet Pretzels

Their Sweet & Salty Popcorn:

PC Kettle Corn Sweet & Salty
Their Chocolate-Covered Raisins:


And festive green and red Smarties I found at Bulk Barn:


You could just leave it there, but






I decided to coat the pretzels in white chocolate just to up the ante for the kidlets...this was for a good cause after all!

No-Bake Bake Sale Snack Mix

1.5 lbs small pretzels (whole grain, if possible)
About 300g popcorn (homemade, store-bought, sweet, salty or plain)
3 cups candy-coated chocolate
2 lb chocolate-covered raisins, cranberries or other fruit
1 1/4 cups good quality white chocolate chips
2 tbls coconut oil

Other options: candied nuts, granola clusters, cut up dried fruit, cereal, animal crackers, etc.

Lay pretzels in a single layer on baking sheets, lined with wax paper.  Melt chocolate and coconut oil over simmering water and stir until smooth.  Drizzle over pretzels and place pretzels in freezer until chocolate hardens.  Toss pretzels with other treats and divide into baggies.  I got 24 medium snack bags out of it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Low-Fat, Grain-Free, Gluten-Free Falafel


I love falafel but have never made them from scratch until now.  I always thought you had to use dried chickpeas or fava beans and grind them and it all just seemed to intimidating and time-consuming.  Then I saw Dreena Burton's recipe which uses canned beans and pan fries instead of deep fries them.  She dredges them with flour (I used chickpea flour) to get the exterior crispy.  I  loved this idea and knew I had to try making them myself. 

Of course, as I always do, I adapted the recipe.  Among other things, I use zucchini instead of celery, and use a bit of konjac flour, instead of oats, to hold them together.  I hate hiding grains in food in a way that you can't appreciate them!  Kind of like I'd rather get my fats from nuts, nut butters and avocado, rather than oils hidden in dishes in such a way that you don't even know they are there.  I am experimenting with konjac flour (glucommanen) more and more these days as a binder and thickener ingredient. It is so amazing!  These are probably not as sturdy as Dreena's because of this substitution, but they hold together pretty well anyways. 

I made HUGE ones that are burger-sized so that I can take one to work and throw it on a flat bun with a smear of tahini sauce and call it a day.  Much less messy than stuffing into a pita, and flat buns are less likely to break and smush in my bag.  You can make them as large or small as you want.  Freeze extras with wax paper between each of them.  Defrost in the fridge or microwave, and then reheat on the stove top.  Yummy!!!

Low-Fat, Grain-Free, Gluten-Free Falafel

2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 small onion, cut into chunks
1 small zuchini, cut into chunks
Large handful fresh cilantro
4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1.5-2 tsp salt
2 tbls fresh lemon juice
1/2 tbls cider vinegar
Chili flakes, to taste
2 tsp konjac flour
1/3-1/2 cup chickpea flour

Place all the ingredients in the food processor and process until dough comes together.  Form into balls of desired size and then roll in chickpea flour.  Place on hot fry pan or griddle (medium heat), coated with non-stick spray or spritzed with oil, and flatten out.  Cook about 6-7 minutes on each side until browned.  Serve with tahini sauce (recipe below) and whole grain pita or flat buns.  Makes 8 burger-sized patties, 16 medium, or 24 smaller falafels.

Tahini Sauce

1/4 cup tahini
Juice of 1 lemon
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp ground cumin

Whisk ingredients together until smooth and thickened.  Keep in fridge for up to 2 weeks.

This recipe has been added to Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten-Free Friday and Diet, Dessert & Dogs Wellness Weekend for the week.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Dark Chocolate Protein Truffles (Vegan + Sugar-Free)


I started out trying to make chocolate mousse...I even almost followed a recipe!  I used Michael Smith's tofu chocolate mousse recipe, but instead of using bittersweet chocolate, I used unsweetened, and used xylitol to sweeten. At first it had the perfect mousse-y texture, but once refrigerated, it hardened into what was more of a ganache.  Oh well, I ended up with intense chocolate, sugar-free, high protein, vegan truffles.  I'll take that, thanks!

