First Dinner Party and Tips!

On Monday I hosted my first ever dinner party, and it was a success! That’s a loose use of the term dinner party, which in this case involved three of my closest friends coming over for some food after work. I am incredibly proud of myself, and I think if you haven’t done this before you definitely should consider giving it a go. I’ve included some practical tips at the end of this post.

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I see these friends once or twice a week out at local Toronto restaurants and locales, and while we’ve gone over to friends’ houses, it’s never been the four of us together at my place. I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could curate a fun night in.

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After much deliberation, I cooked Pinch of Yum’s Creamy Thai Sweet Potato Curry, which I’d already test-cooked a few days before. The web is inundated with amazing recipes, and in the end I decided to make a vegetarian meal because I am trying to limit the use of animal products where possible, one of my friends is vegetarian and well #meatlessMonday.

I followed the instructions for the curry to a T and it turned out amazing. I even roasted the peanuts myself, which I’m sure elevated their flavour at least a little bit because they were the best peanuts ever, and I wasn’t the only one to think so.

To start, we ate some vegetarian potstickers—I didn’t make these, just reheated them—and we drank cooling Chardonnay with our spicy meal.

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After eating we sat on the couch continually interrupting each other with life and dating updates. It was a lot of fun, and we completely forgot about dessert (we were planning to go to Wanda’s for waffles).

Another happy fact about this get-together is that save for the packaging the potstickers came in and some napkins, this was a waste-free meal. I took all of my own bags and containers to the supermarket and Bulk Barn, my local bulk dry-goods store, so in the end, there was almost nothing to discard. What little I did discard was biodegradable, green bin waste such as potato skins and cilantro stems.

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I hope this inspires you to just give hosting a try if you’ve never done it, or haven’t in a while. I find (from this experience and from being a guest) it’s much more intimate than going to a restaurant and it can strengthen friendship bonds in a way that meeting in public doesn’t always. Your friends will appreciate you for it! As well, it can be a more ecological alternative, depending on the choices you make.

Even though my grand tally for dinner parties amounts to just one now, I feel there were some important factors that contributed to my success. Here they are, below:

  • I invited only my closest friends. They didn’t expect me to be perfect, and they were there mostly for the company. And because of this I didn’t criticize myself too harshly when at the last minute I realized I forgot to pick up the right type of napkin. Which all in all meant I enjoyed the experience more!
  • I prepared something I knew how to make and that my friends would enjoy. I am no cook, but ensuring these two things still made my night (and meal) a success. I mentioned in our group chat that I’d be making Thai to see if anyone would be opposed to it. They weren’t! (This is a good time to check for allergies, too.) Then, after selecting a recipe online based on careful examination of positive reviews, I made it once before the big night. I didn’t want to serve my guests a recipe I hadn’t tried before. The food was going to be a big part of the get-together, so I tried my best to make it good.
  • I took the extra step.  I’d been working on Monday and unfortunately didn’t have the time to go the whole extra mile. But I found small ways to put in extra effort to make my guests feel both special and welcome. I lit a few candles and I chose to do something as simple as buy raw peanuts instead of roasted. Freshly roasted peanuts taste so much better, and my guests noticed and appreciated the small bit of extra effort.
  • I had a backup. I was counting on the conversation to flow really easily between us, because we’re a group of already-established friends. And I was right—it did. But just in case, I thought it would be good to have a backup game to play. Something like Cards Against Humanity or Moral Dilemma can be the perfect social lubricant on an “off” night. This safety net also gave me a little extra room to relax.

 

Cooking For a Weekend Away

I came back from vacation on Friday and immediately I couldn’t wait to start eating more nourishing, healthy food. During my almost two weeks in London and Paris I ate “whatever” I wanted, which amounted to very few veggies and far too much sugar (especially in a deliciously boulangerie-filled Paris… Can anyone blame me?)

