Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sweat into Spring!

Every year I write a celebratory blog post about the turning of the season and the awesomeness that is the season of Spring! Today is that day. Technically, that day should have been 2 days ago but I ended up getting side tracked and never sat down and wrote the blog that was meant to be executed with copious amounts of love and devotion to the warmth and coziness of Spring. Well, better late than never right?


The first official day of Spring was well over a week ago, but just because the calendar says it's the first day, that doesn't mean it's the first day on our hearts. Some places will get a heaps of snow well into April and sometimes even May, so the feeling of the change of seasons takes a while (like in 2007 when I succumbed to the notion that it would never stop snowing and we were going to completely bypass Summer that year). Other places will not have any snow for months and tiny flowers will begin to pop up with hope of Spring, but that still doesn't make it official yet. The stores can bring in the pastel coloured clothes, flimsy sandals and breezy skirts and tanks, but until that one day comes, that one day that will be different for each of us, those items are only part of a fantasy that has yet to come true. 

Every year there is a day that we go outside and the air feels warmer and smells sweeter than the day before. It's the first day we unzip our coats and let them hang in the hall closet while we go outside wearing just a t-shirt and a smile. (Oh, and something on the lower half too.) The birds are chirping, the kids are running around or chasing each other on their bikes and new moms are out walking with their babies in strollers. Lawn movers are being revved up, rakes are being used with earnest, sheds are being repaired and the shiny muscle cars come out of the garage for the season. 

It's the day we take notice of all of these happening around us, all at once. 

I love Spring. As I mentioned above, my first day of Spring was 2 days ago when I went for a run/jog/pant/stumble and had to remove my light running jacket only about 10 minutes into the run and got to enjoy the trek wearing just running pants and a tank top. Not once did I feel the threat of coldness and the sun felt great on my exposed shoulders. Sure a few people were blinded in the process as the sun reflected off of my glaringly white skin into their unsuspecting eyes, but that's the harsh reality of living in an area of the world that doesn't brown the skin all year round. 

As I went along the Galloping Goose, I heard the people in their yards doing yard work, cleaning their decks, moving their lawns and hanging out their clean laundry. I passed couples walking hand-in-hand along the trail and, people out walking their dogs and families cutting across the path to get to the nearest park. I even saw 2 bunnies! 

However, the big defining moment of Spring for me was when a bug got caught on my sweaty neck and I killed it with a hard smack of the hand. Sounds ridiculous and gross, I know, but think about it. Sweaty necks and bugs are not really associated with Winter, so when the 2 of them meet on a warm day in March, that can only mean that Spring has sprung! I looked at that squashed bug and smiled. Spring is here!!! 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Feeling Sour? Me Too!

I think that I have come to a decision. A pretty huge decision which I get more and more excited about the more I think about it.

I am going to grow and cherish a sour starter.

Now most of you are thinking - What the hell is a sour starter? Let me explain.

There are 2 kinds of sourdough breads in the world. Those made with a sour starter (aka, a starter), and those not. A sour starter is basically a tub of sticky living mass that you throw into your bowl of bread making ingredients (flour, water, salt) and it is what causes the sourdough to rise (proof) plus gives sourdough it's signature sour flavour and dense texture. Breads made without them are pretty easy to pick out. They lack the texture and amazingness that a true sourdough encompasses. Kind of like a loaf of Wonder Bread with a sour aftertaste. Not cool.

I first learned about sour starters is when I worked at the Kootenay Bakery Cafe in Nelson, BC. They had 2 starters in the fridge at all times - a white starter and a whole grain spelt starter. We would use HUGE amounts of these every day so we had to make sure they were fed every afternoon to ensure that they had grown enough to make bread either the next day or day after. Mixing the starters is hard work. You are literally up to your armpits in the bucket, trying to mix it the best that you can by getting to the bottom of the bucket to remove the major lumps and dry bits. Then you'd have to use a pot scrubber to remove the remnants of the sour from your arms because it was so sticky and thick. But man, we had some super strong arms working there.

