25 January 2008

Persistence pays off

If anyone would have told me a year ago that I’d be capable of losing over 20 lbs., I would have promptly laughed in their face. To be frank, I never gave myself much credit when it came to willpower or determination; quite rightly I suppose, seeing as I had none at the time.

As I quickly approach my twenty-seventh birthday, I can finally say that I have both the body and health that I’ve always dreamed of. While I was never obese, I always leaned towards the very diplomatic ‘curvy’ and ‘well-fed’ category. I never had lofty goals of being model thin, my body just isn’t meant to be that way, but I always felt that I was hovering just above what a normal and healthy weight should be for a person of my height and small frame. As I quickly discovered, when your only 5’2” tall, those extra pounds don’t have much room to distribute evenly. Even more worrisome is the fact that your metabolism already starts to slowdown in your 20s. All of a sudden my blissful freshman University diet of beer, whisky, chocolate and fries backfired…darn!

Turning my habits and lifestyle around over the past several months has been challenging, but thankfully not as horrible as I originally anticipated. Old habits die hard and probably always will, but at least I know I’m capable of confronting my issues head on now. If I indulge a little too much, I know it’s not a huge deal, I’ll be hitting the gym or doing a few more reps. Physical activity has become such an intrinsic part of my life that I actually finding myself craving it. I enjoy my new regime to the extent that I’m even considered taking courses to become a certified personal trainer. It’s amazing what you are capable of once you get your health in check and find motivation. I think it would be equally gratifying to inspire others and help them find that same sense of power and fulfillment. The body is an amazing and fascinating machine; I just never realized its full potential before. I used to think my father was a bit mad with his religious bodybuilding schedule, but now I have nothing but respect for the dedication and focus that it takes. In a small way, I like to think that I’m following in his footsteps and hopefully I’ll be able to pass on the value and benefits of physical activity to my own children some day – here’s hoping it doesn’t take them 26 years to catch on!

I hope this post doesn’t come off as too high-handed. Believe me it’s not often that I “blow my own horn.” I do however think it is important to celebrate your successes and personal victories, no matter how big or small. In my case, I feel as though I’ve crossed a major threshold, one that I plan to never have to walk through again.

23 January 2008

Another star has fallen…

Typically I’m not one for Hollywood gossip and infotainment. I’m not an avid moviegoer and I don’t often concern myself with the details and lives of the rich and famous. However, I will admit that I was both shocked and deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Heath Ledger.

At the tender age of 28, Heath Ledger had a promising career ahead of him. As both a new father and an acclaimed actor, he had the world at his feet. He seemed to steer clear of the limelight and the typical glitz and glam of the industry and yet his body was discovered yesterday in that ‘all too familiar’ Hollywood way – unconscious, with sleeping pills by his side. Accident or suicide? I suppose we’ll never know the true answer.

Why is it that so many actors and entertainers take their life or die at such a young age? It seems like such a terrible waste. Perhaps it’s a matter of trying to keep up with expectations and the pressure of always being bigger and better. Perhaps it’s because their careers take off so suddenly and they can’t cope with the new fame, fortune and lifestyle. Perhaps actors and wired differently; maybe they ‘feel’ more than the average person or maybe they’re more sensitive to emotions. Perhaps they become so consumed by the characters that they portray, that they loose sight of their own persona. The notion of “tortured artist” may not to too far off the mark.

What truly angers me is the fact that so many actors fail to realize the potential that they have. While I have no doubt that fame can be quite harrowing, it can also be used to a great advantage. So many of us have things to say, important message and ideas to deliver, and yet we lack the means, interest and audience to ever make a difference. Think of the tremendous amount of good that can be done by entertainers. Just their sheer popularity is enough to mobilize society. Being a legend goes beyond the silver screen, concert hall and theatre, it applies to life and philanthropy as well. Look at people like Bob Hope, Paul Newman, Roger Moore, Paul Hewson (Bono) and Oprah. They are shining examples of famous people who have led successful careers in entertainment, while managing to keep a cool head and find fulfillment by contributing to society. Rather than yielding to fame, they have used it to its full advantage.

