Silver Linings & Watermelon Popsicles

As much as we’ve been celebrating around here over the past few weeks, my little ones have been working through some pretty big changes in their little lives.  While my daughter watched some of her best friends graduate from senior kindergarten and out of her little school, my son spent his last few days in class with his best buddies knowing that they’ll all be at different schools next year.  My attempts to soothe his feelings with promises of play dates and shared after-school activities were met with comments like “play dates are not the same thing as being at school all day together”.  As a mom, my heart felt as broken for my little ones as theirs felt broken for what they were experiencing.

All this change for them has also shown me just how fast they’re growing up and how my role is going to be changing too.   Have you read that post that keeps circulating on Facebook?  The one about how there’s always a last time for something as you’re raising your kids?  Well, this morning, after my son took a big fall, and I pulled him onto my lap to comfort him, it really struck me that it won’t be much longer before he will simply be too big physically for me to do that – and perhaps the only reason I still can is because of all the time I spend in the gym.

And so, for the past few weeks, I’ve been busy shepherding us all through this period of change.  And the metaphor that I’ve been relying on most to explain all of this change to myself, and to the kids: Silver Linings.

You see, a silver lining can be described as this:

silver lining

n.

hopeful or comforting prospect in the midst of difficulty.

I want to teach my little ones, as much as I want to remind myself, that as we make our way through the difficult times in life, there will be a light at the end of the tunnel, that things will start to get better, and that it’s never too long before we can see the silver lining!

Of course, with the kids, I’ve also been relying on diversionary tactics when I find them getting a little to “stuck” in their emotions.  And the best way to divert my kids attention, is to get them into the kitchen.

With the recent wave of hot weather, my daughter has exclaimed pretty much every afternoon “today would be a perfect day for a popsicle!”.  And so . . . we made popsicles!  Yes, I know, this is not revolutionary in any way.  But the kids have discovered the joys of giant freezies and they’ve been exposed to ice cream trucks at end of the school year celebrations, which combined, make a traditional popsicle a hard sell in my house right now.

Ownership of the great popsicle project, however, equalled success in both of them thinking they were having a real treat . . .

Strawberry and Watermelon Popsicles

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

 

Ingredients

  • 1 cup chopped strawberries, leaves and stems removed
  • 1-2 cups cubed watermelon (about 1/8 of a whole watermelon
  • 1/4 c plain yogurt (I used Kefir)
  • 1 tsp of liquid organic honey (this is totally optional and totally not necessary)

Directions

  1. Throw all the ingredients into a blender and process until smooth
  2. Pour into popsicle molds and freeze (I got mine at Dollarama . . . )
  3. Enjoy on a day that is just “perfect for popsicles”

 

 

What, If Anything, Would Compel you NOT to Eat Processed Food for One Week

I read a quote the other day by Edward Stanley that said:

“Those who do not find time for exercise will have to find time for illness.”

And over the course of the last week, I’ve watched a new documentary on Netflix Sugar Coated.

When exactly did the consumption of processed food, almost to the complete exclusion of real food, and the inability to engage in a moderate amount of exercise on a regular basis, become so normalized that the thought of giving up processed foods made you do one of either 2 things – disregard anything I have to say in this post, or freak out and wonder how on earth that would even be possible.

Over the last few years, enough people have asked me how I lost weight or got to look the way I do, I’ve come up with a standard response: “I don’t eat sugar, I don’t eat processed food, and I limit alcohol”.  By the time I’m done that short little sentence, most people have stopped listening, and if they haven’t, by the time the hear the bit about limiting alcohol, they’re ready to change the subject.

Here’s the thing though . . . when I have these conversations, part of me wants to throw my hands up and scream.  If we feed ourselves a diet of predominantly processed, nutrient-deficient, non-organic, genetically modified diet, what do we expect the end result to be?  It can’t be health and vitality, because nothing in this world can survive long-term without solid nutrient-dense foods.

That being said, there are a few people that have been willing to hear me out, but then start to question how it’s possible to eat that way and not spend all my time in the kitchen.

Well, my simple answer to that is with another quote:

“It’s not about having time.  It’s about making time.  If it matters, you will make time” (Anon).

