Friday, April 4, 2014

Album Review: Royal Wood - The Burning Bright

Royal Wood is one of the most brilliant and underrated musicians ever in existence.  He recently released his fifth studio album, The Burning Bright, on MapleMusic records.  This album comes to me at an interesting time in my life.  It appears Royal and I have both shared similar issues - he and wife Sarah Slean announced their split at the beginning of the year.  I was officially divorced on January 10th.  Royal's music has factored in throughout my relationship - "I'm So Glad" (from 2007's A Good Enough Day) was the first song I danced to with my ex-husband on our wedding day.  When I was deciding whether to leave or not, songs like "Not Giving Up" and "Release Me" - particularly the lyric "Cursing every vow we made" - echoed in my head(both songs from from 2012's We Were Born to Glory).


Royal Wood Now, as I turn to a brand new page in my life, there is Royal again, with a beautiful breakup album for me to soak up.  There are so many phrases that resonate so soundly within me.  “Well I once believed in a fairy-tale, now I’m holding a coffin nail,” from Promises.  This phrase from The Light Of Dawn: "The love between us was a lie / You blame me for the tragic end / You claim I was a broken man / You act so blameless yet again."  And, "An angel is a demon if she stands around in hell" from I'm Afraid.

But it's not a sad album.  It's a powerful one.  It's one of realizing where you've been, and where you have to go.  It's a tale of survival - with beautiful melodies running throughout.  The album is a musical journey, exploring all the emotions that go along with leaving the person with whom you thought you were going to spend the rest of your life.  

You can stream the entire album over at CBC Music, or buy via iTunes.


Royal Wood & I

Royal Wood has several dates scheduled throughout Canada (including May 17 in Toronto, which as luck would happen, I am unable to attend... grrr!), and I would highly recommend attending one of his live performances.  He has never failed to fully captivate myself as well as the rest of the audience, every time I've seen him.

Visit RoyalWood.ca for more info.


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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Couch to 5K

As I mentioned in my Groupon Fun post, I'm going to be completing my first ever 5K at the end of May, the Color Me Rad run, courtesy of Groupon and a my also adventurous and fun loving friends. But it's not like I could just get up one day and run 3.1 miles. Especially considering how I've put my workouts on the back burner the last few weeks.
In an effort to not completely embarrass myself at Color Me Rad, I've begun a Couch to 5K program. Have you heard of them? Basically, they help you work your way up to being able to complete a 5K. You follow the workouts 3-5 times a week and you build up the stamina to finish this distance run, or at least be able to job the whole thing. I pinned a few different ones before I realized that I needed something a little easier than a random image from the internet. So off to the Google Play store I went.

I looked for a free C25K app and read reviews on the first few listings. I wanted one that would allow me to listen to music while running, because otherwise, it'd be pretty boring. I also wanted something simple and easy to follow. I chose C25K - 5K Trainer FREE by Zen Labs. It has prompts letting you know when to walk or run, telling you the halfway point in your run and keeping track of how many of your weekly workouts you have completed. I'm able to put on Pandora and hear the notifications through my music.
So far, I completed the first week of running. But then I had an event on Saturday and was still recovering Sunday, so... I'm restarting. It was difficult to get started, I won't lie, but not as terrible as I expected. It makes me happy to think that this will be something I'm able to accomplish after all, and I'm happy to work towards that goal. I'll keep you updated on my progress and I hope you'll check out this app or other ways to get your fitness in.

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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Grain-Free Chocolate-Coconut Kiss Cookies

As part of my Influenster #jadorevoxbox, I was given a family size bag of Hershey's Kisses to try and enjoy.  Let me repeat that: a FAMILY sized bag.  That's a lot of kisses for one girl - especially one girl who's trying to be conscious of her eating habits.  I prefer eating primal/paleo most of the time, but I don't mind the occasional splurge, so I came up with this recipe for chocolate cookies that use mostly primal friendly ingredients.  Of course, the Kisses aren't, but if you don't mind the splurge, go for it!

These cookies are rich, and sweet, and irresistible!