So although I had plans to come visit my mom on Saturday and stay Sunday, as well, I decided I’d pack my own food instead of continuing to eat “whatever.” I cooked a vegan sweet potato curry with a can of organic mixed beans I found on sale a month ago. The recipe was inspired by this Creamy Thai Sweet Potato Curry from Pinch of Yum.

I made salads, as well.

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I’ve recently enrolled in the introductory courses of the Natural Nutrition program from the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition. I have been curious about and interested in food and nutrition for almost as long as I can remember. I’ve had struggles with food for even longer. So overall this seemed like a good choice for me, especially since the entire program is offered online as a self-study course, where you can set your own pace.

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I’m learning a lot about the interaction between the environment and food supply (and the quality of that food supply) and also about the importance of eating a balanced diet that includes carbs, fats, protein, fibre and a host of micronutrients. I didn’t place enough importance on protein previously, having accepted vegan guru wisdom on the lack of necessity of protein.

The 900-plus page tome in the photo is the introductory text and it’s super accessible and interesting. There seems to be a large focus on how human behaviour and industry has affected the quality of our food supply and what we can do to make sure we stay healthy despite the many contaminants we face daily.

I’m still only at the beginning, so more thoughts to come. Leave a comment if you have any questions about the course that I might be able to answer!

Ten Ways to Cheer Up

Sometimes I’m in a bit of a rut, too stressed to function, having a bad day, lower on the few days before my period, or just groggy with a headache following a nap with still-wet hair. It doesn’t matter, but I wanted to make a list of things I can do to change my mood, so next time I have a guide to turn to.

  1. Turn your phone on to a text from someone you like—Okay, I can’t exactly do this every time, but it happened today, so it stays on the list. And the point is, positive human contact of any sort helps.
  2. Wash your face, scrub your face, put on a face mask. I feel more awake after washing my face and I also like the pampering element of a face mask. It feels good to know I’m caring about myself and face masks are one of my favourite ways to do that.
  3. Make a cup of tea. There’s something quaint and cozy about making a cup of tea, even if it’s spring or summer. I have a container where I keep all of my tea bags, and the process, including choosing the kind of tea I will make, heating water, brewing and discarding the tea bag, and adding almond milk are all meditative and fun. Not to mention the huge comfort of holding a warm cup of something and taking in that warmth with each flavourful sip.20170601_190840-1
  4. Put on some music, but not just any music. My all-time favourite happy albums are In Between Dreams by Jack Johnson and Closing Time by Tom Waits. Most of the songs on these two make me feel a calm sort of happiness (contentment?)—as opposed to jittery and excited or anything else.
  5. Open the blinds and crack a window open. It’s so nice to let some light inside and the sounds of the happenings outside of my window have the power to instantly connect me to something other than what’s in my own head.20170601_192821
  6. Follow a guided meditation to centre and calm the mind and invite a new, better way of feeling to you. I love the Boho Beautiful Youtube channel. I love what they do there, and I regularly practice yoga following their videos. They have also posted guided meditations that are short, simple and I find very effective. Today I tried this one—a 10-minute gratitude meditation.
  7. Go for a walk. Exercise is the natural upper, and it’s incredible how much the simple act of walking can do for my mood. Sometimes I like to stay out of the way, explore the relatively empty residential side streets while keeping totally to myself, and other times, I feel good people-watching on busier roads.
  8. Nourish yourself. When I am stressed or low, my appetite suffers, and I tend to make poorer food choices. Drinking plenty of fluids and exercise, like walking, help me feel hungry. And the act of preparing a nourishing meal can be reflective and meditative, so it’s one way to cheer up and get to a better headspace. For best results, I try to only prepare the portion I plan to eat, avoid snacking on anything while I am preparing my meal, and maybe even say a prayer of gratitude before eating.20170601_212849
  9. Watch an episode of something cheerful. I can count on The Mindy Project or Friends. The key for me here is to not overdo it. I’m including it because it really is a great and healthy way to create a better mood.
  10. Get back to your day. Get back to working or running errands or doing chores. When I’ve worked to get into a good mood, I hold on to it by getting busy in a purposed and structured way. I feel content enough to feel absorbed in the day’s tasks, and feeling accomplished keeps my endorphins high. If you don’t have much planned for the day, write a blog post on your favourite ways to cheer up; I’d love to read it.

