Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Green Smoothies 101

When I first started making green smoothies a couple years ago, I didn't follow recipes so much as just keeping it simple and mixing some stuff up. I still do that now, though I'm conservative with the fruit and I try to vary the type of greens as much as possible.

Here are some general tips that 'eased' me into drinking green smoothies again:

1) The 'sweetest' green seems to be spinach. That's what I started with. I use two big handfuls of greens in every smoothie. Kale is also great. Dandelion greens are so good for you, but an acquired taste ;-). Plus, I add whatever 'greens' happen to be around - this weekend I bought radishes, so the radish greens are going into my smoothies (last week, it was the beet greens - don't throw away those carrot tops!).

2) I put half a banana and half of another kind of fruit into all my smoothies (usually apples, but sometimes, pears, mangos, ect.). This sweetens them up a bit. If your smoothies still are not sweet enough, add a teaspoon of agave.

3) 'Vega' powder makes everything taste better (I don't use much - just half a scoop). The Vanilla Chai is my favourite and it's sweetened with Stevia. I've sinced moved on to a more bland, pure form of powder (Canadian made, it's called 'Veganique' and has less additive and fillers), but when I first started drinking these things, my 'sweet sense' was dulled by so much refined sugar, so the Vega really livened things up for me.

4) Add some flax oil - a teaspoon will do. This adds some healthy fat to the smoothie, which helps your body feel satisfied (so you won't get hungry 10 minutes later). I also eat a handful of nuts with my smoothies. Not a lot - about 30g of cashews satifies my need to crunch and chew on something and also keeps me from getting hungry again later.

5) I add one brazil nut to my smoothies because they're the best source on the planet for selenium and nearly everyone is deficient in it.

If I was going to sum this up into a recipe, it would look like this:

- two handfuls of greens
- 1 or 2 tsp of flax oil
- 1/2 scoop of vegan wholefoods/protein powder
-1/2 banana
-1/2 apple
- 1 brazil nut
-1 cup of water (increase or decrease depending on how thick you like your smoothies)

To mix: Put everything in the blender. If you have a variable speed Vitamix, start with variable setting 1 and gradually move it up to 10. If the items on top don't want to mix in, use your tamper to get everything going. Run variable 10 for 30 seconds, then switch to high for another 30. Let the mixture sit for a minute or two, then pour. Enjoy!

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012


On a day when I'm feeling a bit blue, just a tiny bit alone, nothing says 'You are beloved!' like discovering my small, gray dog snuggled up to the sweater that I so casually tossed on the bed just minutes before.

Princess Fur, you are my BEST friend!!! I love you.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Spreadable Toes

I have a unique madskill, one that set me apart years ago when I was in yoga teacher training: I have really spready toes. As one of the few non-former-dancers in my YTT class, I was inflexible, weak and completely outside of my comfort zone much of the time, but when it came to spreading my toes, I was the Rock Star! (it was such a relief to be good at something!!)

So I suppose it's a bit silly that I have such an avid interest in toe spreaders, given that I really don't *need* them. Why do I like toe spreaders? Because my feet like toe spreaders! They just feel good to me. I know that for people who don't have spready toes, toe spreaders can feel excruciating, but for me, it's like a light workout for my feet.

Of course, the leader of the pack in the toe-spreader world is YogaToes. I've seen them advertised in yoga magazines, but I can't seem to find them up here in Canuckistan. So I've never tried them.

A few years ago, I ran across a product called HealthyToes at the annual yoga conference and picked them up at a discount (I think they were normally $30). They are a light green colour, came in a mesh bag and they're HUGE. These are my toe spreaders of choice for lounging in the bathtub. Even my excessively spready toes are 'challenged' by the HealthyToes. The only downside is you really can't wear them 'around' because they're so chunky. And they're hard to slide over your toes without getting them wet first.

A friend recommended Joy-a-toes, so I picked some up. The only size available was 'small'. In terms of mobility, they're great - you can walk around in them, you can even do yoga in them (I have and they definitely provide a different experience of the feet - I liked it). But my excessively spready toes were unimpressed - I would have done better with a large. I understand they're now available in that size, but I'm not planning to pony up another $35. The Joy-a-toes are now my toe spreaders of choice for painting my toenails...lol!

