Kids in the City – How Families are Hacking Highrise Living

One of the great things about having “gone condo”, is the wide mix of families that are coexisting in our building. I can remember living in the suburbs when our kids were small, convinced, as many families, that it would be really difficult to raise kids in an urban environment. Experience, and the families that surround us every day, have convinced me otherwise. As we travelreflecting pool Toronto Sign about, we see strollers, wagons, bikes, kids on their own two feet – just as we once did in the suburbs. Densification has made this such a hot topic, the City of Toronto even commissioned a study – called the Growing Up study.

It was really interesting to discover that it’s not just empty-nesters like me who have decided to take advantage of the convenience of condo life. I was especially enthusiastic to read in the report, about the parent who commented that they are able to give more time to their kids because they aren’t weighed down by a bunch of exterior maintenance on their home. There were lots of other interesting insights – if you like finding out how other people organize their lives, you’ll enjoy it also.

As climate change, expensive city homes, and other factors lead many of us to consider taking up only the space we need, rather than the space that advertisers, television shows, or social/peer pressures try to convince us to want, tall and tiny homes are becoming increasingly popular. Far from being a compromise or a sacrifice, we’ve found it to be a very freeing exercise – and our commitment to super-organized, minimalist, needs-not-wants living is the only thing that’s growing, while our footprint is most decidedly shrinking to “just-right”.



Love it when a plan comes together 

It’s great to see that holiday weight coming off – and three things are responsible: planning, effort, and patience. The planning part is twofold: meal plans, and scheduling daily exercise into the routine (and pushing that with extra weights and stretching). Those who know me already know that I am an avid walker, daily, but I may forget to include weights…but then I saw a photo of how great my arms looked a couple of years ago!

Meal planning is truly the centre of it all. It keeps me from buying what I don’t need, and I double-check for things that are key to health: calories, fibre, low sugar, low sodium. This no-salt vegetarian pea soup is a great example. Breakfasts are similar most days: smoothies, oatmeal, homemade granola, and sometimes eggs. Lunch? Leftovers, soup, or salad.

Here’s the dinner menu we’ve been eating this past week – the tofu is a new try from Vegetarian Times. It’s important to incorporate new choices that fit your new lifestyle, but wholesale swings to an unfamiliar diet are frequently a recipe for disaster. Take your time, and make good changes every day.

Bok Choy with Spicy Tofu Triangles

Lentil and mushroom vegan shepherd’s pie

Black bean, corn, and zucchini enchiladas

Mom’s burger casserole

Country captain chicken 

Cashew cream pad Thai

Miso glazed salmon and bok choy

We are not vegetarians, nor vegans, but we recognize that a plant-based diet is the way to better health, better use of the Earth’s resources, and it’s absolutely better for the animals. We have slowly migrated from one vegetarian day a week to alternate days, and planning four plant based dinners helps keep us on track.

While I have your attention, don’t forget that #BellLetsTalk day is this week – let’s be sure to make time for self care on the mental health front everyday also – and please reach out to someone today and let them know you’re there for them.

What changes have you made for better physical and mental health in 2017?  

Your Most Valuable Asset

What if someone gave you a fabulous new vehicle, that was capable of doing virtually anything you could imagine? Further, what if they told you that as long as you took good care of it, it would last for the rest of your life, and it would carry you anywhere you wanted to go?

Guess what – you’ve got it! It’s your own body. Take good care of it and it will carry you in style to the end of your days. I know there are exceptions, sometimes bodies let us down, through no fault of our own. Illnesses and conditions can make our physical performance less than optimal, compared to others. That’s the great thing, though. When it comes to your own human health and performance, you don’t need to measure up to anyone but you.

If you’re having trouble fitting fitness into your schedule, try working it in a little at a time. Make sure you make a commitment that you can keep. For me, for example, I know very well that if I plan to work out first thing in the morning, no matter how early, the odds are better that it will happen. If I try and leave it to the end of the day, life seems to have a way of intervening.

Other tips for making sure you give your fabulous vehicle the care and feeding it deserves?

  • Find a workout buddy who will keep you accountable
  • Start small – even parking at the end of the lot and walking to your office is better than no exercise at all
  • Don’t overdo – trying to compete with your younger self isn’t helpful and it may just set you up for an injury
  • Try different activities until you find one you like
  • Don’t invest in a pricey gym membership until you’re sure you’ll go – try as many “taster” classes as you can
  • Check out your local YM/YWCA or Community Centre – they’re great places to sample a wide variety of drop-in classes until you figure out the things that are fun
  • Try something you’ve never tried before, just once – who knows, you might like it!

Have fun, get fit, and here’s to your health. You’ll be grateful when you feel great every day.

Meal Plan – Week 2 – and A New Recipe Experiment

So here we are, week two. Some weeks there is more time to make a detailed meal plan, involving all three meals. Realistically, though, our breakfasts are similar – smoothie or oatmeal, sometimes granola, and the occasional egg dish. Lunches generally consist of a salad, some soup (made ahead and frozen or in the fridge), or leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. So we just made a list of dinners which we know by heart, or can easily find in a recipe book or favourite website.

Here’s the list:

Chili-stuffed squash

Mushroom and lentil cottage pie

Fish risotto

Lamb stew

Country captain chicken

Salmon patties

Homemade pizza

Once again we took stock of what was already in the house (the acorn squash needed to be used up from the holidays, although it will keep almost indefinitely in a cool place – and you might remember the veggie chili from a few days ago, leftover in the freezer). We needed some refreshing in the fridge – greens, salad stuff. We had used up the potatoes, and there was no lamb for the stew or fish for the risotto. Otherwise, most things were on hand.

