Surviving winter

I was not made for winter. My skin is dry. My hair is dry. It’s cold. My olive complexion comes across a sickly shade of green without a tan.

I was made for sunny Sicily where windchill does not exist, nor does snow. Where it’s so hot in August that everyone just takes the month off. Where 15 degrees feels “cold.”

But alas, my parents and their families decided to immigrate here because, #opportunities. And every winter since I’ve reached adulthood, I have said “this is the last mother-effing winter I spend here.”

This year I was oh-so-close to the dream, but yet, here I remain. Next year, though, next year will be the year.

Anyway, here’s how I manage.

Coffee & sugar

coffee, sugar, tim hortons, donut

Sugar — whether you choose it in the natural form of fruits, the processed stuff turned into ooey-gooey cinnamon buns and such, as several bottles of wine or cocktails, or you just snort it straight up — #nojudgement. I like to start my day with a coffee and a sugar kick, otherwise I might just not get up at all. If someone tells you not to eat sugar, tell them to go to hell. You don’t need that negativity in your life.

Pampering

In the summer, I only use coconut oil to moisturize. In the winter, it’s not  always enough. If my skin is especially dry, I’ll use a baby cream from Terra 20 called Super Smoothie Cream. I also love Burt’s Bees peppermint lip balm, which I will put on everything — lips, eye lids, under eyes, elbows, knuckles, etc.

For hair, the usual coconut oil mask, I have found, is also not potent enough in the winter so I’ll throw in an avocado and essential oil.

I try to wash my hair once a week, max, and never use too much soap. Coconut oil is a natural cleanser, so if you’re using it on your skin, don’t worry too much about soap.

But I do take lots of detox baths. My favourite recipe: 1/4 cup of baking soda, 1/2 cup of Epsom salts, 10-20 drops essential oil. Soak for 30 min.

Exercise

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Oh I know it seems nearly impossible to leave your home when it’s dark and cold out. But read the above. And read it again.

I am only sane because of exercise. The sweat, the endorphins, the community of people — it cures the winter blues.

Can’t quite commit to hardcore workouts? Try hot yoga. There are enough studios in the city offering affordable intro month rates that you could make it all the way through winter stretching, bending, and unwinding in a much more pleasurable temperature for only about $40 a month (Pure Yoga – $40, Modern Body – $50 but includes mat and towel service).

Giving no fucks about wearing the same outfit errday

Normcore everyday, every way.

Netflix & chill

carrie fisher, when harry met sally, netflix and chill

Do not fight this urge. We were made to hibernate. Embrace it. Cuddle up on your own or with someone to share body heat. Marathon watch The Office. Don’t feel guilty. Grab your chocolate and bunker down because the Canadian winter is a long, cruel one.

My favourite fried food (sweets) in Ottawa

Happy Fried-day! Here’s a list of my favourite deep fried dough and sugary treats to make your weekend a little sweeter.

donut, fried, sugar

The BEST donut in Ottawa – the Kowloon Market fried sugar bun
This is a secret I’ve kept near and dear to my heart for a long while because, and if there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s this: I don’t like sharing food.

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Kowloon Market

I digress, we all know I love Suzy Q, but in my opinion, the actual best donut in Ottawa is from the Kowloon Market. The market itself has cheap produce and lots of interesting things you might not think to get there. For my healthy bakers, you can find millet, arrowroot, coconut flour, and other goodies for less than at  Loblaws. There are also great snacks like dried beans, fruits, and seaweed.

In the back of the store (which is totally ethnic — you will be hard-pressed to find someone who speaks English) you will find a bakery. There are many delicious treats to salivate over, but the ultimate is the fried sugar bun. It’s about $1 per donut (and half off at the end of the day), they are huge, and the dough is unreal. It is the perfect, simple donut. No frill, just fried dough and sugar. They remind me of the donuts from Italy and it’s like biting into a delicious cushion.

