10 weeks of tacos!

I have been a big fan of Seven Lives tacos since I ate my very first one in 2014. I started studies in traditional chinese medicine in April and found myself at Seven Lives for lunch. I told the manager Alex that I may have no motivation to bring my lunch and I wondered if I would tire of eating tacos? Alex promised I would not tire of the tacos and suggested I have lunch there every week I was at school-10 weeks of tacos became the name. During this time, I was offered a shift behind the counter on the grill(!) Spongebob may be a better fry cook than I-

I actually ate 12 weeks tacos diligently with the addition of amazing popsicles (paletas) when the Seven Lives Paleteria opened. My enthusiasm for the tacos remained steady and I will endorse having one of their tacos as an ideal lunch to maintain good energy levels in the afternoon. Definitely some of the best and most original tacos I have eaten, with the octopus taco being my favourite. If you haven’t had some Seven Lives tacos, I highly recommend them.

On the note of my top picks, I would also like to add Holy Chuck as the best quick burger. I have tested a few and the burger at Holy Chuck comes in as my favourite with P & L as a close second. This is a topic of hot debate and I am happy to test any other burger recommendations…

Happy Canada Day!

 

Peace at Every Meal

I recently started studying traditional chinese medicine. Part of the learning for me is being treated as a patient at the student clinic. I have been prescribed some food therapy while studying herbal medicine as well. One thing I can conclude with my all my studies in nutrition and health is a lot of conflicting information on what we ‘should’ eat exists. In our world of privilege, we have unprecedented access to food of any sort combined with a vast array of information on what is best for health. It is easy for meal time to be conflicted with what we ‘should’ eat and what we actually want to eat.

This is a lengthy philosophical debate that I will explore further another time. I do have a couple suggestions to consider and apply any time. First, it is a good goal to be at peace every time you eat. This peace is being mindful and free to enjoy your food as nourishment wholeheartedly. This can be accomplished by a practice of grace or gratitude before a meal in addition to taking the time to eat mindfully. Secondly, pay close attention to how you feel after you eat, as you are the best judge of what foods are best for your body. This awareness takes practice, so work on it whenever you can. These two practices are part of a healthy food relationship, which is making life good.

 

Exercise Can Keep You Young

I have said ‘exercise is supposed to keep you young’ quite a few times. Exercise of the right dose and quality keeps energy levels high and maintains optimal body function and health. However, once we get into the habit of exercise it is easy to think more is better, especially for the achievement oriented person. I coax myself on a regular basis to practice restorative yoga instead of going for another run. Our workouts need to have different energies to keep us healthy, balanced and well. We need workouts that bring us close to maximal effort in speed or strength. Steady, medium pace workouts. Recovery workouts, leisurely walks and plenty of work to maintain our range of motion with stretching or yoga.

I have noticed that it is easier for me to stay in shape by focusing on being healthy. That means having a high energy level, improving or maintaining speed and strength, range of motion (working on the splits), getting good quality rest and meditation. I need to tailor my workouts to address all of those goals, which means the workouts of different energies that I mention above. I will share that I am a big fan of 20 minute workouts that push me close to my max. This type of workout is challenging and effective for maintaining strength, speed and body composition.

One easy way to tell if you have the right mix of exercise in your program is to take stock of your energy level when you wake up and a quick look in the mirror. Do you feel energized with even energy throughout the day almost everyday? Do you look full of vitality and feel young? Do you move easily and well? If so, keep it going and stay young. If the answer is no to any of the above, time to take another look at your routine and improve, so you can feel your best all the time. Get good rest, work out smarter, not longer.

 

 

Recipe: Roasted Squash soup

I had some roasted squash soup as a special at Foxley in the fall. It was so delicious, I set out to make some myself the very next day. The recipe has taken some practice and I did ask chef Tom Thai for tips-the key is to rest the squash after it was roasted. The kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass impart such a nice balance with the rich coconut milk above the delicious roasted squash base.

1 buttercup squash

1 butternut squash

1 apple, peeled, cored and diced

1 onion, chopped

2 tablespoons coconut oil

handful of kaffir lime leaves

1 stalk of lemongrass, cut into pieces

4-6 cups vegetable stock

1 can full fat coconut milk

butternut and buttercup squash ready for roasting-2 types add depth of flavour

butternut and buttercup squash ready for roasting-2 types add depth of flavour

Wash the squash in warm water thoroughly. Usually squash are hard to cut through, so I throw them in the oven for 10-15 minutes whole to soften. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (soften up the squash as well).