Ingredients:

  • 2 oz chocolate (I used Kisses, you can experiment with other milk/dark/bittersweet chocolate)
  • 1 1/2 cups almond flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup coconut sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, cubed
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 18 Hershey Kisses (or more/less depending on how many cookies you get out of your batch)


Method:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350.
  2. Melt 2 oz of chocolate either in the microwave or over a double-boiler.
  3. To the base of a food processor add almond flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt and coconut sugar.  Pulse together until well blended.
  4. Add cubed butter.  Mix until dough is crumbly.
  5. Add eggs, vanilla, and melted chocolate.  Mix until smooth and fully incorporated.
  6. Pulse in coconut flakes.
  7. Drop by tablespoon-full onto a parchment- or silpat-lined baking sheet (note: I ran out of parchment so I used foil that was greased with coconut oil).  They will spread quite a bit while baking, so make sure you leave enough space around each cookie.  I fit 9 on an oversized cookie sheet.  Press a Hershey Kiss into the top of each cookie.  
  8. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until set.  Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool.  They'll still be soft, but will firm up out of the oven.
These were pretty darn delicious.  Everyone who tried one gave me lots of compliments, and didn't even realize that they were made with my "crazy" ingredients! Love when that happens.



** Note: I do have process photos of all the steps, so if you need them, feel free to leave a note in the comments.  I'm not sure that they add much to the recipe, because it's all pretty straight forward.  But let me know if you need help with any of the steps!
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Friday, March 14, 2014

Beauty Review: Boots Botanics Ionic Clay Mask #powerofplants


 Boots is a company that is very popular across the pond in the UK, and it appears that they're beginning to make their mark in the North American market.  In my recent Influenster VoxBox, I received this Boots Botanics Ionic Clay Mask to test and review.

Here's what the company has to say about their own product:
Treat your skin to deep cleansing with this mineral-rich clay mask. Designed for use on normal skin, the unscented, hypo-allergenic formula absorbs excess oil and deeply cleanses skin. The oceanic clay exhibits a negative electrical charge, which helps to draw out impurities without overdrying, skin is left looking clearer whilst feeling softer and smoother. Willowbark, a key ingredient in the Boots Botanics Shine Away Ionic Clay Mask, is nature’s champion clarifier. The bark of the willow tree is a natural source of salicylic acid which helps to refine skin texture and actively target imperfections.


So, it sounds pretty awesome, right?! Let's try it out. First off, here's a look at the packaging.  This is the front, and the back after peeling back the label.  Following the directions, I first washed my face and made sure it was fresh and clean.  

It doesn't say this on the packaging, but I would highly recommend shaking the product as much as possible before applying.  




I squeezed a decent sized amount into my hand and applied to my face, avoiding eyes and lips.  It began to dry pretty quickly - areas where I applied it a little thicker took longer to dry.  The scent is really mild and pleasant, not like some of those masks that you can't wait to take off because they're so strong smelling.  I waited the full ten minutes, even though it was probably dry after about 5.

Now's the fun part where you get to look like an alien and take fun pictures for your blog... or maybe that's just me!?
After the ten minutes was up, I started to follow the directions on the packaging "wipe with tissues", but this made a giant mess.  I continued to remove the mask with my regular sponge, which worked out a lot better.  However, this stuff IS pretty messy.  Once it's dry, it flakes *everywhere*.  I would not recommend trying to do other stuff while the mask is on, or you're gonna have to vacuum.  Check out the picture of my sink... I had just started removing the mask at this point.  It got even messier after this!

That being said, the results of the mask were really nice.  My skin feels smoother, softer and so fresh!

** Note: this product was received free from Influenster for testing purposes. Pin It

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sugar Alternatives for the Health Conscious

As I venture through my thirties, I find myself becoming more aware of the products I put into my body. Last week, the World Health Organization advised that sugar should make up just 5 per cent of our daily calorie intake, which is half of its previous recommendation And one of the sad facts of the North American diet is that even if you avoid all desserts, you're still putting way more sugar into your body than it needs.  Sugar is hiding in everything from cereals (even the "healthy" ones), to fruit juices (even the "natural" ones), salad dressings, pretty much everything on a fast food menu, and so on.

