Thursday, December 31, 2009

Trusty Tomatoes!


Tomatoes may not be in season at the moment, but the great thing about these lovelies is that they are fantastically healthy even in processed, rather than fresh, form. Specifically, the lycopene content of tomatoes is much more concentrated in products such as tomato paste. What is lycopene? It is a type of carotenoid that has great antioxidant and cancer-preventive properties - how great is that! Delicious and nutritious indeed!

Tomatoes are fantastic for colon health, prostate health, pancreatic health, cardiovascular health, healthier cholesterol levels, as well as protecting all cells in the body from free radical damage. They really are a nutritional powerhouse. The key is to consume the food rather than a lycopene supplement, as it is not lycopene alone that does the work, but the whole synergy of all the nutrients found in tomatoes. They work together as a team, so relying on capsules containing only lycopene will not have the same effect.

When choosing products such as tomato sauce, tomato juice, etc., go for the deepest red ones - they have the most lycopene. Organic products are often the best way to go.

Even at this time of the year, it's incredibly easy to integrate lots of tomato goodness into the diet. Use tomato sauce, tomato paste, diced tomatoes, etc. in soups, stews, pasta dishes. Roasted tomatoes are amazingly delicious. Tomato juice, salsa, cherry tomatoes can be used year-round.

When possible, use tomatoes and tomato products that haven't been peeled - as with other fruits and veggies, large amounts of nutrients are found in the peel and more of them are absorbed by the body when the peel is eaten.

Tomatoes are extremely versatile, can be thrown into so many dishes, and even humble organic ketchup delivers some lycopene! Whichever tomato/tomato product you choose, you'll get some great health benefits, along with deliciousness, from it!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Crazy for Cornmeal!

When I'm baking, one of my favourite ingredients to use has to be cornmeal. Not only does it give a sweet, delicious crunch, but it is also a great source of fibre, antioxidants, and other nutrients. It's extremely versatile and can even be eaten by those with gluten allergies.

Corn is a North American staple, but it's also something to be a little bit careful with. Corn on the cob, corn chowder, corn tortillas, even popcorn are all fantastic and so tasty; however, this vegetable is now one of the main genetically modified crops grown in giant fields all over North America (and, sadly, throughout the world). The growth of this GM "corn" is subsidized by the government, leading to unfortunate items such as cheap corn syrup which can be found in many many many processed/packaged/fast foods. So on top of the debate re: genetically modified patented seeds which threaten life on earth, there's the whole cheap, low quality corn products issue. This GM corn is fed to farm animals to fatten them up, used for biofuel (along with GM soybeans, other sugar and starch crops grown in giant fields that wipe out life), and used to cheaply sweeten everything in sight.

Getting back on topic, corn and cornmeal are fantastic foods to integrate into your diet, and they are so versatile that it's very easy to do so. The key is to opt for organic, non GM choices. Not only will this benefit your health, but it will also send the message that you do not support the use of GM crops.

And now it's time for a scrumptious corn muffin, baked with plenty of wholesome whole grain cornmeal and muffin-y passion :)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Young Victoria - Film Review

Another film I recently saw in theatres is The Young Victoria, starring lovely Emily Blunt in the title role, along with Rupert Friend as Albert, and some other terrific British actors. Having recently been to London and having just visited Buckingham Palace and the Victoria & Albert Museum, this film was especially enjoyable to watch. It's a period piece full of extravagant sets, costumes, feasts, and other royal treats. Just the look of the film on the big screen is worth the ticket price if you enjoy that kind of beauty :) Which I must confess I do :)

In terms of character and story, it was a little bit inconsistent. Initially the focus is on politics and Victoria's struggle with even getting to the throne, while other figures stand in her way and attempt to take advantage of her youth and inexperience in order to achieve their own goals. Emily Blunt melts into her role perfectly and is surprisingly convincing and sympathetic as the young queen. In her previous roles she has played mainly icy characters, so this a complete (and very successful) turnaround. I should mention that in this film, the youthful Queen V is portrayed as a warm, energetic, lively young woman rather than as the austere, frowning figure typically associated with her name.

The story gets more interesting and much more engaging when her relationship with Albert starts to deepen. Rupert Friend is also brilliant in his performance and it is easy to understand how Queen V fell in love with this compassionate, soft-spoken, intelligent, earnest young man. Just as she was being used, he too was maneuvered and ordered about so other people could pursue their carefully hatched political plans. The two came together and their marriage created a strong foundation that empowered and liberated them so that they could rule in their own way.

It's interesting that in a film about royalty and politics, the most believable and interesting aspect turns out to be the love story. And in this case, the love story isn't just heart-warming fluff, but likely the very reason why the Queen went on to have such a long reign after a very rocky start. Apart from each other, both felt somewhat useless and fumbled about unable to bring their ideas to fruition. Together, they became strong, confident, and able to effect the world around them.

This was such an interesting time in history. My favourite books are still Victorian novels and anything about this particular time stokes my interest and passion. Long live Victorian costume dramas :)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Awaiting Avatar 3-D

And then seeing it! Over the holiday weekend, I went to watch Avatar on a big giant screen in 3-D. The fancy 3-D glasses were very stylish :) Geek chic all the way :) The film itself, I must confess, took my breath away. The reviews I had seen mentioned that the 3-D technology and visual spectacle were absolutely amazing, but that the story was weak and really nothing new or meaningful. I ended up disagreeing.

First, the effects. Yes, this brand new 3-D technology is groundbreaking. Much as I dislike a lot of tech toys and gadgets these days, when it comes to creating a fully immersive, enriched, magical experience different from normal movie-watching, I do embrace this new stuff. While so much technology these days takes us away from the present moment and has people trying to juggle ten things at once (all on a tiny little screen), this foray was all about getting completely absorbed in an extraordinary experience. You forget that you're sitting in a movie theatre and feel like you're actually in the movie, experiencing everything that the characters do. There was a real sense of wonder and discovery and excitement in the air, and afterwards I felt like watching the movie again on IMAX because it was just that great and completely new of an experience.

Second, the story. Reviewers are discussing and analyzing political, environmental, anthropological, etc. themes all with a good dose of cynicism and intellectual superiority. I was expecting not to care much about the story based on what I had heard, but instead I found it quite compelling and I really embraced the themes and characters. There are very explicit environmental and political messages that have been accused of being too left-wing, which I didn't mind as they pretty much reflected my own views. The Na'vi live in harmony with their planet and are deeply spiritual and completely in touch with nature. Cynics say this is boring, unrealistic, idealized, etc. I honestly believe this is how it is meant to be. The way we live now is no more "realistic". All other creatures, plants, even the weather live in balance, following the cycles of life and maintaining delicately balanced ecosystems. This is life, and it's very real. Human beings brandishing money, guns, technology, and caring more about these things than about the planet that gives them life is definitely not more "realistic" and meaningful to me. So yes, it saddens me a bit that people don't wish to connect with themes about respecting nature and living in community with each other. Apparently only 6 year old girls would wish to live in this kind of magical world.

