Guest Post: The 2 to 4% Rule

Today I actually also have a guest post from Matt, who has been an absolutely amazing positive influence on me in terms of new commitment to healthy living! While we’ve both taken steps to eat healthy and shed the pounds, he has really dedicated himself to exercising almost daily, and the results have been awesome! I’ll let him speak a bit about it himself:

With my wife now blogging, I might have caught a little bit of the writing bug myself.

So my wife has hypertension. When she first told me that her doctor said that her blood pressure was abnormally high, I really thought nothing of it. This is because I thought, “Hey, she’s a young gal—I’m sure this is just a blip on the radar, and it’ll go away later.” If you don’t know April, she is a worry wart at times, so I was just brushing it off as another case of her worrying over something that will go away quickly. Luckily, her doctor suggested that she go to a pharmacy another day to do another reading on her own in case her elevated blood pressure was due to her being anxious at the doctor’s office.  As you might have seen from her post, we know what happened. I was definitely worried.

Since then, we have changed the way we eat and the way we live, including more sleep, cleaner food, and exercising when we can. As you see from her posts, we have been eating better—not always cleaner, but the off days when she doesn’t post about food, it’s because we are eating our weekly “staple meals” to keep it healthy. I’m sure she will eventually post about some of the everyday meals we eat.

Being in shape for our honeymoon in Thailand

So we’ve booked our honeymoon this year, and we’re going to Asia!  While we’re there, we’re going to a wedding for one of the bridesmaids from our wedding.  It’s going to be in Phuket, Thailand, and I’m super excited to go! When we knew we were going to go for sure, I told April that I wanted to be in shape since we will be beach-bound when we in Phuket.  At first, I really wasn’t taking exercise seriously and to be honest, I wasn’t sure myself if I would be able to lose the weight. I’m not blessed with the “eat anything I want and not gain weight” gene, which is bad since I love food so much. Then one day while on Instagram, I saw a fitness post that has really given me the motivation to keep going. And now, with less than a month to go, I’m the lightest I’ve ever been since I can remember.

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Losing 15 lbs following the 2 to 4% Plan

HomeGym

So what’s my secret? Eat clean as much as possible, learn to portion control, get rest, and exercise. All of these are things that have been told to us all the time, but we never listen. But back to that Instagram post… If I told you that you just need 2 to 4% of the 24 hours you have each day and 3 to 5 days a week of exercise, would you do it? That’s been my motivation and what I’ve been trying to do each day, which has been working so far. The 2 to 4% I’m asking for is only half an hour to an hour of the 24 hours you have each day. I have no trainer, no gym membership. Everything I do is at home, and all I have are my running shoes and resistance tubes, so cost is not an issue. And all I’ve been doing is running 3 to 5 km, and then doing burpees, crunches, and resistance tube exercises to help work out most of my major muscles. I have been exercising this way since July 15 till now, and in 3 months, I have lost about 15 pounds—and that’s with me still drinking beer on the weekends! If you’re in a similar situation, just make the time to do the 2 to 4%, and don’t make any excuses! It really works if you willing to try.

As you can see, this has been working well for Matt, but we’re always open to hearing about new ideas, especially now that it’s getting cold and we’re not outside as much! If anyone has any other tips or stories to share, Matt and I would love to hear them!

Basketball + Greek Yogurt Smoothie Bars

The two statements I’m about to make are completely different, but both make me happy:

  1. A new NBA season is starting today… YAY!
  2. President’s Choice Blue Menu Greek Yogurt & Yogurt Smoothie bars are AMAZING!

As you can see, today’s post is going to be a bit random…

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My Mom’s Battle with Breast Cancer and My Fight for the Cause

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so I didn’t want to see the month end without a post on this topic. My parents play a huge part in filling my “happy jar,” so I wanted to take some time to write a blog post about my mom, a breast cancer survivor, and why I fight for the cause. Many of those who know me have heard variations of this story because I write about the cause every year on Facebook, but I couldn’t go without making it a part of Our Happy Jar.

