Tasty Tuesday – Paramount Fine Foods

As part of this journey I have given up much of my eating out but like I’ve said in past posts, I refuse to stop eating out completely, especially now that I live in the city and there are so many new places to try. This year I’ve been trying not to repeat restaurants just so I can get a taste of something new but there have been a few circumstances where convenience (especially on a busy Saturday night) has driven us to old haunts. This past Saturday was one of those.

Matt, my mom and I went out Saturday afternoon with the plan to check out the Bloor-Yorkville Icefest, have dinner, and then see the cinema screening of Newsies on Broadway. Icefest was poorly set up and overcrowded unfortunately so we kind of just moved through the street without getting a closer look at everything. Our misadventure in Yorkville did lead us to the most beautiful Indigo store on Bay street which I will definitely be going back to browse in someday.

Anyway, after some strolling around we headed for dinner but finding the pub a little too crowded (and the hostess a little short with us) we decided to head up the street to Paramount Fine Foods.

I first tried Paramount at the beginning of the year when my lovely friend Keeragh met me for lunch at the Yorkdale Mall location. Service was a bit of a mess that day as the staff struggled to keep up with the takeout side of the restaurant and the sit down but we had the time and the food was still delicious. A few weeks later I took mom to the Yonge and Dundas location, we had much better service (plus the atmosphere is really cool since it’s two floors) and once again the food was amazing.

Dinner atmosphere last night was on point. #dinner #foodie #aesthetic #bloggerstyle #atmosphere

A post shared by Casandra Miller (@casandramillerr) on

Believe it or not, this is a meal out that is actually calorie friendly and has fit into my meal plan every time I’ve had it. I’ve had something different off of the menu each time and left feeling satisfied and well fed.

The first time I tried Paramount I had their lamb wrap. The lamb was delicious but it was the hummus and pickled turnips that really brought out the best flavours. At 640 calories it’s a little more than I would normally eat for just a wrap but I ate smart the rest of the day and it fit in just fine.

The second time around mom and I shared the kafta wrap and the fattoush salad with shrimp skewers. Between the two of us this meal was about 580 calories each, a bit lower than just getting the lamb wrap and definitely more filling because of the salad. The salad was actually the highlight. It had bits of fried pita pieces and chopped peppers that added a crunch. I’ve never been very good at just eating a salad as my meal but lately I’ve been finding places that offer salads with enough good toppings that I actually enjoy them.

Since there were three of us in our latest venture to Paramount we decided to just share the half portion of one of their family platters. What I liked about the platter is that you get to try a lot of different bits from their menu without ordering a bunch of different dishes. It starts off with their hummus which is honestly the best hummus I’ve ever tasted (it even tops the one served in the Moroccan pavilion at Epcot). The mixed platter itself has some of their shawarma meats, meat skewers, falafels, and a few other items which are all served on more bread with the wrap fillings on the side. The only thing I wasn’t a big fan of was the side of fries but the other option was white rice and I’m really not a rice fan. I mean, I enjoyed eating the fries but they seemed out of place in the meal.

This meal came to a bit of a higher calorie count at 750 calories per person (maybe a bit more with the bread as well) but I did have a cheat that lowered my calorie intake for sure and that’s Matt. 750 calories per person comes with splitting it evenly three ways but in reality mom and I probably ate one fourth of the meal each and left Matt the other half. I’d say it was roughly 600-650 calories for each of us which is really good for all that food in comparison to just eating one lamb wrap.

They do bring free bread to the table beforehand which are just warm pillows of yumminess but I’ve been careful with how much of it I ate. I think if I was being really strict about calories I would just ask them not to bring it but in this case we ate it with the hummus.

After the meal, my tummy was full and then it was off to Newsies (where I admittedly had some popcorn and my first diet coke in many weeks). The show was amazing and it was so fun getting to see Jeremy Jordan in the role after watching him every week on Supergirl. To boot, I wasn’t the only one in the theatre wearing a newsboy hat.

I find that finding places you can eat out at without feeling too guilty is key when eating healthy. It gives you a break from cooking and allows you to gain a little enjoyment from eating out without cheating too much. I’m sure I’ll be venturing back to Paramount sometime soon, especially with one just up the road from us. It is a franchise but I personally think it’s very high quality food for a ‘chain restaurant’.

What have you been eating this week? Do you have a post about it? Drop it in the comments and I’ll be sure to check it out!

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Seeing Myself in This Is Us’ Randall Pearson

There is a long version of this story that I intend to tell one day but for now I’ll keep it simple: I am someone who has struggled with depression, anxiety, and panic attacks since about my senior year of high school. I have been on anti-depressants, attended countless therapy sessions, and have blacked out and lost time from being so worked up and stressed out. There’s been different stressors in my life at various points in time but a lot of it has stemmed from putting too much pressure on myself. Whether it was a friendship, school work, weight loss or something else altogether, I never handled failure or mediocrity in a healthy manner. It has taken me a long time to acknowledge and accept that, and there are still days when I forget. Mental health is still a journey for me, the road isn’t as bumpy as it once was but I still hit a pothole every once in a while.

What prompted this reflection of my mental health was a recent episode of the new show This Is Us entitled Jack Pearson’s Son. The rest of this blog post is going to contain some spoilers so if you’re not caught up and avoiding them, I’d stop reading here.

I connected with Randall Pearson within the pilot episode, even though we present as very different people. Randall is a middle aged Black man, adopted when he was an infant, married with two children, working in a corporate atmosphere. I am a twenty something white girl who was raised by my biological mother and non-biological father, I have no siblings, children, or a husband (just a beanstalk), and I definitely do not work in a corporate atmosphere at the moment. But I saw myself in Randall in his goofy interactions, his slight awkwardness, and just something about the way he held himself.

I watched Randall go meet his biological father in that first episode and my head played an old scenario of what I would say to my father if I ever chose to knock on his door. Randall’s initial anger resonated with me, even though our situations were still remarkably different.

