Sunday, April 29, 2012

Welcome News: Newly Welcomed Items in the Blue Bins!

This has made my day!

I hope this is still newsworthy - I only just discovered the new decal today - but it appears that both polystyrene (Styrofoam, the hateful substance!) and waxed milk cartons can now be thrown away in the "Mixed Paper" blue bins!

And paper towels, used tissue (eew) and plastic bags, too!

I'd just like to make a nod to my dear friend Oba who was one of the only other green-hearts I knew. He would round up all the plastic shopping bags from home and deposit them religiously at the nearby Safeway (which was one of the only places I know of to recycle them).

And now we can all happily just tip them into the Mixed Paper blue bin! Along with all the old facial tissues (very timely - allergy season!).

Well done, Metro Vancouver! In a short time, you have made tremendous strides! I'm quite pleased with our current city council. Alright, very pleased. Well done, Vision Vancouver!

NEXT BATTLE - get those bloody disposable coffee cups either BANNED or find a way to include them in this Mixed Paper bin, please!!!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

April Frugalista Calendar & $3 Fashion Experiment

Program your cell phone calendar - three excellent opportunities for real deals are happening late this April!

Since the Army & Navy Spring Shoe Sale and the VPL Spring Booksale are recurrent events that are already widely publicized, I'm going to spend the rest of this post mentioning a new and curious event coming for the first time two weekends from now:

Re-Fashion Vancouver happens later this month on Saturday April 21st, 10am to 5pm.

(shamelessly swiped from

For $3 admission, you'll get access to the Yaletown Roundhouse Community Centre-based indoor new or hardly-worn clothing-only garage sale where, in their words, "Cash is King".

$3 - hmmm, worth it? Well almost certainly it is, if you're that person who always ends up finding 'something' at a garage sale or consignment store. I'm a little picky, so I'm actually unsure as to whether or not that $3 would be a good investment.

So being a complete cheapskate, I found a loophole: VOLUNTEER! Sign-up form is on this link. While the website says that table-space for sellers is full, there still seems to be room for volunteers to apply. Volunteering at Re-Fashion even gets you free drinks at the Relish gastropub after party.

Now personally, I'm rather tempted to hit this event up. I figure if I go with a friend or two, then $3 can count towards the day's "entertainment", in which case it's cheaper than seeing a movie and there's a chance that I or a friend can get a real bargain on something lovely for spring and summer!

Then again, volunteering might mean early-scouting of the tables before 10am....! If you're serious about snagging that wicked deal, you might just consider spending all day Saturday at the event as a volunteer. Hey, there are even free drinks at the end!

Check out the Re-Fashion Vancouver website, and if you manage to find something awesome there, don't forget that you can get new shoes to match starting early morning on Wednesday at Army & Navy. And once you have the whole outfit together, why not sport it at the Spring Booksale at the central library downtown?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Happy Easter!

Wishing you and yours a very Happy Easter this Sunday!

Happy little finches in a flowering tree!
The first bumblebee all year! <3

Open invitation - come one, come all! 10th and Ontario, Mt Pleasant

Regardless of what you celebrate this weekend, I'm wishing you a very happy Easter (and Passover to my Jewish pals). It's a day of renewed hope and light for all - I won't evangelize at you, but I will give a scripture reference for context:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
(from The Gospel of John, chapter 3, verse 16 - this is the wording of the King James Bible)

If you'd like to learn more about Easter and why it is so important to Christians, you can read a quick blurb about it here. I think it's rather sad that the best reference I can find on Easter is on Wikipedia, but such is our world.

"Frugal Food - Cheap but Exciting Meals"

A neighbour's narcissi and daffodils

Happy Easter! Don't eat too many chocolate eggs - save some for me!


Congee is Chinese rice soup or porridge, often served at breakfast or brunch, which essentially is nothing more than rice cooked in water (1:9 ratio or so, instead of the more typical 1:2) until it breaks down into gelatinous goo.

It may look like Cream of Wheat, but congee is celiac-friendly.