Out of the many things I’ve experienced in the 29 years of my life, my mom’s battle with breast cancer is one event that still tugs at my heart strings to this day. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at the beginning of my last year of university in 2005. My mom was back home in Hong Kong, and I was in Canada for school. She and my dad made the difficult choice not to tell me because they knew I would be too worried. When I did find out, it was after she had undergone a mastectomy. She called me from the hospital after the surgery.

At the time, Matt and I had just started dating long distance (he was in Toronto and I was in my 4th year at Western in London, ON), but he happened to be visiting that weekend. This is something that I will forever be grateful for because it meant that I was not alone to hear my mom’s news. Something I will forever feel guilty about is not being able to be there for my mom in the days, weeks, and months that followed. I was working part time while at university, but certainly not enough to afford a flight back to Hong Kong, and my parents—who always put me first and didn’t want me to drop everything in 4th year for her illness—weren’t going to fund that trip back. One of my biggest regrets was not trying harder to be there physically for any phase of her battle with cancer.

My mom fought the cancer like a champ and survived that battle. And because of that, she’s been able to celebrate many happy milestones in life, including her 60th birthday, her and my dad’s 30th wedding anniversary, and my wedding. Battling the illness and the journey to recovery took incredible strength and courage, and for that reason, my mom and the many cancer fighters and survivors out there are truly an inspiration to me.

family

One of my fave family photos by Tom Wang Photography

Here’s Hoping…

Because of my mom and because we’ve had too many family members and close friends directly and indirectly affected by cancer, Matt and I are big supporters of cancer-related charities. While we aren’t able to take any huge steps for the cause, over the years, we’ve tried to do our part by participating in and volunteering for events, as well as through donations and fundraising. This past year, we got the chance to volunteer for the Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, which is a truly special event.

At Relay for Life, Matt and I were working in the luminary tent. On the luminaries, participants and volunteers got to write messages to survivors of cancer and to loved ones who fought hard but lost the battle to cancer. The luminaries were then placed around the track and lit up after dark. We helped set up and light the luminaries, but also ended up being two of the few people who were asked to light a display of luminaries spelling out the letters H-O-P-E. I’ve participated in other charity events, but I’ll never forget how I felt that night, with all the luminaries and the word HOPE lit up. Everyone came together for one cause and because of their love for the special people in their lives, and I was part of that.

RelayforLife

Unfortunately, somewhere down the road, cancer will likely rear its ugly face in my life again (it has affected others in my life before, and it has continued to a number of times since my mom’s own battle with cancer). It fills me with dread and sadness, but I know it’s part of life as we currently know it. What I’m hoping is that there will be a day where we can say bye-bye to cancer forever. Until then, I’ll continue to remember the loved ones I’ve lost to cancer, cherish every moment with those who beat it, and join the many others in the fight so that we never have to see it happen again.

I know I’m not the only one with a story, so I’m sending out much love and positive vibes to all of you! xo

Where We Ate: JaBistro (Toronto)

After brunch at Fresh last week, my friend A and I made a date for dinner this week, this time for JaBistro. The restaurant, which was opened by the same person who brought Guu—one of Matt’s and my faves—to Toronto, is a bit on the pricey side but is positively reviewed, so we decided to give it a go.

We agonized over whether we wanted to try the tasting menu, but decided that it would probably be too much food, so we ended going with the à la carte menu. It was a good choice, because we were pretty stuffed at the end!

What We Ate

My photos from this meal are pretty horrible (and I’m not exactly great at taking photos in general), which was made worse by the poor lighting! (Toronto Life has some much nicer photos if you’re interested!)

JaBistro

  • Sashimi Sampler: To be honest, I can’t remember what kinds of sashimi there were because there too many items that the server listed all at once! Everything was really fresh, and I liked the housemade soy sauce, which was more sweet than salty, which is ideal as part of my reduced sodium intake.
  • Aburi: 7 pieces of sushi that were blowtorched, which apparently helps seal the flavor; again, I didn’t catch everything that was on there (sorry, I know that’s terrible, but it proves that I’ll eat anything!), but I know there was sweet shrimp, mackerel, salmon belly. This is a must if you go, and I’d order just the blowtorched sushi next time!
  • JaBistroll: This is the house special, which has uni, crab, salmon, and cucumber in it and was covered with tobiko. It was also blowtorched, which gave it a nice flavor.

