Monday Musings: ask and you shall receive

As you are reading this, I’m likely having dinner with a bunch of executives in Minnesota. I still don’t understand how this trip came to be, but I can tell you one thing: I’ve never had a desire to visit Minneapolis, particularly in the dead of winter. This has nothing to do with today’s post, but rather it is a total aside. I simply felt the need to complain about being in Minnesota. In December.

What’s really important is that my Christmas advent calendar wish came true this weekend! If you recall, last week I lamented  the lack of advent calendars all around me. By the time the weekend rolled around, I had given up hope of ever finding my beloved Lindt calendar. They seemed to have vanished into thin air. In fact, just yesterday as we were driving home from some errands and yet another day of seeing nary an advent calendar, my boyfriend said to me “I guess we have to give up for this year.”  It was a sad holiday moment for me.

Well, all I have to say is that you should never underestimate the power of the universe to deliver on your wishes. Last night, when we arrived at my friend’s son’s first birthday party she excitedly told me she had something for me and not to leave without seeing her. I do love a good surprise, but I admit I thought it was maybe a Christmas card.  As it turned out it was so much better (which is saying a lot because I love a good Christmas card!).

As we were getting ready to head out from the party, I went to say goodbye and my friend excitedly told me to come with her. She looked way too happy for this to just be a card. As I followed her into the kitchen, I was wracking my brain for what it might be but it never occurred to me it would be so grand: my Lindt Christmas advent calendar! I am sure my face looked like a child opening the best gift ever on Christmas morning. Others who were there to witness looked confused by my level of excitement. They clearly didn’t understand that I had looked everywhere. Moreover, I had actually given up.

Isn’t she a beauty?

There are few things as wonderful as the unexpected surprise of finding yourself holding something you didn’t believe would be yours. I understand that an advent calendar is rather trivial in the grand scheme of things, but sometimes the little things are everything. Great joy can be found in small moments of total surprise and excitement. In fact, it is the stuff that Christmas magic is made of.  As we near Christmas (two weeks away to be exact!), I’d like to remind you to keep dreaming and making wishes, both big and small.  Though this is a small example, it goes to show that sometimes what you ask for, you will receive.

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Mid-Week Tangent: where oh where have the advent calendars gone?

I made a very grave mistake this year, one that I am reminded of each and every morning when I wake up, knowing a new day is upon me and also knowing that I cannot rejoice in the new day arriving by opening a tiny cardboard window. This year I have failed to procure my Christmas advent calendar.  The only excuse I have is my cheapness, and it has haunted me for the last five days.

Let’s backtrack here. Last year, my boyfriend and I made what we thought was an amazing discovery: once December 1st struck, the advent calendars went on sale. And I’m talking about some steep discounts. We got our primo Lindt advent calendars for just 7.99, a good 30% less than the pre-December price. We thought it was the ultimate score.

Flash forward to this year. We’ve been brazenly walking past the advent calendars for weeks, confident in our ability to secure post-December-first calendars at a fraction of the cost. I’d even scoped out the Lindt advent calendar pattern that I really wanted, so supremely certain that it would be there for me this past weekend.  It never even occurred to me that last year’s experience may have been an anomaly.

On Sunday, while running errands, we looked  at our local Save-On Foods. Nothing. I wasn’t too stressed. We had lots of other options. Then we went to No Frills. Then Shoppers Drug Mart.  No calendars.  By this point, I was beginning to get worried. I tried to convince myself that it’s just because No Frills is a bit dodgy. I mean, they probably never had Lindt calendars in the first place. And the Shoppers Drug Mart by our place is rather tiny and has the most pitiful of Christmas sections. Surely those were the issues, and once we visited bigger and better stores we’d be rewarded for our savings mindedness.

Now, two days later, I’m no longer sure that’s the case. Today, we collectively searched six more stores, many of which were large stores in the city centre. There were still no advent calendars to be found!!!!! My boyfriend found some of the crappy advent calendars, you know the ones, the ones with confections that bear only a slight resemblance to actual chocolate. I ain’t got time for those.  My search was even less fruitful, though. I visited stores that didn’t even have the cheap advent calendars. Sure, I would have snubbed them even if they had been there, but it begged the question: where oh where have all the advent calendars gone????

