Friday, 30 September 2011

Something's Working!

Friday, Friday, Friday!  The best moment of the entire week is Friday right at 5pm -- the longest amount of time until Monday at 9am.  I love weekends, as we all do.  I just love being at home, seeing friends and spending quality time with my guy, even cleaning up the house, getting laundry, shopping, and cooking done.  I'm a real homebody. 

My new routine includes CrossFit on Saturday mornings, and I totally look forward to that.  I've been adopting a paleo eating style for a week or so, the diet of our paleolithic ancestors - which is protein, good fats, carbs via veggies and some fruit, and some nuts and seeds.  No grains, no dairy, no legumes.  Since starting CrossFit and eating better, I've lost weight, gained strength, and feel really terrific.  I'm glad to have sugar out of my system!

As the title of my post indicates, things have been getting better for me on the hormone front.  I have no idea what's helping the situation.  I don't know if it's the many supplements I've been taking over the past many months, such as Evening Primrose Oil, Chaste Tree, Biotone, Adrenal Assist, and others, along with homeopathic liver and hormone remedies, or the seeds/oils regime, quitting caffeine altogether (except the occasional decaf), exercising more, sleeping better (which I don't always do), fixing digestive issues by keeping dairy and gluten out of my diet, eating only organic food, or eliminating plastics, parabens and phthalates.  I've made so many changes that it's probably not going to be possible to tell what is saving me from all the misery of my PMS symptoms.  And it's probably a combination of all the above.  I've worked very hard over the past 9 months to remedy the symptoms.

Things aren't completely resolved yet, so I expect to be taking the herbal supplements for little while longer.  The breast tenderness symptom seems to be almost resolved, and the spotting symptom is getting better. 

At its worst, my PMS symptoms and period time combined was 19 days, leaving me only 9 days of "normal" time in which to actually recover from it all, before it started all over again.  19 days out of 28 days where I felt extremely uncomfortable and very inconvenienced.  I don't know if other gals out there have gone through this insane hormonal imbalance, but if they are, they're not really talking about it.  It is not supposed to be this way for me, or for anyone.  It is not normal.  A major hormonal imbalance such as the one that causes my extreme PMS symptoms, is a sign of something not being right in the body.  I know my issues were brought on by being on the pill, and contributed to by all the environmental factors I've discussed in the past.  There are other causes for other people.

I'm really relieved that there are signs I may be getting my life back.  As I said earlier, I don't know what has been helping me.  I have spent A LOT of money with naturopathic treatment to get to this place, and I would spend twice that amount if I had to.  Traditional medicine only wanted to put me on the birth control pill - that's their solution to any problem like this.  10 months ago I declared 2011 to be my year of health, balance, and happiness, and I'm finally so close!  I have made many changes in my lifestyle as a result of this journey, and those changes will stay with me forever.  As a result, my life will be healthier and hopefully longer, free of disease, and free of physical ailments.

It's too bad that I've had to suffer a lot for the past couple years.  But at least that suffering and misery brought me to this place, where I'm getting better, and I've made so many positive changes in my life.  After all, you can't have sunshine without a little rain.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

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Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Product Review: Kiss My Face - Clean for a Day, Creamy Face Cleanser

Hello hello!  Happy Tuesday :)  It's been so nice lately, but now there's rain in the forecast until Friday.  Well anyway, I'm just glad the weather is looking good enough for me to keep biking everywhere for the next couple weeks.  I don't know what I'm going to do when the biking has to end.  I'm not someone who enjoys biking in the cold.  At all.  I've become so accustomed to biking all over town these past few months, and I'll really miss the convenience.  And I won't enjoy being at the mercy of the TTC once again!  Oh well, the seasons just roll on by.

