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Power Yoga Jam

I was never a huge fan of yoga.

I’m not great at “releasing all thoughts” or “feeling presence” and I am wildly inflexible. After taking a few classes over the years at different studios here and there, I have found yoga to be more interesting to me, especially as a runner with tight hips. Since yoga is expensive, it’s been hard for me to commit to one studio, which means that my practice is inconsistent, and often I have teachers that I’m not crazy about.

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That all changed when I took my first class at Power Yoga Canada last year. PYC practices Baptise Yoga; a style of power vinyasa yoga. Baptise Yoga, founded in the 1940, encourages yogis to discover creativity, awaken passion, create authenticity, confidence and new possibilities. It’s hot yoga so it’s extremely detoxifying for the body and with no mirrors in the studios, the focus isn’t on anyone else’s practice; just yours. This isn’t your average self-reflection class, either. I didn’t have to worry about trying to “release all thoughts” because I’m so challenged and engaged that I literally can’t think of anything else but the position I’m in and my breathing.

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Though I have taken a few different classes there, my favourite by a landslide is the Power Yoga Jam class offered on Monday nights at 8:30pm by my friend Chesley Long. I met Chesley at the Briar Hill Lululemon’s #irunbhill group and since then, he’s become one of their Ambassadors. Part drill-sergeant, part yogi, Chesley leads a class that is a killer workout and has an equally amazing playlist of fist-pumping jams that have you bouncing up and down in your Warrior one.

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Have you ever seen Center Stage? It’s one of my favourite movies from my youth and whenever I’m at Power Yoga Jam I’m reminded of that scene where all the ballet dancers go take that cool jazz class. With sometimes 50 people showing up to Power Yoga Jam, you get to know your neighbour pretty quickly and it’s easy to make friends. People are chatty, positive, supportive and the energy in the room is infectious.

If you think yoga isn’t for you, or doesn’t offer enough of a workout I urge you to try this class. It’s an amazing way to detoxify after the weekend and start your week off on the right foot.

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healthy soft blueberry oatmeal breakfast cookies

Everyone has their own breakfast cookie recipe.

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Some people use the work “healthy” in the post and when I check out the recipe I see loads of butter and sugar. What gives?

Last week, I had a staggering craving for soft, enormous oatmeal cookies. They used to have some in the cafeteria of my university and I likely ate them far too often. Who knows what was in them, either. Likely lots of butter and sugar. I went hunting around bakeries, grocery stores, coffee shops and health food stores trying to find something that would satiate my craving. Eventually, I found a “workout cookie” at the Holt Renfrew Café that sort of did the trick. It was certainly good, but what made that cookie a “workout cookie” is beyond me. Maybe I would have to go workout after eating it? I figured that the best thing to do would be to simply make my own. I could control the ingredients and size of the cookie and make sure they were nice and soft.

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After lots of searching through recipes on pinterest and doing some test batches, I’ve come up with a cookie I’m really happy with. It’s soft, it’s big and most importantly, you don’t feel like you just ate dessert after eating it. These will last about 4-5 days in an air-tight container. Alternatively, they freeze well.  I always freeze half of the batch of any baked goods I make. Otherwise, I start eating more and more to make sure they won’t go bad, which is tasty, but not helpful to eat dessert all day.

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Without further ado, here’s the recipe! Don’t let the huge list of ingredients fool you. The great thing about this recipe is that you can customize it in any way based on what you’re craving or what you have in your pantry! I actually had everything on hand, even the applesauce. My applesauce always used to go bad because I would use it for a recipe then it would linger in the back of my fridge for weeks and eventually grow mould. Now I just buy the mini lunch snack packs of unsweetened applesauce! Each one is about 1/3 of a cup so it’s ready when I need it.

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Healthy soft blueberry oatmeal breakfast cookies
[vegan, gluten-free]
makes 12 large cookies

Preheat the oven to 350F.

DRY:
– 1 1/3 cups gluten-free oats, blended
– 1 cup  gluten-free oats, whole
– 1/2 tsp baking soda
– 1/4 tsp salt
– 1/2 tsp cinnamon
– 1/4 cup of unsweetened, shredded coconut
– 2 tbsp flaxseed meal
– 1 tbsp chia seeds
– 1 heaping tbsp pepitas
– 1 heaping tbsp slivered almonds

WET:
– 2 ripe bananas, mashed
– 3 tbsp melted coconut oil
– 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
– 1/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce
– 1/4 cup pure maple syrup

1. Take 1 1/3 cup of the oats and blend them in a food processor or blender until they have a mealy texture.

2. Mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl.

3. Mix all wet ingredients in a small bowl. (Note: the melted coconut oil will likely harden when mixed with the other wet ingredients. This is normal, and doesn’t affect the recipe. Just make sure you mix well right when it’s added.)

4. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients. Stir to combine without over-mixing.

5. Fold in any frozen berries, dried fruit or chocolate chips gently until just combined.

6. Grease a baking sheet or use a non-stick mat. Spoon cookies in whatever size you want. This recipe makes 12 large cookies. I put 6 on the baking sheet at a time.

7. Bake cookies for 14-16 minutes. They should be brown on the edges and light brown on top. You want them soft inside, but not gooey. Sometimes it’s best to just crack one open and taste for yourself!

8. Cool them on a rack and bake the remaining batter as per steps 6-7. Enjoy!

A few notes on substitution:
– If you don’t like coconut, simply substitute it with a 1/4 cup more of the blended oat flour (but they’re SO good with coconut)
– If you’re using nuts, make sure they’re finely chopped. These didn’t taste as good with huge almonds, which is why I used slivered.
– If you’re using berries, they’re ideal frozen. That way, they don’t turn the batter blue/red when you’re baking.
– You could certainly stand to use less maple syrup as the banana sweetens these enough on their own. You could also use agave, if that’s your preference, but make sure to consult a sugar substitution chart beforehand.

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Juice Matters

I’ve found the most amazing cold-pressed, Canadian juice company.

I was at Whole Foods a few weeks ago for a quick salad bar lunch with my fiance, when I first tried Juice Matters.

Since I don’t have a juicer, I’m always looking to try new juices when I’m out, so I got chatting with Carla, their sales rep, and tried a few juices. They were fabulous and the packaging was beautiful. My favourite that I tried was unfortunately out of stock at Whole Foods so Carla promised to get in touch. This new company was kind enough to give me three different juices, including my favourite that had been out of stock, to review here on the blog!

Juice Matters cold presses their juices in order to maintain as much of the nutrition pressed from the fruits and veggies as possible. This unpasteurized  juice also focuses on using organic ingredients. Though not 100% organic (yet!), their goal is to work toward developing relationships with organic suppliers so they can provide from farm to the bottle juice. Luckily, they are committed to providing organic content to the ingredients which are on the Environmental Working Group (EWG) “Dirty Dozen” list.

From morning, to post-work out to evening pick me up, the line up of juices on offer from this Canadian company is extensive. Also with names like “Holla 4 Colla” and “WGTF?! Watermelon!” what’s not to love? Here’s a sample of what a typical day of enjoying Juice Matters looks like.

Breakfast Chia 

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Breakfast Chia makes the perfect on-the-go breakfast. Packed with antioxidants, fiber and protein from the chia seeds, this smoothie certainly didn’t leave me hungry. The little chia seeds also expand, as they do when soaked in liquid, and reminded me of little mini tapioca bits like you would find in bubble tea. Strawberry banana is a classic combination, and the addition of the cold-pressed orange juice is extremely tasty.

King Kale 

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Naturally, kale. We all know the health benefits of kale by now, so having this juice after a workout to refuel was a no-brainer. A whole head (!) of kale gets cold-pressed for this little bottle and with the juiced dandelion greens, bok choy and more provides three shots of dark leafy greens containing significant anti-inflammatory properties, which is ideal for muscle recovery. I loved this smooth juice! The addition of apple adds just the right amount of sweetness to the tangy greens and a little spice with the ginger.

Jalle Berry

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Clearly this is the juice that caught my eye in the store. Jalapeño-raspberry. Jalle Berry? It’s hilarious. It’s also super tasty. This juice was reminiscent of some juices that have cayenne, but Jalle Berry is even better with the added flavour of the jalapeño. Raspberries are anti-inflammatory and raspberry ketones have received significant publicity regarding their use as a fat-burning aid. The capsaicin in the peppers increases metabolic rate. What’s not to love? Though this juice would be perfect to prevent a mid-afternoon crash, I clearly used it to make a cocktail. Because, of course.