There are a couple ways you can make a starter. The first way, which is more traditional, is to simply combine flour and water in a bucket and leave it in a warm place for a few days. The natural bacteria in the air and ingredients will soon grow, creating a yeasty smelling mass of goop (yeasty smell is a lactic acid by-product of the bacteria) in the bucket. Once the starter is growing and expanding, you'll want to put it in the fridge or else it will grow out of control. The starter needs to be fed regularly by adding more flour and water for the bacteria to live off of. The second way to make a starter is to do the same method but also add some dry active yeast in the initial mixture. This is a faster way to produce a starter if you're pressed for time. 

Tip of the Day: Never use a new starter that is less than a week old. The older, the better!

What is so cool about starters is that you just simply use some to make bread, feed it, and it grows again. Simple. Efficient. Tasty! There are bakers out there who have starters that are literally hundreds of years old. Starters passed down from generation to generation, like a family heirloom. I just recently heard about a baker down in New Orlean's who, when hearing about approaching Hurricane Katrina, took only his starter from his bakery and hid with it down in his home's bunker. That starter was what made his bakery thrive, and starting a new one would have changed the flavour of his bread, which would have been devastating for his business and customers.

So the one bad thing about committing to a sour starter is just that. It is a commitment. If you go away for a week, you have to have someone feed it for you while you are away or else it will die. Plus I fear that I will not be able to make enough bread to keep up with it's growth. I might end up starting a bread stand at the end of the driveway with hopes of people stopping to buy some. Haaahahaa. That would be awesome.

I know that this will be a big learning experience and I will possibly fail growing it, or kill it somewhere down the road. I really hope not and I plan to learn as much as I can before I get started. We bakers are on a knead-to-know basis with this kind of stuff and always need to be willing to rise to the occasion.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Shifty Nutrition

March is Nutrition Awareness Month (YAY!) which means I want each of you to go to the grocery store and buy a head of broccoli and a bag of spinach right now! (as I sneakily pop another M&M into my mouth)

All joking aside, taking one single month and making it exclusively for the awareness of our nutrition is kind of silly since we should be aware of what we're fueling ourselves with every single day (another few M&M's down the gullet). It's kind of like Valentine's Day. Why is there this one day of the year in which we are supposed to go above and beyond to prove our love for our significant other? Should we not show appreciation every single day?

The thing with being a shift worker - when you should be sleeping, you're eating. When you should be eating, you're sleeping. Our digestive systems aren't meant to be programmed this way and therefore constantly fight against the schedule that the worker is trying to create. At night the digestive system naturally slows down, so if you're scarfing down a meal at 2 am while filing patient reports, it's generally not going to work well in the flow of things. Plus there's the evil vending machine temptations which only grow stronger as the wee hours of the shift approach. Also, shift workers tend to rely a lot on coffee and other caffeinated beverages, which in many cases is considered a meal when the worker is incredibly busy and only has the time and drink something. And then of course all of the caffeine further messes with the sleep cycle. 

But in lieu of this month, I feel the need to comment on the topic at hand. Working in a hospital, I think that there needs to be increased awareness about the nutrition of shift workers (such as nurses, doctors, and all of the rest of us who work crazy hours). Shift workers work strange hours, sometimes even night shift, and this really messes up your eating and sleeping schedules  When our normal schedules and eating patterns get altered regularly, this confuses the human body's internal clock (circadian rhythm) which an cause problems such as weight gain (or loss in some cases), indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, stomach ulcers and all kinds of other unplesantries. 

Did you know that chronic sleep deprivation can be a huge cause of weight gain? Not only are we tired but also getting soft around the edges. It's just not fair.

Maybe I should also mention that shift workers are more likely to develop angina, heart disease, high blood pressure and a high risk of stroke.  It's pretty scary stuff. The people who are here to help you through your hospital visits and get you healthy are people who are having an incredibly difficult time staying healthy themselves. 

