Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Vegan Lemon Crisp Cookies

*Please note: this recipe isn't one that I would consider "healthy" because of the amount of sugar it contains. I just wanted to share it with you all because it was the first time I ever made a vegan recipe!*
Do you love baking with lemon as much as I do?! The aroma, the taste .. *swoon*

I participated in a snack exchange this past weekend and had the pleasure of shopping for someone who was vegan. I bought her a few snacks from the store but also wanted to give her something homemade, and after googling vegan snack recipes, found one that didn't require speciality vegan ingredients, just stuff I had at home (although I was out of lemons so had to pick some up!). I made a couple of adjustments to the original recipe.

I absolutely LOVE anything lemony so making these cookies was pure bliss for me (freshly zested lemon?! Yuuuuuum. I could smell that stuff all day, every day!).

They turned out really well! I preferred them straight out of the oven, because they were more moist and chewy, but once they cooled they had a delightful crispy texture and were such a treat to eat. Sssssoooo lemony!! :)

Without further ado .. The recipe:

1.5 C flour
1 C whole wheat flour
1.5 C sugar
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp lemon zest
3/4 C canola oil
1/2 C + 1 tbsp lemon juice
2.5 tsp vanilla

Mix all the dry ingredients into a bowl. In a separate bowl, stir together the wet ingredients. Using a wooden spoon, fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until thoroughly mixed.

Use a tablespoon to measure out each cookie, roll it into a ball, and place on a cookie sheet (I used a silicone baking sheet, but I'm sure greasing a cookie sheet would work the same!). Gently press down onto each ball with a fork. Be sure to leave plenty of space between each cookie - they spread out wide when they bake!

Bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes. Cool on a cooling rack. Store them in a sealed container.

Enjoy getting your lemon on!!

fresh from the oven!

The original recipe can be found here. I made a couple of small changes (like swapping the white-only flour for whole wheat) for some added nutrition .. and I added a touch more vanilla because I love the stuff :)

Monday, February 25, 2013

Captcha Warning!

Hey Guys!

Just letting you know that I'll be using a Captcha for comments for the next little while (those things that ask you for alphabet / number verification when a comment is posted) .. I know, they're a total drag, but I've been getting slammed with spam comments and really would like for it to stop before I end up pulling out my hair with annoyance!!

Just thought I'd give you all a heads-up! It won't be a permanent thing :)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Snack Exchange

Hey guys!

My friend (hi Mawi!!) organized a snack exchange for a bunch of her friends. It worked just like Foodie Pen Pals, only this way, we got together in person to exchange parcels instead of having to pay to ship them! Mawi threw a little get-together for us .. But since I wasn't able to attend, I dropped off my parcel for my buddy the day before.

I was paired to buy for someone who was vegan! It was such an interesting experience for me to shop vegan, since I'd never done it before. I didn't know where to begin.

Not having a ton of extra time in my schedule, I wasn't able to venture to many different stores to check out vegan options, but I knew my local Loblaws (smack in between home and work!) had a small vegan section, so that's where I went after work.

So I had a $20 limit and I knew I wanted to buy some snacks and also bake for her.

Normally, when I read the nutrition label of a product, I watch for sodium and sugar content, and I make sure there's no "garbage" ingredients. Now I was also watching for animal products like milk, eggs, butter, etc. It was a totally different experience buying vegan - everything had milk or eggs in it!! (It was also tough finding a recipe to bake that didn't require special ingredients, like almond milk!). Also troublesome was that many of the vegan options at Loblaws needed to be refrigerated, which wouldn't work for the snack exchange. So after (what felt like) hours of wandering through this tiny section, I was able to find a few things within my price limit to give my buddy.

Here's what I came up with:
I really hope she liked what I was able to put together!

- organic, individually-packaged raisins
- a bag of chips, made from sweet-potatoes and beets
- Fruit To Go bites
- a box of organic, whole-grain quinoa

And I made a batch of lemon crisp cookies to go with it all (they turned out really well! I'll share the recipe soon!). I also included a small note explaining what I got her and telling her how much fun it was shopping vegan for the first time.

Mawi was the one buying for me, and she got me SO many amazing things!!

Here's what I got to take home:
So many neat things!!
- Caesar-flavored Snapea Crisps. They're kind of like potato chips, but made with snap peas! I can't wait to try them! I love snap peas and adore Caesar, so they sound like a match made in heaven!

- Delissimo Organic Dark Chocolate Quinoa Pearls. They are absolutely amazing and just perfect for when I'm craving chocolate (which is a lot, apparently!). This bag won't last long!

- King Island Coconut Water. Mawi had heard about my not-so-stellar first experience with coconut water, and this is one she highly recommends!