Jalle Berry Martini
(Served in my bee glasses because I love them)

8oz Jalle Berry
1oz vodka
3 dashes of Angostora bitters
3 raspberries

Garnish:
1 pickled jalapeño
1 raspberry

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This was so good. Spicy, slightly sweet and tasted fabulous alongside the charcuterie plate before dinner. I loved this juice and I would buy it again without a doubt. I also noticed that Juice Matters makes Canadian Caeser! As someone with a shellfish allergy, I can’t have Clamato juice so Caesars have been off-limits for me. V8 is fine, but with all the added sodium and other nasty stuff, it doesn’t really seem worth it. I can’t wait to get my hands on a bottle of Canadian Caesar and make my very own “Caeser!”

Go out and give Juice Matters a try. Depending on the retailer, each bottle is around $8, which is extremely reasonable for 473ml of cold-pressed juice. Click here to find a Juice Matters retailer near you!

Also, if you’re the type who is interested in  juice cleanse, they have worked with Jenn Pike, author of The Simplicity Project to create a 2 Day (Refresh), 5 Day (Restore) and 7 Day (Revitalize) cleanse. For more information, contact Jenn here.

Thank you so much to Carla and the Juice Matters team for giving me these delicious juices!

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Surfset Toronto

Not only did we not have a white Christmas, but it was 9 degrees and rainy on Christmas eve. Now though? Well, now it’s the worst part of winter, folks. Cold, dry (so dry) and dark. I actually wouldn’t even mind the occasional bit of snow!

I’ve come to terms with running outside in the winter after work or on weekends, but going to the gym in the early morning pitch black is just miserable. Hence why I was so thrilled to find Surfset Toronto.

IMG_9708Surfset fitness might not be new to some of you, but it was certainly new to me. I heard about the new studio from my girls at the Briar Hill Lululemon as it’s practically across the street. A cool new fitness studio uptown? Believe me – this never happens. This past weekend, they offered free classes all weekend as part of an open house and I brought my friend Steph  to check it out.

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Don’t surf? Hey – me neither! Though I was a bit nervous in advance, this was SUCH a fun work out. It was challenging, interesting and the time flew by.

Surfset is about challenging your body in new ways. Sure you’re doing a squat, but you’re doing it while  balancing on a surf board that’s sitting atop three stability balls. The most you can tip is about 45 degrees either way  and yes, I fell off once but it was slow, comical and with about a foot to fall I was just fine.

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Exercises are designed to engage your core and stabilizer muscles and shock the system to offer new benefits to your body. This is especially helpful for those of us whose bodies have become used to our current workouts and need a shake-up. These multi-planar movements engage the body and mind in challenging and unique ways.

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The studio offers yoga and three different types of Surfset classes: Build, Blend and Balance. I tried the Balance class, which they recommend for beginners. Even for a beginner class I felt challenged and engaged the whole time. The great thing as well is there are only 12 boards per class available, so it’s an intimate, supportive atmosphere with great teacher support.

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It was also really interesting to discover weaknesses I didn’t know I had. For example, I could do Tree pose on my left leg with focus, poise and balance but on my right? I was working my ass off to even just lift my right foot off the board. Also, you think you know ab work? Try doing ab work while your core is already engaged. Holy. It was awesome.

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So awesome, in fact, that I’m taking their Surfset challenge and buying a one month unlimited pass for $70. With an individual class at $22 each, the pass is totally worth it. Also, Surfset is one of those smart, smart studios that offers 7am classes. For someone who starts work at 9am, 6am or 6:30am classes are just too early for me to make sense and, most of the time, require at least half an hour of commute time first. I can’t wait to tell you more about these classes once my month is over!

Seriously Delish: A Cookbook Review

Hi there.

Do you like to eat whole foods? How about whole grain? Kale? Vegan and clean? Well, friends – this post isn’t for you.

banana bread, brie and chocolate grilled cheese, via howsweeteats.com

Yeah… this isn’t your average cookbook.

I’ve been a fan of How Sweet It Is for a while now, and I first raved about it about a year ago. Yes, blogger Jessica Marchand has had her thing going for far longer than that, and recently, she’s just come out with her first cookbook, Seriously Delish.

One of the things that I love about Jessica’s recipes, and why I keep her on my blog roll, is that she’s incredibly creative. (Hello – banana bread, brie and chocolate grilled cheese?!) Sure, she’ll have her take on the old standbys, and yes, you’ll see lots of tacos (she’s got a thing for tacos), but they’re not your average taco. What about Brussels sprouts tacos with caramelized shallot salsa? Or, in contention for the longest name of a recipe ever: beer battered fish tacos with margarita mango salsa and jalapeño crema.