I'll be doing product reviews from time to time, and today I review a favourite of mine.  Kiss My Face - Clean for a Day, Creamy Face Cleanser.  I've been using this product for about 2 years, and it's just fantastic.  It removes all make-up and dirt, and it has a wonderfully silky creamy feel about it.  The best thing is, it smells like you're washing your face with dessert!  Yup, it has a light lemon parfait scent that I can't get enough of.  It leaves your skin super soft and clean.  Also, a little goes a long way.  A 118 ml bottle will last Jeremy and I about 6 months, with daily use.  We're running out now, and I scored a bottle on sale at Whole Foods for $12.99!  Regular price is around $16.99.  You can find this product at many health stores, and some Shoppers Drug Marts are starting to carry this brand.

This product is PH balanced and contains many organic ingredients.  What it does not contain are parabens, phthalates, sodium laurel sulfate, artificial colours, artificial fragrances, or animal ingredients, and it was not tested on animals.

This product gets a 1 rating on Skin Deep's Cosmetic Database.  The ingredients are:

Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe Leaf Extract)*, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower Oil)*, Decyl Glucoside, Cetearyl Glucoside, Glyceryl Stearate, Cassava (Tapioca Root Starch), Glycerin, Vanilla Planifolia (Vanilla Oil), Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter), Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba Oil)*, Glycine Soja (Soybean Oil)*, Caprylic Acid, Xanthan Gum, Citrus Tangerina (Tangerine Oil), Lavandula Angustifola (Lavender Flower Extract)*, Zingiber Officinale (Ginger Root Extract)*, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange Flower Extract)*, Rheum Palmatum (Rhubarb Root Extract)*, Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa Butter)*, Tocopherol, Glycine, Lecithin, Sorbitol, Calcium Ascorbate, Potassum Sorbate 

* organic ingredient

I really recommend this product.  It's reasonably priced, and non-toxic.  It works well, it smells great, and it feels great.  I challenge you to have a look at the ingredients in your face cleanser.  Search for your cleanser on Skin Deep's Cosmetic Database, and if the product scores anything above a 3.....or, even a 2, think about finding a product that is better for you.  Our skin absorbs close to 60% of the topical products it comes into contact with, so give that some thought when you're reading the ingredients in any of those drugstore or department store creams and cleansers.

Thanks for reading!  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave 'em!  How am I doing so far? 

Have a fabulous day!

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Sunday, 25 September 2011

Roasted Tomato Soup (w/ roasted garlic & onion + coconut)

Hey there!  Hope your weekend has been wonderful.  We've had the most gorgeous weather here in Toronto this weekend!  Yesterday I went to the gym (I recently joined CrossFit, and I'll tell you about when I've been going for a while), and then biked up to Fiesta Farms to buy our produce for the week.  We then spent the evening having dinner and drinks with some close friends.  Today I've spent a lot of time in the kitchen, and now our lunch for the week is in the fridge!  Best feeling ever!

I found this recipe on a fabulous blog site I visit, called Oh She Glows.  This blog is full of some pretty amazing and creative recipes, among other things, and I finally tried one today.  When I saw the post for this soup the other day, I knew immediately that I would be making it this weekend.  And I have.  And it's so fantastic!  The main ingredients are right up my alley: roasted tomatoes, garlic, onions, coconut milk, garam masala.  The roasted veggies are so savoury, the coconut milk adds a  wonderful slight sweetness and mild coconut flavour, and the garam masala gives it some heat.  So perfect for this time of year.  And my house smells heavenly.

Please check out the original recipe here.  I have tweaked the amounts slightly, as Angela's recipe calls for some of the tomatoes to be used in another recipe.

Roasted Tomato Soup (w/ roasted garlic & onion)

Roasting vegetables:
  • 5 pounds of roma tomatoes, washed & sliced in half
  • 1 large sweet onion, peeled & sliced
  • 3 large garlic bulbs, prepared for roasting (see below)
  • extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, & pepper, for vegetables
  • 5 cups roasted tomatoes
  • 3-4 tbsp roasted garlic flesh (3 whole roasted bulbs)
  • all of the roasted sweet onion
  • 2 cans light coconut milk (remember, Native Forest is the only coconut milk in BPA free cans)
  • 6 cups vegetable broth
  • 4 tbsp tomato paste
  • 5 tsp garam masala
  • dash sea salt or to taste (you may have to reduce amount if you used full-sodium broth)
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • for garnish: garlic croutons, coconut milk, pesto, herbs, garam masala, pepper, etc.

