New year, different challenges

And I started the new year with a break from blogging and so closely managing my life. Which was good, because work is super busy right now and I think I would be way overwhelmed if I was also trying to *do* something every day. I’m feeling overwhelmed as it is.

I have been incorporating different things into my downtime and my daily habits from last year’s experiment, though, when I can. I think that the experiment broke some of the road blocks in my head about the amount of time needed to do The Things, or maybe just loosened up my approach to them. It funny because I remember spending more time working on something on-and-off in my student days. Maybe someone convinced me somewhere along the line that I didn’t have enough time to work on things in the evening.

This weekend, I’ve been painting again, which is nice. I’m working on a sunrise over the Mediterranean from December. And I’ve been having tickles of writing urges – poetry or thoughts about a couple of my existing stories. I’m thinking I’ll take my laptop into the living room in a moment and work on something (I’m currently waiting for a layer of colour to dry on my canvas so I can build on it).

I’m looking at my journaling exercise writing and trying not to lose that plan. I have to keep doing my self-care so I can continue to move forward and build toward my goal of taking a new chance and reshaping my career.

I took some exciting training last week at work that made me remember one of my potential options for career reshaping – knowledge translation. I might look into getting more involved with it, and practicing it, so that I have a solid basis. I feel like it’s one of the things I’ve been working towards without really realizing it – communicating appropriately for appropriate audiences to help people access more knowledge.

But first, I have a big project to see through, which is stretching me in uncomfortable ways, and I have another big task to do by the end of the month. I will be asking for at least day off at the beginning of March to maintain my self-care.

Just a quick update with some hope, some struggle, and a reminder that we all need to take care of ourselves. Especially this winter with the cold and the snow, which can wear on the psyche, especially in the dark months. Keep looking for the light, and incorporate some hygge to see you through. I’ll be putting on a stew this afternoon, and maybe some fresh beer bread. :) Happy Sunday!

December 17th-24th

December 17th

Broccoli cheese soup from “125 Best Soup Recipes” for dinner tonight (with vegetable broth rather than chicken broth).

December 18th

Moondog on my way home from work.

December 19th

Cleaned out inbox before the beginning of my Christmas break. #winningthebattle

December 20th

Beginning my holidays right with spiked eggnog and “Christmas oranges” (aka clementines).

December 21st

A small light in the big darkness – happy Winter Solstice!

December 22nd

Netflix, knitting, beer, chips, the couch and DH. Time to relax.

December 23rd

Making Christmas dinner – Tofurkey roast with shallots, and the recommended sage, tamari, and olive oil baste.

Making my mushroom gravy to go with the Tofurkey (with the requisite spiked eggnog to help with the cooking).

December 24th

Making salmon and potato pie for Christmas Eve dinner for me – everyone else is having tourtière.

Fish pie!

Golden brown!

Delish. :) (I shared, of course).

December 10th-16th

December 10th

Vegetarian Tuscan sausage, zucchini and thyme pasta – to keep the European feel going, once I was home.

December 11th

Back at it on the 11th, at the ArcticNet conference.

Also, witnessed someone’s lost clementine. So sad. ;)

December 12th

Fuel to keep conferencing, even with jet lag. The day before was rough.

December 13th

A really awesome session today at ArcticNet, my last day at the conference.

December 14th

Friday off means working on my Advent Scarf and enjoying the quiet.

As an added bonus, had Manxmas with my friends on Friday night at our usual pub.

December 15th

Day 2 of the Advent scarf – challenging yarn but lovely colours.

December 16th

Rumballs made for my Crafting Club winter social. They were delicious!

So long, September

In a nutshell, I’d say that sugarless and sober was a success. It’s unfortunate that the rest of the month was so stressful. But I think I’ve proved to myself that the discipline isn’t what I lack.

Sober was easy. In my life, I don’t think I’ve ever really felt like I “needed” a drink (unless I’m forgetting something). When I’ve been stressed or grieving, alcohol hasn’t been my vice of choice.

Sugarless was a bit more challenging, but again, the discipline was there. Even if I was going for a coffee with a friend, I’d opt for the straight milk and coffee latte, rather than the fancy one with syrups and whatnot.