Cut squash in half, scoop out seeds and rub with a little coconut or olive oil. Roast squash in a baking dish for 45-60 minutes. Leave in oven to ‘rest’ for a couple hours or until cool.

Depending on the softness of the squash, you can scoop out the flesh in chunks or peel the skin and cut into chunks.

In a large pot, heat coconut oil over medium heat and saute the onion and apple until softened. Add the squash, vegetable broth, lime leaves, and lemongrass. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the lime leaves and lemongrass. Puree with an immersion blender. Season with salt and stir in coconut milk until blended. Enjoy!

The Making Life Good weekly shopping list

I recently realized that for all that I have gone on about eating vegetables and fruit, I have yet to share what is involved on a weekly basis to build and maintain this habit. I actually have an unspoken commitment to myself to buy a variety of vegetables and fruit every week. When I travel, this is one of my first tasks upon arriving at my destination if I have a refrigerator at my accommodation and it is a must do as soon as I return home.

What do I typically buy? My good friend Emily taught me years ago that I ought to purchase in season local produce whenever possible (farmers markets are a good way to go). However, if you know me, I do have a predilection for strawberries, especially with some chilled champagne or clotted cream all year round. Most important is getting into the habit of buying and being sure to consume the fresh produce you bring home. Stocking your kitchen with fruits and veggies you enjoy is sure to improve your health by having healthy choices readily available.

Here is a rough list of what I buy on a weekly basis:

Organic lemons

Organic romaine lettuce

organic black kale

watercress

cucumber

grape tomatoes

green onion

avocados

parsley, cilantro

honey crisp apples, blueberries, pomegranate, oranges (winter fruits)

fresh fruits and veggies of the week

fresh fruits and veggies of the week

 

 

 

Dry January

Happy 2016 to all! The start of a new year always brings some contemplation to my life, as the question of what I wish to accomplish this year comes to mind. This month I noticed the term ‘Dry January’ for the concept of being sober for the entire month of January, which is 31 whole days! The idea is not a new one, but seems to have been popularized in the UK recently and brings awareness to our alcohol consumption patterns. I must admit that abstaining from alcohol for an entire month seems too restrictive to me. I also say the same about diets, cleanses and crazy workouts, as I believe in developing sustainable healthy habits. Periodically, I have been able to not drink for a week, and the longest I have managed is 20 days, but this happened naturally, as I do not have the discipline to say I won’t have a drink for a week let alone a whole month.

No health and wellness expert could say that drinking alcohol is a great idea. However, it seems to be that some alcohol in moderation can be beneficial to overall health. The big question is always what is the right amount to be moderate? Self observation, monitoring and some mild discipline are the key lifelong habits to learn and practice for being healthy in relation to food and drink. I have long recommended and practiced the habit of counting the number of alcoholic drinks I have each week and recording it in a calendar to keep myself in check http://www.vivianlaw.ca/how-many-drinks-count-them/

Booze is different than food, as it has no nutritive value, so I feel it is always important to ask and monitor what is driving us to drink? How often do you drink? How does drinking make you feel? I have heard from many people that they are not able to handle alcohol in the same degree as they get older. That may be true, especially if you can feel the ill effects in your well being and energy level. It is a wise idea to cut back on your alcohol consumption if you are not feeling your best. It is not because you are getting old, however, it is just always a good idea to take care of yourself at any moment. New guidelines in Canada recommend at least one or more days a week of not consuming any alcohol. I would agree with this recommendation as your liver could use a break from processing alcohol at least one day a week.

I love to enjoy a drink for many different occasions, so making life good recommends (ac)counting the drinks you enjoy in care of  yourself,

 

Taste Experiences of 2015

There were many awesome taste experiences throughout the year in 2015. Here they are in no particular order:

Baklava from Patisserie Royale-after reading a glowing review in the Globe and Mail for the fine pastries at Patisserie Royale, I insisted our family go and buy a box right away. These pastries have become a new family tradition and we all particularly love the pistachio royale for the layers of crispy lightly honey soaked buttery deliciousness. http://patisserieroyale.com

Squash soup at Foxley-Just as the weather started to turn cool, the special at Foxley one night was squash soup with coconut milk and it was so incredibly delicious, I had to make it again myself! I am developing the recipe to share. 207 Ossington Avenue, Toronto

Harira soup in Morocco-I tried to have many samples of harira, a traditional Moroccan soup while in Marrakech this year, but didn’t manage to have as much as I liked to see different styles. However, I did develop a vegetarian recipe I quite enjoy. http://www.vivianlaw.ca/recipe-moroccan-chickpea-and-lentil-soup-harira/

Dinner at Al Fassia-this restaurant run by Moroccan women comes highly recommended by several sources and the dining experience is fabulous. From a delicious cocktail to all the plates of extremely tasty moroccan food. Must try if ever in Marrakech.