As the show carried on, I became more and more attached to this middle aged man and his story. Flashbacks of Randall’s childhood made me fall deeper in love with this character as I watched him struggle through the changes in his life regarding school and the differences he had from his siblings. But it was in the fifteenth episode where Randall begins to suffer from a major panic attack that I found myself in this character once again, in a way that raw and full. While not all my attacks have been quite so painful, there have been a few that have knocked me on my ass in this way. To see a tv show take the time with their character and show the growing difficulty in even the most minute actions was powerful and so meaningful to me.

I’ve struggled to make a simple phone call just like Randall did.

I’ve missed something because I’m lost in my head just like Randall did.

I’ve sat on the floor and sobbed until I thought I was having a heart attack just like Randall did.

I sat there speechless, watching this episode go between their main characters as it always does, watching Randall’s anxiety grow with each new scene until he could not function. I know it’s not the first time media has portrayed a character having an anxiety attack but it was the continuous build on this one that stuck with me more than any other portrayal I have personally seen.

More and more, with strong initiatives and powerful voices, mental illnesses are being recognized as real illnesses but there is still a far way to go. There is still stigma and discrimination, still people who think you just need to suck it up and be happy, still people who just don’t understand. But to see a popular new show tackle this issue intimately in all it’s gory details is truly important to me. It puts a face to some of my experiences and it was a reminder that I am not alone. You are not alone. You are not the only person in the world who feels this way, it’s raw, it’s real, and it does not make you any less of a person. Try to remember that.

This episode has also made me reevaluate the way I feel about Randall’s brother Kevin. I have had a love/hate relationship with pretty boy Kevin Pearson since the pilot. My distance from Kevin has come mostly from the fact that I’ve never been able to relate to him. Sure, I have just as many differences with Randall as I do with Kevin but I couldn’t seem to find the bridge between us. There were rare moments when he made me smile, but overall he’s just frustrated me throughout the season. But now, I imagine Kevin and I are definitely going to have a different relationship and it’s all because of one scene in 1.15. My mom summed it up best while we were watching, with five simple words:

“You can’t hate him now.”

She was right, even though I denied it at first. As I watched Kevin leave the opening night performance of his play to be with Randall I began to see not myself in Kevin, but instead the many people in my life who have put their lives on pause and helped me. I saw friends and loved ones who sat up with me in the middle of the night talking about everything and nothing just to calm me down, I saw my parents who put their relationship and their own well-being on the back burner to take care of me, and I saw the people who have stuck with me when I was hardly responsive and drifting in and out of my own awareness. The Kevins in my life are equally as important as my identification with Randall for they’re the ones who have helped me through it all.

I am so glad this show got another two seasons. It has showcased in just sixteen episodes some of the best writing I’ve seen in a long time. I’m still mad about this whole situation with Chris Sullivan wearing a fat suit but every show has its problems and that problem is minor in my opinion compared to some of the stuff they tackle. If you aren’t watching This Is Us, I cannot possibly recommend it enough or say too many great things about it. This show, the performances given by each and every one of the actors, and the stories of the Pearson family, are just something I wouldn’t want to miss out on.

Photo credit to NBC

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Fitness Friday – One Clean Week

Hello darlings, I’m back again with another Fitness Friday but this week I’m going to talk to you a bit about my health eating rather than my workout routines. I’m sure if you’re on a journey like myself, or have been on one before, you have heard some sort of line about weight loss being more about what you put into your body than what you do with it. I think the guru in all of us have probably said that old “80% diet, 20% exercise” line one way or another. With this in mind, I decided to see what more I could find out about the 80/20 rule. This idea came to me two weeks ago after I made it a whole 8 days of completely clean eating: no cheats, no overeating, just good food and good portion control.

What’s more is I’m beginning to see some more changes in myself. My February selfie challenge has really been letting me see those changes both in my face and in my body as a whole. I’m feeling better, I’m looking better, and I’m starting to gain some confidence again. There’s a long road ahead of me but at least I’m still moving in the right direction.

Now, onto this whole healthy eating thing.

As always, I am in no way a healthcare professional so my knowledge and advice comes from the material I seek out and read (which can have its own biases) and my personal experience of what has and has not worked for me. My sources are far from academic so you have to really be critical with them. Remember: health and fitness is different for everyone. That being said, I do want to share what I find with the hope it will work for others just like it is working for me.

In order to investigate the whole 80/20 rule I did a simple google search to see what came up. The first thing that I noticed is that the percentages aren’t easily agreed on throughout the literature but most seem to agree that the ratio is somewhere between 70-80 / 30 – 20 which isn’t too drastic. Personally, I can’t see me measuring out the calories cut from my diet to compare them to the calories burnt in my exercise anyway so the ratio doesn’t matter too much to me.

“The reason dieting is so much more effective than exercise is because it takes a ton of activity to create a 500 to 700 calorie deficit through working out.” – Women’s Health

I know from my last journey that busting your ass in the gym is not going to guarantee a drop in the scale. I would go to the gym 6 days a week and not see numbers drop the way I wanted them to. Of course this can be attributed to a number of reasons but for me it had a lot to do with the fact that I still wasn’t eating healthy enough. I just simply couldn’t burn off more calories than I was consuming. Food is an incredibly important part of losing weight and being healthy: if you keep shovelling crap into your body it won’t matter how many squats you do or how many miles you run, you’re still not going to feel better.

The Huffington post article talks about a meta-analysis that looks at over 700 articles showing that overall people tend to see bigger results in weight loss when eating smart rather than just exercising well, at least short term. This emphasis on short term really got me thinking about how I’ve dieted in the past and how I would stick to healthy eating for a while, shed some pounds and then get back off track again. I think it really shows how drastic diet changes help you lose weight but they don’t necessarily help you maintain your weight loss. This is where the balance of physical activity and healthy eating becomes really important. I believe making fitness and activity part of your routine makes it easier to stay on track and to make this all a lifestyle change rather than just a short term diet.

Fitness Blender’s Kelli and Daniel had a more critical view on the 80/20 role because of the way it minimizes exercise. I think it’s important to acknowledge the bias here, these two are fitness gurus who are making money off of home workout videos (yes their individual videos are free but their programs are not, and they’re still bound to be seeing money coming in from Youtube). That being said, I think they make a great point about how the 80/20 rule kind of lets you slack off of exercise if you choose to believe in it too much. Exercise is still important! I know I will never have the body I want if I don’t tighten up and tone up in addition to losing the weight.

