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.

Subscribe to the Embrace the Chaos feed.
Search
Follow me on Twitter
Join Us On Facebook
Shout-Outs

Canadian Family's
18 Mom Bloggers We Love

2013 Canadian Weblog Awards nominee

Solutions for Moms across Canada

I'm a Blissdom Community Leader!

I'm Speaking at BlogHer '12

Friday
Jan162015

Loblaws Click and Collect Changed My Life (or at least my week)

 

I admit I am part of that strange subset of people who like grocery shopping. Some people hit their zone when working out – I do it in the aisles of a grocery store (I really wish the adrenalin hit me working out, though).

But that doesn’t mean that I always have the time. Or that I am organized enough to do it one complete shop. Sure, I do make a shopping list, and I store it on my phone – but I generally ignore it. (Don’t ask me why, my husband would like to know that too.)

I am finding the feeding of children riagamorle particularly challenging right now, with gymnastics and dance and skiing and life of a busy family. I am trying to find ways to cut down on my running around that also keep me organized so that I can get dinner made, kids to things and my sanity intact. This is where Loblaws Click and Collect comes in.

As you probably know I am a Loblaws apologist. My mother and I used to pore over the Insider’s Report together, Loblaw’s is my default big grocery store and well, I was in those commercials with Galen sitting around my kitchen table.

The people at Loblaws know this, so they asked me to try out their new Click and Collect program (and they did give me some gift certificates to cover some of my grocery bill.) You may have seen those Click and Collect ads all over the Internet, or at least they are seriously following me to every page I go to, (which is a little better than some other ones that follow me all over the Web.)

Click and Collect is a program where you order your groceries online, choose a two-hour pickup window time, and then arrive at the Loblaw’s at the appointed time, call the number, and two nice people load your groceries into your car. You never get out of your car. In fact, you don’t even need to get dressed.

Currently, it is only available at three stores – the “secret” Loblaws at Redway, Leslie and Lakeshore and on High Tech Road in Richmond Hill. Luckily, two of those stores are extremely convenient for me.

 

Last week, I ordered my groceries (in my pjs) on a Monday morning and I chose a Tuesday pickup time between5 p.m. and 7 p.m. I received an email saying that my groceries had been packed at 4pm and would be ready for me. I dropped my daughter at gymnastics and headed over to the grocery store. I pulled into the pre-determined spots at Loblaws and phoned the number on the pole. It was minus 11 out. Two, extremely polite young men, checked my order with me, asked if they could charge the credit card I put on file, and then loaded my trunk with groceries. I was listening to the radio in the warmth the whole time.

Okay, not the whole time – they renovated the Redway Loblaws and made it fancy, so I ran in there to check it out for a minute. But now I will  never need to go in again – unless I choose to. When they renovated it, they added a door and some refrigerators at the back of the store for the Click and Collect program.

There are obviously up and downs to this form of shopping. I didn’t get to pick my own fruit and vegetables so my avocados were hard, and the sweet potatoes were smaller than the ones I usually pick. I thought that I ordered a bag of oranges, but I only ordered one. Shopping online will never quite be the same as shopping in person – when I ran in the store I saw that there were Jaffa oranges which I didn’t see online but I would have ordered if I had.

Loblaws sends you an email with what products they were out of that you wanted, outlining the substitutions that the shoppers made. They give you two chances to accept or reject the substitutions but that’s not the same as you choosing your own.

When I remember, I bring along the Loblaws bins to pack my groceries in and skip the plastic bags. When I asked how to avoid loading up on plastic, the staff said I could make a note on my next order, and then bring my bags/bins to them when I come to pick it up and they would pack into them. 

I have been raving about the experience so much, that a couple of my friends have tried it too. One friend ordered from up north and then picked it up on her way back home. Brilliant! Except they forgot her milk. Still, she’s committed to give it another try.

My grocery list has been saved and I can use that as a base for my future orders, I can even search it by aisle or by past order, or favourites. I find that ordering online cuts down on my impulse purchases and means that I can research recipes at the same time. So, theoretically that all means that I will be better-organized, and since I am at gymnastics twice a week, I have no excuse for running out of groceries.