But during the power outage aftermath of the tornado, I did stop being strict about it. It was just so that I wouldn’t be avoiding perfectly edible food that otherwise would be fine, except for there being sugar as one of the ingredients.

Also, I was tired. This month was a lot. There was a lot going on, and a lot of exhaustion, stress, and then having to throw out everything in my fridge and freezer after 53 hours without power. That sort of just broke it for me. I decided that Sugarless September was done last week. And I enjoyed that Blossoming Rose tea latte.

But again, funnily enough, as I’ve come to realize at the end of most every month – the change had felt good. I will probably maintain a fairly sugar free diet, focused on fresh fruit and vegs, with good protein sources, and light on the breads and pastas.

What’s on tap for October? I had been toying with the idea of Educational October, where I’d sign up for those courses I had planned on doing (and finish the one that has been languishing for years). Except I’m still tired and there are still two weeks to go on a big deadline at work. So I think I’m going to go with Optional October.

Optional October will mean that every day, I will choose one thing to do – yoga, meditation, reading, art, journaling, gratitude exercise, heavy workout, staying off social media, sugarless, sober, and yes, even working on a course or two. This way, I’ll be able to work in some of the things I’ve learned this year about what makes me feel better, and I’ll still have a goal, it just won’t be as strict.

September midway point

With the documentary The Truth About Alcohol on, I thought I’d do my midway report on Sober and Sugarless September.

Not drinking has been really easy. So far, I’ve done our usual weekend away in Stratford and I didn’t want a beer or glass of wine. Also it made our dinner bills a bit lighter than usual. Then, this weekend has been a family get together with multiple dinners where I have been drinking water or sparkling water instead of the beer or wine everyone else has been having. I haven’t felt deprived or left out.

The sugarless aspect has been eye opening though. I didn’t realize how much of my daily diet had sugar in it.

For my morning meal, I’ve been using oatmeal, overnight oats (with unsweetened hemp milk or almond milk, and stevia-sweetened vegan protein powder) or a thawed-frozen blueberry/chia and hemp seed/plain yogurt mix with homemade muesli topping. My usual earl grey tea with milk and honey has been replaced with green tea or coffee with cream. That hasn’t been disruptive, except for the noticeable lack of sweetness.

For dinners (and therefore leftovers for lunch), I’ve been focusing on very plain, whole food – fish fillets, specific vegetarian protein analogues that don’t have added sugar. I was happily surprised by my favourite veggie patty (La Soyarie miso burgers) being sugar free, and unhappily surprised by how many veggie sausages had sugar as an ingredient. I was able to find one – Tofurkey spinach pesto sausages – that didn’t in my local produce store. I haven’t been making legume dishes yet but I might do a spicy chickpeas dish this week. Sides have been vegetables or salads. I was able to find three salad dressings without added sugar (one uses figs for sweetness). I also found a pre-packaged tomato sauce at my local store that was made without sugar so I might do a pasta night this week.

The condiments issue has been interesting. We’ve only been using Dijon mustard or homemade mayonnaise, as most everything else has added sugars! I’m thankful my second round of mayo tasted good, so that hasn’t been catastrophic (the first one was too sour and didn’t have that familiar tang that I wanted). Also, burgers have been topped with cheese, which has helped.

However, my body has been missing and, dare I say, craving that sweet flavour note. Desserts have been “local” peaches (potentially from southern Ontario) with plain yogurt, sometimes with blackberries. I haven’t cut out fruit because that’s at least a whole food with actual nutrients and fibre, despite the sugar content. But I’ve had to be aware of getting any sort of flavoured drink (no iced tea, lemonade, fancy frappés or lattes). I’ve politely declined getting dessert, or having a cookie or brownie at a gathering.

One of the major changes I’ve noticed is a distinct decline in my hunger. I’m not getting ravenous during the day, and I eat smaller portions of the food I have. That in itself has been worth the avoidance.