Even worse than regular white table sugar are the alternatives that are marketed to dieters and diabetics. Products like Equal, Splenda and other aspartame-based products are pumping chemicals into your body which may or may not have health risks such as cancer attached to them.  I'd definitely prefer to avoid those.

Don't even get me started on High Fructose Corn Syrup.

So, what are we supposed to do, living in a world surrounded by sugar?  Ideally, the best course of action would be to change your taste buds.  Train them not to crave the sweet anymore.  If you're serious about this, my best advice would be to follow the Whole 30 plan for one month.  It's HARD.  But I did it.  And you can too.  And it's worth it.

If you're not quite ready to go that far, here's a list of the sugar alternatives that I like to keep on hand in my pantry:

Coconut Sugar
Coconut Sugar (aka coconut palm sugar) is derived from the sap of the coconut palm.  The sap is heated to remove water content, and then crushed into granules.  It looks and tastes similar to brown sugar.  It's low on the glycemic index, and can be used at a 1:1 ratio in most recipes.  Coconut sugar is gaining popularity in North America and can be found in many grocery stores (I actually saw some in No Frills, our local discount grocer, last night!), or it can be ordered online.


Maple Syrup
Maple Syrup is personally, one of my favourite sweeteners to use.  It is readily available, and easy to use.  When replacing sugar with maple syrup in baked goods, you will probably need to reduce the amount of other liquids by about a quarter to a third. Slightly less easy to find in stores is maple sugar, which is the dehydrated, granulated form of maple syrup.  But it may be easier to replace in recipes.



Honey (Raw, Local)

Honey, particularly raw, local honey if you can find it, is an excellent choice as a sugar alternative.  It has health benefits beyond many sugar alternatives as it aids in local allergies and is packed with vitamins.  It is sweeter than table sugar, and packs more calories.  Honey has a different flavour than most other sugars, so it may not always be the best substitute in baked goods - but it is definitely excellent in a cup of tea.



Xylitol
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol and is commonly found in chewing gum, as it's known for its tooth remineralizing properties.  In its granulated form, it is very low on the glycemic index and can be replaced 1:1 with sugar.  It has fewer calories than sugar and is absorbed slower by the body, which makes it an excellent alternative for diabetics.  The one down-side to xylitol that I've read about is that it may produce a laxative effect if consumed in high quantities.  I've personally never experienced this, but since reading it, I avoid using it as a substitute in recipes calling for a large amount of sugar.

Stevia
Stevia is derived from a plant in the sunflower family.  It comes in various forms:
granulated, powdered, or liquid drops being among the most popular.  The liquid form is often flavoured.  Stevia is popular as a sugar substitute because it has zero calories, zero carbs and is at zero on the glycemic index.  Depending on the brand, stevia can have a licorice-type aftertaste, so it's not necessarily my favourite of the sweetener alternatives, but it definitely has its place on this list.


**Note: One other sugar alternative that I do not personally use is Agave Syrup.  I've read a lot of pros and cons on agave, and I'm not convinced that it's any better than table sugar, or any of the sugar alternatives I currently use in my own home.  Feel free to discuss your thoughts in the comments!


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Friday, March 7, 2014

Groupon Fun

Has anyone out there not heard of Groupon or Living Social? Or taken advantage of a one of their deals? Because they really are a treasure trove of fun things to do for a little less coin. The findings on these deal sites can make for a great night out with your friends or that special someone.

The newest deal in my area is $39 for a MythBusters exhibition. My husband and I aren’t huge geeks, but this seems like a fun date for us. The deal includes two tickets, a parking pass, admission to the rest of the museum in addition to the exhibit, and an IMAX movie. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon. I’ll be chatting with him about this.


Other fantastic date night deals abound. One deal offers a sushi making class with sake tasting, which can be a playful way to get to know someone without feeling too much pressure to make constant conversation. Other fun deals include a mystery dinner show and tickets to local comedy clubs. Looking to try a new restaurant with your significant other? Check out deals for eateries in your area -- one of my best friends found a fantastic noodle restaurant in Atlanta through Groupon.

