Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How to be a Foodie in Suburbanville: Part I

In the era of BC (Before Children), I was something of a foodie. After a trip to Thailand in my early twenties, I threw myself headfirst into cooking from cultures all over the world. The stranger the ingredients, the crazier the recipes, the happier I was! I enjoyed visiting hole-in-the-wall grocery stores where I could find dusty jars of little-known substances hidden on corner shelves. I was cooking and eating quinoa and adzuki beans long before they became popular here.

Every Friday, I would read the Ottawa Citizen's food section (which I believe now runs on Wed or Thurs), and flip to the restaurant review by Anne Debrisay. I was hooked on her description of food, and in awe of her ability to pick out whether certain ingredients in a dish had come from the freezer or a can (which I can now do myself - it just takes a little practice!) I realized that good food is like good wine - sometimes you want to pay a little extra for the cream of the crop.

Enter child #1. First of all, I haven't read the newspaper in two years. I catch up on my news by listening to CBC radio, which sadly, does not have a food critic. And those nice restaurants I used to drag hubby to? It's really hard to enjoy an expensive meal when your toddler is screaming and wiping spaghetti on a nearby window.

My goal lately has been to find local establishments that make good quality food, but are still open to little toddlers peeking through swinging kitchen doors. Usually these are places that don't break the bank when you decide to go out for a meal. In an ideal world, they are family-run establishments with fresh ingredients and prices ranging from $7-$15 for an entree. They also have a decent beer and wine list for those parents in need of a drink.

What I didn't realize when we re-located to Orleans, Ontario, was that I now live in Suburbanville, where local establishments are big box restaurants. And here's the thing about these places (no naming names): the food is cookie cutter. Every town/city you travel to, the meal you purchase from these franchises will taste exactly the same. That might be nice for some people, but personally, I like variation. I'm delighted when a meal I bought last week tastes different this week, because the cooks have decided to get creative and throw in a few different ingredients.

Furthermore, these restaurants-in-a-box tend to load their dishes with three things: sugar, salt and fat. It makes it taste better, of course, but leaves me gasping for water all night long. My body groans whenever I chow down on an industrial dinner, and I know I'm not doing myself (or my family) any service.

We're not food snobs, and we sometimes stop at one of these places for the convenience (especially the ones that sell coffee!!). However, I'm fully aware that I'm getting low quality food at low prices, and I don't think doing this occasionally is going to kill me.

What does bug me is when I want to eat out (or take-out) and there is nothing within a 10km radius worth paying for. I would have to drive into downtown Ottawa, find and pay a babysitter, and drop a good deal of money just to get my fix.

It makes me wonder - why do suburbanites put up with this? Why aren't we demanding better food and making it easier for family establishments to start a business here? Why do we have to rely on these restaurants-in-a-box if we want a fun night out? We're the closest in the city to surrounding farming communities, and yet we eat processed chicken shipped in from Timbuktu.

I do not have time to start a restaurant, and frankly, I would be really bad at it. BUT, I do have time to do a little bit of research here in Orleans and find out if there's anything I might be missing.  Part Deux of this series will look at some specific places in the neighbourhood that have been recommended to me, and I'm going to do my own foodie critique right here in this blog. Let's see what we can uncover (and hopefully it's not more salt, sugar and fat, 'cause frankly I've had enough of all that!)

I would love to hear from those of you living here in Orleans. Where do you eat out?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sit your butt down!

This is a picture of a cushion.

This isn't just any cushion, though. This is a meditation cushion.

Those of us who have practiced meditation know that you can't sit your butt down on just any 'ol pillow. This is something that you may be sitting on daily, for close to an hour; at retreats, this time could grow to over 8 hours.

That's a lot of time for your cushy butt to be sitting! And so you need a special, handmade cushion that molds to your cheeks just so (some people prefer meditation benches, or just a chair)

I'm taking so much time to talk about this particular cushion because it's mine. And for the past 2.5 years, it's been sitting abandoned in my closet, collecting dust. I have taken it out about half a dozen times, only to meditate for just 10 minutes - probably every 5 months or so.