I've been a shift worker before. Once for 4 months when I worked at Teck, working as a forklift operator and burning the midnight oil through the evil night shifts. I am again a shift worker in my new job (sort of), with long hours that start very early in the morning. It's hard. The hours suck. My sleeping patterns are completely screwy. I'm drinking WAY more coffee then I ever have before, which my guts don't appreciate, but I feel I need it to stay alive some days (I've been swapping my 2nd morning mug for 1/2 regular 1/2 decaf in hopes of weening myself off a bit).  

If you're a shift worker and you want to try to stay healthy, or get healthier in your current position, there are many things you can do to fight for your health.

- Pack a meal from home. You'll have control over what you're putting in your belly and not needing to rely on vending machines, the box of donuts that someone else brought to work for the gang or whatever your co-workers left in the community fridge last week. 

- Drink water. Water is the best fluid option and no matter how much you love your coffee, Red Bull or other energy drink, proper hydration is the best way to stay alert. 

- Don't eat a big meal before you go to sleep. If you get home and you're starving, have a small snack to satisfy the edge and go to bed. Sleeping on a full stomach is hard on the digestive tract.

- Avoid sugary and fatty snack foods during the shift. This can be so hard, especially if you're working nights and are bored. Bring snacks from home, such as fresh fruit, veggie sticks, hummus, natural peanut butter or a homemade muffin (C'mon. We all know you nurses love to bake.)

- Get some exercise. If there's some spare time throughout the shift, go walk the stairs for 15 minutes. Exercise is good for the brain and the body. 

Stay healthy. Stay strong. 

Now go hug a nurse. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

10 Processed Secrets

I'm feeling lazy. So here. READ THIS!

10 Things the Processed Food Industry Doesn't Want You to Know!

This is a really good documentary if you ever have some time to learn about why it's just so important to eat healthy and take care of yourself.

Monday, March 11, 2013

An Apple a Day.....

An apple is day is being generous for some kids in terms of what they're eating on a daily basis for fruit and vegetable consumption. I am lucky that I grew up enjoying the taste of fruits and veggies so I don't ever remember there being any table-tantrums or whining about getting me to finish my vegetables. Maybe it also had to do with the fact that my parents never pushed food on us so we didn't feel the need to rebel against their vegetable feeding ways. If we weren't hungry then we weren't forced to sit and finish our plates and wait for our food to turn into a plate of cold and congealed mush. For that I am thankful. But now I am beginning to realize that perhaps it had nothing to do with that and maybe there is a different connection between us kids eating our greens and not complaining (apart from my one sister who would have a mental breakdown if green peas even touched her plate).

I've been reading lots of articles lately about the connection between family dinner time and a child's consumption of fruits and vegetables. The recommended number of servings of fruits and veggies for a child ranges from 4-6 servings, yet most kids are not getting near enough healthy foods into their bodies, mostly of the vegetable variety. In fact, about 65% of kids don't get the recommended amount, which just blew my mind! Fruit is easier to get your kid to eat because it is more naturally sweet than vegetables, so kids are more likely to enjoy it. Vegetables can create more of a war-zone during the dinner time meal, which is a zone that parents hate and try to avoid at all costs. They figure the fight is just not worth it and give up before the kid eats anything green.

It ain't easy being green.

Throughout school we read about this quite a bit - basically, if a family all comes together at mealtime, then the children will be more likely to eat their veggies. In fact, kids who eat dinner with their family are more likely to eat up to 1-2 more servings of vegetables, PER MEAL, then those who eat alone or who sit in front of the TV to eat. Up to 2 servings per is a pretty big deal in my books. If you sat down with your kid for both lunch and supper then you can almost get enough of the good stuff in right there. Add in snacks and you're golden for the day in terms of meeting the recommendations!

Kids look up to their parents. They are our role models so seeing mom and dad (or just mom or just dad) sitting down, asking about our day and eating healthy foods themselves, will get us kids realizing that meal time and eating these good foods is important. They are instilling good eating habits onto their kids right from the getgo and teaching healthy behaviours that will follow them into adulthood. If the people who are the most important to us are eating it, then it must be the right thing to do...right?