So, I thought I would outline for all of you, just how it is that I “find the time” to make sure my family gets the healthiest, most nutrient-dense food I can give them so we can do our best to limit disease and our risk of contracting disease later in life (like cancer, diabetes, etc.)

It all starts on Sunday.  I have (as I’ve talked about before), a dry-erase magnet on my fridge where I write down what we’re having for breakfast and dinner for each of the days of the upcoming week.  On Sunday, before we do a big grocery shop, I plan out our meals for the week based on what we have going on that week.

You can absolutely find healthy foods at your local grocery store – while meats that are traditionally raised without the use of antibiotics, hormones, or feed that contains genetically modified ingredients certainly taste better and require a little bit more time to source (we visit the St. Lawrence Market every Saturday to stock up on meats) – you can get at least antibiotic and hormone free meats at all the major grocery stores now.  You can also get lots of organic fruits and vegetables there too, while you’re at it.  Sure, fruits and vegetables from your local farmers market (where there farmers selling their actual crops and not just produce that has been sourced from elsewhere) are a better choice, but until you’re ready to take that next step – just shop at your local store.

Sundays are often the day when the Husband and I will batch cook things that we might need for the week.

Sundays are also often the day when I make a batch of my chocolate chip cookies so the kids will have a healthy snack for the week.

For example, I bought 24 chicken thighs at the grocery store yesterday morning, popped them in a simple marinade when I got home, and the Husband barbecued them for us at lunchtime.  We all had some for lunch, but I now have 20 leftover to use for my lunches, and the kids lunches this week.

Each night, Sundays included, as soon as the dinner dishes are done,  the Husband and I prep some of what will be needed the next morning.  That might entail washing and prepping fruits for our daily smoothie or veggies for the kids and the Husband.  I also use this time to make sure the kids’ backpacks are packed and ready to go for the next day, and on Sundays in particular,  I tend to organize any activity bags we might need for the week (swimming, skating, hockey).

I suppose I’m lucky in that Husband and I make a great team in the mornings.  While I’m getting ready, he makes the kids’ breakfast and the smoothies for all of us.  And while he’s getting ready, I assemble the kids’ snacks, a bag of veggies for him, and my salad while simultaneously cooking eggs for my breakfast.  If he’s not around, the kids and I have the same breakfast at the same time, and snacks and my lunch are assembled after.

Lately, the kids have been REALLY into cooking, and helping me get the things I’ve been adding to my daily salad from the garden.  So, I’ve been eating with them we’ve been making my salad and their veggies (they have to have one snack of veggies a day, house rule).

Do your kids help you cook?  If not, why not?  It took some supervision at first, but my 5 year old can now cut up pretty much any vegetable, whether it’s going in a salad or her snack container.  Not only is it more fun to have the kids in the kitchen with you, I’ve found they’ll eat better, knowing they’ve prepared it, and they’re learning a life skill . . .To minimize the risk of accidents, they each have their own knife and they each get their own cutting board.

Depending on what we’re having for dinner that night, I might have the kids help me cut up broccoli or carrots in the morning so they are ready to go for dinner.

I’m also lucky in that both my kids have their lunches provided for them at school – so aside from my salad, and their snacks, I don’t need to do any other food prep in the morning.  All in all, the entire time I spend in the kitchen in the morning is 30 minutes, tops.

Again, depending on the day, if I’m at home before I have to pick the kids up from school, and I’m making a “recipe” for dinner, I might do some dinner prep before I leave – pre-measure ingredients, or chop up things like onion or other veggies.

Once we’re all home, I usually start dinner prep at 5:30.  If we’re having something that doesn’t require much assistance, the kids are in charge of setting the table, while I get things started.  But again, since they love being in the kitchen so much, they’re often in there with me chopping, mixing, even cooking on the stove.  Dinners are usually a protein and 2 veggies.  Because I menu-plan and shop on Sundays, I rarely need to go to the store during the week, and my total food-prep time is no longer than if I were making a pre-packaged meal from the grocery store.

