Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Recipe: Maple Granola with Balkan Yogurt, Strawberries, and Honey

So it’s day 3 of my pre-spring cleaning cleanse and I’ve already google imaged a variety of pastries. Some bank had a promotional stand set up in our lobby today and I could already see a bunch of brown stuff on the table (likely chocolate cookies), so I knew I would have to exercise an inordinate amount of self-restraint. My co-worker and I approached the table and after politely listening to some horrific savings account opening incentive, she went for the best looking cookie on the table. I somberly declined and we walked on. I don't know who I am anymore.

Also, last night, I dreamt about guava. 

Before I share with you a recipe for the most luxuriously healthy granola, I just want to mention that I don’t know what I was thinking when I said that the Vaseline body moisturizer I use is scent-free. I used it twice on my arms and didn’t smell anything but that was maybe because I had a cold. I lathered it on again last night and oh my god. It’s like if Vaseline was a regular ol’ joe shmoe man, this Vaseline would be a man wearing a Dior tie.  It’s got this rich fragrance of honey and cologne, but not in a masculine way, just in a way that makes you imagine a stranger.  I was totally not expecting this smell, and suddenly it covered me, and I felt like there was someone new in the room (doesn’t that just happen to you every day?). You know how sometimes you smell something and because you’ve never smelled anything like it before, your mind doesn’t go to anything. It just …stays right there, and creates a new sensation of that very moment. Anyway, that’s how I felt. I think I might be high.

So, this granola was inspired by Secret Squirrel Food, who posts unbelievable (and unbelievably healthy) meals she makes and/or eats in Dubai. She recently posted a beautiful granola dish which makes me wonder why the farthest I’ll go to decorate my granola is with a sprinkling of cinnamon.
I decided to make my own granola this time, which was incredibly easy. Here’s how you do it:

2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup white quinoa
½ cup shredded coconut
1 cup chopped almonds
1 tsp salt
Nutmeg, Ginger, Cardamom …about ½ teaspoon each.  

Then add:
½ cup maple syrup
¼ cup coconut oil

Stir until everything is well combined, then throw into a 300 degree oven for about 45 minutes.  You want the granola to look toasted/golden, but don’t worry if it’s still soft. It’ll harden up while it’s cooling!

Get yourself some lovely natural yogurt. I love the Balkan style one because it’s unsweetened and brings out the flavour of the berries and granola. No starches, no sugar, just the basics.  Plop some into a bowl, throw in your wonderful granola, and then top with:

Chia seeds
Coconut flakes
Oh, and for that last bit of magic: drizzle it with honey!

I happened to have Spanish blossom honey kicking around (don’t ask why), and it did the job perfectly.  You can use any honey in the world, it honestly won’t matter. It’ll still be amazing.
And now, admire your beautiful meal and Instagram the hell out of it. I suggest X-Pro II…


Sunday, February 22, 2015

The It's Almost Spring Cleaning Plan!

I've been really busy lately which means I've had no time to neurotically read and follow recipes to cook meals from scratch. As a result, I've been dining out a ton, and eating quick, processed food.  Looking at the empty wine bottles scattered around my floor (what?), I felt it was time for a little reset. So, I've decided to do some It's Almost Spring Cleaning: 30 days of clean eating, using products that are as clean/natural as possible, and enforcing mindful positivity.  Why the last part? Because last week I snapped at someone over a roll of tape. Yeah, the snow is starting to get to me.  

Okay, so if you're on board, my approach to the diet part is fairly simple: no sugar (including any added sugar, so read those ingredients!), no white flour, nothing processed, and a veggie meal at least once a day. Aside from that, you can eat anything else that doesn't fall into those categories. To truly commit to this idea, I've taken everything processed in my pantry, and shoved it way up on the highest shelf that I can't reach. Usually, if I need something from that shelf, I take a boulder from my pile of Reaching Rocks and throw it continuously until it knocks the item down. All that to say, I don't go to that shelf very often.  Anyway, after separating all those boxed evils, I was embarrassed at how many cake and brownie mixes I own.  But you know what, one time my friend got rejected by a girl who was more into her horses than him, and I needed to whip up a batch of emergency brownies to make him feel better, and I didn't exactly have time to sift cocoa through a sieve, so a box did the trick and everyone felt much happier. So I don't regret my brownie mixes, so lay off me.

I'm also not going to open a can of worms here (unless they're organic lolololol) by talking about the benefits of gluten-free, GMO, or whatever else the hype may be.  I'm just going to say that I'm excited to try these products for when the cravings for bread become insurmountable:

And to use agave, honey, or maple syrup (sparsely) when I absolutely need to sweeten something. Again, this isn't an every day indulgence by any means, but something to avoid the white devil when that sweet tooth starts talking dirty.

And these are one of my favorite guilt-free snacks. They're literally pea-shoots, and they taste so, so good, and are very addictive. Just kidding, by the way, I don't feel guilty about snacks, ever.  

