S’well Stainless Steel Insulated Water Bottle

S’well Stainless Steel Insulated Water Bottle

I was at the car dealership the other day with my S’well Stainless Steel Insulated Water Bottle (website) when the receptionist told me she’s been seeing everyone at school with one. I interpreted that to mean, I had to tell her how wonderful it was. And it is wonderful.

I bought the S’well stainless-steel insulated water bottle solely for one reason. It was a stainless-steel water bottle with a lid that I could put fizzy water (affiliate link) in. Those are not easy to find. The insulated part was an added bonus. The cost of it almost had me changing my mind but I decided to give it a chance. I really wanted an alternative to plastic bottles.

I do not regret my purchase. My S’well bottle has been used for hot & cold beverages and it has even saved me time in the mornings now that I can get my cold, fizzy water with lemon juice, ready the evening before. There is also the largest selection of colours and patterns I have ever seen for a stainless-steel bottle and it is available in several different sizes. I chose the 750ml size in Iris, a lovely purple.

When I am out and about for hours I end up taking several plastic water bottles filled with fizzy water and lemon juice with me to last and keep me hydrated. This means to keep the water cool I also have to carry a small flexible cooler and ice pack with me. It’s not a big problem but I was happy to find an easier alternative. The only downside is that you must hand wash the S’well water bottle, it can not go in the dishwasher.

When I used the bottle for Hot Chocolate:
I made myself a hot chocolate at home but it was too hot to drink right away and I was in a rush to get to an appointment, so I decided to put it in the S’well bottle to drink later. Six to seven hours later when I came home from my guided meditation class, I was really looking forward to that hot chocolate. I poured it into a mug and it was still as steaming hot as when I put it into the bottle hours before. It was very impressive.

The true test, the reason I bought the bottle. When I used the bottle for Cold, Fizzy Water:
I poured my lemon juice and fizzy water into the S’well stainless steel water bottle before I went to bed. The next day, about 12 hours after I had filled the bottle, after my physiotherapy appointment, I drank the water. It was still both fizzy and as cold as it was when I took it out of the fridge the night before. I was so happy and excited. I had finally found the alternative to plastic water bottles and my fizzy water (affiliate link).

So far I only have the one bottle but I do plan on buying more. Honestly the only downside(s) I have found with the S’well stainless-steel insulated water bottle is the fact that it can not go in the dishwasher and the size. The 750ml size is larger than you would expect, which I’m assuming is because the insulated part adds to it. I would also like either the 500ml or even the new cute little 260ml size. Something that would be convenient and easy to carry in my purse but still give me my water supply.

The S’well stainless steel insulated water bottle is sold in stores and online in Canada. You can also buy it directly from their website and ship it to Canada. I bought mine from Chapters.

I bought the 500ml bottle and took it with me travelling. In my mind, this is the best thing I could have done. In Australia sparkling water is easy to find but the country has some really hot temperatures and I didn’t want to spend $3.50 – $4.50 for a small bottle of water many times throughout the day so I bought 1.5 litre bottles at the supermarket for $0.70. While I was able to put them in the refrigerator wherever I was staying, it meant that I needed to sort myself out for the day, so my S’well water bottle was filled and I had something cold and fizzy to drink later in the day that didn’t cost me $4.50. I also found that depending on how hot the outside water bottle temperature was, the water would still be quite cool and fizzy, if not cold, in the water bottle several hours longer than the listed 24 hours.

In New Zealand sparkling water is less common so buying from the grocery store is, most of the time, the only option. Except when I was staying or visiting with friends because they all had a SodaStream. You can read how I feel about the SodaStream here.

Also, it comes in handy for flights. I am able to purchase a bottle of cold, sparkling water after security and pour it into my water bottle. I then have a large amount of cold, fizzy water whenever I need or choose to drink it.

All in all, my extra 500ml S’well water bottle was a very smart purchase for my travels and I am very happy I picked one up before I left Canada.

The Valley Bakery is Worth Your Wait and Your Walk

The Valley Bakery is Worth Your Wait and Your Walk

I’m pretty sure if you have lived in North Burnaby for any length of time, or even in other parts of the Lower Mainland, you have heard of The Valley Bakery (check out their web-site here). It was even in the locally shot VIFF movie I attended (and reviewed here) called Marrying the Family. If you haven’t though, I’m sorry and I’m here to help.

