Vegan Coconut Macaroons

Vegans and vegetarians are often told to eat a lot of protein, and that protein often comes from a rather simple source, beans.  No matter the variety, beans become a pantry staple for most people omitting animal products from their diet. What if I told you that with those cans of beans you could make a sweet, virtually guilt free dessert?  It’s true, all thanks to aquafaba.  What is aquafaba, you may ask, well, have you ever drained a can of chickpeas? There’s your answer.  Aquafaba is the liquid in which beans have been cooked and caned in.  The viscous liquid lends itself wonderfully to desserts traditionally calling for egg whites.  When whipped, aquafaba forms stiff peaks due to its high starch and protein content (read more here).  Aquafaba can be used for a wide variety of things, including meringues for pies, pavlovas, mousses, mayo, and you guessed it, macaroons.  This recipe is simple, minimal, and a great way to utilize an often discarded product!

Ingredients

2 – 2 ½ cups of coconut flakes

1/3 cup aquafaba (preferably from chickpeas)

1/4 tsp of cream of tarter

1 tbsp coconut oil

1/3 cup of maple syrup

1 tsp of vanilla

Pinch of cinnamon if desired

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 300 °F.  Spread coconut evenly on a baking sheet and toast until golden brown.
  2. Meanwhile, in a stand mixer whip the aquafaba, cream of tarter, and vanilla until stiff peaks form.
  3. When the coconut has been removed from the ov
    en and allowed to cool, add 2 cups to the aquafaba mixture, along with the
  4. maple syrup, coconut oil and cinnamon.
  5. Gently, key word GENTLY, fold in the coconut and other ingredients.
  6. If the mixture is too wet, add in a more coconut a lit
  7. tle at a time until a moist “dough” forms
  8. With a small ice cream scoop or tablespoon, scoop the mixture onto a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes.
  9. Once the first bake is completed, increase the over temperature 350 °F and bake for another 8-10 minutes.
  10. Let cool and enjoy as is, or top with a drizzle of melted chocolate for and added treat!

#TalkAboutItTuesday: Self-Harm Scars

Every scar has a story behind it.  Whether it’s from falling down when learning to ride your bike, or drunkenly falling flat on your face on your 23rd birthday, the scars we have are a part of our history. However, not every scar has a story that its owner wishes to tell. For many, the scars they have are extremely personal. Not everyone is open to discussing them, and that privacy should always be respected. For some, the scars they have are part of a bigger, more complex issue; scars that aren’t just a result of minor accident. This #TalkAboutItTuesday is intended to open up a dialogue on an often hushed topic: those who self-harmed and the resulting scars. The mental health stigma is still alive and well. Given that mental health disorders occur internally, rather than externally, it may be easier for those who suffer to mask symptoms. Self-harm scars, on the other hand, are a physical manifestation of a mental health issue. They say loud and clear that something is not okay. To ask about them is to ask an individual to divulge their innermost personal details.  It’s not an easy subject to discuss if you, or someone you know, has suffered from self-inflicted pain.  Know that there isn’t always a right way to handle it, and we have to learn to be okay with that.  Do everything with the best intentions, and strive to understand even when it may seem impossible.

People self harm in different ways, and for different reasons.  Some people may scratch themselves until they bleed, carve or cut, or even pull out their hair. It’s unique to every individual. The reasons for why people self-harm is a much more complex issue. Self-harming is often thought of as a behavioral trait of youth suffering from anxiety, but it is important to know that anyone can suffer from self-harming tendencies, including both adults and children.  Those who do self-harm most often suffer from a number of co-occurring mental health disorders, including, but not limited to: depression, post traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, or bipolar disorder.  It is difficult to determine the exact number of those who self-harm, as it is often done in private and rarely talked about.  I want to talk about it.  I want others to know what it’s like for those who did — or still do — self-harm, and why talking about it isn’t always easy.

I was a burner. It was simple, and I liked that. It made it easier to do.  It always happened when my depression was at its very worst, and my anxiety was uncontrollably high.  It was a distraction, and—oddly enough—soothing.  It allowed me to focus on nothing but the act itself, and the physical pain that followed distracted me from from the mental pain I was experiencing.  When I would have anxiety attacks, lock myself in a room, and become emotionally manic it seemed like my only option. I’d stop crying, unravel myself from the unrecognizable heap of human I was on the floor, and hyper focus on doing something I felt was both productive and necessary, hurting myself. It helped me to escape.  Escape to a place where I didn’t feel unbearable pain.  A place where I felt in control; control that I had not experienced in a very long time. Strangely enough, it became a comfort.  Knowing that I would be able to have this little moment of escape during a time of suffering.  It became my twisted form of therapy.