Aaanyways, this is not about disagreeing with critics or defining what constitutes a great film. This is about experiencing something new, beautiful, possibly thought-provoking, and really fun. Through this new technology, you can discover a beautiful new planet, fly, run through a colourful rainforest, and see through someone else's eyes. Soon many films will be shown in 3-D, and I think this is a great one to start with. Beautiful, colourful, hopeful, and encompassing themes that really do mean something :)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Wishing peace, love, and joy for everyone! What a splendid day to celebrate being together and appreciate the beauty of life! Hooray!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve!

Well, it's already December 24th! And that means that it's Christmas Eve, hooray! I love this time of year as it really does seem to bring people together and the festive spirit can be felt everywhere you go :) Yesterday I popped into JD Farms for some turkey items (not a whole turkey - we're roasting a big organic free-range chicken instead) and was amazed to see all the people lining up to get big, organic, specialty turkeys. It's wonderful to see that people really do care, both about their own health and about the treatment and well-being of the animals.

I also popped into Fieldstone Artisan Breads for a fresh loaf of Miller's Grain Country bread, yum yum! Fresh, whole grain bread from an actual bakery is so incredibly delicious and flavourful, and it has the real texture that bread is supposed to have. There was a massive lineup here as well, especially since they were also selling many Christmas treats and traditional items such as mince pies. Nobody seemed to mind though, and there was a great buzz in the air - great fun!

Now it's time for last minute preparations before all the festivity really gets into swing. I was reading about what people eat on Christmas Eve in other cultures and some of the dishes were quite surprising. For example, in France the dinner is long and luxurious (well, that's not so surprising), including appetizers such as oysters, lobster, and escargot. In Provence, they have a tradition of 13 desserts, wow!

Happy Christmas Eve! I hope everyone has a lovely time with their loved ones :)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happy Winter Solstice!

Today is a very special day - it's the Winter Solstice! It's the shortest day and the longest night of the year, and it officially marks the beginning of winter in the northern hemisphere. It is also a special day that has been celebrated around the world all throughout history which I find really exciting. I love those special occasions that occur every year, going back to ancient times. These traditions tie us together with the earth and with all the fascinating people that came before us, it's very neat :) It's also an important time to get super connected with the people around us - to find comfort in each other during the darkest time of the year. Before we had supermarkets, this was a dangerous time during which famine was quite possible. People prepared for months and months in order to be able to survive the winter.

Here are some extra tid-bits about the Winter Solstice:

  • "Solstice" comes from the Latin phrase meaning "sun stands still".
  • Massive prehistoric monuments (ex. Ireland's Newgrange tomb) are aligned to capture the lights at the very moment of the Winter Solstice sunrise.
  • In many cultures, this is seen as a time when the year is reborn.
  • In Greek mythology, the gods and goddesses met on the winter and summer solstice.
  • There are countless different celebrations and traditions happening in different places and cultures at this time of the year.
This is a great time to connect with the world around us and celebrate an exciting experience, as has been done for thousands of years. Starting tomorrow, the days will get shorter and the nights will get longer.

Enjoy!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Beating Holiday Stress


The holiday season usually implies fun and festivity, tasty food, and cozy times with family and friends. Wow, that sounds great! However, all the expectations that come with the holidays - perfect meals, perfect decorations, perfect presents, etc. - can contribute to stress levels in a not so fun way. Of course, it's great to take the emphasis off of superficial ideals and silly gifts that we don't really need and to bring our focus back to relationships with our loved ones; however, that does not mean that any Christmas magic has to be lost.

What makes a perfect meal? When food is cooked with love, care, and enjoyment rather than worry it tastes better! Cooking for someone is a powerful way of showing your love for them. Not only is it special because you've done something just for them, but by feeding someone you're nurturing them in a very direct way. Of course, it helps if the meal tastes good too :)

To help with that, choose a recipe that you're comfortable with - it doesn't have to be fussy and pretentious to taste fantastic! Get all your ingredients prepared, and if you can, do some of the cooking ahead of time. For example, if your starter is a soup, then make that a day ahead. Then there's less work on the big day, and many soups taste even better once they've had some time to settle.

If you feel comfortable with other people's help in the kitchen, then why not ask someone to help with chopping veggies, greasing muffin pans, keeping an eye on the oven, etc. Having company in the kitchen can be fun, and it makes the work load less daunting if you have to cook quite a lot of food.

My last cooking tip is to trust your own instincts and to taste your food as you go, rather than following recipes religiously. Cooking is an art, and it makes more sense to make it your own and to use flavours that excite you rather than to worry about following the perfect recipe. Substituting ingredients, using less or more spices, adding something extra can work very well most of the time and is not something to be afraid of. Baking is a bit different as it is like chemistry, but even then you can usually make some changes, such as substituting some whole grain flour for the white. The key is to do only what you feel comfortable with. If you're trying out a recipe for the first time and don't want to risk it by changing anything, then follow the recipe, taste the result, and then decide if you'd like to make any changes next time. Just remember, cooking is a fun creative act and you are the master of the kitchen, capable of creating the most delicious dishes that will feed you and your loved ones in a deeply nourishing way :)

As for decorations and presentation, I think it makes more sense to once again go with your own instincts and to follow your personal creative impulses than to copy pages out of a magazine. Whatever warms you heart, makes you feel cozy, makes the room feel special and welcoming - that is what works. Presenting someone else's idea of Christmas will never have that special touch. And there's no pressure when you're just doing your own thing and expressing your own soul :)

Whether you're cooking in the kitchen, putting up decorations, or thinking up a gift for someone you love, just do what feels right and toss out any preconceived idealized images of what things are supposed to look like.

Also, don't forget that exercise is a great stress-buster too :)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bean Dip


Something I always try to keep in the fridge - yummy creamy bean dip! It's great as a snack with fruit or veggies, on whole grain bread, with tortilla chips, etc. Plus, you don't have to stick with a strict recipe, this is one dish you can play around with. All you need is some beans, preferably soaked overnight and put on the stove to simmer for about an hour (chickpeas may take a bit longer), a couple tablespoons of tahini, the juice of one lemon (or you could try lime), a sprinkle of salt, a drizzle of olive oil, maybe a bit of water...and whatever else you'd like to add! Just blend it all up so it's nice and smooth and you're good to go.

Today I added a dash of turmeric and a dash of cinnamon, which went quite well with the flavourful pinto beans I used. Herbs, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted peppers, spinach, various spices, etc. are just some of the possibilities waiting to be tried out. Of course, you could always stick with classic hummus. Chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, salt, olive oil, maybe a bit of garlic and you're all set! It's so quick and easy. Great for snacks AND for some fun entertaining :)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hail to the Kale

Since this is such a fantastic time of year for getting into the kitchen and cooking up some lovely dishes, let's introduce ourselves to some more tasty and fantastically healthy seasonal foods. This entry is all about the leafy green super-food KALE. Now, this is one that some people have never even tried before. It is quite tough, as it has to be in order to grow in cold temperatures. The leaves are gorgeous and perfect for all sorts of dishes, but before we get to that, let's take a closer look at all the great nutrients that are bursting from this vegetable.