Unfortunately, this month was actually poorly timed because I’m also testing out sleeping with a CPAP machine and my sleep has been disrupted. As you may know, getting bad sleep is associated with changes your ghrelin and leptin levels (here, here, and here). Ghrelin, among other things, controls your appetite. And I find when I’m sleep deprived, I often crave the worst sorts of foods – chips and sugary things. Making this month much more of a feat of strength than I had originally expected. Add to that a work deadline and some elevated stress, to which I usually respond with emotional/comfort/treat eating (also focused on chips and sugary things), I’m kind of surprised I’ve done as well as I have. There are only a couple of instances of eating out that I expect I probably got some sugar, but otherwise I’m pretty confident that I’ve been avoiding it.

I’m determined to see it through as far as I can. I have a decision to make of whether to cut it short at the end, because a friend’s birthday is the end of the month and I’ve been invited to the party and bourbon tasting. I will also be finishing the month with a requested cake baking of the famous chocolate stout cake with mocha buttercream icing. But the aim of that is to have the cake in October, at least. We’ll see how it goes.

And to finish my update, here’s a picture of one of the morning glories outside the Stratford Festival Theatre. They were such a delicate creamy blue colour. Gorgeous. :)

Ah, September

Reading August is done, and while I got some books read, I didn’t get as many finished as I wanted to. I think I was pretty successful at making time to read daily. I probably missed only a couple of days that were especially busy. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to keep reading this month, though it’s looking quite busy. I still have quite a pile of books that I would like to get through.

So, on to September. I have been wanting to do a nutrition/diet related month about eating healthy and cutting out a lot of junk.

Presenting Sober *and* Sugarless September.

Why both?

I don’t really drink that much, so avoiding my not-even-once-a-week taste of beer or cider or wine didn’t seem like a huge challenge. Sugar, however…

I usually sweeten my tea in the morning with honey. My milk analogues are sweetened. Baked goods, dessert, yogurt, condiments… hell, I just looked at the chips I picked up for entertaining two nights ago and both of the bags have sugar in their list of ingredients. Dammit.

Cutting out sugar will be more challenging, and may make a bigger difference in my diet than just skipping a few beers.

Although to ring in September last night, my husband and I, and our friend J hit the pub. I regret that this morning… Not drinking for a month sounds like a really good idea right now… bleh.

Final Creative Friday

  
Alas, the day has come. This is the final day of my eight weeks of being a full time artist. To celebrate, I took myself out for a sushi lunch at my favourite sushi restaurant – a little six table, plus lunch bar place in my neighbourhood, Sushi Umi (for the record, that’s 2 pieces of hamachi and 2 pieces of sake sashimi {with a free third piece of the sake sashimi because that’s how they roll}, plus a spicy tuna roll and the Yummy roll which is filled with all sorts of deliciousness and topped with tempura tai and avocado). If you get a chance, do go there. The people are wonderful and the sushi is delicious.

I’m determined to make it past page 300 today (in a word processor – not sure how that converts to actual printed novel pages). I am in Act 4 of 5, and expect the story to flow much more easily, I think. I already have the skeleton of these next two acts sketched out.

I will definitely look to do this again in coming years. Maybe another two years from now, I’ll be in the position to be able to justify it.

The adventures continue this year. I might try to fit in NaNoWriMo this year since I had that idea for an entirely different book – more of a hard sci-fi too. Completely different from my current adventure fantasy-horror that I’m writing.

Then there is our Christmas honeymoon coming up too, heading to Paris, France for Christmas and Reykjavik, Iceland for New Year. :)
Back to working downtown on Monday. It has been worth it.

Sunny day

  

This was the scene last night at about 11:50pm as I was going back to the hotel. Sunset is around midnight right now. Hence the pink spots on the clouds, I suppose.

We had a lovely dinner at a restaurant a few blocks from here, called Toripolliisi. I had the salmon soup to start, which was a slightly milky broth over large chunks of salmon and potato with dill and some other herbs. It was quite lovely. And then I (and most of the group) had the whitefish dinner, which was superb. The fish was fresh and simply cooked, two skin-on filets were draped over delicious sautéed mushrooms and caper and cream potatoes. We had a fancy dessert of a sliver of chocolate cake with a cream cheese icing, a few strawberry halves with a subtle herb on them, and a blueberry sauce topped with vanilla ice cream, and an unknown shot glass of a blueberry something. I thought it might be another sauce for dessert but most people drank it. It was creamy like a smoothie, and I did end up drinking part of it but I also drizzled it over the ice cream and the cake.