As an average Joe, it all seems so simple to me. My life is a million miles away from glitz and glam. I suppose I will never completely understand the pressures or power of fame and fortune. What I do know is that life is precious, no matter how it is lived. To die at 28 is a tragedy.

22 January 2008

Succulent scraps

Sunday dinner yielded yet another success. The Tuskinny Chicken was very tasty and I can easily see myself cooking it again. My only reservation was that it wasn’t spicy enough for my warped taste buds, something that could easily be remedied with some crushed red pepper flakes. If you’re not a fan of ‘hot,’ however, the recipe is great as is!

I now find myself in the enviable position of having a fridge-load of yummy leftovers. For the longest time, before I started eating healthier, hubby and I could never keep leftovers in the house. I was always determined to split the food evenly between the two of us and eat every last morsel on my plate. Since scaling back my gargantuan portions, and eating as the good Lord intended me to, I can now stretch my Sunday dinners out over a few days. Typically, we’ll eat something different on Monday to break things up, but Tuesday is now becoming our leftovers night. The piece de résistance - one night less of cooking during the week!

As much as I love my weekend forays in the kitchen, I’m a good deal less enthusiastic on weekdays. After getting up at 5:30 in the morning, working all day and getting home at 6:00 in the evening, to say that I’m pooped would be an understatement. Because I can only schedule my workouts in the evenings, I typically have the challenge of trying to cook and eat quickly. If I spend too long dallying over preparation, I don’t leave myself enough time to eat and digest. The longer I spend in the kitchen, the later I start my workout; the later I start my workout, the later I go to bed. It can get tedious.

As much as I hate the idea of becoming “Casserole Queen,” there really is something to be said for preparing weeknight meals in advance. Less stress, less fuss and more time to do the things that you often neglect. Who knew that such a simple solution could be found in the bottom of my Tupperware? Tonight, I‘ll get to rest!

20 January 2008

Sunday's food and boredom-induced ramblings...

A pointless entry really, but I’m reluctant to get off my behind and start the day. It’s past 9:00 a.m. and I’m actually still sitting here playing around on my computer. Typically, I’ll start rushing around the house, cleaning things the moment that I’ve finished my coffee (a.k.a. Jenny fuel). Today I vow to relax until at least 10:00 a.m. It doesn’t sound like much to most people, but staying put in one spot for over an hour is quite an accomplishment for me…sad really.

Tonight I will be trying out a new recipe for dinner, Tuskinny Chicken, from the ever-popular Eat Shrink and Be Merry. I’ve been hearing rave reviews about this book, so I naturally HAD to pick it up. I’m seriously starting to think that I could open a cooking library with all the books that I’ve purchased lately. Food is quickly becoming a bit of an obsession – an expensive one at that!

Per usual, I’m looking for a willing guinea pig for tonight’s meal. Hubby is always eager when Sunday rolls around because this is “new recipe day” in our house. But because he is my hubby, and perhaps a bit biased, I always like having a few other reviewers on hand. Last week I cooked for my parents and tonight I’m hoping that my brother will be able to come over. If anything, I want to see his face as I load the mushrooms and peppers on his plate. My goal is to get people to eat and enjoy things that they typically can’t stomach. He always swore off curry, but he has since changed his tune since I got him to try a Tikka Masala. I’m hoping that tonight will prove equally successful.

In other news, be sure to check out the “Taste of Winterlude” festival between January 24th and February 10th. A selection of some of Ottawa’s finest restaurants will be offering special prix fixe menus. This is a great way to discover some of those hidden culinary gems in Ottawa, without having to pay the often-ostentatious prices. For a full listing of participating venues and menus, check out the website. Be sure to call and make reservations soon as spaces are limited. I’m hoping to make the most of this event. My birthday is coming up in a few months and I’ve always believed that a nice meal out makes the perfect early gift. Hint, hint to all you friends and family who are reading this.

18 January 2008

Wine country is coming to Ottawa...

Attention all Ottawa wine enthusiasts! Banish those seasonal blues and warm your spirits and senses by participating in this year’s Winter Wine Fair.

This event comes to Ottawa as part of the new "Taste of Winterlude" series, a culinary journey into fine dining and Ontario wines.