One of the first things I made from her website was a cake. I bake a birthday cake for my friend’s birthday every year, and one year, I decided to make her something that caught my eye on Jessica’s blog: a gin and tonic cake. This cake certainly didn’t come together quickly. Lots of steps that required “wait for it to cool before…” and like, WHO can wait for a cake to cool? a) I’m too impatient and b) I am usually making it at the last minute. But let me tell you, this cake was a total hit at the party.

So, when buying the cookbook, I knew to expect heavy, creative dishes that were developed to share with friends. I wasn’t disappointed. Then, I’ve finished my initial page-through and I get to the end and there’s literally a chapter on heavy dishes that are meant for special occasions! I thought the rest of the cookbook was bad… talk about a “treat yo self” moment.

On my “to make” list  currently is:
– Mini parmesan-herb biscuit puffs
– Mushroom, leek and brussels pizza with fried eggs
– Green chili, turkey and white bean enchiladas
– Pistachio cream cake with chocolate ganache

… just to name a few.

Over the holidays, I made her prosecco-cider spiced punch which was a HUGE hit. Here’s the recipe:

1 bottle prosecco (as long as you don’t use Baby Duck you’ll be fine)
2 cups apple cider
2 oranges, sliced
4 cinnamon sticks
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (my addition)
Apple slices for serving

Jess’ instructions were: “Add all of the ingredients to a large bowl or pitcher and stir. Refrigerate the punch until it’s cold, at least 30 minutes.”

When I went to my friend’s place I left the cookbook at home and just brought the ingredients. For the life of me I couldn’t remember if this punch was supposed to be served hot or cold. Prosecco = cold, but cider? Cider in the winter needs to be hot. So, I went with a hot punch that sat in the slow cooker throughout the evening. It was delicious.  I feel like the flavours really had a chance to combine and the cinnamon sticks to do their thing in a slowcooker like they wouldn’t have just sitting in the fridge. Regardless, this was tasty!

Now if healthy recipes are more your thing, be sure to check out my review of the amazing Oh She Glows cookbook. But before this post ends, I’m just going to leave this here… sweet and spicy homemade snack mix with bacon fat popcorn.

5 Peaks Trail Running Series

I’ve been running since the spring of 2013, but it was only last year that I tried trail running.

A friend I met on Twitter, Jessica Kuepfer, was an ambassador for a race series called 5 Peaks and couldn’t say enough good things about it. There were six races, one per month from April to September. Another Twitter friend, Robyn Baldwin, gleefully told me she’d bought a season’s pass. I can never resist trying new things, especially when friends are raving, so I checked out the website.

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5 Peaks offers two distances, the sport distance, which is between 5K and 7K depending on the trail, and the enduro distance, which is between 12K and 14K. I decided to try just the April race at the sport distance to see how I liked it.

Is it any surprise to learn that I did 4 of the next 5 races?

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Running on the road is one thing. It’s easy to fit into your day and road races are much more common in the city than trail races. But running on trails is a different challenge all together. First off, it’s beautiful. The longest I drove to a race was about an hour from Toronto and, in some cases, I was running along cliffs and climbing the escarpment (Rattlesnake Point). Other times running along the side of a lake (Heart Lake) and even running through deep water in a marsh (water feature at Kortright Centre!).

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The varying terrain makes the time fly and it’s such a welcome change from running in the city. No headphones are allowed on the course, which I know for some of you can be scary (I’ll be running… without music?!), but in reality it’s an amazing experience to run to the soundtrack of the wind in the trees, the birds, and the footsteps of other runners.

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I also got the big surprise of placing in my AC, sport distance, for each race I did (the medals are gorgeous and made out of clay!). It wasn’t the podium that kept me coming back, however, but rather the community. 5 Peaks is extremely welcoming to new trail runners; I never felt like I should be embarrassed that I was new to the sport. They also put a real focus on family. People come with their kids not just to watch, but to race as well! There’s a Children’s Challenge which runs between 500m – 1K (which is actually really far for a toddler to run and, believe me, I’ve seen it) and a 3K timed event for older kids.

