Emma Waverman writes about the chaos of modern family life in the kitchen and out of it. She has a weekly food column on CBC Radio One, Here & Now. She is the co-author of the family cookbook Whining and Dining: Mealtime Survival for Picky Eaters and Families Who Love Them and is hoping to one day finish her certification as a parenting coach. She lives with her three kids, ranging from tween to university student, and husband in Toronto. Emma has written for a variety of national lifestyle magazines and newspapers. When she's is not making typos, telling you what she thinks, and thinking about dinner, you can find her on Twitter at @emmawaverman and Instagram. You can contact Emma at embracingchaos@hotmail.ca.

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Tuesday
May222018

San Francisco with Teens

We surprised our kids with a trip to San Francisco last March Break. This did not go over well. 

Our spoiled children are well-traveled and have conflicting ideas of what makes a perfect vacation -- one wants beach, one wants ski and one wants his friends around at all times. 

But my husband had work near San Francisco and having one flight paid for made it easier to contemplate taking three fretful teens away. This story has a happy ending though, as our kids loved the city -- its geography, its food, its tourist traps. It all worked. They even enjoyed a long car trip along the coast. 

Teenagers are quirky creatures to program for, they like to be busy and engaged - but not too much. They like to learn new things - but not too much. And they like to take pictures for their social media feed -- too much. San Francisco hit all the marks for us and if we can satisfy three wildly disparate kids than anyone can.

No teenagers were harmed in the taking of this family trip to San Francisco

I flew with the three kids on my own which was a pleasure. At 18, 15 and 12, my kids are competent travelers and the only problem is that they boss me around a bit too much. My husband met us at the rental car and we drove downtown to the Sheraton Fisherman's Wharf. 

Hotel

Sheraton Fisherman's Wharf: To be honest, I was not thrilled to be staying in the tourism epicentre of San Francisco but it turned out to be a good location. The hotel is a little quirky with a strange nautical beach theme but it is going through a major renovation. Finding rooms for our family of five can be tricky. We lucked out with a one King room, and one room with two doubles that connected. Our room came with a foldout couch which was terrible, so they brought up a rollaway bed. Westins and Sheratons usually have the best rollaway beds that are actual single beds and not folding cots. We are devoted Starwood loyalists and got free breakfasts with our rooms. The breakfast had your typical warmed-over pancakes and rubbery eggs except they would also make you eggs and omelettes on demand which made it so much better.

Restaurants

The night we arrived I had prebooked dinner at Surisan which is nearby. Surisan is a lovely modern Korean restaurant which is probably the least touristy restaurant in the neighbourhood. We had a fantastic meal of many dishes with contrasting flavours that satisfied our meat eaters and meat-neutral family. The fried rice was a particular standout. 

You hear a lot about the Chinese food in San Francisco, but if you are from Toronto or Vancouver it probably won't impress you very much. All the food experts I spoke to said that the best Chinese food is outside of the city and to skip it. Despite this advice we met a friend for Dim Sum at Great Eastern Restaurant. The food was not memorable, but was fine. We walked around Chinatown which is cute, and stopped in at the fortune cookie factory which was mesmerizing for about five minutes. 

Japantown is more interesting and we had ramen at Hinodeya. We were lucky that there wasn't a lineup at this popular spot. Instead of using a pork broth, the soup is dashi-based which makes it lighter and slightly more floral. 

The best meal we had was at State Bird Provisions. This well-known restaurant serves California-Asian food dim sum style. But it's not Dim Sum - instead it is a mish-mash of flavourful plates from all over the world.  Our table was groaning under the weight of all the dishes we picked up from the helpful staff. They had a little bit for everyone including the iconic State Bird (quail), garlic bread with burrata, pasta with uni, and colourful and flavourful beggeies. This is a great restaurant but is definitely a big night out and only worth it if you want to be challenged. 

Oysters kicked off our meal at State Bird Provisions on our family trip to San Francisco

We also ate at Fisherman's Wharf - bad idea. My son got food poisoning from the calamari, that did not look that it was being held at a safe temperature. We also had bread bowls at the famous Boudin Bakery, and all I can say is meh. 