Soul Journal: A Framework of Growth

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My body is rejecting salt, oil, and caffeine. That’s a strange thing to write, it sounds a bit hocus-pocus to me. How would you know what your body is rejecting?

I get high blood pressure when I eat foods with those things in them. I also get high blood pressure when I listen to loud music or think stressful thoughts or fantasize things—exciting things like meeting a celebrity or going to Mallorca or some other dream. I’m 26 years old, about 125 lbs and otherwise healthy. There is no reason to experience this, really, and it’s only been happening recently.

So instead of going to a doctor and having them prescribe me a short-term course of blood pressure medication, I’m choosing to honour what my body is telling me by committing to a course of clean eating, no exciting music and lots of things that help.

Non-high intensity aerobic exercise like walking helps, yin yoga helps, apple cider vinegar helps, mantras help, and guided meditations help sometimes.

I didn’t have to look any of this up… I’m connected with my body and its signals, thanks in part to the curse/blessing of being considered a slightly anxious person. It’s the other way around, actually. Some anxious people like me are more in tune with their bodies and tend to feel panic when they misinterpret totally normal occurrences in their bodies that other people wouldn’t even pay attention to.

There are different ways to see the same thing.

And while I’m presenting this as two paths, where I am choosing to take the one that is right for me, I admit that ultimately I see this as a meaningful part of my journey, not just a blip. My body is asking me to allow it to accommodate more. More emotions, more situations. It’s asking me to adapt my environment so that it can do more for me by being more adaptable to changes.

I know because this is how it’s reacting to the whirlwind of changes happening now.

And I want all that. I want to be able to live in the now, without the security of the future, a fantasy that  isn’t happening now, the fake excitement of a Spotify playlist that takes me somewhere other than here, and the emotion-numbing allure of salty, oily foods and caffeine—or alcohol. I want to be able to live free from of all of those things and to live here.

While I am being forced to make a change, this is also a change I want with all of my being. I’m lucky this is happening to me. And I am so grateful, too.

Quinoa Three Ways

If you hate the texture! 

Even though I learned about the benefits of quinoa years ago, I really couldn’t bring myself to eat it until recently. Unlike rice and other grains I like, quinoa seeds would—annoyingly—slip beneath my teeth as I tried to chew. I just can’t stand the texture of plain quinoa, and I don’t imagine I’m the only one.

Quinoa is one of the few plant foods that contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a plant-based form of a complete protein. According to the BBC Good Food website, a magazine I love (and trust), quinoa is high in fibre and a good source of iron, magnesium and manganese. As well, research shows that quinoa is high in anti-inflammatory phytonutrients. You can click to see where I have found this information and more, here.

In conclusion, quinoa is a good thing (better than most grains, it seems)! So I didn’t want to just give up on it because of a texture problem. And it turned out to be a pretty easy one to circumvent, anyway. I just have to mix it with other things.

Here are my three favourite ways to eat quinoa recently. It’s gone from bearable to being a constant in my diet.

  1. Mix equal parts quinoa and brown rice! This is the least expensive and simplest way to eat quinoa for me. It involves simply mixing a cup of each in a pot and cooking. Brown rice tends to cook quite a bit slower than quinoa, so I add that first, and toss in the quinoa about 15–20 minutes before the rice is done. Make sure the pot is filled with enough water!
  2. Quinoa and veggies! This was on a salad I ate at a restaurant, but I’ve since recreated it at home. It’s a similar concept to above, but a bit more nutritious, and it keeps in the fridge for up to four days. You can add it to bowls or salads or pour a little pasta sauce over it and enjoy. I cook tricolour (or any) quinoa and add one or two cups of frozen carrot chunks and peas. There’s really no recipe and quantities depend on your preference.