It's surprisingly satisfying and tasty. And it costs almost nothing! A handful of rice, water, and ginger to make the most simple version.

There are as many ways to make congee (or "jook") as there are spaghetti sauce recipes or dal recipes or potato salad. It's one of those terrific foods that has endless possibilities for customization.

Baby bok choy, pan-fried tofu and a chunk of ginger - easy and delicious!

It's also a very, very good thing to know how to make if you're looking after someone who is suffering from the flu or gastrointestinal misery. It's gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free (unless you add it in), and it fits into the "BRAT" diet (bananas, rice, applesauce and toast - recommended foods by Western physicians when one has GI upset).

Ginger may not be on the BRAT list - you can leave it out if you like, or you can take a page from Eastern medicine which holds that ginger is excellent for aiding digestion. I believe it - I used to have flat ginger ale every time I had the flu as a kid. It sat well with me.

Obviously green onions are completely optional.
Although white rice has a high glycemic index (and is therefore not recommended for diabetics), congee can be made with other varieties of rice, notably sweet black sticky rice.

Congee has long been considered a health food. In fact, the Buddha himself is quoted as saying of congee that it gives:
"life and beauty, ease and strength. It dispels hunger, thirst and wind. It cleanses the bladder. It digests food."
I think my husband would appreciate any wind-dispelling effects it might have. Ahem.

Congee stretches how far your rice can go, and so it's a very economical choice. 1/2 a cup of rice may yield 1 to 2 portions when steamed, but cooked in water congee style, the number of portions would triple. It's no wonder that congee is commonly eaten in Buddhist monasteries (or so I've read).

I'm not even sure there's just one congee recipe I'd recommend, but here's a very, very basic one which makes several servings (probably 3-4, depending on how much you'd like to eat):

Basic, Plain Congee
1/2 cup long grain white rice
4 1/2 cups water
a thumb-sized piece of peeled fresh ginger
salt to taste (keep it light - too much sodium is bad for you!)

Put all ingredients into a pot (for which you have a lid) and bring to a boil, stirring every so often. Reduce the heat to low (simmer), cover with the lid and cook, stirring every once and a while, for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Let sit 10 minutes or more prior to serving, and watch out for bubbling sticky rice - it burns skin like mad!
The yellow chunk is the ginger.

Congee can easily be made in a slow-cooker or crockpot, too.

If you eat meat, you might consider putting in a raw chicken or turkey wing at the outset. Once you've finished cooking over the 1 1/2 - 2 hours, remove it and cut it into bite-sized pieces to stir back in. I've never had it this way, and the only way (in recent memory) that I've had it at a restaurant (with dim sum) was with seafood (fish, squid, etc.).

Congee apparently became 'trendy' in the past few years (I have to admit - I find food trends insidious and irritating! If it's good, make it! Nevermind what's en vogue!). Reading online about cool Manhattan congee joints just made me laugh! These cities have nothing on Vancouver, eh?

I just did a search via Google for "Congee Vancouver". You don't have to go to some trendy downtown restaurant to find congee here! In fact, there's even fast-food congee at City Square Mall, and three restaurants with "congee" in their names around Main and Broadway! And that's not even mentioning what's on offer in Richmond, a quick CanadaLine ride away!

If Wild Rice offers congee, try it. It's one of my favourite restaurants in all of Vancouver, and you can get there easily from Kits via the #22 or #4 buses. Kirin downtown has excellent dim sum and congee, too.

There are a gazillion different congee recipes. Here are a few I've found online, but haven't yet tried:

Cantonese Lean Pork & Century Egg Congee
Vietnamese Chicken and Long Grain Rice Congee 
Turkey Wing Simple Congee
Mixed Seafood Congee
Heartwarming Chicken Congee 
Moosewood's Savory Congee
Vegetarian-Style Congee (from Epicurious - this has so many ingredients!)