I will stress that although we are only 4 people, I usually make enough food to serve 6 – that way I have leftovers for my lunch, or to freeze for when I’m in a pinch.  And when I make things like my chicken fingers, I make TONS, and freeze them.  The kids LOVE making those with me, so why not make a double or triple batch . . . it doesn’t take double or triple the time, and will save time down the road.  Also, when I’m making things like roasted sweet potatoes, I make lots – there’s nothing I love more in a salad then roasted sweet potatoes (if you haven’t tried it . . . you have to  . . . it’s delicious).

And that . . . well, that’s how I “find” the time to eat well.

Before I conclude, I want to add in that I know many of you believe that it’s simply too expensive to eat organically.  To that I will say . . . once you realize how much better you feel, how much healthier you are when you start eating this way, it becomes an easy choice.  But more importantly, healthcare is expensive.  Far more expensive that eating organically ever will be.  Medicines, parking fees to visit doctors, etc. . . . the costs add up . . . wouldn’t it be better to spend perhaps a little bit more nourishing yourself now than pay all the medical bills if/when disease sets in?

And so, given what I’ve had to say today, what would compel you not to eat processed foods for one week???  Because, I bet that once you start, you’ll keep at it for a lot longer than one week!

And now for my new favourite chicken recipe – the one I made yesterday!

IMG_5875

Easy Lemony-Herbed Chicken (thighs)

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

 

Ingredients

  • 2 tbs red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • juice from one lemon
  • 3 clove minced garlic
  • 1 shallot (minced)
  • handful chopped fresh herbs (i’ve used rosemary, thyme, basil . . . use whatever you have on hand, you like, sounds good to you)
  • -salt and pepper to taste
  • chicken – use whatever you want – but just enough to serve about 4-6.

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, add in all the ingredients and mix with a spoon, fork, whisk . . . whatever.
  2. Add in your chicken, and using some tongs, toss it so that all the chicken pieces get well coated with the marinade.
  3. Let the chicken sit for a few hours, all day, overnight.  When you’re ready, cook the chicken however you want – I’ve been barbecuing lately.  But you can also throw it into a pan and bake it in the oven at 350 until it’s no longer pink inside.  Or you could sauté it on the stove top.

What the Doctors Don’t Tell You About Surviving a Tumour

It’s been two weeks since I got my 5-year all-clear from my Neurosurgeon.  I surprised myself by not making more of a big deal out of the occasion – in years past after my annual MRI’s have come back clean, I’ve bought myself ridiculous shoes, a bottle of champange, or something out of the ordinary to celebrate the good news.  In the back of my mind I had thought about having some sort of big blow out if I got good news – but when that moment actually came, I was content to just go on with my daily life.

Now that some time has passed and I’ve had some time to think about things some more, I’m starting to understand why getting past this 5-year mark has been far harder than I ever thought it would be.

Here’s the thing . . . surviving a tumour means you know exactly how hard the process is.  I now know first hand what it’s like when a doctor tell you “We found something, it’s a tumour”.  I know first hand how in that instant, you will do whatever it takes to make sure you are alive for just one more day.  And I know what it’s like to regret whatever it is you did in life that contributed to the growth of that tumour.

I know what it’s like to say good bye to your kids not knowing what state you’re going to come back to them in.  I  know what it’s like to have to think about what you want most for you kids when you don’t even know what kind of people they’re going to grow up to be.  And I know what it’s like to plan not to be fully present as a wife and a mother for an undefined period of time.

I know what it’s like to wait for biopsy results.  I know what it’s like to wait for blood test results.  And I know what it’s like to spend hours at the hospital waiting for doctors appointments to get the results.

Let me be unequivocally clear here . . .NONE of this process is remotely enjoyable.  None of it.  In fact, it is, I think the hardest thing anyone can endure.

And then you find out . . . you survived.  You’ve managed through excellent medical care, amazing surgeons, doctors, and health care professionals, through diet, nutrition, exercise, rest, to take care of yourself, and allow yourself to heal.  You’ve been given the gift of life.

Now what.

You see, once you’ve come face to face with just how short life can be, how your life can be turned upside down with a single sentence “We found something . . . .”, when you know first hand how hard it all is, trust me when I say, you NEVER want to go through that again.