This is theoretical of course, there is only so much a person can do….

(Just in case you forgot how I pronounce quinoa....)

Friday
Dec192014

My 10 Kitchen Must-Haves 

BTW: This is a SHOP.CA sponsored post. (But still full of important kitchen essentials.)

What are your must-haves in a well-equipped kitchen? I have been thinking about this a lot since we just bought a small chalet up north and I have to furnish a tiny kitchen. I grew up in a kitchen store – my grandmother opened the first (and best) kitchen store in Toronto – the Compleat Kitchen. I spent most Saturdays of my childhood there, I thought it was because I am a natural when it comes to retail but I now realize was a parental dump for a free Saturday. My grandmother taught me, spend money on your kitchen -- your kitchen loves you, nourishes, and feeds you. It is the heart of your home and it deserves to be filled with equipment that work well.

Good pots and pans heat more evenly, expensive knives stay sharper longer and slice and dice with more precision. As I was telling a friend – bad cooks need good quality kitchen gear even more than experienced ones.

All this to say that I am trying to think of my 10-must haves for my new kitchen for first day in the kitchen. I have been stalking the SHOP.CA site as I can send all my purchases straight to the chalet and not have to fill my trunk with more stuff! I know that it will be there within the week with NO shipping charges and no duties. And a bonus, I get Aeroplan points which is good because I will need a trip south after a winter up north.

This is what I have narrowed down my list to so far:

 1.       Enamel Cast-Iron Pan

This 12” pan is the workhorse of my kitchen. I roast, fry, sauté absolutely everything in it every single day. It goes from stovetop to oven. And I am in love with the colours, which is a good thing because I don’t even bother putting it away. The downside is that it weighs a ton. (The above is a chicken with the backbone removed, seared and then put in the oven with some veggies underneath.)

2.       Single Shot Blender

I always feel a little embarrassed admitting this but I loved my Magic Bullet. You know the single shot blender that you see on late night commercials? That thing is brilliant for smoothies, and salad dressings. The kids use it on their own and there isn’t much cleanup. I loved it so much that I have bought three of them – every time one wore out I just bought another one. But now I am going to upgrade to the Cuisinart Compact Blender. It’s not plastic so I think it will churn out more protein shakes for hungry skiers without breaking. Once you own it, you won’t know how you lived without it!

 3.       Not just scissors, kitchen shears

They cut bags, opens rigid plastic toy wrapping and can also debone a chicken, cuts up Miami ribs and shreds herbs. An all-purpose kitchen shears that goes in the dishwasher that acts as a second knife is a must.

 

4.       Tongs

My desert island pick. There is nothing that tongs can not do. These spring-loaded ones with the silicone tips are my favourite.

5.       Wooden Spoons

A kitchen without wooden spoons is not a kitchen. Buy many. And never put them in the dishwasher.

6.       Global Knife

This is my favourite knife in the world. And when you find a knife that you love, you cherish it, take care of it, sharpen it and you buy a second one for up north. Bad knives can make you a bad cook. Good knives will make you a better cook. I cannot repeat this enough – buy good knives. Find the one that works for you.

7.       Accessories

Good Grips. Good Grips. Good Grips. And yes, we love the apple cutter.

 

8.       Instant Read Meat Thermometer

Twenty dollars for a thermometer, 30 seconds to see if meat is ready, knowledge that you have not poisoned your family – priceless.

9.       Slow-Cooker

You didn’t think I would have a chalet without a slow cooker did you? It has so many uses, it keeps hot chocolate and mulled wine nice and warm for those needed après get-togethers.

  10.   Peugeot peppermills are the best pepper grinders because of their internal mechanisms. I have been giving them as gifts since I worked at my grandmother’s store. Feel free to buy me these as a housewarming.

I haven’t even mentioned the pasta pots, and paring knives (I need lots), and the plates and dishes and a really good teapot. But it’s okay Boxing Day is coming!

