Monday, 28 November 2011

Recipe: Winter Beef Stew

It's almost December!!!!  I'm getting super excited for Christmas already.  The past year or two, I haven't found myself into the festive spirit until just a week or two before Christmas.  This year is different.  I'm excited already!  I haven't really had any vacation time this year, nothing more than a long weekend.  But this year I've got more than a week off at Christmas, and I want to make the most out of that time, and the entire month.  I've been listening to x-mas music for 4 days already, I've got my Christmas cards bought and ready to write, my nieces' and nephews' gifts are sitting in the corner waiting to be wrapped, I'm coming up with a festive menu for a holiday dinner with friends in a couple weeks, and I'm totally excited about Christmas baking.  It's time to watch x-mas movies soon.  Oh, and we're putting up our tree next weekend, and I kinda can't wait for it to snow!

Sorry if I'm making you a little sick :)

Onto dinner.  Okay, it may not seem like such a big deal to you, but I've never made beef stew before, and I finally did!  It wasn't really that hard, there was just a lot of chopping involved.  But it was just so good that I had to take a picture of it and share the recipe I used.  The parsnips and turnips lend a sweet taste that really compliments the savoury beef and herbs.  It was just so perfect to have for dinner on this chilly, almost winter's night.  If you've ever hesitated to try making beef stew like I have, I really encourage you to just make it!


  • 1 lb stewing beef (grass fed, if possible)
  • 1/2 to 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 4 cups beef stock
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 1 cup celery, chopped
  • 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 large parsnips, peeled and chopped
  • 1 purple turnip, cubed
  • 5 tomatoes, chopped
  • 5-6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme, finely chopped
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste 

  1. Put the coconut oil in a large pot over medium-high heat, toss in the onions, celery, carrots, parsnips, turnips, garlic.  Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
  2. Add the beef to the saucepan, followed by the tomatoes, beef stock, rosemary and thyme.  Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Cover the saucepan and cook for about one hour, allowing the stew to simmer, stirring occasionally.
  4. Remove the lid and cook uncovered for about 45 minutes.  If the stew is too thick at the end of the cooking process, you can add a little bit of water or stock.
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Thursday, 24 November 2011

The toxic truth about baby change pads

First off, I'd like to wish my American readers a very Happy Thanksgiving!  I hope you've had a wonderful day full of great food and surrounded by family and friends at your table :)

If there is a baby in your life, this post is for you.  Whether you're a parent, an aunt or uncle, or a friend of someone with a baby, or perhaps you've got a baby on the way into your life (shout out to my sister who is growing me a niece or nephew right now!), you should know about the dangers of many widely available change pads.  You should also know that there are safe alternatives.

Many conventional changing pads contain some or all of the following toxins: 
  • PVC: The worst plastic from an environmental perspective.  The most toxic plastic for our health.  We know it as vinyl.  It releases and creates dioxin, the most potent carcinogenic known.  Can cause the following health problems:
    • Cancer
    • Endocrine disruption
    • Endometriosis
    • Neurological damage
    • Birth defects and impaired child development
    • Reproductive and immune system damage
  • Lead: Can be found in the plastic used for baby items.  Kids can take in lead by breathing or swallowing lead dust or by eating soil or paint chips that contain lead. Lead is not absorbed through the skin.  Elevated levels of lead in the blood can damage a developing child's brain and nervous system.
  • Phthalates: We've talked about them before, in this post.  In change pads they're used to soften the PVC.  They cause endocrine disruption.
  • Latex: Some children have allergies or sensitivities to latex.
  • BPA: We've talked about them before, in this post.  They cause endocrine disruption.
  • Formeldahyde: A known carcinogen
Luckily there are a lot of great products on the market now for health-minded parents.  One of these healthy alternatives to conventional change pads is Thula.  I am a little biased when it comes to Thula, because it was created by my step-sister, Karen, one of the best moms I know.  After having my nephew, Kai, she saw a real need for an environmentally friendly change pad that was healthy for baby, and kept the mess contained.  With her background in marketing, distribution, and production, she set out to create Thula.  Today, she is the mother of 3 kids, age 6 1/2, 4, and 6 mos, and I don't know how she balances it all!  Cheers to all the busy moms out there, you ROCK!!!

The Thula change pad consists of an Eco Mat and Puddle Pad:

The Eco Mat is made from non-toxic rubber.  It does not contain PVC, chlorides, phthalates, toluene or heavy metals.  It is also hypoallergenic because it is latex free, slip resistant and hygienic.  The mat is biodegradable (though not in the useful life of the mat) and recyclable.