beavertails
Photo from Trip Advisor

Cinnamon & sugar Beavertail
When asked what cuisine is unique to Canada, I always start with the Beavertail (followed by poutine and maple syrup – healthy eaters over here). Invented in Ottawa and the only reason I strap on a pair of skates to go down the Canal, it is one of the greatest parts of the Canadian winter. Yes, you can get a Beavertail anytime of year in the ByWard Market, but in the winter after you’ve burned some calories, made it to the first Beavertail stand, and, when have that hot little piece of dough in your mitted hands — there’s really nothing like that first bite of fried sugar. Until you get about halfway through and the texture changes because it’s so cold out. It’s no longer soft, but a bit crunchy, adding a new, equally tasty element. There are a lot of topping options, but I like to keep it simple: cinnamon and sugar.

churro

La Cocina Loca’s churros
Come for the mains but stay — and save room for — dessert. The tacos are delicious and almost all gluten free (the shells are made traditionally: soft, with corn flour), with generally healthy toppings (my fave is the vegetarian), so you can feel guilt-free when  it comes to their sweet endings. The. churros. are. un. real. The first ever churros I had were from El Camino and I didn’t love them (although I do love their tacos). I tried again a year or two later from a food truck and still, there was no love connection. Fast forward to dining with a friend at La Cocina who forced me to get churros at the end, even though I was full (and did not save room because at this point I thought I just didn’t like churros). There are two fat churros served with some sort of fruit coulis (which I didn’t touch much, I don’t like fruit in my dessert). I was only going to eat half of one. Then one. Then I ate both. They are literally so good. Honestly, you can even just go for the churros. You won’t be disappointed.

suzy q, donut

My girl, Suzy Q
What would this list be if it did not include Suzy Q?  And what would I be without Suzy Q? I could write a two-page love letter to this beautiful Dutch woman. When she first started selling her donuts at farmer’s markets, she had three flavours: maple bacon, sugar munki, and raspberry coulis (if my memory serves me). When she got her own little spot in Hintonburg, I became a regular and was quickly known among my friends for bringing her deep fried dough along to dinner parties (probably why I was so often invited out). Kowloon might have the best donut for a donut’s true sake, but Suzy has mastered toppings. My personal faves are Wundercrunch (peanut butter crunch), Pumpkin blondie, and Sugar Munki if it’s fresh out of the oven.

tim hortons, honey dip, donut
Photo from FoodSpotting.com

Tim Horton’s honey dip
 Ever since their introduction of the dark roast, I’ve been a bit more loyal to the Canadian staple. But it wasn’t always the coffee that kept me coming back.

As you grow, there’s a sort of graduation that happens with your food choices. As a child, you choose the most colourful, such as the Super Kid ice cream, with it’s red, yellow, and blue and the sprinkle donut at Tim’s. But as an adult, you’re not swayed by the myriad of food dyes — you go straight for what you want. In ice cream, that’s gotta be peanut butter or cookie dough. In donuts, it’s the honey dip.

It’s simple, fluffy, melty, and sweet. It’s only about 200 calories (the lightest of everything on this list), and it’s available within a five kilometre radius of basically anywhere you may stand in Ottawa.

Healthy mostly but donuts often

My motto — and I’m nothing if not true to my word. But lately it’s been more like “healthy at breakfast, donuts, chocolate, and popcorn the rest of the day.”

Yesterday, January 17, was the day that most resolutions are abandoned, statistically. Luckily I didn’t make one this year so I’m not disappointing myself. BUT, I think now that the day of resolve-abandonment is out of the way, it might be a good time to reassess the definitions of “mostly” and “often.”

I’m still not going to give up sugar. Not now, not ever. Not if the world ends. Sugar used to be symbol of wealth and royalty and I’d like to think that still holds true today.

In a previous post I’ve discussed my love of sugar. After that, my younger cousin convinced me to give up sugar for a week. Yes, for health reasons, but mostly to earn a cheat meal — a sugar-filled free-for-all. She convinced me to eschew all my favourite treats, chocolates, and pastries for seven days with the promise of endless brownies, Cinnabon, gummies, and M&M’s.

It seemed like a fair trade-off, so I did it. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t my favourite thing. I kept playing that scene from The Shining in my head: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” But it was more like “All clean foods and no sugar makes Nica sad.”

The night finally came and it was a thing of dreams. I caught up on my advent calendar chocolates, ate the cookie that had been brought to class for me, the fudge from Cora’s. Then the Cinnabon rolls that had me salivating on the ride over to her place. Popcorn, Cheetos, gummies — everything. It was so nice — until it wasn’t. I felt like death afterwards. And while I slept. And most of the next day.

