Emma Waverman writes about the chaos of modern family life. 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 grade schooler, and husband in Toronto. Emma has written for a variety of national parenting and 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. You can contact Emma at embracingchaos@hotmail.ca.

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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.


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).



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. 


The Best Salad Dressing Recipe if you are sick of a basic vinaigrette

Sometimes it is the simple things in the kitchen that defeat me. Cooking rice on the stove, making coffee, creating a simple oil and vinegar salad dressing.

The fact that I eat salads is a big change from when I was younger, as salads was never high up on my list of go-to items. But I realized that it’s boring lettuce that turns me off, and I experimented with salads until I found out what I like – which happens to be less acidic dressings and lots of textures.

It doesn't look like much because my daughter got to this salad before I took the picture.

Like most people, I try and be mindful of what I am eating – I balance out bad days with good ones, I cook with whole, unprocessed ingredients, I force myself to eat green things and I try to use ingredients that have a health boost in them.  Which usually means a salad with extras tossed in.

Loblaws would refer to me as a “mindful foodie”, which means that I place an emphasis on what I eat to improve my physical and mental health. Sometimes this means I throw in hemp seeds into my salad, or drink kale smoothies, or I try and slow down and appreciate the process of nourishing myself (and my family).

And while I don’t really love the words mindful or foodie, I think the approach has meaning. Grocery stores such as Loblaw are making it a lot easier to cook in a mindful way, stocking up on ingredients like seaweed, miso and fermented items. They have cooking classes to show you how to create healthy meals from familiar, and unfamiliar ingredients that are good for you, and are just good.

This addictive dressing is made from healthy grocery store ingredients and tastes like special occasion food. It is going to take your salads from boring to colourful. I got the inspiration from the blog What’s Cooking Good Looking, but I have simplified it over time. It is a flavourful dressing best over sturdy lettuces like kale, or even arugula. If I am making it for company, I will roast some colourful heirloom carrots to go in the salad, and add cooked quinoa or lentils to soak up the vibrant flavour. My 11-year old daughter loves this dressing so much that she uses it as a dip.

I make it in my Nutribullet (as seen on TV!), but a powerful blender or food processor works as well. The recipe makes quite a bit, leftovers last for a week or two and are great on salads with leftover steak or chicken.  

Carrot & Ginger Dressing

½ large carrot (use whole carrots, not pre-cut baby carrots)

1 inch knob of ginger

1 tbsp soy or tamari sauce

1 tbsp honey

1 tsp dijon mustard

2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

¼ cup grapeseed or vegetable oil or any flavourless oil

1-3 tbsp water

Squeeze of lemon juice

Add carrot, ginger, soy sauce, honey, mustard, vinegar, water and oil and blend. Add water to thin it slightly. Add a squeeze of lemon to finish. If you are using kale, dress and massage (yes, with your hands) the greens and let it sit for a few minutes before serving. Toss in roasted or shredded carrots, sunflower seeds, quinoa or lentils, leftover roasted vegetables or just leave it plain. 

 *this post was sponsored by Loblaws

Loblaws Inc. has provided promotional consideration, all product(s) and product information in exchange for my comments or review.


I'm part of the Instant Pot Cult and I have the Risotto Recipe to Prove It

I like my rice cooker, I am okay with my slow cooker. But I would throw them all out in a hot minute to keep my Instant Pot. Instant Pots are a new take on pressure cookers. You may remember pressure cookers by the stories of them exploding and leaving spaghetti sauce stains on the ceiling, or worse. But Instant Pots, and other new pressure cookers are easier with their plugs, built-in timers and safety features. 

They cut down the time it takes to cook by approximately 70 percent, which means chicken is done in 15 minutes, dried beans are tender in 35 minutes and a pork shoulder becomes pulled pork in an hour. The best part is that you can throw frozen meat in and it is still done in a short time. 

I love my Instant Pot --  if Instant Pots were Mary Kay cosmetics, I would be driving a pink Cadillac by now. I use it at least a couple of times a week. I am terrible at meal planning but I like to grocery shop -- so throwing in frozen chicken thighs with some BBQ sauce and having it ready in 20 minutes is perfect. I make soup every weekend by tossing in some beans or barley, stock, veggies and sometimes a smoked turkey leg or ham hock. 

It's not all sunshine and rainbows though. Just like in slow cooking you want to use fattier meats that stand up to braising. And it can be a little bit hard to figure out -- the natural release vs. forced release is something I am still working out. (A good rule of thumb is that if it is something that can't be overcooked (like rice) then you need to do a quick release, if it is something that can wait a bit longer (like stock) then you do a natural release.  It definitely takes a few times to figure it out, and I am still always consulting websites to work out the timing. 

There is a big community to help you out as well, the Instant Pot site has lots of resources, there are hundereds of Facebook pages some of which specialize in a certain diet or region. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt articles at the Food Lab was what inspired me to try a pressure cooker and the site has lots of recipes -- though they can be a little over-involved for a short-cut cook. 

Also, evangelists like me will shout from the rooftops on how it only takes six minutes to make rice, and 15 to make chicken but the machine takes 10 minutes to heat up and then another 10 minutes to release all the pressure so you can open the lid. So six minute rice is really 26 minutes. It's hands-off time, but I'm just warning you. 

But there is nothing faster and better for turning tough cuts like pork shoulder, shanks, short ribs into a delicious weekday meal. It's amazing for dried beans and pulses, making hummus from dried chick peas suddenly seems doable on a Tuesday. You can sauté right in the pan, which means you have more flavourful sauces, and you can use the sauté function to reduce them down too. The Instant Pot also has a slow cooker, keep warm, and yogurt making functions. 

And risotto. Risotto was a weekend only meal, usually made to impress people. But I can do it in the Instant Pot in six minutes (plus, the heat-up time). It is creamy without needing constant stirring, and I don't add any cream to it. It also makes delicious rice pudding, if that is your thing. (And coconut milk rice pudding is definitely my thing!)

Basic Pressure Cooker Risotto

This risotto is a base for other flavours, sauté mushrooms with the onions and use mushroom stock or veggie stock for a mushroom risotto. The formula of one cup of rice to two cups of stock is consistent, so feel free to double and triple recipe (if your pressure cooker is big enough). Add goat cheese and leftover chicken. Roast butternut squash and add a few roasted cubes in before cooking and top it with more squash and sage. The possibilities are endless. 

3 tbsp Olive oil

1-2 clove garlic chopped (or shallot)

1 medium onion finely chopped 

2 cups Arborio or risotto rice

1/3 cup white wine

4 cups chicken or veggie stock (homemade or low-sodium)

pinch of salt (depending on saltiness of stock)

2 tbsp butter (optional) 

1/2 cup Parmesan, freshly grated (optional)


Turn on the sauté function and add a couple tablespoons of the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add in the chopped onion and sauté until almost translucent, about 4 minutes. Add in the chopped garlic. The burner can get a little hot in sauté function, turn it off for a minute if it is too hot.

Add in the two cups of rice, stir continuously until the rice becomes translucent around the edges but still has a white core. Add in the wine and let it boil off. (Because there is no evaporation in the pressure cooker, make sure the wine has boiled off.) Add chicken or veggie stock. Stir.

Turn off the cooker, and turn on the manual setting on high for six minutes. When the time is up, do a quick release. Open the lid and it will look soupy. Stir it and let it sit for one minute. It should be creamy risotto, if it is still a bit wet looking, cover it and let it sit and stir some more. If you need to add more stock, do so and turn on sauté function and stir it for a minute. 

Stir in butter (if using) and parmesan (if using) and any other additions. Serve and feel good.