 

 

Monday
Nov102014

Say Uncle

INFUSABLE

Fuse

Fun

Sun

Able

Use

Infusable is a long word, it must contain many anagrams. This word, these nine letters can distract me from the larger issues.

Like the sounds of my sister weeping. Or my Uncle's labored breath, and the green skin that would horrify the vain, proud man in the ICU bed with the IV bag hanging over his head. The one with the grammatically incorrect infusable written on it.

But the word isn’t long enough, and my mind can’t quite make it past the fact that each word seems to relate to my Uncle in some way: able, fun, sun, enuf (bad spelling is okay in crisis anagram-making situations).

And it was enough/enuf.

The life support was pulled and my Uncle died from complications of a stem cell transplant.

That’s the short version. The longer version is that he lived with MDS, a type of blood cancer, for years and tried different kinds of treatments, including a Hail Mary in the States. He was in remission when he checked in to the hospital but the only way to cure MDS is a stem cell transplant. So, my Uncle walked into Princess Margaret knowing it all, and he chose to do it anyways.

He opted to try the radical treatment with the idea that a “normal” or “near-normal” life was on the other side.  Instead, he leaves a widow and two sons and the rest of us. (The fact that it didn’t work, in no way diminishes the importance of cord blood donation and registering at onematch.ca.)

The even longer version is contained in binders, folders and file cabinets; and in the memories of doctors, nurses and countless attendants; it is in the thousands of discarded needles, face masks, tissues and vials of chemo drugs and in the one empty bag of stem cells of a nameless young man who tried to something good.

You won’t find me using the words: battle, victory or losses. My Uncle faced what he had to do with courage most days, with resigned fortitude some days, and with sheer self-pity on others. He didn’t lose a battle because that implies his mind could overcome his biology, or that the sides were somehow equally armed. It's a ridiculous idea that a strong mind can beat cells splitting at a rapid pace. He was determined, but that doesn’t mean anything when your bone marrow is failing, or your kidneys can’t function, or the infusable bag is hanging behind your head.

It’s trite to say he was a one of a kind, but he was. He was loving, and mercurial, he was moody and hilarious. He was outrageous and also shy. He loved luxury, his wife, his sons, his dog, my husband, family and his friends. He was unpredictable and had no filter that stopped the rush of his thoughts to the open air. That could be disconcerting or wonderful. Sometimes both. He loved love.

But now he is not here. I have become a cliché, driving around with boxes of his clothes in my trunk. I can’t drop them off at Goodwill, but no one wants them. The suits are beautiful but they don’t fit anyone, or it’s too weird to wear them, or they are too him -- and so they get put in my car and taken out again.

I am surprised by the irrationality of grief. My mind is at war -- I still expect I will open my door and see his car parked illegally out front. But that is the past, not the future.

Weekends are hard to manage without our standing Dim Sum date. Little things become minefields. I am overcome as I drive by his tailor, or his apartment, or Lake Ontario with its memories of summer days on his boat. My husband and I weep at movies where there is any loss at all.  I find myself defending myself to my friends -- explaining that he was more than an Uncle, he was a male figure in a fractured family, he was -- he was just him, and it's not really anyone's business to measure my grief against theirs (a lesson I  hope to hold on to as I become a bystander to other's losses).

I would like to be a good parenting writer and say that my kids have learned lessons; that they have said beautiful and deep things that have helped us all heal. But it’s not true. They go about their days and nights. They aren’t so keenly aware of the passage of time, of how missing someone is forever.

Once in a while, a small voice says to me – I miss Uncle David, and I just say me too. My husband whispered to me that life isn’t as good anymore. And it’s true.

Life will go on, Dim Sum will continue. Life is good. The waters of grief will recede, they already have slightly. But the hole can’t be fused. Anagrams can’t hold. This is growing up. There aren’t enough anagrams in the world to piece it back together. 

Monday
Nov032014

Brunch in a snap with one amazing easy recipe

Notice, I didn't say freshly-made croissants?