Overall, it was a good meal, especially the blowtorched sushi, so it’s on the list of “I’d go again” places. We’ve had a lot of good sushi/sashimi in Toronto though (Sushi Kaji, Aoyama Sushi, among others), so JaBistro has some stiff competition. I might have to go try some of the other restaurants on my list before circling back!

JaBistro on Urbanspoon

Where We Ate: Fresh on Spadina (Toronto)

My close friend A loves trying new restaurants as much as I do, so when she suggested Fresh, I was keen to try. We don’t go out for vegetarian much, and what’s not to love about food that’s healthy and made from fresh, natural ingredients?

Fresh on Spadina is one of 4 locations around the city, and it was understandably busy at lunchtime on a Saturday. Fortunately, the others waiting were part of larger parties, so we didn’t have to wait long! There were a bunch of items we wanted to try on the menu, but we’re suckers for brunch, so we ordered from the brunch menu.

What We Ate

Fresh

  • We shared the quinoa onion rings (not on the brunch menu), which A highly recommended. They were delish!!
  • I have been craving pancakes for the longest time—which is weird because I usually prefer savory brunch items—so I had the pancake platter, which had 2 gluten-free pancakes (I chose banana nut) with dark maple syrup, scrambled tofu, and grilled vegan sausage.
  • My friend A decided to try the tempeh florentine, which had an a whole-grain English muffin topped with tempeh bacon (tempeh is a soy-based product), grilled spinach, and vegan hollandaise, along with a side of sweet corn chowder.

As you can see, the portions were huge, so we were stuffed! Everything was really yummy. I’m not a vegetarian or vegan, but I believe that vegetarian/vegan food can be delicious, and this is another restaurant that proved it. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!

Fresh By Juice For Life on Urbanspoon

Baked Lime & Basil Fish with Roasted Balsamic Brussels Sprouts

Matt and I usually plan out our weekday meals when we do our grocery shopping, but we often decide on the flavoring of those dishes on the fly (especially because we’re finally building enough of a stock of spices and herbs to do that!). Last night, we decided to bake fish in parchment paper (en papillote)—an easy, healthy method that I’ve relied on for years now—with lime and basil. I also happen to love Brussels sprouts (my mom and I used to have them all the time), so we roasted some with a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

limebasilfish

Baked Lime & Basil Fish

  • 2 fillets of fish
  • Basil (chopped)
  • 1 lime (sliced)
  • 3/4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • Dash of unsalted garlic and onion powder

Directions:

  1. Brush melted butter over fillets and season with garlic and onion powder.
  2. Cover fillets with chopped basil and lime slices.
  3. Create a parchment paper packet (see link mentioned above).
  4. Bake in oven at 450°F for 20 minutes (this may vary depending on the size and type of fish).

Roasted Balsamic Brussels Sprouts

  • 2 to 3 cups of Brussels sprouts (cut into halves)
  • 1 tbsp of balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Lay the halved Brussels sprouts on a baking pan (I usually also use a sheet of foil or parchment paper).
  2. Season the sprouts with salt and pepper and drizzle with Balsamic vinegar and olive oil; gently toss to coat.
  3. Bake in oven at 450°F for 20 minutes (this varies between roasted Brussels sprout recipes, but we chose to do this to time it with the baking of our fish).

Where We Ate: The Pie Plate Bakery & Cafe (Niagara-on-the-Lake)

I plan to blog about some of Matt’s and my favorite restaurants in Toronto, but today I came across some photos taken during a road trip this past summer, so I thought I’d start with The Pie Plate Bakery & Café. Despite the title of my post, it’s technically located just outside of the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake in Virgil, Ontario, which is about 1.5 to 2 hours away from Toronto.

pieplate1

I first came across The Pie Plate when planning a trip to NOTL with my parents in July. I’m all about word-of-mouth, so I often scour the web for blogs or articles, along with reviews from Yelp, Urbanspoon, and Trip Advisor. I read a lot of positive things about this place, so we planned a trip there. I’m still kicking myself for not checking (because my mom and dad would have LOVED this place), but they were closed the day we went (NOTE: they are closed on Mondays!).