When possible, I like to cook with coconut oil. It's extremely subtle and doesn't make anything taste like coconut, but I find it's got a more buttery feel than other oils. In the absence of coconut oil, I would suggest cooking with EVOO (which is not a Taiwanese version of Wall-E's girlfriend but stands for extra virgin olive oil.)

Also, if you're trying this sugar-free diet, fruits are your new best friend. Ugh, no. No I will not be the kind of person who uses that in a sentence. Fruits are NOT your new best friend. They are a substitute for desserts you may be craving. Sorry I said that earlier. How gimmicky. Anyway, I'm excited to show you some extremely delicious fruit-based desserts I've learned through the years, from being vegan and trying the raw diet, if you'll forgive that best friends thing I said earlier, and keep reading.

Look at this perfectly straight banana, found at Whole Foods.  The cashier was trying to act like he holds those every day but I knew it was awkward for everyone in the room. 

I personally hate it when people try to tell me how to live my life. "Drink 18 to 40 glasses of water a day and you will feel rejuvenated!" Get bent. 
A less intense version for you: replace the majority of your other drinks (juice/pop/cognac) with water and you'll be okay. Obviously do the best you can, but don't kid yourself about adding a "splash" of cucumber to "make your water exciting". Seriously, just try to drink more water to flush out the toxins, and be proud of any effort you've made. Ps. sparkling water is awesome. My favorite is grapefruit flavored Perrier but I also like to keep it real with the much cheaper lemon-flavored Dasani, which looks like this...

Oh, and should you ditch caffeine and alcohol? Are you able to? If so, it's preferable that you do. If not, get dat latte girl.  I once did a 30 day no-caffeine diet, and I was miserable Some people say they feel "much more energized" and "so much better" after they get past the withdrawal symptoms, but for me, it was hell every morning, day, and night.  Hey, you know what's worse than a cup of caffeine every day? Thirty days of feeling depressed and miserable. Be happy with yourself for kicking the sugar - you're already accomplishing a ton.  As for the booze: it's winter, people.  Do your best, but if you want a glass of wine, you have yourself that glass of wine.

Alright, so now that we've conquered some basic aspects of what you're going to put in your body, let's talk about some options for stuff you will put on your body. 
First off, you really don't have to do this.  You will be just as healthy and happy at the end of the month if you stick to the plan above. But, if you feel like stepping it up a little, here are some natural alternatives to your personal care products.  

When it comes to deodorants, we all know the ones that smell great and make you feel fresh as a daisy are actually bad for you. Womp womp. Of course, I keep that in mind, so I actually have both natural and unnatural (?) options ready at all times, and I've created a guide to deciding which deodorant to wear, that I am lovingly sharing with you now.


1. You have no meetings today
2. Your evening will likely be spent watching YouTube videos of dogs doing yoga
3. There are no fashion sales going on to make you nervous about missing out on your size/fav colour
4. You don't have a blood test or dentist appointment today
5. You won't be standing in line to purchase limited-quantity pastries

Then you may proceed to wear natural, healthy deodorants such as this one, but I would recommend you throw it in your purse/murse to reapply as needed:

Attitude, bitches!
 However, if any of these conditions speak to your day... 

1. You will have to lead a meeting about a subject you know nothing about because when your boss sent you the documents you found them boring
2. You have a date with a guy who is both attractive and funny
3. You'll be attempting to exercise at some point
4. Purolator called and said there's a registered letter for you to pick up. Can the police send you letters requesting you go to jail?
5. You plan on watching a documentary about tiny animals and you are not certain of their fate

...then I would highly recommend sticking to the good ol' deodorant we all trust and love.  I like the Dove line because the packaging is pretty, and also because it reminds me of this cheeky bloke I met in London seven years ago, who once joked, in his typical British accent: "I only wear Dove because it's little black dress approved!" Oh, how we laughed at Tesco that day. Blimey.

On days where I'm not quite sure which team I wanna bat for (hippie dippie or toxic tina) (huh?), I go with this guy. "DEODORANT ONLY" it says. "Don't say I ain't warned you kid" (this deodorant is Al Pacino)

Look at it, perspiring under the cap already. "Will they know I'm not the real thing?"

Up next: your shower gel/body wash/soap. This part is really fun for me because I'm a body wash hoarder and have a whole drawer dedicated to them.  I've had this Dr.Bronner's body wash for eleven hundred years because it just won't quit, and it's good, basic soap that I think everyone is familiar with by this point:

And here are some great organic options.  It's actually funny because, as organic products don't tend to take center stage at pharmacies, they're often on sale due to lack of popularity. That's where I swoop in and scoop them up. Shoppers Optimum Points baybay.

And one time, Chatelaine magazine was like "Hey Alisa, can you take this free gift card and buy yourself a gift at the Shopping Channel?" and I was like "Okay" and used it to buy some body wash (obviously) that I've been eyeing for a few years now but never treated myself to. Have you ever heard of Korres? Their stuff is from Greece, and smells so, so good.

Bergamot pear and papaya mango, because apparently you can't read.