Like all dark leafy greens, kale is absolutely full of loads of vitamins and minerals. These include Vitamin K, Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, several B vitamins, manganese, copper, magnesium, iron, calcium, folate, along with lots of fiber and even Omega-3 essential fatty acids. There's more too, but we'll keep this short and sweet. Just remember that kale is a powerhouse full of high amounts of nutrients. This is one vegetable that can actually withstand quite a bit of cooking and still retain good amounts of nutrients because it has such a huge amount to begin with.

Kale is a cruciferous vegetable that aids detoxification by the liver. It contains carotenoids that support healthy eyes. It's a great source of antioxidants that protect all our cells. As a dark leafy green rich in calcium, it's perfect for supporting bone health. It's also great for mental health (especially since it contains Vitamin E). Cruciferous vegetables have also been shown to be very heart-healthy as well. This is another paragraph that could go on and on :)

Please don't try to eat raw kale. We are only human and our digestive tracts need some help. My favourite way to have kale is in (pureed) soup. That way you don't have to chew much, and you consume ALL the vitamins in your veggies, including the water soluble ones that escape into the soup water. If you don't fancy the idea of green soup (but it's beautiful!), try sauteing kale with garlic. You can pour on a bit of lemon juice and some kind of healthy fat (ex. good olive oil...or even cook it with butter!). Some people chop up kale into small pieces and bake it in the oven topped with some olive oil and spices to make 'kale chips'. Others use it as a pizza topping. I've also had delicious warm kale salad in the past. Really, the possibilities are endless!

If you can find just one way to enjoy kale, doing so on a regular basis will ensure great boosts of nutrient intake. Kale is a super-food that yearns to be enjoyed! And you can experiment with all sorts of flavours to go with your kale. I'll be enjoying plenty of kale soup this winter season :)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Cranberries for Christmas!

Even in Wintertime there are plenty of delicious seasonal foods to enjoy. One of these is none other than the sensational cranberry. Not only are they absolutely beautiful, they are also full of phytonutrients and antioxidants that make them one of the world's healthiest foods.

Cranberries are great sources of vitamin C, fiber, manganese, and vitamin K. They also help to prevent urinary tract infections, protect against macular degeneration, improve blood vessel function, and have a positive impact on cholesterol. They do even more than all this, but there just isn't enough space to list all the great research results!

These cute little berries are also super easy to integrate into our diets. Cranberry juice is always a good choice (and can be diluted with water, especially if it contains added sugar). Dried cranberries can be sprinkled into oatmeal, cold cereal, and other grains. They are also great in all sorts of baked goods, and can usually be used in place of raisins. Mix them with lightly roasted nuts for an easy snack and throw the fresh (or dried) version into salads. If you have a blender, you could also experiment with blending cranberries along with other ingredients to make all sorts of tasty concoctions. I recently saw a great recipe for cranberry-pear relish that I just might try out this year!

I hope you get to enjoy these festive berries this year!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Brain Food

While I'm here, I'd like to post on one of my favourite topics - the brain! It's a fascinating thing that is still being continuously researched and admired, and one topic I'm especially fascinated by is how to achieve optimal brain health! Now, that kind of topic could easily turn into a giant essay (or tome!), so for now I will just share a few nutritional tips.

In order to work, the brain needs plenty of fantastic nutritional goodies. Since this organ is mainly comprised of fat, it requires lots of healthy fats which make up the structure of nerve cell walls among other functions. These healthy fats include plenty of Omega-3 essential fatty acids, which can be found in oily fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, anchovies) as well as walnuts, flax seeds, grass-fed animals, etc. Eating fish twice a week, putting flax oil in smoothies/overtop of food (once it has cooled down), throwing nuts into your oatmeal, salads, baking, snack mix, etc. are all great ways to ensure good Omega-3 intake. Oily fish is perhaps the ultimate #1 superfood for a healthy brain. Other healthy fats include nuts, seeds, unrefined high quality oils, and natural fats in general rather than the processed kind. A can of Pam or a tub of margarine call for cries of horror, whereas butter, coconut oil, and good olive oil will always be your friends.

Protein is required to create neurotransmitters, which are the brain's communication chemicals. As with fat, the main issue is to opt for high quality protein that hasn't been denatured by processing and poor cooking methods. Organic, free range, grass-fed, locally sourced from real farms rather than scary factory farms - this is all very important, and while high quality meats can cost more than the standard supermarket version, the health benefits (and ethics) are priceless. Vegetarian sources of protein, such as legumes, nuts, some grains (like quinoa), hemp seeds require proper preparation in order to be utilized by the body. Please don't forget to soak your legumes, nuts, and grains! I cannot say that enough. Vegetarians who eat eggs and cheese will enjoy these foods a lot more if they are from good sources. It's quite easy to find local free range eggs and you will see how much bigger they are and high much brighter the yolk is right away. Real cheese is not the stringy plastic found on many a pizza, but a fermented delicacy that can knock the socks off your taste buds with its various flavours.

Getting back on topic, the next category of nutrients is carbohydrates, which the brain uses as fuel. No wonder people on low-carb diets may find themselves feeling irritable and having low energy levels - they are running on empty. When it comes to carbs, the main thing is to go for the complex, unrefined type rather than the white and empty type. Whole wheat, brown rice, quinoa, millet, oats, even whole grain pasta are all great and delicious choices that provide long-term energy, whereas white flour, white rice, cookies, crackers, etc. will not keep you going for long. Give your brain superb fuel, and it will reward you with brilliance :)

Now, what about those fruits and vegetables that we're always told to eat? Eating the rainbow is absolutely crucial because it provides us with loads of vitamins and minerals which we require in order for our bodies to function. They are like the little workers that come together to work all the machinery and make things happen. If some of them are missing, then the team cannot function as it should and the work doesn't get done. You can never eat too many veggies :)

Lastly, we also require some special dietary items that work to protect our brains (including delicate nerve cells). Dietary antioxidants are like superheroes that protect all the cells of our bodies, including brain cells, from free radical damage. Free radicals are unstable particles that come from all over the place - pollution, processed food, cigarette smoke, stress, chemicals, etc. Just breathing in and out naturally produces some free radicals, which our bodies instantly takes care of by using its supply of antioxidants. In order to have superb protection (especially in these modern, chemical-y times), we need to ensure that we eat plenty of antioxidant rich foods. This is not hard though as most whole foods (that have not been processed) provide us with antioxidants. The best sources are brightly coloured fruits and veggies, including blueberries, dark grapes and cherries, pomegranates, broccoli, tomatoes, and spinach. But really, just eat a nice variety of fresh produce (or frozen when fresh is not an option) and smile :) Other antioxidant rich foods include whole grains, nuts, legumes, spices (turmeric and ginger are superstars), and herbs. One more time - if you eat a varied whole foods diet, you're covered. Nothing to worry about.