Recently, a company offered a sample of a product called TheraPed. I get these emails all the time here at the blog. Most of the products aren't interesting to me, so I push the delete button. But this one gave me a pause...hm, toe spreaders! I asked them to send some along. These toes spreaders normally retail for $20 per set (or you can buy just one for $10).

The TheraPeds look like funky toe spreader footwear (there's a strap that goes around the ankle), but you can't walk around in them because they contain gel pack that can either be heated or cooled (presumably, walking around would pop the gel packs).

From a strictly 'toe spreader' perspective, my feet were not terribly impressed - these toe spreaders are very moderate in size. For someone who isn't used to spreading her toes (and I say 'her' because these are most definitely made for the 'ladies'), they might feel fine.

Of course, there's the thermal feature. Cooling the TheraPeds was a no-brainer - I threw them in the freezer for a couple hours. And yes, they were COLD. Yowza! In the middle of winter, this isn't fun, but if you have tired feet or your feet are hot, I guess this would definitely cool them down!

I was more interested in the possibility of *heating* the TheraPeds, but I encountered an obstacle: heating requires a microwave oven and I haven't owned one in years.

Nothing, and I mean *nothing* says 'I have the Crazy!!!' like knocking on your neighbour's door at three in the afternoon and asking if you can zap your toe spreaders in her microwave. It only took about 10 seconds and the toe spreaders were indeed very warm. I really liked this feature, since my feet are *always* cold. They cooled fast though. You can reheat them, but without access to a microwave, this wasn't practical for me (I didn't want my neighbour to ask for a restraining order).

So I guess the jury is still out, though I've certainly played the field! I feel a bit like Goldilocks - these are too small, these are too big...

Have you ever used toe spreaders? Have you practised yoga in them? (I'm looking at you, active-feet-Forrest-yoga-people!). Have toe spreaders helped heal your feet or prevented bunions? Am I the only Crazypants out there who is obsessed with spreading her toes? ;-)

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

No more glue in my intestines

The past few months have seen a dramatic shift in my life. If I were assign blame, I would have to place it squarely on my Vitamix blender and all of those green smoothies I've been drinking. The green smoothies tipped the dominos in a series of health choices that have rocked my world.

Thrilled with my new Vitamix, I started making green smoothies every morning for breakfast. I tried a few different greens, but kale is by far my favourite. I have a standard mixture. I add fruit (usually half and apple and half a banana), some Vega protein powder (more recently, Veganique, which has less fillers like guar gum and no stevia, which I hate) and a brazil nut for the selenium. These smoothies are far more satisfying than any oatmeal or cereal ever was.

Something weird was happening. About three weeks in, I noticed that I wasn't craving sugar anymore. Don't misunderstand, I *love* sweet things, but all of a sudden the sweets didn't feel like something I *had* to have.

No, not even chocolate!

In fact, I bought a bunch of cheap chocolate on sale after Christmas and that bag is still languishing in my freezer. Occasionally, I'll grab a handful of chocolates for the kids in my youth classes, but even as I'm carrying the chocolate around town with me, I'm not compelled to eat it. The other day, a coworker offered me a small bar of dark chocolate and I simply said 'No thank you' - not because I don't love dark chocolate, but I didn't feel like eating it at the moment.

I've always been a big lover of bread, but I've noticed that my craving for carbohydrates has also taken a dive. I even stopped buying muffins at the cafe downstairs from the shala. I can't explain it - they just started to feel too 'heavy.'

Capitalizing on this, I decided to do a little experiment. I cut most wheat and refined sugar from my diet for a month (as a vegan, I already avoid dairy). I reserved Saturdays as a 'cheat-day' so I could eat my greatly beloved chocolate cookies from the market.

To keep my energy up, I replaced my usual sugary-wheaty snacks (read: baked goods) with nuts. I've gone completely nuts over nuts! I eat a handful of cashews in the morning and I nibble on a bag of gourmet trail mix throughout the rest of the day - the mix includes an equal amount of nuts and dried fruit.