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Another big bonus is the amazing SWAG that 5 Peaks provides. In each race kit there’s Kicking Horse Coffee (yes please), CLIF Bars, a piece of 5 Peaks swag (e.g. BUFF Canada made a 5 Peaks buff for the first race) and tons of other goodies. After the races there is freshly brewed Kicking Horse Coffee, oodles of nut butter, bagels, bananas, apples, cookies, chips, pretzels and more CLIF Bars. Basically, the best post-race food I’ve ever had. While you’re noshing, the awards are given out. In between the awards, there are games and friendly competition (plank-off, anyone?) and winners are allowed to grab something from the EPIC prize table that features swanky prizes from many more 5 Peaks sponsors.

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I’m thrilled that this year I’ve been asked to be a 5 Peaks Ambassador for the Ontario race series. I’ll be at each race over the course of the summer and in between, hooking up with some local run groups and leading some trail runs in Toronto.

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Bonus? I’ve got a discount code for you to use if you want to sign up for a 5 Peaks race! Simply enter ALLEGRA at checkout and you’ll get a 10% discount. Click here to see the races available in your area.

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Books read in 2014

Happy, happy new year everyone.

Every year I try to read 50 books. The past two years, I was successful. This year, sadly, I fell just short at 48. The last month of the year was a real struggle for me in many ways, so unfortunately reading took a backseat.

I want to share the highlights per month to give you an idea of what my favourite books of 2014 were. You can see the full list here.

January: Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

I originally saw the film, Picnic at Hanging Rock, back in the 90s with my mum and it remains this day to be one of the most terrifying films I’ve ever seen. The book is just as good. Set in Australia in 1900, a girls’ school goes on a day trip to Hanging Rock. Four students and one teacher disappear without a trace. Read the book, then see the movie. The soundtrack is one of the most haunting things about the movie for me so it’s definitely a must-see.

February: Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Another classic that I had yet to read by Atwood. This was so different than her dystopic books I’ve been reading as of late and what a treat it was. The book is based on the real-life murders of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery, in 1843 in Upper Canada. Two housekeepers, one being Grace, the protagonist, are convicted of the crime. Beautifully crafted, I read this novel while on vacation in Cuba (best resort ever, Melia Cayo Coco) and it was the perfect book to keep you turning pages. Reflecting on it now, the story is shockingly similar to Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, which I also read this year. Canada or Iceland; murdering one’s employer is certainly an age-old story. (Both novels are based on real events.)

March: Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese

Apparently, this was the only book I read in March… no wonder I didn’t make it to 50! Regardless, I loved this book. I’ve been a huge fan of Richard Wagamese since I read Indian Horse for Canada Reads. Wagamese tells the story of a dying, alcoholic father and his son, whom he failed to raise. It’s about forgiveness, perseverance and the will of a dying man to be buried in the Ojibway tradition. This is a contemplative read, which is perhaps why it took me so long to read. It’s worth the time, however – Wagamese’s poetic language, and descriptions of the mountains, deserve your time.

April: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

(This was hard because I also read The Light Between Oceans in April and absolutely loved it.) This epic read, however, is what I really missed last year. There were lots of books I read in 2013 and I found myself thinking at the end of the book that i wish it had been longer. Sometimes I felt like authors were just getting into their stories by the time they finished their novel. Not so in The Goldfinch. This book starts with a 9/11 reference as there is a terrorist attack at a museum that kills our protagonist’s mother. 13-year old Theo, confused and desperately sorrowful, steals a painting, The Goldfinch, on his way out of the disaster site. The sweeping epic that follows is an unapologetically gritty, wild and at times depressing story of Theo’s life. and the painting that haunts him at every turn.

Similar to The Year of the Flood (Atwood), I thought that Tartt wrote a beautiful relationship between two same-sex friends that was really the highlight of the book for me. Boris, Theo’s wild, alcoholic best friend is a character that will stand the test of time. How I felt reading The Goldfinch and its characters was how I imagine people felt while reading The Great Gatsby when it was first published in 1925. Brash, modern and unapologetic. (Also, best cover ever, am I right?)

May: The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill

What can I say? I love Heather O’Neill’s writing, so this shouldn’t be a surprise. It was for me, however, because it’s always nerve-wracking reading the second book by an author you love. What if they were only good for the one book? I should have known that this wouldn’t be the case with Heather. This book follows the life of twins Noushka and Nicolas; children of famed Quebecois singer TREMBLAY. The writing is exquisite, dark and original. Read this book. (PS – I also read All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews and, though I liked it a lot, The Girl Who Was Saturday Night should have won the Giller.)