The Puddle Pad is made from an absorbent and stain resistant poly/nylon microfibre.  Karen chose this fabrication because it will not readily stain or hold odours.  The microfibre fabric is milled in the USA and is sewn here in Canada.  Thula’s microfibre Puddle Pads are for placing under baby’s bottom while changing diapers on the Eco Mat. They are very soft next to baby’s skin and help to absorb/localize any messes.

The Puddle Pad is also available in organic sherpa cotton.  Many parents are looking for this sort of material: unbleached, undyed and contains no finishing chemicals.  This fabric is knit here in Canada using GOTS and/or SKAL certified organic yarns.  The fabric is also cut down and sewn in to the Puddle Pads here in Canada.

Organic Sherpa Puddle Pad
Microfibre Puddle Pads in blue, pink,
and green

The Eco Mat and Puddle Pad roll right up smaller than a yoga mat, and you can fit it in the diaper bag or under the stroller.  The mat is big enough to change diapers on your tot right up until they're ready for toilet training.  The Puddle Pads just go right in with the laundry, and hang to dry.

Thula’s Eco Mat is great for tummy time, baby massage or simply a dry spot to sit on during trips to the park. The only change mat you’ll ever need — use at home or when you’re away.  A friend of mine used hers at mom-baby yoga, as a mat for the baby!

You can order Thula Eco Mat sets here on their website, with free shipping in Canada.  The Eco Mat is $29.99.  The Eco Mat set with microfibre Puddle Pad is $39.99.  The Eco Mat set with organic sherpa cotton Puddle Pad is $42.99.  You can also order a 2-pack of puddle pads.  Thula is also available in lots of retail stores across Canada, and in Toronto, you can find it at Diaper-eez and Bellybean.

When you use your mat out in the public, it's not a bad idea to wipe the bottom surface. before rolling it back up.  Here's a great recipe for homemade baby wipes solution from Karen:

2 tbsp baby shampoo
2 tbsp olive oil
2 drops tea tree oil (*has anti-bacterial properties)
2 drops essential oil of your choice (*lavender is soothing, *orange is invigorating)
2 cups of water

Store in spray bottle for use on baby's bottom when changing diapers or spray directly on surfaces to disinfect.  Keep a small spray bottle in the diaper bag.
Soak wash cloths or paper towels in the solution and use to freshen baby's bottom or clean surfaces.

My beautiful niece, Rosalind

Thula is pretty amazing, and I'm so proud to tell you about it.  If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail Karen.  She would be pleased to hear from you.


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Sunday, 13 November 2011

Gluten-Free & Paleo Coconut Pancakes

Good Morning! :)  How are you on this gray looking Sunday morning?  I've been away from my blog for more than a week, with laryngitis and a touch of writer's block.  I somehow still managed to get to the gym a couple times over the week.  I'm glad that I seem to really have a routine I like there, after years of struggling to truly enjoy exercise without getting bored.  

Yesterday I went to a fun cooking seminar called 'Recipe for Hormone Balance' held by Julie Daniluk, who is a local nutritionist with a television show, and a book coming out in December.  I learned a lot about eating for hormone balance, and enjoyed some delicious food, some of which I've never tried before -- I hope to do a blog post about it this week.  She has another seminar coming up on January 21, 2012, called 'Recipe for Healing Inflammation.'  She offered a half-off deal to those of us at the seminar, so I got in touch with my mom on the spot to see if she would like to come with me.  My mom has been dealing with inflammation and pain for a couple decades now, and I'm pretty sure she can learn a lot from this seminar.  Thankfully, she's excited about the idea, so we're all signed up.

In addition to all I learned yesterday, the delicious food, and the goodie bag I left with, I also walked away with some possible career inspiration.  I'm checking into the Registered Holistic Nutritionist program at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition, which is a one or two year program, depending on whether you want to go full or part time.  This means I could continue to work while going to school, which means it could actually work with my life.  And I can afford it!  So I'm looking into the program, and the field itself, and I'm signed up to attend an open house in January, 2012.  A career change is definitely on my mind, something I am really passionate about.  So yes, I'm kind of excited about the idea!

We just finished breakfast over here, and I am pleased to report that you don't have to give up pancakes if you're trying to eat a gluten-free, dairy-free and/or paleo diet.  In addition, if you love coconut like I do, have I got a recipe for you!

