All I Want For Christmas

A few weeks ago, Oscar, a new innovative health insurance company more human than the others, wrote a lovely email, asking me to reflect on my past year and think about what I am most grateful for this year. Given everything that has happened over the course of 2014, only one thing really sprang to mind and that was the importance of health and wellbeing.

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Last year, on Christmas Day, we had my Ubtan, a traditional event that takes place a few days prior to a desi wedding. My Grandma had recently died of cancer a few weeks earlier and all I wanted that day was for her to be with us. It can be hard looking back at those pictures knowing that such a big part of our lives had recently departed. It was sudden and unexpected, although it was bittersweet, the wedding helped us all to get through that loss, heal together and we have some beautiful memories of those painful days.

What does anyone want for Christmas? Having thought about it a lot recently, in the end I decided it was the health and happiness of my loved ones. What good would everything at Christmas be without that?

Putting up decorations, what fun is that if there aren’t happy, healthy people to do it with you? All the food we prepare, would it taste as wonderful if we weren’t enjoying it over the laughter of family members who feel well? How much would it suck if there were no smiling rosy-cheeked friends to huddle with on a cold day at the Christmas market?

Hunting down roasted chestnuts, braving the weather for gifts, ice skating, building snowmen, holiday lights, stocking fillers, ugly Christmas sweaters, an abundance of socks wrapped up under the tree, mince pies, festive films, an endless list of activities that would not bring half as much joy without the health and happiness of our loved ones.

This year I am grateful to my husband, family and friends for putting up with my adventures in food and life. For coming along to yoga, for supporting me in my health choices by bringing celery sticks with dips to girly nights, being the guinea pigs to my experiments in the kitchen, for getting me hot chocolate without milk, for encouraging my writing, sharing my food and recipes and for embracing all my quirks.

The greatest antidote to all ailments, the thing that keeps me smiling and feeling well, is the health and happiness of my family and friends, because without them, none of this would mean anything.

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Ye Olde Tin Shed

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I’ve found that every year something will consolidate the arrival of festive anticipation. It could come early or late and it isn’t always because the shops have put out the Christmas delights.

It brings your senses to life, a sniff of pine trees in the air, neighbourhood decor, seeing the Marks & Spencer’s food advert, hearing the dates for the German Christmas market, the hope for snow or the sound of carols drifting through the air. Whatever it is, every year something seals it for me, this year it was a little shop near Tudor and Cashel called The Old Tin Shed.

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This little haunt has carved out a trinket haven for itself against a stunning backdrop of white on white. If you are looking for some Christmas inspiration or you just want to recapture your festive spirit be sure to stop by here at some point in the next few weeks.

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Ground to ceiling is a feast for your eyes. I felt like I was in Ariel’s treasure trove or stumbling through the closet to Narnia.

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There are some really lovely ideas displayed around the shop for how to bring about a tasteful Christmas feel to your home this year. I love how much attention is paid to detail and the old rustic chic feel is right up my street.

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As are some of the quirkier touches, cute little one-offs that you will treasure as part of your holiday season repertoire for years to come.

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You can also find things that will leave your home looking picturesque all year round, the walls and shelves are brimming with gorgeous bits and pieces.

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One of my favourite touches was this fridge door with these cute little festive magnets.

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It’s also a great place to do Christmas present shopping for people who just seem to have everything, because there is certainly something for everyone at The Old Tin Shed.

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You Can Always Have Paris

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It’s refreshing that someone out there knows how to turn bad habits into endearing qualities. How To Be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style and Bad Habits is my favourite read en ce moment. My British stiff upper lip has often quivered at the sight of the Parisienne pout, is there anything in this world quite like it? Writers Anne Berest, Audrey Diwan, Caroline Maigret and Sophie Mas, know this and so they take you to the root of that pout and much more.

In a perfect world I would have been born in Paris during The Age of Enlightenment and become a notable host or figure of the French salons and live on as an echo in their art, film and literature. I suppose every girl starts to have a long distance (and often unrequited) love affair with Paris at some point in her life. I think mine started around the time I discovered the first perfume I truly loved, Coco Mademoiselle by Chanel. My friends and I became obsessed with Two Lipsticks and a Lover and I vividly remember Carrie losing it with Big for going to Paris without her. I even wrote a script called What’s French For Butterflies during my Masters in Feature Film Screenwriting trying to explore that certain je ne sais quoi.