The Winter Wine Fair is organized by the Wine Council of Ontario in partnership with leading wineries from Lake Erie North Shore, Niagara Peninsula, Pelee Island and Prince Edward County. Over 20 Ontario wineries will be present, providing exclusive samplings of over 100 VQA wines, including international award-winning Icewines.

Want to learn how wine is made? Winemakers will be on hand to answer questions and share some of there tricks of the trade at interactive seminars. Want to get up close and personal? Enter your name to win an exclusive trip to Ontario’s wine region and experience first-hand the production of some of the country’s finest wines.

Date: Tuesday, February 5th, 2008
Location: Government Conference Centre, Ottawa
Time: 19:00 - 21:30

Tickets are a cool $45 per person and can be purchased online.

Interested in other wine-related events in the Ottawa region? Check out one of my favourite websites: Groovy Grapes. Yeah…they pretty much have my dream job…


16 January 2008


I am pleased to report that my foray into French cuisine turned out very well. The Cassoulet was delicious with loads of luscious herbs and sauce for dipping our rolls. The cherry Clafouti was equally divine and the perfect accessory to carryout my theme. I received rave reviews around the table from both hubby and my parents. Topped off with a perfect Chablis, it was one of the more enjoyable meals that I have made recently. This definitely goes on my “repeat” list for the future.

There’s something so gratifying about trying a new recipe and discovering new foods and tastes with other people. The unknown result can be a little frightening when you’re cooking for a dinner party, but I still like to use my guests as guinea pigs. It’s interesting to hear what each person has to say after taking their first bite. It’s even more pleasing when you hear that little “sigh” of contentment. To the chef, there’s no better sound than that of satisfied company. This is assuming, of course, that the guests are being genuine. Luckily, my parents have always been “very” honest people…

While I’d like to say that the meal was entirely my own creation, or a guarded family recipe, I have to give credit to a few sources: The Healthy Slow Cooker, a great buy for you health conscious CrockPot fans, and the Weight Watchers online recipe database.

In my opinion, good food should always be shared; this being said, I’d like to share these wonderful recipes with you. Try them for your next dinner party or a nice meal at home with your special someone. Hell…eat a bowl by yourself if you have to!

Cherry Clafouti

Cooking spray
1 cup fresh cherries, pitted and halved
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp table salt
1 oz cognac
1 cup low-fat milk
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/4 tsp powdered sugar


Preheat oven to 375ºF. Coat a 10-inch pie plate with cooking spray. Arrange cherries over bottom of prepared pie plate and set aside

In large bowl, whisk together eggs until frothy; whisk in extract, salt, cognac and milk. Add flour and 1/3 sugar gradually, whisking with each addition; mix until just combined. Pour mixture over cherries and bake for 10 minutes.

Reduce temperature to 300ºF and bake until centre of clafouti puffs up and a toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Allow calfouti to cool before sprinkling with ¼ tsp. of powdered sugar. Cut into 6 pieces and serve.

Note: Traditional Calfouti is made with cherries, however it can also be made with virtually any fresh fruit or flash frozen fruit (however I wouldn’t recommend the latter). Try apples, pears or nectarines cut into little cubes, or whole berries like raspberries, blueberries or blackberries

Chicken Cassoulet

1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
8 carrots, peeled and sliced
4 stalks celery, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. herbes de Provence
1 tsp salt
1 tsp. cracked black peppercorns
1 can (28oz/796ml) tomatoes, including juice, coarsely chopped
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
2 cans (each 14-19oz/398 to540ml) white beans
2 bay leaves
2 lbs. skinless bone-in chicken thighs (or use chicken breast halves)
1 lb. cremini or portobello mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup finely chopped dill

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions, carrots and celery and cook, stirring, until carrots are softened, about 7 minutes. Add garlic, herbes de Provence, salt and peppercorns and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add tomatoes with juice, chicken stock, beans and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Remove from heat.

