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.

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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: 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.

Mid-Week Tangent: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly of my (brief) experiment with Ketogenic Eating

I am no stranger to elimination diets.  Back in my 20s, I used to do cleanses 1-2 times per year, not the kind where you don’t eat at all and just drink strange lemon-water-Tabasco concoctions, but rather the kind where you eliminate sugars, refined foods, alcohol, coffee, dairy and anything else that we typically consider enjoyable foods.  I was vegan for a year and a half, largely in efforts to naturally promote adrenal balance. I’ve given up sugar and carbs for extended periods simply in efforts to curb a raging sweet tooth. I lay all of this out because I think it’s important context for what I’m about to say about my experiment with ketogenic eating, or at least because I feel the need to ensure that I don’t come off as a lazy whiner who can’t tolerate the smallest ounce of dietary deprivation.

Also important to note is that it’s been a week and a half since starting ketogenic eating, which is not at all long enough to see any major effects by all accounts of ketosis. That said, my own personal philosophy is that, beyond a week, one should generally start to see some benefits and feel some improvements after undertaking a significant shift to his or her diet. Enough with the prefaces, here’s my take:

The Good

–Less hunger: Okay, there were a few days when I felt constantly hungry but since Saturday I have felt more satisfied with less.

–You can eat a lot of fun things: Cheese! Bacon! Whole avocados! Drown your salad in olive-oil based vinaigrettes! You can do it all with keto living. Hell, you can even put butter in your coffee (though I never developed a taste for that). It’s a free for all in the high-fat department and, at times, that felt quite liberating.

–No sugar cravings: Part of the reason I picked keto vs. Whole 30 or paleo or other low-carb approaches is that I’d heard the sugar cravings weren’t as bad. They were not. From day one, I haven’t cared at all about sugar and still don’t. Not once have I been tempted by dessert. For me, this is an absolute miracle.

–It’s less restrictive than many of its low carb counterparts: I found it easier to eat in restaurants, in particular. The ability to eat some dairy products definitely helped with presenting more food options and, in general, it was relative easy to adjust normal recipes to a keto recipe. Of course, this depends on what your “normal” recipes are.

–My digestion improved: 10 days, zero bloating. That’s all I have to say.

The Bad

–It’s extra work to grocery shop and meal plan: Although I do believe it’s easier to adjust this plan to a regular lifestyle than some other low-carb diets, it still takes extra thought and care to read ingredients and meal plan. We meal plan every week anyway, so it wasn’t a far departure from our normal life, but if you don’t meal plan on the regular, this will be a pain in the ass.

–You really need to track your macros to do this right: I will straight up tell you I did not closely track my fats, proteins and carbs. Ain’t nobody got time for tracking. And don’t even get me started on testing ketones in blood or urine. I just wanted to cut back on sugar for a while. I don’t want to feel like I’m visiting a medical lab every day. Long and the short of it, without tracking you can’t be guaranteed you’re in ketosis and that’s just too much work for the likes of me.

The Ugly

–The energy lull is real, y’all: Seriously, like I said, I’ve done elimination diets at least a dozen times in my life. Normally, my energy dips for a few days but nothing like this. I have been an energy-less sack of sadness for the entire 10 days and it feels like there’s no end in sight. Seriously, I have never felt so exhausted in my entire life.

–Workouts SUCK: I wrote at length about this yesterday. I don’t care what all the science says, carbs are life when it comes to workouts. I’ve never experienced this type of muscle fatigue. Ever.

–Bulletproof Coffee: You’re supposed to be full from fat-laden coffee? Until lunch? I don’t think so. The best I did was make it about three hours until I was starving.  I also very strongly beg to differ that butter in your coffee is a revelation. It is butter. In your coffee.

The Verdict

I just don’t think it’s worth it. As I said in my extensive prefacing, I ultimately feel like any elimination diet should yield faster improvements. My personal benchmark is that you should start to feel better, not worse, after one full week. Keto just didn’t deliver on this for me.  I’ve had much better results just cutting sugar and 95% of grains.