I have been asked about the scars since, and up until now I have lied.  Not only because I was ashamed, but because it made it easier.  I’ve blamed them on everything from cat scratches, to kitchen missteps, to hiking accidents, not knowing if anyone truly believed me. It’s easier to make up a story, than to open a potentially uncomfortable dialogue with others who may not know how to react.  Behind them is a story, a fairly emotional one, that I didn’t always feel like sharing. I do now, hoping it helps others who have had a similar experience. I want others to know they are not alone, and that there are safe spaces to talk about their experiences. I still chose not to ask people about their scars. For some, bringing up a reminder of a difficult time can be quite triggering, and I would never want others to revert back to feeling the way I remember feeling.  If they want to share their scar stories with others they will tell them. Simple as that.

My scars are quite visible. So much so that I don’t bother to make an effort to hide them. They litter my forearms, and to a lesser extent my legs. They are now a permanent part of me, no matter how much I may have tried to rid them from my body. Some have faded to the point of obscurity, others remain prominent. I have learned to live with the raised reminders of what I have been through, but more importantly, how far I have come. I am no longer ashamed of them. They are reminder that no matter how far I may fall, there is always the possibility of finding happiness again. I know this because I have lived it. They remind me of a place where I once thought living was no longer an option. A time where I was sitting on a bathroom floor, clutching a bottle of pills in my hand, desperately seeking an end to it. I made it through all of that, and today I am here writing this in hopes of helping others who may feel the same way.

If you, or someone you know, is in need of immediate help please call 911 or your local crisis hotline.  
Kids Help Phone (a crisis line for youth under 20) 1-800-668-6868
National Suicide Prevention Hotline (US & Canada) 1-800-273-8255
Ontario Mental Health Helpline 1-866-531-2600
Trans Lifeline (a crisis line for transgender youth and adults) 877-330-6366
First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Help Line: 1-855-242-3310

Golden Milk: I Like You a Latte

The turmeric trend is in full swing. An ingredient almost exclusively limited to curries and other savoury dishes is making its way into coffee shops near you.  The turmeric latte, aka golden milk, has become the newest trend in hot beverages. Much like its relative, ginger, the brightly coloured spice has been prized for its colour and medicinal purposes for thousands of years in Asia. Recently, the bright yellow rhizome has been praised for uses as a health food. Curcumin, the primary compound in turmeric, is responsible for its signature colour as well as its health benefits. Known for it’s anti-inflammatory properties and high levels of anti-oxidants, curcumin has been making big waves in the healthy living community. From pills to powders, curcumin is being used as a way for many to help add to their health regimen without having to down a bowl of curry every night. With its mild flavour, bright colour, and many health benefits it’s easy to see why turmeric has become the new ‘it’ thing. This recipe for my golden milk latte combines inflammation fighting turmeric, heart-healthy cinnamon, digestive aiding ginger, and calming chai tea to create a creamy vegan drink that can be served hot, or over ice for a refreshing summer drink. Feel free to play around with the flavours adding a little more, or less, of whatever you like. While I used almond milk for this recipe, cashew, hemp or coconut milk would all be lovely additions.

Ingredients
5 cups of almond milk
2 chai tea bags (or 3 tbsp of lose tea)
Star anise, cinnamon sticks, raw ginger slices, and cardamom pods
2 tbsps of ground turmeric
2 tbsps of cinnamon
1 tbsp of nutmeg
1/2 cup of raw honey or maple syrup
Coconut cream to taste
Directions
  1. In a large saucepan over medium heat combine the almond milk, chai tea, star anise, cinnamon sticks, ginger slices, and cardamom pods.  Bring to simmer and leave for 2-3 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat and let steep for 3 more minutes.  Remove the tea bags and whole spices.
  3. Whisk in the remaining spices and honey.
  4. Pour into a mug, stir in a little coconut cream, and sprinkle with some cinnamon and turmeric. Enjoy!

To Medicate, or Not to Medicate…

This is in by no means meant to be medical advice.  If you are experiencing thoughts of hurting yourself or others, low self-esteem, hopelessness, loss of interest in things you once enjoyed, mood swings, anxiety or low energy levels, please seek medical help immediately.