And before you close this post, claiming that you "can't meditate" because "it just doesn't work," let me tell you a little about my experience.

If my mind were a picture, it would look like this:

picture from

Buddhist philosophers talk about the human mind as a "monkey mind." We are all over the place, swinging from branch to branch, and never settling still. Some of us have busier minds than others, and some of us find it tough to quiet our minds. I am a person with a busy, busy mind. If I take time to check in with my thoughts throughout the day, I can count about 10 different thoughts in the span of 30 seconds. That's a whole lot of ideas, worries, and random thinking.

And most of the time, our thoughts get us into trouble. We spend our days thinking about the past or the future, without ever really settling on what we're experiencing in the present. We eat our meals while reading, texting or watching TV. We text while chatting on the phone. We chat on the phone while working away at our computers. Boring tasks, like washing dishes or doing laundry, allows for time for the mind to "wander," but usually we're just wandering over to the future, trying to remember what else needs to get done on our to do list.

Before you know it, you're lying on your death bed wondering where all the time went.

I stumbled across meditation by accident. A yoga teacher I had while living in Huntsville gave me the number of a doctor who was running Jon Kabat-Zinn's Mindfulness Stress Based Reduction Program. Created in the U.S. to help people cope with chronic pain, the program soon branched out to include individuals from all walks of life - those struggling with the loss of a loved one; those with depression or anxiety; those with chronic pain from injuries and accidents; and those who were just a little curious about learning different ways to cope with day-to-day stress.

I called up the doc, and happened to score the last spot in the class. I was psyched! Until I learned that I was required to meditate for 45min per day throughout the entire 2 month program - AND attend a full-day silent retreat. in, NO TALKING. I was more than a little terrified.

The first few weeks were brutal, to be honest. I sat on that damned cushion, and cursed every minute of it, trying desperately to just "focus on my breath." No matter how much I focused, my thoughts kept coming in floods - no, tsunamis! - and I felt lost in the mess of it all. Despite my misgivings, my teacher (we call our meditation guides "teachers," in the Buddhist tradition) urged me to continue, and reassured me things would get easier.

But one day four weeks into the program, while trying to meditate and NOT listen to the TV just outside the bedroom door, I discovered a place. A quiet place. A place where one thought would enter the right side of my brain, and slowly, lazily, depart to the left. I could almost watch the thought dancing along in front of me, and felt myself descend further and further down into the deep, dark silence. For those of you who have read Elizabeth Gilbert's book Eat, Pray, Love, she gives a good description of this process, although I certainly wouldn't compare it to landing in the palm of God. I'm not really all that religious, and I think what happened was just a biological phenomenon by which my brain signals slowed down to the speed of molasses. Whatever it was, it was pretty cool.

I could end this post, and little story, by saying that my life was forever changed by this program, and I no longer experience stress or anxiety. Sorry to disappoint you, but that's not the case, and nor is it the point of mindfulness meditation (the technique used by Kabat-Zinn). The point is to experience everything in the moment in which it is happening. To meet your sadness, anger and happiness head on, and to watch them calmly from the sidelines. Out of this, you tend to gain a better handle on your mind's emotions, and no longer react blindly to them. So in this way, I guess you could say meditation is life-changing, because you are no longer a prisoner to your thoughts and emotions.

Since that program, I have returned to my practice at different times in my life, and even completed a 3-day silent retreat (which was truly incredible). But my poor old cushion has sat abandoned since early 2009, and I think it might be time to give it a good dusting off. Get back in the sadle, as they say.

For more information about meditation, I recommend checking out True North Insight, a local group grounded in the tradition of Insight (or mindfulness) Meditation. They also hold classes and retreats in the Toronto area.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Camp Food

We just returned from some fabulous camping in Algonquin Park at Mew Lake. Although different from C.B.C (Camping Before Children), we discovered that toddlers are exceptionally well behaved when outdoors all day long. We're looking forward to future canoe/portage trips with our little diva, who stops every 5 minutes to get the dirt brushed off her feet!