    I should add that I do find tricolour quinoa is less “slippery” in general, but I realize it’s not available everywhere.

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  3. Put it in an intricate salad! The internet is littered with really complex salads that contain a cup of quinoa here and there. These can be a little hit and miss in my experience, but when they are good can be a really great way to incorporate quinoa. This Mexican salad was a favourite and it can contain up to two cups of quinoa (it’s also vegan, made with Daiya cheese).

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Soul Journal: Letting a Good Thing Go

Two weeks ago, on a Monday, I took the plunge and pressed print on my resignation letter from a job that has brought so much growth to my life.

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A year ago in March, I began working in the highly competitive field of book publishing, doing something that gave me a hand in the creation of real books that real people read and enjoy and think worth their dime to buy! I was a new proofreader, proofreading and  lightly copyediting manuscripts every single day. (Yes, I got to read stories for a living.)

While I loved the job at first and came to work with a feeling of pride, endeavouring to do my best on every single page, eventually that feeling faded. I was gripped with a feeling of complete isolation that overshadowed my positive feelings about the role. While the department had more than a dozen people—almost all of which I liked—the job itself turned out to be too solitary to bear.

I tried keeping myself busy with social outings after work, with friends and with new people that I met through meetup.com, trying a variety of activities. While the social stimulation was very helpful, it left me with no time to carry on other important aspects of my life. I spent nearly two hours in solitary transit, eight hours at work, and the few more I had left, I was using to socialize.

Eventually I began to experience sleep troubles and felt I was on the verge of more worrisome/deeper emotional disarray. I knew that I was living by hanging on to the wall of a cliff, and that no matter how strong I made myself to be, I’d eventually slip and fall. So I made the decision to instead reach for that just-too-high edge while I still have strength left in me.

I can’t describe how good it feels to take a huge risk that somehow feels right (and that all things considered actually is right). It feels much safer than a routine that works against me. I’m following my bliss, and I feel ecstatic and excited.

I let a good thing go because it stopped working for me. And I feel so alive…

 

 

Ueli Steck <3

On April 30th, Ueli Steck fell 1,000 metres off the side of a mountain in the Nepalese Himalaya and died. A mountain climber, he was supposedly climbing Mount Nuptse to acclimatize to the altitude before attempting an Everest ascent nearby.  I’m writing about it because I have something to say about this sentence he’s quoted as having said in several tribute articles and obituaries: “Failure for me would be to die and not come home.” I guess it’s attractive because of this tragic sort of irony.

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But it’s also the complete opposite of what Steck represents to me. 

I know about him from his Annapurna I ascent. I’m not a mountaineer or even a big fan of the sport, but some mountains have a certain magic about them and Annapurna is one of those. It’s dangerous, over 8,000 metres high, unforgiving, with a south face wall of ice supplemented with snowstorms and avalanches. It’s just terrible, but breathtaking and beautiful too.

While there are people that climb it through the “beaten” track of sherpas and oxygen (and an astounding percentage of them doesn’t make it back), Steck did it the way mountaineers and non (hello!) alike would only dream to do. He set out for the ascent himself, solo, unassisted, summited and got back down in just over a day.

I can’t imagine the thrill, but that’s really not why I googled him today and found out of his passing or why he’s stayed with me. I like Steck because to me he represents someone who follows his dreams relentlessly and without judgement.

About his quote, I wish I could tell him that it’s nothing but honourable to die in service to the dreams that choose us. That while not going home would have been a failure to climb Everest (or another mountain), staying home would be a failure to live. Somehow, I’m sure he knew that…

He remains an inspiration to me, not to climb mountains, but to live fearlessly, go full throttle, and risk it all for the things—the dreams, paths, and adventures—that call our souls.

Soul Journal: Non-Harm Begins With Ourselves

I have been transitioning to a plant-based diet for the last few months. I have been making an effort to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, and pulses, and so far, I haven’t encountered too many obstacles. One of the (many) reasons I have made this change is to inflict less harm on the other creatures I share this planet with.

