Friday, 30 October 2015

Fun Food Friday - Chocolate Almond Drops

Hallowe'en is tomorrow.  My kids are beyond excited.  Their costumes picked out, jack-o-lanterns carved and the front yard decorated.  I admit that it is fun to watch the kids come up to the front door and hand out candy to them.  I also have to admit that I feel like a bit of a hypocrite when it comes to halloween candy.

Throughout the year I am constantly encouraging my kids to try to make healthy choices.  I really believe that if you explain to children the benefits of eating healthier foods they can make up their own minds about what to consume.  Hopefully in the long run, this helps them make healthier food choices throughout life.  That being said, I also firmly believe in moderation and based on my own experience, when it comes to food the minute you feel deprived is that moment you eat an entire bag of potato chips or a huge chocolate bar.

I have read about people who exchange all of their children's halloween candy for money and take them to buy a small toy following halloween and I think that is a great idea.  It wouldn't work for my kids, they want to control their candy.  We have a deal, the first night, it is a free for all.  They can eat as much candy as they like.  Based on past experience, they self regulate fairly well.  Afterward, they are allowed two pieces of candy per day for the first week.  Then everything else is tossed.  It seems to work and they are still eating their regular diets so for that week I think a few treats are ok.

That is what works for my children.  For me, it is a different story.  I try to tell myself I don't need any candy.  Then it switches to well.... maybe just one or the whole box.  So this year I am trying something different.  First of all, I bought candy I don't like.  Step 1. - remove temptation.  Then I decided to make better chocolate than the waxy sugary stuff that is handed out. - Step 2. - create a better alternative.

I came up with my own chocolate - Chocolate Almond Drops.  I used fair trade organic chocolate chips, almond butter, roasted almonds, hemp hearts and coconut, all healthier options than processed chocolate bars.  The almonds are a source of Vitamin E, magnesium and copper and a source of protein.  Hemp hearts are also a source of protein and omega 3 fatty acids.  While the chocolate has a higher sugar content, the fats and proteins in the almonds and hemp hearts slow the digestion of these treat down and work to offset the spike in blood sugar that would happen while eating prepackaged halloween candy.

These snacks are still a treat and should be consumed in moderation, but they hit the spot when a sweet chocolatey craving is calling.

Chocolate Almond Drops

by Denise Boyd Dunlop
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes (cooling)
Ingredients (8-10)
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup almond (or other nut) butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped and toasted almonds
  • 1/4 cup hemp hearts
  • 2 tablespoons shredded coconut
Melt chocolate chips and almond butter over a double boiler stirring until smooth. Stir in almonds, hemp hearts and 1 tablespoon of coconut. Place teaspoon sized mounds on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle with remaining coconut and chill in refrigerator until set. Store covered in fridge.
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Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Work Out Wednesday - TRX Lunges

Number 10 of my top 10 TRX exercises is the TRX lunge.  What I love about this exercise is that you have the ability to completely isolate the standing leg and focus a single leg squat without having to worry about the placement of the non-working leg.  This move targets all of the major muscles in the leg - glutes, hamstring, quad and calf while challenging your balance.  The extension of the leg in the straps also allows for a nice hip flexor stretch and opening for the quad.

As I mentioned last week, TRX is a functional exercise, working more than one muscle group.  Here you are engaging the core and keeping the upper body open requiring the entire body to work together.  If balance is an issue for you, use walking stick or even a broom stick or mop end to help ensure balance.  

To complete this move:

  1. Adjust your straps to mid-calf length.
  2. Either put the straps into single handle or double up the foot cradles and place one foot in both cradles.
  3. Hop your way out so that when you do a lunge your knee remains over the foot and your back leg extends out as far as you are comfortable.
  4. With your weight evenly distributed on the standing foot, bend the knee of the standing leg, allow your supported leg to move back toward the anchor point.  Keep the shoulders over the hips and your gaze forward.
  5. Focussing on placing more into your heel, straighten the standing leg until you are in your original position.
  6. To get the most out of this exercise, engage your core and upper back the entire time.  Inhale as you extend the leg back and exhale as you return to a standing position.
  7. Complete 8-12 reps doing 1-3 sets.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

New Thing October - Writing Workshop

Continuing with my monthly challenge of trying something new, I chose to sign up for a writer's workshop for my something new October.  I have been writing this blog for a few years now and I enjoy it, but the feedback I get is limited which isn't always a bad thing, especially if the feedback isn't positive.  With my blog I am writing about my life or fitness or recipes.  It is all true, non-fiction material.  So I decided to test myself by taking a creative writing course.