For me, that has meant turning my attention to my nutrition and exercise.  I focus on getting the right nutrients into my body to prevent inflammation, to give my cells what they need to thrive, to prevent damage.  I focus on working out, and getting strong so that if I ever do get sick again, I know I have the strength to fight it, but also to help ward off illness.  Nope, I don’t drink as much as I used to, nor do I eat out, or eat treats like I used to . . . but how can I when I know that a diet rich in alcohol and sugar is going to, more likely than not, end in disease?  Allowing myself to slide into old nutritional habits (or lack there of), more drinking, and less exercise means putting myself at risk for going through all of this again . . .and that’s pretty much the LAST thing I want to do.

When the future was uncertain, I found a need to cram as much fun as I could into every day.  I’ve talked about wanting every day with my kids to have some sort of “magic” in it.  Well, the sad truth is, this need doesn’t disappear once you’ve been declared cured.  Possibly, this way of life has just become habit.  But it’s also equal possible that I know each moment is precious and I hate to waste a single one – you never know what changes life might throw at you next.

When the future was uncertain, it was easy to let things slide – a tidy house wasn’t all that important – a certain amount of mess meant we were having fun and not wasting any time.  Expenditures on frivolous things were excusable because they were meant to bring added joy to our lives.  And living day to day without too much planning (or dreaming) about the future was simply the practical thing to do.

Surviving means turning your attention to yourself and to the future.  Surviving means figuring out who you are after you’ve been to hell and back.  Surviving means finding dreams other than having a clean bill of health.  Surviving means figuring out how to make those dreams come true.  Surviving means not letting the gift of life weigh so heavily on you that you don’t allow yourself to find the courage to discover who you are now, and what else you are capable of beyond survival.

All of this to say . . .when you hit that 5-year mark, the doctors and those around you may be full of joy for you and the state of your health.  They won’t tell you that the new road you’re on may be a rocky one with lots of ups and downs as you discover the “new, cured” you.  And so I will tell you, as I am trying to tell myself . . . be patient with yourself.  Allow yourself to experience joy and happiness and love without worrying about the future.  Allow yourself to try new things, to take chances, and to make bold choices without the fear of “wasting” time, making a bad choice, or squandering the precious “gift of life” you’ve been given.  And most of all, allow yourself time to breathe and just be you – beautiful healthy you – without the fear of the future being taken from you again.

Have we Forgotten How to Cook (And in the Process Have we Forgotten What Real Food Tastes Like?)

I have always loved cooking and as such, have involved the kids in cooking since they were old enough to stand on a chair and hold a spoon.  Both kids enjoy looking at cookbooks and picking out recipes to make – my son is known for bringing home cookbooks from his school library instead of novels.  This year has seen them learn how to chop vegetables and start to man the cooking of simple things on the stove.  All of which has been great.  But …

Our herbs and salad greens finally started to take off this week, which meant I was much more comfortable taking cuttings to add to our meals.  Every morning, the kids and I go out to the back porch and snip some kale, parsley an basil to throw into my salad, which turns into them each taking a taste of the various things we have growing.

Yesterday, we got a bit too aggressive with our basil cuttings, so I had leftover which I decided to throw into a pan with some tomato and kale and eggs for my breakfast (for those of you that are curious, I melt a generous teaspoon of coconut oil in a pan, add in some chopped frozen kale – I’m using up the last of the frozen stuff for my morning eggs and when it’s gone, I’ll start using the fresh stuff from my garden – a diced tomato and whatever herbs I may have picked.  When the veggies are warmed through and soft, I crack 2 eggs into the pan, stir them around so the whole thing becomes a sort of scrambled egg omelette.  It’s not the most elegant of meals, but it does taste AMAZING).  When the eggs were cooked, I gave each kid a taste.  And immediately they wanted their own, even though they had each just had their own fried egg.  Seeing the excitement on their little faces as they realized just how good food could taste was a wonderful moment for me.

It is so hard today not to get overwhelmed by the images of stunningly gorgeous food and the millions of recipes that bombard us every day – recipes that when you dig a little deeper turn out to contain multiple hard-to-find ingredients, take a relative eternity to prepare, and end up either not working, not looking anything like the pictures you’ve seen, and/or not tasting particularly good.  Then there are all the articles telling us how we should eat, what we should eat, and when we should eat it in order to optimize our size and our health.  Add in working parents, kids, homework, after-school activities, and it’s hard not to just throw up your hands, run to the local grocery store, buy some pre-prepared meal and throw it on the table for the kids, and maybe a bit later in the evening for the adults.