8 Treasure Sweet Potato Congee (Heart & Stroke Foundation)
Maple Syrup Congee
Sweet Spiced Congee
Black Sweet Rice Congee with Longan

Lemongrass Scented Congee

So there you have it! One more easy dish to make with rice. I love meals based on economical staples. Congee is especially handy, because you can cook it in the slow-cooker while you do other things. Apparently some rice makers even have an overnight 'congee' setting so you can have it hot for breakfast.

More inspiration: a Chowhound board on Congee -

Friday, April 6, 2012


Rice: cheap, plentiful and . . . interesting?!

You know those ads, "Change the cheese, change the _____"? Darn, I can't remember what goes in the blank!

"Taste"? "Flavour"? "Choice?" "Recipe?"

Hmm. Well, I'm going to soldier on regardless. The crux of the Canadian Dairy Farmer's message was that if you substituted one variety of cheese for another, your dish would be completely made over, magically.

The same holds true for rice. 

What kind of rice is that?! No dyes added, no photoshop - read on!

Check out the different varieties I have in my pantry:

Chinese Forbidden Rice (it's black!)

Ever had Chinese Forbidden Rice? You can buy it at The Gourmet Warehouse.

Red Cargo Rice (from Thailand)

How about Red Cargo Rice? I bought it at Superstore.

How to Cook Red Cargo Rice:
1 part rice to 2 parts water (for 2 servings, 1/2 cup rice and 1 cup water)
Bring to a boil, cover with lid and reduce heat to simmer (low) for 40-45 min.
Fluff with fork and serve! No need to soak overnight - this worked just great for me.

Ah, the wide world of rice! Short grain, long grain, glutinous, polished, unmilled, sticky . . . the choices are many! And not all can be easily substituted for the other (the same is true with cheese - you can hardly expect a rigid parmesan-reggiano to have the same properties of mozzarella!); it wouldn't do to use brown basmati to make risotto!

White Basmati Rice

But with a little foresight, you really can change up a hum-drum old rice-based recipe to something exotic and visually exciting, particularly if you use Chinese Forbidden Rice or Cargo Red.

Brown Basmati Rice

Rice is a basic staple that every kitchen needs. And you mustn't buy into the marketing garbage that you need to have rice ready in a minute. Even if you're feeding a busy family, if you chuck the rice into a rice maker or into a pot on the stove, it really only takes 15-20 minutes (note that brown rice takes about 40  - but it reheats well, so you could theoretically make it the day before and reheat it). If you get the rice going the moment you walk in the door, I'll bet that the rest of dinner won't be ready before it is. 20 minutes of watching rice boil might seem like forever, but when you're washing and prepping veggies or setting the table, 20 minutes goes by awfully quickly (sometimes too quickly!).

Long Grain White Rice

Brown rice is reputed to have more nutrients than white, and it also has a lower glycemic index, as far as I know. I personally always go for brown rice sushi when I'm at Kadoya! It's tasty, but it does take a little longer to make. Still, if you can get a full meal ready in 40 minutes, cutlery out and glasses of water poured, and still have time to be annoyed by how long the rice takes - well, my hat's off to you!

Wild Rice (not the same genus as the others, but a close relative!)

Calrose Rice

Flavours, textures and certainly fragrances vary with rice - just sniff the rice bags and compare! Some are nutty and "brown-rice-like' (like Cargo Red), others almost smell sweet, and Jasmine rice smells faintly of jasmine (what a shock!).

Arborio Rice (the stuff you make risotto with!)

Another great way to add interest to plain, old rice (of any variety) is to use a rice mould or form. Moulds are commonly used in Japanese and Asian cuisine, where a high value is placed upon presentation, and rightly so.

Silicone food moulds

I bought these silicone ones at YokoYaya123 (a Daiso subsidiary) for $2, and they've practically paid for themselves already. I can also use them to freeze borage blossoms in to make a pretty and functional ice-sculpture for cooling party platter fare, or to bake with. I haven't tried either yet, but I do reach for these cute little things every time I need to put a pat of rice onto a plate. You can always use a measuring cup as a form (might need a little vegetable oil spray to work), but I encourage you to keep an eye out for these at the Daiso or YokoYaya123.