I'll also include a second great recipe for gluten-free pancakes that I've made for family and friends, who have said they are just as good as any pancakes they've had, minus that full, doughy feeling that comes with eating gluten.  I agree.

Gluten-Free & Paleo Coconut Pancakes

  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 can coconut milk (200 ml)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tbsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tbsp raw organic honey
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp coconut flour
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Beat the eggs until they're frothy.  Mix the remaining ingredients together.  Cook on a griddle on low-medium heat (we put the heat just under 4).  When you pour the batter, try to keep the pancakes small.  If they're difficult to flip, cooking them a bit longer.  Recipe makes 12 medium pancakes, perfect for 2!

Gluten-Free Pancakes

  • 1 cup rice flour
  • 3 tbsp tapioca flour/starch
  • 1/3 cup potato starch (NOT flour)
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
  • 2 tbsp sugar (give coconut/palm sugar a try!)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • milk/water until desired thickness/runniness - I really love to use almond milk here
In a bowl, mix or sift together the rice flour, tapioca flour, potato starch, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and xanthan gum.  Stir in eggs, water, and oil until well blended and few lumps remain.

Heat a large, well oiled griddle or skillet over medium-high heat.  Spoon the batter onto the skillet and cook until bubbles begin to form.  Flip, and continue cooking until golden brown on the bottom.  Serve immediately with condiments of your choice.

Enjoy your pancakes, and have a great Sunday!!! :)


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Wednesday, 2 November 2011

It's the good kind of pain

Hello there!  Welcome to Wednesday already!  I hope you had a really great Halloween.  We went to a party on the weekend - I dressed up as, in keeping with my paleo eating, a cavewoman.  This costume came together almost by accident, but it worked out well, and I had tons of fun making a necklace with the "teeth" of a saber tooth tiger, and wearing my hair super messy, and literally smearing dirt all over my face and arms.  Well, it was potting soil, not dirt from outside.  But still, it looked dirty and fabulous!

I must admit, I fell out of my paleo ways over the last week and a half.  It was my first PMS times with paleo, and it was absolute hell for cravings.  I gave in.  A lot.  I also didn't go to the gym for an entire week, partly due to feeling crappy, and partly due to the gym having some workouts with pumpkins, and wearing costumes, that I just didn't feel like being a part of (though I still think it's awesome).

I really lost my mojo for that period of time.  I did not feel well or super happy.  I definitely need better coping mechanisms to deal with cravings and motivation, because I can't be eating like that for an entire week, and not exercising because I don't feel well.

I reset my diet yesterday (after Halloween candy on Monday night), and made it back to the gym, and I'm starting to feel good again.  I realized today that exercise gives me my mojo!  This is the first time in my life I can say this, because I've never really found exercise that I really enjoy and want to keep doing.  Today, I feel that wonderful pain in my body that comes from challenging it in brand new ways.

This seems to be the right time to tell you about CrossFit - I've been going for nearly 2 months now.  What is CrossFit?  Directly from the Academy of Lions website, I give you this explanation:
"CrossFit is a core strength and conditioning program developed to enhance an individual’s competency at all physical tasks. Our athletes are trained to perform successfully at multiple, diverse, and randomized physical challenges. This fitness is demanded of military and police personnel, firefighters, and many sports requiring total or complete physical prowess.
In gyms and health clubs throughout the world the typical workout consists of isolation movements and extended aerobic sessions. The fitness community from trainers to the magazines has the exercising public believing that lateral raises, curls, leg extensions, sit-ups and the like combined with 20-40 minute stints on the stationary bike or treadmill are going to lead to some kind of great fitness. Well, at CrossFit we work exclusively with compound movements and shorter high intensity cardiovascular sessions. We’ve replaced the lateral raise with push-press, the curl with pull-ups, and the leg extension with squats. Our approach is consistent with what is practiced in elite training programs associated with major university athletic teams and professional sports. CrossFit endeavors to bring state-of-the-art coaching techniques to the general public and athlete who haven’t access to current technologies, research, and coaching methods.
And why Crossfit?  Who is it good for?
"The question regularly arises as to the applicability of a regimen like CrossFit’s to older and de-conditioned or detrained populations. The needs of an Olympic athlete and our grandparents differ by degree not kind. Increased power, strength, cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, flexibility, stamina, coordination, agility and balance are each important to the world’s best athletes and your grandmother. The amazing truth is that the very same methods that elicit optimal response in the Olympic or professional athlete will optimize the same response in the elderly. Of course, we can’t load your grandmother with the same squatting weight that we’d assign an Olympic skier, but they both need to squat.
Whether you are a professional soccer player or a soccer mom, we treat all our clients athletes. This is because athletes experience a protection from the ravages of aging and disease that non-athletes never find. For instance, 80-year-old athletes are stronger than non-athletes in their prime at 25 years old. If you think that strength isn’t important consider that strength loss is what puts people in nursing homes. Athletes have greater bone density, stronger immune systems, less coronary heart disease, reduced cancer risk, fewer strokes, and less depression than non-athletes."
What does this mean to me?  An exercise program that is varied and never boring, and where I learn tons of new things, including lifting.  I've used kettlebells, ropes, 300 lb tires, sledgehammers, empty beer kegs, weights, barbells, rings, bars, boxes, and the wall.  I feel challenged every time, and wake up the next day with a wonderful soreness that can only come from this kind of exercise.