I would also like to quickly mention fiber. We know it's good for digestion and gut health, but it's also really great for you brain! Toxins bind to fiber and are thus eliminated from the body, so they cannot pose a threat to that lovely brain. It is a very important protective factor that should never be underestimated :) One last time, a whole foods diet provides plenty of fiber so you don't have to sprinkle any dubious powders on your food.

Whew, we covered a lot there! I hope it was useful and that you now have some extra incentive to take a bite out of that big red apple or cook a big pot of soup :)

Returning Home

Well, I'm back home for the festive holiday season after traveling in beautiful old Europe for two amazing months. I got to experience life in jolly London, England, spend a few delicious and picturesque days in gorgeous Paris, and travel quite a bit in Italy, where I spent time in Verona, Lucca, Pisa, Venice, and a couple other little spots of beauty.

London was such a lively, buzzy city full of culture and infinite things to do. It's an extraordinary city and since it's so very old and has been written about in many, many books (Victorian mystery anyone?), walking through it really feels like walking through the best, most energetic museum ever :) I made sure to go to as many performances as I could, including two operas (Rigoletto and Turindot), a ballet (Sleeping Beauty), a play (Breakfast at Tiffany's), and two musicals (Phantom and Chicago). The air was electric and I was glad there were also some beautiful parks to go and unwind in.

Italy was absolutely gorgeous and Tuscany's rolling green hills and sunshine were delightful. While I could imagine living somewhere like London, Italy felt like a completely different and very alien planet. The culture was a great contrast to the busy rush of what I was used to - people were never in a hurry, they talked a LOT in any context, they enjoyed people watching and promenading, the food was quite different, and just the pace and priorities of everyday life were completely and utterly different. And I don't mean to say different in a bad way, it was really fascinating to experience it, but Italy definitely felt more like a holiday destination than a place where I could feel at home. For one thing, I missed whole grains, nut butter, and vegetable soup :) All in all though, it was like a wonderland full of natural and architectural gorgeousness, warm people, and a deep appreciation for the truly important things in life.

Being back at home means I get to do much more cooking, and I have been making plenty of soups and stews to keep the chilliness at bay. Having a warm bowl of slow-cooked deliciousness is sensational, especially when you can share with those you love.

I will now try to post regularly, and perhaps throw in some book and film reviews. This is a great time of year to do a bit of reflecting (burrow that brow!) and figure out what to focus on in the coming new year. It's all very exciting!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Travel Time!

Well, tomorrow is the day! I will be leaving the house at 5.30 in the morning to catch the flight to London, England, and then there will be plenty of adventuring to be had :) We all live on this one planet, but it always amazes me how different all the corners of the world are. Each place is completely unique and could be an entire world of its own. I will try to keep this blog somewhat up to date (if that is technologically possible) while I'm traveling. Hooray for new beginnings and adventures!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

In a new moment

My, has it been a long time! And yet, this being Summer (for a little while longer at least), it still feels like the same sunny, relaxing moment it was during my last entry. Even more relaxing actually, since I am now finished handing in case studies and writing my final exam at school, hooray! I love the feeling of relief, freedom, and excited energy that I get whenever a big project/assignment/exam is completely done and finished with. Whew. And then it's on to the next thing :) It is fantastic that we are always able to grow, expand, learn new things, and find new directions to go in no matter where we happen to be in life. The opportunities are literally infinite.

My next adventure will involve some traveling, hopefully in Europe and California. I have always loved traveling. It amazes me how differently people live all over the world, and really brings a new perspective on life seeing that the way you grew up is completely not the only way, but just a tiny option in a sea of possibilities. Getting immersed in a new environment, experiencing new sights, sounds, tastes, interactions makes me feel very alive and it forces me to live in the moment, discovering everything in the now as if I was a child again. I love the history, architecture, deeply rooted culture, and slower pace of Europe. The food isn't bad either :)

Now that Summer is slowly coming to an end, it is a great time to make some plans and goals for a brand new year. During Autumn we will begin to go inward and gather everything we need like little squirrels preparing for a long winter. My preparations this year will include much packing and trip-planning. How we prepare sets the tone for what is to come, and I hope this coming time will be filled with passion, growth, beauty, and eye-opening experiences :)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Peaks of Summer Fun!

Here we are, blessed with another gorgeous weekend of birdsong and sunshine! Yesterday when I went raspberry picking I saw (and ate) the biggest, reddest, juiciest raspberries of all time. Three days of rain followed by sun made for the most wonderful, healthy berries! Needless to say, they're going fast in my house and I keep having to remind myself to savour every bite rather than stuff myself like the berry addict that I am. 

This picture is from the lavender festival I went to last weekend. Yesterday I went to a U-Pick flower spot for the first time ever and picked seven lilies, some pink, some white. It was such a neat experience to pick the flowers myself from a small garden rather than buy them from a store, not knowing their origin or what kind of chemicals they had been subjected to. On the way home, I felt a little sad that I had cut the flowers rather than letting them grow and flourish. I suppose the important thing is to just take a little bit and enjoy it completely, knowing that the flowers will keep growing, as long as we don't take too much (as with every resource). 

One of my tomato plants now has little green tomatoes which I hope will ripen nicely. Having never tried growing any vegetable before I have no clue what's happening but I'm trying to be observant and diligent with the watering. 

Next weekend the BC Renaissance Fair is on and I will be there in all my Renaissance and theatre loving excitement!! I highly recommend attending this fun event :)

Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Catching Up

Here I am! With a summery update at last :) It's funny how the hotter and sunnier it gets outside, the less I find myself in front of the computer (which doesn't bode well for my stack of schoolwork!). It the last week, some of the things I've been doing are...

- delectable raspberry picking! it was especially fun on Canada Day, when there was also a pancake breakfast at Krause Farm and so many people turned up to celebrate and feast on these delicioius little berries. I ended up eating so many through the week I got a stomachache, agh! Irresistible I say, they're just sooo good!

- reading on the deck. Summertime is my favorite for lounging in the sun, surrounded by bright flowers, and reading a good book. My reading material tends to be a bit lighter and funnier at this time of the year, and often includes a lot of historical fiction. I'm not a big fan of stories set in contemporary times, but I love the past.

- visiting the Lavender Festival at Full Bloom Farm. The aroma of lavender is extraordinary and never ceases to delight me. The flowers themselves are gorgeous, vivid, and glowing with life. There were so many bees frolicking in all that lavender, including lovely bumblebees. The photo for this post was also taken at this festival.

- visiting other little spots in the countryside (there are so many gems out there waiting to be discovered!) and picking up some freshly baked artisan bread from Fieldstone. Best bakery I've ever been to on the West Coast!

- planning which show to go to this summer at Bard on the Beach...so many great choices!!