I think the moral of this story is to have a good balance, regardless of whether it’s 80/20 or 70/30 or something else altogether. You’re not going to reach your goals by killing yourself at the gym for 2 hours a day but you’re also not going to get there by sitting on your couch eating nothing carrot sticks. Balance is key and aiming to change your lifestyle in a more permanent way is going to help you achieve your goals and stick with it. My emphasis is definitely on my meal prepping and eating better but workouts are still a part of my daily routine. By trying to integrate both into my life I’ve been seeing changes and this time I’m really hoping to make them stick. Besides, I’ve found ways to make healthy eating fun and that has made a big difference.

This brings me back to my latest accomplishment. I am someone who loves food: doesn’t really matter if it’s McDonalds or some fancy restaurant in the city, I just love eating. You’ve probably been able to figure this out from my mix of Tasty Tuesday posts over the past few months. Now, I know myself well enough to know that I will never be someone who eats kale at every meal or who cuts out fast food completely but I have now proven to myself that I have the willpower and drive to control how much of the bad stuff I put in my body. I made a plan, I stuck to it, and it has shown me that I just have to keep going. I made it 8 days without anything horrible going into my body and while that might not seem like that long to some, it was an eternity for me.

Overall, I’m still sticking with my one cheat meal a week rule because food and going out to eat is one of my joys in life and I’m not going to make myself miserable to fit into a smaller pair of jeans. Besides, I’m already beginning to fit into some of my old, smaller jeans already! It’s all about those little accomplishments!

How are things going for you? Any big accomplishments this week? I’m kind of hoping to build a bit of a community on here of people going through their own journeys so I’m looking new blogs to follow and interact with, drop me a link in the comments!

Women’s Health
Huffington Post
Fitness Blender

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Tasty Tuesday – Milkshakes, Madeleines and More!

As promised in my last post which you can read here, this Tasty Tuesday is all about Matt and I’s delayed Valentine’s date in the city. Our plan was to hit up the special Beauty and the Beast exhibit they were putting on at Casa Loma (Toronto’s castle from the early 1900s) and then head for dinner at Biff’s Bistro, an upscale French restaurant in the downtown core. As well thought out as the plan was, it was quickly derailed by the popularity of the Beauty and the Beast exhibit.

After trekking up a hillside of stairs to Casa Loma we found a huge line that wrapped down from the castle around the sidewalk towards the hill. We got in the line and found out that it was going to be 2 hours to just get to the box office. Problem: it was already 1PM and our dinner reservation was downtown for 5:30. It really didn’t give us much time to explore the castle and I didn’t want to waste the day standing in line so once we figured out we could buy tickets online for later that night we decided to remaster our plan for the day. Thank goodness I’m a pro at improvising city adventures.

I’ve never actually gotten off the subway at Dupont before but after checking my phone I realized we were close to Bloor which meant we were only a 10 minute walk away from Snakes and Lattes, a local board game cafe. We had tried to go to the College location a few weeks ago but had been faced with another long wait so we’d left. The Annex location was busy when we went around 1:30 but we got a table right away and were able to settle in for an afternoon of gaming.

I wasn’t hungry when we left the apartment so I grabbed a snack instead of lunch but after climbing up and back down the stairs to Casa Loma, and then walking a few blocks I decided I could eat (big surprise). We shared the plate of hummus and naan, as well as a creme brûlée milkshake while venturing into some new board games.

I got to pick a game first and I chose an old light strategy Jack the Ripper game (which for anyone who knows me is not surprising). The game was simple and entertaining and I won as both the inspector and as Jack (sorry Matt). After finishing up our snacks, Matt went and picked out another game and came back with a steampunk / horror spin on our absolute favourite board game Pandemic. Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu uses the basic cooperative elements of Pandemic where you try to save the world but instead of curing and eradicating diseases you’re defeating cultists and closing gates to the underworld.

At this point I think we would both consider ourselves seasoned veterans of Pandemic, especially now that we own an expansion and the advanced version Pandemic: Legacy but all of our Pandemic experience didn’t save us from getting out butts kicked not once but twice in Reign of Cthulhu. We lost the same way both times: too many cultists had taken over the map. I kind of wish we had had time for one more game so we could have tried to win but after the second round it was about time to settle our bill and head out.

After finishing up at Snakes and Lattes, we headed downtown for our reservations at Biff’s Bistro for their Sunday fondue special. Neither of us had been to Biff’s before but it gets great reviews and it has a really charming 1930s atmosphere (which I forgot about when choosing to wear my 1946 Red Velvet Bésame lipstick instead of my 1935 one) and it was a romantic little spot to check out just the two of us. We arrived early and were seated in a comfy corner table in the lounge.

My original suggestion for Matt’s gift was to try and pick a restaurant that went along with the historic / vintage feel of the Bésame lipsticks he had ordered me. He had originally suggested Cluny Bistro in the distillery district which hit the nail on the head in theme but after looking at the menu we decided we weren’t as interested. The place looks beautiful but it wasn’t the kind of meal we were looking for. After a little more researching we found Biff’s, and after our dining experience I’m really glad we did!

The main menu at Biff’s is upscale French cuisine, on Sundays they also do half priced bottle of wines but neither of us drink much wine so we just stuck with water. The cheese fondue special comes with steak, sausage, apples, potatoes, dijon, and bread. The meal comes to around $40 for two people. It’s definitely a more upscale dining experience than we normally check out and when the tray first came to the table I wondered if it was going to be enough food but once you started to dig in it definitely felt like a lot more, especially since they brought you bread to start.

Instead of ordering any main courses we decided to just have the fondue and then indulge in some desserts. Matt, unsurprisingly, ordered the vanilla bean creme brûlée and I ordered the poached pear eclair. Additionally, we decided to share the made to order house madeleines because why have one dessert when you can have three?

I promise I’ve gotten back to my healthy eating since then.

I’m happy to announce that the desserts were as wonderful as dinner and were totally worth the calorie splurge. The madeleines were definitely a standout since they came fresh from the oven and had a lovely citrus taste to them. Honestly, I would go back just to order them and a glass of milk. Plus, how cute are they tucked in their little napkin blanket?