I have been playing around with fiction writing for a while but aside from reading a few paragraphs to my husband a year ago, I haven't shared any of my work with anyone.  I knew that I would have to read my work out loud to the group when I signed up for this course - which terrified me.  But I didn't really dwell on that aspect of the course until the time came to share.

This workshop was better than I had anticipated.  The instructor has had years of teaching experience and he is a published author as well.  He was inviting and created a warm atmosphere for everyone in the group.  It was so interesting to me that there was such a variety of people taking the course and the differences in everyone's chosen genre of writing.  There were fantasy/science fiction writers, general fiction, personal memoirs, mystery and even a woman who was writing a harlequin romance style novel.  

Out of all of the work we did, the most interesting part of the course was when we shared our writing.  We had been given the same writing prompt with a 20 minute limit to write. It was amazing how each story that everyone chose to write were so vastly different.  All of the pieces were enjoyable, I was drawn into the person's reading, even the ones in a genre that I would not normally chose to read.  Sharing our work and receiving the feed back from others was such a rewarding experience.  

What I found interesting was the approach that each of us took when it was time to share our writing.  Everyone assumed that their work was sub par to everyone else's.  This included me.  I was so nervous about reading my piece and I ended up going last.  My reading followed a piece that a woman who had written so well, I thought was based on real life experience.  Her writing was that emotionally charged.  

I was quite nervous to share.  To say that I felt my work was inadequate was an understatement   But surprisingly to me, the group laughed at the funny parts and the end which I had intended to be shocking they gasped.  I had drawn them in with my words and that was both reassuring and gratifying. 

I will definitely be exploring writing a bit further.  I know that I write here and it is wonderful to share but receiving immediate feedback was great.  There are many areas where I can stand to improve and the criticism that comes from a group reading will only help me improve.  Kind assessment is one of the benefits of presenting to individuals in a writing group setting, everyone is in the same boat with the same level of exposure.   We all understand the vulnerability you feel when sharing your writing and are likely to make constructive suggestions. 

I am even going to try something a little more daring this week.  Our instructor gave everyone in the course a homework assignment to have something published this week and I am going to try it.  Technically this may qualify for my new thing November but we'll have to see if I'm successful  you never know if you don't try.  So here is to new challenges and personal growth!

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Giving Yourself Permission

I am enjoying a lovely Sunday afternoon at home doing very little.  I have been doing very little for a day and a half now.  Some of you may be thinking how nice it is for someone to be doing very little and practically bragging about it.  Does it make a difference if I tell you I'm also home with a cold?  Another cold.  My fifth cold this year.  And since we're in the month of October that makes my colds an on average bi-monthly occurrence.  Forgive me if I sound a bit defensive.  I have been recovering from adrenal fatigue for the past almost year and a half and rebuilding myself has taught me some pretty important lessons.

One of the most important lessons after I’ve learned is giving yourself permission for whatever it is you need.  Once I have fulfilled by responsibilities as a mother, I need to take care of what I really need for myself.  This weekend its sitting around in my comfy clothes drinking tea and reading a book.  And while I am here at home, I am very grateful that following my classes yesterday morning I was able to cancel my other obligations and take the time I need to rest.

Permission to take time out from other obligations in our lives and focus on our needs is one of the most difficult tasks to do for ourselves.  To often we feel guilt for saying no to someone who has asked us for our assistance just to sit at home.  But if we are dreading going somewhere, and we are only attending an event or sitting on a committee to avoid hurting someone else's feeling or letting them down, we are neglecting our needs.  If we continue this behavior over months, years or even a lifetime our neglected needs add up and it is our bodies and minds that pay the price not the people whose needs we put first.

Sometimes it is difficult to let others down.  Guilt is an incredible motivator.  But when we sacrifice our own needs at the expense of making others happy we do ourselves a disservice.  People who truly love and care for us wouldn't want us to be in that situation.  And those who can't understand our reason for saying no and putting our own needs first aren't really worth having in our lives.  

So today I am giving myself permission to just chill at home.  I know that I will get over this cold faster and get back to working out and being social again.  But the more I fight against it, the longer my cold will linger.  The people in my life who matter most just want me to recover and that is exactly what I’m giving myself permission to do.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Fun Food Friday - Bone Broth

One of the best things about Thanksgiving dinner is leftovers.  Aside from the amazing meal of turkey, brussel sprouts, wild rice stuffing, turnip and pumpkin (yes more pumpkin) cheesecake is the chance to reinvent new meals out of everything left.  I also like to use all of the parts I have of the turkey so making soup stock or in this case bone broth is on my cooking agenda.  You can use chicken carcasses as well.  I typically use bones from two chicken, keeping them in the freezer until I am ready to use.