Lemon mousse at Cava-We first tried this dessert late summer and declared it a winner with the flavours of tart lemon mixed with a little jalapeño jelly, heavenly! www.cavarestaurant.ca 

String Chaat at Pukka-a friend introduced me to this salad early this year, as she thought I may be able to recreate it. I was able to identify the delicious threads of apple, carrot, cabbage and rice crisps in a nicely spiced dressing. However, I have only gone back to Pukka to eat it again and would recommend it everyone. www.pukka.ca

Big Mac bao at Dailo-These mini asian style ‘big macs’ are the delightful work of chef Nick Liu, who serves these at the upstairs bar of his great restaurant Dailo. They come complete with special sauce and mini frites. http://dailoto.com

Banh Mi at Baguette and Co-These delicious vietnamese sandwiches were discovered by chance when we took our relatives to High Park and the little sign of this sandwich shop caught my eye. We later stopped for some sandwiches and they are fantastic! The owner explained that their specially sourced bread makes all the difference. 1643 Dupont Street, Toronto

Laurent Perrier Rose-One night in June, a couple friends and I attended a tasting event of sparkling wine. One standout for us was the Laurent Perrier rose for it’s lovely pink sparkly delicious enjoyment!

Andale salad-I needed lunch while waiting for a flight at the San Francisco airport and was pleasantly surprised by the Andale salad, which consisted of slow roasted chicken, black beans, avocado, salsa, lettuce, cilantro, lime, mango and cheese in a tortilla bowl. This salad left such an impression, I have started constructing my own version ever since I had it in May.

Carnitas bowl at Cantina Grill-Another airport food discovery. While waiting for a connection at Denver airport, I stopped in for an early lunch at Cantina Grill and just didn’t know what to order. The lady behind the counter suggested I have the carnitas bowl and was it ever a great recommendation! The mix of romaine lettuce, rice, pinto beans, carnitas, cilantro, jalapeño, lime was the perfect satisfying lunch. Rick Bayless has a great technique to make carnitas on your own. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kATDHi2M32Y This all in one bowl is one of my favourite food discoveries of 2015, found at an airport!

Apple Tart at Chabrol-This is a new discovery and I managed to share an apple tart with friends and family three times within a week. The house made puff pastry is light and crisp underneath layers of thin sliced perfect sweet tart apple topped with lovely calvados sabayon. Truly the best ever and masterful work by chef Doug Penfold. 90 Yorkville, Toronto

 

Step up your Indoor Workouts

Mid to late November is the perfect time to organize and step up our indoor workouts. I notice that time seems to speed up during these last few weeks of the year. My advice is to consciously step up your exercise routine now to prevent an unnecessary new years resolution.

I must admit to low attendance at the gym myself since I have been running outdoors for over 8 months and so enjoy being outside. It is a major adjustment for me to create an indoor work out routine now. I feel such resistance to going inside to work out it seems ridiculous, considering I am a professional fitness trainer! However, this is the purpose of this piece, to share motivation to get moving more at this crucial time of year-it is absolutely necessary!

Make an appointment with yourself for yourself to head to the gym now. Your body will thank you, as you are guaranteed to feel better in every way and your waistline will expand less or remain the same over the holidays. Plus, you can enjoy yourself more while you are taking care of yourself, and start the new year with the right habits already in place. Making Life Good recommends stepping up your workouts in November and really enjoying the holiday season!

Recipe: Moroccan chickpea and lentil soup (harira)

I have seen harira soup mentioned a few times in magazines and cookbooks over the years. I tried it for the first time this spring in Morocco and loved it! I wanted to make it at home and was only motivated to do so as the weather started to cool off this fall. The harira I had in Morocco was made with beef, a bit of rice, served with dates and delicious little sweet crispy fried morsels of dough. I decided to make a vegetarian version, as I felt the spicing was bold and well suited to being a vegetarian soup. I also made the soup with fresh turmeric, an ingredient I only learned of when I took a 9 year friend to Caribbean Corner and she picked up the little roots and asked ‘what’s this?’ Fresh turmeric looks like dirty mini pieces of ginger and needs to be grated on a microplane for this soup. Be careful, turmeric leaves persistent yellow stains! If fresh turmeric is not easily available, use the powdered version. Fresh ginger is another key ingredient (powder will work too). Turmeric and ginger both have anti inflammatory properties. It is also best to use chickpeas made from dry, although a can will work if you desire. Serve this delicious soup topped with fresh chopped cilantro and parsley along with some dates…and crispy moroccan morsels…if I could find them!