Cooked Red Cargo Rice, Jasmine Rice, and Thai Green Curry

So what can you do with rice? Well, there's rice pudding, there's congee (I'm going to try making my own one day soon!), there's pilafs and salads and even casseroles, soups, stir-fries, and then the typical 'side-dish' splat of plain rice (not recommended - put a little effort in!). And that's not to mention rice flour and all the wonderful things one can make with it!

Thai Jasmine Rice

If you've never thought about how critical rice production is as a source of the world's food, consider the fact that the United Nations declared 2004 to be "The International Year of Rice"! This site even has free rice recipes from around the world, and unusual and intriguing ones at that!

Sweet (Glutinous) Rice - notice its opacity!

Want to give rice away to the needy for free? Visit and improve your vocabulary while rice is donated through the World Food Programme.

One of the largest Canadian importers of rice hosts the "Have a Rice Day" website, which gives much information on rice and rice-derived products (mochiko rice flour, for instance - for making mochi! Red bean mochi is my favourite!). If you're looking for a little more inspiration, try their site.

I turned some Sweet Rice into mochiko-style rice flour with a spice grinder! Easy!

Remember the ubiquitous rice grain! See the potential, not the routine. Check out your local ethnic grocers and amass a wide range of rice, and you'll have the basis for an economical, satisfying meal from virtually any cuisine (even French! Check out that 'rice recipes from around the world' link!).

Alfie's No Frills - Pine and 4th Ave

I finally made it into Alfie's No Frills at Pine and 4th Avenue yesterday.

Alfie's No Frills - 5 April 2012

I have to admit - I was mostly satisfied! True, it's Loblaws (who Greenpeace detests, and which doesn't seem to care one whit about sustainable seafood), the same company as Superstore and Joe Fresh, but it also has some cheap options to help out anyone on a tight income living in Kitsilano.

At the risk of sounding like a total snob, this store attracts a wholly different 'element' of society than the other Kits stores. I suppose that if Burrard Street is the eastern boundary of Kitsilano, then Alfie's No Frills is technically in Fairview. Perhaps that explains it. It's a totally different crowd than what you'd find up the hill at Vine and 4th.

Well, the differences between Pine and Vine aside, another large grocer in the area suits me just fine. The produce section was much nicer and better maintained than Joti's No Frills on Broadway - they even carried chayote, plantain, taro, Japanese eggplant and baby bok choy. I also saw whole coconuts there, and the ginger they sold was plump and moist, very generously sized.

Interior of Alfie's No Frills - 5 April 2012

So I'll have to put the key phrase here once again, for search engines to find and for poor lost foodies to find the ingredients they need:

Where can you buy plantains in Vancouver?

You can find plantains for sale at Alfie's No Frills (Pine and 4th Avenue) and at the A&L Grocer next to the City Hall CanadaLine station.

Taro and chayote I've seen at both Joti's and Alfie's No Frills.

Apart from the produce section being fairly nice (it's still a new store - it'll be dingy in no time, so take advantage!), the rest of the aisles are pretty much exactly as they look at Joti's and Paul's No Frills. I find that the selection is quite limited in many respects; No Frills has never worked as a 'one-stop shop' for me.

But given the considerable distance between Kitsilano and the nearest Superstore or Sabzi Mundi (Fraser and SE Marine), No Frills offers a place to buy those large bags of basmati rice and a fair selection of some of the more common Indian spices (the Suraj brand by Loblaws).

Where is the cheapest place in Kitsilano to buy spices?

Depending on which spices you need, The Parthenon on Broadway at Balaclava for Mediterranean spices (they sell small, generic packages at a very reasonable price) or Alfie's No Frills on 4th Avenue at Pine (which sells large bags of Suraj spices for Indian and Pakistani cuisine).

