Quick Bite: Chatelaine’s Editor in Chief Jane Francisco

Quick Bite: Chatelaine’s Editor in Chief Jane Francisco

In a recent conversation with Scarlett, she declared that she’d never want a brother. Then, as quickly as she made the statement, she amended it to say “unless he was Grey.” Grey and Scarlett have grown up together. Born just one week apart (he’s older), they have shared cribs, swaddles, bouncy seats, car seats, strollers and everything in between (and likely some things we shouldn’t discuss). He’s also the son of Chatelaine’s editor in chief, Jane Francisco. Jane and I were colleagues and friends for many years. In fact, I can remember us in our early 30’s discussing the scary and daunting idea of having a baby. And, as luck would have it, we did and we did it together.

As new mothers, Jane and I navigated the trecherous paths of breastfeeding, traveling with infants and introducing solids. As the babies grew, our families began vacationing together, enjoying Sunday family dinners and a yearly, joint birthday party for the kids. Jane and I have weathered so much together as mother’s, its no wonder our children look at the other as a sibling.  However, it’s Jane’s professional life that reveals her other baby. As the editor in chief of Chatelaine, Jane has created a magazine that speaks to Canadian women in a relevant and approachable way. From fashion and beauty to health and cooking stories, she gives readers a delicous respite from reality. After all, isn’t that what a magazine is meant for?

Sweet Potato Chronicles: What’s your earliest food memory?
Jane Francisco: I’m not sure it’s my earliest food memory, but one of my favourite childhood comfort foods was pablum. I was only allowed it as a treat, and when we were at the cottage in the summers, I used to have it as a bedtime snack until I was well into my teens.

SPC: Your husband Colin is the cook of the family? Does he let you help out in the kitchen? What task are you normally given?
JF: I am generally on cleanup, which I find quite satisfying. Colin’s cooking style is very intuitive, so he’s not a great delegator. That said, I do all the baking. I love making custards, bread puddings and decorating Colin’s favourite cake with a version of his family’s white boiled icing — something I had never tried till I made it the first time for one of his birthdays. It’s kind of like an unbaked meringue. So delicious on my mom’s chocolate cake.

SPC: What is Grey’s favorite meal to help with in the kitchen?
JF: Grey loves to cook. Probably like most kids, he likes to stir — his favourite utensil is the whisk. My mom’s a great cook and Grey does a lot with her (bread, pies, cookies!!!!). But she recently broke her leg, so this week Grey and I made her pancakes together…her yelling out the ingredients from the other room.
SPC: What is the one meal you could eat every night?
JF: Well, I once ate spaghetti bolognese every day for 3 months — and have been known to have a turkey club sandwich every night for weeks! But, these days, I would be happy if I could have a steak and salad. [Check out the great tenderloin filet with an heirloom tomato salad that Colin made for a recent weeknight dinner]


SPC: We know you can whip up good meals too. How did you learn to cook?
JF: As I mentioned, my mom loves cooking, so I learned from her at an early age. But I really made it my own in my teens when I got a subscription to Seventeen. I used to make the recipes from the magazine for my family for dinner. I insisted on doing it all myself, without any help. For some reason, I always wanted it to be a surprise, so I wouldn’t let anyone into the kitchen. One memorable occasion, I tried French onion soup from scratch. I had bought very large onions and it took me over an hour to cut them up because of the crying and the stinging. We didn’t sit down for dinner till after our usual bedtime.

SPC: Do you cook family recipes? What’s a favorite dish that you grew up eating and still love to make?
JF: One of my favourite comfort foods is tuna noodle casserole. I made it countless times in my teens and twenties, but I usually only have it at my parents’ house these days. My mom makes it for me for my birthday and other family-only occasions. It was one of the first whole dishes that Grey ate. I wasn’t there, he was with my mom and dad. It freaked me out because I wasn’t sure he should be eating that mix of foods, but he apparently liked it. Of course, he now believes he doesn’t like tuna, so it’s not a great meal for my own family.

SPC: How do you deal with pickiness?
JF: Grey is definitely at a stage where he thinks he doesn’t like anything that is unfamiliar. For instance, peaches have been a favourite of his since he was a baby. But because they are only in season in the summer, we have to go through a whole process to get him to eat them every year. “I don’t like peaches, Mommy.” “Yes, you do. Just try one.” “No I can’t. I don’t like them.” “ You have to try one. And then if you still don’t like it, you can have something else instead.” A bunch of no, no, nos later, he finally tries — and then downs an entire peach. My rule is that he try at least one bite before moving on. Nine out of 10 times, he actually likes whatever is on offer. If he doesn’t, I don’t generally push it past that. However, I will sometimes try again a month or so later to see if he’s had a change of heart/palate.

SPC: What do you wish your son would eat but he won’t touch?
JF: He’s pretty good about eating most things. And he loves all kinds of fish — mostly grilled or sautéed, but as I mentioned, he doesn’t think he likes tuna. I love it, so I wish he did. And I believe he might actually like it if he could get over the idea of it. He is also a bit squeamish about tomatoes, which is hard for me to understand because they’re a fave of mine. Sometimes he’ll make deals though, like “Mommy, when I’m five I’ll try it again and maybe I’ll like it then.” He turns five next month, so who knows!

SPC: As a working mom with a crazy schedule, how do you make family meals a part of your routine?
JF: During the week, we rarely have a meal as an entire family. Since Grey’s starting Kindergarten this fall, I hope we can change that. In the meantime, the weekends are a really important time and we make a big deal about almost every weekend meal.

SPC: What are the rules at your table? (Elbows off the table? Clean your plate?)
JF: We haven’t focused a great deal of attention to the table manners. In fact, we are just beginning to insist on utensils instead of fingers. Again, this fall might be a good time to start. In the meantime, one of the only guidelines in our house is to get the veggies in while Grey is hungriest. He’s not a big eater, so if we do this, I  worry less about whether he finishes everything else.

SPC: As the editor in chief of Chatelaine, what do you find is the number one concern of Canadian parents?
JF: I think as parents these days, we are almost obsessed with the idea of healthy eating for our kids. Our generation grew up in the TV dinner era and there seems to be a big backlash against that. As a result, we are all constantly looking for easy ways to make meals from scratch. An interesting side effect has been that many of us have rediscovered the joy of cooking. Spending time in the kitchen is no longer just a chore that has to be laboured through — it’s become a pasttime that is both meaningful and enjoyable.
SPC: What happens with all those great dishes prepared in the Chatelaine Test Kitchen? Who eats them?
JF: We are very fortunate that we get to eat a lot of what comes out of the kitchen. For instance, July and August are Holiday baking time. So I ate more than my fair share of cookies. This year, our cookie story features the best of the Chatelaine staff’s family favourites — and there are some unbelievably delicious options. Of course my faves are my mom’s chocolate date balls. There is also an incredible chocolate sugar tart (like a butter tart with chocolate…and no raisins. Mmmmmm.) All the recipes will be in the December issue.

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