- making a first attempt at raspberry cordial - a fermented raspberry drink made from whey, grated ginger, raspberries, and water. 

- going to the beach! 

Happy belated Canada Day and enjoy the rest of this gorgeous weekend!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Here's to the end of June!

Ahhh, how time flies when Summer's in the air, bees are a-buzzing, flowers are blooming, and birds are sing-songing! My days have included going to farmer's markets, more berry picking (get your strawberries before they're all gone!), lounging in the sun, getting a few more pots of plants for the deck (including some deliciously fragrant herbs!), experimenting in the kitchen, and finishing up at nutrition school, the end of which saddens me quite a bit. It's so important to find a community of like-minded individuals, and when people share a hopeful, nurturing attitude towards the earth and our future on it, it's deeply inspiring and feels absolutely wonderful! I hope we can all start connecting more in our efforts to make life a little greener, a little simpler, a little more compassionate :) 

One place that reminds me of this simple, old-fashioned kind of life is Fort Langley, a small historical town that is always fun to visit and stroll around in, soaking up the atmosphere and feeling any stress melt away. It's the perfect place for wearing big flowery hats, long dresses, and anything with ribbons :) There's some tasty gelato to be had also, and several antiques shops if that catches your fancy. 

Coming up, there will be lots of raspberries to pick and eat, as well as tomatoes, cherries, more nugget potatoes, and leafy greens. I had some delicious spelt pancakes yesterday, with jam and honey from Krause Farms. It was a bit of a sugar overload, but delightful and delicious nonetheless :) 

Oh, and another festive event going down this weekend and other days to come is the Vancouver Jazz Festival. There are plenty of free outdoor performances, mainly on Granville Island and in Gastown this weekend, and this event is always fun if you're a fan of music or summer festivals. 

Here's hoping everyone's end of June is full of joy and light!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day!

What a great day to honour our dads and show them some much needed appreciation :) One way of doing this is to have some delicious buttermilk pancakes! Some farmer's markets offer these up, but you could also make your very own in the comfort of the kitchen. Then maybe take them outside to savour in the fresh air, surrounded by some greenery :) Here is a recipe for buttermilk cornmeal pancakes:

1 cup flour
1 cup organic cornmeal
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
  1/2 tsp coarse salt
   3 tbs sugar
   2 large eggs, lightly beaten
   3 cups buttermilk
               4 tbs unsalted butter, melted, plus 1/2 tsp for griddle

1. Place skillet over medium-high heat. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar in a medium bowl. Add the eggs, buttermilk, and 4 tbs melted butter, and whisk to combine. The batter should have small to medium lumps. 

2. Using a ladle, pour the batter in pools two inches apart. When the pancakes bubble on top and are slightly dry around the edges, about 2 1/2 minutes, flip over. Cook until golden on the bottom, about one minute. 

Have a wonderful, festive day!

P.S. This photo is from UBC Farm - simply gorgeous!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pretty Crane

Oops, it's been a while, hasn't it? I've been busy acquiring tomato plants for the first time ever, dropping my jaw in Eco-Nutrition class (the name of my textbook is 'The End of Food', sigh), and eating delicious strawberries from Krause Berry Farms (have I mentioned they open today? if I could, I would run over there right now to pick some more yummy berries, but that will have to wait til Saturday). I am gradually trying to eat more seasonally and to be more mindful of the origins of my food. 

An interesting exercise to try is to go to your regular supermarket and figure out the origin of 5 food items, including the country and region. It's really not as easy as it seems. Packaged products are especially tricky as they will tell you the address of the company, but of course not where the "food" actually came from. And then there are bulk items, such as nuts and grains. And what about bread? Where were the wheat and other assorted grains actually grown? Then you can try finding 5 local items, grown somewhere not very far from where you live. In a supermarket, that is very tricky. Thankfully, at this time of the year it's very fun and important to go to a farm or two yourself, or to a farmer's market. There's nothing better than connecting with the origins of your food and eating from garden/farm to plate. It's also a very important political statement as you are supporting small farmers rather than transnational corporations. 

Now for the picture :) This was taken at Reiffel Bird Sanctuary, where the Sandhill Crane seems to live quite happily. I don't think I've ever seen a bird that big and graceful before. 

Last Sunday was also Car-Free day, which is not only great for the environment but it also brought out tons of community spirit and togetherness that we rarely seem to experience anymore. Hooray for community! 

I hope everyone gets to eat some lovely red berries this weekend. There are still many lettuces in season, as well as yummy nugget potatoes (try roasting them with red onion, olive oil, rosemary, coarse salt), radishes, spinach, rhubarb...and there is so much more just waiting to burst with life and flavour and earthy goodness! 

There's no better time than now to eat seasonally and locally :)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Paradise Found...

...and conveniently located at my old university campus :) UBC Farm is a little speck of heaven here on earth - as soon as I walked into this glorious space I felt embraced by nature and utterly rejuvenated. This was the year's first market day and there was a lineup before the official opening time, people were so excited to get their fresh veggies! 

There is lots to report and I will post a full recap later. For now, I just want to say that this is a must-visit - seeing everything flourishing, the chickens running about, the bees busy at work, the wildflowers, the big green trees protecting the perimeter, the dragonflies and butterflies...nature in gorgeous harmony and so tranquil (yet always busy growing!)....ahhh :) Life is nice :)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Berry Picking - Hooray!

These days, many people are asking where they can go to pick healthy, wholesome, spray-free berries. Strawberries are hiding just around the corner, almost ready to be...well, devoured :) The key is finding a good local farm to meet our berry-eating needs. The biggest misconception is that you have to go somewhere that has organic certification. Only large farms that sell to corporations can afford to pay for the certification. Nowadays, there are many farms growing "certified organic" produce simply because there is such a hot market for them, yet the farms themselves are still industrial, heavily mechanized, may exploit workers, and may not employ sustainable farming methods. Though the produce may be "organic", the way in which it came into the world still feeds into the exploitative, industrial model which puts emphasis on the end result rather than on how it got there. 

Smaller local farms are often run by families who are intimately connected with their land and put a lot more care and love into their crops. The best way to figure out which farm is best for you is by making a list of the local options and then visiting them one by one, getting a feel for the place and tasting the goods :) Sometimes you can even meet the farmers and really get to know exactly where your food comes from. 

In the greater Vancouver area, my favourite place for berry picking is Krause Berry Farms. Not only are they extremely ethical and deeply respectful of the land which they farm, but their berries are out of this world! Going berry-picking there is like a little trip to paradise. They also have a little bakery and you can sit on the porch eating shortcake, pies, and old-fashioned milkshakes if that's what your heart desires! I love the energy of the place and greatly look forward to going there again this summer. 

Krause Berry Farms aims to open on June 18, as long as the weather cooperates :) That's in just a short week! I will take my camera on my first day out there and take lots of pictures of delectable, sunshine loving, wholesome strawberries :) And I will eat them! 

UBC Farm Market!