- Almond Butter!!! I have been wanting to try some for the longest time but it just wasn't in the budget .. I can't tell you how excited I am to try it. My first taste MUST be on an apple!

- Zevia Cola and Ginger Ale. Mawi also knows I'm trying to cut artificial sweeteners from my diet and that I love my sodas .. These are flavored with stevia (an all-natural sweetener) so I don't have to worry about the evils of aspartame. I'm anxious to try them :)

Yeah, I got totally spoiled. My favorite thing in the bag was a hand-written letter :)

She also lent me a book to read, You Are What You Eat, by Dr. Gillian McKeith. While I don't agree with everything she talks about, she does raise a lot of good points and has opened my eyes to a lot!
It's an older book but still worth looking into. She has  a few good pointers for healthy eating!
So that was our snack exchange. Lots of fun!

Have you ever wanted to try something like this?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Little Changes Can = Big Changes!

So it's no secret that the majority of us go into hibernation over the winter and wind up finding a little weight. The average weight gain over the winter months can be anywhere between 7-15lbs.

Not gonna lie, I've found myself at the higher end of that scale these past few days. My pants are noticeably tighter.

While I'm still struggling to get myself 100% back in the healthy eating and active zone (winter blues + crazy schedule adjustment = overwhelmed mama!) I've made the commitment to myself to make small, beneficial adjustments every single day so that my weight doesn't get too out of control. And it's been working!

What kinds of things am I doing?

1. I eat smaller meals. Simple, right? I cut back my portion sizes to about half what I would have eaten if I wasn't watching my waistline.

2. Because I'm eating smaller meals, I'm having a small snack between them. I try to keep my snacks below 150 calories. I'll have things like carrots with hummus, bell peppers with all-natural Italian dressing, Balkan yogurt with extra fresh berries, or a banana with a few walnuts. The snacks keep me going until the next meal and I'm not SO hungry that I eat everything I made and leave nothing for Team Lego.
Snack time at work! Yogurt with walnuts!
Snack time at school! Mixed veggies with lots of hummus!
3. For every cup of coffee I drink (no more than two a day, except for no-sleep Thursdays, on which I allow myself 3!), I kick back a glass of water. And throughout the day, I drink nothing but water. No juice, no pop ..

4. Yeah, that's right. I've made the commitment to eliminate diet coke from my life. It is SO bad for me and my body!! I've come to be too addicted to it and it was sickening. The biggest eye-opener for me was the documentary Hungry For Change (seriously, go watch it. Now. It's on Netflix. I'll wait for you to get back!). Here is an article with a video from Hungry For Change: Diet Coke... And that's was only a small snippet from the movie. They offer a lot more information on artificial sweeteners in the movie. Scary stuff. (And please, for those who choose to ingest artificial sweeteners: I'm not putting you down for your decision nor do I want to make you feel like you have to defend your choice. This is just my opinion and my choice to keep it out of my belly!).

5. I try to squeeze in as much exercise in daily as I can. I'm an outdoor exerciser at heart, so I prefer to get outside to get my sweat on. With my schedule, I was having a hard time finding time to work exercise in .. So I MADE time (if it means something to you, you will find a way .. No excuses!!). I'll walk from my school to the mall for my bus home instead of busing all the way there (this is a good 30-minute walk uphill!). I will take the stairs instead of the elevator (work and school have me both on the fourth floor!). On my 15-minute breaks at school and work, I'm up and out of my seat, walking around. Once the weather is more bearable, I fully intend to start walking to work and RUNNING!!! (my asthma doesn't cooperate with the cold air!).
All bundled up for a long, cold walk!
I haven't found time for yoga in a while, which makes me sad .. Although I have an open window on my Mondays and Fridays off so methinks I'll make a date with my mat on those days! I need to start re-toning my body!

6. I'm keeping a positive mindset. I'm not putting myself down for having dietary slip-ups. I'm not calling myself "fatty" every time I look in the mirror. I don't punish myself for choosing KD and hotdogs instead of a salad for lunch. I just work to fix my mistakes as soon as I make them (healthy dinner choices after a "bad" lunch choice!).

7. I start every single day with a healthy breakfast. I have a protein, a fruit (possibly a veggie if the meal calls for it!) a small carbohydrate and my beloved coffee. If I start my day with a healthy, balanced breakfast, I feel great and making better food choices throughout the day is easier because I don't want to "ruin" the benefits of that breakfast!
Veggie omelette, unbuttered whole wheat toast, banana!
8. I try to get enough sleep. Even if there are shows I really want to catch up on waiting on my pvr, I take a hot bath to relax myself and hit the sack. Getting between 6-8 hours of sleep every night is key for me - if I'm exhausted, I know I won't make good decisions. If I didn't get enough sleep overnight (hello, 3am bouts of teething pain with Daughter Lego!), I'll nap during the day when the kids do. An hour catnap does me a world of good!