I’ve been a few times to check it out, and then to indulge in their absolutely yummy pastries, but so far every time I went it was during the day, during the week. It was always very busy but it wasn’t crazy. For the first time, I went on a Saturday. It was crazy. It was your normal November, pouring rain, day but still the place was close to bursting. The Valley Bakery is on Hastings and there isn’t a lot of parking, it’s only street parking, so people have to walk to get there. I had walked two blocks myself & I hate getting wet.

The first thing you should do when you get there is take a number. Then walk around and look at all the treats. If you walk around first then grab a number, you could end up having a long wait. The Valley Bakery does breads, buns, cookies, squares, cupcakes, cakes, and a bunch of things in between.

In the past I have tried cupcakes, tarts, squares, and cake slices. They have such a range of products that I couldn’t possibly tell you about everything but I will tell you about my favourite, which is why I walked the two blocks on this occasion, as well as a Christmas staple I also ended up getting while I was there. I wasn’t disappointed and getting wet was totally worth it. I even took the pictures in my car just in case I couldn’t contain myself and ended up eating something before I got home.

The Tower (I think that is its name)
This little amazingness reminds me of something but I can’t quite remember what it is. The Valley Bakery has this wonderful slice of chocolate cake layered with chocolate cream icing and then they make it even better by coating it in a hard chocolate shell. It really is a shell too. When you bite into it, the taste buds in your mouth end up having a little orgasmic experience because you have dark chocolate breaking off into pieces and landing into your mouth at the same time you realize the moist chocolate cake and soft chocolate cream icing is next. I fell in love with it the first time I tried it. It’s just a small slice but it is enough. There is this base of what is almost cookie like with a thin layer of jam or something like that. I didn’t even notice them before this last time.

Nanaimo Bar
You’re probably thinking you can buy a nanaimo bar anywhere you go at this time of year and the one in the picture doesn’t look any different. You are right. One of the differences is, The Valley Bakery uses cream cheese in their filling and they have now just thrown the gauntlet down to all of those other places. I love the nanaimo bar with its crunchy chocolate base, crazy sweet filling and chocolate topping but, oh my gosh, while this one was the same, it was also so different. The chocolate topping was literally melting in my mouth, or more accurately, as I was biting into it. The filling was sweet still but the cream cheese added a whole new unexpected dimension to it. The chocolate crunchy base was different also. I can’t put my finger on it exactly but the crunch was different. Maybe there were nuts in there? I don’t know for sure though.

I’m not an Egg Nog fan, at all, but they also had an Egg Nog slice that looked incredible. It looked like a big giant pastry slice with an Egg Nog whipped filling in the middle. Don’t worry, the bakery still had the other Christmas staples too. There were gingerbread men, shortbread, sugar cookies, speculaas cookies, xmas ring cookies, etc. Every season they have a selection of seasonal cookies for you to choose from.

The Valley Bakery makes everything on-site so don’t forget about them when your special event needs a cake either.

Trafiq Cafe & Bakery and Luke’s Diner Pop-up

Trafiq Cafe & Bakery and Luke’s Diner Pop-up

I was out and about today, stopped at Starbuck’s, and was checking my Facebook while waiting for my half sweet, coconut milk, hot chocolate when I saw a post about the Luke’s Diner pop-ups to promote the new four episode season of Gilmore Girls coming on Netflix November 25th. I figured I would read it and probably have to drive down to Seattle one day soon but it turns out it was today; the good news was there would be one in Vancouver. I hummed and hawed for like maybe three minutes when I realized, why wouldn’t I go? LUKE’S DINER! So I drove out to Trafiq Cafe on Main Street in Vancouver.

Trafiq Café & Bakery became Luke’s Diner for the day. I arrived at approx. 1:20 pm and walked past the line-up to check the place out. There was a temporary Luke’s sign hanging from one of the front windows and people were walking out with Luke’s cups and cup sleeves. I’m not even going to try and hide it from you, I was completely geeking out. I watched that show every week or I set my VCR to record it. It was that tv show. That one I just couldn’t miss because I had invested in Lorelai & Rory’s life. I felt for them and with them. There were the conversations, the relationships, the life that was like everyone’s life but not quite like anyone’s life.

After I checked out what was up, I went to the back of the line-up; down the sidewalk and around the corner. There was a woman from a local radio station, I believe, on Facebook Live interviewing people and she was saying someone told her they had waited two hours and were now at the door to the café. I was a little stunned but I was there, I wasn’t going to give up. I didn’t expect the range in ages of everyone waiting though until I remembered this was a tv show now on Netflix for a whole new generation to fall in love with. That made me feel the warm fuzzies of happiness. Two of the gentlemen in line were even there for their wives who were unable to make it. The dedication of fans was wonderful to see. It took approx. 1 hour and 15 minutes to get into the café and order myself some cake. Unfortunately, they had already run out of the 500 cups and cup sleeves they had received for the event so nothing for me to take home. The staff were all wearing Luke’s baseball hats backwards, plaid shirts and jeans with Luke’s aprons. There was also the No Cell Phones sign. It was awesome. I’m going to venture to say, it was even better than the time I drove to Coquitlam because one of the 7-11 stores became a Kwik-E-Mart for the day.

