On her multi-award winning blog Simple Bites, Aimée Wimbush-Bourque posts family-focused recipes, and shares stories and tips from her urban homestead in the suburbs of Montreal. Aimée is a best-selling cook book author, with another book on the way, and has three children aged eleven, nine, and five. Her backstory is fascinating, and we wanted to find out more about what she does and how it meshes with raising her kids.
Why did you start doing what you do?
I come from a very intense homesteading background. My parents’ version of a midlife crisis involved moving their three kids to the Yukon to live rurally with no phone, running water, or electricity, and homeschooling us. It was the best childhood ever, basically. My earliest memories are digging up potatoes, baking bread, milking goats, and making yoghurt with my mom. As the whole foods movement, with fermenting and canning your own food, and having chickens etc, became very trendy, I was like, “Oh, I can write about this,” because I was already doing it all to some extent with my own kids.
I had logged 10 years in the professional cooking industry, thinking that was what I wanted to do, then realized no, I actually wanted to do exactly what my mum did. I left work when I got pregnant but kept doing some catering, started a garden, and it escalated from there. My husband is very much a city guy, but he knew what he was getting into and we would do this eventually. I started blogging when I quit the restaurant industry because I needed a creative outlet, as well as some social interaction. This was back in 2008, which is pretty much the early years of mommy blogging. My kids turned out to be horrifically picky, and I needed a way to say, “Look, I’ve cooked for all these famous people, I’ve still got it but my kids hate it, let me put it on the blog and see what the reaction is.” I remember a post where I said, “If my life were a movie, mealtime would be the gory part,” because it was always such a disaster.
My first blog was called Under the Highchair, and it was my hobby blog because I wasn’t really monetizing it. I fell in love with blogging and readers really responded. I think they liked the fact that I had a culinary background, which not a lot of food bloggers do and that’s fine too, and I had these homesteading roots, to back up these facts. People like an expert. I never imagined that this would become my career.
I launched my professional blog, Simple Bites, in early 2010 and did that for three years before it won a pretty major award in food blogging that is handed out by Saveur magazine. The award was in the category for best kids’ cooking blog, and all of a sudden I was an expert in kids cooking. Six weeks after that I had an offer from Penguin Random House to do a cookbook, but I already had an agent and a 10,000 word book proposal I’d been working on, because it had been burning inside of me and I knew that I had to write this book. They bought that exact book and I didn’t need to change a thing. As a creative, that is the biggest gift to be able to share your craft and not have anyone try to put you in a box. It was a dream come true, especially as it was a two-book deal.
(Aimée’s first book is Brown Eggs and Jam Jars: Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, and her second, The Simple Bites Kitchen: Nourishing Whole Food Recipes for Every Day is out on October 3rd.)
What does this work bring to your life?
The first book was thrilling on so many levels, and I love love love that I can show it to my kids. They watched me work on the book and it was all shot in my home, we had a friend photograph it, I cooked every dish, and they’re in the book quite a bit. I loved being able to show them the end result — which is harder to do in a blog. They don’t care about me winning an award or the blog, but they were so excited about the book. It was good to show them that hard work pays off, but it was about more than that.
I’m blown away by the reach that it has had and the responses that I’ve got, it is far beyond anything I could have imagined. On Thanksgiving evening, I had a newly single dad email me to say that he’d used my turkey recipe to cook Thanksgiving dinner for his kid and it had turned out perfectly. I just cried and cried. That was just one recipe, and it isn’t world changing, but it was incredibly rewarding.
Why is this work important?
It’s about more than just putting food on the table. It is about helping our kids connect the dots between whole foods and healthier foods and happiness. It is about teaching them to be aware of food choices, and how food production effects the planet.
I know the family dinner is all the buzz right now, and I’m happy to jump on that bandwagon. Eating as a family is more than just physically nourishing, its about community and connection on so many levels. I tell people all the time that its not what’s on the table that’s as important as the act of gathering. Statistics show that suicide rates drop, and high-school drop out rates are much lower when families eat together, so how can you not pay attention to those numbers?
The ultimate goal is to equip these kids in the kitchen and to spark their curiosity in food. Cooking with kids is going to lead to a lifelong interest in healthy eating and unprocessed food because they’ll see how fun it is. However, until we really release them into the world, we don’t know if it is going to stick!