June: Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

I’ve already recommended this book to you before so I’ll direct you to this page if you want to read about it. I will say again here, however, that this book is an inspiring ride and will certainly make you get up off the couch in these early weeks of January. Resolutions? Read this book.

July: Lord of the Flies by William Golding

How had I not read this book before? I think it was likely something we were supposed to read in school that I just never got around to. You know the story – even I knew the story before reading it. I thought that there was no way I could be haunted by tis book as I didn’t have the element of surprise going in, but wow does it ever stand the test of time.

I wasn’t expecting it to start without any explanation. Who were these children? How did they get to this island? Then as their “society” breaks down in such predictable, human ways, it got chilling to read. At the end, when the crowd mentality takes over and this turn lethal, it’s at the same time horrifying, yet you can see how it’s happened. The scariest part of the book for me was at the end when the children are rescued and they all immediately revert back to their former selves before the island. If you missed it in high school, heck – even if you read it, this is definitely worth a read as an adult.

August: Sweetland by Michael Crummey

I’ve gone on about this book before as well, over here, where I was lucky enough to interview Michael Crummey in person. This is the book that set me on a “read-all-of-the-Crummey” path and then a “I-want-to-learn-all-about-Newfoundland” path. Go check out my interview and learn more about this fabulous book.

September: River Thieves by Michael Crummey

Looking at this list of my favourite books by month, this might take the cake as the best book I read this year. It’s got all the things for me. Canada? Check. An author I love? Check. My favourite time period in Canadian history? Check.

I have always been fascinated about the clash between the First Nations and settlers from the West, in this case the Beothuk. Also, since reading Sisters in the Wilderness, by Charlotte Gray, the fact that people came to Canada knowing nothing about the conditions of the weather, the land and the lack of communication that resulted from the distances between most settlements and the quality of the roads between them… well, to me that is unimaginable and how the settlers rose to the challenge is a extraordinary act of grit, determination and bravery.

Having said that, this book tells the horrific story of how the Beothuk were viewed and treated by the settlers and how their people were all killed by “the white man” or by disease that their immune systems were unfit to protect themselves against.

Crummey’s writing shines as he paints stark, beautiful pictures of the landscape for the reader and tells a heart-breaking story about how the settlers treated the true first peoples of Canada.

October: The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston

Again, this seems to be the only book I read in October, but regardless, I would have picked it as a stand-out anyway.

A sweeping epic that tells the story of Joey Smallwood, Newfoundland’s first Prime Minister. It’s a fascinating read as it blends fact and fiction brilliantly. There’s even a time in the book where Joey describes a photo that he doesn’t like of himself that I found online. It was also an interesting exercise reading a book whose main character I didn’t like and still like the book.

One thing I wasn’t crazy about, however, was that Johnston completely invented a character that had a huge role in the story who didn’t exist in real life. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by Charlotte Gray, who doesn’t write a word in quotations unless she has proof it was said, but I thought Shelia’s presence was unnecessary. It’s one thing to write historical fiction, but when so much of the book, like the photo, is based on fact, it’s a real shock when one of the main characters is entirely false. In any case, it’s a wonderful read and I highly recommend it.

November: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

When I read Lullaby for Little Criminals and loved it so much, people all recommended this book to me and for some reason, I just never got around to reading it. I am so glad I did.

This memoir tells the story of Walls’ upbringing by her nomadic, drifter parents who seem happy to just survive. Walls and her three siblings traipse around the states with their parents who occasionally have jobs, but often do not. Some of the scenes are actually painful to read. How could a parent treat their child this way? How could a mother be so selfish? How must these kids have felt growing up without proper beds, let alone heating (ever) or reliable income for food. It’s one thing to read fiction with a story like this, but when it’s a memoir, it’s hard to shake the story.

December: Essex County by Jeff Lemire

At the beginning of this post, I apologized to myself for not getting to 50 books because I had such an awful December. Looking back at my Goodreads, it turns out I actually read seven books in December. […] No wonder it was such a stressful month. Clearly those few months with one book read only were my downfall. Anyway.

I had been meaning to read this book forever as it’s on the original list that started this blog, the Canada Reads top 40 of the 10th anniversary list. I’m no graphic novel fan, so I must admit I wasn’t keen to get my hands on a copy. I was stunned when I read the whole thing (560 pages) in one sitting (graphic novel, I know) and cried half-way through. Maybe it’s because I’m inexperienced with the graphic novel form, but I was taken aback at the ingenuity, beauty, and creativity at which Lemire drew his panels and showcased the medium to tell these interconnected stories. GO READ THIS BOOK. It will take a few hours, and I guarantee that you won’t regret it.