An even bigger issue is that it’s just not sustainable for me (and I’d argue for any human who enjoys things like wine, beer, chocolate, or ice cream).  I can stick to these types of things for two months max, before some sort of event (helloooooo Christmas!) rears its ugly head and draws me back to the dark side of indulgence. Really, its moderation that’s the ideal state for me, and maybe one day I’ll actually get the hang of it. Until then, I’m going to stay off sugar for a while longer, but I am most definitely having some oatmeal tomorrow morning.

Training Tuesdays: working out without carbs

Look, there are tons of legit nutritionists and experts who’ve written at length about how your body can perform without carbohydrates. I’m not going to attempt to counter their assertions, which I’m sure are scientifically backed, with what is essentially just my own experience. But damn it, this is my blog and I am still going to tell you about my experience. I’m just going to preface everything I write by saying a) I’m not attempting to refute science and b) my experience is  100% uninformed by science.

I’m going to do a whole post on my very brief experience with the ketogenic diet, but for today I’m just going to focus on how low carb eating has impacted my workouts for the last week and a half. Let me just say in no uncertain terms: my workouts have sucked since I gave up carbs (!!!!). There is no point in mincing my words. Let me bombard you with my list of negative workout experiences:

–inability to lift my usual weights without my muscles feeling like they’ve spontaneously atrophied
–inability to sprint or hill climb at my usual spin bike tensions without feeling like I’m trying to push my bike against the weight of the world
–workout dread (i.e. inability to muster the will to workout out of the fear of just how bad the workout will be)
–zero energy for intense cardio activities like running (I’m talking feeling winded and fatigued after, like, one minute)

As you can see, it’s been a crap week for activity. Spare me all the research that shows that this is just a phase, or that it’s because I’m not eating enough fats to fuel my workouts. I have read all the articles about how it takes time for your body to adjust to ketosis and to properly fuel your workouts with fat. I don’t care what the reason is, I care about the result, and the result is that my workouts have been abysmal since I gave up my sweet, sweet carbs.

I fondly recall my relatively peppy carb-fuelled workouts from a mere week a half ago and dream of their return. At this stage, I don’t want ice cream or cake. I don’t even want pasta. I just want some bloody oatmeal, which is arguably the saddest of the carbs.  I’ve tried to rationalize eating oats because they’re low on the glycemic index, but I know full well that they are still not acceptable on the ketogenic plan.  So I do not eat them, and instead suffer another day of crappy workouts.

Perhaps I am just too impatient for this diet. Or perhaps my body just needs some damn carbs to muster up the strength for a legitimate workout.  Either way I look at, the best possible answer seems to be: eat some carbs.*

*Although I’m not sure how much longer I’ll stick with ketogenic eating, truthfully I am not throwing in the towel quite yet. This post is mostly tongue in cheek…but I really would like a bowl of oatmeal…and the fact that oatmeal is the carb on my mind really does make me sad.

Mid-Week Tangent: the elusive perfect cake

I’ve been eating a lot of cake lately. I mean, I’ve really eaten a lot of cake. In a four-day period in NYC, I ate three giant slices of cake (and that was on top of cupcakes and cookies) and, since I returned home, I’ve had another two giant slices of cake. Even before I went to New York, I’d been dabbling in cake-ploration, testing out offerings from a bakery near our campsite. It didn’t occur to me until yesterday: I’ve been trying this whole time to find the elusive perfect cake.

I believe I inadvertently started this cake quest way back at my birthday, when we tried one chocolate cake that wasn’t up to my birthday cake standards, which led to locating a second chocolate cake that might better satiate my craving (it didn’t). I think I’ve been looking for the perfect cake ever since and I’ve yet to find it. I’ve come close, but sadly the closest I’ve come are the farthest from me.

What is a perfect cake, you might ask? Well, the problem is that it’s not the same for everyone. Some like light, fluffy cakes. Others like moist, dense cakes. Some like swiss meringue buttercream (blech!). Others like traditional american buttercream. Some, beyond anything I can comprehend, don’t like any frosting at all. I don’t know who these people are, but they are not my friends.  It’s really a matter of personal preference, I know. For the record, though, my perfect cake requires the following quinfecta:

1. Moist but not overly fudgy crumb: It’s a fine line to walk, but I don’t want my cake as dense as a brownie nor light and airy. Spare me your fluffy cakes.