To medicate, or not to medicate — that is the question.  A question that often becomes an overwhelming dilemma.  With so much information about prescription medications out there, it can be very confusing and stressful.  I myself was very hesitant to speak to my doctor about the possibility of starting medication for a multitude of reasons. What would the side effects be? Will I have to take pills every day for the rest of my life to feel “normal”? What if they don’t work, then what will I do? Would people think differently of me if they knew I took pills? All of these questions only contributed to the anxiety I was already experiencing, and made it difficult to begin seeking treatment.  I was in my mid-teens the first time I ever spoke to my doctor about my depression and anxiety.  At that point I had yet to be clinically diagnosed, and had only experimented with herbal remedies. My mum was concerned about the idea of beginning medication at such a young age, so she researched some alternative options. One of the most well-known alternatives is St. John’s Wort (hypericum perforatum). St. John’s Wort is a natural plant based remedy that has been used for centuries for medicinal purposes.  While natural, St. John’s Wort should not be taken in conjunction with any other antidepressants for risk of serotonin syndrome (a dangerous level of serotonin in the brain). While, I didn’t find St. John’s Wort to be affective for myself, I really appreciated my mum’s support in helping me find some relief. If herbal remedies work for you, fantastic! I wish they worked for me.  Unfortunately, after exhausting all options, I realized that prescription medication might be my only option.

DSC_0186 (3)

I’m not a doctor, nor am I a medical expert by any means, but I will do my best to explain how anti-depressants work in the most basic terms. Many Anti-depressants, and anti-anxiety medications, fall into the category of serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (or SRIs) inhibit the reuptake, or reabsorption of the serotonin that a cell produces so that it has the opportunity to be absorbed by receptors. This increases the level of serotonin, a neurotransmitter, in the brain. As many of you may know, serotonin is what is known as a “feel good hormone”. It is believed that those suffering from depression lack sufficient levels of serotonin, or have an imbalance of other chemicals in the brain. Common brand names for SRI medications include: Cipralex (escitalopram), Prozac (fluoxetine), and Zoloft (sertraline). I have taken a variety of SRIs, including Cipralex and Zoloft, but none were effective in helping improve the way I was feeling. When I first started taking prescription medication I became very discouraged when I didn’t notice any changes in my mood right away. This, I learned, is very common. One thing I cannot stress enough is that if you’re thinking about beginning medication patience will truly be a virtue. It takes time to experience change. Rarely do antidepressants begin working right away. Many times it can take weeks for changes to occur. If you do not experience any changes, talk to your doctor about other options. There are many different medications on the market, so don’t hesitate to seek other options if what you’re currently taking isn’t working However, if you begin to feel worse, or experience any side effects, I urge you to seek medical help immediately.

I am currently taking what is known as a serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor. This is dual acting medication that inhibits the reuptake of both serotonin and norepinephrine. There are various trade names for SNRIs, but the one I am currently taking is Prsitq (desvenlafaxine). I am fortunate not to have experienced any side effects while taking Pristiq, but some of the side effects may include: insomnia, worsened anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and irritability. (Pfizer, 2016) I take it every morning around the same time as a way to create a habitual routine that ensures I remember to take my medication. Drug interactions are also something one should be aware of. Certain medications, including those that aren’t antidepressants, may interact with certain foods, drinks, and other medications which may make them less effective or possibly dangerous. In many cases doctors will recommend you avoid alcohol while taking antidepressants. Each medication contains different ingredients, so you should always read the information provided with it in order to ensure effective results.

Many people feel that there is a stigma attached to taking antidepressants, and may be concerned with what others may think. “Popping happy pills” is often a phrase used to negatively describe someone who is taking antidepressants. There should be no shame in taking “happy pills”. In fact, I exclusively refer to my medication as happy pills, because they do indeed help me to be happier. There is absolutely no shame in that. Why should I feel ashamed? If your family member, friend, co-worker is taking medication for a physical ailment, would you mock them for that? Do you look down on diabetics for taking metformin? Or someone who is taking Ramipril for a heart condition? I’m going to guess the answer is no. So why is there such a stigma attached to antidepressants? I wish I could answer that, but everyone has their reasons for feeling the way they do. Depression is a medical condition just like any other. A medical condition that needs to be treated. Please have compassion for those who are seeking treatment. It’s often not easy to seek help when the last thing you want to do is get out of bed.

Remember, not every medication works for everyone. It takes a little trial and error to find what works best for you. Each medication works in different ways, and it is important to find what works for your body chemistry. Work with your doctor to find what helps ease your symptoms. Seek support when you need it, and I wish you the very best in your health journey!