(BTW: this is sponsored by SHOP.CA)

Brunch may be for a**holes, as the New York Times is telling us, but for families it is an easy time of day to actually host people in your own home. They come at 11 a.m. and by 2p.m. you can kick them out for nap time, homework time or just get on with the cleanup, and your life.

Last weekend, I hosted a brunch for my mother-in-law’s birthday. In my family, birthdays come in clusters so we were at my Dad’s celebration the day before in Hamilton which made brunch prep a little terrifying.

But I conquered my panic with one dish; it’s the cheese strata AKA homemaker’s surprise AKA cheesy-bread thing to the rescue. I have been making this strata for over 20 years in many different forms. I made it for a pot luck in university and presented it with a very snobby name of “Brie and Cheddar Strata “ (Brie was very nouveau in those days), and my friend said: “Oh, that’s homemaker’s surprise!”. So much for snob appeal.

Whatever you call it, it’s really just a savoury bread pudding and it is delicious. The bread sort of disappears but gives the dish some structure and the cheese oozes it out. A lot of the prep work can be done a day ahead, you can even make parts of it two days ahead – but none of it takes much time. (The recipe is at the bottom of the post.)

My other secret weapon when it comes to brunch is oven-baked bacon. Seriously, this will change your life:

Line a baking sheet  with tin foil, lay out the strips of bacon so it’s close together but not touching. Turn on oven to 450 degrees F and place the bacon in the cold oven. When the oven is at about 300 turn the bacon over, when it is at 450, it is probably done, or very close. You can also sprinkle brown sugar on top before roasting it. The clean-up is a snap – no more bacon fat burns. Whether or not you dip some croissant in the bacon fat bits left on the tin foil is our little secret.

I also bought frozen croissants and pain au chocolats at my favourite local bakery. (If your favourite don’t have any frozen ones up front, they may sell you some from the back.) I baked those on my brilliant raspberry pizza stone that doubles as a serving dish. 

Of course, brunch must have bagels (from Bagel House, which I sliced and froze a few days before), smoked salmon, cream cheese, and salad. And homemade chocolate cake for dessert. Obviously, there was lots of coffee too, (with amazingly beautiful whipped milk from our Nespresso attachment. My father-in-law drank so many that I was happy that I didn’t have to deal with him later).

So I was the star daughter-in-law and had enough leftovers that I didn’t need to make dinner. A win-win.

RECIPE: Cheese Strata AKA Homemaker’s Surprise AKA Cheesy Bread thing

My mother’s original recipe in her 1991 book Fast and Fresh doesn’t call for any vegetables. But we have adjusted it over time and I love caramelized onions or leeks and spinach in it. Be creative with the cheeses and fillings, you can add in sausage, bacon and/or mushrooms too. In last week’s incarnation I added sliced tomatoes to the top but I wouldn’t add them in the middle because I’m afraid of what that would do to the texture.

For some reason I only make this for brunch but it would be a really good week-night dinner with a salad and crusty bread. It’s also a good snack straight out of the fridge.

Ingredients

8 t0 10 slices white bread, crusts removed

1/3 cup melted butter

1 tbsp olive oil

3 leeks, white parts and light green chopped

1 ½ cup spinach

8 oz soft goat cheese

1 and ½ cup grated cheese (I used cheddar and goat gouda.)

4 eggs

1 ½ cups milk

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

2 tbsp finely chopped green onion

1 tomato

Pinch salt, pepper, cayenne

Method

 Heat a medium skillet and add olive oil. Sauté leeks until softened, about 10 minutes, add in spinach and continue sautéing until spinach is soft. Add some salt and pepper to taste. This can be done one or two days ahead.

Line a buttered 11X17 baking dish with half the bread slices. Brush with melted butter.

Top the bread with the half the vegetables and half the grated cheese and dollop half the goat cheese on top randomly. Repeat with remaining bread, vegetables and cheeses. Top off with slices of tomatoes.

In a large bowl, mix eggs, milk, mustard, green onion, salt, pepper and cayenne. Pour over the bread. Let stand 30 minutes to 4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Bake the strata for 30 to 45 minutes or until puffed up and golden brown. If it is getting too brown, cover lightly with a piece of tin foil.  Allow to cool before serving.