2. Cake that tastes like the flavour it claims it is: I can’t tell you how many chocolate cakes I’ve eaten that bear so little a resemblance to chocolate that if I closed my eyes I couldn’t tell you what type of cake it is. I’ve also eaten my fair share of carrot cakes that are so light on spice that may as well be vanilla cakes with shredded carrots in them. Give me flavour!

3.  American buttercream: I cannot convey to you my hatred for swiss meringue buttercream and italian buttercream, and don’t even get me started on trying to pass off whipped cream as frosting.  Say it with me: whipped cream is not frosting!!!!! I want good, old-fashioned buttercream, made with nothing other than powdered sugar, loads of butter, some vanilla extract and maybe some chocolate or salted caramel or cream cheese for good measure.

4. Firm frosting: I know there are many fluffy frosting enthusiasts out there, those who want their frosting light as a cloud, so airy that you can easily swipe your finger through it to sneak a taste. Not me. I want dense, firm frosting, frosting that, if chilled in the refrigerator, sets to an almost fudge-like consistency. I’m not going to lie, and I’m slightly ashamed to admit, that it’s because I almost always save all of my frosting for the end, and a firm frosting is easier to separate from cake with surgical precision. Don’t judge.

5. Liberal frosting: Likely obvious considering  three of my quinfecta are frosting-related, my perfect cake is liberally coated in frosting. We’re talking a minimum half inch, including in between layers. Just watch my face if I’m served cake whose frosting between layers is so minimal that you can barely discern the cake from frosting. You would only be able to describe me as utterly crestfallen.

Rarely are all five criteria met, but when they are, oh it is a magical day for me. Though I have yet to find this perfect cake in close proximity to me, you can be damn sure that I will keep looking. And when I find it, well, you may not hear from me for a while because I may just spend all my waking, non-working moments shovelling forkfuls into my mouth.*

*If you happen to live in the greater Vancouver area and know of a spectacular bakery whose cakes may offer my cake quinfecta, enlighten me!

Real-Talk Thursdays: I want the toll fees back

I am not naturally a morning person. I like to wake up at a reasonable hour and slowly start my day, not be jolted from depths of deep slumber at an ungodly hour only to rush out the door in under 25 minutes. It is not my happy place. I sometimes envy morning people but, truthfully, most often I think there is something seriously wrong with them.

What does this have to do with toll fees? Well, recently one of our major suburban-to-urban commuter bridges removed a long-standing toll fee. Hurrah for money back in our pockets! Right? After a couple weeks of experiencing the post-toll-fee world, I’m not so sure my answer is yes. When the tolls were first removed, I complained that the traffic would be so much worse, but in my heart I didn’t really believe it. Would people really avoid the most direct route to work just to save $6 a day? As it turns out, yes, yes they would. And they have been, daily, flocking to my highway and my bridge and ruining my peaceful morning commute.

I left at 5:10 am the other morning (!!!!!). I mean, good God, that is early. Normally, at that time I would fly downtown, probably arriving in around 35 minutes.  It took me 46 minutes.  That is 11 minutes longer. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is 31% longer. I also tend to judge the quality of my early, early (EARLY) morning commutes by the number of times I have to come to a full stop on the highway due to traffic volume.  If I stop zero times it is a fantastic day, 1 time is okay, 2 times is getting to be a bit much and anything more than that is a travesty. The other morning I came to 2 full stops. That’s normal for 6 am traffic, but not 5:10 am traffic. For the love of everything good in this world, there should be some reward for getting one’s ass out of bed and on the road that early and that reward should be smooth sailing!

Yes, I realize it is banal and utterly first-world problem territory to be complaining about traffic. First and foremost, I don’t care, because an unpleasant side effect of my early mornings is a sharp spike in my grumpiness. Secondly, I am actually not complaining about the traffic, but rather the removal of the toll fee that evidently kept traffic at bay for years.  I will gladly pay the government $137 per month for the great joy of a smooth morning commute. It is a small price to pay for my peace of mind, general attitude, and the extra 20 minutes of sleep I would get on the daily.

The very least the government could have done was postpone the toll removal until October 1st, at which point I would be completely oblivious to the effects thanks to my cushy, new, temporary city digs. It’s true what they say: timing is everything.