Image from So Good and Tasty (link below)
When I finally began reading the list of ingredients on common foods I buy for camping meals and snacks (and for everyday life for that matter!), I was disgusted. Why are there so many ingredients, and how come I don't really know what half of them are? One of these products I used to buy was granola bars - quick and easy as a snack, it's a food that many of us have in our cupboards.

But after realizing that manufacturers put 4-5 different kind of refined sugars in the bars (not to mention other weird ingredients I have to google), I decided it couldn't be that hard to make my own. And it's not! Granola bars are super easy, because you're mainly just mixing wet and dry ingredients, and then packing them down into a baking dish. 10-15 minutes tops (plus baking time).

I have played around with many different recipes, and recently found one of the best. This super bar doesn't contain any added oils/fats, refined sugar (ok, so there's some in the cranberries and choc. chips...but at least not the amount you find in store bought versions), wheat, dairy or soy. And they taste really good! I got this recipe from So Good and Tasty, and here is the version we do:

2 ripe bananas
1/2 nut butter (natural peanut or almond)
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup dark chocolate chips
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Mash bananas with a fork, and then throw everything else in. Mix until a big, sticky mess. Press into the bottom of a baking dish sprayed with a bit of cooking oil (or use parchment paper). Bake for 20-25 minutes at 350 and voila!

The thing I love about this recipe is that you can substitute almost any ingredient, or leave things out. You can use any kind of nut butter, any kind of chopped nuts, and any kind of seeds that you have lying around in your cupboards. You can also leave out the fruit, chocolate chips or coconut.

This will be one recipe we use again, even when we're not at the campground!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hating the annoying, or loving the unreachable?

I've recently become enamoured with a blog called Enjoying the Small Things, which I'm sure many of you have heard about. I came across it because of her famous post about her daughter's birth story. As a doula, I am constantly reading birth stories, in the hopes of gleaning any extra information I can about labour, birth and baby care. This helps me to be better informed for my clients.

So much to my surprise, when I was one day googling "Kelle Hampton" (the author of the blog), and came across a whole gaggle of links referring to terms like "kelle hampton annoying" and "kelle hampton hating." With some time to waste, I clicked on the links and began reading.

Twenty minutes later, I came to the conclusion that we could all do with a little more love in this world. Naive? Perhaps. Stupid? Most certainly not.

I was able to draw a link between these "kelle haters" and a recent column I read by Christie Blatchford about the death of a Canadian politician, Jack Layton, and the letter that was released by his family posthumously. In this column, Christie ridicules the eloquent words of Jack Layton, writing that the letter "shows what a canny, relentless, thoroughly ambitious fellow Mr. Layton was. Even on Saturday, two days before he died, he managed to keep a gimlet eye on all the campaigns to come."

She also points out that he wrote this in conjunction with his party president, chief of staff, and wife, which somehow suggests that it was no more than the wasted words of a conniving politician. Two days before death, I'm not sure many people could write an eloquent letter without a little help. When my grandfather passed away from colon cancer, his decline was quick and devastating, and he wouldn't have been able to put pen to paper if he tried.

And yes, of course the letter had a political message - what would you expect of a fellow who had risen so high, so fast, only to see it all slip away in a month's time? What Christie fails to consider is that perhaps Mr. Layton's letter had a deeper meaning than simply a desire to be boastful and vain. I didn't know the guy personally, but if I take what I know from friends who DID know him, I see him as a person who truly cared about the well being of all human beings. You don't come across these types of people very often, and it's even rarer for such a stellar guy to also be a charismatic and effective leader.

I don't feel angry with these "kelle hater" bloggers and columnist Christie Blatchford, but I do feel sorry for them. Somewhere along their life paths, they have become the epitome of cynicism, and this saddens me greatly. Although I respect their right to comment on social, political and cultural issues (as I am doing right this minute), it strengthens my resolve to live differently. What I hope for myself and my family, is that we never get to the point where we find the creativity, positiveness and confidence of other people to be annoying....or worse, "vainglorious."