But if we strip everything back to the very basics – forget about making those ridiculous recipes – and instead go back to cooking simple, good food that tastes good, not because it’s filled with additives and sugar and artificial flavours, but because it’s made with the best ingredients that taste good on their own.  If we can re-learn how to cook that way, maybe we’ll start to remember how good real food tastes, and we’ll start craving the prepared/processed food less (which in turn will make us healthier, leaner and overall happier).

And while this may be very optimistic, I’m hoping that by instilling in my kids at an early age, how amazing real food tastes, how amazing it is to use ingredients from our own backyard, and how fun it is to cook together, as they grow up, they will continue to crave this good food over the chemical-laden food choices they will be exposed to.  And maybe, they might even convince some of their friends that “real” food eating really is better.

And now for the “recipe” part of this post . . . Last weekend, the Husband picked up a ton of chicken thighs – the kind that have both bones AND skin.  He made a simple marinade out of lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, and rosemary from our yard.  The thighs all got barbecued, some were eaten for dinner that night, and the rest were used for dinner and my lunches the following week.  Tuesdays are a quick turn-around day for us – meaning we don’t have much time between getting home from school and needing to be back out the door for baseball.  So, last week, I used the leftover chicken as protein portion of our dinner (it was actually a neat experiment for the kids comparing how the cold chicken tasted versus how it had tasted when it was fresh off the barbecue).  I chopped up a plate of veggies for us all, and then I made a side dish of my favourite pesto sauce that I served over pasta (I do allow us one pasta night a week.  We can all tolerate gluten relatively well, as I’ve said before, and everyone loves it.)  The kids LOVE peeling and chopping garlic and picking basil from our backyard (it was supplemented with some from the store), and then getting to use the Cuisnart made for a fantastic 20 minutes in the kitchen with them – time so much better spent than having me alone in the kitchen and them watching a show or just hanging around.

Pesto Sauce

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese (please use the good stuff)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1-3 cloves of garlic (this depends on how garlic-y you like things, what your kids will tolerate, and how big your cloves of garlic are – use your discretion)

Directions

  1. Rinse off the basil leaves, and throw them into the bowl of a food processor.  Add in the cheese and garlic.  Pulse a few times until the basil has been chopped up finely and everything looks pretty well combined.
  2. Through the feeder tube of the food processor, with the food processor running, drizzle in the olive oil.  Keep the processor running until all the olive oil has been added and the sauce looks well mixed.
  3. Serve this over pasta, quinoa, tomatoes, or just as a salad dressing . . .it’s delicious!

 

Finding Joy in My Garden

I’ve always loved spending time in the garden.  My mom kept a gorgeous garden at the house I grew up in, and over the years I have had the pleasure of attending lots of garden talks with her.  I was so excited when the Husband and I bought our house – I couldn’t wait to start my own garden.  But as many good intentions as I may have had over the years, my garden just never really took shape.  Until this year.

Since the early spring, I found myself searching images of English gardens on Pinterest, reading plant catalogues from my favourite nurseries, and planning how I might change my garden.  And once planting weather arrived, I’ve spent more time than ever planting, weeding, and tending to my garden.  And I’m loving every minute of it.  So much so that I even skipped the gym on Monday just to spend more time gardening (although who wouldn’t want to spend time amongst these beauties??)

 

This year, I’ve even found space for a little veggie garden behind my back flower bed (this was obtained through a mis-guided attempt to “trim out” the dead branches of a cedar hedge – we ended up taking out the hedge, putting in a fence, and tripling the size of the back flower bed).

image

Yup . . . roses, kale, pepper, and melons all planted amongst each other . . . not the most conventional, BUT, I am hoping the roses will grow and provide a nice cover to the fence.  And I let the kids pick what plants they wanted . . . so we have kale, and peppers, and melons.  And tomatoes.  Lots and lots of tomatoes . . .