We did finally get to go in August, when Matt and I made an impromptu winery trip with our close friends T and W (who took almost all the photos that I’m using for this blog post), and The Pie Plate definitely lived up to its positive reviews! It’s a cute little place with baked goods, thin-crust pizzas, and sandwiches.

The Pizza:

pieplate2 pieplate3

The four of us shared the seasonal pizza (I can’t remember exactly, but I think it had peaches, spinach, prosciutto, and goat cheese) and the my kaptain (tomato sauce, mozzarella, spicy Italian sausage, and roasted red peppers)—both were delicious! It’s a couple of hours away from Toronto, but I would gladly make a trip there just for the pizza alone!

The Pies & Tarts:

pieplate4  pieplate5

For dessert, we had the mini lemon meringue pie and butter tarts. They were really good, but my personal favorite was the mini peach pie that we brought home. We didn’t know it was the Peach Festival that weekend (so by chance, we got to experience some of the events going on in town), but it meant that peaches were in season, which we could definitely taste in the pie.

The overall verdict? We’ll definitely be visiting again. We love the Niagara wineries, and now we love The Pie Plate too!

The Pie Plate Bakery & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Fine Dine-In Fridays: Butternut Squash Soup with Cajun Shrimp Crostinis

Okay, so this isn’t as fine dining-y as the lobster risotto, but comfort foods can be just as amazing if done right! To me, fall is perfect for things like root vegetables, pumpkin, and squash, so today seemed like a good time to whip up a batch of our tried-and-true butternut squash soup and Cajun shrimp crostinis. It was also a chance to test out the newest addition to our kitchen (more about that at the bottom of this post)!

squash

Soup Ingredients

  • 1 onion (chopped)
  • 1 butternut squash (cubed)
  • Cloves of garlic (minced)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Chicken or vegetable broth*
  • Butter*
  • Salt and pepper to taste

*I personally think that the butter and broth can be added according to your own preference. More butter obviously gives it a nice flavor, but we only added a little this time to keep it healthier. Similarly, the broth should be enough to cover the cubes of squash, but how much you put in depends on how thick you want the soup to be!

Directions

  1. In a pot, cook the onion, garlic, butter, and squash in the olive oil over low heat.
  2. Once they have softened, add in the broth. Bring the mixture to a boil and let it simmer while covered until the butternut squash is tender.
  3. Pour the contents into a blender and purée until smooth (unless you like your soup a little chunky!)
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Cajun Shrimp Ingredients

  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 lime or lemon
  • Peeled raw tiger shrimp (as many pieces as you’d like!)

Directions

  1. In a bowl, marinate the shrimp with all the other ingredients.
  2. Pan-fry the shrimp in a nonstick pan or skillet over high heat until done.

The rest of the crostinis were made using a recipe similar to this one I posted earlier, only with low-sodium mozzarella and larger sweet cocktail tomatoes instead of grape/cherry tomatoes.

From Magic Bullet to Vitamix? Almost…

My blender story is a bit of a complicated one (well, as complicated as kitchen appliance shopping can get… actually there’s a weird story behind how we got our BBQ too, but maybe another day!), but things worked out in the end. For those of you in the market for a new blender or who care to hear about the whole ordeal, read on!

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Where We Ate: Chi-Town Edition!

This past weekend, Matt and I made a road trip to attend a family wedding in Chicago, which I can honestly say is one of our favourite cities to visit. Our first time there was last year, and we absolutely loved it! The architecture is amazing (the Chicago Architecture Foundation‘s boat tour of the Chicago River is a MUST), and there is so much good food! Because we did all the touristy stuff last year, this trip was just about hanging out and getting some good eats.

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Where We Ate: The Highlights

For those of you who’ve read this post, this was definitely a “food splurge” type of weekend. I did have my BP monitor with me during this trip, and we’ve been back to eating healthier meals this week!

