Joseph Lavoie

Making Weekends Count

Leftovers = bibimbap

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Cheaper than coffee: movie “night” with the kids

Yes, for less than the price of an americano at Bridgehead or Starbucks, you can take your kids to the silver screen for a fun family excursion.  I’m kicking myself for having only discovered this a couple weeks ago, but SilverCity has a weekly special  which is quite the steal. For $2.50 per person, you can take your kids to the cinema without having to dish out reams of cash.

This weekend, I took Daniel and Ben to watch the Polar Express in 3D. I remember when it came out 10 years ago (man, I can’t believe it’s been a decade — I was in second year university), I watched it on the massive IMAX, also in 3D. It was mind boggling at the time. The animation, and the 3D effects were unlike anything I’d ever seen before. I wanted to share that magic with the boys.

So after running our errands at the grocery store, we hopped across the street and took in the show.  I have to say, it was quite nice being surrounded by other parents and young kids. There was no hushing when one kid broke out into tears early on. We all knew what that parent was going through and we didn’t cast a judging eye. I’m also pretty sure the decibel reading would be less than a normal viewing, which is a good thing. Subjecting kids to loud noise for two hours doesn’t do wonders for nap time afterwards. Thankfully, that was a non-issue.

Overall, it was a fun experience that was totally affordable. I highly recommend it to fellow young parents.

(And yes, ten years later, I still marvel at the the graphics work)

Tonight’s dinner: Indian Ratatouille

A riff off of Yotam Ottolenghi’s version in his new book, Plenty More.

5 Tips for Cooking with Kids

As an obsessed home-cook, I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t done enough to share my passion with my kids. Yes, I bring the two boys to the market almost every Saturday. Yes, I take them to random holes in the walls in search of good lunches, and yes I do cook the odd dinner with our oldest. But I haven’t made it our “thing.” I suppose age has always been a factor, but now that my oldest son is approaching five, I really don’t have much of an excuse.

I mean, I’ve had him pitch in occasionally: peel some carrots here and there; help wash dishes from time to time; but it I haven’t made it a habit.  And I’m sure the boys would love to do more than slave labour in the kitchen. So, as they’re now sound asleep, and as I sip on a HopBot IPA from Hop City, I’m thinking of ways to engage them in the kitchen a little more.  Using my own experience, and with some googling, I found some kick-ass tips:

1. Anyone can cook!

Or so chef Gusteau tells us in one of my favourite food movies,  RatatouilleWhile this first point doesn’t belong on a to-do list, I thought it was worth including it here  because it speaks to the mindset I need to adopt if I’m going to make this an ongoing thing.

2.  Start with the Hunt

I long ago made it a habit to bring my kids grocery shopping with me. From early April to late October, these excursions take place at farmer’s markets. This is such an easy way to keep them engaged. They get to touch and smell fruits and veggies, while being free to run around a bit.  In the early days, I sort of brought them along for the ride. They’d lose patience with me after about 20 minutes. They’d fuss, ask for mom, and sometimes just bust out the tears.  Man, did that ever cramp my style. But something funny happened when I started giving them specific tasks:

“Alright boys, we need a Spanish Onion!”

“What’s a Spanish Onion?”

“A really really big, yellow onion!”

“Okay!! Let’s go!!”

And off we all go, in search of a really really big onion.  Then, off to find the next ingredient. And the next after that.  It’s actually quite fun. It becomes a treasure hunt of sorts, and the kids learn their fruits and veggies in the process. Daniel, our 4 year-old can easily tell the difference between an aubergine and a courgette.  <— That’s my boy!

There’s more to it than the game, however.  Last summer, I noticed that Daniel would have a blast helping me cook whatever we picked from our garden. Making them part of the hunt connects kids to the food, and they’ll appreciate the whole process that much more when they look at how they’ve transformed all of these ingredients into a meal.

3.  Forget Perfection

I got this tip from Rob Youngblood over at Family Focus Blog. I just love spending hours in the kitchen fine-tuning a recipe to near-perfection (it’s never perfect, of course). I hate putting up a dish that doesn’t make the cut. But I’ve been pursuing this hobby for almost a decade now — I’m going to need a new standard when cooking with the kids. This is less about the final dish, as it is about the process: time spent together working on a communal meal; learning about food, proper nutrition and healthy habits; while doing something that doesn’t involve me pleading that they not slam doors, poke their little sister, or leave every scrap of clothing they have littered throughout the house. The point is to just do it and have fun at it.  I can save the elaborate dishes for the next dinner party. Which gets us to our next point…

4. Keep it simple

Let’s be honest: toddlers don’t have the longest attention spans. This isn’t the time to dig out Julia Child’s Beef Bourguignon. I’ve had the most success cooking with Daniel when I’ve kept it simple. It’s amazing how much enjoyment and excitement he gets from making a simple tomato salad or roasted carrots.  The tasks are easy (salt the halved cherry tomatoes; peel the carrots) and the results are either instantaneous, or fun to watch unfold.   Keeping it simple also helps me spend less time trying to nail every step in a recipe, and more time just enjoying how much enjoyment their getting out of this. And they really do enjoy it (if you keep it simple)!