Anyway, in my nightly searching on Pinterest, I came across the Audrey Hepburn quote above, and my obsession with gardening this year started to make a bit more sense . . . At at time in my life when I’m filled with more hope and excitement for the future, it’s no wonder I’ve been loving my garden.

image

The other upside to all this gardening has been how it’s gotten me excited about cooking again.  With all the craziness of the kids’ end of year stuff, I’ve been relying on staple recipes that I know I can make quickly and that I know the kids will eat (quickly).  This year, thanks to the coach, I discovered Richter’s Herbs, and purchased from them an awesome selection of herbs which I now have growing on my back porch.

image

Every morning, the kids and I go out to water our herbs . . . but also to cut some to add to the salad I make for my lunch each morning.  These herbs have been put to good use in our dinners lately too!  Earlier this week I made a wicked pesto sauce that I served with pasta for dinner, and last on Friday I made a crowd-please app for a pre-party I had at my house.  It’s the easiest app you could ever make, takes literally 5 minutes to prepare if not less, and everyone seems to love it . . . here’s my take on it:

Easy Peasy Goat Cheese App

  • Servings: lots
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • soft goat cheese (I used a smaller quantity for this, but you can use as much or as little as you’d like)
  • 1 shallott or a few green onions
  • chives
  • ground black pepper
  • red pepper flakes
  • olive oil

Directions

  1. Place your goat cheese in a small serving bowl or dish that fits the size of goat cheese that you’re using.
  2. If you’re using green onions, wash and peel the outer layer and then finely slice the white and green part of the onion.  If I use a small amount of goat cheese, I might use 2 or 3 green onions.  If I’m using a larger amount, I’d double that and use 4-6.
  3. Sprinkle pepper and red pepper flakes over the cheese.
  4. Pour olive oil over the cheese so that it pools in the bottom of the bowl around the cheese.
  5. Keep in the fridge until about 30 minutes before you plan to serve it – then take it out and let it warm up a bit.  Serve with crackers or sliced baguette.

5 Years and . . . I’m Tumour Free

I got the official word late on Wednesday night after spending a good chunk of the day down at Toronto Western.  I can’t begin to tell you the flood of emotion that washed over me when I saw the email come through from my neurosurgeon that started with the words “Good news”.  As there has been no re-growth of the tumour since the surgery, I can now be considered “cured”, and can start having MRI’s on a far less frequent basis (like every 2 years).

It’s taken a few days to fully accept and internalize this amazing news.  I haven’t celebrated, I haven’t done anything wild and crazy, in fact, I haven’t even really shared the news with people.  Instead I’ve found myself drawn towards playing with the kids and quietly working on my garden.

It’s a funny thing to think that the tumour will no longer cast a shadow on my life.  Since the day I was diagnosed, I’ve consciously and subconsciously constantly considered the idea “what if I’m not here”.  It’s affected how and what I do with my kids and with the Husband – like the fact that the Husband and I have never been away from the kids for more than a night – how can you leave your kids for longer than that when you’ve dealt with the concept of your own mortality and not always being there for them?

But at the same time, the experience of having the tumour and of “surviving” has pushed me to find ways to better my life so that I know I am doing as much as I can to ensure that I’m not faced with any other health crises in the future.  I’ve been beyond fortunate to have some absolutely unbelievable people come into my life at the exact time that I’ve needed them . . .like the Coach . . . who patiently taught me what real strength is and how to properly nourish myself so that I, and my family, can stay health (THANK YOU, Coach!!!!).

And so I find myself today in a place where I can again dream about the future.  I can start letting go, imagining how the kids are going to grow and change, what kind of people they are going to turn into, and maybe even contemplating a few days away with just the husband.

While there are so many parts of the last five years that I’d like to forget (the fear, the tears, the dark moments), there are just as many parts that I’d like to celebrate.  And there’s so much that I’ve learned along this journey that I’d like to share with others, with you.  And hopefully I am doing that, if only just a little bit, though this blog.

And on that note, I’m off to get the kids from school, to do homework, to play, and to make dinner, to have my regular Monday night “night” with the moms on my street, all the amazingly ordinary stuff of life that I am so grateful to be able to do.

 

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