“I’m never eating sugar again, EVER.” I said in a manner similar to someone promising to never drink again after an especially rough night. I was in full food-hangover mode.

“Eating more than you normally would in one sitting can result in a food hangover … To help you digest that large load, your body diverts blood away from your brain, lungs, and heart to your GI tract, which causes fatigue and brain fog.” (Read the rest of this article over at Shape.com)

There’s something to the calorie-boost, though. Even though I felt like death for a full 24 hours, I remember two days after the cheat meal I had an energy like never before. My RPMs were the highest I’d ever seen them go on the bike and I found hill climbs a breeze.

Fast-forward back to today: giving up sugar is not the answer, but maybe less of it than lately. I am going to shift my focus back to getting enough protein, veggies, and healthy carbs, and away from where my next square of chocolate is coming from. Instead of having mini chocolate bars before class, I’ll have my added-sugar-free (also vegan and gluten-free) date truffles (recipe below). I’ll save donuts for dinner parties with friends rather than afternoon boredom at the studio. Life’s about balance. But I have one mini Cinnabon left waiting in the freezer for a special occasion.

Date truffles (makes 12)

6 large dates (the package from Costco is my fave)
2 tablespoons natural peanut butter
1 square 100% baking chocolate
1/2 tsp each chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, & psyllium husk fibre (all these things are optional, but they add a nice crisp-crunch)
unsweetened shredded coconut for topping

  1. Cut the dates in half width-wise, remove the pit, stand the dates so the cut side is up, creating a little cup
  2. Microwave the peanut butter and chocolate in a bowl until melted and stir until combined
  3. Add seeds and fibre and stir
  4. Carefully pour into the date cups and top with shredded coconut
  5. Refrigerate for about an hour
  6. Mangia!

health, sugar, dates, lose weight with sugar

Ottawa bucket list, part 1 – Toronto & free cookies

It’s no secret that I’m going abroad for a year, exact date to be determined, but looking at end of March.

Naturally I needed to make an Ottawa bucket list to try and accomplish the most Canadian and most fun things our fair city has to offer.

Leaving also means some pretty hard goodbyes are in my near future, some nearer than I’d like. A few of the closest people in my life live in Toronto and because of dog-sitting duties in February and the almost certain fact that I’ll have a million and thirteen things to do in March, that left January to make my first round of arrivadercis. This lead to two bucket list checkmarks:

1) One more trip to Toronto, obviously
2) Flying Porter and eating the free cookies

All I ever heard about when it came to trans-Canada travel is how amazing Porter is. The service.  The private lounge. The uniforms the flight attendants wear (made by Joe Mimran of Joe fresh I think? Or his wife? I’m too lazy to confirm this detail and also in flight so can’t internet). The cookies.

Being someone that maybe took too many liberties in my early-20’s and would rather spend any spare dollars on food, I usually took the Greyhound to Toronto. I don’t necessarily hate it, but I definitely don’t love it. Does anyone? Someone had their head cut off on a Greyhound.

A month or so back when Airmiles announced that everyone’s points would be expiring (which has since been changed if you haven’t heard) I checked to see how many I had, thinking I’d spend them on some useless appliance that I’d have on the counter for a few days before storing it in the deepest, darkest part of my parents’ basement. To my pleasant surprise, the last nine years of collecting had paid off and I had enough miles to get me to Toronto. And not just on a regular flight, but a Porter flight.

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So today I got to start my morning leading a spin class with some of my most favourite people in the world and now here I am, sitting in my window seat (with no one next to me!), staring down at our snowy landscape, with a full belly of cookies, enjoying some light turbulence. And the well-dressed flight attendants are passing out apple chips and OJ. The only bad thing to happen was security making me throw out my dry shampoo.

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I have four days in Toronto with a somewhat full itinerary: trying out the new Pure Yoga, taking a spin class at Spokehaus, eating sweet potato fries at Fresh, and skating in front of the Toronto sign, to name a few.

Have a fabulous weekend everyone! I certainly will ~

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Really needed that dry shampoo

☕🍫🍩❤🍕🍷🍷🍷🏍

A short read on sugar

My dad came home with six full-size chocolate bars Sunday. I was elated. My mom, not-so-much.