What gorgeous days we've been dabbling in! I hope everyone is getting to savour them as summertime does tend to fly by very quickly! I have been trying to treasure these lovely moments and linger outside, surrendering to the tranquility of nature rather than running off trying to be productive :)

This Saturday, June 13 UBC Farm is having its very first market day of the year! There will be farm tours, speakers, live music, a 100-Mile Pancake breakfast, children's activities, baked goods, local artisans, and of course lots of fresh wonderful food! It definitely sounds like an event not to be missed! The hours are from 9-1pm so come out early to enjoy all the festivities and celebrate the farm :)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Happy Go Lucky

I recently watched the film Happy-Go-Lucky, starring Sally Hawkins as Poppy - an ever optimistic, cheerful, and energetic primary school teacher who brings a very unique attitude and way of being to life and to her way of relating to other people. Somehow, she always chooses to stay positive and buoys herself and others up even when things seem evidently bleak. This doesn't really sound terribly fascinating or special perhaps, but the way in which her character is gradually revealed is beautiful. 

At the beginning of the film Poppy is a force to take in, as she insists on always being "on" - cracking jokes nonstop, waving at people she does not know as she leisurely rides her bicycle, never letting the big grin drop from her face even when said bicycle gets stolen. Her sunshiny persona and flamboyant outfits do not seem to fit her surrounding environment, but what appears initially jarring, odd, and almost over-the-top is gradually transformed in our eyes as the film forces the audience to change its perception. Poppy is not cheerful the way a salesperson is cheerful, nor is she using her constant bubbly-ness as a buffer to protect her from the harshness of reality - as we get to know her better, we see how kind, intelligent, and compassionate she is. Rather than forcing the people around her to fit some kind of perfect, happy mold, she accepts all the she comes across without judgement, all while remaining true to her own spirit. When one of the students in her class becomes violent with the other kids, she shows such genuine care, compassion, and kind patience with him that we understand her motivations and world-view more clearly - she chooses to live with true optimism, cheer, and grounded energy but she never shuts the world out to maintain some kind of fantasy for herself. Instead, she sees the world more clearly because she refuses to judge or force it to change. She embraces the life around her, even when it seems scary and painful, and often this brings out the soul and humanity of those who have buried them or simply lost hope. 

It's odd to think about how rare a film like this is - a comedy that is a character study featuring little more than people's day to day interactions. More-so, a comedy that is about genuine happiness and optimism motivated by kindness and innocence. Here, laughter is not a coping mechanism to soften the blows of a harsh world, but a celebration of all the beauty and music that exists even in bleak places. It is always our choice whether we resist what happens and live with cynicism and dreariness, or whether we wake up to every day with hope, curiosity, and a genuine desire to live fully in the moment, embracing all that we come across without judgement and appreciating the freedom and joy that are always with us. 

Friday, June 5, 2009

Cool Treats

These hot days sure make me want to eat and drink all that is cooling and refreshing rather than the warming foods that I usually enjoy most. Typical summer refreshments include ice cream, iced cappuccinos, juice, popsicles, and alcohol of various kinds. Rather than going for these anti-nutrient rich items that dehydrate rather than nourish, it's great to get a bit more creative and make some healthy substitutions. 

My favourite cooling beverages include coconut water (the best thing for getting your electrolytes), freshly squeezed juice (or 100% pure juice diluted with some water), water with a bit of lemon/lime juice (also great for electrolytes), and iced herbal teas of all kinds (peppermint is especially refreshing). Fruit smoothies full of berries and a banana are also fantastic and very tasty. 

Ice cream is sooo good, there's no way that I would avoid it completely. One of my favourite places on the beach is a little gelato shop run by an Italian family that definitely puts quality first :) Their gelato is delectable and possibly one of the best desserts I've ever had. It is a treat though, not something to eat all the time :) Unless you go on an ice cream diet :) 

Since daily doses of ice cream may not be possible, some healthier alternatives include frozen bananas dipped in chopped nuts (and/or melted chocolate, yum!). This just reminds me of the frozen banana stand on 'Arrested Development' and makes it extra fun and enjoyable. An option in place of popsicles is to make your own using real fruit juice. Some people use ice cube trays that have fun shapes to make them extra entertaining for kids (I find them very entertaining also). Fruit can also be pureed, cut up into fun slices, and put on a stick to make it even more summery and exciting. I love fruit kabobs made with grapes, strawberries, and pineapple. Or apple. Or anything, I don't think there is any fruit that I do not like. This kabob may not be featuring seasonal eating, but it is a nice treat. 

These are just a few ideas to experiment with. Once we decide to get inventing and make things ourselves the possibilities are literally endless! 

Hope your summer is off to a tasty and beautiful start!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Heat-wave!

Wow, June is off to a hot start! The sun is shining bright, and everyone is flocking to the beach for some ice cream and outdoor ocean breeze-y refreshment! It's so lovely to go for a post-dinner walk by the ocean just as the sun is starting to lower and calmness is seeping into the end of the day. Ahh, the simple things in life :) 

Summertime always reminds me of childhood and the feeling of being carefree in the moment, not worrying about the future or other obligations because all that exists is the beauty and warmth and adventure of never-ending summer. It's such an expansive time, when the birds and flowers call for you to run outside and do whatever your sweet soul desires :) 

Welcome, Summer! And hooray for all this incredible sunshine! 

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The End of May

Well, today is the last day of May! And what a stunning way to finish the month off - it was another gorgeous Sunday that drove people outdoors, unable to resist the urge to soak up the sun, splash around in the ocean, and eat an ice cream cone :) It's amazing how much the weather can effect us, I think I've said this ten billion times already, but it's so true! All we need is a burst of sunshine, some blue sky, and we're good to go.

I just started reading a book called 'Animal, Vegetable, Miracle' by Barbara Kingsolver and even just a few pages in it's already fantastic! So far it reminds me a bit of 'The 100 Mile Diet', another eye-opening, informative, and fun read. I love that the desire to feel connected to our food and to the land we live on is becoming such a powerful force now. So many people are wanting to eat local, organic, and to grow some of their own food. I love it! Not only is industrial farming not sustainable, but I think we have such a strong need inside of us to feel that sense of connection and to have a relationship with our land and the beautiful plants that come from it. When you nurture and care for that land, putting effort, sweat, and love into the relationship, it's impossible not to appreciate, enjoy, and feel grateful for the deliciousness and sustenance that come out of it. The land needs us, and we need it too. And we ourselves come from it as well, dirt and all :) I can't wait to see what the future will bring, and to get some hands on farming experience myself too! 