Dark Chocolate Protein Truffles

225g unsweetened chocolate, melted
350g silken tofu
1 cup xylitol or powdered stevia
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
Cocoa powder for rolling

Puree tofu, sweetener, vanilla and salt in food processor until smooth.  Add melted chocolate and blend.  Refrigerate until firm.  Form into balls and roll in cocoa powder.  Keep refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Everybody Poops


TGIF!

I am so glad it's the weekend!! How about you?

It's not that it's been a bad week, per se, but it's been exhausting.

For the first time in a long time, I had insomnia.  In fact, last night was the first good sleep I've had since last Sunday night.

This self-employment thing is tough for me sometimes.  The whole uncertainty of it.  You see, this week was looking pretty quiet counselling-wise, so I took on a whole host of other commitments.  Then at the last minute, the appointments started coming in and before I knew it, this week was completely jam-packed.  Not a bad thing, but I was feeling a bit overwhelmed.

A lot of my stress is due to the fact that I'm on the fundraising committee for the girls' daycare and we have our big annual fundraising event next Tuesday.  I volunteered to take care of the catering, which I'm pleased about, of course, because I got to insist on healthier fare than past years, but going with a new caterer, it also means that if it flops for any reason, it's all on my head.  Also, because I'm one of the few parents on the committee with a flexible work schedule, I feel obligated to pull my weight and take care of some of the tasks that are tough for the parents who have less flexible schedules.

Like most weeks, there have been highs and lows.  One of the highs was getting tickets for me and two girlfriends to be in the CityLine audience!  Both my friends even won prizes to take home.  I wasn't as lucky and the giveaways weren't too exciting, but, it was still fun.  Tracey Moore, the host, is just as beautiful and down-to-earth in person as she is on camera.

Little A was also in a great mood, for the most part.  Monday night when I picked the girls up, she asked me if I knew that rhinoceroses make big, ball-shaped poos.  Since I love potty talk and bathroom humour, I thought this was hysterical.  When Adam and I asked how she knew this, she explained that her teacher, Catherine, read them a book called Everybody Poops.  We definitely have our kids in the right daycare!  When I picked her up the next day, I mentioned to Catherine how much I loved this idea, and she showed me the book.  It's absolutely hilarious, and I seriously have to get us a copy of our own!

My SSN also finally arrived from the IRS, so I hopefully don't have to make any more trips across the border.

The weather this week has also been lovely and mild, however, I understand this is ending tonight and the chilly temps will arrive, which I suspect is the beginning of real winter.

The low of the week has to be Wednesday when Big A and I got into it.  She was playing teacher with her school playset in the morning when I announced it was time to leave.  She had a major temper tantrum because she wanted to keep playing and she was worried that our house cleaner would 'mess up' her stuff.  She took the pointer stick (for pointing to the blackboard), and started hitting the dining room table with it, hard enough to leave marks, and a little too close to where Little A was resting her hand.  I exploded and literally picked her up and carried her to the front door.  Once I put her down, she repeatedly tried to dart around me back to her toys.  I kept having to pick her up and physically move her to the front door.  In the end, she agreed to help me put away the play set and save it for another day, but not before there were lots of tears, and admittedly, lots of yelling.

She needn't have worried because our house cleaner ended up cancelling at the last minute, which left me running around, on what was one of my busiest days this week, trying to get the laundry done.  And the house is a still a mess.

Then as I was cycling to my first client appointment, a car swerved and clipped me.  Me and my bike are fine, thankfully, but the a-hole didn't even stop, and I was shaken up and pissed off.

We have a busy weekend of errands, birthday parties, and dinner with friends, but I finally feel like things are back under control.  Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in the U.S., you are all probably going on a major shopping spree this weekend...and happy weekend to everyone else!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Black Forest Granola


This super chocolately, decadent-tasting granola is actually sugar-free, gluten-free and oil-free.  Definitely makes you feel like you can have your cake and eat it too!  Amazing with yogurt, milk or on its own as a snack.  All the chocoholics in this house, even Little A who is not usually a granola lover, have been enjoying this.

1.5 cups unsweetened prune puree (baby food works perfectly!)
1/4 cup-1/2 cup xylitol or powdered stevia, or to taste
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup cocoa powder
4 cups large flake oats (gluten-free, if necessary)
8 large, unflavoured rice cakes, crumbled, or 6 cups puffed brown rice
1-2 tbls chia seeds
1/2-3/4 cup unsweetened dried cherries
Optional: 1/2 cup chopped, toasted almonds or hazelnuts and/or sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc.