We then went to a pub nearby the hotel for a pint. I tried a different cider there – Crowmoor. It was quite mellow, and very nice. Most of my group were drinking Karhu beer.

  
However, this is the scene this morning. It is a warm and lovely day outside. 

  
Even the crosswalk is cobbled in the pattern.

  
And here’s a bit of lens flare looking into the sun.

I have a meeting this afternoon and then another dinner tonight. But for now, I’m back in my room with a chai latte (lactose-free – they are very good at that here) to practice my presentation. 

Good morning!

Spring stew

Okay, so if you’re like me and don’t necessarily pay the best of attention to, say, the news or the weather over the weekend, you probably woke up this morning thinking that the Starks may be right and George R.R. Martin was actually writing a futuristic novel all the time. (Bring on the dragons!)

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I mean, seriously? I wore a hoodie to the mall yesterday for goodness sake.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am a fan of all seasons. And it’s not like I live in the Maritimes. I really have nothing to complain about. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t be wishing for a new season – one that has fresh greenery, little flowers, smells like mud and rain and leaves, and provides new vibrant fresh green food. I know I have been absolutely devouring green salads lately, probably in my post-winter “I’m done with heavy comfort food, bring on the fresh veggies!”

Primavera means spring in Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan and Galician, and it is also known as a light vegetable topping for pasta. I picked up a delicate bunch of thin, fresh asparagus (from Mexico though, but it will be in season here eventually – probably…) last week and have been trying to incorporate it into our meals somehow for the past few days. Last night, I cooked some raviolis and put a huge serving of primavera “sauce” on top, but as I was eating it, I thought it could be its own stew.

So here is my Primavera Stew.

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium sized carrots, sliced into fairly thin rounds
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 portobello mushroom caps, halved and sliced
6-8 cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 head of broccoli, in florets (halve the really large ones – you want them all about the same size)
1 bunch of asparagus, tough ends snapped off and chopped into ~1″ pieces (I only used 16 stalks because I was saving some for tonight’s dinner too but it could definitely benefit from more asparagus!)
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 cups veggie broth
~1 tbsp Italian herbs (I didn’t measure, I just shook the bottle until I thought it was good)
~1 inch diameter loose bunch of fresh chives, chopped (think how you measure spaghetti by holding it in your fist)
Thickener of your choice (I used 2 tbsp of corn starch at the end of cooking, mixed into the remaining ~1/2 cup of broth)

Put olive oil into your wok and start heating on medium heat. Add garlic and allow to warm in the oil and become fragrant. Add carrots and celery and toss about with a spatula. Add portobello mushrooms, cremini mushrooms and let cook until starting to wilt and release their juices.

Add about a third of the stock and let simmer. Add herbs and stir around to mix into veggies.

Add broccoli (sensitive veggie – you don’t want to cook it too long) on top and let steam for a few minutes before mixing into the rest of the veggies. Add another third of the broth, chives and chickpeas and mix. Add asparagus and let sit on top of the veggies, steaming.

Stir 2 tbsp of corn starch into remaining broth to help thicken the sauce. Make a well in your veggies as best you can and pour the corn starch mixture directly into the simmering stock on the bottom. It should take only a couple of minutes to thicken and clear. Be sure to mix all the veggies together so they are all coated. You know it is done when the asparagus are tender-crisp and the broccoli look a delicious emerald green.

Serve in bowls (or over pasta if you like). I suspect herbed scones with a bit of butter would go excellently with this stew.

Enjoy!

And just because, here is the full version of Vivaldi’s La Primavera. Because it’s pretty and full of strings and hope and memories of rainy Sundays and budding trees.

A few updates

Sorry, guys.  It’s been a while.  July is generally crazy busy for me, and this July was no exception.