After dinner it was time to head back up to Casa Loma (and back up the hill of stairs) to finally check out the Beauty and the Beast exhibit that we had missed out on in the afternoon. Our online tickets allowed us to walk right in through the front door (the line was much smaller at 7 but still sizeable) and we were able to check out all they had to offer in the last two hours of operation. When we walked in we were told I was the 7,000th visitor for that day. From my understanding Casa Loma doesn’t really get that much foot traffic outside of regular tourist visits unless they have a special event going on so 7,000 was a pretty big number especially since there were still about 100 people in line outside.

My favourite room in the castle has always been the library and fittingly they had set up some of the Beauty an the Beast costumes there. You got to see Gaston and LeFou’s outfits from the movie, as well at Belle’s blue dress. The way they lit the costumes was horrible for pictures because parts were lit with the yellow light of the Casa Loma chandeliers up above and other parts were lit with bright spotlights positioned on the ground. The costumes were beautiful but I wish I had had better lighting to capture the details.

The second room had more of the supporting cast costumes as well as the famous red rose. You could either get in a short line to take a picture of the rose or a longer line to get one with the rose. We were more concerned about seeing everything around the castle so we just snapped our picture of the rose and hightailed it off to the next room.

We wandered around the rest of Casa Loma for the evening. We skipped out on the behind the scenes look at the movie because I’ve sort of been avoiding any and all footage for a while so it could be a big surprise but we did go through the enchanted tunnel.

For my international readers and those who have never been to Casa Loma, I’ll give you a bit of background since I don’t have any good footage of the tunnel. Basically, the estate was constructed with an underground passageway wide enough for two people and around 7 feet tall. This passageway leads from the main estate to the potting shed, the garage and the stables across the street. For the Beauty and the Beast exhibit they had put up framed posters of the characters in their various forms as well as light projections on the wall of the tunnel. It made it look like it was snowing inside the tunnel and every once in a while a character would dance across the wall.

In the garage they’d set up a bouncy castle and a craft station for the kids which was pretty cute and aside from the rooms where the costumes were it was the busiest part of the estate. We missed most of the entertainment because we came so late but we saw a bit of the ballroom dancing (which was stupidly located, only about 15 people could actually see at a time) and we finished the night watching an aerialist perform on silks in the main hall. Overall, I was a little disappointed by the whole experience (mainly because the yellow dress was nowhere to be found) and I was glad we didn’t wait the two hours in the afternoon and derail our other plans for the day. Still, it was a fun time and we got to adventure around some places we hadn’t been before so I’d call it a success.

The weekend was a bit of a rough one in terms of healthy eating and working out but I’m back on it again with the plan of eating well until I get some movie popcorn Saturday night and I’m back to my regular workouts now that I’m feeling better.

Are you excited about the new Beauty and the Beast movie? Are you hoping for any other live action remakes? I really loved Jungle Book and I’m excited to see how they handle Lion King but I’d love to see Hercules or Atlantis. Or anything really.

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Valentine’s Day – A Tale As Old As Time

Hello my dearest readers! This Sunday post is going to jump back a few days to focus on Valentine’s Day, or more specifically it’s going to focus on the little Beauty and the Beast gift basket I made for Matt’s gift.

So themed gifts are kind of my thing; I very seldom give a gift without putting some thematic twist on them. For example, for our last anniversary I put together a Harry Potter gift with boxes filled with travel supplies that looked like various first year spell books that Matt would need for his first year to Hogwarts. This was to go along with the Universal trip we took at the end of October. There was a plastic cauldron, Hufflepuff magnets (his house, not mine), and a few other little goodies. It was probably one of my best ones to be honest.

This year, with the knowledge that the live-action Beauty and the Beast movie would be out just a month after Valentine’s Day, I decided to theme my gift around Matt’s favourite Disney movie. His love for Beauty and the Beast rivals mine at times so I knew this would be the perfect gift. To top it all off I dressed up in the only yellow-ish clothing I own and did my best to replicate Belle’s signature hairstyle (the bun was not easy!). It was nice to dress up a little bit even though we were staying home for dinner.

My two piece skirt and crop top combo is from Forever 21 and is a set I bought last fall after worshipping it from afar for several months, and my shoes are a crappy pair of nude heels from Old Navy that I use more for pictures than anything else.

Now onto Matt’s gift!

The main part of the gift is that I will be buying tickets and dinner at the VIP theatre at Yonge and Dundas so we can go see the movie but I wanted to present the gift within an actual basket of goodies just to make it a bit more special. Once again, I trusted my laptop more than my handwriting and used the same beautiful Alex Brush font that I used for mom’s letters to write the invitation. I haven’t bought the actual tickets yet because the release is still a month away and I want to make sure we pick a night when both of us will actually be free.

Almost everything in the box came from the Dollar Store, which is the best source for bulking up boxed gifts like this. I used the leftover yellow tissue paper from my Mom’s birthday gift, a storage box, and a curly yellow ribbon to set up the box (no wrapped shoeboxes this time). Inside there is bubble bath in a champagne bottle, a feather duster, a crème brûlée scented candle, a cookies and cream bar masking as the grey stuff, movie themed sugar cookies, a single red rose (chocolate), and the peasant Bell Pop Vinyl.

The Pop Vinyl figure was actually a gift from Matt’s sister Kate, who gave us Beauty and the Beast Pop Vinyl’s as part of our Christmas present. The ballroom Belle and Beast vinyl’s are currently filling Oliver and Felicity’s place in our his and her bathroom decor. I was always planning on buying a Pop Vinyl of some sort but this saved me from needing to do so (thanks Kate).

I will admit that I have had this surprise planned out for months; I think I was still working at Wonderland when I first mentioned that this was my plan for Valentine’s day. Basically once we had a release date for the movie I began thinking up ideas. With this in mind, last month when I was grabbing a tea at my favourite Second Cup location in the city at King and John, I noticed these little homemade cookies that fit perfectly with the movie night aspect of my theme so I picked them up and somehow managed to stop myself from eating them before Matt got to see them.