There is an In n'Out Burger just off the main strip. I woudl suggest eating there - even though we did find the burgers disapointing compared to the hype. 

Ferry Building: We went here twice as there is a farmer's market on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. You can get oysters and other pop-up treats. Inside there are some iconic San Francisco restaurant stalls including the Slanted Door, Blue Bottle Coffee and Humphry Slocombe ice cream. This was also my daughter's first encounter with avocado toast, which has pretty much changed her life.

Teens loved the Donuts at the San Francisco Ferry Building Farmer's Market 

Activities

Fisherman's Wharf: You can't avoid it. The seals are hilarious, the tourist traps are everywhere. There is a museum of arcade machines that you can lose many hours and dollars in. It's fun. 

Alcatraz: It is a must-do! Buy tickets online before you leave your hometown. Everyone loved the tour which was very informative and held everyone's attention. Take water and snacks with you. 

Shopping: We went up to Union Square and wondered around. There were some great buskers. There was also a Brandy Melville (insert eye roll). Shop at your own risk.

Trolley Car: This is super cheesy but suprisingly fun. The lineup at Union Square was about an hour but the trolley stops at the requisit stops and lets people on, so you can try cheating the system. We scored the desireable outdoor spots. 

Crooked Street: Just at few minutes of driving, but the kids liked it for their social media. 

Ghiradelli: SKIP THIS. Just a giant ice cream parlour with a lineup and very mediocre ice cream. It says factory but it is a lie. 

Biking over Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco the teens were too embarrassed to be seen with me

Biking over the Golden Gate Bridge: Of course this got lots of grumbles when we booked the bikes at Bay City Bikes near Fisherman's Wharf. But it is a beautiful path down to the bridge where you see parts of San Fran you might have missed. Biking over the bridge is fun and then you end up in Sausolito which is adorable. We parked the bikes and had lunch and then grabbed ice cream at Lappert's. You then take the ferry back which brings you back to near the bike rental. There wasn't any big hills but it is a longish bike ride. 

Drive down to Santa Cruz: This is a very beautiful drive with lots of little beaches along the way. We had booked to see the sea lions at Ana Nuevo but the weather was terrible so we skipped it. We stayed at the Dream Inn in Santa Cruz which was adorable. We then drove through the forest to Palo Alto and then flew home from San Jose. 

 

Can you take your family to San Francisco and not take a picture of avocado toast?

 

 

Monday
Nov202017

Air Canada Supports Sick Kids With Heart & Wings 

When I signed on to help out the Air Canada Foundation at the Rally for Kids with Cancer I wasn’t expecting to be inspired by the people that I met. But that is exactly what happened.

The Air Canada Foundation is a long-time sponsor of the car rally which has raised 20-million for Sick Kids cancer care over the past 10 years.  The event is similar to a scavenger hunt, where competitors get access to different parts of the city that are usually hidden from its citizens.

The airline also had a car in competition with a team of incredible women including: teen Emma Neaugu, the youngest competitor in the rally but also one of the fiercest. The driver was Captain Dawn Wells, one of a handful of female Air Canada captains and a veteran of the Canadian Navy and actress Jess Maclellan, (from the shows Mistresses and Legends of Tomorrow) was the team’s token celebrity (but she didn’t act like one).

 


 

Emma, at the age of 14, has already been through more than most of us will see in a lifetime. Barely two years ago she hurt her leg while training for an acro dance competition. The pain wouldn’t go away and eventually an osteosarcoma was found on her right femur. Since then there has been horrifying chemotherapy, a feeding tube, radical rotationplasty surgery and now the prosthetic that uses her ankle as her knee. Thanks to SickKids, she is back to dancing and even started tap lessons this year. As a SickKids ambassador, she shares her story with anyone who wants to hear, including in front of an audience of hundreds.

She speaks with grace and a maturity that is both a gift and burden to those who have undergone such extreme circumstances. It is easy to forget that she is only in Grade 9.  But underneath, she is still a little girl who can’t contain her enthusiasm for being placed on the with Air Canada team and the chance to hang out with Dawn who regularly captains long-haul flights to California.