1.     Preheat oven to 400F and line 2 or 3 baking sheets with tin foil (note that parchment paper will burn). Grab a small casserole dish to place the garlic in. For how to prepare the garlic, see below.  Lightly drizzle extra virgin olive oil onto onions, and season onions and tomatoes with salt and pepper.  Roast for about 30 minutes and then check on the vegetables. You might have to remove the onions early as they cook the quickest. When the onions are golden and lightly blackened on the edge, you can remove them. Continue roasting the garlic for about 60 minutes in total (check it after 45 minutes), and the tomatoes for about 1 hour and 20 mins. Your oven times may vary though, just keep an eye on them.

2.     Add 5 cups roasted tomatoes, 3-4 tbsp roasted garlic flesh (3 whole roasted garlic bulbs), and all the onion into a large pot. Add coconut milk, tomato paste, and broth and stir well.

3.     Stir in the seasonings and spices to taste. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 5-10 minutes.

4.     Carefully transfer into a blender, processor, or use an immersion blender.  Pulse for just a few seconds until chunky.  You can also make it smooth, but the chunky texture is just amazing.  Serve immediately and garnish with reserved coconut milk, a sprinkle of garam masala, croutons/bread, and fresh black pepper.

How to Roast Garlic:

Take a whole bulb of garlic, remove the lose skins, and simply slice off the top so you expose the tops of all the cloves.  If your knife missed any, just take your paring knife and individually slice off the tops.  Place the bulb on a piece of tin foil, and drizzle it with extra virgin olive oil, so that each exposed clove is covered.  Wrap the tin foil all around the bulb, place in a small casserole dish, and place in a preheated oven - 400 degrees.  Roast for 45 minutes to an hour, until the garlic is browned and golden.  Take a peek after half an hour to see how it's going.  Once the garlic is roasted, wait a couple minutes for it to cool down, and simply squeeze out the roasted garlic flesh.

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Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Superfood Spotlight: Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia

I always wanted a Chia Pet when I was growing up!
Hi!  I'm back to see you after nearly two weeks away.  Hope all is well in your world :)

I'm going to be spotlighting some spectacular super foods from time to time, that everyone should know about.  The first superfood is the Chia Seed (salvia hispanica), which is an ancient food indigenous to Mexico and Guatemala.  Aside from growing into amazing little Chia Pets, the chia seed is well known for its amazing health benefits.  Let's have a looky:

  • Chia seeds are high in Omega 3 oil. In fact, 30% of their oil comes in the form of this valuable nutrient. Another 40% of their oil content is Omega 6 oil.  They are the richest plant based source of alpha-lineolic acid.  The presence and density of such alpha-linolenic acids in these seeds has led many that normally use flax seeds for such nutrition to switch to chia seeds. Another added benefit that chia seeds have over flax is that they do not need to be ground to be digested, unlike flax seeds.

  • When chia seeds are added to water, they become a gel, which has a variety of benefits when you take them whole into your system.  First, their hydrophilic nature causes them to absorb water, even within your stomach. This causes the water to stay in your system longer and increase hydration, which is great for exercising. They also slow down how fast your body converts carbohydrate calories into sugars, and produce a feeling of fullness, which is good for weight loss and helps with diabetes.  The gel that is formed in the stomach creates a physical barrier between carbohydrates and the digestive enzymes that break them down, thus slowing the conversion of carbohydrates into sugar.  They absorb ten times their weight in water.  That is super!

  • Chia seeds are also high in antioxidants and fibre. The antioxidants within these seeds actually keep them fresh longer, so they don’t turn rancid quickly as flax seeds do.  Chia seeds actually contain more antioxidants than blueberries.

  • They are also high in manganese, magnesium, phosphorous, calcium, iron, copper, zinc, niacin, vitamin B, vitamin C, and vitamin E, and molybdenum.