Everything else, as I’ve mentioned, came from the Dollar Store. I grabbed the champagne bubble bath because it reminded me of the popping champagne bottles in the Beauty and the Beast scene of Mickey’s Philharmagic at Disney. The crème brûlée scented candle is not only because it’s one of Matt’s favourite desserts but because I figured it was a bit more practical than an actual candlestick to represent Lumière. On the other side of things, I figured the duster was practical and solid enough to represent Fifi so I stuck that in there as well. And of course the grey stuff and the single rose are pretty self explanatory for anyone who has seen the original animated movie (and if you haven’t you need to get on that).

The real challenge this week has been staying away from all the discounted chocolate that I know is just right outside my door. But thankfully today I get to cheat a little with my Valentine’s gift which involves a fondue dinner for two at Biff’s Bistro, and would you believe it? A trip to Casa Loma to see the Beauty and the Beast exhibit. I hope you all had a lovely Valentine’s day, whether you spent it with friends, family, a significant other or just the good ole company of me, myself, and i. Stay tuned this Tuesday and I’ll let you know how Biff’s Bistro was.

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Fitness Friday – Working Out When You Are Sick

This Fitness Friday I am here to admit I did something kind of stupid. When I got home Wednesday night I was feeling under the weather; I desperately needed a cup of soup, a spoonful of cough syrup and many, many hours of sleep. I woke up in the middle of the night feeling worse but after medicating once more I got back to sleep and felt a bit better. I felt fine once I had some cough syrup coating my throat and in the morning, despite the fact that I felt a bit sick to my stomach, I stubbornly decided I was going to get my workout in anyway.

Big mistake.

Thursday, for me, is leg day, which is one of my preferred strength training days. I tried to be sensible and pick beginner workouts on Fitness Blender to give myself a bit of a break while I was feeling a little ill. I made it through the warmup alright but seven minutes into the twenty four minute regular routine I felt myself expire. I was feeling queasy, lightheaded and overall not too great. I’d overdone it. I threw on a yoga video to cool myself down but by then my stomach was too upset to even handle light stretches; Cobra (which is my favourite yoga position) felt like a punishment that was just going to make me hurl.

So why bother sharing this story with all of you? Well, I think it’s an important lesson, and it’s a solid reminder that we have to listen to our bodies. In the same way it makes no sense to do a workout that is far past your skill level, it doesn’t make sense to over stress your body with a workout when it is already functioning at a decreased capacity.

Within the stress of this post-workout sickness I remembered an infographic I saw on Tumblr a long time ago and decided to seek it out in order to remind myself about what I should and shouldn’t be doing in terms of workouts when I am sick. The infographic comes from Precision Nutrition and can be read in full here. I looked at one section in particular and saw where I went wrong: vomiting is a sign to not exercise at all.

(Credit: John Berardi, Precision Nutrition)

I think in the back of my head I knew this but my problem was that I knew if I took the day off I’d be tempted to take tomorrow off too. I have become very regimented with my workouts and I’m afraid if I get off track I’ll find it hard to get back on. I’m over a month and a half in of five workouts a week and I really didn’t want to sacrifice that routine, even though I was feeling sick. The problem is, I still have two more days of this week where I need to workout.

So what am I going to do now?

My plan is simple. As mentioned in my January Review, last month I was disappointed I didn’t work on my flexibility as much as I had planned. Assuming I continue to feel better I am going to give Fitness Blender’s 3 Day Flexibility Challenge a try. So instead of doing my usual upper body Friday and full body Sunday workouts I will go through this three day challenge in order to stick with my routine while also giving my body a break. Of course, if things worse I will fully allow myself to rest and just continuing eating right with the knowledge that I have to jump back into my routine the moment I’m better. Hopefully this will work out.

As for handling this cold, I’m going to be drinking lots of fluids, remaining medicated, and taking the rest of the day to just relax a little bit. February can be such a nasty time for colds and illness so I hope you’re all staying healthy and taking care of yourselves!

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Tasty Tuesday – Squash Lasagna

Happy Valentine’s Day readers! If I had been writing this blog a few years ago, this post would have showcased some delectable dessert (most likely cupcakes) but instead I’m going to use this Tasty Tuesday to promote one of my healthy meal options. That being said, no need to feel guilty if today is cheat day (it is for me) just don’t let it last all week!

Onto the meal: a couple weeks back, my friend Keeragh turned me onto skinnytaste, a blog which provides a wide range of healthy recipes with lots of different options for special diets (low carb, paleo, gluten free, etc.). I’ve never really been a recipe person but I’ve slowly been working on expanding what I know how to cook and unless you have someone teaching you how to make new dishes, you’re going to need a recipe. Since it seems unlikely that Matt’s going to start schooling me in the kitchen, I had to turn to skinnytaste.

Before we get started, you should know something: I don’t lasagna. It’s too much marinara, I don’t like the noodles and unless you cover it in a lot of extra cheese I’m just not into it. The only lasagna I’ve ever really liked is the seafood one with alfredo sauce that you can get at Nofrills. Despite all that, I saw the Noodle-less Butternut Sausage Lasagna on skinnytaste and I become immediately intrigued. I’m a big squash fan in general and this dish definitely looked divine (mine may not look as pretty but it still tastes great)

After skimming the ingredients and the instructions I made a plan on how to make my own version my cutting away some of the ingredients. On my first try I kept it to 4 ingredients (marinara, squash, cheese, and ground beef) and once it turned out alright I decided to try the recipe again in order to share it with you but I added a few things.

For my version of the Squash Lasagna you will need:

  • 1 butternut squash
  • 250 grams of ground beef (approximately)
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 1/2 jar of marinara / pasta sauce (approximately)
  • 100 grams of ricotta cheese (approximately)
  • 50 grams of cheddar or mozzarella cheese (optional)

First things first, preheat the oven to 350°F. Then, the first bit of food prep you’re going to do is peel the squash. Yep, peel it. I had never done this before and thought it sounded weird (not to mention awkward to do) but it’s not quite as difficult as I thought it would be. It can be a bit slippery once you’ve peeled enough of it so just make sure you hold on tight.