Has parenthood changed how you view your work?
It was my kids that spurred me on to do this, and although at first I stayed away from giving too much parenting advice in the early days, I felt like by the time my third child was two I really had something to say because I’d got through the mistakes I’d made with the first two! So, I’ve given advice on stuff like baby-led weaning versus purees and opened myself up to controversy, but I know what’s worked for my kids.
What do your kids think about what you do?
They’re very proud of it. When I’m going to a conference or whatever I tell them that I’m working with other moms and other families to learn about food. As they get older they’re getting it, because they now understand that not everyone knows how to cook or grow food, and they are thrilled to get on board. I’ve never had to coerce them to be involved or have a photo taken. They like they idea that they can inspire kids to do more, and that we can have an impact on other peoples’ lives from our home.
This past June I was one of the guest chefs at the fantastic food and music fest just outside of Toronto called the Big Feastival, which is a festival started in the UK by Jamie Oliver. I did a cooking class and live demo, and two of my kids came on stage and my daughter cracked eggs, my son flipped some crepes, and they loved that. When the first book came out they took it to school and showed everyone.
Do your kids ever want processed or junk food though?
Well, we’ll have a store bought lasagna or something and my daughter is famous for saying, “This is THE BEST lasagna I’ve ever had.” And my in-laws, who didn’t take what I was doing seriously for the longest time, will prod and say, “But doesn’t your mommy make you lasagna?” There’s just so much sugar in everything that isn’t home made, and my kids are food enthusiasts anyway, so they’ll just be like “Oh my gosh this is amazing.” I’ll just be like, “Yeah.” We really try everything in moderation, because I don’t want them to just go nuts when they leave home. The only thing we don’t do is fast food. They have cold cereal on Sunday mornings, juice box Friday, and that sort of thing.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to other parents about living with purpose?
I think it is so different for every person. I know not everyone loves cooking or relaxes in the kitchen, so I think you have to find what makes you happy and makes you feel like you’re contributing a bit so long as it is not depleting you. I get energized in the kitchen, but I get people saying, “Ugh, do you really cook three meals a day, aren’t you exhausted?” But it’s my love language, I love feeding and serving people, instead of depleted I get nourished and satisfied. I have my purpose. Look for what sparks your energy and vitality. If you focus on that, chances are that is your purpose.
What do you think you have in common with other moms?
I’m in my late-thirties and balance is the number one thing that comes up when I talk with my friends. It comes up in every conversation, whether that’s the moms who work fulltime, or the stay at home moms. I think that juggling act connects us all, and is something we can all relate to whether it is brought on by our careers, or having a child with some sort of disability or difficulty, ailing mother-in-laws, or just coming back to finding our purpose after having kids while staying afloat.
What’s been hardest about what you do?
Learning how to say no has been the hardest. The opportunities have come with each book, each award, each wave of checks on a resume, and saying no to some of them has been really hard. I like to stay busy and I’m by nature a people pleaser, so I tend to say yes to a whole bunch of things, whether that be working with an amazing non-profit or signing up to do eight blog posts for a brand I really like, and I reach this point every few weeks where I think, “How did I think I could do all this?”
Other than that the hardest thing is physical stuff like not getting enough sleep or me time, I mean what is self-care? I think I’m going to find that out in my 40s! My lifestyle dovetails so much with my work that I rarely feel like I’m relaxing, but it also feels exciting and life is a barrel of fun. So, you take the good with the bad.
What other moms do you admire?
I very much admire Tsh Oxenreider who has the podcast, The Art of Simple, has written three books, and is a big advocate for family travel, which is a close second to family food in terms of my biggest passions. I backpacked around the world when I was 20 and was never the same afterwards, and getting kids out there and traveling is just so important.
I love people in food like Nigella Lawson, who is a super cool mom, and anyone who can juggle motherhood and writing. My own mom is basically my biggest hero. She instilled so much in us, and when I look back at what she was probably going through — we didn’t have a lot of money and lived month to month, but still she really persevered and brought up four kids.
The Whole Family Happiness Project is a group of moms exploring our connection to our individual purpose, our family happiness, and the happiness of the world around us. Come join us on Facebook.