Chia seeds' health benefits include helping reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease, providing more energy, stabilizing blood sugar levels, aiding in weight loss, and providing daily requirements of vitamins and fibre.  As well, chia seeds have no taste, so they can easily be added to many dishes without affecting the taste.

To sum up, chia seeds contain: 

  • Nature's richest vegetarian source of omega-3 essential fatty acids
  • Nature’s richest source of fibre (especially rich in soluble fibre)
  • Complete protein with high levels of 18 Amino Acids (including the essential 10)
  • Three times more iron than spinach
  • Fifteen times more magnesium than broccoli
  • Six times more calcium than milk
  • No trans fats

Two tablespoons a day is all you need of these amazing seeds.  You can add them to a smoothie (great for post-work out because of the protein), cereal and oatmeal, or put them in almost any dish.  I like to throw them on a salad.  You can also make a dessert by combining 1/3 cup chia seeds and 2 cups of water (or almond milk, coconut milk, etc.).  Let the seeds and liquid sit together for 15 or 20 minutes, until you have a thicker gel.  Add anything you want to make this pudding delish: cocoa, banana, berries, vanilla.  You get the picture.  They come in black and white, but there is no difference in the nutritional content.  The black seeds are actually made up of black, brown, and white seeds.  The white seeds are simply separated from the others and sold on their own.  You might prefer white seeds esthetically, as black seeds may discolour your smoothies.

Black and white chia seeds.  They are much smaller than
they appear in this photo.  Picture sesame seeds.

Chia seeds are indeed a superfood with some pretty incredible health benefits crammed into a tiny package.  Pick some up at your health food store today, and start incorporating them into your healthy lifestyle.

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Thursday, 8 September 2011

Coconut Lovin'

This feels like the first week of Fall, even though it doesn't officially start for a couple weeks.  The air has just been undeniably crisp and fresh, and I pulled out my fall coat this week.  I actually love this time of year, I must confess.  It's the time of year where I've accepted that Summer is over, and I look forward to all the beautiful things Fall has to offer.  There's a new fashion season, there's Fall food to cook, the trees look beautiful, the air smells so great, and one of the best things of harvest time and apple pies!  Pumpkin pies too!  This Fall, I want to go on an old fashioned hay ride in the country.  I wonder if I actually know anyone who would do something that hokey with me...?

Before it officially becomes Fall, today I'd like to write about one of my favourite things found in a warm, tropical climate: the coconut.  It's got to be the most incredibly versatile fruit on earth.  In the Philippines
, they call the palm tree the "Tree of Life."  To be honest, I don't even know if it's a fruit, nut, or seed....I can't really find a definitive answer.  Either way, it's much more than a one-trick pony.  Humans can use absolutely every part of the coconut palm.  Here's why I love it:


The coconut comes in three forms: From left to right, fresh coconut,
brown coconut, and fresh young coconut.

Coconut Meat

I haven't used fresh coconut meat in my cooking, only dried coconut which I use in baking all the time.  Coconut meat comes from fresh and brown coconuts, however, the flesh of the brown coconut is harder and has a more intense flavor than that of the fresh coconut which is too soft and light in flavour.  The meat of the fresh young coconut is softer and has much less flavour still.  In terms of cooking with fresh coconut meat, you can use it in thai curry dishes, rice, and baking.  Of course, coconut makes a delicious snack as well!  Dried coconut that is readily available at the grocery store comes from a mature brown coconut. 

Coconut Oil: 

This stuff is really amazing.  It is fantastic for cooking because it is heat stable, which makes it great for cooking at high temperatures, like frying.  It is also resistant to rancidity, even with long periods of storage.  In addition, it is super healthy for you.  It was once thought that coconut oil was bad for us because it is high in saturated fat, which raises cholesterol levels and causes heart disease.  That bad press came from a study done on hydrogenated coconut oil.  We now know that the process of hydrogenation creates trans fatty acids, which are toxic entities that enter cell membranes, block utilization of essential fatty acids and impede cell functionality.  Trans fatty acids are not present in natural coconut oil.  Always make sure you buy organic virgin coconut oil.