Chicago Eats

Au Cheval

We finally made it this time! We were a bit tired when we got there because it was a long wait (after a half day at work and an 8+ hour drive to Chicago), but it was definitely worth it! We sat at the bar where we could see the three chefs in action, which was a lot of fun. The food was divine—for those of you from TO, it’s Black Hoof-esque, but more comfort food—and our server was really friendly. She recommended a few places for us to try, including GT Fish & Oyster (see below), which was awesome!

Au Cheval on Urbanspoon

GT Fish & Oyster

Seafood for brunch is amazing! We had the smoked whitefish quiche, crab benedict, and biscuits & lobster gravy. That sounds really heavy, but the dishes were surprisingly light, and there were plenty of veggies. I also loved the décor inside the restaurant! We got to dine on the little patio… happiness.
GT Fish & Oyster on Urbanspoon

La Madia

Chicago is known for its deep-dish pizza, which is pretty great, but this time, we decided to try thin-crust pizza. Based on one of the recommendations on the bride and groom, we hit up a restaurant near our hotel. The cracked organic egg pizza was really yummy!

La Madia on Urbanspoon

Publican Quality Meats

We headed back to the meat packing district for our final meal in Chicago, and Publican Quality Meats did not disappoint! It’s really homey and cozy inside—I loved the big communal tables and the cute place settings. I’d definitely recommend the charcuterie plate, and their sandwiches were really good (Matt’s PQM’S Combo Beef was pretty amazing)! The servers were also all really nice… Chicago is a friendly city!

Publican Quality Meats on Urbanspoon

Glazed & Infused

I’m not usually a huge fan of donuts because I find them too sweet (I’m really boring, and I like the plain donuts—no sprinkles, no icing, no glaze—at Tims), but I do occasionally enjoy them, and the one we had at Glazed & Infused was actually very good. Who can say no to crunchy PB&J?

Glazed & Infused on Urbanspoon

While I miss Chicago already, it’s nice to be back home, and tomorrow, we’ve scheduled a Fine-Dining (In) Friday! Matt and I are going to break out the newest addition to our kitchen, which we purchased in Chicago. So exciting! More about that tomorrow 🙂

Mini DIY Project: Creating Artwork Using Free Printables

While our home doesn’t exactly look like it could be featured in a home décor magazine, we have been adding little touches to make it our own unique little space. Because we’re decorating on a budget, I wish I was as crafty as many of the talented DIYers out there, but I have tackled some mini projects.

One of my more recent endeavors is to create artwork for our home. During the wedding planning process, I was introduced to the world of free printables, which came in handy for wedding, but has also proven useful now!

Wedding Chicks has an extensive collection of customizable DIY printables on their website, which I used to create this heart-shaped wreath monogram:

Heart Monogram

I also saw these adorable kitchen printables (from Over the Big Moon), which I loved because it’s in keeping with my current efforts to roll with the punches. I used Photoshop to change up the colors, printed and framed the images, and got Matt to put them up in our kitchen:

Kitchen Printables

Finally, I printed and framed the image below from a set of spring printables posted on the Paper Coterie blog. It currently resides in the 2nd floor guest bathroom because A) positive words are suitable anywhere and B) amazing things do happen in there (Matt calls the toilet in there “the throne”).

Amazing Things

Furniture-Related DIY Projects: Too Ambitious?

These were fairly straightforward, but I’m going to test the waters to see if I can up my DIY game a little more. We went through a phase where we liked the modern look of black-brown furniture (which still exist in our bedroom), but since we moved into our new home last year, most pieces in the living/dining room have been replaced with white, grey, and pale yellow items for a lighter, airier look.

The last man standing is our black-brown IKEA sideboard, which I bought off of a guy on Kijiji a couple years back. The only minor cosmetic change we made at the time was changing up the hardware, but I’m now exploring the idea of painting it white. I’m going to do my research to see if it’s even worth my time/money, but if there is a somewhat easy way to do it, I’m going to unleash my inner DIYer and drag Matt down that path with me… wish us luck!