We also tried this with squash recently, from one of our go-to sites, Cooking Light. It’s very searchable, by ingredient, name, or cooking method, and also, downloadable to apps like Paprika. We did make some adaptations to the recipe, since we hate dirtying extra dishes. First, we chopped the bacon, and put it on the parchment along with the squash rings. It was perfectly done at the same time as the rest of the recipe. Our rating? Delicious! (Also, since we don’t want to waste food, we baked all the leftover squash bits, sprayed with oil and sprinkled with chili powder, on a separate tray to be used in other recipes).

Thanks for visiting! Do you have meal planning challenges you wrestle with, or problems in using things you meant to make, but didn’t? I love to find novel ways to use up things that didn’t quite fit the plan.

Veggie Mushroom Chili, Step-by-Step

I love a traditional, spicy chili, slow-simmered. This is a vegan-friendly version, designed to simmer in the oven while you watch a movie, chase your kids around, or finish that report you need to get written. I hope you enjoy it. Since I get requests for recipes, I’ll walk you through it. You can most definitely adjust the proportions – this makes a large Dutch oven full, which is dinner, plus lunch, for two, and several more meals’ worth for the freezer, or just enough for a big crowd for dinner.

You’ll need:

Olive or canola oil (I am using canola these days because it is produced in Canada)

2 onions

2 cloves garlic

3 stalks celery

2 large carrots

1 green and 1 red bell pepper

1 jalapeno

2 cans or l large bowl of cooked beans, as you like (kidney are traditional, but we had chickpeas and black-eyed peas on hand)

2 cans diced tomatoes stewed without salt (large cans, 28oz.)

1 T/15ml each of chili powder, oregano, smoked paprika

1 chopped chipotle in adobo (or another jalapeno and a bit more smoky paprika)

1/4c/60ml red lentils (split peas will also work, but take longer to cook)

If you’re working alone, chop everything, then start. If you are working as a duo, chop the onions and garlic, and the other can stir and manage the cooking while one chops.

Heat the oil over medium heat. Turn the oven on to 350F

Add the onions and garlic:

Stir and sweat these until they start to get shiny, then add the celery:






You can use a machine to chop, but honestly, the time to chop each vegetable gives just about the right gap for the prior one to cook a little. Now for the carrots – these aren’t a traditional chili vegetable, perhaps, but they have the tremendous effect of adding a little sweetness to the chili, as do the onions as they sweat down more and more.


After the carrots, the peppers, the most tender of the vegetables, come last. Use any colour, but red and green give a great combination. Continue to cook until this mixture of vegetables (the “holy trinity plus” or a mirrepoix) have begun to soften nicely. Now you’re ready for the rest of the ingredients.

Tomatoes come first, then the beans. Stir everything well so you get a good mixture.

Canned beans are easy and fast, but they often have a lot of added salt, which most of us don’t need any more of in our modern diets. We get enough naturally. In the EAT section of this blog you can find a recipe to cook your own; they can also be prepared very nicely in a pressure cooker.

Adding a few red lentils will help it thicken and contribute to the meatier texture some people prefer. 








Bring this to a simmer over medium heat, then put it all in the oven uncovered for at least an hour. 


It will cook down and thicken considerably; you can let it carry on for as long as it takes until you are ready to serve. Sometimes we will make a batch of cornbread on the side, but it really didn’t need anything else. Enjoy!

I’m always grateful for the opportunity to cook together with friends or family and to have a warm, low-maintenance dinner at the ready. Freeze whatever you don’t need, and remember it’s always better on the second day.








Start Fresh! It’s a Whole New Year

Welcome to a whole new year! Of course every day is an opportunity for a fresh start and to revisit resolutions, but January 1 often sees folks making commitments to their health and wellness. I’ve talked about meal planning before, even including some tips and tools. The dark side of start-of-year diets and eating commitments is that they can be expensive, and involve a lot of foods you don’t necessarily know how to use up. Being in favour of a zero waste policy, I won’t tell you to throw out anything in your cupboard, but please don’t re-buy what you’re committed not to eat.

Ourselves we always have leftover holiday foods, and even in regular weeks there are meal plan days that didn’t happen, stuff that came in packages too large for the plan, things that looked intriguing but got forgotten in the cupboard. Once a month, or so, it’s worth taking stock of what you already hav, so you can figure out how to use it up as part of your plan, adjusting portions and how it’s used to account for your food goals. Cheesy lunch? Plan on a low fat dinner. Three kinds of lentils? Dal, curry or soup come to mind. We always have enough staples to stand up to a couple of weeks of emergency rations.

With that said, plan males shopping faster and more cost effective. This week’s purchases: carrots, peppers, celery, onions and a couple of sausages. The dinner plan looks like this – we will make according to what needs using the most:

Jamie Oliver Pie – the original has salmon but we will sub in some leftover turkey, as well as cabbage and carrot and onions for the leaks and courgettes

Veggie chili with mushrooms

Pumpkin chickpea curry with apples, raisins, and brown rice

Homemade mac and cheese with salad

Buffalo drumsticks with carrot sticks and blue cheese mashed potatoes

Split pea soup with homemade bread

Sausage with winter slaw

Wishing you a healthy and happy 2017 with enough – exactly what you need, no more, no less!