Whisk together prune puree, sweetener, vanilla, salt and cocoa powder.  Place oats, rice, and chia seeds in a large bowl.  Poor prune mixture overtop and stir until fully coated.  Spread evenly onto 2 baking sheets, covered in parchment paper and lightly sprayed with non-stick spray.  Bake in the oven at 275F for 40 minutes, rotating each sheet from top to bottom rack, every 10 minutes.  Let cool completely.  Toss with cherries, nuts and any additional mix-ins.  Store in an airtight container for 3-4 weeks.

This recipe has been entered into Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten-Free Friday and Diet, dessert, & Dogs' Wellness Weekend.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wild Wood Tomato & Herb Angel Hair Pasta Slim



Up until now I have not been a huge fan of the shiritake noodles made with tofu.  Aside from the ones I found in New York, which, unfortunately, like so many other yummy products are not available in Canada, I've found the kinds I have tried here not to my liking.  The texture just didn't do it for me.  This has been disappointing because the Asian-style ones, that I love, aren't really well suited for Italian pasta recipes.

Recently, however, I've been noticing Wild Wood's new Tomato & Herb Angel Hair Pasta Slim in grocery and health food stores.  Something about them piqued my interest and I decided to give them another try.  Last week I made some, served with a red clam sauce, and topped with garlic sauteed kale for lunch.  I loved them! 

Definitely a must try.  Just be sure to use the 'drying' method for the noodles, by putting them in a very hot, dry fry pan after rinsing them, and 'cook' until all excess liquid is gone.  Also, make sure your sauce is very thick as these noodles don't absorb liquid, so otherwise you will end up with a soupy dish.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Super Simple Low-Fat Chocolate Truffles



Usually to make truffles, you have to melt chocolate with another high-fat ingredient, usually cream.  In this case, I've substituted amazing, fat-free, high protein quark and the results are fantastic.  I use this kind: 
Fresh Quark Cheese

With just a few ingredients, these are simple to make and make an impressive treat to serve at holiday gatherings or to give as a hostess gift.

Super Simple Low-Fat Truffles

1/2 of a 375g tub quark
270g chocolate* (use chips, or chop into pieces), melted and cooled slightly
2 tbls agave syrup
1/8 tsp salt

Stir everything together until smooth.  Place in the freezer until firm (about 1 hour).  Form into small balls and roll in cocoa powder, or finely grated coconut, or crushed candy canes, nuts, etc.  Keep refrigerated for up to 2 weeks...but don't worry, they'll never last that long!

*I decided to try President's Choice new naturally flavoured mint semi-sweet chips, because everyone in our house loves chocolate mint.  Most dark or semi-sweet chocolates will work.  White and milk chocolate might work too, but I would omit the agave syrup.













































































Monday, November 19, 2012

0-For-2



Image Source

Literally the day after I posted about the new and improved Little A, she went back to the old and not so improved preschooler we've been dealing with the past 18 months.  She has had her characteristic irrational and incredibly dramatic fits every evening this week.  The change coincided with her catching a bad cough and cold, however, so I'm hoping that it was a temporary blip.  By Saturday when she seemed fully recovered, she was back to her happy, delightful self. 

Things with Big A have been unraveling too.  She has been giving me attitude for a while now, but Friday night she was being so obnoxious and disrespectful that I was flooded with the extreme negative feelings I used to get during our interactions on a regular basis.  I can't even remember the last time that happened.  Adam was out at a concert with his parents and while I was putting her to bed I felt like I was coming close to losing control.  I spoke through clenched teeth and may have said something I shouldn't have...something that starts with S and ends in T.  Things haven't escalated to this level between us in a while.

Friday started off badly too.  It was a PD day and Adam and I had our parent-teacher meeting with Big A's teacher at 9:45am.  So I let the girls stay home with me until the appointment and made them French toast.  But they were at each other's throats the entire time.  Little A had two lengthy screaming fits (the first one was over 30 minutes long...she was so hysterical she practically made herself sick...but then that's actually normal for her).  By the time I got them to daycare, I was almost late for the meeting, and I felt like I needed either a tranquilizer and/or some whisky straight up.