I do not know the answer to this question. I have hypothesized that it’s because we live in the city now, and perhaps the excessive stocking of advent calendars only occurs in the suburbs where there are more families. After all, I’m not sure that the primary market for chocolate advent calendars is childless adults in their late thirties. Or, as an alternative, perhaps the retail machine has finally learned to order appropriate volumes of goods. Maybe last year’s scores were due to retailers over-estimating demand and we just lucked out. Perhaps, though, the reason is a lot simpler. Maybe it’s just the universe’s way of telling me not to be so bloody cheap. After all, can you put a price on tiny balls of Lindt chocolate for 24 consecutive days? The answer to that question is a resounding no.

I have learned my lesson now, although perhaps a little too late. Next year, I promise you I won’t tempt the advent calendar gods. Next year, I will fork over the full price without any hesitation.  Next year I will wake up every morning in December with the excitement that only comes from knowing that chocolate is in your immediate future.* There truly is no greater excitement.

*If you live in Vancouver and know where I can find full price or discounted Lindt advent calendars, please save me from my crippling regret and tell me where to go.

Mid-Week Tangent: Renouncing my love for white chocolate peppermint M&Ms

Just one year ago, almost to the day, I wrote a list of my top holiday treats. Sitting atop this carefully crafted list was the white chocolate peppermint M&M, the very pinnacle of the festive season’s candy choices, so beloved that it even edged out the Lindt Candy Cane Lindor. I mean, that’s saying a lot. You can see why what I am about to say is extremely difficult for me. Today is the day that I must renounce my love for white chocolate peppermint M&Ms. Fully and completely.

How does a tried and tested confection fall from top of my list to the very bottom in one fell swoop? Even I cannot answer this question with any real certainty. All I know is that when I saw my formerly beloved white chocolate peppermint M&Ms in the store a couple weeks ago, I thought I had reached nirvana. I don’t recall ever seeing them in Canada.  I was so so excited that I eagerly tossed a bag into our shopping cart despite one very troubling fact: I wasn’t eating any sugar at the time.

Those M&Ms sat in my cupboard for a full two weeks, a true feat for my self-control. They called to me almost daily. Okay, not “almost” daily, but actually daily. I bargained inside my own head, trying to find any avenue to justify abandoning my sugar-free weekdays for just one or two sweet, sweet M&Ms. Finally, last Saturday, my cheat day, it was time to dive into the bag. I couldn’t wait. What happened next can only be described as a candy tragedy.

The first bite could only be described as a full-on peppermint overload. My actual thought: “Good God, my mouth is ablaze…from peppermint. How is that even possible????.”  Peppermint should, in fact, be an icy sensation not a hot sensation so the fact that my mouth felt as though it were on fire was particularly perplexing. My next thought was that perhaps I’m just not used to sugar/candy and I need to eat a few more to get reacquainted with the delight of sugar. I foolishly deluded myself into believing more peppermint might somehow tame the peppermint.  Well, I ate the whole damn bag and I can definitively tell you what you probably already knew: more overwhelming mint begets only more overwhelming mint. Not only did I feel absolutely ill, but the minty aftertaste was so strong and prevalent that I swear to you it felt like I just brushed my teeth…excessively…with the world’s mintiest of toothpastes.

Look, I am a huge, huge advocate for chocolate and peppermint, but I have to say that if you feel like you’ve just brushed your teeth after eating a peppermint candy, that is too much peppermint.  I like my white chocolate saccharine and these M&Ms lacked the sugar hit to balance out the peppermint. To say I was crestfallen would be an understatement.  I was left only with an extremely unhappy stomach and the unnerving experience of being let down by one of my true candy loves.

I do not know if Hershey Canada has a different formula for white chocolate peppermint M&Ms than in the US, which is where I acquired these candies in the past. I do find that Hershey’s chocolate tastes altogether different in the two countries. Perhaps that is the culprit here. Regardless, I can safely say that my latest experience has soured me so much that I will never find out. I am sorry peppermint white chocolate M&Ms, but we are done.  Though I am saddened by your sudden disappearance from my list of favourite holiday candies, I am thankful that there are hordes of other peppermint chocolate confections to take your place. I bid you adieu.

Monday Musings: holiday season

For some of you, it is decidedly too soon for this conversation. I know many who are opposed to uttering the “C” word before the first of December, (some seeing even that as too soon). You can fight it all you want, but the carols are already on never-ending loops in every mall, the aisles are chock full of Christmas wonder, and Starbucks has been slinging eggnog lattes for weeks.  I get it, though. I went through a bah-humbug stage of my own for a number of years.  It’s easy to get caught up in all that’s wrong with the world, or to view the holidays as simply a consumerist and commercial affair devoid of any deeper meaning.  Let’s face it, sometimes it’s also just fun to be a grumpus or proud cynic. I really have been there.