“Why would you bring these in the house?” she asked.

“Was there a sale?” I asked.

“It’s a will-power test.” My dad said.

“So, is there a sale?”

“If they weren’t in the house, you’d be looking for them, so now that they are in the house, let’s see what happens,” he philosophized.

“Are. There. Full. Size. Chocolate. Bars. On. Sale.”

“Ya, three for something.”

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of sugar. I’ve long theorized that I’m biologically programmed to crave it for breakfast because that’s just how they do in Italy. Normally after my morning shot of sweetness, I’m good to go for the day and happily eat cottage cheese, greens, eggs, and all the other things that are deemed “healthy.”

However, for the last two weeks the cravings have been non-stop. I’ve found myself in bed with chocolate on several occasions, I’ve gone for donuts in the middle of the afternoon, and I’ve forgone dinner for cake.

Yes, I’ve seen Fed Up.  I know sugar is “bad” for you.

Worried I was growing a dependency, I decided I’d give up all added sugars for one week to clear out my system. I was tired all day. By 4 p.m. I was elbow deep in a bowl of M&Ms and sour watermelon gummies.

Maybe it’s a dependency, but maybe (and the theory I choose to believe) it’s winter. It’s dark all the time. It’s cold all the time. My skin is dry. I am not made for this weather.

So, yes, I could stop eating sugar and maybe I would bounce back eventually, but I choose sugar. Last week, when I chose an afternoon donut instead of my cottage cheese and apple — I can’t remember the last time something felt so right. And can something that feels so right, be wrong?

The point is, be kind to yourself this winter season. Where else in the world does the body have to get used to 30 degree weather in the summer and then, just a few months later, get used to weather that is 60 degrees cooler? Don’t go bat shit crazy, but don’t be a tight ass. Eat the donut.

Note: before you crucify me for being one to endorse an unhealthy diet, I eat whole foods 80 per cent of the time. I read nutrition labels, I ensure I am getting adequate protein and fibre, and maintain a healthy balance of fruits, veggies, grains, and meat/alternatives. I like sugar where sugar belongs (in donuts and Palm Bays), not added to my salad dressings, meat, cheese, bread, fruit etc.  

suzy q, donuts, palm bay
Ready to raaaaaaagae

Naughty & nice alternative advent calendars

Two years ago I waited too long to get my advent calendar. By the end of November I could not find a single decent one, only the kind that  you can find at the Dollar Store made with mocklate rather than chocolate.

Last year, I was ready. First week of November I was walking out of Shoppers $40 lighter, carrying four Kinder advent calendars to be gifted. But come December 1, my mom calls to tell me she’s just picked up an advent calendar for me, my then-boyfriend, and herself because they were on sale that day for 99 cents each.

This year, I give up. I refuse to become prisoner to the commercial hell that is advent calendar stress. And you should too. Take chance out of the equation and put matters into your own hands. Here are two ways you can do that.

Naughty 
There’s only one time it’s legitimately acceptable to be intentionally naughty past a certain age, and that’s when dealing with your SO.  Treat him to something else sweet this year; send him a dirty pic a day or 24 shots of you in lingerie. And guys shouldn’t shy away from this one – come up with something cheeky to try every evening, get a nifty gifty for the bedroom. And I think both parties would be happy with a PG13 massage, amirite?

Nice 
Not that naughty isn’t also nice, but for the real deal think of 24 gestures. Wake up early to shovel the driveway. Pop out for their morning coffee. Have dinner prepared when they get home. Those sorts of things. Save yourself some trouble and think them all up ahead of time so you can prepare accordingly.  And don’t be afraid to throw in a few material things – things can be great. A tube of their favourite lipstick, a can of their favourite beer, and chocolate. Chocolate is always nice.

How to make running not awful

I wouldn’t call myself a runner by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve never loved running, although I used to think I did, or at least that I should. I’ve played soccer since the age of eight and I can run a 10k without training. I did two half marathons just because I thought I was a runner, but after the second one, I realized I was living a lie.

I didn’t run for a long while after that. Then, this past summer on the day of Hope Volleyball, one of my teammates asked me if I wanted to run to Mooney’s Bay. It was only five kilometres so I knew I could do it, but I wasn’t happy about it.