My sister went off to Paris once for a human rights conference, she was so immersed with the city that she lost track of time, her group left without her so she ended up missing her connection and got lost trying to get back home. In any other place, this scenario would be an utter nightmare but when it happens to you in Paris, somehow it becomes romantic. I mean, she contemplated what to do next on the steps of the Sacré-Coeur, for heaven’s sake.

Two Lipsticks and a Lover was all about how to emulate the quintessential French Mademoiselle. Something I have recently learnt is that there is the French woman and then there is the Parisienne and of a book that can bring some of that allure to you no matter where you are in the world.

Parisian women never try to appear to be something other than what they are. In truth, more than wanting to look young—which is but a fleeting illusion—they want above all to become the best possible version of themselves, outside and in, at any age. [How To Be Parisian Wherever You Are]

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So then how to be Parisian wherever you are? Cover your bases it would seem. Eat croissants, Camembert cheese, drink red wine at lunch and know it’s absolutely okay to ditch the gym. Get cultural with theatre, museums and your opinions.

Discover your signature item and take really good care of it so it lasts you a lifetime. The writers of the book recommend you wear it with everything, no matter what it is, a trench, a pair of heels or a chic purse. Mine would be my precious sunglasses that were a steal, which according to my friends I use to be ‘dramatic.’ Oversized sunglasses are also on their list of essentials alongside other favourites such as ballet flats, a black blazer and jeans. Label name-dropping is a serious faux pas as is saying bon appétit incidentally.

For the Parisian woman less is always more, less make-up, less jewelry and the less of a fuss over everything, the better. Her jewelry though, always tells a story and this is a habit I have cultivated most of my life. While I keep my heart at a safe distance from my sleeve, ask about the trinkets at my ears and neck and you will have me gushing.

Dig a little deeper and you will find her thoughts on being in love with love, solitude, what mother knows best and even sadness. If you have “ever [felt] as though the world’s troubles are flowing through [you]” chances are you have been living in the wrong city, for a Parisian this is just the right kind of shade for feeling blue.

This book made me laugh and even cry a little over the fact that I’m not living in Paris. While I won’t be jetting off anytime soon and am more than happy to be a British and Pakistani citizen of the world currently living in Toronto, it’s nice to know I can have a little piece Parisian chic wherever I am.

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Sleeping Beauty

Little did I know that on this cold, somewhat snowy Saturday afternoon in Toronto’s Queen West, the idiom beauty is only skin deep would be driven home by learning how to make some gorgeous beauty products but also discovering how deeply damaging some chemicals in everyday products can be.

Maya Goldenberg, a Toronto based eco-beauty professional, did an engaging, inspiring and insightful workshop peppered with funny jokes and oodles of her lovely personality at BEVLAB over the weekend. I was lucky enough to attend and it was one of the best afternoons I’ve had in a while.

BEVLAB, in their own words is a “an open studio, laboratory, bar, and café space meant to serve as an interaction node in the city.” It really is a hub for provoking thought, their creation, the “cloud” is a cool experience and if you live in the city you should check it out. So in this evocative environment, we turned our thoughts to eco-beauty, some delicious homemade apple turnovers so kindly baked for us by Goldenberg herself and some hands on chemistry.

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Goldenberg opened with the idea, that for her, luxury is health and her passion lies in creating eco-beauty products and educating people about what really lies in all our favourite beauty buys on the shelves of popular drugstores. Goldenberg tells us that we can learn about this easily by downloading a free mobile app called Skin Deep, which allows you to scan barcodes of products and get information about them and see where they fall on the Enviromental Working Group scale. Another app Goldenberg referred to, Think Dirty, similar but also gives you cleaner product options.

During what Goldenberg called the “doom and gloom” part of her workshop, she told us about common chemicals in numerous products found in most households, everything from hand soap, to sanitizer to shampoo that all contain harmful toxins. Goldenberg explains, that on average, a woman, uses up to twelve products before she leaves the house, that means in one morning we have already been exposed to over a hundred toxins and on average, a man, uses eight.

Here are some common ones to be aware of (you can find the dirty dozen here):

  • BHA & BHT (found in moisturisers, makeup) may cause cancer, interfere with hormone function and harmful to wildlife and fish.
  • DEA, MEA & TEA (found in creamy preparations and foaming products) can react to form cancer – causing nitrosamines and also harmful to wildlife and fish.
  • Parabens (used in most cosmetics, skin care) may interfere with hormone function and associated with breast cancer, fully intact parabens have been found in the middle of breast tumours.
  • Parfum or fragrance (used in unscented products, often as the last ingredient) some ingredients can trigger allergies and asthma. Some linked to cancer and neurotoxicity.