Fun fact: I actually grew up in a family who could (and still can) only be considered as Christmas fanatics. Our home was always decorated to the extreme, sort of like department store windows used to be, only in every single corner of the house. We always had a ton of Christmas baking. My dad read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas to me every Christmas Eve…probably until I was about 25 years of age.  We even invented a damn holiday: Christmas Eve Eve (i.e. the day before Christmas Eve) just as a way to prolong the celebration…and mostly as a way for me to open a gift early. Christmas magic and tradition was all around me. Despite all of this, I went through a few years as an adult where I gave serious side eye to what I perceived to be excessively early engagement in holiday festivities. I was a bit of a closet scrooge, too cool for school, and “over” the holiday spirit.

I’m delighted to say I’ve turned a corner, though, and find myself firmly back in the camp of pro-early-holiday-celebration. The holiday season has so much to offer beyond Christmas day itself.  Sure, the constant Christmas carols can be annoying. I mean, if I hear one more Michael Buble Christmas song…But aside from that, can you really deny the many small wonders of the holiday season? I mean, have you considered:

–Advent calendars: daily chocolate for no other reason than another day arriving. i can get on board with that.

–Peppermint chocolate everything. Need I say more?

–Friendlier people everywhere. I swear the holiday season brings out the best in everyone…maybe aside from fanatical bargain seeking shoppers on Black Friday…but generally speaking, the holidays put people in a good mood. We can use more kindness in this world.

–Twinkling lights on everything. Who doesn’t want more ambiance in her life?

–Made-for-TV Christmas movies. Come on, they’re all just cheesy rom-coms masquerading as holiday films, and that’s exactly what makes them wonderful.

–STOCKINGS FULL OF PRESENTS. Whoever came up with stuffing multiple presents into a giant sock is my hero. Many presents masquerading as one? I may be almost forty, but I can still get behind that.

–A month-long excuse to get together with friends or family for dinners or drinks or any other form of celebration. It’s a universally known truth that calories don’t count over the holidays.

–Most importantly, a chance to reconnect with your inner child. Let’s face it, it’s easy to lose our sense of wonder as we age. We get jaded and cynical. We stop believing in magic. Of course this isn’t true for everyone, but can you remember what Christmas was like as a child? I remember barely being able to sleep and literally counting the minutes on Christmas Eve, which I also determined to be the longest day in the history of the world. I remember waking up early and sneaking downstairs and seeing Santa’s motherload laid out beneath the tree, our stockings overflowing. I remember my family sitting together amidst twinkling Christmas lights, listening to Christmas music for hours, munching on treats and drinking fun drinks. Doesn’t that all sound pretty magical?

I rest my case. So today, exactly 29 days from Christmas, I challenge you to find that little sparkle of holiday joy that you can get behind and grab hold of it.

Mid-Week Tangent: Cake-ploration Returns! (sooner than anticipated)

Well, my hiatus from cake-ploration turned out to be shorter than expected. I have to admit, diving back into devouring giant slabs of cake was not an altogether wise decision, especially when combining cake consumption with half a bottle of red wine, and most especially when all of this occurred on the tail end of 10 days without sugar or carbs.  I can only assume that going from one extreme (no carbs/no sugar/no fun) to another (all the wine and all the cake) might have impacted my fair assessment of this cake, but I am reviewing it nonetheless. As it turns out, this cake-ploration has developed into quite the little passion project of mine, and I simply cannot stay away from it, even when I know full  well that my body may rebel as a result.

Let’s talk about the cake, though. On Saturday, which I had already decided was going to be a cheat day, because honestly life without sugar and carbs is not a life I want to live seven days a week, I hemmed and hawed about what was worth cheating for. Ice cream? No. A donut? No. Straight chocolate? Nah. Nothing was sounding good to me. Then I thought about cake, more specifically, moist cake with layer upon layer of thick frosting. Yes, now that sounded more like it.