The Air Canada hangar was one of four pit stops in the city-wide car rally. While at the hangar, competitors had to finish four challenges before they could move on to another part of the rally. Each team collected points at the pitstops which were tabulated at the end of the day. Emma had a chance to sit in the cockpit of a plane and go through two different pre-flight checklists.

 Heather Hamilton (TJZmommy) had a beautiful moment bonding with Emma's mother. They talked about the gifts and wisdom of being a Sick Kids mom, and the gratitude they felt for the hospital. 

Sponsoring the rally is just one small part of what the Air Canada Foundation does. Each year, the Foundation donates approximately 10-million Aeroplan Miles so that children like Emma and a parent, can travel from their home to hospitals for treatment. The Air Canada Foundation Hospital Transportation Program works with 15 pediatric hospitals across the country. The Foundation also donates hundreds of tickets to charitable fundraisers and has been providing well over $1 Million in financial grants per year for the past 3 years. The Foundation was started in 2012, but Air Canada has been supporting Sick Kids for 25 years and has been involved in the community for 80 years.

Over 40 Air Canada employees volunteered at the hangar. There were flight attendants in uniforms from different decades; people teaching competitors to use a baggage loader and another Captain and flight attendants running two challenges on the giant plane itself one of which was a match making lead by Brad Smith, from the Bachelor Canada and Chopped Canada! He was hilarious and goofy and I’m not sure why he needed to find a girlfriend on national TV, but he tells me he now has one in LA. There were other celebrities involved including Billy Baldwin, John O’Hurley (J. Peterman from Seinfeld) and some athletes. 

 

The employees are very proud of the charitable work that Air Canada does for the car rally, and in the community. Captain Dawn Wells told me about going to Sick Kids over Halloween with other staff and how much those visits meant to her over the years.

This was Dawn’s second year driving the car for the Air Canada team, and she was in the competition to win. But she was able to balance her competitive spirit with kindness. Everywhere the team went she made sure that everyone was comfortable, she introduced herself to every volunteer and kept everyone’s spirits high.  She started her career in the Navy and handed out Remembrance Day poppies to anyone who asked. Dawn is one of the most amazing women I have ever met -- and speaking with her even got Jess over her fear of flying! 

Jess Macallen’s passion for the cause was obviously heartfelt. To be honest, I had dismissed the celebrities’ participation as merely cursory but watching them compete made me rethink. Jess told me that after she visited Sick Kids once, she knew that she would whatever she could to help the hospital. Brad Smith has done over 40 events for Sick Kids this year. Billy Baldwin kicked in extra money to buy some more supplies so that kids can be treated for chemotherapy at home.

The combination of Emma, Jess and Dawn was so competitive they left every other team in their wake – and won the car rally. They were thrilled beyond measure, but they also recognized that their win was small compared to all the good that was done for Sick Kids that day.

*this post is sponsored by the Air Canada Foundation

 

Sunday
Oct082017

Cirque du Soleil VOLTA wants to see you this Wednesday!

Long-time readers will know that I have a soft spot for Cirque du Soleil. My husband and I were blown away by O in Vegas many lifetimes ago. I surprised my son once and took him to see an afternoon show, and last year I took the kids and my mother-in-law to her first Cirque show. We are going to see Cirque du Soleil VOLTA on Tuesday, and I have four tickets to giveaway for Wednesday night as well. 

Cirque always impresses. I am jealous of the imagination that the creators have to put together such complete worlds; everything is beyond my conception -- the music, the set and the costumes.  Of course, though it is the performers that get the most shocks of delight and fear. They seem to be made of different parts than us mere humans. Their muscles and bone replaced with some kind of elastic membranes.  

I am a scaredy cat, I can't even do the ropes course that my kids completed this weekend, but the Cirque performers -- from young to old seem to love their daredevil stunts. The Cirque tent is intimate, once in a while you can see a glimmer of fear in their eyes, which makes their stunts even more incredible -- and reminds you that there are indeed humans up there.