I have seen the videos of slaughterhouses, and while I am aware there are people in this world who suffer too, this is a type of suffering I can actually stop just by putting different food on my plate. But there’s another type of suffering that I can put an end to that I hadn’t considered in past years of vegetarianism and making compassionate choices: non-harm towards me!

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Maybe it has to do with the life stage that I am in, the overt nature of the ways I could hurt myself—with things like cosmetic procedures. I’ve become enlightened to the unnecessary harm perpetrated by the chemicals in my daily life; everything from household cleaners to self-care and beauty products. So while the more extreme forms of harm are what called my attention to this issue, I now feel that if a chemical is not nourishing my body, I would rather not smear myself in it in the name of beauty.

I think “beauty” (in terms of makeup) for me resonates more with the idea of fun and play, but it hasn’t been that for a long time for me. It’s been mostly about looking a certain way, instead. Self-care is about self-love and honouring myself and being with myself. And if I can get all this with products that are as little removed from nature as possible, then that is what I would like to do.

This all started with an inner scream of sorts. I don’t know how to describe it better… I’d made an appointment with a plastic surgeon for Botox and as the appointment inched closer, I knew I’d be taking a really big step and compromising yet another part of myself. I have made the decision to have cosmetic procedures in the past, and each one felt like a betrayal of myself—to my imperfection and to my humanity.

So I come from a place of knowing what it’s like to hurt yourself because on some level you feel an improvement is necessary, and I want to keep myself away from that place if I can help it. I don’t know if this resonates with you, and if it doesn’t, I invite you even more strongly to really consider what you are putting on the beautiful body that moves heaven and earth for you every single day, that puts up with all sorts of situations and fights for you to live each moment.

Needless to say, I did not go to the appointment and I have cancelled other cosmetic procedures, such as filling in the gap between my teeth or getting yet another round of braces and a tooth whitening (literally bleaching) treatment from my dentist. My teeth may be slightly crooked but they are perfectly healthy and functioning and abusing them is essentially a crime against myself that I don’t want to view as inconsequential and unimportant.

I know this post is heavy and I’m not sure whether the true love and happiness I feel for having taken what feels like a divergent path are coming across. I am excited about this. I still struggle… I wonder about future regret. For the most part, though, I feel free, like a now worry-free child who’s been told they’re allowed to run free and play in the sandbox however feels right to them. Before, unbeknownst to me, part of my focus was on reaching an ideal, of playing a game of winners and losers dictated by industry and others, where I just couldn’t win without unreasonably hurting myself.

I stopped and, if you want to, I think you can, too. 🙂

I learned at an early age that it’s better to invent your own game; then you can always be a winner. – Yvon Chouinard

The Caveats of Eco-Living and Starbucks

I have been trying to reduce the amount of garbage I produce lately. I’ve been aware of this for some time, but it’s only recently that I’ve been making an extra effort. It’s a sad fact that I should call it eco-living when it’s merely common sense. Why fill the world with garbage when I can instead use reusable things, reusable bags, mugs, etc.? We may call it eco-friendliness today, but this is something my grandparents’ generation grew up with as the status quo.

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Anyway, as I try, I also run into obstacles and I wanted to share one that might be common to many coffee addicts like me. :p

I drink coffee every day. I could probably, according to some diagnostic chart or other, qualify as a coffee addict. If I haven’t had my fix by 10:00 a.m. things are looking blue, and by 1:00 p.m. I start to wonder if I’m getting the flu. I also have no way of making coffee at home, having broken my water heater months ago and realized the Starbucks located in the basement of my building does a much better job than I ever could for about $2 a morning.

I go to Starbucks every day. So I began taking my own reusable, portable mug and things were great until two weeks ago I visited my mom and forgot to bring back my coffee mug. The last two weeks have been a wretched struggle of guilt and existential questions (should I quit drinking coffee until I get it back???)