Spoon half of the bean mixture into slow cooker stoneware. Lay chicken evenly over top. Arrange mushrooms evenly over chicken. Spoon remainder of sauce over mushrooms

Cover and cook on Low for 6 hours or on High for 3 hours, until juive run clear when chicken is pierced with a fork. Stir in dill. Cover and cook on High for 15 minutes, until flavours meld.

The recipe will easily serve a hungry crowd of 8 people. I recommend serving with some fresh whole wheat rolls, excellent for soaking up that luscious sauce! I also served with a simple garden salad.

Nutrients pre serving:
281 Calories, 24.4g Protein, 32.7g Carbohydrates, 6.8g Fat (1.4g sat., 2.6g mono, 1.5g poly), 10.3g Fiber, 948mg Sodium, 69mg Cholesterol.

N.B. If you would like to decrease the amount of sodium in this recipe, try making your own chicken stock and cook dried white beans with no added salt (instead of using the canned variety).


13 January 2008

Le ventre en rose…

No doubt about it, the French are notorious for their food and culinary genius. This being said, have you ever browsed at a menu of some of the most highly-coveted and Michelin-starred dishes? Try as I might, I not sure that my taste runs towards fried goose liver and fat. I suppose I should not knock it until I try it, but I just don’t see myself shelling out big $$$ for something that will leave me with a big belly.

Foie gras aside, I do find myself equally tempted by French cuisine. There’s something so wonderful and earthy about cooking with fresh herbs and ingredients. While fancy restaurants make us think of heavy, complicated, fat-laden dishes, French cuisine can in fact be quite simple, prepared lovingly with local high-quality ingredients and a good degree of modesty.

As a relative newcomer to French cuisine, I decided to start with the basics. In my search for something traditional and sustaining, I came across “Cassoulet,” a homey bean-based casserole filled with vegetables and simple yet flavourful herbs. Being the poultry lover that I am, I opted to add chicken to the recipe rather than the more traditional pork. As I write, everything is simmering away in the slow cooker and it smells heavenly.

Inspired by my newfound recipe, I decided to see what other goodies I could add to the menu. Because the main course is already quite filling, I will make a simple garden salad and some whole wheat baguette to soak up the juices. The crowning glory will be a flan-like cherry Clafouti, yet another little French gem that I found in my search. And of course no French meal would be complete without a healthy dose of wine, my favourite Chablis.

So if that is not enough to make your mouth water, I’m not sure what is! If this meal turns out to be a winner, maybe I’ll delve even a little further into French cuisine. I’m still a long way off from goose liver but even a fledgling cook has to start somewhere right?

Bon appétit!

10 January 2008

Feelin’ swoony …

Yesterday, I managed to make myself look like an utter numbskull at the Doctor’s office.

I was in for a consult with a new OB/GYN (no I’m not pregnant folks, I’m just making just everything is in working order), and after being poked and prodded for an hour I was sent for some routine blood work.

I have no idea why needles seem to affect me. I’m never really nervous, I don’t find them painful and I’m always a calm and agreeable patient - years of practice as the daughter of a nurse. I can’t say I enjoy needles, but I certainly don’t get freaked out like some people Unfortunately, while I can mentally prepare myself for a needle, the physiological side of things sometimes goes out of whack.

After contentedly chatting with the phlebotomist while watching the blood flow out of my arm (yes, I do enjoy taking a peek), I felt fit as a fiddle. However, the moment I stood up to leave, I got that horrible familiar feeling of uneasiness: bright lights, far off voices and light as a feather. I could feel the blood draining from my face and I knew it was a matter of sitting down quickly or falling flat on my face. Experience has taught me to take seat on the nearest available surface the moment I get dizzy. My father once found me knocked out cold, naked on the bathroom floor…an experience I never want to relive again.

Just before I started to have my little fainting episode, a Dr. walked into the blood clinic and I recognized him instantly. He is the father of an old friend in junior high, someone I hadn’t seen in about 10 years. There’s nothing quite like introducing yourself to someone, only to almost pass out on them a few seconds later…quite embarrassing.