No Frills also has a limited selection of Thai and Asian condiments and canned fruits and vegetables. It seems to have a "basic staples" mandate as opposed to a "make it easy for a white person to try an exotic recipe" approach, but hey - if you can't find rambutan in a can elsewhere, you can get it here. (Don't forget to patronize New Apple Market - support the little guys whenever you can! They have rambutan, too).

They have large bags of rice of most varieties here - Sweet (Glutinous) Rice from Thailand, various brown and white basmati rices, short-grain sticky rice, small bags of short-grain 'sushi' rice, and even the nasty parboiled stuff (aka 'converted' rice), if that's your thing (or you're following an archaic recipe!).

Alfie's No Frills at 4th and Pine - 5 April 2012

No Frills also carries "Ziggy's" Mediterranean foods - jars of kalamata and fancy olives, buckets of feta (a great deal, even compared to the President's Choice store label), which are very well priced. A good place to come for olives if you're having a party.

One of the other nice perks about having a No Frills nearby is the vinegar selection. President's Choice and other labels round out a very reasonably priced selection of wine vinegars, balsamic vinegar (including a fig balsamic vinegar I almost bought on a whim), seasoned and plain rice vinegar (for sushi!), and even an apple cider vinegar, though it wasn't like Bragg's "with the Mother". If you like to cook, swing by here for some weekday-quality vinegars and oils. Save the expensive stuff for the weekends!

Cheeses are cheaper and quite plentiful here - there is a great selection of cheese next to the produce section. Strangely, as is the case with Safeway, the more typical bricks of cheddar and mozzarella are located in a distant section near the milk. If you want feta or chevre, head towards the produce section. This is also where the tofu is kept.

One thing to always keep in mind if you're headed to a Loblaws grocery store (Superstore, No Frills) - they charge for plastic bags.

Now personally, I'm quite thrilled about this. It certainly discourages the use of disposable bags! But, it can be quite irritating if for some reason you neglected to bring along your reusable bags.

No Frills, particularly Alfie's, has a stock-pile of cardboard boxes used to ship in their food that you can use to transport your purchases with. At Alfie's, the bin is positively over-flowing; you can see it through the window as you pass by along 4th Ave.

This isn't the most convenient option for the pedestrian, but if you have driven here (and there is free underground parking for customers off of Pine street), it's not such a bad option. Like Costco, you can carry boxes of food back to your car underground.

So there's my review of Alfie's No Frills! It's closer (for me) than Paul's No Frills at 4th and Alma (funny - does Kitsilano have a "No Loblaws" rule? Because both No Frills flank the limits of Kits!), and it happily rounds out the limited selection of a few ethnic foods that are next to impossible to find in Kits.

Now if only a Sabzi Mundi, T&T and an H-Mart would move in, too!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Broke & Healthy - Tips for Better Living on the Cheap

Springtime is associated with renewal, both outdoors in the garden (the flowering bulbs are up, the sun is warming the soil, the cherry trees are in bloom - festival is on today!) as well as in your home (spring cleaning!).

Muscari (grape hyacinth) and mint sprigs

And while I did feel the urge to purge my sleeping area from dust (you wouldn't believe the dust bunnies!), I've also started to wonder what little things I could do, for free or practically-free, to better my own lot . . . apart from getting rid of all that horrid dust under the bed!

Living a healthy lifestyle is actually quite easy in Canada, even on the cheap. Despite the evil marketing practices, you don't need to be rich to buy 'health' (though if the government brings in 2-tier, private healthcare, we might!).

Trendy vitamin pills*, exercise equipment, infused-fortified-instilled-with-antioxidants face creams . . . skip 'em!
(*although don't skip it if you're suffering from scurvy or your doc told you not to!).

The fact is that without spending much money at ALL, you really can take fantastic care of your body.

Here's a few ways to spruce your physical form up this spring, all on the cheap!

1. Floss your teeth. It's good for your teeth as well as your heart.

I used to hate flossing. In fact, it was something I, until recently, stringently avoided. I have tightly-spaced teeth, and by the time I yanked that floss past the tight bits, I would always cut viciously into my tender (inflamed!) gums. I dislike the taste of blood.