So we ran and it actually felt great. Literally shocking.  But my hips were sore for DAYS.

After I recovered, I started running small bursts just for an extra calorie burn. Three to five kilometres at a time, that’s all. I found I enjoyed it. No pressure to go any further or faster than I wanted.

Then I started incorporating errands into my runs, which put me around 5 to 7k. And that led to my first running accessory – and wouldn’t you know that accessories make everything, even running, that much more fun? I still refuse to be caught dead in those weird water bottle holders or running skirts, though (#sorrynotsorry). Here are some of my faves:

My MEC backpack

backpackI love this thing. It’s simple and comfortable and it makes returning library books on your run a breeze.

Spotify
I know, not an accessory. I have a subscription to Spotify so I can easily update playlists for spin class. It’s super easy to get new music which is great for running motivation.

Nike Run
When I first got Nike Run, you had to have a chip put in your shoe and an adapter on your phone to track you. Now it’s so easy to use and really fun to rack up kilometres. It also tells you your calories burned, tracks your route, and has motivational commentary from celebs/professional athletes. And it’s freeeeeeee.

My shitty running shoes (see above)
My fake Yeezys were purchased from a drifter on a beach in Barcelona for 15 euros. They’re fairly comfortable but I’m sure they’re horrible for my feet, shins, knees, and body – but, like I said,  I don’t run too far. They’ve lasted five months so far and in addition to running, have carried me through spin, strength class, boxing, and a variety of other physical acts. I love them.

Skullcandy headphones
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They are simple and small, come in fun colours, and with a bunch of the ear buds in difference sizes to accommodate even the largest of ear canals.

A mean French braid
kombucha
French braids are God’s gift to people who don’t like to wash their hair often. Keeps everything in tight and no one can tell how dirty your hair is.

Editor’s note: Today I did my first cold-weather run. It was -4 out. I had no idea how to dress. I ended up in two sweaters and tights. It wasn’t long before the top layer sweater came off and I was pretty comfortable temperature-wise, but there was so much snot. I think this may be the end of my outdoor running season for now.

Actual helpful thoughts for cleanin’ out yo’ closet

When I look at my most favourite pieces in my closest as of late, they are mostly pieces that I thrifted or snuck from my grandfather’s closet: an over-sized soft flannel and a Florida crew neck sweater with a lovely, gaudy graphic on the back. This one in particular has a fond place in my heart because my mom specifically said “you’re not taking that home with you,” as we were clearing out his things, and I promptly placed it in my suitcase. 

and-this-one

this-one

And it kinda makes me want to vom thinking about all the money I spent on clothes throughout my years. Trends, patterns, colours of the moment. I’ll count myself lucky if I wore everything once.

I’ve cut my closet down at least 75 per cent in the last nine months. I started trimming away a few months back when I thought my then-boyfriend would be moving in in the near future and he’d need some space.

Then I read a review in Flare on the Japanese organizational book everyone is raving about: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A Simple, Effective Way to Banish Clutter Forever. One note from the author was all I needed, though: keep only what brings you joy. I looked at my closet with a new set of eyes. Just because something cost a lot, or others think it looks nice on me, or I have only worn it once (or not at all) – that’s no reason to keep it in my closet, my space, my life.

Another surprisingly helpful book, “How to be Parisian,” prompted me to continue with my whittling. To paraphrase: a Parisian doesn’t fall for trends (damn you, tribal print circa 2011) – she may buy one or two pieces if it flatters her, but ultimately stays true to her style.

I started to figure out what my style was. Turns out it’s a lot of neutrals and basic colours, almost no jewellery, and that’s ok. It also included a middle part and man bun.

Lastly, with a big move in my future (possibly the best motivation to cut back on your crap), I’ve really been zeroing in on the keeping, tossing, and storing of items. I only keep what I truly love because I have to lug it across the ocean and only have one bag to check, I store only clothes with sentimental value (a sweater that belonged to my grandmother, a hoodie from my youth soccer days), and toss everything else. If I don’t love it enough to bring it, and there’s no sentimental value, then it’s really not worth keeping.

I had a girlie gathering so my friends could take anything they wanted that I wasn’t bringing or storing. And bless places like AMH Style where I can turn some of those only-been-worn-once (or not at all) items into cashola, which I almost always end up spending in the store (smart, smart ladies). But if I’m bringing in 20 items on any given appointment and walking out with only one or two, I think I’m doing OK. 