Cirque du Soleil VOLTA is currently in Toronto at the Portlands. The theme of the show is literally extreme sports, and you know that means it will contain stunts that ESPN hasn't even considered. The good news is that I have FOUR tickets to giveaway for this Wednesday's show. If you are free on Wednesday, October 11 at 8 pm, and would like to see VOLTA, enter your name in the comments (But please let me know how to notify you if you win!) and I will do a draw on Tuesday morning at 8am. (Sorry for the short notice!). But just think, if you win it will be a great Thanksgiving surprise for your kids! 

Find your free (in more ways than one)! Enter your name below. Giveaway is only for the Toronto show on Wednesday, October 11 at 8pm. No exchanges or refunds. 

*Cirque du Soleil gave me free tickets in exchange for this post.

Thursday
Sep142017

You Can Love School Lunches with these tips 

*This post is sponsored by Whirlpool Canada, but all opinions are, as always, mine.

There are 189 lunches left to make in the school year. Per child.

If that number doesn’t scare you a little bit, then I am jealous. It doesn’t matter how many lunches you have prepared (about 3,000 in my case) it can still be daunting to think about how to creatively pack a lunch that your child will eat.

For new Canadians, school lunch can be an even bigger issue. A recent survey conducted for Whirlpool Canada found half of Canadians surveyed believe for a child who is new to Canada, lunchtime at school can be a stressful situation. Four in 10 imagine children who bring ethnic lunches to school might get teased.

Cooking a non-school lunch with Abeer and Sama. So much love!

When I explained to our Syrian friends who we sponsored to Canada about packing a school lunch, they were shocked that their son wouldn’t be coming home. In Syria, lunch is the largest meal of the day and would not survive a school lunch box.

I hope some of his new friends have had a chance to sample some delicious Syrian food. My kids have learned so much about the family while eating with them and trying some new dishes, which is not a surprise. The survey also showed 70 per cent of Canadians surveyed agree giving children an opportunity to try dishes from different cultures is a good way to encourage mutual understanding and respect.

I was trying to think of ways to encourage the family to pack a healthy lunch, and not get bogged down by the relentlessness of school lunches. Meal prepping is a part of caring for our families – it’s something we do day-in and day-out throughout the school year. Keep the below tips in mind to make it fun and healthy.  

Encourage Independence: The best way to ensure that a school lunch is eaten is by getting buy-in from  your kids. And best way to get that buy-in is to have them involved in the process. Young children can bag up their snacks and add in pre-cut vegetables. They can help plan and make the main course. By the time they reach middle school, kids can make their own lunch, and even bake up their own snacks.

Make it all reachable: Designate an accessible shelf in the pantry and refrigerator where they can reach snacks, fruit and vegetables. The new Whirlpool® door-within-door refrigerator, available late fall 2017, makes storage options very flexible and offers quick access for little (and not so little) hands to grab their favourites.

Consider it quality time: A rushed morning may not seem like the best time to bond over food. But working together in the kitchen is good for kids (and you). Baking together after school, batch cooking on the weekends and meal planning are opportunities for kids to feel empowered, and to teach them important skills.

Try something new: I’m always asking my kids what is in their friends’ lunches. It normalizes different foods for them and gives me some new ideas. Rotating new foods into their lunch can make a boring lunch a bit more exciting. Just make sure you try out a new dish before it goes into the lunchbox.

Stock up on healthy choices: Make sure there are always fruit, cut-up veggies and lunch items on hand. Tuck away a couple of emergency dishes in the freezer or pantry for those days (weeks?) that you just didn’t make it to the grocery store.

Create lists: Keep a list of favourite lunch items in a place where everyone can add in their ideas. The kids can add to the list as their tastes change and grow. Take a picture of the list for mobile access.

Don’t feel guilty: We are all familiar with the guilt of packing a less than perfect lunch, or having a lunch returned uneaten. School lunch is a mere 20 minutes and kids often get distracted with socializing so they don’t have enough time to eat everything. Instead of worrying about how much a child eats at lunch, look at the food consumed over the entire day.