I avoided the necessity of daily flossing for some time with my Dad's favourite trick to ward off scolding by the dental hygienist. The irony of this one is inherent in the very description: drink a can of Coke right before the dentist's office. I've done it a few times now, and I always get the "What clean teeth you have!" compliment. Soft drinks, like colas, are very, very acidic (you may recall from elementary school that you can leave a dull penny sitting in Pepsi and the next day it'll be shiny and new!). All that phosphoric acid eats away at your tartar and teeth, so that with a quick swill or two, your mouth is shiny and new again. Unfortunately, this really isn't good for your teeth or your metabolism, and the ridiculous quantities of sugar in pop, added to offset the sour taste of the phosphoric acid, will quickly promote bacterial growth (i.e. plaque, tartar) and your teeth will be once again full of nasties in no time. And they'll probably be slightly thinner, too, as you likely wore away some enamel with that drink!

So I don't recommend the Coke trick, though it is a handy thing to know if you have a mid-afternoon dental appointment, and you want to clean your mouth out quick without the luxury of toothpaste or floss. (I haven't done the Coke trick lately, and at my last visit my teeth were marvelled at for being "amazingly clean". What toothpaste do I use? (They even asked me!). Easy! Whatever is the cheapest, and preferably the paste-kind, not the gel, by personal preference. But seriously - don't buy the "total care" or "pro-health" stuff. It's a complete waste of money!  Choose a toothpaste with some sodium fluoride, that's about it! Anything else is just to scare you into spending unnecessary money!)

Now that I'm older and wiser, and because of my education and an in-depth discussion with my hygienist about periodontal disease (eeew), I suddenly found myself very, very motivated to not get those 'pits' where your teeth have eroded past the gum line and where food and bacteria get stuck, beyond the reach of floss, oozing pus and odour and causing irreversible decay. That's just . . . nauseating. I don't want that in my mouth!

I can certainly handle the inconvenience and the (now minor and occasional) bleeding with the consequences of neglect now vivid in my mind! Oh yuck!

But there's more! Not only will flossing quite honestly save your teeth from rotting out from the bottom and falling out, there's also some evidence to suggest that regular flossing may correlate to healthier arteries! Here's an article on this. Now while it's not a direct connection between causation of a heart attack and having bleeding gums, gingivitis and a large bacterial load in your mouth does mean more inflammation and nasty little bacteria (which both get into your bloodstream), which very likely adversely affects atherosclerotic lesions or "plaques" in your vasculature.

So floss your teeth! If you want extra motivation, splurge on some of those little gold stars you used to get in grade school! I'm pretty sure Avalon Stationery on 4th Avenue sells them - stick them proudly on your Hope In Shadows calendar each day (or twice each day, like my hygienist recommend I do until there's no bleeding at all!).

2. Lentils!

Split peas, legumes, lentils and pulses

Well there's an unexciting header! But wait - hear me out! Lentils are cheap. Lentils are also extraordinarily good for you. And if you've never liked lentils (I hear you), it's time to try out a few recipes that will likely change your mind!

A previous post I did on lentils (if you love Indian or Pakistani food, you need to have lentils in your pantry!) mentions a few perks of these super-foods. There are absolutely delicious lentil-shepherd's-pie recipes in existence, too! Moosewood and Canadian Living have some fantastic ones. Everybody Loves Veggies at City Square Mall is a great place to try lentils if you're not convinced enough to try cooking them yourself!

These recipes from sound like a brilliant place to begin - note that lentils aren't limited to vegetarian options only!
The 990-reviewed, 4.5 star rated "Lentil Soup" recipe 
Red Lentil Curry
The "I'd never tried lentils before and loved this" Chicken and Lentil recipe 
Mediterranean Lentil Salad
Family-approved Lentil Taco recipe (499 reviews, over 10,000 saves!)