Is it so bad to embrace things that are sappy? Is it so horrible to rejoice in the beauty of this life, even for brief and fleeting moments? Would our world be any worse off if we followed Jack's advice?

What I suspect deep down (and perhaps have even felt at times) is that those people who become cynical are truly desiring something they find to be out of their reach - as mothers, perhaps it is the image of the "perfect" family; as women, it might be our perceived notion of beauty (we're never thin enough, pretty enough...); as human beings, is it the desire for love, forgiveness or empathy?
The next time you read something, watch something or talk to someone and have the knee-jerk reaction to ridicule, criticize or condemn, stop for a moment and tap into your desires. What is it you truly want? What do you see somewhere else (or IN someone else) that you sense is missing in your own life? Because that hole is certainly there, and you will try to fill it with your cynicism, anger and sadness.
For now, I will fill any holes I find with the joy of the small things and will remain in awe of the beauty of Kelle's pictures and Jack's letter. When I'm gone, I hope to be remembered for taking delight in things, not taking the delight out of things.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Peeking out at the world (I'm on a blogging break, I swear!)

I'm at work (real work) at the moment, and screening 2000 research papers, so it's essential I take a lunch break and join the real world. Here is my addition to the Capital Mom "Monday Moments" blog post. The theme this week is "peeking."

She took a deep breath, and bore down with all her strength. Sweat beaded on her brow, and her cheeks flushed red.

She looked up at me and said "I can't do this." Her eyes were sad, and searching mine for a sign that this would soon be over.

I looked down, and saw the sign she needed - a squishy tip of head peeking out.

"Your baby's head is right there, I said. Reach down and touch her."

With a shaking hand, she reached down and felt around.

"There's so much hair," she exclaimed, looking at me with an excited smile.

With the next contraction, and the roar of a goddess, a baby slipped out and joined the world with a cry.

This post is for all the Mommies who tell me they can't do it, and go on to prove themselves wrong!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Taking a break

I haven't posted anything on my blog lately. No because there hasn't been things going on in my life, but because I'm just too damned busy.

My recent posts have probably pointed to the fact that I need to take a little break from the online world. I'm finding it difficult juggling two jobs, a toddler and home life. These past few days we went camping with family out near Carleton Place, ON, and it was the first time I can remember in ages just having sat and read a book. And those who know me know that I used to sometimes read a novel in a day, and usually 2-3 novels per week.

This space, my Twitter account (@chickadeedoula), Facebook, email and my website are all wonderful tools to help me promote my business and build up a client base. As well, I have met so many wonderful people on here, and look forward to reading their blogs every day! Despite these benefits, social media takes up a huge chunk of my day, and I often wonder how much is necessary and how much is a time waster (e.g. do I really need to click on a link to find out how to make my own hair gel??)

So, I have decided to take the rest of the summer off! September will be much calmer for me, and so I will return with some new posts at that point. I'll also check in here from time to time to read my fav. blogs. Right now I'm going to concentrate on family, work and home, and maybe even take some time to read a book or two.

See you in September!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

This chick is sick

Forget the man cold....I have a Mom Cold. The man cold pales in comparison:

  • There is no "999" ladies...the only number you'll be dialing is the pizza delivery guy. Plans of home cooked meals are thrown out the window!

  • Inevitably when you get sick, everyone else seems to sense your need for down time and they ramp up their own expectations of you (and if you are a doula, two women will go into labour on the same day)

  • There is no bell! No one will come rub your forehead and say "poor bunny." Your own mothers are chuckling to themselves...payback time!

  • Children are sick at the same time, and so you are forced to deal with a sniffling, crabby child while feeling as though your head is stuffed with cotton

  • Your man develops a man cold at the same time, and calls 999

It's time to call in the reinforcements (and if you've watched the video, you know that the paramedics are useless!) In this household, Nana and Boompah have arrived, and the other Nana and Papa will be here on Friday. Thank goodness for grandparents!