Okay, so why should you worry? A lot of us do our best to nurture our skin from within, which of course is so important, by eating clean. Limiting intake of salt and sugar (or substituting them with better choices) and enjoying an unprocessed diet rich in fruit, vegetables, healthy grains, fats and proteins can all contribute towards a glowing and healthy complexion.

Skin is the the largest organ of the human body, taking care of what we put into it is crucial, given that sixty percent of what we put on our skin gets absorbed into our body and goes to our bloodstream. You would think that beauty products that are sold are all exposed to some type of safety testing before they come into our hands and yet it seems that isn’t the case. According to one article  “there are more than 80,000 synthetic chemicals in the marketplace but only 5 percent have ever been tested.”  That’s a lot of unknown toxins being dumped into your bloodstream.

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While we got to dabble and create some lovely products, a tinted lip balm, some deodorant and yummy sugar scrub with quality dōTERRA oils, making their own beauty products isn’t for everyone. You could check out these companies though, Goldenberg loves Sappho Organics and one of my favourite lines is Skin Essence, their Ocular Eye Serum is amazing and goes a long way or check out Tata Harper. There are also plenty of other home remedies you can try, for instant skin brightening try washing your face with gram flour, mashed up avocados make a great mask as does a dollop or two of honey and there is so much pampering to be done with a teaspoon or two of baking soda, everything from a foot soak to a face scrub!

While I have always tried to look for products that are mostly natural, Goldenberg’s workshop really woke me up. What I took away from this experience is, being mindful and aware of what you are buying and making informed choices can make a big difference to the environment, your skin and what goes into your body. Isn’t that beautiful?

Model Road Trip

The writer behind, Model Journey, shares her thoughts on “quirky” and other things

Lexa Schevchenko’s beautiful eyes and smile stay with you and she carries a dress effortlessly, with an ethereal sort of quality. A model with a decade of experience, she writes a blog sharing her work and travel experiences, beauty and skincare tips. Model Journey, really is something. You get to go on a vibrant trip into the world of modelling with stunning pictures and cool collaborations as Shevchenko’s voice leads the way. You might discover anything from a snack, to a thought or two on lust, love and marriage, or a memoir from a visit to a school in Sri Lanka. Model Journey isn’t the typical “behind the scenes” peak, it is a lot more spirited than that.

In one piece Shevchenko’s discusses how she was once told that she would lose a client if she didn’t put on weight, the exact opposite of what we’ve come to expect from the modelling industry. Shevchenko’s response was inspiring, “I’m healthy, I eat healthy and I like it, I work out once in a while or take long walks when I can. And I have always been this way…I do not diet…I had put myself on a cake and carbs diet for the past few days. But, I figured, I should just stay the way my body and I feel good. Because, if that’s what they tell people who force themselves to become skinnier in a harmful way, to love their body and stay healthy, I want that for myself too. And I can’t help it if my ‘healthy’ doesn’t match someone else’s idea of a perfect size.”

Courtesy of Lexa Schevchenko, fashion story for Stylebop.com shot by Ulrich Knoblauch.

Courtesy of Lexa Schevchenko, fashion story for Stylebop.com shot by Ulrich Knoblauch.

What are you up to at the moment?

Same old, working, traveling a bit, writing a blog and exploring!

Do you have any go-to wellness tips you can suggest?

Drink plenty of water. A good tip is squeeze half a lemon and have it with a bit of hot water (less than half a glass) every morning. It’s also always handy to have vitamin C in the house, like Airborne and Emergen-C, and have a few throughout the day whenever you feel like you are tired or getting a cold.

What are your favourite products and beauty rituals?

I love Estée Lauder Night Repair serums. But sometimes my skin tends to get very sensitive and I switch to more gentle products. Recently, I purchased an Aesop toner and face cream and have been happy with this organic line.

The most important thing in modelling is to learn to deal with rejection and keep your self-worth.

 What book have you read that every girl and woman should read?

I don’t believe there’s The Book but The Bible. I think it’s great to read small excerpts from it every now and again, many answers lie there.

What gives you confidence?