Bone broth has been a fairly hot item to have during the fall and winter months and you can buy it in a variety of places.  But aside from a long cook time, it is really easy to make at home.  Basically you just fill a pot with bones, some veggies, apple cider vinegar and water.  Simmer that mixture for half a day or more and you have a delicious and nutritions base for soups or even something to heat up and sip throughout the day.

The benefits from making a bone broth over a soup stock come from adding apple cider vinegar and a longer simmer.  The apple cider vinegar helps extract more minerals, collagen and gelatine from the bones increasing its nutritional value when compared to regular soup stock.  The addition of vegetables, herbs and salt also make bone broth a soothing drink.

Beyond being a soothing drink, bone broth has many heath benefits.  According to Dr. Nancy Campbells GAPS protocol, bone broth helps 'heal and seal' your intestinal lining because of the extra collagen in the broth.  Healing your intestinal tract is beneficial in helping your body offset the risk of inflammation.  Bone broth also may help reduce joint pain and inflammation, because of the presence of chondroitin sulphates, glucosamine, and other compounds extracted from the boiled down cartilage.  In addition, bone both also works to support strong bones and teeth as it contains high amounts of calcium, magnesium, and other nutrients that play an important role in healthy bone formation.

Bone Broth

by Denise Boyd Dunlop
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 12-24 hours
Ingredients (Approx. 4 litres)
  • 1 turkey or 2 chicken carcass
  • 2 carrots roughly chopped
  • 1 onion peeled and chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic chopped
  • 1 bunch parsely
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • water to fill stock pot (mine is 12 quarts)
Add turkey or chicken carcass, vegetables, salt and vinegar to pot. If using fresh herbs leave out until the last 3-4 hours of cooking. Fill pot with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 12-24 hours.
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Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Workout Wednesday - My Favourite Cross Training

I love running and yoga.  I talk about these two activities constantly.  Running for being my favourite cardio workout and yoga for stretching and strengthening.  But the most effective way that I have experienced to provide overall body strength is hands down TRX.  I'm not receiving any promotional benefits from TRX to say that or any of the positive things related to TRX, I truly believe that is one of the best workouts out there.

Out of all of the classes I teach, TRX is the one I teach most often.  I have been teaching TRX for 5 years now.  Most of the students I began teaching with from my very first TRX class are still with me.  Watching the participants work on TRX straps over the sessions of each class, I notice major changes in their body within a few weeks of taking the class and that is only doing the class once a week for most people.

What makes TRX such an effect way of working out is the fact that it truly is a functional exercise.  While you are doing each of the movements, it is crutial that you remain in proper form to avoid injury.  That means that during your set of movement; core engagement and properly setting your shoulders, pelvis and legs are key to getting the fullest benefit from the move.  Setting the proper foundation in your body with your entire body engages every stabilizing muscle and not just the target muscle.  Workouts that involve the entire body being engaged, help mimic real life scenarios more closely than isolated exercises.

TRX is also one of those exercises that can be done anywhere.  If you choose to invest in a set of straps you can take them anywhere, inside, outside, hotels rooms, parks, you get the idea.  But there are also TRX classes that you can join for proper instruction and to workout in a group setting. 

So that's my plug for TRX.  Over the next few weeks, I will be showcasing my favourite and most effective moves and workouts.

Sunday, 11 October 2015


This is Thanksgiving weekend in Canada and I think its pretty obvious what today's post should be about.  I could easily write 10 posts on the importance expressing gratitude has has had on my life.  I try to wake up each morning and say thank you for all of the possibilities I have before me.  I also try to end my day the same way, being grateful for all of the things in my life that I love.  

Expressing gratitude at the end of the day also reminds me on tough days when things may not have gone perfectly, there are still parts of the day and people in my life that I am thankful for. Even when I have had times where it feels as though I am up against the entire world and I am about to lose, the expression of thanks for my children, my husband, a perfect sunset or time to sit and drink a coffee reminds me that there is more to my life and more to me than the challenges I am facing.

This is my favourite quote by Melody Beatty about Gratitude

I feel her words sum up so eloquently what I am trying to express.  Through the recognition of all of the blessings in our lives we reframe each gift that comes to us as exactly that - a gift.  A stranger holding a door for us, the picture our child draws, the fact that most of us have a warm bed and more than enough to eat are things that others may not experience in a day and yet they have been presented to us.  