Once the skin is off of your squash begin to cut even discs from the skinny end towards the bigger end. These discs are going to serve in place of the pasta. I’d suggest not making them too thin so your lasagna will actually hold together but you don’t want to go too thick either because you’ll need enough to do at least two layers (8 pieces in my case).

I cut my slices a little thick this time around so I didn’t have enough to do three layers like I did the first time so instead I just did two and cut up the additional squash including the unused end so I could roast it up for my other meals. No need to waste it!

So next up you’re going to begin layering your lasagna. First, cover the bottom of a glass pan with your squash slices. You’re going to cover these slices with half the browned beef, half of the bell pepper (chopped), half the ricotta cheese, and half the pasta sauce. This is assuming you’re only doing 2 layers like I am, you could split them into thirds if you cut your squash slices thinner. You can also add a bit of shredded cheddar or mozzarella is you’re feeling extra cheesy. After that you’ll put your next layer of squash on top and repeat the process until you’re out of ingredients.

Throw this beautiful pan of goodness into the oven and set a timer for 45 minutes. After the time is up stick a fork in the dish to make sure you can pierce through the squash (if you can’t, return the dish to the oven and check in 10 minute intervals). All that is left is to dish it out or pack it up for later!

I love this dish so much I’m planning on making it again this weekend when Matt’s parents come down for the Marlie’s game we gifted them for Christmas. What meals are you loving right now? Trying anything new? I’m always down to check new things out so if you’ve written a post about it please drop me a link in the comments!

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Happy Haunts and Grim Green Ghosts – The Haunted Walk

A little while ago while I was trying to think of fun places to work at I ended up applying to be a guide at The Haunted Walk of Toronto. Recently I received an e-mail from the company, offering me an audition in their group interview process, as well as a free spot on one of their walks. I decided to check it out (as well as take the opportunity to audition which I will be doing at the end of February) and I dragged Matt along with me. Tickets aren’t exactly cheap, coming out to about $25 dollars a person after tax but since we only had to buy one it wasn’t so bad.

I have now been on two different haunted walks; one on a high school trip to Montreal and one through the jail hostel in Ottawa. I don’t have any pictures from the Montreal one but it still remains the coolest of the three, mainly because they had actors playing the ghosts instead of just guides telling the story. That being said, I still remember the bruise I had on my leg for two weeks from hitting a concrete pillar while trying to jump away from one of these ghosts. It definitely wasn’t for the feint of heart!

As for the one in Ottawa, the tour was a free since we were staying within the jail hostel itself. Funnily enough, this is not the only time I’ve spent the night in prison… we stayed at a jail hostel in Switzerland too!

HI-Hostel in Ottawa is housed inside a former county jail. Old cells and administrative rooms have been renovated and turned into dormitories, private rooms, and various amenities. I’d never stayed in a hostel before and since it was just Keeragh and I travelling we decided to spring for the private room rather than try out dorm style sleeping arrangements and shared bathrooms. While I’m generally pretty skeptical about all things supernatural, I will admit it was hard to get to sleep that first night since sound travels from everywhere in this place.

As part of our stay we took a tour around the jail to see the parts that they have kept more authentic. A guide told stories about the jail itself while also sharing haunting experiences that guests and staff have had. It wasn’t really an official haunted walk but it was pretty eerie, especially when we returned to our room to find our keys no longer worked. We told the front desk and they sent someone up with a master key but it didn’t work either. They had to call a locksmith and even he was frazzled, he said it was like someone had locked the deadbolt… but of course, someone would have had to have been in the room to do that.

To make matters worse, we were staying in the McGee room which is named after Darcy McGee, a forefather of Canada who was murdered in Ottawa by one Patrick Whelan. At that time, we had just learned that Whelan had been hung at the very gallows we’d been standing in moments before we’d returned to our room. If ever there was a time I believed in ghosts, this was it.

As for last night’s activities, Matt and I headed back to the Distillery District (you can read about our last adventure to this area here) for the Ghosts and Spirits of the Distillery District tour. We arrived early to find that the Toronto Light Fest is much more lively on Saturday nights so we had to weasel our way through some crowds to join the tour. Shortly after 8 o’clock we were off on our adventure with our cape-wearing, lantern-yielding, guide.

There were only 7 of us on the tour which was nice because you could really huddle close in order to hear the stories, especially over the hustle and bustle of Light Fest. What I really liked about this tour is that it took you around the buildings and down alleyways that we hadn’t really gone down befre. There were at least ten stops on the tour where the guide provided a bit of the history of the area as well as a spooky tale. She talked about streaks of lights believed to be the spirits of the murdered resident cats, a ghost with some organization issues who liked to stack plates and chairs after they’d just been unstacked, and a friendly spirit who was just continuing his work checking on the molasses vats.

In the middle of the tour we were invited to stop in for a free beer sample at the Mill Street Brewery. I don’t drink beer much but a little dixie cup wasn’t going to kill me (hopefully) so we went in for a moment, had our samples, and chatted with the bartender before continuing onto the last leg of the tour.

One of the stories that our guide told involved the chandelier inside Balzac’s, a coffee shop inside one of the old distillery buildings. Staff at this shop don’t particularly care for opening the shop alone in the morning because there seems to be a presence there. In addition to that, one night they called security because the giant chandelier in the middle of the ceiling, which hardly sways even with the industrial fans on high, was swinging violently across the ceiling. This happened for ten minutes before it inexplicably stopped. When asked what could have caused it the old security guard replied “looks like someone pissed off the resident ghost.”

Overall, I really enjoyed the tour and I am definitely interested in checking out the other tours they give throughout the season (assuming I don’t end up giving them myself). It wasn’t quite as spooky as I expected but I think that had a lot to do with how crowded the area was. You definitely got a chill up your spine in some of the more remote stops. It was just scary enough to put you on edge but not too bad to leave you with too many nightmares.

Have you been on any haunted walks or had any experiences with ghosts and spirits? I am a skeptic, as I’ve said, but I always like hearing about these things, just to see if anything tests my beliefs.

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Fitness Friday – Fitness Blender 5 Day Challenge for Busy People Review

Hey there! It’s time for another Fitness Friday. Since I briefly mentioned Fitness Blender in my January Review post, I figured I should actually write about them in more depth just to share the experience with all of you.