I was trying to think of where I could go to find a slice of cake that might be worthy of a cheat, and I had a revelatory moment in which a bakery I visited only once, and probably ten years ago, sprung to my memory as if out of nowhere: Sweet Obsessions. Suitably named for this project, I thought. The picture of their chocolate and bittersweet chocolate buttercream cake sealed the deal.  We were driving twenty minutes. For cake. Don’t let yourself consider the carbon footprint associated with my cake-ploration.

The sheer volume of frosting was so promising…

First and foremost, I must say kudos to all of the moist chocolate cakes I’ve had throughout this quest. I’ve never been one to care about the cake itself, but I have to say that if I’ve learned one thing from cake-ploration, it’s to appreciate the actual cake component. This cake was solid, as in tasty and dense without being heavy and moist without being soggy.

The frosting, as always, was the greatest disappointment. After ten days without sugar, I expected the sweetness to overwhelm me like the return of a long-lost friend. It did not. In fact, it barely registered on my sweetness scale. If i’m going to cheat with cake, I want it to smack me in the face with overpowering sugar-coma-inducing sweetness. I suspect it was either swiss meringue buttercream or italian buttercream and I cannot stress enough (even though I’ve already mentioned it many, many times) that these are not suitable forms of buttercream!!!  Where is my saccharine, classic american buttercream, damn it!

Once again, cake perfection eludes me. I’m particularly discouraged after this latest cake-ploration because I broke a perfectly good sugar-free streak for a cake that was, let’s face it, perfectly fine, but not at all my definition of a perfect cake. I still hang on to hope that one day I will find that perfect combination. For this week, though, I admit defeat.

Monday Musings: on pumpkin

It’s Fall. It’s almost American Thanksgiving. On the internet, pumpkin recipes are aplenty, and in every store I go to, there seems to be a new variation on pumpkin or pumpkin spice that I am horrified to encounter. I hear a lot of people get very excited for PSL season, and return of pumpkin-flavoured everything.

And then there is me.

I have never had a pumpkin spice latte. I haven’t eaten a slice of pumpkin pie since I was old enough to finally muster the courage to just say no. It’s been two years since I bought a can of pumpkin to use in anything.  I’ve certainly never made my own pumpkin filling from a legit pumpkin.  In other words, I am clearly not the target demographic for pumpkin lovers’ products.

But I’m also not a pumpkin hater by any means, aside from pumpkin pie, which I loathe and which I wholeheartedly believe is an abomination of the pie community.  Other than pumpkin pie, though, I have no major beef with pumpkin. It’s…fine. I have no issue with pumpkin pie spices. In fact, bring on the clove! But in the season of pumpkin-flavoured-everything, there are precisely two ways in which I can consume pumpkin with enthusiasm:

1. a rich, dense pumpkin cheesecake with gingersnap crust

2. the Starbucks pumpkin scone, which, to be fair, has nothing to do with the pumpkin scone itself and everything to do with the fact that it’s bathed in a thick layer of glaze. And glaze for breakfast is A-ok in my books.

Everything else, in my opinion, is superfluous pumpkin. I know that many out there will vehemently disagree, and that is fine, because this is just my view and I am not here to persuade. Eat your pumpkin pie and PSLs and pumpkin cheerios and pumpkin Oreos and pumpkin craft beer and pumpkin chips. They’re out there just for you and your unabashed love for all things pumpkin. I’ll just sit over here quietly and patiently waiting for pumpkin-spiced-everything season to end and peppermint bark season to begin.

TWIR #84: cold + keto = bad workouts (again)

It’s been another doozy of a week. Between this ketogenic eating and constantly feeling on the verge of cold or flu, I can’t say it’s been the best week for workouts. Fingers crossed I win the fight against whatever bug is hanging out in my system. I have to believe that at the very least the keto diet has kept me from moving into full-blown flu by keeping sugar out of my system. Did you know every teaspoon of sugar you consume supposedly suppresses your immune system for up to six hours? I don’t know if it’s actually true, but I do know that the last time I was sick, my symptoms worsened dramatically after eating a giant block of chocolate cake. You do the math. Enough about sugar, let’s get on to workouts.

Saturday
Activity: planned rest day
Relevant Stats: lunch plans + date night + potluck dinner shopping
Observations: I barely survived Saturday morning. Between the haze of sugar-and-carb-free exhaustion and trying to decide on appliances for our new home, I was at my wit’s end.  Thankfully the afternoon and evening were better. Biggest accomplishment: no cheating on keto diet despite dinner out and my boyfriend buying a bottle of wine for his cheat day. Just to be clear, he didn’t drink the entire bottle in one day, although personally I have been known to do that.