These small changes have made a HUGE difference in my every day. I still listen to my body over my scale, but when I weighed myself last, I was already down five of the pounds I gained!

I know that this winter has been a tough one on me. Do I wish I'd been better? Absolutely. But every day, I learn a little more about why my healthy lifestyle is SO important to me and my family. I feel like poop after eating boxed / processed / "quick fix" foods and feel aMaZiNg when I eat healthy, natural and homemade. I get jittery and a little nauseated if I eat too much sugar and get cranky if I don't eat enough proteins. I'm sluggish, energy-less and irritable when I don't eat well and exercise regularly .. So everyone benefits from a healthy Mama Lego!
Doesn't that look better than a store-bought, frozen meal!? Homemade for the win!
Do you make small adjustments to your day to keep yourself on track in the winter? If not, do you think you might try to make one healthier choice every day?
I look at this picture Keeps me in check!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Moist 'N' Healthy Carrot Muffins

A little while back, my mother in law gave us a couple of pouches of frozen minced carrots. She knows I love throwing veggies into just about everything, and that I'd make good use of them!

I've been a big fan of making my kids' afternoon snacks at home. Not only is it cheaper than buying snacks in-store, but it's also way healthier. I know exactly what goes into them - no preservatives, no high-fructose corn syrup, no crap!

So come this Monday's weekly food prep, carrot muffins were on the schedule. I looked online for a healthy recipe and was surprised at what I found - these "healthy" recipes were either all loaded with sugars or with tons of oil ..

So I took a chance and created a hybrid between some recipes and came up with my own .. And it worked beautifully!! The muffins are super moist and packed with flavor and nutrients.
Super moist! Look at those yummy walnuts!

Here's my recipe:

- 1 and 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 3/4 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup peach-flavored yogurt (I used Astro Balkan yogurt)
- 4 tbsp unsweetened applesauce
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 egg
- 2 and 1/2 cup of minced carrots
- 1 and 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 1/3 cup walnuts (optional)

- Preheat the oven to 350 and line a muffin pan with paper liners.

- In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, baking powder, sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Set aside.

- In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients: applesauce, yogurt, vanilla, egg, and carrots.

- Using a wooden spoon, fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until well blended.

- Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin liners (about half full). Bake for 18-20 minutes (or until a wooden toothpick inserted comes out clean).

Ta da! A quick and nutritious snack to grab on the go or for a quick breakfast (these pair beautifully with coffee!).
Quick Brekky!
I hope you enjoy these as much as Team Lego does! My kids devour these muffins! Ha ha .. Eat up those veggies, kids! ;)

Monday, February 11, 2013

My Return to School!

Tomorrow's success begins today :)
My husband's so excited - he's married to a high school chick! (Ha!)

I never thought that when I graduated ten years ago, I'd be going back to high school to take SCIENCE classes. I'd thought that once I was done, I was done! Funny how life's path twists and turns like that.

Week one of grade eleven university-level biology is behind me. It's been fun, super interesting, tiring, and stressful. I have found that I'm putting a TON of pressure on myself to finish the class fast, which was stressing me out .. Even my teacher noticed and told me it would be better to take my time and to walk instead of run - no pressure. Since then I've been really taking time to really understand the subject, and I'm enjoying what I'm learning!

Apparently I'm also a perfectionist! I want to get the very best grades I can in this class, and in all the other prerequisites I take .. The higher the grade I get, the better chance I have at beating the competition and getting accepted into my program at the university.

At first I was a little embarrassed to share what I've been learning so far, because many of my friends learned this stuff in high school over ten years ago .. But my head is up and I'm full of pride - better learned late than never at all :)

So I now know all about Darwin and his trip on the HMS Beagle and his discoveries of evolution .. It's so interesting!! Natural (and artificial) selection is absolutely fascinating! We even went over artificial selection in foods (ahem GMO's) and that triggered all sorts of excitement in me - I can't wait to get more into that stuff.
A little intro to the topic of GMO's with GMF's!
Now I'm getting into genetics and all that fun (complicated!) stuff. It's a lot to learn but I'm up to the task!

Some of my thoughts from the week:

1. School on 4.5 hours of sleep is NOT a good thing. Especially when one doesn't have a travel mug to bring coffee!
It's not Second Cup, but it's friggin coffee at school and it's friggin FREE!! :)
2. There's a very young guy in my class who looks just like the Biebs. I considered asking him for a picture.
3. I've known this for some time now, but I suffer extreme separation anxiety from my kids. Leaving to go to school is VERY hard for me, even though it's something I enjoy. I'm hoping it eases up over time ..