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Return

Wow, June is almost here! What a beautiful Spring we're having - when the world is bathed in sunshine like this it's almost like being in Fairy-land :) 

I got to experience the more practical rather than theoretical side of stress due to an end of year oral exam at school, but of course all turned out well and good. It reminded me again of how stress is all about perception - we build things up in our minds and worry, but when the time comes for action, we always turn out just fine...maybe even a little bit stronger and more capable because of the experience. Here are some of the things me and my classmates tried to get through the exams calmly and smartly :)

- Aromatherapy: sniffing on fresh rosemary and lavender, or using the essential oils

- Bach Rescue Remedy: the drops can be taken internally, it is great for stress and works very well for animals (pets) also

- Meditation: as much as possible leading up to the event, and especially the evening before and/or the morning of - this is great for getting grounded, centered, focused, energized, and relaxed

- Deep Breathing: this is the easiest and the most important one - breathing deeply activates the parasympathetic nervous system, thereby stopping and reversing the stress (fight/flight) response of the sympathetic nervous system. Basically, it makes you feel cool, calm, capable and ready to face anything!


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sinking into the moment

Now that the sunshine and summery warmth are here, time seems to be flying by extra quickly. At the same time though, sunny days are my favourite for slowing down, relaxing, reading a good book outside, and just lounging about, reconnecting to the world and to yourself. 

It's as though the light is meant to wake us up, motivate, and inspire us to rekindle our passions and joys in life so that we can pursue them fully, even if the winter was extra long and dark, taking us farther from our dreams. 

Spending time outside, with the sunlight glowing all around you, birds singing, a gentle breeze lapping around..."clutter" type thoughts cannot help but melt away, leaving room for deep tranquility and contentment. It makes you realize how perfect everything already is - there is no struggle, just the resistance we create for ourselves. Life in the world unfolds, seemingly without great effort, in every moment. Flowers bloom without worrying about the future or past. They bask in the glory of Now, and the birds sing along. All this life around us is like a gorgeous symphony, and we have the choice to join in and feel the bliss of life as it is right now, or to escape the magic of this moment and retreat to the familiarity of struggle and resistance. On beautiful days like this though, it is nearly impossible not to sink fully into the loveliness of the moment, and bask in the light like a singing bird :)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

No such thing as a guilty pleasure :)

If it makes you happy, just go for it :)

Tonight I'm reporting to say that not only will I be watching a good two hours of television, but out of all available shows my choice will be none other than American Idol (gasp! the horror!). My name is Lucy and I am a proud Glambert - as soon as I accidentally stumbled upon one of ever glamourous Adam Lambert's performances, I could not tear my eyes and ears away. 

Adam has transcended the show's boxy constraints and blandness, bringing passion, charisma, thrilling theatricality, and extraordinary singing abilities into the game. His performances have been more like stunning mini-concerts, and it is wonderfully refreshing to see someone fearlessly expressing themselves for all to see, without trying to fit into a safe, restrained mold. 

I think that's partly why Adam has become so popular and celebrated even by non-Idol fans - not only does he let his beautiful voice loose, but he also captures people's imaginations by being so free and earnest and creative. He puts on a show, but the theatricality and visual perks are always grounded in sincerity and a kind of innocence. I always love it when people embrace their inner natures and bring them into the world to flourish. Being yourself is the most inspiring and glorious thing that you can ever do. 

Whether he wins or not, I cannot wait to see more of Adam singing his soul out and sharing his passion with the world :) 

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Visiting a bird sanctuary

Over the glorious long weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting Reifel Bird Sanctuary for the very first time. The scenery along the drive there was very quaint and relaxing just by itself; once we got to the sanctuary I felt like I was in paradise. There were birds to be seen even while standing in the parking lot. Greenery, water, beautiful views surrounded us on all sides and I was very eager to get on the path and enjoy a bird-watching + hiking adventure :) It's amazing how different the world feels when you're immersed in natural beauty, listening to a symphony of birdsong. 

At first it was hard to see any birds, even though their pretty voices were all around us. Besides ducks and geese, the first bird I saw was the lovely, elegant swallow. They were flying in all directions, basking in the sun :) After hearing the distinctive sound of a blackbird, I saw a big red-winged one for the first time - beautiful! I also saw a sweet, cute wren (like a puffy ball with wings!) and some other birds the names of which I cannot keep straight in my head :) There were several types of ducks, adorable baby geese, graceful blue herons, and last but not least, a Sandhill Crane. This extraordinary creature was having a meal right on the footpath so everyone got to see it very close up - it's huge! And so unlike any bird I've ever seen, I loved it! There were signs saying to be very careful around them as they can become aggressive when protecting their young or their territory; however, this glorious being was just peacefully snacking at the time. 

I absolutely loved this place from the second we got there, and will definitely be going back! We walked for over two hours but it felt very short and I would have been happy to stay and nap in the fresh air and beautiful surroundings...with the birds :) Their singing was incredible and quite soothing :) 

It would be nice if we had even more natural sanctuaries for all living creatures, including humans. Sometimes after a busy day in the city, I feel such a yearning to retreat into peaceful, lovely nature to rejuvenate and feel connected with life again. Somehow, being in nature makes me feel more like myself, more grounded, free, uplifted, and inspired :) Hooray for Mother Nature! And birds!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Power Up with B-12!

A wholesome diet based on natural, whole, fresh foods should provide plenty of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals; however, we are all very unique and there may be times when we need extra amounts of some specific nutrients. Stress, in particular, puts extra demands on our bodies. Eating a vegetarian or vegan diet also means paying special attention and taking care to get a good balance of all the fantastic nutrients we require for vitality and optimal health. 

One important vitamin that people commonly become deficient in because of low stomach acid, stress, and/or a diet low in animal products is vitamin B-12, which unfortunately is not found in any plants. We need this vitamin for cell division and the production of red blood cells. Insufficient amounts can result in fatigue and anemia. Besides helping to keep our blood nice and healthy, it is also crucial for a well-functioning nervous system AND for happy moods :) A vitamin that helps give us energy and makes us happier is definitely one to appreciate :) 

Where does B-12 like to live? In most animal products, such as liver, beef, pork, white fish, eggs, and milk. I always recommend eating organic foods that are free from antibiotics, growth hormones, stress hormones, etc. Meat from small, local farms is usually tastier, more ethical, and more affordable than buying organic from a supermarket. 

For those who do not eat too many animal foods, a B-12 supplement may be a good option. For strict vegans, it is usually absolutely essential. The best way to take B-12 is in a sublingual tablet that dissolves under the tongue. It should be in the methylcobolamin form, which is the one that is active in the body. 

Summertime is just around the corner, and what better time to reconnect with our bodies and take extra care to nourish and nurture ourselves so that we can frolic outdoors and fully appreciate every breath of fresh summery air!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Fruit Crumble Update :)

And now for a bit of a lighter, fruit-based post :) I have to report that the rhubarb-strawberry crumble/crisp was a big success. We used plenty of strawberries and rhubarb, about 1/4 cup brown sugar, whole wheat flour, rolled oats, cinnamon, and butter and it was absolutely delicious! The fruit was moist and tender and the topping was crisp and flavourful. Having crumble fresh out of the oven has to be one of the best things in life :) And the kitchen smelled like cinnamon for at least 24hrs, yummy :) 

I would post a picture, but the crumble was eaten before I had a chance to capture its beauty for the rest of time :)

Finess Vs. Health

I've just started reading a new book for class, it's 'The Maffetone Method: The Holistic, Low-Stress, No-Pain Way to Exceptional Fitness' by Dr. Philip Maffetone. Exercise tends to be a pretty emotionally charged word - we live in a society that is obsessed with fitness, looking good, and achieving perfection, and many people take this to heart and hurt themselves in the process, while others feel imperfect, guilty, and inadequate. Now, I am making some sweeping generalizations here, but I think most would agree that, overall, it is not common for people here to have the healthiest of relationships with their bodies and with "exercise". 