Feature image from HBO

Let’s all be brides, k?

When I was a child, I did not have white things. “You can’t get white, you’ll get it dirty,” my mom would say. I didn’t wear white for the first six or seven years of my life.

Then came the day I was to graduate from Velcro shoes to laces and I fell in love with my first accessory: a pair of white lace sneakers with purple accents. And I begged and begged and begged until my mom finally folded and got them for me.

Needless to say, mere hours after purchase, the shoes were white no longer due to playing with my neighbours in the mud. My mom took away the shoes and I had to wear my ugly old Velcros for the rest of the year (and explain to all my friends that I did, indeed, know how to tie shoelaces, I had just lost the privilege).

Well, I’m 27 now and although my mom would still prefer I not wear white for fear of me getting dirty, I am now legally old enough to make those decisions for myself (but only just).

If there’s one steadfast rule I’ve learned about fashion, it’s that whatever we think is cool right now, Europe thought it was cool days, weeks, and months before us. Earlier this summer I was in Spain and I saw a lot of white dresses. Low and behold, girls are out in their virginal best, braving the dirt and sweat of Ottawa summer. And I too, proudly don my whites with the confidence of European reassurance and the satisfaction that, if I do get dirty, I only have to answer to myself.

With Labour Day fast approaching, you may think your days to get your whites their brightest are limited, but let’s just say f*ck it this year. Live dangerously. Let’s just all be brides whenever we want, k? Maybe just avoid the mud.

Feature image by James Devaney/WireImage.com

Pastry picking for healthy(ish) eaters

Some of us want to eat healthy. And some of us want to eat baked goods. Some of us want to do both. That means finding the best possible ways to work sugar in to your diet.

*Disclaimer! I am not a nutritionist, baker, or candle stick maker. But I do like to eat sweets and I do like to find ways to justify eating them. The things I say below have come from doing pretty in depth research just to keep those cannoli in my life.*

Your worst choices

Unfortunately, this is where one of my faves falls: donuts. The combination of fried simple carbs and sugar are the things your spare tire is made of. Along with chocolate chip cookies, croissants, and scones. When you’re looking at the makeup of that sweet treat behind the the counter, think about three things: protein, fibre, and fats (the good ones, obvs). Try and include at least one if you want to remotely be able to categorize your treat as semi-healthy. If it’s got none of them, then there’s always the emotional pleasure you’ll get.

pastries, healthy, pastry
Sorry Suzy Q

Protein (cheese, nuts)

When it comes to treats containing some protein, you’re at least going to feel fuller for longer.  So desserts like cannoli or peanut butter squares are going to give you more bang for their calorie buck. Meaning something that’s about 400 calories may actually almost keep you full for a full 400 calories worth of time.

pastries, pastry, healthy, speculose
Speculose and cream filled donut

With fibre (fruit, nuts, grains)

Like the Starbucks oat fudge bar or the Bridgehead quinoa chocolate cake (I’ve done done my leg work), there are pastries out there with fibre. Similar to protein, fibre will help keep you fuller longer, but it also helps breakdown and digest your food and sugars. I realize this is a bit of a stretch, but I’m looking for any silver lining on my oat fudge bar (for more on how fibre works, here’s a simple article).

With fats (nuts, coconut, peanut butter)

You’re likely to find a macaroon, something laced with peanut butter, or maybe even made with avocado in today’s (good) fat-filled world. Research also shows that the good fats may benefit insulin levels and help control blood sugar (which is nice for while you eat all the sugar). And, like protein and fibre, it will help keep you fuller longer.

Peanut butter square from Planet Coffee
Peanut butter square from Planet Coffee

The glutenfree, fatfree, vegan, paleo, and the rest

We see more of these things everyday as new diets are unearthed and popularized by bloggers and the like. Dessert is dessert in my eyes and while I try to eat a high protein, low gluten diet on the regs, I don’t really limit myself when it comes to dessert. If I really want a donut, I have a donut. Probably more often than I should.  But that’s life! And if you’re good 80% of the time, why not, right?

(more justifications from a serial sweets eater)

 

Musings of an almond butter addict & Sex and the City fan.