So, that was 2014. Looking back, I’m thrilled I read so many books that take place in Newfoundland as I’ll be going there for the East Coast Music Awards in the spring! I have never been and I can’t wait. The idea that I will be able to be in a place that has such history for Canada is more exciting than it probably should be.

Happy new year, and here’s to reading more in 2015! (I’m already on my third book… hopefully that’s a good sign!)

Bread baking

My friend Emma and I always recommend shows to each other. From Downton Abbey to Top Chef, we tend to have each other’s numbers. When she recommended the Great British Bake Off to me, I was skeptical. A show that’s just about baking? I’m the one that’s always bored to tears in the Top Chef episode where they have to make dessert.

Once I tried the show (on a Winnipeg > Toronto flight where I had forgotten my book), I was hooked. It’s got that classy BBC vibe that makes you realize how ridiculous the music on a show like even Top Chef can be. The hosts are charming, the recipes are interesting and challenging and well, the accents.

The highlight of the three seasons I’ve watched in the past month (…) is always bread week. Ciabattas, twisted olive fougasse, bagels, flatbreads and more. Everything those bakers make looks damn delicious.

Bread baking has always eluded me. It’s too yeasty. Or it doesn’t rise at all. Or, worst, it’s raw in the centre. I can never get a good crust, and really all this adds up to no one wanting to eat it and it’s a waste of like, an afternoon because it takes SO long to make.

Montreal-style bagels

Since watching the GBBO, I decided it was time to try again. One Saturday morning, on a complete whim, I thought I would start with Montreal-style bagels (laugh now, it’s fine). I had to be out of the door at 11:30am and at 8:30am I was ditching my yeast and water dissolving in my stand mixer as I ran to the Shoppers Drug Mart near our house to try and find bread flour (again, take a moment). The 24-hour Shoppers, as monsterous as it is, of course did not have bread flour. Though surprisingly, neither did Pusateri’s (an extremely overpriced North Toronto grocery store). I literally ran back to my apartment, resigned to using regular flour, while I hoped my yeast hadn’t sat for too long.

stviateurbagelsTo make a long story short, I didn’t use the right flour, I didn’t let the dough rise for long enough, then for it’s second rise, once they were formed as bagels, I let them rise for TOO long and they formed a sad, hard crust almost everywhere. Alas, I still boiled, then baked them and they tasted… okay. Not great, that’s for sure. But good enough for me not to give up and want to try again. With more time. Because what that attempt taught me is that the real key to bread baking, as simple as it sounds: the right ingredients and patience.

Pretzel Rolls

My next attempt was pretzel rolls from this to die for recipe I obviously found on Pinterest: warm skillet pretzel rolls with queso dip. This time, I had the whole day to make them and wasn’t going to rush! I mixed the dough, kneaded it, left it for a first rise, rolled the dough into small balls, left it for a second rise, then came the boiling.

Photo from Girl Versus Dough

Photo from Girl Versus Dough

 

You bring a pot of water to a boil and then add 1/4 cup of baking soda. Remember that baking soda experiment from childhood where you add vinegar to baking soda and it explodes everywhere? This was reminiscent as the boil gets more furious. You boil 3 buns at a time for 30 seconds on each side, then drain. Once the buns dried a bit, I brushed them in an egg wash, then sprinkled them in coarse sea salt. Then they baked in the skillet (of course) and came out looking, well, like pretzel buns.  As silly as that sounds, I’m always blown away when I’m baking something I’m unfamiliar with and it turns out looking exactly perfect. Just goes to show that if you follow instructions, you’ll be just fine. These buns were tangy on the outside (the baking soda boil, I realized), salty, and light and doughy on the inside. I would certainly make them again. (Though not the queso dip – that was underwhelming and not spicy enough.)

Focaccia

 I had never made focaccia before, but I was itching to try some. At my house, we love dipping rosemary focaccia in a bowl of goat cheese covered in really good olive oil, oregano and surrounded by olives. I wanted to make this for a dinner party I had, so I found this recipe on Williams Sonoma (of all places).  I know you shouldn’t play around with a recipe the first time you make it, but I figured that since it was only the topping it would be fine. I swapped out the olives and onion (would get soggy overnight) for fresh rosemary and coarse sea salt.