The first thing I would like to bring up in regard to this topic, is the idea of differentiating between 'fitness' and 'health'. This is something I read about near the beginning of the book, and it really struck a cord. Just because someone is training hard and looking fit and toned does not actually make them healthy! The author defines health as "a state in which all the body's parts, including the muscles, nerves, bones, hormones, organs, and glands, are in balance" whereas fitness is "the ability to be physically active". Okay, so this seems pretty straight forward and common sensical. And yet, look at the cover of any health or exercise (yoga type) magazine and you'll see a picture of someone who looks like they train three hours a day and could be a professional athlete. The kind of professional athlete that may have the muscle tone-y appearance of health, but may actually be suffering from injuries and extreme stress. This may include physical stress (not enough rest and recovery time) and also the mental stress of obsessing over exercise and perfection and having to run so many miles in order to feel good about one's self. 

Pushing ourselves to the limit and thinking that we have to "feel the burn" and train until we're quite tired and out of breath is probably not the healthiest, most balanced of approaches. It's just another example of how disconnected we can become from our bodies in the race for outer, superficial perfection. Or maybe it's not even about perfection and appearance for some people - instead it's another way in which Type A, productivity-based, fast-paced society is influencing our thinking. Instead of moving in a way that feels good and fun, we feel the urgency to push ourselves as hard as we can, and only when we are exhausted do we feel that we have accomplished something. 

How do we end this war against the body and against the beautiful, perfect, lovable self? By reconnecting with ourselves and treating our bodies, minds, and spirits with love, respect, and deep appreciation. Our bodies do so much for us, it's absolutely incredible to think of the billions of things happening inside of us every second, filling us with life and energy and the potential to do whatever we want! It's important to reverse any negative thoughts targeted towards the body and the self, and to instead celebrate their inherent, innocent beauty :) By realigning ourselves and fully accepting and loving ourselves, we can experience the kind of bliss that no amount of push-ups can ever get you :) 

Our environment has a huge impact on who we are and what kind of lifestyle we lead. However, it is of the utmost importance for us to re-embrace our wild, unique natures and to live our lives according to our hearts rather than external expectations and societal norms. The way it stands now, it is not normal to love oneself. It is also not normal to eat healthy fresh food and to exercise in a fun way that reflects one's inner light. By empowering ourselves and following our own wisdom and intuition, we can live truly blissful lives and make a positive change :)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day!

I love holidays that are all about celebrating the people in our lives! And mothers deserve a holiday just about every day :) Unfortunately, I did not win the lottery so I cannot buy my mum the spacious kitchen with lots of counter space and stainless steel appliances that she has always wanted...just yet :) Today we will celebrate by spending time together, enjoying this beautiful sunshine and all the lovely flowers, and maybe making some rhubarb crumble. 

A friend generously gave us some of the rhubarb that grows in their very own vegetable garden, and the time has come to put this rhubarb to use. Now, I don't think I've ever actually tasted rhubarb before, so this will be a first not only for cooking it but also for finding out what it tastes like! The huge amounts of sugar in most rhubarb recipes are a bit ominous, but hopefully the flavour of the rhubarb itself will be delicious! And just the word 'rhubarb' makes me smile :) It's a fun one :) Happy Mother's Day!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Ommm...

And now it is time to sink into the present moment and contemplate the vast benefits of regular meditation :) In the past, this practice was mostly associated with particular forms of spirituality and probably wasn't considered to be a very mainstream activity in Western society. Nowadays, however, there is such a great need for stress reduction that meditation is becoming more and more popular, with classes and group sessions popping up all over the place. 

Our society features many characteristics of the Type A personality - fast-paced, competitive, time-crunched (with a constant sense of urgency), highly active, and aggressive. We are encouraged to always be productive, on the go, always push ourselves to the limit, even if we are sick, tired, or constitutionally not designed to function in such a way. In order to survive, many people rely on stimulants such as coffee, refined foods, energy drinks, cigarettes, and medications. This may give you a temporary energy boost, but it is like borrowing money that you do not have - later on you will feel even more tired than before. We can only borrow so much before crashing and arriving at full on adrenal exhaustion. While proper sleep and nutrition are absolutely essential in order to balance things out a bit and edge towards the side of health and vitality, meditation can also be a beautiful, grounding, rejuvenating part of our day that helps us to not only survive, but truly thrive in a world that can sometimes feel overwhelmingly hectic and stressful. Even people who are not super stressed can benefit greatly from integrating some meditation into their day. Here are some of these wonderful benefits:
  • Stress Reduction - meditation lowers oxygen consumption, decreases respiratory rate, increases blood flow, slows the heart rate, normalizes blood pressure, decreases muscle tension and headaches, reduces anxiety, leads to a deeper level of relaxation, activates theta brain waves, lowers levels of cortisol (stress hormone)
  • Brain Function - increases serotonin (the 'happy' neurotransmitter), detachment from thoughts, stillness of mind, improvement in concentration, increased creativity (arising spontaneously in the moment when the mind is quiet), deeper understanding of self and purpose
  • Physical Health Benefits - helps relieve pain associated with certain illnesses, helps in chronic conditions like allergies and arthritis, enhances the immune system, helps with overall healing
Neuroscientists have also found that meditators actually shift their brain activity from the stress-prone right frontal cortex to the calmer left frontal cortex, and that there is also less activity in the amygdala (where the brain processes fear). 

Meditation is free and anybody can do it. The easiest way to start is to find a quiet, comfortable space and to simply focus on your breathing for a few minutes. I also like to do a body scan at least once a day - this is when you either sit or lie down and gradually concentrate on different parts of the body, allowing them to relax and letting any tension melt away. I start at my feet and move upwards. This exercise is also great for getting back in touch with the body. Raising our awareness of the body and reconnecting with it is essential to overall health :) 

I could go on and on about this topic as it is especially fascinating :) Meditation is so special - not only does it provide physiological health benefits, but it can also lead to great personal and spiritual growth. Mind, body, and spirit can all be integrated into this practice. Meditation can also mean something different to every single individual because it means going inward. However, it is also very unifying because it reconnects us to wholeness and grounds us in the earth. Even when the world seems overwhelming, meditation provides a centered place that is like your own rock - no matter what, it will always help bring you calmness, peace, and the power to accomplish anything you put your mind to!