I did my slideshow at work, and I got some very complimentary reviews of my dSLR photos.  So I admitted to one of my friends that I’m hoping to do a show at “my local” pub.  I just need to contact the new artistic director there and see if she would like to display my photos.  I should get on that…

Then it was my birthday – I had thought to have an open house at my place to show my friends some of the paintings I’d done over my nine weeks off.  But it was sweltering hot in here for the week leading up to my birthday, so I opted not to spend my time sweating over a stove preparing food and cleaning my house, and instead went for a hike in Gatineau Park with my boyfriend, his brother, sister-in-law and our nephew (who didn’t hike so much as ride).  It was great, even with me tripping on a divot on the paved pathway to the head of the trail and skinning both of my knees right off the bat.  *sigh*  They don’t call me Klutzapalooza for nothing.  I kept right on hiking though, with my bloody knees and shin, because I’m badass like that.  And it was so worth it – so many lovely nature interactions that day – toads, garter snake, heron, woodpecker, deer…  After the hike, we were famished and we went to Cafe Soupe’Herbe in Chelsea, QC, for delicious, delicious vegetarian food.

Deer photobombing my heron picture.

Deer photobombing my heron picture.

She came up to the trail and crossed it behind us.

She came up to the trail and crossed it behind us.

Currently, this is my long weekend of nothing – no plans, not rushing around, just relaxing and not over-programming myself.  Sure, we go out and do things if it catches our fancy, but I don’t have anywhere I *have* to be.

Oh, and I tried a neti pot for the first time.  It was one of the purifications that we learned about in yoga and I was not excited to try it.  You see, I almost drowned twice as a kid (once, the neighbour’s kid was holding my head underwater in my little turtle wading pool in the backyard; the second time, because I was trying to touch the bottom of the pool like some of the other kids and I wasn’t strong enough to kick to the surface), and that led to a fear of water that I had to work through as a slightly older kid.  And water up your nose is never a great feeling anyway.  But I tried it, and the sensation was a momentary “Uh, that’s usually reason to panic” but I made it.  I poured the entire one cup of saline water through both nostrils letting it pour (or drip…) out the other nostril.  Apparently I need to work on my right to left, because the flow is not as easy.  And I just did it again this morning.  Then again, I did have a dream this morning that something green, slimy and sentient was stuck in my sinuses and wouldn’t come out.  I don’t know – the subconscious is a weird place.  Maybe because we went to see Pacific Rim the other night, who knows…  Will I continue to use the neti pot?  I’ll keep trying it out.  It does makes your head feel clearer afterwards.

So, heading in to August and it’s cooled down dramatically.  Weekends don’t look quite as hectic, but I have something written down for three of the remaining four weekends.  But not two things each weekend, so that’s nice.

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One of the things I remembered that I wanted to write down was about Irish veggie burgers.  Here, our veggie burgers are usually tofu, soy or some sort of bean/frozen vegetable mix (those are not my favourite).  But there was one night that I came back to my first B&B and my host had indicated there was a “chipper” down the way, so I thought I’d try it out.

So veggie burger and fries at the chipper, where the fellow was watching the somewhat violent football match (soccer, for those not in the know).  The veggie patty was covered in a golden brown breading type coating – deep fried.  Biting into it, you realize that it’s made of mashed potato, creamy and hot, with little jewels of veggies studding it.  Yum.

I ended up stopping at an Irish fast food place, Supermac’s, the day I was driving to Northern Ireland, after hiking up to Carrowkeel Neolithic Cemetery, and got a veggie burger there – the same kind.  It’s really interesting.  I have reams and reams of recipes on how to make homemade veggie burgers, and they focus on beans and mushrooms (I have a decadent mushroom burger recipe… drool).  But I can’t recall any that recommends making a veggie burger with mashed potato and veggies only.  Maybe something to try – I don’t have a deep fryer (and I don’t want one…) but I am a fan of potatoes.

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Also, if you have an hour to spend, I’d recommend watching this video by NutritionFacts.  While I recommend you exercise your critical thinking about it as well, it is a really interesting talk by a doctor about how nutrition can impact (and reverse the damage leading to) the top causes of death in the Western world.  Probably nothing you haven’t heard before, but he actually flashes up some research (granted, some of it was quite dated) and it’s nice to have a personable doctor interpreting it rather than media.