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This recipe was easy and the result was perfect and HUGE. I gave half of the loaf (I would make two smaller rounds next time) to my dad and he forgot to mention to my mum that I’d baked it. She called me right away to tell me how delicious it was – she had been convinced it was store bought and, apparently, the best she’d ever had.

Over the holidays I plan on starting a new tradition of making special bread on New Year’s that I don’t make any other time of the year. Hello, meat and cheese stuffed bread > casatiello.

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Elizabeth White’s SickKids Experience

As you may know, I’m running the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon this Sunday in support of the SickKids Foundation. I wanted to share with you a story about my friend Elizabeth, who has a very personal connection with the Hospital for Sick Children.

Elizabeth White was diagnosed with a congenital heart condition when she was a baby.

Elizabeth (left) with her sister

Elizabeth (left) with her sister

When she was 10 months old, she flew to SickKids hospital from Calgary for her first of what was to be many surgeries. When she was 5 years old, she had her first open heart surgery at SickKids.

Her congenital heart condition (pulmonary artesia tetralogy fallot, to be specific) is not genetic. At this point, doctors still don’t know what causes this condition. Here’s what SickKids has to say about Elizabeth’s condition:

“Congenital heart defects occur in about one out of every 100 babies born each year and more than 10 per cent of defects involve the pulmonary valve. The pulmonary valve prevents blood from leaking back into the right-sided pumping chamber. When defective, the pulmonary valve can obstruct flow to the lungs, cause breathing problems and fatigue, and can lead to heart failure. Children with congenital heart defects often have to undergo multiple open-heart surgeries, prolonged hospital stays and long recovery periods.”

In 2006, Elizabeth’s doctors at SickKids gave her the opportunity to be one of the first six people in Canada to undergo an innovative cardiac procedure. This procedure would use a catheter technique to replace a pulmonary valve, thus eliminating the need for children like Elizabeth to have multiple open heart surgeries.

The minimally invasive procedure, performed in the Cardiac Catheterization Lab, can take as little as 90 minutes and means that the patient can go home the next day, rather than experience the lengthy recovery of open heart surgery.

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I chatted with Elizabeth, a friend from choir, about why SickKids needs our support.

“I basically grew up with the doctors and nurses at SickKids,” she said. “It was usually the same people working with me, from someone putting on my holter monitor to someone doing my ECG. There were always familiar faces who knew me and always took the time to answer my questions.”

People sometimes feel that the SickKids Foundation is a charity that gets a lot of support already, so I asked Elizabeth why it’s important for us to continue to give it support. “It’s the top children’s hospital in the world, but they still don’t have all the answers. For example, though the treatment of my condition is getting better and less-invasive, they still don’t know what causes it, because it’s not genetic.” Elizabeth stressed that SickKids had the facilities to do tests and catch things before they became an emergency.

Elizabeth is now 23 and graduated from York with a degree in music; voice, to be specific. Singing can be strenuous on the body, and it’s thanks to the team at SickKids that she is as healthy as she is today.

On Sunday, I’m running the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon for the SickKids Foundation. I’m close to reaching my goal of $500, but I still need help! Please consider donating even $10. It will make a difference to someone like Elizabeth. Thank you so much.

CLICK HERE TO DONATE 

Fundraiser update: SickKids Foundation at #STWM 2014

This October, I’m running the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon. To make this less about just a run, I decided to participate in the Scotiabank Charity Challenge. I chose to run to support the SickKids Foundation.

I originally blogged about that here.

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For my first offline engagement, I organized a yoga in the park session taught by my friend Chesley Long from Lumberjack Yoga. We had an amazing session of deep flow warm-up and cool-down with a focus on handstands and headstands in the middle. Below you’ll see Chesley helping my friend Laura complete her first handstand. Even my mother did one! It was a really positive, encouraging space.

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With the donations from those who attended and those who couldn’t, but wanted to donate regardless, we surpassed my session-specific goal of $100! I’m now only $155 away from my goal of $500. I would love to surpass this goal, and have a few more activities planned leading up to the race on October 19th. Thanks to all who came out for yoga in the park. It was a perfect fall day and we finished the session with some tasty apple cider.

To donate, please click here.

Who are you helping when you donate? Sometimes we forget to engage with the personal stories about where your money goes. Coming up soon on the blog is a feature on a good friend of mine who has an extremely personal relationship with SickKids.