Eat.

I know you are tempted to make this in a glass lasagna pan, but it is a teency bit nicer in a nice baking dish. I realize I have expensive tastes when it comes to kitchen equipment (my grandmother ran a kitchen store) but good equipment performs better for even the worst cook.  I am quite the shopper when it comes to my kitchen – but everything has to be beautiful, and useful.  

So I’m thrilled that SHOP.CA has the lines I already love and I can easily order a new roasting pan (lost somewhere during cottage season), and maybe a few more Emile Henri baking dishes, and have them delivered quickly before the next time I have people over. I don’t need to leave the house, and I get Aeroplan miles while I do it. SHOP.CA has free shipping and free returns everyday as well.

I’m just saying if you want super-frothed milk for the next time your in-laws come over, you should check out SHOP.CA

Tweet With Us! I'm co-hosting a Twitter party with @SHOPdotCA (and others) on Wednesday, November 5th from 8-9 PM EST. Follow along @emmawaverman and with the hashtag #ReInventTheMall and you could win some fantastic prizes for participating. (not just kitchen stuff --  gift certificates to buy whatever you want.)

Wednesday
Oct082014

OK, Sanctimommies Put Down the Lunch Box

Do you remember that sad kid in the 70s who had whole wheat noodles for lunch and carob chips as a treat? Now all are kids are that kid.

Or at least on Facebook they are. So, I am going to come clean and tell you that my kids are not those kids. My kids live on carbs from 9 to 3 and they are just fine. 

I take my kids health seriously. I encourage them to make healthy choices, I have lots of fruit and veggies in the house. We bake our own cookies and sometimes even use whole wheat flour.

I want my kids to be healthy but I also want them to be independent kids. So I don’t even know what goes in their lunchbox. I make their “main course” (sandwich with deli meat (egads!) or homemade mac and cheese with white noodles (yikes!). They get to choose their “sides” from the pantry and fridge. They are learning to make choices for themselves and that is far more important than whether or not they eat their cookie before their sandwich. 

I want to remind people that we grew up on lunches consisting of bologna and Wonder bread and we turned out fine. I even wrote a post on Today's Parent comparing the lunches we were packed as kids versus the gourmet selection we pack for our kids. (I happen to think I'm hilarious.)

The sanctimommies come out in full force over lunches. The ones who say they only pack homemade leftovers in a thermos; the ones who decry packaged cookies and who say they are shocked at a juice box. A harmless conversation on Facebook about jam sandwiches can turn into a battle for the most righteous parent. (Just ask my friend Alex about that.)

That’s nice for them – they must have the time to shop and lovingly place each fresh, organic fair trade item in a small square in their overpriced Bento Box lunchbox. They can judge another kid for eating a Bear Paw without knowing that the parent works shift work and doesn’t have time to craft nut-free, gluten-free, granola bars from home dried-fruit. Or maybe there is not excuse, maybe that parent just wants the kid to have something in their lunchbox that they will eat.

 I’m a realist.

I know that kids want lunches that are simple and that they like. I don’t sell myself on a fantasy that if I only give them one treat a week that they won’t crave treats. I don’t think that a granola bar is going to bring down their healthy immune system like a house of cards. I also don’t think that baby carrots everyday will improve their eyesight, or their disposition. If you ask a lunchroom supervisor, they will tell you that kids throw out or trade a lot of their lunch items. You may think your kids are treat-free, but their friends are probably taking pity on them and handing them cookies, or worse -- gummy bears.

Parents are scared of making their kids fat, of them not turning into the best they can be. That kind of fear can be more harmful than good – many studies have shown that banning foods often has the opposite result.

Perfection-seeking parents are being enabled by the media and Pinterest. Ugh. Pinterest. I blame the visual social media site for so many things. As if parents have time to make boiled eggs into shapes or think of new themes everyday.

 My house is stocked with fairly healthy treats – but once in a while a box of Bear Paws does enter the premises. And I know very well that there are cookies in their lunches every single day. I also know that they pack a couple extra to give to their friends.