In the end, I drank guiltily and even resorted to the strange onetime occurrence of washing my disposable paper coffee cup and lid and taking it back to the store for a new coffee the next day (nobody blinked an eye…) and also avoiding using the plastic lid (the rest is recyclable, right?). But try as I did, I didn’t actually give up my brown sludge.

Anyway… What struggles have you come up with while trying to “green” your life? I’m also happy to report that I am visiting Mother for dinner tonight and will be getting not only my mug, but my running shoes and my hiking boots back (all relics of the last visit).

This experience has taught me almost nothing, I guess. It’s tough to be good, and you have to set yourself up for it. I think I already knew this. Not sure what I could have done differently… Maybe a concerted effort to only use one paper cup every three days (by washing them) or taken my own ceramic, non-portable mug to Starbucks. I just don’t know that I’m ready to be that weirdo… Also seems impractical since I walk after getting my coffee. I could have gotten up earlier and drunk it at the shop in that case, I guess.

The rewashing of the cups seems like the best option. I guess I didn’t accept the situation quickly enough to come up with such a plan, but went about it planning to not drink coffee each day—and failing every day. I could have made a plan quicker if I’d accepted I’d be on my habit regardless.

Finding What You Seek

This post is like nothing I usually put up here, but I learned a beautiful lesson today and it really made me understand what I am doing wrong in terms of looking for certain things—looking for a good partner, a better fitting career, a better social life, etc. Basically, anything.

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This morning, I got up and started with my regular routine. I opened the front mirror cabinet in the bathroom and took out my cleanser. I cleansed my face and then towel dried. Then, I opened the mirror cabinet again, this time looking for my sunscreen!  The shelf above the cleanser’s is where I keep my sunscreen, so that’s where I expected to find it.

But it wasn’t there this morning.

Confused, I looked through the cabinet’s shelves thoroughly, opened both side compartments and looked there, opened the cupboards under the sink and looked there and even looked through the purse I take to work and in the kitchen and clothes’ closet—I really couldn’t understand where this sunscreen could be. Well…I didn’t find it. I went to work, and ultimately ended up using the spare sunscreen in my purse, which I use to reapply and keep my skin protected on longer days.

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But just now I got home and I saw that the sunscreen had been on the bathroom counter all along! Now, my bathroom counter has all of four or five things on it. The soap is at the side of the sink, a candle and air freshener spray are tucked in one corner, my toothbrush is on its charger and…that’s it! It was those things, plus my sunscreen, but I didn’t see it despite searching and searching because I expected to find it in its regular spot and when I didn’t find it there, I figured, well, then it should be in those other places. This baffles me because I would have never had to look in the first place if I’d actually been open to finding what I was looking for.

I italicized the word see because well of course I saw it, literally speaking. But it didn’t register that what my eyes were seeing was what I was looking for. It’s so silly but I do this all the time, but not just for trivial things like misplaced sunscreen. I do it for potential relationships, friends, jobs, educational opportunities, etc. I put up conditions that aren’t in my best interest—they don’t actually produce what I am looking for at all. In this case, my brain was looking for “the sunscreen in the cupboard,” but that’s not what I actually wanted. What I wanted was “the sunscreen”… It would have fulfilled my desires 100% even if I’d found it on the floor, trash can or tub.

Anyway, this was a huge reminder for me to make sure that the conditions I place on the things I want are intentional and genuine because otherwise it’s so, so easy to miss on opportunities. 20170406_173931

Here’s what’s on my plate for dinner. I’m a little sick today and I’d rather conserve all of my energy for getting better than for cooking or preparing food. There’s a salad place I trust a 20-second walk from my door, so tonight’s pick was a falafel salad with sweet potato mash and hummus. So good!

I took photos of what was “on my plate” yesterday too but after getting home and seeing a video of the children and adults in the Syrian chemical attack on my feed and then learning about similar atrocities being perpetrated in Yemen, blogging was the last thing I wanted to do.