Obviously Trafiq Café & Bistro was crazy busy today. Inside the tables were full of people eating lunch and outside there was still a line-up going down the sidewalk at 2:40 in the afternoon. Everyone was busy getting their picture taken with the Luke’s sign while they waited. The Café had a very yummy looking menu with wonderful choices for lunch but I had heard several people talking about how great their pastries were so those are the only things I was thinking of when I got to the till. Everything looked so good but Carly, a psychology student who I met in line and spoke to for over an hour about a variety of subjects, recommended the chocolate cake so I ordered a slice of the Vanilla Salted Caramel cake as well as one of the Chocolate Decadence, to go. She also told me the Coconut Cloud cake was another favourite of hers.

The Vanilla Salted Caramel Cake was moist and very sweet. When I ate it in pieces to break apart the flavours and textures, I realized the cake, the fluffy filling and the fluffy icing weren’t really sweet at all, it was the caramel sauce that was on top of each layer of cake that was doin’ it. I’m not really sure what type of icing it was but it was fluffy almost like a whipped cream but it didn’t taste like a whipped cream really. There was vanilla cake, caramel sauce, then filling, all done up in three layers with icing covering the top and sides. There were even these wee little covered biscuit balls as decoration on top. I loved the cake and the icing but I found the caramel sauce too sweet for me and the filling almost tasted a bit like coffee which I don’t like. I thought this was a great cake but I personally will keep trying other flavours the next time I am there.

I’m not kidding, this place really knows how to do cakes. I’m not sure I have eaten at a bakery with such moist, fresh cakes before and I like to think of myself as a cake connoisseur. The Decadent Chocolate Cake was super chocolatey. Again there were three layers of moist cake and fluffy filling but this one was covered with a dark chocolate ganache. As part of the decoration each slice also had a ball on top that was a cross between cookie dough and ganache, flavoured of chocolate with a faint something else that I couldn’t quite name (think lavender, rose, or orange). It was a really good cake. The chocolate was a bit darker in flavour than commercial store bought cakes so it was much more rich and with each layer also having its own unique flavour and texture like the vanilla salted caramel, it was pure delight. I would definitely eat this cake again but I really want to try other flavours and other pastries from this bakery now.

While Netflix did a great marketing job today with the Luke’s Diner pop-ups, I think that Trafiq Cafe & Bakery did an absolutely amazing job keeping up with the demand, staying friendly, providing great service as well as wonderful product.

Some Healthy Chocolate Items (not an oxymoron)

Some Healthy Chocolate Items (not an oxymoron)

A few years ago I was sitting on the couch watching TV. It was close to Christmas, pouring rain outside and I was bored. So I did what everyone does in today’s society. I checked my Facebook news feed to see what people were doing. Don’t lie to yourself. We all do it. We’re standing in line somewhere, we’re in class, we’re watching TV, we’re on public transportation, and not only are we bored but we want to know what everyone else is doing so that we can live vicariously through them or feel better when we find out how lame their life also it. We all have excitement in our lives but it also happens to be mixed in with times of absolute boredom of our everyday routine or in some cases, lack of friends and things to do. That day was the latter for me but it worked out well.

A cousin of mine (actually the same one who encouraged me to go to school) had posted a link to a chocolates recipe because she was taking part in one of those Christmas treat exchanges. I thought, eh, why don’t I check it out, she has a healthy lifestyle and she’s a very healthy eater. So I clicked on it. Usually at this point I read through quickly, find sugar as an ingredient and click away discouraged again at finding treats to eat. This time I had to read through twice. I couldn’t believe my eyes, there was no sugar. This healthy chocolate had three ingredients. Cacao, coconut oil and a liquid sweetener of your choice. I was so frickin’ excited I can’t even explain it to you, well, except for the fact that it took me like three minutes before I remembered I didn’t have any coconut oil and my dreams of eating some chocolates that night in front of the fireplace and the TV were dashed. I didn’t let it keep me down though. The next time I was at the grocery store I picked up a jar of coconut oil, went home and immediately started experimenting. I haven’t stopped since.