4. Getting into the topic of GMO's and food science makes me so excited that I wonder, do I do the dietician thing or do I get into food science research?! Time shall tell ..!
GMF's make for a fascinating and controversial topic.
5. Adult high school has fun activities like a regular high school - they do college tours, have pancake Tuesdays, have guest speakers, etc. Kind of cool :)

6. Adult high school is self-taught. There isn't one teacher, leading a class on one course - it's one teacher, there to help numerous students in several classes. I'm taking biology, but there are other students taking chemistry. We teach ourselves out of textbooks, workbooks and computers, and the teacher is there for help and guidance. And they are SO dedicated to your success, which is highly motivating!

7. Getting up at 6am sucks .. But my favorite part about my morning routine is how easy it is. I eat the breakfast I'd prepared the night before (life saver!!), grab my snacks that I'd also prepared the night before, and set out my hubby's morning coffee and breakfast (cuz I'm an awesome wife). I get about an hour to myself to read or to catch up on some tv. This is also where I get to spend some time with my other husband, coffee. When I get better accustomed to waking up so early, I plan on using this spare time for yoga!
Waking up to find notes like these = greatness.
8. My favorite part about the (looooooong) bus ride into school is the transit path through the university. It's so cool seeing the students bustling around to their classes, carrying their books and laptops and coffee .. Makes me really excited to know that I'll be a part of that crowd one day!

9. One of my favorite teachers from elementary school works as a teacher at the adult high school .. I haven't gathered up the courage to say hi yet.

Anyhow .. Methinks I've rambled on enough for one post! (Are you still awake?!).

So that was my first week back to school.

Have you ever considered going back?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

When I Grow Up, I Want To Be A ...

I wrote this post last week and meant to share it then .. My bad!!

For the majority of our lives, we have some sort of idea of what we want to be when we grow up. Even myself, who hardly thinks of the future (bad, I know!), had some kind of hope for what I wanted to do for a living.

When I was four, I wanted to be a ballerina.

When I was six, I wanted to be a teacher.

(I was a very original little girl .. Ha!)

When I was eight, I wrote my first short story (though it was long for my age - six pages!) that got lots of praise from my teacher, and I fell in love with writing.

When I was eleven, I started writing a book series and dreamed of one day moving to Los Angeles to be a famous author.

When I was in seventh grade (so .. 13?) I still wanted to write, but was told by a source that will remain nameless that there was no money in writing (translate: no career) and my dreams were crushed.

From that point on, I kind of wandered..

I thought maybe I'd like to be an actress, but, well, I kind of sucked at acting. But then I thought I could be a screenwriter .. And though that is still a HUGE dream of mine, to one day write a movie and get to watch it come to life .. I quickly gave up on that one, since I'd been told there's no money in writing

So after years of dreaming of possible careers, I shelved any ideas I had. Got a well-paying (yet not great) job, I married the man of my dreams, and we now have the two most incredible little babies. My husband's career flourished .. And mine ..

I'm 27 now and finally, I've decided what I want to be when I grow up. I fell in love with nutrition on my healthy lifestyle journey and had my sights set on being a nutritionist. After doing more research, I realized I wanted more than that - and started looking into being a dietician. I'm a little freaked out overwhelmed by the amount of school I have ahead of me (I need a minimum of six high school prerequisites before I can even apply to the university program, or twelve for another program of interest!). If only I could kick my sixteen-year-old butt right now into NOT dropping all those science classes!!
I actually had to ask what "vectors" was ...
I'm anxious to get started, nervous about the years of hard work I have ahead of me, intimidated at the thought of ME?! going to university .. And afraid that I will struggle with balancing student life, mommyhood, wifedom and work life.

But I'm keeping my head up and taking it one day at a time. I'll keep my eye on the prize (dietician! A university degree! A career I can be proud of!) and remember that I can be inspiring my children to follow their dreams too (although I fully intend to start that process waaayyyyy before they turn 27!! If at nine years old, Boy Lego wants to be a cowboy? I'll sign him up for horse riding lessons, yee-haw till the cows come home, and buy him the cowboy hat of his dreams!!).

Today's lesson: No matter how much work it'll take you, no matter what age you are? Follow your dream. Do what it'll take to make yourself happy. There will be long hours, tons of homework / papers, lack of sleep, and more studying than ever ... YOU are worth it! My dreams are WORTH it. 

So .. When you were five, what did you want to be when you grew up? :)