By recognizing that we have more than enough in our lives, we free ourselves to give more to others.  We don't feel the need to hoard our time.   When we see how fortunate we are we free up space in our minds and emotionally to find room in ourselves to find that true expression of who we are.  So today and everyday I am grateful for so many things in my life, my family, the beautiful tree whose leaves are changing colours to a brilliant red in my front yard, the opportunity to sit here and write and the limitless possibilities that all of my tomorrows may bring.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Fun Food Friday - Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have a confession to make.  I really, really don't like pumpkin spice lattes.  The first time I ordered one, I was really excited to try this amazing coffee that everyone seems to get so excited about.  After one sip, I was shocked that anyone would do that to a perfectly good cup of coffee.  Perhaps my dislike of the PSL comes from the fact that I don't really like pumpkin pie either.  There is a texture and spice blend that happens that really doesn't work for my palate.  I do like pumpkin in other recipes, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin soup; you get the idea. 

So I do appreciate pumpkin.  But I've noticed, pumpkin is in everything as soon as fall hits.  There is a pumpkin spice cliff bar and pumpkin beer.  It feels like a right of passage for fall let's put pumpkin in everything! So this year I said to myself "I'm not going to make pumpkin recipes."  It just feels like too much and there are other wonderful fruits and vegetables that are at their peak this time of year that deserve a spot light - squash, sweet potatoes, turnip, a massive list really.  

But then I picked up my crop share this week, only to find this at the bottom of my bag.....

I thought about keeping it as a decoration but then I wouldn't be using a perfectly good piece of produce for its real purpose.  So I chopped and baked and cooked a bit more and pureed.  Then I decided to bake some cookies using coconut flour.  The extra moisture in the pumpkin works perfectly to balance the sometimes dry texture coconut flour creates in baking.  

Aside from a high moisture content, pumpkin is high in dietary fibre, low in calories and provides a ton of antioxidants.  Pumpkin is high in vitamin A which is an important antioxidant for helping maintain and protect the skin, mucous membranes and eye sight.  Finally pumpkin is a good source of B vitamins and minerals such as calcium, potassium and phosphorus.  So all around, pumpkin is a great addition to a lot of your cooking and baking and is perfect in the fall when pumpkins are at their peak freshness.

After whipping up these cookies, I still have a great deal of pumpkin left.  I can see my future now - pumpkin smoothies, pumpkin oatmeal, pumpkin gnocchi.....

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

by Denise Boyd Dunlop
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Ingredients (36 cookies)
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 cup pureed pumpkin
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/3 cup coconut flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips
Cream together butter, eggs and maple syrup. Stir in pumpkin and vanilla. Sift coconut flour, baking powder, salt and spices. Stir into wet ingredients. Add chocolate chips.
Scoop dough by tablespoons onto a parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes.
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Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Workout Wednesday - Improving Your Running from the Ground Up

I have been running pretty regularly for almost 10 years now and have (luckily) not experienced any injuries or setbacks to my body from running.  One of the most important reasons related to not having a running related injury is from cross training.  I've spoken about the importance of incorporating yoga along with running and the benefits related to the strength building and stretch that happens during a regular yoga practice.  But today I'm focussing on a specific area of the body that can make or break our running enjoyment and success. - Our feet and ankles.

When I first started to run, I almost quit within the first week of my learn to run program.  My ankles were so sore that I could not walk without a limp.  I discussed my problem with the instructor of the running group and was told that it took a while for all of the little muscles around our ankles to strengthen.  He was right to an extent but I didn't want to wait for these muscles to strengthen on their own.  Looking for my own solution, I did a bit of research on ankles and feet.

Did you know that your feet and ankles consist of more than 26 bones, 36 joints (many of which are articulated) and hundreds of ligaments, muscles and tendons.  The structure of the foot allows for a great deal of movement and absorption of impact while we walk.  When we run, we increase that impact by a factor of 10.  Which is why proper footwear and building strength is crucial to helping with our running.  The stronger our feet and ankles are and the more we support them the more we increase our potential to run pain free and enjoy our run!

The move I found to alleviate the foot pain and help not only build stronger muscles to support my ankles and to stretch my calf was writing the alphabet with my foot.  It is one of the most simplest exercises to do and can be done virtually anywhere. 

  • Sitting down lift one foot from the floor.
  • With your toes and the ball of your foot write each letter of the alphabet.
  • Repeat with the other foot.
  • That's it.  I usually do this twice a day.

You can do this exercise anywhere, your desk at work, watching TV, basically anywhere you are sitting.  You can also pick upper case, lower case, cursive whatever you feel like writing.  This movement is great for allowing the foot to move through its full range of motion while stretching all of the muscles around the ankle and into the calf.  Strong ankles and flexible feet make for less chances for injury and a greater sense of stability on all different types of terrain.  Happy Running!