I think I'm a relatively competent, intelligent human being, so I don't understand why I struggle with parenting so much.  Lately when things go off the rails with the girls I often end up silent with my mouth agape trying to figure out how to control them with my mind completely blank.  On my to-do list is going back to my favorite books and reviewing strategies that have worked in the past.  I plan to review Siblings Without Rivalry here soon, and I'm hoping that writing the review will allow me to better digest the information, which will hopefully allow me to actually put it into practice.

There is some good news.  Saturday and Sunday were great.  The girls didn't fight too much, and everyone behaved relatively well.



It's important to focus on the positives, right? So here's another: it may be Monday, but it's a beautiful day here in Toronto. The kind of autumn day we don't get too often. Enjoy!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Cranberry Butternut Squash Bean Chili



This was an experiment gone very right.  I love it.  Adam loves it.  You'll love it. 

It was inspired by Little A.  No not because she'd ever eat it.  Not with 'bits' in it (i.e. detectable pieces of vegetable).  But because last weekend she became mesmerized by a bag of plump, garnet hued fresh cranberries and insisted Adam buy them for her.  He tried to explain that they would not taste terribly good raw, but she wouldn't listen and promised she would like them and would eat them.  As soon as they got home, however, I placed one in her eager hand, she popped it in her mouth, nodded her head for a second to indicate liking, then began shaking her head vigorously to indicate, no, she did not actually like it. 

Sooo, I ended up with a big bag of fresh cranberries in the fridge.

It never occurred to me to add cranberries to chili, but I was making chili and adding butternut squash, and since squash and cranberries work so well together, I figured, "Why not?"  And folks, it works.  Really well!  The sweetness of the cider vinegar and squash perfectly balances out the tartness of the cranberries.  This recipe is definitely going to be a staple this winter!!

I used Cookin' Greens Athlete's Mix to bump up the veggie quotient in here and it was the perfect addition.



I'd never purchased any of these before, but they are a great option if you hate chopping veggies.  Just note that none of their products are organic, so if you only eat organic, you are out of luck.  Either way, you can just sub fresh veggies and your own beans if you wish.

I left it really thick, because I like it that way, but add water, as needed, if you prefer a thinner consistency.  If you leave it thick, not only can you serve this over brown rice, millet or quinoa, but you could use it to make some killer burritos!

Cranberry Butternut Squash Bean Chili

2 lb butternut squash, diced
2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper

2 cups diced onion
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped or minced
2 heaping tbls chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
1 jalapeno pepper, finely diced, optional (or hot sauce, to taste)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed (or 1.5 cooked kidney beans)
1 bag Athlete's Mix (or 2 cups finely chopped kale, 1 diced red bell pepper + 1 cup cooked white kidney beans)
1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
Water

Toss squash and cranberries with oil and seasonings.  Spread out on foil or parchment paper lined baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, Place onion, garlic and spices in a large skillet or pot over medium heat.  Once everything begins to sizzle, add vinegar.  Saute until most of the liquid has been absorbed.  Add in kidney beans, squash and cranberries, and remaining veggies, and continue to cook for about 3-4 minutes.  Pour in crushed tomatoes. Add water, as needed and season to taste.  Let simmer for about 15-20 minutes.  Freezes well.

This recipe was submitted to Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten-Free Friday, and Diet, Dessert & Dogs' Wellness Weekend.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Facing Your Fears


Image Source

I haven't mentioned it on the blog before, but Adam and I have been embroiled in a bureacratic nightmare with the U.S. government for the past year or so.

You see, we are both dual citizens: me, because my parents are from New York, and he, because he was born in Boston.  Neither of us have ever worked in the U.S., I've never lived there, and Adam only lived there for a few months before his parents moved back to Toronto.  So it never occurred to either of us, or any of our parents, that we should be filing taxes with the U.S. government.  We pay lots of taxes here, thank you very much. 