After being ushered off to an examination room to have a little rest and eat a lollipop (to get my blood sugar up), the Dr. took my blood pressure so see how I was doing. Upon reading a measly 90 over 50 (a decent range for an 8-year old child but not for a fully grown woman), he took pity on me and decided to drive me home. I guess God was smiling down on me because I’m not sure how I would have managed the 20 minute walk home in the rain and cold. Typically I’m not one to accept help, but I was very glad for it yesterday!

There’s something so upsetting about almost passing out; it makes me feel like a weakling. It just goes to show you that, no matter how well you take care of yourself, you just never know how your body will react from one moment to the next. As I’m quickly discovering, I should probably just have a gurney and chauffeur standing by when it’s needle time.

08 January 2008

Chew on this

Teaching myself to change my eating habits has been a long and difficult task. While I have made great strides in improving the way I eat, I am still challenged not to scarf my food down like an underfed street urchin. Have you ever seen the way a hungry man eats? Multiply that image a few times and you’ll have a pretty clear image of how I treat my food…very much à la pie eating contest. Sometimes I can’t stuff it down my throat fast enough; it’s like instant gratification, right? Wrong! It’s bad, bad, bad!

One of the key tips to healthy eating involves taking the time to properly chew your food. By chewing an extra 5 to 10 bites more, you’re body will feel fuller and more satisfied. More importantly, it will have the time to absorb the nutrients that it needs without craving more food.

To be honest, until I started researching nutrition further, I never really thought about how chewing (or sometimes lack thereof) could be affecting my health. Being the busy and high energy gal that I am, I’ve always sped through mealtime on autopilot shoving food down my gullet in a haphazard fashion: open, stuff, swallow and repeat until my plate is clean and I can return to more important matters. Meanwhile poor hubby will have completed only a quarter of his meal, while I’m racing to the sink to see to the dishes.

After doing some reading on the matter of ‘chewing’ (very riveting stuff by the way), I soon discovered that I am not the only one with this perverse problem. Turns out there’s a huge boatload of others out there who also like to inhale their food. Researchers believe that this aversion to mastication is due to the fast-paced, on-the-go, lifestyle that so many North Americans practice: work, cook and eat quickly in order to get to the gym for an hour or two before bed…oh the irony!

As strange as it sounds, one of my resolutions for 2008 is to chew my food properly and to take more time to enjoy my meals. It’s quite an amusing scenario for a girl who can linger over a single glass of wine, swirling, sniffing, sipping and sighing contentedly. I’m sure hubby will be equally thrilled to finally share his table with someone resembling his wife, rather than a hungry and ill-mannered Neanderthal.

Jenny’s “learn to chew” program for beginners:

  • Take smaller bites of food...
    t isn’t a damn race after all

  • Chew each piece of food slowly for 20 bites...
    even if you feel like a cow chewing its cud.

  • Take time to talk during meals...
    preferably without food in your mouth
  • Stop multitasking...
    get away from the T.V. or computer and actually focus on your meal (ignore the fact that I’m eating while typing this)
  • Food is our friend...
    indigestion is not!

    To all my fellow chew-phobic readers, I highly suggest that you take my tips to heart and “learn to chew for a better you”. Sorry, I’m copywriting that phrase!

  • Singing the blues with the winter blahs...

    It’s only the beginning of January and I’m already sick and tired of winter. After several record snowfalls in December, I’ve pretty much reached my snow quota for the year. In a perfect world, it would snow lightly only until Christmas day and then melt completely by January1st. In some ways, my dreams are coming true as we are currently experiencing some unseasonably warm weather and rain in Ottawa. The monster snow banks have started to melt, only to be replaced by dark brown mush and the lovely spring-like scent of freshly thawed dog poop…gross!

    Despite the melting and warmer weather, which I’m sure will be short-lived, I still cannot shake the winter blahs. What really seems to bother me is the constant lack of sun. I detest walking to and from work each day under dark skies. If the sun does peep out, it always seems to happen when I’m sealed away in my office and never on the weekends. It’s starting to feel quite oppressive; I have no idea how the folks up North handle this time of year.

    I would love nothing more right now than to hop on a plane and fly to somewhere tropical. This time last year, I was excitedly counting down the days until our blissful Southern Caribbean cruise. Of course, now that I’m 20lbs down and could actually sport a bikini without the ‘cringe-factor’, I am stuck in dreary old Ottawa. I suppose there will always be other years and opportunities and I should be grateful for the amount of travel that I have already accomplished in my 26 years.