Learning to Love

Welcome, friends!  I’m happy you decided to take a moment to tag along on this journey with me.  Let me begin with a little bit about myself.  I guess I would say that I’m just your average 25 year old woman trying to make it in this crazy world trying to do as best as I can with what I have.  I’m currently a student studying journalism at a college here in Toronto.  Am I where I thought I would be at this stage in my life? The simple answer is no, but I sure am happy.  For the first time in my life I am looking forward to what the future has to offer, and I am excited for the many opportunities ahead of me.


Up until recently, my relationship to food has always been a challenging one.  I grew up in a family that wasn’t very health conscience, and I grew up never understanding what a macro/micro nutrient was, what calories were, and how all of that affected my body.  I gained a lot of weight due large in part to a diet loaded with refined and processed foods.  That, coupled with overeating and lack of exercise knowledge, led to me being an overweight kid.  It wasn’t until I reached grades 7 and 8 that I began to take a really hard (and judgmental) look at myself in the mirror. I hated what I saw.  I began to think terrible things about myself.  I never thought I was good looking and therefore worthy of being loved by anybody.  This began to manifest in  extremely harmful eating and exercise habits the summer before high school.  I kept telling myself that if I wasn’t “thin” or “pretty” that high school would be hell.  I thought that no one would want to be my friend, and that there was no chance that any guy would find me attractive.  That summer I began to restrict calories and exercise excessively.  Throughout the fall of grade 9 I severely restricted any and all food, but primarily carbohydrates.  All that I had read about dieting and food at only 13 became twisted in my immature mind.  I kept thinking one macro was worse for you than the other purely based on what I had picked up from reading women’s magazines and online articles.  Information, or misinformation, can be a very dangerous thing in the hands of a child who is not equipped with the tools to question and challenge.  During that time period there were days, even weeks where nothing but black coffee and diet coke passed my lips.  To this day I don’t remember much of what happened during those couple of months.  The extreme restriction lasted until the end of the school year when it essentially became unsustainable.  During this entire time period, and come to think of it many of the years before, I was extremely depressed.  In the summer that followed grade 9 I became a recluse.  I rarely left the house because I hated myself so much.  I began binge eating in an attempt to lessen what I was feeling, gaining much of the weight I had lost back.  When it came time to return to school in the fall I was afraid to go back.  I thought that the friends I had made wouldn’t like me any more because of how  I looked, and my depression worsened.  Throughout 10th grade my feelings of attending the current school (an out of area school that required me to take public transit) became more and more unappealing.  I had trouble getting out of bed to get ready and take the bus to school everyday. My diet was awful, resorting back to heavily refined and processed foods, and I stayed inside most of the time getting little to no exercise.  I eventually made the decision to transfer to my home high school in hopes of that helping me with my depressive feelings.  In the summer before grade 11 I started to try and eat healthy and exercise at a healthy rate.  I joined a gym and began to work out 3-4 times a week.  I was starting to feel better until I began attending school.  Starting over at a new school with new people was emotionally stressing and very difficult for me.  I tried to do what I could to fit in, but I never felt like I did.  I became severely depressed in the spring of that year, and eventually dropped out.  During this time I began to have thoughts of hurting myself, and I told my parents.  My dad took me to the hospital and explained to the staff what was happening.  When I sat down with a social worker I explained how I felt, but told them that I never planned on following through with what I had said.  I lied.  I thought a lot about it.  I was never admitted, but my parents kept a close eye on me and checked in a lot.  In order for me to get back on track, my mum proposed returning to school in an alternative program.  I was very lucky to have an alternative high school less than 5 minutes from my house, and I finished up my high school degree there.