If you've been going to bed with your make up on, face half covered in your own vomit (just me?) (just kidding), you might wanna try moisturizing to spring clean your skin and get it ready for all da mad rays you're gonna get in our North American April, amirite?? This moisturizer isn't all natural, but it's very basic, very simple and scent free, and makes me feel like Gwyneth Paltrow because of how weightless it feels on my skin, while filling in all the dry spots. So, if your face currently feels like this:

Then slather some of this Biotherm Aquasource gel on, okay? 

 The other day, I was at an event hosted by Marshall's where the swag bags were seriously impressive. One of the goodies was this Vaseline moisturizer and I love it. It's also scent-free and creates a luxurious (yet understated!) layer of silky moisture which is great for me because I don't think my skin has ever been this dry in my life. Like seriously, I look like a paper mache project. One of my girlfriends gave me this very fruit-scented body moisturizer from Victoria's Secret called Tahitian Passion Sex Goddess Mango Burst Supremely Unapologetic Kitten Mousse Rose Velvet Confidence (or something like that), and I usually apply it only when I think someone will be smelling my legs (pretty much just at the gym), but I've been looking for something more simple that doesn't require me to wear stilettos and a crotchless thong with it, so yeah, Vaseline for the win.

 One of the most important things you can do for your skin is to find your face a good, healthy face wash.  Because your skin is so fragile on your face, you really want to make sure you treat it as kindly as possible.  Enter my two favourites: 

The Simple wash is great for removing makeup and really does a good cleansing job.  The Pukka product is gentle, as it says, and is more conditioning, so I wouldn't even use a moisturizer after rinsing with it. It doesn't remove eye make up very well, so make sure you use something to get those cat eyes off before you go for it. 

Okay, so confession. I follow Angela Kinsey (Angela from The Office) on Instagram, and recently, she posted a picture with a couple of Alba brand products in the background.  They looked really pretty, and I researched them, and loved how natural they are. They smell amazing, and so I stocked up on every type.  This is their face scrub:

And these are just two of the insane collection of shampoos and conditioners I bought, all in exciting tropical scents, which I can't get enough of ever since coming back from my vacation down south.  Sigh, can it please be spring already? Anyway, here they are. Unlike other natural shampoos, this one actually leaves my hair feeling clean and not just...wet.  And the conditioner softens it, without being too thick like those Pantene ones (which admittedly I love). 

Because I can never figure out when/how to wear mitts/gloves, every winter, I get crypt keeper hands. This Crabtree & Evelyn hand moisturizer really sinks into my skin and has that delicate rose scent to it that isn't overbearing. It's not 'natural per-se, but it's just so delicate that it makes you feel like you've been doing yoga all day. 

Alright, so that's my beauty round-up of suggestions to make you feel like you're treating your body just that little bit better. So what about the third component?  What about our emotional well-being?
Three things I would like you to do this month are: 

1. Relax
2. Stay positive
3. Laugh

In all honesty, I'm not very good at the first one.  I have a very hard time staying still, so my music tends to be fast, yoga tends to be impossible for me (despite the scent of my hand cream), and I can't tell you how hard it is for me to focus on a book.  Right now, as I type this, I have iTunes open (but who doesn't, whether they want to or not), two movies downloading, my Facebook chat running with four different conversation windows in full swing, seven random webpage tabs, which I alternate between when I switch thoughts, and a show paused. I've been trying very hard to chill out, so I've become somewhat obsessed with going to the sauna after each gym session, and taking lots of baths. Those are two things that also help you detox, so if you can fit in a session of either/both, you'll be doing your body a great favor.  Another thing I've been doing before bed is warming a mix of essential oil and water in a little dish, to make the whole room smell like an old man's cave.  Okay but really, all you need to relax is this little dish that fits a candle underneath it to warm the water and oil, a tiny candle (which comes in pink too, if you're feeling sexy), and some essential oil.  Lavender is considered calming, and you want to make sure you're using 100% natural oil for a therapeutic effect. Then, you turn your phone notifications off, and breathe it in until you feel better about everything. Then, you blow the candle out or your house will burn down in a horrific fire. 

As for the laughing and positivity, it's very simple: read and look at funny stuff (Buzzfeed, any video that starts with "funny grandma") and try to stay away from things that make you sad or scared (movies about small animals dying, your hydro bill). Try to stop yourself from thinking or saying negative things about yourself or other people - don't get me wrong, this is probably going to be the most challenging part for me, given I can't go a minute without pointing out my resemblance to Danny Devito.  But you know what, just try.  It's Almost Spring Cleaning is about clearing up some space for new, amazing things to come with the new season, but you can't let them in until you take care of some of that negative clutter. And don't worry if you can't buy anything organic, if you can't use coconut oil, or if you love Pantene too much to let it go. Even if all you take from this is that for 30 days, you look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself you're awesome, you've already done a bit of that spring cleaning, and before long, you'll be looking and feeling your best, kinda like this:

Let's do this!