The results of these simple changes have been amazing.

For years, I've had a fungal skin condition that looks like mild acne but spreads over my skin like the plague. I also typically get excema during the winter months. But now, my skin is clear of all eruptions and rashes and it's soft and silky smooth. A friend who hadn't seen me in a month said with surprise "You're glowing!"

My hair (which I'm growing out right now, so it's a rat's nest), is thick and shiny. My nails and cuticles are healthy. And here's an odd behavioural shift: I have this bad habit of picking at my fingers when I'm nervous or upset. This habit dimished somewhat when I cut caffeine, but cutting out sugar and wheat has eliminated it completely.

The biggest result was a complete surprise: weight loss. I wasn't even *trying* to lose weight, I just wanted to clean up my diet. Then, a couple weeks ago, I noticed that all of my clothes were suddenly fitting better and were even getting a little roomy. Curious, I stepped on the scales for the first time since last year and my jaw literally dropped. I'm lighter than I've been in about three years. AND I WASN'T EVEN TRYING!!! It was effortless!

And to add some more awesome to the awesome, I've saved a tonne of money over the past month because I'm not longer buying snacks and junk food when I'm around and about in the city. I bring trail mix with me instead. I plan my meals, which trims my grocery bills.

I've now becoming one of those crazy people who sings the praises of what seems like an impossibly restrictive diet. Except it's not that restrictive or difficult, once you start doing it (my friend Cabbage is nodding her head knowingly). After awhile, it feels completely intuitive to eat this way. You're body craves the right stuff.

I know this might sound crazy, but once you start doing it, the idea of putting wheat and sugar in your body actually becomes repugnant. A friend on Facebook put it this way: "That pizza looks really good but I look at it and think, 'That's gonna be some glue in my intestines.' "

I totally get it.

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Miracles happen

The first week of February was the week I learned that waiting for bad news can become a form of meditation. When I finally received the message that my fate had been decided, I actually ate lunch and took a 20 minute nap before calmly returning the dreaded phone call to find out what was up. I had turned detachment into a kind of art form.

Next, I learned that processing very *good* news can be just as hard as adjusting to the prospect of bad. Truly, the outcome in this case is almost a miracle. I was numb for days, barely able to believe it until I held the piece of paper in my hands. And then I still couldn't put the pieces together in my brain.

I'm really very lucky, but 'lucky' is probably a poor word choice in this case. To quote anthropologist Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Alongside dozens of others, I fought a tough battle and stood my ground. And we won.

But I've been having trouble adjusting to this rosy new reality. I had no idea how much the fear of the future had permeated my daily round. It's a little bit distressing to know that even with all of my training in yoga and meditation, I still fall so easily into this kind of low-grade 'freak out' mode.

Thank you for all of your notes and comments of support - they helped me get through the days.

Now, I'm carrying on exactly as before, but with a renewed sense of gratitude. No doubt, there are still clouds on the horizon, but I'm feeling more optimistic than I have in a long time.

Princess Fur is skeptical, yet hopeful.

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Monday, February 6, 2012

Not Doing My Happy Dance

The minute I stop blogging, everything falls apart.

No, really! Okay, not *everything*, but things. A while back, while alluding to some potential disaster, I think I described this as an 'incoming meteor'. Well, the day of reckoning has arrived and here's what happened: The meteor swept past the small planet by a narrow margin. Sweet relief! While the grateful inhabitants frolicked in the meadows, doing their happy dance, the sun exploded, blowing the planet and the happy little dancers to smithereens.

So that's where I am right now. For all intents and purposes, I'm looking for a new planet. ET phone home.

And I'm doing what I always do in a time of personal crisis - some people fall apart, I fall together. I've groomed the dog, cleaned out the fridge, re-organised my closet, scrubbed the floors and cleared my to-do list. When the going gets rough, the tough get busy! If I'm busy, I can't think about what I'm going to do next. Since my plans require some amount of waiting, this is a good strategy.

And my practice, OMG, my practice! Thank goodness it's going well right now because I'm clinging to that morning ritual like a drowning woman. It's the best part of my day. Truly.

I *will* survive this wonky, unglorious month. I will, I will.

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