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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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.

 

 

Monday
Jul212014

Yes Land's End, Your T-Shirt Designs Do Matter To Girl's

My daughter really wanted the pillow shaped like nail polish that said OMG Pink on it to take to sleepaway camp.

I thought the pillow was tacky, and a little bit sexist – just some casual #everydaysexism for her bed, reminding her to keep her nails pretty and her brain empty.

I find that I am becoming increasingly humorless when I shop for my daughter – what with all the dodging between oversexualized clothing, and stupid sayings on the shirts. Which is why I wish I applauded this letter from a mom to utilitarian clothing company Land’s End.

In it, she writes:

Dear Lands’ End,

My nine year old daughter loves science; She especially enjoys learning about ocean life and outer space. She has read more books on sharks than I ever knew existed, follows NASA news, and hopes to be an astronaut one day. 

So you can imagine her reaction when she saw your company’s science-themed t-shirt designs for boys featured on page 26 of your latest catalog. The boys’ options include realistic images of planets and our solar system, labeled diagrams of sharks and dinosaurs, and a “NASA Crew” tee design that she immediately declared to be “the coolest shirt ever.”

We quickly flipped forward in your catalog to find the equivalent shirts in girls’ sizes. But when we got to the available t-shirt designs for girls on page 56, instead of science-themed art, we were treated to sparkly tees with rhinestones, non-realistic looking stars, and a design featuring a dog dressed like a princess and wearing a tutu.

My daughter was very confused. Lots of her friends that are girls love science, too. Why were there no cool science shirts for girls?

So, Lands’ End corporate, how should I respond to my daughter’s question? In 2014, why are you selling “mighty” tees for boys and “adorable” tees for girls? (Descriptions taken straight from your marketing copy.)

My daughter is mighty and she loves science. And until you recognize that it’s not only boys that can fit that description, our family will no longer be shopping in your stores.

Sincerely,
Lisa Ryder

I love that letter, we could redistribute it almost verbatim to every kid’s clothing manufacturer out there. Land’s End is hardly the worst – what about all the other kids’ stores I go to where my daughter is being peddled sparkly lipstick on a T-shirt, whereas my son gets skateboards? Why is there so much emphasis on princessess, beauty and BFF Forevah in girl's clothing?

Boys Shirts:

 

  

One T-shirt doesn’t make a difference, one pillow doesn’t make a difference either. But it is the constant bombardment of messages to girls that they should be pretty and sparkly, they are “BFFS Forevah!” and “Divas”. Boys get to be risk-takers and jokesters as well as paleontogists and scientists.

Land’s End did reply on their Facebook page.

A note to our fans:

Thank you for voicing your opinions and concerns regarding the assortment of girls’ graphic t-shirts we have introduced for the back-to-school season. Please know that Lands’ End would never intentionally discourage children from pursuing anything that they put their minds and hearts into, whether it’s music, art, sports or academics.

We value our customers and take your feedback very seriously.

We have shared your feedback with our Kids design and merchandising teams, and we will be offering more educational-based, gender-neutral graphics for back-to-school and throughout the fall season.

I have a lot of faith in Land's End. I hope that the other manufactureres hear this message and decide that enough is enough too. They won't do it because we ask, they will only do it because we stop spending. 

Monday
Jun092014

When it comes to dinner, get out of your own way

I am in a dinner slump. I don't want to be hot in my kitchen but I am sick of throwing a protein on the grill and then thinking about side dishes that my children will mostly not eat.

My husband said that I should get an expert in to motivate me. Oh wait, he said, you are an expert.

But I grudgingly have to admit that I do have some expertise in this area. I co-wrote a cookbook. I grew up in a cooking school (literally, my mother ran her school in my kitchen. Sometimes I had to assist if the assitant didn't show up.) I think, research, write and eat a lot of food. 

And I can cook. Really I can. 

So tonight I made chicken curry with a sweet potato, greens and chick pea in coconut milk side dish. The kids ate the rice noodles, and picked the chicken out of the sauce. I call that a win.

Cooking for a family can be really soul-destroying. But there are some ways to make it a little easier. 

Get Out of Your own Way: Throw away your assumptions, your desires for a fancy meals, your neurosis about food. Just put dinner on the table. Just do that. That is all. 

Give In Some Nights: Some nights suck. Those are the nights when one kid gets grilled cheese and the other kid gets fried rice. 