So from my perspective when I walk in the gym, here's what I do:

Warm-up (can take about 20 minutes)

Joint Mobility
This consists of skipping rope (300 singles or 100 double unders), leg swings, shoulder stretches with a PVC pole, pistols, and technical squats.

This consists sit ups, back extensions, push ups, pull ups, and ring dips.

The WOD (Workout of the Day)

This is a workout selected by the programmer of my gym, which changes every day.  I'll give you a few examples of some WODs I've done, just to give you an idea:

4 Turkish get-ups (get up from supine position and lie back down, with arm raised above head with kettlebell)
10 hang cleans (a lift)
20 kettlebell swings (swinging a kettlebell from between your knees up to chest height)
- 7 rounds for time

Wall walk (facing away from wall, plant hands on floor, flip legs up behind you, and walk up and down the wall)
Toes to bar/rings (hang off bar or rings, swing your legs up so your toes reach the bar/rings)
Knees to squat (start on knees, jump up with momentum to squatting position)
- Rounds with 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 of each, for time

Morrison (some of the WODs are named after fallen soldiers):
Wall balls (squat down in front of wall, throw medicine ball up high on wall, catch it on way up from squat)
Box jumps (jumping up and down on a box - there are different heights for different challenge levels)
Kettlebell swings
- Rounds with 50-40-30-20-10 of each, for time (this one was KILLER!)

30 squat cleans (a lift)
30 pull ups (pull ups on bar)
800 m run (out the door, around the corner, around the block and back)
- 3 rounds for time

15 kettlebell swings
15 power cleans (a lift)
15 box jumps
- 7 rounds for time

You get the idea.  Different all the time, and super challenging.  Most workouts typically last 15-25 minutes, and I can tell you that your heart is racing the entire time.  It's a fantastic cardio workout.  I have become considerably stronger since starting, and you actually notice within a week that you're stronger.  I'm growing muscle where there was only ever fat before (see triceps, hamstrings and glutes).  I'm gaining endurance as well.

The thing I love about CrossFit, and particularly Academy of Lions, is the amazing sense of community there.  Everyone helps each other out and cheers each other on.  We start together and finish together.  The coaches all know your name.  They know your abilities, and help you modify movements if you aren't quite strong enough, or if you're injured.  They really want you to suceed.  You see the same friendly faces every day of people who really want to be there.

Academy of Lions itself it pretty cool - it's way more than a gym.  They have the Academy of Lions // General Store, serving up Americanos, espresso, coconut milk and almond milk lattes and cappucinos, along with 100% paleo/primal baked treats (very few ingredients, and sugar free).  Through the General Store, I can also get a bunch of things for my kitchen, including the coconut milk I like (the only kind without BPA lining in the can), the most amazing coconut water I've ever tasted (Blue Monkey), coconut oil and butter, nuts, different dried fruit, nut butters, jerky, and frozen meats from Beretta Farms.

Academy of Lions is also about giving to the community.  Through the not for profit Academy of Lions Foundation, they offer after school programming and boot camps for youth, as well as youth internships for coaching, organizational operations, and the School of Hustle clothing company.

For more info on Academy of Lions, located on Dundas St. West, just west of Ossington, please visit their website, and get in touch with them to set up a trial class to see if you like it.  Programming is more expensive there than at a typical gym, but what you pay for is quality coaching with every class, and it's worth every penny; it actually gets you in shape.  I've been going 3-4 times per week now for almost 2 months, and my body has been thanking me ever since, with that glorious pain that makes me feel alive.  I'm definitely in this for the long term.


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