Still skeptical? Check out for a surprisingly pretty and professional website. (No really - just click! Surprising, isn't it?!). Nutritional information is here (highlights include high protein content, low glycemic index, high in fibre, high in iron, folate and potassium....!).

DID YOU KNOW - Canada is the #1 exporter of lentils worldwide?! Check out the Wikipedia chart - we're ahead by miles over India and Turkey! Nicely done, Saskatchewan! Canadian-grown lentils are typically the red or green variety (I know a great recipe for Greek Red Lentil soup with lemon, rosemary and feta cheese in the ReBar cookbook!). Weird - someone's cooking their way through the ReBar cookbook - link here to see that blog. Good advertising!

Be patriotic, be frugal, be very, very healthy - eat lentils!

3. Walk.

Any comfortable walking shoes will do!

No, you don't need Sketcher's shape-ups. And no, you don't need to buy a iPod. You don't need much of anything to walk, to be perfectly frank - shoes help, and sometimes a raincoat comes in handy.

Walking is so underrated in exercise-culture today. And it's something that so many of us take completely for granted. I spoke with an old lady at the bus stop the other day, who passed up a ride on the B-Line for the slower #9 trolley because it brought her one block closer. "Before, I would happily walk that block," she said (she was such a well-dressed, elegant older lady!), "but now it causes me such pain, I can't do it. I have osteoarthritis, and it limits how far I can walk."

I have a wheelchair-bound neighbour. He can't motor around all day - he needs to keep track of the battery charge and plan his trips carefully. You wouldn't want to run out of juice blocks from your home in the rain, would you? What would he do - hopefully he can operate a cell phone to call for assistance, but either way you can see that all of his trips would have to be carefully considered. Not much freedom there.

But your legs and feet - if they are in good working order, you can walk almost without limit!

One of these lovely spring days, just start walking home from work. Or start walking towards downtown on a weekend. You can always flag down a cab or jump on a bus partway, but start walking and see how you do. You see so much more when you're walking. You can shop and browse very easily - take 5 to check out that new store, or to grab a take-out menu. If you need to refuel, there's always plenty of places to buy a quick snack, drink or meal. And I can guarantee you you'll feel so accomplished when you get home. It counts as daily exercise, too! So why not try commuting a little differently next week - walk to the SkyTrain instead of catching a connecting bus. Or walk to the store for groceries or dinner once you get home.

Walking is also FREE. It's a good way to clear your mind and to take in the sights and sounds of the city around you.

If you're not confident, stick to main streets (4th avenue, Broadway, Burrard, etc.). If you are, head off the beaten track. And if you're quite comfortable, try the back alleys! It's illuminating to see what's in the backyards of your neighbouring buildings!

This long weekend is supposed to have very pleasant weather. I recommend walking the seawall. Stanley Park is a fantastic place to stroll, but so is the False Creek and Kits/Fairview side. Why not start from Granville Island (have brunch?), and walk round to English Bay for a beer, then turn around and head back? You'll have earned the empty alcohol calories with the walk, and you can't feel too badly about Hollandaise sauce if you walked for a couple of hours that day!

So go on - find comfortable shoes and put one foot in front of the other. You'll be amazed what you'll stumble across in our beautiful city!

4. Punch something (not someone!) for fitness and for all-important stress-relief

A punching bag  is preferable, but pillows work in a pinch

Boxing is a really terrific way to get fit - I can't think of a better way to work your arms and core! I personally prefer to attend kickboxing classes, but there's no reason you can't get the same benefit at home with a punching bag (if you have one) or even a mattress! If you're going to be hitting something like a mattress, prop it up so that it's at least at your chest height so you can pivot your way into the punch (that's where the ab magic happens!). Rolled up winter-weight duvets and sleeping bags work wonderfully, too!

This is a fantastic stress-relief, too. I know I can get a huge amount of grad-school-induced-rage out with a dozen or so satisfying blows.