When the laws for U.S. citizens living abroad changed, we decided to be honest and went through the process of trying to file.  Unfortunately, this turned out to be not so easy.  First off, we couldn't do so without having social security numbers.  Adam never had one, and the one my parents had for me was apparently 'invalid'.  Adam immediately drove to Niagara Falls and applied for one.  I was told to speak with the U.S. consulate in Toronto, and apply through them.  I waited 3.5 weeks for an appointment.  At my appointment in mid-July, I filled out the application, and was scolded for travelling to the U.S. on my Canadian passport (I hadn't renewed my U.S. passport since I was a kid), and 'highly encouraged' to renew my U.S. passport.  I did so. The woman at the consulate also warned me that getting my SSN through them could take a long time, so if I wanted to speed things up, I should go to the U.S.  I made some calls and was told that the Niagara Falls office Adam visited was closed.  We drove to Buffalo in August.  After waiting almost an hour, the woman at the desk informed me that there was no request for a SSN in the system for me, but that they could not put in another request if the consulate had already done so.  She was mean.  She yelled at me.  I was simply doing what the consulate recommended.  We left with our tails between our legs and waited for my SSN to arrive.  It never did.

A few weeks ago I called the U.S. again and asked about the status of my SSN request.  The NICE woman on the phone said there was nothing in the system.  She also told me that, (1) the consulate can't grant me a SSN, and (2) Requests take no more than 2 days to appear in the system so the folks in Buffalo should have known that the consulate had not put through a request and they should have done so for me on the spot.  She was very apologetic but informed me we'd have to drive back to the U.S.  She also informed me that the Niagara Falls office is open. 

Last week Adam and I drove down to Niagara Falls, NY.  After waiting at the border for an hour, we arrived at the Social Security Office.  The woman at the desk informed me that because I did not have my Canadian birth certificate with me, as proof of my age, she could not put in an application for me.  Although their website says they will accept U.S. passports as proof of age, because I was using my passport as proof of U.S. citizenship, I could not use it as proof of age.  None of the other documents I had - including my proof of birth abroad form - nor my driver's licence or other ID with my birthdate were sufficient.  Yep, all that driving for just 45 minutes in the U.S. which got us nowhere in dealing with this crap.

I may have had a little fit.  I may have told this woman that my husband - who had now taken 2 days off work to drive with me down to the U.S. to deal with this, was going to divorce me if I came back to the waiting room and had to tell him I didn't have the proper ID with me.  While this might have been a bit of an exaggeration, I know for a fact he felt like strangling me when I broke the news to him.  Fortunately, the softie that my sweet husband is, he had forgiven my short-sightedness by the time we got back to the border.  But he did tell me that I was now on my own and he was not driving back with me again.  GULP!

The thing is, I only got my driver's license when I was 30.  I am still not so comfortable driving on highways, particularly without Adam with me in the car.  In fact, the only highway driving I've done alone was the few times I did it before my highway driving test.  Ever since, it's been with Adam right beside me for support...although admittedly, he's often been snoozing.  It's not just the high speeds, multiple lanes and massive transport trucks that could flatten me in a second that worry me, I also have this fear of creating an accident by suddenly swerving to avoid missing my exit, or, even more irrational and preposterous, that I will miss my exit and somehow end up stranded in some far away place.  I have this image of calling Adam from a payphone at a gas station in Indiana, bawling because I don't know how to get home.  Of course, now that we have a GPS, this is almost impossible.

In addition, I have never in my life driven in the U.S.  I kept worrying that the transition from KM to miles would trip me up and I'd either get a speeding ticket, or cause an accident by going too slowly.

But I did it!  And it went relatively smoothly! 

Sooo, looking on the brightside, by driving back to Niagara  Falls yesterday all by myself, I conquered one of my big fears.  Two fears actually: driving on the highway alone, and driving in a different country.

I was pretty nervous beforehand.  My stomach was in knots and my hands were shaking.  I decided to break the whole endeavor up, in my mind, into manageable bits.  First, making it to the Gardiner Expressway, then the QEW, then the border crossing, then the Social Security office, then back to the border crossing, back to the QEW, back to the Gardiner, back to the Toronto city streets, etc.

To be honest, I actually enjoy conquering my fears.  It may take an external hand to force me to do it, but once you do it, it is so liberating.  Now I feel like I could drive to Kingston to see my parents without Adam!  Although I don't plan on doing it anytime soon...

Fear can be such a prison, you know?  I look back at my life and think of all the missed opportunities because of my fears/insecurities/self-doubt.  I think I'm going to make a habit of conquering a fear part of my new  year resolutions every January 1st.  Wouldn't it be wonderful to wake up one day and feel fearless?