Though coconut oil is primarily a saturated fat, it is definitely one of the good fats.  Recent discoveries prove that coconut oil has a 62% concentration of Medium Chain Fatty acids (MCFAs). This is coconut oils’ unique characteristic that is not present in other saturated fat. It may even be healthier than most saturated oils. Unsaturated fat have a high concentration of long chain fatty acids unlike MCFAs which are easily absorbed by the body as it require less energy and fewer enzymes, thereby improving digestion.

Short and medium chain fatty acids are transported directly to the liver where they are immediately converted to energy.  Research has also discovered that MCFA can prevent and heal a lot of sickness because of its antimicrobial properties. Aside from its ability to improve the immune system, MCFA also aids in the absorption and retention of magnesium, calcium and some amino acids.  Consuming MCFAs has shown no negative toxicological or pharmacological side effects. Virgin coconut oil and human breast milk are the richest source of medium chain fatty acids.

It also happens to make a really great beauty product that you can use on your hair and skin.  Jeremy and I have been using it as a facial and body moisturizer for 6 months now, and we swear by it.  First of all, it's completely natural with no chemicals.  Secondly, it smells great, and does a great job feeding your skin.  Thirdly, it seems to have anti-aging properties.  It seems to plump up those fine lines and wrinkles.  It makes an incredible lip gloss and moisturizer as well.  To use on your face, just keep a small container in your washroom, and use it like a regular moisturizer.  To use in your hair to heal damage, provide shine, prevent dandruff and hair loss, simply apply to hair and scalp, let it sit for an hour, then get in the shower and shampoo and condition as normal.  It's incredible stuff!

Coconut Water: 

Coconut water is the sweet, fragrant and delicious liquid contained in a fresh young coconut, which you can buy in Chinatown, or on the beach in any tropical country.

They are sold wrapped in plastic trimmed down as shown.  You just need to hack of the top with a knife (be careful!), put in a straw, add a tropical umbrella, and voila!  A delicious and refreshing drink.  You can also buy coconut water in cans at the store, but nothing is better than fresh.

Drinking coconut water has many health benefits.  It is naturally low in carbs, sugar, and it's 99% fat free.  It's an all natural sports drink, which replaces fluids and electrolytes that are lost during exercise or strenuous physical activity.  I've also read that it's great for:

  • heart health - the potassium lowers blood pressure
  • eliminating kidney stones - potassium plays a key role in alkalizing urine and prevents kidney stones from forming 
  • stress relief - it contains several minerals and small amounts of B-vitamins such as thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, B-6 and folate.  Research shows that several B-vitamins play a crucial role in lowering anxiety, depression and stress
  • hangovers - since it is a fluid with the same five electrolytes found in human blood, it helps cure hangover by hydrating your body 
  • weight loss - it helps to detoxify the body, which can help with losing weight

It is probably the most healthy fluid we can drink other than water.

Coconut Flour: 

Coconut flour is simply dried, ground coconut meat.  It is available at health food stores, and Bob's Red Mill sells a nice one.  Make sure you look for unprocessed flour - it should be a cream colour, not white.  It's very high in fibre, making this flour a very healthy gluten free alternative, and lower carb option (because of the low glycemic index rating).  It adds just a slight coconut flavour to your baking.  If you're using liquid though, just be aware that because of the high fibre content, it absorbs liquid like crazy, so you might need to adjust the liquid by adding more.  Unless you know what you're doing, it's probably best to follow recipes designed for coconut flour, because the liquid and flour amounts, as well as cooking times, will be different when coconut flour is being used.

Coconut Sugar (aka Palm Sugar):

Palm sugar is a nutrient-rich, low-glycemic crystalline sweetener that looks, tastes, dissolves and melts almost exactly like sugar, but it's completely natural and unrefined. It's acquired from the flowers growing high on coconut trees, which are opened to collect their liquid flower nectar.  This nectar is then air-dried to form a crystalline sugar that's naturally brown in color and naturally rich in a number of key vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, including potassium, zinc, iron, and vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B6.  It is never refined or bleached like white sugar. So the nutrients it was made with are still there. That's rare for sweeteners, most of which are highly refined.