Stress really can kill you, typically not the in the dramatic anger-induced-coronary, but more often slowly and imperceptibly in stress-exacerbated illnesses (and that's pretty much ANY disease state you can dream up - cancers, cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders, immune impairment, brain function, mental and emotional health, you name it!).

And I don't know about you, but when I go to the gym and start on the jab-cross-hook combos, there's a shocking amount of anger just waiting to be let out! I don't think I would have recognized it at all, were it not for the opportunity to use it to help propel me into a devastating right-hook! Maybe you don't even think you're stressed - it may be that you won't notice it until you give it the chance to get out! Kicking is great stress-relief too, but because of the inherent vulnerability of the knees, I'd leave kicks to proper instruction. (Always remember - your knee is a hinge, like on a door. It moves back and forth along a single plane. If you twist it to a side and try to bend it, horrible things will happen! Do not put torque on your knees! Rotate your leg from your ball-and-socket hip joint. Your knee can only safely move in a straight line! Remember this and keep your knees safe and happy!).

Fitness-wise, an hour or so that includes warm-up, punching, and cool-down has left my obliques and abdominals more worked and sore than any other exercise (including "Ab Ripper X", which is a great download; non-boxing and only requires a mat). My deltoids and triceps are still sore from class earlier this week - I feel fantastic, and a heck of a lot less stressed!

Never punched anything in your life? Here's how to throw good punches (free instruction!):

Just find something that can take your blows, and remember - it's going to leave you very sweaty and breathless, very quickly! It's a wonderful free and easy workout that does good in terms of cardio, muscle and stress!

5. Cut back the caffeine

You may not think you have a 'caffeine addiction' because you're not that 140lb guy that shows up at the start of each shift with a triple-shot Americano from Starbucks, only to be followed by another an hour later and a Red Bull at lunch. (I know this guy....! And he's a doctor, though obviously not a cardiologist!).

But if you stop drinking caffeine at all next week, or even just substitute your usual coffee for tea (probably a wiser approach - you might avoid withdrawal headaches this way), you will very likely notice a difference. I sure did, and I probably only drink coffee 4 times a week in the morning!

Caffeine, in my opinion, is going to end up on our collective "no-no" list in the very near future. It's too bad, 'cause this little drug is such a great and accessible stimulant! But it is abused.

I have a heart arrhythmia, and so I can really feel the effects of caffeine-overload. (It's actually possible to get caffeine poisoning - if you don't believe me, ask an emergency room physician or read up on it here. It's not good, and can even be fatal!).

Starbucks and Blenz, according to anecdotal and casual research conducted by myself and a couple of other students, are the WORST for caffeine-overload. Having either of these two company's drip coffees (not espresso-based drinks - more research required there!) leaves us jittery, shaky and gets two of our hearts out of synch!

(I tried to look up the actual caffeine content on Starbucks' website, and it crashed, twice. Here's the link that's suppose to work from the parent page that does work but tells us nothing. Conspiracy?).

Remember that making coffee at home reduces waste, is more cost-effective, and as far as we can tell, it tastes better and leaves us less jittery. I'm suspicious that Starbucks adds caffeine to the coffee in order to give the public that 'jolt' they're all craving. It's like refining a drug for more potency, just like the heroin dealers do - addictions are easier to foment when the drug hits you hard and fast!

That's it for today! If you floss tonight before you go to bed, then again in the morning when you skip the cup of joe before heading out for a leisurely, long Good Friday stroll in your neighbourhood, have a little free 'boxing lesson' online in the evening while you cook up some dhal or stew or make a lentil salad or burrito for dinner, you'll have spent virtually no money at all and your body will be all the better for it!

I hope you feel inspired and encouraged to make-over your routines, for free (or practically free). You have my permission to ignore all the marketing to the contrary!

Oh yeah - Central Gourmet (Cypress and 1st) has delicious bagged navel oranges in right now (the bluebird-labelled ones). Haven't checked New Apple market, but they may as well. Really tasty, and a great snack for after a long walk or a good bout with the pillow!