The one down side is that because of the coconut oil these healthy chocolates melt very quickly when not stored in the freezer. These damn things definitely melt in your hands! It also means you can’t make any cute shaped chocolates with those plastic chocolate molds everyone else gets to use because the chocolate melts before you can get them out of the mold. Don’t feel left out though, I have found a way, kind of, around this and I am willing to share with you. I use soft silicone molds as well as a cute ice cube molds. I find soft silicone molds the easiest to use because you can completely flip that thing inside out to get the healthy chocolates out. The solid plastic is harder to remove the chocolates. They both are easier to get the chocolates out of though than those clear plastic molds that are sold everywhere for homemade chocolates and candies. I also use mini bread loaf pans to make bar shaped chocolates or to break them up into pieces to make chunks for cookies.

I try to use the healthier option for ingredients so I use Organic Raw Cacoa for the chocolate part and of course we all know that Agave is the only sweetener I can use. For the coconut oil, I’m not sure if I use the healthiest option cause I really didn’t investigate that too far but I do use Trader Joe’s Organic Virgin Coconut Oil. I’m actually also using the coconut oil as a weekly hair mask to try and get rid of my super dry frizzy hair that is either due to body chemistry change, age, or colouring my hair. Thanks to colouring my hair, it looks incredibly young so it’s probably from that. Nonetheless the frizz was driving me crazy and I really want to get rid of it. So far so good.

The first batch of healthy chocolates I made was in that homemade plastic chocolates mold I told you about. They were a struggle and they changed shape a bit but it also only contained those three ingredients so it was some pretty strong dark chocolate. I learned that I wasn’t a dark chocolate fan but that it made good chunks for cookies. I tried a few different things to make it taste a bit more like milk chocolate but nothing worked, until I used cashew butter. The creaminess of the cashews completely toned down the dark chocolate.

Then I got another good idea from a commercial on TV. Cashew butter and chocolate……. That’s right, I made it into cups, okay mini squares but let’s not get too literal here, we just really want to enjoy chocolate. I put a bit of the cashew butter chocolate mix in the bottom of the square, put it in the freezer for awhile, added a bit of sweetened with agave cashew butter flattened, then a bit more of the cashew butter chocolate mixture before putting it back into the freezer to settle. I’ve also made cashew butter chocolates with bits of almonds, bits of cashews, and even one with puffed quinoa and brazil nut bits. Because you have to eat these chocolates from the freezer I use bits of the nuts instead of whole ones so that I don’t hurt my teeth when I try to eat them later. So far I enjoy all of these different versions.


The blog with the original recipe is Chocolate-Covered Katie (website). It is really good as it is but if like me, you are not too fond of eating dark chocolate, I use equal parts Cacoa, Coconut Oil and Cashew Butter (I use Nuts to You Nut Butter-Smooth Cashew Butter) and add the Agave as Chocolate-Covered Katie suggested, 3 tbsp to every ¼ cups of the others. She has some other great healthy ideas for dessert so try to check out her blog for other ideas.

Another chocolate item I was missing for my Fall & Winter routine was Hot Chocolate. I used to drink that stuff all the time because I don’t drink coffee or tea but of course it was another item I had to cut out of my diet. One morning I thought, this is ridiculous, why don’t I just try making a healthy option. Thankfully I was lucky and figured it out my first try. I know it’s not brain surgery or anything but let’s not burst my personal back-patting bubble.

Dairy-Free Healthier Hot Chocolate Recipe:
2 cups of coconut milk
2 tbsp (heaping-ish) of Organic Raw Cacao
Agave to taste (or your sweetener of choice)

The trick though is to put about one cup of the coconut milk in a microwave safe mug (I use a glass, 2 cup measuring cup-I like the see through part as well as the handle), add the cacao and a bit of agave (or your sweetener). Then microwave it for a few minutes. The cacao is really hard to mix so I find that if I do this, stir it and squash any lumps until it is all mixed up when I take it out of the microwave, then add the rest of the coconut milk and any more sweetener you feel it needs, before putting it back into the microwave until it is nice and hot you don’t end up with chunks of raw cacao in your mug when you are trying to drink it. If you’ve ever tried raw cacao you know it tastes kind of like dirt all by itself. I am limited in what I can add for ingredients but if you added some peppermint to this hot chocolate I can image that it would start to taste a bit like a Starbucks Peppermint Hot Chocolate. Mmmmmm…

Please let me know what you think of the chocolate options I’ve given and tell me about any that you have tried. I’m always interested in more varieties of chocolates.