Most of the palm sugar commonly sold in Asian markets (in little pucks) is not pure coconut palm sugar but is blended with other fillers such as white cane sugar.  Head to your health food store to find organic palm sugar.  It's definitely much more expensive than any other kind of sugar.

Palm sugar is also supposed to be substantially better for the environment, having been called the
most sustainable sweetener by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Because it's low on the glycemic scale, at only 35 (table sugar is 68, honey is 55),the carbohydrates break down more slowly, releasing glucose gradually into the bloodstream.  This will keep your blood sugar at a more steady level, without the spikes that come with other sugars.

I've been baking with palm sugar all summer, and it's fantastic!  It has a rich caramel flavour that adds some extra awesome to anything.  You can just substitute it  in 1:1 ratio in baking and cooking.  Actually, I've been using less and less sugar in my baking and don't even notice the difference.  So if you're going to try this stuff out, also challenge yourself to use a bit less than the recipe calls for.

Coconut Milk: 

This stuff is delicious!  You can buy it in a can, but please be aware that the cans are typically coated in BPA.  Native Forest is currently the only company that packages coconut milk in BPA free cans.  And it is organic, which is even better!  Just be aware that they use organic guar gum as a thickening agent. You can also buy coconut milk in a carton, just as you can with rice and almond milk (fine, soy milk too).  The brand is So Delicious, and so far, the only store I've seen it is The Big Carrot, but I'm sure it's probably available at Whole Foods, and other stores.  You can use either the canned or carton coconut milk in your cereal, coffee, and in cooking.  I love making thai curry dishes with coconut milk.  YUM!  



Chocolate Macaroons

2 cups sugar
6 tbsp cocoa
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup shredded coconut
3 cups rolled oats

Combine sugar, coca, butter and milk in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil and add vanilla.  Remove from heat, stir in coconut and rolled oats.  Drop by spoonfuls onto wax paper, and chill.

These macaroon are so simple and yummy.  I'm sure there are ways to make them less sugary and buttery, but I haven't experimented yet.  I will definitely try making them with palm sugar instead, and probably less of it too.  I'm not sure whether coconut oil  or applesauce could be substituted for the butter.  But I will let you know if I have any news.  In the meantime, enjoy these ones as they are.

Curry Sauce with Coconut Milk

3 tbsp. organic virgin coconut oil
1 medium onion chopped
4 cloves garlic chopped
2 whole tomatoes chopped
1 tbsp. red curry paste
1/2 to 1 cup water or broth
Choice of fresh vegetables and meat
1 (13.5-oz.) can coconut milk

Heat the coconut oil in a skillet.  Saute the onions until they are just beginning to brown.  You don't want to caramelize or burn them.  Add the garlic to the onions and cook for another minute or so.  If the pan starts to get too hot, add a little broth or water instead of more oil.  This will keep your sauce from burning without adding more fat to it.

Add in the tomatoes, followed by the curry paste, and cook this down for about 5 minutes.  Blend the paste well into the sauce, whisking in a few drops of water as needed.

Pour in one can of coconut milk and let it heat up with the rest of the sauce.  Scrape the can down, as the fats tend to collect on the sides and bottom.  This is where a good deal of the flavour comes from, so you don't want to miss any of that.

Mix in the meat and/or vegetables and heat until all of the ingredients are cooked thoroughly.  You may want to add your meat in first, as that will generally take longer to cook than most vegetables.  Serve over rice!

I find I need more than 1 tbsp of curry paste, as I like the heat!

Gluten-Free Coconut Layer Cake

I have not made this recipe yet, but certainly plan to in the coming months.  The recipe is from one of my favourite blogs, the Gluten-Free Goddess.  Instead of setting out the recipe for you here, I'm simply going to send you to her blog to check it out if you're interested.  Her writing and photography is fabulous!  The recipe can be found here.

I hope you've learned lots about the amazing coconut and start including it in your diet wherever you can, in its many forms.  Maybe it can help you keep a little feeling of summer alive as we head far away from it again :)

~ C.

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