    For now I will have to be content with staring at my lamp, snuggling up to the radiator and listening to Tito Puente recordings, as I glare at my newly painted walls, knowing full well that they cost me at least a few plane tickets to a tropical paradise. Growing up and making responsible adult decisions sucks!

    07 January 2008

    A change of pace…sort of…

    This weekend I managed to do the impossible…I relaxed! Or to be more precise, I stayed home and cleaned the house top to bottom but I didn’t go out and I didn’t entertain. Cut me some slack; that’s about as ‘relaxed’ as I’m capable of being.

    Time and time again, hubby laughingly tells me that I’d go nuts unless I had something to stress about or fuss over; sadly I really am starting to believe him. Unless I’m filling my days with a millions tasks and plans, I don’t really know what to do with myself. Thankfully Daniel seems to think this is an endearing trait. He simply stands back, shakes his head and watches me rush around like a madwoman. Patience truly is a virtue and luckily he has it in spades. Too bad a bit of that laissez faire mindset wouldn’t rub off on me.

    On Saturday, Daniel and I reluctantly took down the Christmas tree. I always find this an bittersweet task because on one hand it reminds me that a new year of adventures is just beginning, but on the other hand, it signals the end of another chapter in our lives…our first year of marriage, our first year in our home, etc. Moving forward into the unknown is two-pronged; it’s exciting and yet it’s also a little daunting. In retrospect though, I suppose the same could be said of everyday life. You can never be 100% certain of what will happen from one moment to the next. Perhaps this is why it is important to slow down, take a breather from time to time and enjoy life for what it is. I hate to wax philosophical, but I do find myself thinking about this more. Not sure many other 26 year olds think this way, but I have always been told that I’m a bit of an “old soul”. An old soul with a young body that won't seem to let me chill out - now there's a predicament if I've ever heard one.

    03 January 2008

    Post holiday rehabilitation commences…

    I’ve never been one to do anything in half measures; when I cheat, I go hardcore!

    While I’d like to stay that I stuck to my ‘healthy eating’ plan over the holidays, doing so would be a complete and utter lie. I was terrible, disgustingly so, and it was fabulous! Chocolates, cookies, and countless glasses of wine…surprisingly, I only managed to gain 2 lbs. back over my twelve days of unadulterated gluttony.

    What is it about the holidays that makes even the most health-conscious person turn into an absolute maniac? Common sense flies straight out the window, as though the magical spirit of the season will shield my thighs from the hundreds of shortbread cookies that I happily shove down my gullet. It never fails, I always say I will resist temptation yet I find myself reaching for the nearest sugar-laden goodie anytime I even think of let alone hear Burl Ives..."Holly Jolly" indeed…

    Thankfully, my long-overdue return to ‘healthy’ was not as difficult as I had anticipated. I packed up all the leftover holiday junk (if you dare to call chocolate junk) and gave it to hubby to bring to work. In most cases, “out of sight, out of mind,” works really well for me. Being back at work also eliminates munching on empty calories because I only bring healthy items with me. I swear to God, I could almost hear my body sighing in relief when I came into the office yesterday morning.

    With entertaining out of the way, I can now return to my exercise regime and hopefully tone up on some of those ‘not so pretty’ areas where I lost weight before the holidays. Thankfully, Santa was very good to me this year and heard my pleas; I received a whole slue of different exercise paraphernalia: rubber-coated metal hex weights, an interval trainer / pedometer, an aerobics stepper and a butt-kicking exercise DVD. If you’re looking for a day off from work or an excuse not to walk anywhere for a few days, may I suggest trying Jari Love’s Get Ripped, Slim and Lean? It’s an amazing workout but quite painful for those not accustomed to high reps with free weights..not for the faint of heart or muscle for that matter!

    Here’s hoping that 2008 is a good and healthy year! Wish me luck. With a little more willpower and some good muscle liniment, I’ll be proudly pointing my way to the “gun show” in the near future – hahaha!