Mmmmm some healthier frozen treats – Coconut Bliss

Mmmmm some healthier frozen treats – Coconut Bliss

We are coming to the end of Summer and the beginning of Fall, the end of hot days with warm evenings and the beginning of cooler days and nights. We go from eating cold, refreshing or easy to make food to hot, filling, comfort food that fills our home with warmth and delicious smells. Many things make the transition with us though. Potato salad in the summer to mashed potatoes in the fall, hamburgers to a roast dinner, quinoa salad to quinoa in soup, apples in fruit salad to apples in a crumble/crisp, blueberry pie to pumpkin pie, ice cream on a stick or in a cone to ice cream on that pie. For those of us, who for whatever reason have a specialty diet, we are limited to what we can eat. It means we have to miss out on some of these delicious things.

My Painful Path of Giving up Sugar

Five years ago, after about 3 years of being obviously sick and having seen a bunch of specialists who said there was nothing wrong with me, my doctor told me she gave up. She couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Thankfully a woman I worked with suggested I try the Naturopath who had helped her daughter years earlier when she was a child. On my second visit to him, one month after my first, he told me that I had to cut a LOT of things out of my diet. One of the items was sugar and all forms of sweeteners including artificial ones.

I didn’t take the news of cutting out sweeteners well. I argued with the lovely man while in my head I was thinking he was absolutely bonkers and didn’t know what he was talking about. The 45-minute drive back to work after that was intense. I cried the WHOLE way. Not silly little tears but full-blown, child-like, bawling. I was going through my worst fear here, sugar played a giant part in my life. I got to work and told everyone what I had to do. There was silence. They all knew how much sugar I consumed in a day but it wasn’t just that, sugar is actually an addiction and that was something I didn’t realize until that moment.

I went cold turkey. I cut out sugar, candy, pop (it was the only thing I drank and I was drinking 2-4 litres a day), sauces, dressings and processed foods. In one form or another almost all processed and pre-made foods contain a sweetener. It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do, it tested my strength & will power and it tested everyone else’s patience with me (cut sugar out of your diet and see how cheerful you are for about six weeks of detoxing). For three years I kept asking if I could add sugar back into my diet at every appointment but finally one day I realized how much better I was feeling without all of the sugar and ‘junk’ foods and I accepted that this was a life choice for me. If you want some help, here is one of the tricks I used to deal with the cravings.

And Then I Became Lactose Intolerant

After about seven months of no sweeteners, the most disgustingly plain oatmeal for breakfast everyday, and me begging, my Naturopath said I could use Agave. Seriously at this point I was pretty sure I could hear a chorus of angels singing I was just so incredibly happy. Even though I didn’t know what agave was. Agave is a fructose that a lot of people don’t feel is good for you but because of its low glycemic level my naturopath felt it was the only option for me.

After two years my naturopath informed me I was lactose intolerant. Again the poor man had to listen to me argue with him but this time I took the news a lot better. I was now a lactose intolerant vegetarian who couldn’t eat most sweeteners. You know, nothing out of the ordinary here. Thankfully now, more foods are being made without sweeteners.  Or using other methods that are a bit better for you.

Finding Nirvana – Coconut Bliss Frozen Desserts

One day I was grocery shopping and longingly checking out all of the ice cream in the freezer section when I came across Luna & Larry’s Organic Coconut Bliss Frozen Desserts (website). They are dairy & soy free, made with coconut milk and sweetened with agave. I heard that chorus of angels singing again. I might have also cheered, done some kind of little dance and started talking to myself but I’m not sure. All I remember was my sheer joy of knowing I could now buy an ‘ice cream’ treat after like 4 years of not.

These treats are certified organic, contain no GMO’s and generally only have a hand full of ingredients including fair trade ones. Oh and they are yummy. So far I have tried two flavours of the tub of ‘ice cream’ and two flavours of the bars. I didn’t like the strawberry bars (I found there was a bit of an after taste) or the tub of chocolate hazelnut fudge (it was too sweet and chocolaty for me) but I absolutely love the Dark Chocolate Bars (think a Fudgsicle type of bar) and the tub of Vanilla Island. Those are the only flavours I have tried so far but I am very much looking forward to trying more. They have so many to choose from and a few of them I can even have.

Whether you have to follow a specialty diet or you are just looking for healthier alternatives to everyday items, Luna & Larry’s Organic Coconut Bliss Frozen Desserts are a yummy, healthier treat. I just had a bowl. Let’s be honest. I just finished off half of the tub.

tub of Vanilla Island

tub of Vanilla Island

Dark Chocolate bars

Dark Chocolate bars