5. Make them your culinary consultant

Maybe I just have an opinionated mini-chef on my hands, but Daniel loves providing expert advice when asked. “How many tomatoes should we use? Do we need more purple carrots? Does this salad need more salt?” Ask, and you shall receive. Kids love being asked for their opinion. I don’t want to psychoanalyze or anything like that,  but I find they get a certain level of pride and confidence when asked to contribute in this way. They have skin in the game, which makes it all more fun, and means there’s a good chance they’ll eat what’s on their plate.  It’s their masterpiece after all!

The Great Christmas Tree Hunt

My most memorable tree hunting experience goes back some 18 years. We were living in Atlantic Canada and had just emerged from a week of heavy snowfall. My dad suggested that my sister and I join him for a walk in the forest, to find that year’s tree. Up to that point, I was used to the Christmas tree farm tradition; so the concept of parking on the side of the road and hiking deep into a random forest was new to me. I’m not exaggerating when I say the snow came up to our mid-thigh as soon we took our first step off the road. At points, the white stuff was waist-high. Just getting to the tree line was a workout fit for the Crossfit gods.  Once we stepped foot in the forest, I felt like I had walked into a scene from Narnia or Frozen. The pine trees were draped with a heavy white blanket. The forest floor was a pristine, sparkling, untouched pillow of snow.

And the silence — that muffled silence that seems to only exist after a big snowfall — this was another world, a winter wonderland that typically only exists in the dreams of Disney animators. It was simply spectacular.

Finding the tree, however, proved to be a little more difficult than you’d think.  We’re in a forest, full of trees, surely it can’t be that hard, right?  It’s amazing how most coniferous trees look like they belong in a Charlie Brown Christmas, and not Miracle on 34th Street. In any case, it took us about an hour — maybe more — to find the right tree. We cut it, then hauled it back, retracing our footsteps. The tree wasn’t as full as the ones you get at most tree farms. It looked a little “wilder,” with a lighter green colour than we typically liked. We were cold, but boy was it a fun way to pick a tree.

For some reason, we never replicated that particular experience. The following year, we resumed the Christmas tree farm routine, which we continued until I fled the coup.

Many years later, my wife and I made it a habit to pick up a Fraser Fir at the grocery store. It was easy and convenient. But something was missing. It was my wife’s idea, and one I’m glad she came up with. Why don’t we go to a Christmas tree farm this year?  Now that our oldest son is four years old, and our second is two and half, we thought this year would be a good one to start a new tradition.

We chose to hit up Brigg’s Tree Farm because it was nearby and we were already nearing nap time. I was expecting the type of Christmas tree farm I had only experienced as a child — decorated like a gingerbread house, with a million Santa trinkets on sale. But no, this place has nothing fancy about it. It’s a straight-up farm, with an antiques boutique that sells hot chocolate for 50 cents. They give you a saw and a kids sleigh and you make your way through the huge plot of land on foot. Any tree is fair game for 5 bucks a foot.  It might not be a walk in a wild forest, but it’s a much closer approximation that many tree farms. It’s got an old day charm about it, which I quite like.

It took us about 30 minutes to find our tree, but you could easily make this a half-day adventure. We barely walked off the beaten path, but when the kids get a bit older, I can imagine spending hours in search of the perfect sapin.

Time commitment: 1-2 hours. Makes for a fun adventure for the kids, and a great family tradition.


Traditions: Christmas Dinner

As a passionate home cook, I love Christmas dinner. It’s a fun time to step it up a notch and put some elegant food on the table. I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing I enjoy more than receiving a home-cooked meal.  When I’m invited into someone’s home for dinner, it’s a guarantee I’ll love the food. That someone would pour their heart and soul onto a plate as a way to say “hey, I want to spend a couple hours with you,” is a pretty damn good feeling. I, in turn, enjoy reciprocating that experience as often as I can. Christmas is one of those times.

Almost since the year my wife and I were married, I’ve assumed Christmas dinner duties. In the early days, it was just because cooking was an obsession of mine, and one she did not share. Eight years later, Steph is now as passionate — if not more passionate — about food as I am. In fact, being at home with the kids means she does the lion’s share of the cooking in our home. So far, however, she continues to let me take the reigns for the year’s  biggest dinner.

Tomorrow, we’ll head out, all five of us, to go pick our Christmas tree. As the carols play, and the kids dress up the tree, I’ll take out the cook books and plan this year’s menu. In year’s past — i.e., before the kids made it into the picture — Christmas dinner was an elaborate affair. I think one year, I may have put eight (!) courses on the menu. Those days are on hiatus. This year, I’ll keep it simple (which is often more difficult), with a goal to put together four or five soulful dishes.

Many families have their Christmas traditions. When I grew up, mom made turkey rolls every Christmas. It wouldn’t have been Christmas without it. With our young family still in its infancy, our traditions are in their incubator stage. Perhaps one of those traditions will be Dad’s Christmas Dinner, which is never the same year over year, but that wouldn’t be Christmas without it.

I’ll let you know what I settle on for 2014. Who knows, maybe you can use it to kick off a new tradition?

If you’re planning to be in the kitchen for Christmas, what do you have lined up?


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