But perhaps you’re single and just wanting to have fun with friends or even on your own. Well, Groupon and Living Social can still save you money! This past fall, I attended a Backstreet Boys concert, having fond memories of their songs and dance moves from my youth. (I’ll save you the trouble of trying to figure out my age and tell you that I just turned 30 two weeks ago.) The seats were actually pretty good and the concert was a BLAST!! I went with a few girlfriends and we sang and danced along into the night. And all this fun was only $20.

Theme runs are also on deal sites fairly often, so perhaps you can do like I did and start a team for the Color Me Rad 5K. There’s also been mud runs and zombie runs, as well as many fitness deals to try out things like boot camps, yoga, boxing and other fitness classes. Grab some friends and mats to try it out, so you don’t feel silly by yourself.

There are some fantastic ways to have fun for less out there, but like anything in this world, be sure to do a little bit of due diligence! When looking at deals sites be sure to:
  • Check out the pricing with the actual vendors to see how good a deal you are actually getting.
  • Read reviews for those vendors to make sure you won’t be saving money at the cost of customer service or quality of goods.
  • Read the fine print to watch out for blackout and expiration dates.
  • If you’re getting a restaurant deal, remember to tip as if you were paying full price.
Once you’ve checked it out, grab your Groupon, make reservations if necessary and take your significant other or your friends out to have a great time!

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Saturday, March 1, 2014

Craft Tutorial: Felt TARDIS ornament



I recently discovered Doctor Who and have become a huge fan of the show.  One of the coolest things about becoming a fan of Doctor Who is discovering how many of your friends are already fans of the show!  I had no idea I was missing out on all this magic.  When my friend Claire (who also occasionally writes for this blog!) sent me some super cool Doctor Who goodies from the UK for Christmas, I decided to return the favour with a handcrafted Valentine's Day present.  

Here's how you can make your own TARDIS ornament:


Supplies:
- 1 sheet of royal blue felt
- 1 sheet (or just scraps) of white felt
- 1 sheet (or just scraps) of black felt
- royal blue embroidery floss
- white embroidery floss
- sharp scissors
- glitter glue in black or navy (optional)
- pretty ribbon for hanging (I used sparkly black ricrac)

1. Freehand (or google) an outline of a TARDIS (here's one) and draw it on some white paper.  Cut out two identical shapes from your blue felt (for the front and back of the ornament)
 2. Take one piece and cut out the boxes.  (You'll want one piece with holes cut out, and one piece solid - they will eventually be sewn together).

Cut out scraps of white felt to fit behind the top three windows.

Behind the top three boxes, sew in your white felt using blue embroidery floss.

At this stage, I actually decided to stitch around all the bottom windows as a decorative element.  This step is optional, but I think it looks kind of nice.  :)

Cut out a small piece of white felt as the light at the top of the TARDIS.  Stitch it down with blue embroidery floss.
3.  This is probably the most challenging part.  Cut out a small rectangle of black felt.  Using 1-2 pieces of white embroidery floss, stitch the words "Police Box" - If you're not really an embroiderer (like me) this can be kind of frustrating.  Don't give up.  The crooked letters are totally part of the charm! haha.

Once you've got the letters stitched onto the black felt, use your blue embroidery floss to stitch the entire black rectangle onto the top of the TARDIS.
4.   At this point, you should have something that resembles the photo on the right.  Two TARDIS boxes.  One has the windows cut out and embroidered with the Police Box and light up top.
The other is just a plain blue outline.

Take your blue embroidery floss, and stitch around the sides of both boxes to sew them together.  When you get to the top of the box, stitch in a ribbon to act as a holder.  To make it extra secure, make sure your embroidery floss goes through the back, the ribbon, and the front of the TARDIS.
5.  At the very end, I used glitter glue to add crossbars to the window, and some squiggly lines as script in the third window.
(If you prefer, you could always do this with some black embroidery floss... but I was pretty tired of sewing!)

This is a closeup of some of the details.
Finally, I packed it up with one of my Valentine's Day Doctor Who printable cards and a TARDIS bracelet that I found at Hot Topic.

What do you think?  Easy right?  ;)
Questions? Comments?

If you try this project, link up your pictures or blog posts in the comments below so I can feature them!




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