1 cup dry chickpeas (soaked overnight in water with baking soda, then cooked until tender, see http://www.vivianlaw.ca/cook-beans-from-dry-skip-the-cans/ )

1 cup brown lentils

1 796 ml can diced tomatoes (puree if a smoother textured soup is desired)

2 tablespoons butter or olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

1 celery rib, finely chopped

1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped

1 small piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped or 1/2 teaspoon powdered

1 small piece of fresh turmeric, finely grated or 1 teaspoon powdered

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 pinch saffron

4 cups vegetable broth

pepper and lemon juice to taste

chopped fresh parsley, cilantro and whole dates for serving

In a large soup pot, melt butter and saute onion, celery, jalapeno and ginger over medium heat until softened. Add tomatoes, vegetable broth, lentils and spices. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and add chickpeas. Simmer for 30-40 minutes or until lentils are tender. Adjust salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste. Enjoy topped with chopped fresh parsley, cilantro and whole dates.

Delicious vegetarian harira soup, dates are essential

Delicious vegetarian harira soup, dates are essential

 

Making Life Good Eating Philosophy

In all my years as a health, fitness, nutrition and wellness professional, having engaging discussions on how to optimize health and well being have always been my priority as an educator. However, I have always felt that telling a person exactly what to eat was a bit beyond my reach, as there is no way I would be able to follow that advice myself, so leading by example has always been my path. We all know that diets do not work in the long term, but every few months a new program is published and the more restrictive it is, the more popular it can become. We seem to like quick fixes in our culture.

There is a way to improve and optimize your health and wellness through healthy eating choices-it requires a daily effort, which may seem like a lot of work depending on your mindset. I am extremely motivated to eat well, because I love food, enjoy eating and being healthy, so I make a conscious effort to do so on a daily basis. After many years of practice and reflection here is the Making Life Good eating philosophy to keep well:

  1. CARE about how, what, when, where and why you eat. This means cultivating a more conscious and positive relationship to food and eating. We eat 20 times a week, give or take, so it is important that we relate well to this part of our life. Having a good appetite means you are ‘really alive’. How do you eat? In a rush, at a leisurely pace, in conflict with making the right choice or in front of the tv? With your hands or a a knife and fork? What is the food you are eating? Can you know where it came from? When are you eating? All day long, at proper meal times, or odd times of day? Where are you eating? At your dining table, in your car, on the street, at your desk? Why are you eating? Hungry? Happy? Bored? For comfort? Socializing? Hopefully to nourish your body and soul.
  2. Be GRACEFUL. This means taking a moment for gratitude before we eat to notice that we have access to nourishing food and to be mindful and conscious while we eat. When you are in a state of grace, the conflict of I should or should not be eating this or that is not part of the picture. Being graceful is also having a sense of humour about food and life. We sure enjoyed this fried chicken on a stick with frosted flakes one time this summer:

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    Some tasty fried chicken on a stick with frosted flakes in the batter!

  3. PREPARE your own food at least once a week to start. I have never wished to impose on anyone’s eating habits, and this is my one exception. If you want to be healthy, you must make it your habit to develop the skill to prepare your own meals, at least sometimes. It is the best way to learn better habits and take care of yourself. Get good at making your favourite breakfast, lunch or dinner.
  4. ENJOY your food by involving all of your senses whenever you eat. Some of us are more visual, some have more of a sense of smell, and others are super tasters. Tune in to what speaks to you. I personally prefer eating on white plates that appear full and when I need to pack a lunch I use a spongebob lunchbox (it makes me smile and kids laugh). Plus, many days I have some idea of what I will be eating, so I look forward to it with much enthusiasm!
  5. EAT REAL FOOD. Once you become more aware and care about what you eat, real food is the most appealing for how it tastes, nourishment and satisfaction. Always best to have vegetables, fruits and the right mix of grains and proteins for you. Minimally processed and packaged real food.
  6. OBSERVE and LISTEN to your body. You are the absolute best judge of what foods work for you and your metabolism, so developing awareness to how your body responds to food you eat is critical to being healthy. Check your energy level, digestion and general well being after every meal to learn what works best for you. This is a daily practice and will help you discern what is best for you to eat.
  7. SHARE food. Eating is a human need that can create great connection with others. I take every opportunity I can to share great food with everyone around me, as it brings me great joy to share delicious experiences.

The practices listed above involve constant learning and work, which is well worth the effort for feeling and looking your best all the time, making life good-