Piggyback on other meals: Ceri Marsh, author of the Schoolyear Survival Cookbook told me this tip and it is a little bit genius. Only prepare lunches when you are making another meal. If you are cutting up carrots for dinner, throw some in cold water for the next day’s lunch. If you are making rice, make extra for lunch. My kids’ favourite lunch is homemade macaroni and cheese, which I break down into different parts – grate the cheese while making a grilled cheese, boil pasta. And then I can make it quickly in the morning and reheat it the next day.

As daunting as lunchtime prep may seem, it is truly an act of care for your family. By getting your kids involved you can turn what once felt like a chore into fun, quality time with your kids. And one day, maybe they will pack your lunch too.

I like to include a treat in my kids’ lunches. I make the banana bread recipe in silicone mini -muffin tins. The kids usually eat these muffins during recess. I also put out a platter with muffins and fruit after school and these are always a hit with their friends. These start with melted butter and are great because it is an easy one-bowl recipe.

I LOVE my mini muffin silicone mat.

Oatmeal Banana Bread Recipe

3⁄4 cup sugar

1⁄2 cup unsalted butter, melted

2 large eggs

1⁄2 cup quick-cooking rolled oats

1 1⁄2 cups mashed banana (3–4 very ripe bananas)

1⁄4 cup buttermilk (or thinned out yogurt or 1/4 cup milk with a tsp of lemon juice)

1 tsp vanilla

1 cups all-purpose flour

½ cup whole wheat flour (or a different ration of white to whole wheat)

1 tsp baking soda

1⁄2 tsp salt

1⁄3 cup chocolate chips (obviously optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour a loaf pan.

Combine sugar and melted butter in a large bowl and stir until uniform. Add eggs, one at a time, and stir to incorporate. Add oats, banana, buttermilk and vanilla; stir until uniform. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl; stir with a fork to blend.

Add flour mixture to banana mixture one third at a time; stir until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes or until loaf is dark brown and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool bread in pan for 10 minutes, then run a knife along the edges to loosen, turn out of baking pan and cool on a rack.

Makes 1 yummy loaf or a dozen muffins (bake for 20 mins), or about 36 mini muffins (bake for 16 - 18 mins).

 

Wednesday
May242017

How to Make Cold Brew Coffee (and Tea) at Home

Cold brew coffee is not the same as iced coffee. It is also not the same as leaving your brewed coffee somewhere in your house and then drinking it at room temperature. And it is not the same as a coffee-blended drink. (Though, it makes a great one.) You can hear all about it in my CBC Radio segment on Here & Now

When coffee is brewed at high temperatures, the beans release volatile oils and flavours. When a coffee is hot, those flavours are enjoyable -- they often rise to the top and are in the crema. But if that hot brewed cofee is tossed over ice, those flavours can intensify, which is why people add so much dairy and sugar to iced coffee.

But when coffee is brewed cold, there is not heat hitting the beans and you just get a full, complex flavour. But like a good braise -- it is low and slow. Cold brew coffee takes eight to 12  hours of sitting to fully extract the flavours. But you will be happy you did it because cold brewed coffee is good -- it's even won me over and I am a dedicated tea drinker. 

Any great coffee place will be making their own cold brew, they may even have nitro cold brew on the menu which takes special equipment. In Toronto the nitro cold brew may come from the guys at Station Cold Brew, they are modeling their cold brew after the beer market but consider sugary, caffeinated beverages as their main competition. You may see their bottles being sold at major grocery outlets.

But cold brew is actually easy to make at home. Once you figure out the proportions you like, it's a breeze to make. 

If you know me well, then you know that I am obsessed with iced tea. So I make cold brew iced green tea almost everyday. Cold brew tea is the same method -- the proportions are at least 1 tsp to cold water. I make mine a little stronger. That's it. Now go enjoy your cold drink.

Just remember if you want to sweeten your iced beverages to make a simple syrup the day before by heating equal parts sugar and water together until the sugar dissolves. You can store in the fridge for weeks. 

Once you have cold brew you may find yourself adding it to cocktails or smoothies, the possibilities are endless.