Sunday, 4 October 2015

A Leap of Faith

This phrase always reminds me of the third Indiana Jones movie when Indy is almost to the end of the quest for the chalice and he crosses the bridge he can't see.  I'm pretty sure in the movie he does actually refer to it as a Leap of Faith.  These are great words, an inspiring expression to use to motivate yourself or others to move ahead with something in their or your life.  Words are wonderful ways to create a drive for change or momentum and can initiate change.  But it is the action of the change that requires true courage.  Both are important, but without that action words fall short.

I have been in the midst of some pretty big changes in my life.  I'm in the process of letting some things go and moving in a new direction.  All exciting changes, but pretty scary as well, to let go of the familiar and actually chose to act in a new way.  Changes of any sort can be pretty overwhelming whether its starting a new exercise regime, changing your diet, letting go of relationships that are no longer working or starting a new job.  These types of changes to your lifestyle require you to trust in the unknown and that through this process you are going to be ok, better than ok, through the journey.  But taking that very first step and working up the courage to do so is the bravest part of making a change.

My new thing for August summed the actual physical fear and overcoming a leap of faith.  For the past year or so, I've wanted to jump of a bridge into water.  I admit, it is a little silly for a fully grown up and responsible mother of two to want to have any urge to jump off of anything, let alone a bridge.  But I have been wanting to do it.  I can't explain it. 

There is a fantastic park in my town that I walk through regularly and in it, a bridge, I cross a couple times a day.  It is a beautiful bridge.  

In the summer, teenagers jump into the river and it looks like a lot of fun.  It is also pretty high from the water, but the water is deep enough.  I have envisioned myself taking that leap of faith and jumping into the water repeatedly.  I imagine the freedom that I would feel during the fall and how great it would feel to hit the water.

After talking about wanting to jump for a while, my husband said "Alright, let's do it."  We picked our weekend we were going to jump.  Somehow the word spread to our families and both of our parents came to watch along with some of our siblings and their spouses.  No chance of backing out at this point.  To top the pressure of having family come to support us on this insane thing that no one over 20 should be doing, there were some tourists in the park recording our jump.

We decided to jump separately in case either one of us piked or landed on the other.  My husband went first.  When it was my turn, I stepped over the side of the bridge and looked down.  I was really far from the water.  Really far.  

I clung to the side of the bridge completely regretting my words.  I should also mention that I am the type of person who hesitates to jump in from the side of the pool.  I would much rather use the ladder or slide in off the side of the deck.  

So on the side of the bridge, people cheering me on, me clinging for dear life.  Minutes ticked by.  My husband said I was up there for 8 minutes.  The video of my jump was 42 seconds.  I haven't felt as physically scared of something in a long time, I literally thought I was going to faint.  I even started to jump then pulled back.  

Then I thought to myself - really what was the worst thing about taking that step off the bridge that would happen?  There was enough water to land in and something inside me wanted to jump for a really long time.  So I let go.

I hit the water and when I surfaced everyone was cheering.  Swimming to shore, I was asked if I thought I'd jump again and immediately said "No."  Once was enough - I did it.  

I've thought often over the past few weeks about the feeling I had when I was so torn about taking that step and feeling so much fear about letting go.  Often when we face the opportunity to make that change in our lives that we have wanted for so long it is the fear of the unknown or perhaps possible discomfort that cements us in place.  But if we can trust in ourselves that we were right in our decision for ourselves to want a change or a difference in the first place we can have the courage to take that leap.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Fun Food Friday - Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Energy Bites

I'm teaching a 2 hour Body Gratitude workshop tomorrow and have promised the participants a nutritious snack following the workout.  We won't be working out for a full two hours but it will probably be more than an hour worth of work.  To receive the most benefits from your workouts and to help your body recover quicker, it is ideal to have a balanced snack or meal within 30 - 60 minutes of a workout.  A combination of protein and carbohydrate will help with muscle repair and work to restore depleted glycogen stores from your muscles.

These little energy bites are a perfect blend of carbs and protein.  The dates are quickly digested and provide natural sweetness and the hemp hearts along with the peanut butter provide both protein and healthy fats.  Aside from those benefits they taste like a peanut butter cup without all of the nasty stuff.  These energy bites are easy to whip up and quite addictive.  They are easily transportable and a great idea not only for following a workout but also for helping keep your energy levels up during long hikes or bike rides.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Energy Bites

by Denise Boyd Dunlop
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Ingredients (serves 12)
  • 7 medjool dates
  • 1/2 cup natural peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup hemp hearts
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips
Place ingredients in a food processor, mixing until smooth. Roll into balls and place in fridge or freezer.
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