Now, I will admit that I’m really not that busy at the moment but I am definitely the type who prefers working out hard for 30 minutes instead of pushing through an hour so the setup of Fitness Blender’s 5 Day Challenge for Busy People is right up my alley. Last week I decided to ditch my regular workout plan and try this five day challenge.

Before I jump right into talking about my experience with this challenge, I want to share a little love for Fitness Blender in general. I started trying out Kelli and Daniel’s videos early in the new year to try and mix up my workout routine and to really try and establish a good at home workout atmosphere. I knew I wasn’t going back to the gym and I knew it would still be a couple months before the gym in my building opened so I needed something I was going to stick with.

Over a month in and Fitness Blender is what I use for 90% of my workouts. I do hope to eventually explore some other avenues but for now I’m sticking with it. They have so many different videos (we’re talking hundreds of free workouts) and it’s so convenient and easy to find one that fits what you are looking for on any given day. There are only two or three videos I’ve actually repeated since starting their routines and that’s because I genuinely enjoy trying different workouts with them every time. Though right now I am regretting the 1 hour pilates workout I tried yesterday.

The 5 day challenge is one I stumbled upon while looking through their videos. Overall, I enjoyed the challenge but I don’t think I got as much out of it as I could have because I don’t have heavy enough weights. My 4 pound weights are good for a lot of different moves but they definitely don’t challenge my upper body strength on all exercises. This month I’ll probably need to invest in eights or tens just to challenge myself more. However, if you do have a good set of dumbbells to work with then this is definitely a 5 day routine I would recommend.

Day One

I agree with Kelli on this one: this was the hardest day of the challenge. I pride myself in having some pretty strong legs, even if my thighs are a lot bigger than I’d like them to be, and this day really humbled me with the amount of squatting and lunging that was involved.

I managed to challenge myself this day quite a bit by following Kelli on the advanced mods but there were definitely times where I needed to slow down and follow Daniel. But that is one of the great things about this challenge: there are options! If you need low impact there are low impact modifications that take out the jumping and the extra pressure on the body. I can definitely see how doing this challenge regularly could be good for tracking progress, especially for beginners like myself, because you’ll be able to move through the beginner and intermediate modifications to the advanced ones.

The cool down stretch was really good for this one and as per usual, these two are really good about acknowledging that flexibility is different for everyone and they really encourage you not to push yourself too hard in your stretching. This is really important because if you overstretch your muscles you’re putting yourself at risk for injury!

Day Two

This day really fell short for me but I don’t think it was Kelli and Daniel’s fault at all. As I previously mentioned, my weights weren’t exactly challenging enough for me in a lot of the upper body portions of the challenge and this one heavily focused on upper body.

That being said, the cardio on this one was pretty challenging. I did a mix of the beginner and the advanced but I think had I been lifting the right weights I would have been too spent to do a lot of the advanced moves.

This day reminded me of me love/hate relationship with fly jacks which I have only just been introduced to through Fitness Blender. The love part is because I like the stretch out in the shoulders and chest you get that is different from a traditional jumping jack, while the hate part is how hard my heart ends up pumping after these and how short of breath I feel. Definitely need to work on my cardio and endurance!

Day 2 was definitely my least favourite of the challenge because I didn’t feel that worked out but I’d be interested to see if that changed with a higher weight.

Day Three

I will admit, after feeling down about day two I almost decided to quite the challenge and go with something else but I am happy that I didn’t. Day 3 was a mix of HIIT and core strength exercises and it definitely targetted some of my weak spots.

First off: thank the lord for modified burpees! Burpees are something I have always had to really struggle through and while I did a couple of the regular ones I am really thankful for the low impact modification that Kelli demonstrates in this video. I still got my heart rate up and felt everything shaking in my core but the pressure on my joints wasn’t so bad.

I like the AB AB format of this day because it really gives you the chance to work on your form. I like the thought of the Fitness Blender workouts for people who get bored easily where they don’t repeat exercises but I think when you’re starting out it’s a good thing to try and repeat exercises in order to get a better understanding of them. I definitely felt like my second rounds of each exercise were more controlled, even if I was a little more tired.

In terms of core I found that this one wasn’t actually too bad. I have tried some of Fitness Blender’s more intense core workouts and have had to take a lot more breaks than I did in this video. I still found myself resting for 3 or 4 seconds on some of the moves before getting back into them but I was able to manage through most. Definitely a good day!

Day Four

This day really made me love this challenge because I was able to see how intelligently Kelli an Daniel put this challenge together. The first three days were hard and you really had covered your full body by the end of them so day four being a strength and yoga blend. This day allowed for a bit more upper body training but for the most part it focused on stretching out your muscles and giving time to recover.

I felt refreshed and motivated after this day, especially after seeing progress in my yoga positions. I have never really been a yoga fan, partially because I lack balance and flexibility, but also because I’m more motivated by high intensity workouts and yoga just doesn’t cut it for me. I did enjoy the use of yoga here and I’m slowly but surely getting into using more yoga moves in my cool down stretches thanks to Fitness Blender.

Day Five

Oh day five, Kelli and Daniel warned that this would be a rough one and they weren’t kidding. It was back to lower body for this video and this time I really felt pushed to the max. By the end of this day my legs were shaking and I was just about ready to go curl up in bed for a few hours. This was definitely the day I sweat the most and went through the most water. Day one was more of a challenge because I wasn’t familiar with a lot of the moves but this day definitely still burnt.

All that being said: this was my favourite day because of how hard it made me work.

I definitely think I’ll end up doing this challenge again in the future, maybe even try to go through it once a month to see how I progress and grow. Definitely going to need to pick up those heavier weights first.

Some other insights

  • This challenge was a great butt and thigh workout!
  • Cool down stretches have improved my flexibility: I’ve been getting deeper and deeper into that downward dog.
  • 30 minutes felt like nothing: most of these workouts sped by.
  • I broke a sweat every day, even on day 2 when I didn’t feel I was working hard enough.
  • I didn’t end up being as sore as Kelli and Daniel said I would after each day so I think next time through I’ll need to push myself harder.

What kind of workouts are you doing right now? Are you participating in any challenges or programs? I’m always looking for new programs to try out and review so feel free to share!