Have Some Fail Safe Recipes: You should have one recipe that works. And everyone likes it and it takes minimal amount of time to make. If you don't have that -- then find one. Just one. Mine is honey, mustard chicken, cous-cous on the side and green beans. (Recipe is equal parts honey and dijon mustard with slosh of soy sauce and a touch of siracha, pour over boneless chicken thighs and bake at 400 for a 45 minutes (ish))

When In Doubt, Go for Teryiaki: Leftover chicken? Saute it up with teriyaki sauce. Have meat that has been in the freezer too long? Pour over teriyaki sauce. Teriyaki sauce solves many problems.

Look for Inspiration: I like food sites such as Food52, Dinner A Love Story, Smitten Kitchen. You may like Pinterest. Look for things that make you go - yum. And then don't expect it to look like the picture. 

Call Your Mother: I know not everyone has a renowned cookbook author as a mother. But when I don't know what to make I ask her. Your mother (or father or grandmother) probably has some recipes that you loved as a kid. Try them. Even if they contain mushroom soup, (you can use chicken stock, real mushrooms and garlic with some butter as a substitute).

Order In: Thanks to my inherent laziness, my kids like all kinds of different flavours and textures. We eat thai, chinese, Indian and Japanese food at least once a week. Kids like it better in a takeout container. Fact of life. Use it for your own good.

Don't Grocery Shop: Nothing forces creativity  like panic. When my fridge is bare and I am forced to use pantry staples that are hiding at the back is when I really show my talent. 

Don't Piss Everyone Off: You should absolutely cook good food that everyone likes to eat. But if it is a "challenging" meal for some people at the table, they you should add something that they like. Like stale bread.

When I give seminars (as I am currently doing for Telus) I give lots of tips and tricks. But I'm much nicer about it. If you want to catch my last talk I will be at  the Telus Beaches store on Tuesday at 6:30. Check out the link (Attendees can win a Samsung 5, a phone that I'm loving).    

As for the picture at the top. I'm very proud of it. I took it with  my phone and then used PicMonkey to make it look pretty. Almost ready for Pinterest don't you think? It is a family dinner where everyone is eating the same components, just in slightly different formats. Works for us. But not every night is as perfectly colour-coordinated.

 

 

Tuesday
Jun032014

My Writing Process

"Your blog used to be good when you actually updated it on a daily basis..." wrote Kar in a comment last month.

Umm, thanks Kar. I will take that as the back-handed compliment it was meant to be. 

And I'm sorry that have been ignoring my homebase of chaos.

My measly excuse is that I have started writing three blogs a week for Today's Parent, so you can find me there. 

But it is more than that, my friend Susan tagged me in a writer's exercise, which was all about your writing process. And so I though about it, wrote it in my head and never put it to paper. For weeks it was in my head, and then in a spark of procrastination from something else I created this pie chart:

 

It ain't pretty is it?

But the thing the pie chart is missing is FEAR. I write for fear. Or at least deadlines. And since there is no fear in missing a deadline here in chaos, I don't write. 

I need to be afraid of something. And at least Kar made me a little afraid that I was letting you down.

So that's my writing process -- procrastination trounced by fear.

Is yours any different?

To finish up the excersise I have to answer these questions:

What are you working on right now?

Writing for TodaysParent.com three times a week.

An article for Today's Parent magazine on eating veggies

An article for Canadian Living on marrying your high school sweetheart (slightly autobiographical)

Writing an article for Food & Drink on foraging.

Avoiding finalizing the camp arrangements for my children because some it is paperwork that entails scanning. I hate scanning

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

If I knew my genre I would be able to answer this. I'm not a traditional mommy blogger but I'm also not a journalist. So I guess that is it. I hate this question. Move on. 

Why do I write what I do?

For one, it's my job and I get paid for it. But also I like being on the forefront of news and giving parents information that I think is relevant. And I hope it makes people relax a little, laugh a little and think about the way our culture is creating rules for us and our kids. It is my very small way of changing the world. For me the most exciting moments of the writing process are finding story ideas and wrapping up a post. The scariest is pushing publish.

I can't pretend that there isn't ego involved as well. I like that you like me (or hate-read me -- whatever). That you put up with my multiple use of "And" to start off paragraphs, that you don't mind my overuse of parentheses, and my multiple typos. For better or worse, it's all I've ever done. 

How does my writing process work?

It's ugly. See above pie chart.

Now that I have gotten that off my chest, I will try and update here more often. I have at least 36 posts in my head.

I'm tagging Karen Green and Annie from PhDinParenting. Can't wait to hear about their process...

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