Sunday
Activity: unplanned rest day
Relevant Stats: Hamapalooza!!!!!!
Observations: I had the best of intentions of doing my usual weekend park workout, but I had absolutely no fuel in the tank to do it. I’m sure you all think I’m exaggerating, but I found it exhausting just to go on a 4 km walk on mostly flat ground.  Running was not going to happen. Also, in case you’re wondering what Hamapalooza is, it’s an entire potluck dinner party built around the roasting of a bone-in spiral ham. To some that will sound like a dream, to others a nightmare. All I can say is that my Fall calendar revolves around this dinner party and it did not disappoint. I cheated with one perogy (they were home-made! come on!), a roasted parsnip and three glasses of sangria. I do not regret any of it, particularly the sangria, because my friend makes the best sangria on the planet. Don’t even try to tell me you know someone who makes better sangria. It’s not possible.

Monday
Activity: sad outdoor strength workout
Relevant Stats: 30 min.
Observations: Once again, my morning energy was not high enough to even contemplate a legit workout. We went for a long walk and I was content to leave it at that…until the late afternoon when I felt overly guilty for taking three rest days. I decided to do my park workout in the afternoon. This plan had two major flaws: 1) my SI had inexplicably started aching again and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to run (I wasn’t–I made it about 20 steps before having to turn around) and 2) a hell storm of rain and wind descended on me the second I stepped outside. I had to settle for a sad outdoor workout, on the small portion of our back deck that is covered. All things considered, I did good for the lack of space and equipment, but it wasn’t a hard-core workout by any means. This is precisely why I knew it was no good that my muscles were super sore Monday night…

Tuesday
Activity: personal training session
Relevant Stats: 60 min./lower intensity
Observations: …and, of course, I woke up Tuesday with ultra sore muscles and an inkling of a sore throat and about five times more exhausted than from the keto diet alone. Damnit. My trainer took pity on me, probably because I looked on the verge of collapsing at any moment, and made our workout way easier than usual. I knew things were not good when even an easy workout felt impossible. I have no idea how I made it through the rest of Tuesday. I was in bed by 8 pm and knocked out eleven hours of sleep.

Wednesday
Activity: spin warmup + strength
Relevant Stats: 5 min spin + 25 min strength
Observations: After eleven hours of sleep you’d think I’d be raring to go. I was not. I contemplated staying home from work but aside from being monumentally tired and having a bit of a scratchy throat, it didn’t seem necessary. And of course, even after writing about not going to the gym when you’re sick, I did just that. At least I vigorously wiped down my equipment. The workout sucked beyond imagination. Even on the lamest of tensions, my legs would not spin those pedals. I gave up and opted for an equally lame strength workout which felt just as impossible as Tuesday’s training session even though it was ten times easier. Damn you, cold and flu season!

Thursday
Activity: spin + core
Relevant Stats: 30 min. spin (light) + 5 min. core
Observations: In efforts to bolster my workouts, I broke my keto diet and had oatmeal for breakfast. Hallelujah! Although I still feel like I’m fighting something, my workout was better. I lasted a half hour on the bike, which felt like a massive victory, even though I was using about 1/2-3/4 of my usual tension. I suspect this had nothing to do with the oatmeal, though. I’d put my money on the placebo effect, especially since I ate the world’s smallest serving of oats and only ate them about 25 minutes before my workout.

Friday
Activity: strength training
Relevant Stats: 40 min.
Observations: I told myself today was going to be better. And it was. I mean, my head still feels a bit foggy from my cold and I definitely am still tiring more easily, but today felt better overall. I even upped my back squat weight by another ten pounds and forced myself to push the evil prowler with the usual weight! I think tripling down on my vitamin C and getting extra sleep have helped me continue to function this week.  Also, I had more oatmeal today. I am not entirely convinced that I’m eating enough carbs for it to make any difference whatsoever, but I’m doing it anyway. For the record, I am also still way too excited about oatmeal.

There we have it, another week down. I’m looking forward to a weekend of NO PLANS. My original goal for no sugar/no carb was two weeks so this weekend brings that to a close. I have no desire to dive head first into any carbs at this point, nor sugar really, so we’ll see if I cheat just for the sake of cheating, or whether I hold strong until I really, really, really want that dulce de leche donut.

Happy weekend, y’all.