Graduating was a relief.  I thought I was moving on to bigger and better things.  I accepted an offer to attend university and left in the fall to stay in residence. I thought I would do okay.  I was wrong.  Entering university I wasn’t particularly heavy, but I wasn’t as thin as I wanted to be.  I once again began restricting my calories, losing a little bit of weight in a short time.  However, I was unable to maintain this restrictive diet.  My failure to refuse food began to manifest as failure in every other aspect of my life.  I thought that because I failed at this one “simple” task, that I was a failure as a student, daughter, and friend.  During one winter night in my second semester I stepped outside for a smoke (I know, I know.  Terrible, but when you have suffered from the severity of anxiety that I have you will do ANYTHING to try and make it stop.  I just wanted it all to stop!).  While outside standing on the sidewalk I was assaulted.  A man, who I did not know or even get a good look at, began to punch and kick me to the ground.  I screamed for help for what seemed like minutes, until finally 3 student in the nearby vicinity heard me.  As the approached us the man fled and they helped me get inside.  I was dazed and confused, and began to be surrounded by a group of people I did not no.  They attempted to comfort me as we waited for paramedics, but everything just became a blur.  When paramedics arrived they recommended I be hospitalized, because they feared I may have had a concussion.  I spent the night in the hospital with a roommate of mine who didn’t want me to be alone.  I am forever thankful to her for that kind act, as it was a comfort in a time where I felt anything but that.  In the days following, my family checked in on me and things continued on.  However, things could not continue on in the way that they had.  I had to deal with campus police on multiple occasions, which became increasingly upsetting.  They police I dealt with believed I knew the perpetrator and that I was protecting his identity because I knew him.  They thought he was a boyfriend or ex-boyfriend and that this was a domestic incident. It was not.  They belittled me, pressured me into confessing a lie, and forced me to relive the incident over and over again every time I dealt with them.  All of this occurred right around mid-terms, and as I expected I didn’t do so well.  My grades dropped drastically as I fell into a deeper depression.  All I wanted to do was go home. By this point I began binging and purging, as well as self harming.  I’d lie about the marks (as I have done up until today) saying they were from everything from cat scratches to falling in a thorn bush (a stretch, I know).


I didn’t return to school the following fall. I attempted to return for the winter semester, but did not succeed.  It was all too much.  I worked on and off for a while, still struggling with the eating disorders and depression. The summer after my Grandma passed away I began running again, but  I also began binging and purging again.  I would binge and purge up to 10 times a day.  Eating everything and anything, and then voiding it all from my body.  I would run for hours a day in fear that any food that remained from my binge would make me gain weight.  At this time I had a summer job which I later quit in hopes of getting better.  I still remember being at work one hot and humid day and calling my mum.  I broke down.  She urged me to get help, which I did.  I visited my doctor and explained what was happening.  She recommended a few programs to me as well as a change in my medication.  I have been on a variety of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications over the years, but nothing really worked.  I began seeing a councilor that helped for a while, but I plateaued.  I began to feel a little better, but then it stopped.  I thought to myself, is this as happy as I’ll ever be?  Fast forward to a couple months later when I entered a new relationship.  I was happy, or so I thought.  The initial joy of a new relationship is always exciting, but those feelings don’t always last.  Throughout the course of that relationship, and over the next few years, binging and purging reentered my life. My depression worsened.  This recipe does not contribute to a healthy relationship.  When it ended last February the months that followed were incredibly difficult.  I had lost a crutch that helped me up when I was at my worst.  Realizing this made me realize I need to be able to help myself.  I needed to be able to rely on my own strength and not the strength of others.  That April I began to exercise not to lose weight, but to be healthy.  I began running, doing yoga, and involving myself in group sports.  The healthy eating followed.  I found that by eating better I felt better.  I had more energy to do the things I loved, and it helped with my mood. Sure, I’ve had a few hiccups along the way, but instead of the entire train derailing, all it takes is a little tinkering to get me back up and running. 


Do I have a perfect relationship with food now? Absolutely not, but It’s better now than it has ever been.  It’s a relationship that will always be a work in progress. I still have the scars from when I didn’t think I was worth anything and deserved to feel pain.  They are a constant reminder of how far I’ve come, and how far I have left to go.  I no longer see myself as a failure.   I am in a relationship with a man that makes me so incredibly happy.  He is kind, patient, understanding, and so very giving.  I feel incredibly lucky to have him in my life.  He doesn’t make me whole, I do that myself.  He compliments me in all the best ways possible.  He provides me with an amazing support system.  I will be forever grateful for his forgiveness of my so-called flaws and the love he expresses to me. At this point in my life I am proud of myself.  So, why am I telling you this?  It has taken me a long time to get to this point.  Where I no longer see food as the enemy, but as a friend, and I want it to be a mutual relationship.  I want my food choices to be one of kindness, compassion, and one that champions progress.  I don’t want those years of sadness and hate to be reflected in my food choices.  I want to contribute as little as possible to a food climate that promotes the unnecessary suffering of animals, environmental degradation, and human rights violations.  To love myself I need to feel good in the choices I make.  I’m in no way attempting to sound preachy, and am I in no way going to be able to make the right choice 100% of the time.  I’m going to try my hardest to make the best effort to better myself and the planet.  I hope by documenting some the choices I make, and things I do and experience, I can inspire others to make the changes in their lives they’ve always wanted.  Whether that be learning new skills, travelling more, or simply trying to get out of bed an extra 10 minutes early every morning. Take some time to think about the things that make you happy, calm, or relaxed and strive to do a little more of it each day.  You’ll be glad you did!