Even if you just make it a habit to sit down with your kids once to twice a week to share a meal, this can make a big improvement on your kids nutrition. Take the time to slow down and do this with your kids because it is a huge opportunity to teach them about the significance of eating right and also gives you a chance to introduce them to new and exciting foods!

So thanks mom and dad for making us all sit down and eat dinner together every night. You did good.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Fighting the Brain vs. Body Game

I've only been running for about a month now and while my stamina has increased and I am starting to enjoy what I am doing a bit more, I am now learning that, like any kind of workout, this whole running thing is hugely mental. Obviously running is very physical and your physical fitness and consistency with training will help to determine you ability to go longer and faster when you get out there, but the mental side of it is HUGE! With me being brand spankin' new to the sport, I never really knew about this and just always figured that awesome runners were awesome because they trained hard, they trained regularly and had great discipline.

I don't know why I never thought of it before. Perhaps it's just because I was never a runner and never was put into the mindset of one. But it's not any different for any kind of athlete or person who likes to be physically fit. Like it says on the wall at Performance Fitness, "The hardest part is over. You got here." (Or something like that.) But after many years of going to the gym, it's a quote that I know to be completely true since something just getting your butt into the gym is the most difficult thing to achieve. We live these crazy busy lives full of deadlines, traffic, kids, family, errands, planning, scheduling, meeting, greeting, coordinating and constant stimulation, and sometimes taking the time and effort to spend an hour at a gym is the most mentally painful thing to do knowing about this lifestyle that we have to get back to. But once you get there and bust through your workout, you feel so good and you're happy that you made the commitment to go. You're sore, you're sweaty and you probably stink a little, but you feel freaking great.

I am getting a bit off topic so let's get back to my main point here. Running. It's mental. Very mental.

The first couple of weeks, I'd be out there and my brain didn't think about much else besides my legs and the time on my stopwatch (with the Couck to 5K Program, you're supposed to time yourself to condition yourself and build up some stamina). Then I started to get lazy with the whole stopwatch thing and started going without it. This was mostly because I was using the stopwatch on my iPod and it sucked all of the power out of the poor little thing in no time. But once I got rid of the stopwatch and went solo, I started to notice that my brain was wandering more and my body was running without it and I was covering far more distance. Now that was super cool and made me happy.

But now that I am getting better at running, my brain and body are having battles lately which I do not appreciate. I'll have one day in which I will have a super awesome run. Just the other night I did 9K with not much trouble (of course I still had to take breaks, but it blew my mind that I made it that far considering how much I suck at running), while a few days before I was useless and could never even imagine covering that kind of distance while I puttered along the trail.

My brain kept thinking, "Get the lead out girl and move your feet! You should feel fresh right now! You ran awesome the other night after working a 12 hour shift!"

And my body was thinking, "Shut up brain! At least I'm trying!"

And then my jerk brain replies, "You're not trying hard enough!"

And body retaliates with, "You just worked 36 hours in the past 3 days! Give me a bit of a break."

Brain, "Exactly! You mostly sat at a desk for 36 hours in 3 days. Plus sitting time driving to and from work. Plus that berry and white chocolate scone you devoured like a starving dog. Move it sister!"

Then my body usually shuts up after that and pushes out every last bit of strength and determination. What makes this mental for me is that I am coming from a very active job to a very sedentary job and at the end of the day, my legs are sore from all of the sitting which is something that I am not used to. But I am also coming from a brainless job to a very mentally straining job which makes me mentally drained and even more difficult to achieve a state of mind that gets me to want to get out there and run. It's been shown that people who are mentally tired generally have poorer physical performance, and I am no exception.

I have to keep in mind that there will be fast 9K days and also slow, huffing and puffing 7K days. What I eat, how I sleep, my hydrating status, my personal life, my work life, a stupid song that I can't get out of my head - all of these things will affect how far I go, how fast I do it and if I really want to get out there that day. On days that I am mentally drained, I need to accept that I might not be able to cover as much ground as I would like to, but maybe the next run will be awesome and I'll whip through it like nothing.