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Tasty Tuesday – Markets, Beer Halls, and Dessert Joints

This Tasty Tuesday post is a bit delayed because last week I really wanted to show off my attempt at slow cooker stuffed pork loin which you can check our here. Before I got back to cooking a healthy meal prep last Monday, Matt and I spent the day with my parents having a bit of an adventure and indulging in some not so healthy food.

I warn you, this one is going to be a long one: we had four different food stops and quite the adventure day.

(Here’s me in my winter hat. I was down on myself this day so I feel the need to combat that with this selfie)

To start off we headed over to Evergreen Brickworks to check out the Winter Village. Matt and I first went to Evergreen Brickworks this past November for the Día de Muertos celebration which, albeit the rain, was a lot of fun. We wandered around the paths, checked out the various food vendors and the Farmer’s Market (which is where I got the chocolate rice krispy skull below) and enjoyed the traditional dances and music. We went back again in December but they hadn’t started the Winter Village yet so we made the trip again last weekend.

When we got there it was pretty busy but to be honest most people were either sitting around at the fire pits or skating so there was plenty of room to walk around and check everything out. The whole set up was cute but compared to Día de Muertos I found it a little underwhelming. I definitely think I prefer this outside spot when it’s a little warmer!

All that being said, we did grab a quick bite to eat from the food trucks hanging out at Evergreen and it was one of the highlights of the day. Mom and I first tried Arepas at Disney World when we ordered an appetizer with them at Skipper’s Canteen and I was excited to sink my teeth into them again after looking up the food trucks that would be present at the Winter Village. The Arepa Republic food truck serves up fresh authentic Arepas as little sandwiches with various fillings. We got one with black beans and beef, a little garlic sauce and hot sauce (they weren’t kidding about hot) and it was perfect. We also had vegetable samosas from another truck but they were demolished before I could snap a picture.

Next up we headed down to the Distillery District to check out the Toronto Light Festival. I’ve avoided all the blog posts about this place because I wanted to see it for myself but to be quite honest it wasn’t really what I was expecting. I think after seeing the Distillery District during the Christmas Market it’s hard to compete. Still, it’s a nice place to walk around no matter what and if it hadn’t been quite so cold we might have stayed a bit longer.

(The neon sign was a great laugh since Matt is 6’7)

To start off the evening we went into a lot of the shops that are too busy during the Christmas Market to really move around in. There’s a little bakeshop called The Sweet Escape that I’m not sure I’ve ever even noticed before. It was tucked away in one of the indoor shopping sections where they not only have shops but they have all the old distillery machines and such on display.

They had all these mini meringues in different flavours for $3 so I grabbed a bag of Birthday Cake meringues for us to try. I really hate that first awkward bite of meringues because it’s like biting into styrofoam or something similar but the taste in these little suckers was amazing. I kind of regret not buying another flavour just to take home. Of course, it was probably a bit healthier to just stick with the one.

Since we got down to the Distillery District a little early and it was still light out so we decided to go for dinner first instead of waiting until after we finished looking at all of the lights. We checked out the Beer Hall at the Mill Street Brew Pub which was a little dark for my taste but the food was pretty awesome. Since we had already done a bunch of snacking throughout the day, mom and I decided to split the Vienna Schnitzel while Matt had their Mac and Cheese with Smoked BBQ Brisket, and my dad got a Pepperoni Pizza. As per usual, the food was shared around the table so I got to try a little bit of everything.

The panko crust on the schnitzel was perfect and I really enjoyed the braised red cabbage but the spätzle was a little soggy compared to what I’m used to. The Mac and Cheese was really good but I’m not a fan of putting meat on my Mac and Cheese so the brisket seemed unnecessary. Plus the cornbread muffin that came with the Mac and Cheese desperately needed butter. Finally, the crust on the pizza wasn’t anything to rave about but the mix of oka and mozzarella cheeses was really nice and the cured pepperoni made it something unique. So it’s a bit of a mixed review but I definitely wouldn’t be opposed to checking this place out again, particularly in the summer when we could sit out on the patio.

Our last stop was actually just around the corner from our apartment. Cafe Demetre is a local dessert chain and is actually something I’ve heard a lot about. From what I had been told and what I had seen online it looked a lot like Spin Dessert Cafe which is another dessert place that I first tried when I went to Ottawa with my parents (we walked half an hour for waffles because I was being picky about dessert and I will probably never hear the end of this). I’ve been to the Woodbridge location twice since then and it’s just as delectable.

Cafe Demetre is a lot like Spin in the sense that it’s mostly fancy ice cream with loads of toppings and the choice of putting it on a crepe or a waffle. Normally I would have ordered a waffle but that night I was really in the mood for a slice of plain old chocolate cake which is what mom and I shared. Besides, I knew I was going to get a bite or two from the other plates.

After some heavy, not-so-subtle suggestions from me, Matt ordered the Face Pomme which is a New York Cheesecake with apple crisp, cinnamon streusel, and butter caramel sauce. Meanwhile, my dad ordered the Pomme Pilot which was basically the same toppings but with ice cream on top of a waffle. To be honest, the Pomme Pilot would’ve been enough for the four of us to share. All three of the desserts were excellent and I even enjoyed the ice cream on the Pomme Pilot which is unusual for me since I’m not a big ice cream fan.

Overall, Cafe Demetre comes pretty close to what people chalk it up to be but I have to mention that no one told me how beautiful the restaurant itself is. The decor is pretty fantastic and it’s just the kind of place I’d like to have a girls’ night sometime in the future (hint, hint, ladies). Service was pretty quick, aside from a hiccup where we were left waiting on a glass of milk for a while but nothing to really complain about. My mom (who has been a server for almost 30 years) was really impressed by how smoothly everything was run and by how the managers were helping out with everything instead of just standing around. Plus, the staff get to wear suspenders which is pretty damn cute. It’s a bit more expensive than Spin but it’s more conveniently located for me so it probably evens out in that sense. I’m sure this won’t be the last time I end up there.

Have you been on any adventures lately? Went somewhere new? Tried a new restaurant? Feel free to tell me about it in the comments below, and if you’ve written a post about it please link me!

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