I would call it serenity rather than confidence. In times of stress, I remind myself that everything is in God’s hands at the end of the day and I only can do my best.

What makes you happy on a bad day?

Little things, like a favourite sweet treat, something funny on TV, and of course the most important is talking to my family and friends.

Some of Schevchenko’s beauty rituals. Photo courtesy of Lexa Schevchenko, fashion story for Stylebop.com shot by Ulrich Knoblauch.

Some of Schevchenko’s beauty rituals. Photo courtesy of Lexa Schevchenko, fashion story for Stylebop.com shot by Ulrich Knoblauch.

How do you keep going and glowing like a pro?

Funny and flattering the way you put it! It’s life, you’ve got to keep going and doing your best!

How do you relax when you aren’t working?

My favorite thing is spending time with my friends. I love having a girly talk over a cup of coffee, getting nails done with girlfriends and of course, shopping! A good read is always relaxing too.

Finally, what are your thoughts on the word quirky?

I guess cute and funny in an unusual way.

You can read more from Schevchenko here.

To your good health

Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, fall is really here and my friends and I are off to a beautiful cottage in Golden Lakes for campfires, scary movies, a cheeky s’more and an epic brunch on Monday. If there is anyway to make a s’more healthy, I am not sure it has been discovered and nor do I want to, something’s are perhaps best enjoyed completely adulterated (some good quality chocolate and gluten-free crackers could be a good tweak).

As I try to fathom what I have gotten myself into by offering to cook a Thanksgiving meal for the first time in my life, (it can’t be any different to Christmas dinner right?) I am grateful that there is no turkey to deal with. Before you start imagining a tofu shaped bird (an interesting idea), let me just tell you no such thing will be happening, a recipe or two will be up soon enough.

As well being really excited about this weekend, in this post I have to do a shout out to all of you, as about a year ago, I completely changed the direction of this blog as I changed the direction of my life when my late grandma was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Looking for a way to help her I sought the advice of everyone I could think of.

My husband’s beautiful aunt told me to encourage her to eat a more alkaline based diet. Although my grandma’s cancer was too far gone to be reversed, for the first time I learnt what being healthy truly meant. Having suffered from an autoimmune disorder myself since 2008, taking medicine for it everyday never sat well with me and I was always looking for a different way to treat myself.

I came across a lifestyle called Honestly Healthy and it all just made sense. I decided to adapt a more plant-based diet, cutting down meat, dairy, wheat, salt and sugar from my lifestyle. I started drinking lemon and water, green juicing in the morning and sharing my recipes and experiences here. The change in my condition has been remarkable, I feel much healthier and stronger. Your likes and love, are a real incentive to keep sharing and writing, so thank you.

Although my grandma has moved on, I feel, even in her departure from this world she left me with a gift. I started researching all of this for her but it ended up changing my life and helping me with my illness. So this year, I hope all of you will join me in giving thanks for our health, the health of our loved ones and this wonderful community we are so blessed to be a part of. Keep spreading the good food vibes and love.

Happy Thanksgiving xo
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Courtesy: Nausheen Dadabhoy

21 days of self-love

The 2nd of September, three weeks ago, feels like a long time and that trepidation, how are we going to manage 21 days of detoxing, a distant memory. Well first of all, when you have someone in it with you for the long run, like Ahmed, half the battle is already won.

The funniest moment had to be when I thought that I had eaten ice cream mindlessly and was so distressed about telling him and was so annoyed that all my hard work had gone down the drain. I was relieved to discover, that it was just a dream.

Coming off the Clean Program today, I feel like I accomplished something. I didn’t lose a dress size or anything (that DEFINITELY was NOT the goal) and yet, somehow this is even better, feeling healthy gives you a buzz like no other. I have a hold of myself.

I thought that the second we came off it, I would reach for my favourite food cravings, pizza (yum), a cupcake (yummy) or fries (the yummiest), but no. What I was looking forward to most was having breakfast, an omelette and gluten-free oats for breakfast and the prospect of adding tomatoes to my lentils tonight.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not about to turn away cupcakes or pizza for the rest of my life, if anything it’s the exact opposite, I am looking forward a lovely chocolate one this weekend at my friends birthday! Just that something must have happened in these past three weeks, rather than craving the stuff I love, I now hope to simply enjoy it as a treat every now and again.

Overall the experience was really fulfilling, in terms of food and emotions. Having an awareness and hold of my true hunger, is really empowering and I hope to keep building on it.

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