Spice Cupboard

I finally organized my spice cupboard! I’ve been putting it off forever, but I finally got fed up when I yet again bought more of something I could have sworn I was out of, only to find an old jar of it stuffed in behind containers I could swear I had moved.

I mean, it wasn’t a horror show, really. But when I cleaned it out I realized that I’d had some of the contents of those containers for at least six or seven years. One, a jar of Italian spice, had to be at least ten years old. Not that any of it would have hurt any of us to eat it, but what kind of flavour was I getting out of stuff that ancient?

I’d been collecting these little Tupperware spice containers (Modular Mates small spice shaker 1843 bottoms and 1844 lids) for a while now, picking them up second-hand whenever I got the chance. They don’t make the small ones any more, and I figured that the larger ones would just prompt me to buy too much of a single spice again. While I can see that being useful for something like cinnamon that I use in large quantities, it’s not something that I need for all of my spices. And while I love those magnetic spice tins that look so great on a kitchen wall and mean that you can see what you have left at a glance, to keep herbs and spices fresh they’re supposed to be stored in a dark place — like a cupboard. (I’ve seen some designs where those magnetic spice racks are placed on the wall directly above the back of a stove, which looks lovely, but not only are the contents getting damaged by light but also by the heat of the cooking below. I wouldn’t recommend this setup unless it’s 100% for show.)

And now my spice cupboard looks like this! I find it immensely satisfying. To my dismay, I thought I had more than enough containers for my spices, but even after green binning a bunch of ancient ones, I still had more than I thought. A number of the herbs and spices that I don’t use often are now in my freezer, although I plan on transitioning them at least in part to the little containers when I get some more. For now, the freezer will keep them fresher longer anyway.

I think I’ll need to put in a couple of shelves so that the containers aren’t stacked, though. I know they won’t stay orderly otherwise. Or maybe I can find some kind of racks that slide out for easy access? I’ll have to look into it. But for right now I can find what I need when I need it, my choice of containers encourages me to buy in bulk (to reduce single-use plastic), and I’m loving it!

“New” Vintage Pyrex

I’m so looking forward to the 2019 market season! For me that won’t start until the March 9th edition of 613flea, which means that until then I’ll be working on leveling the collection I have to share. Even though I have to have patience until my next market, I have to admit, I’ve been taking a great deal of joy in some of the “new” (well, new to me) Pyrex items I’ve found.

One of the things that has been holding me back when it comes to posting about my latest finds is that, frankly, I didn’t have enough room to photograph them decently. My workspace had become cluttered and messy, and my light box was just too small for the larger items. I have an absolutely lovely fold-up light tent that has worked for me for years (it’s so convenient!) and I’d eventually love one in the same style in a larger size, but right now I needed something quick and easy. So I got some large pieces of poster board and made something very akin to what you’d find in this tutorial. I think the results were pretty grand!

I absolutely love these Cinderella mixing bowls in the Colonial Mist pattern, which was originally sold from 1983 to 1986. One great thing about this style of bowl is that they’re also ovenware, so they do double duty as casserole dishes.

This set of three mixing bowls in the Homestead pattern (1976 to 1980) is a more standard shape, but also be used in the oven or microwave as well.

I was especially happy to find this Pink Daisy casserole, even though it’s a bit worse for wear and without its lid, because pink is a highly sought after colour. This particular pattern ran from 1956 to 1962, so this dish is between 57 and 63 years old, which adds to its rarity.

These Pyrex England stacking casseroles in the Emily or Spring Garden pattern aren’t quite as vintage, but since they’re from 1986 that means they’re still 33 years old — and they’re imported.

Given the colours of the pattern and the brown lids, I would have pegged them as being from the 70’s, but these Pyrex England casseroles in Brown Vine are from 1983 to 1985.

People have asked me why I like vintage Pyrex (and vintage kitchenware in general) so much. Although I really do love that I’m keeping perfectly serviceable items out of a landfill, I there’s more to it than that. I think it boils down to the fact that I like pretty, unusual things, and when I use such things I feel better about whatever I’m working on. Cooking is something that has to be done every single day, and it’s easy for it to become dreary and monotonous. I try to alleviate this by trying new dishes, new styles of cooking, and new techniques, but I think that it also helps to surround yourself with things that make you happy. To me, there is a thrill of the hunt for things that I consider both practical and beautiful, as well as a great deal of satisfaction in using these things once I have them. To paraphrase Marie Kondo, for me, these things spark joy.

Leftover Stew

Yesterday was a toss-up for reasons not to send the kids to school: on the one hand, it was a snow day, and on the other, they were both sick anyway. So I kept dinner simple and made a stew out of all of the leftover bits and pieces I had in the fridge. Honestly, a traditional stew (at least the way I learned it) is a bit of whatever you’ve got around anyway, so it seems fitting.

The stew contained beef, onions, garlic, carrots, baby potatoes, celery, homemade beef broth, store-bought beef broth, pearl barley, red wine, fresh thyme, fresh sage, a bay leaf, and salt. I whipped it up in the Instant Pot in about 45mins, including preheating/venting time. It wasn’t the best stew I have ever made, but it was tasty, hearty, warm, and went down easily for those with sore throats. I’ll consider it a win.

Socks of Many Colours: Complete!

I’m still trying to adhere to my New Year’s resolutions, so I’ve been knitting away at my socks of many colours. I managed to get through a small pile of yarn scraps, but I haven’t made as big of a dent into my total accumulation as I was hoping.

It seems like I spent more time sewing in ends than I did actually knitting.

But I am rather happy with the final result! These super-warm woolen socks have a stretchy ribbed knit and are very comfortable. I rather like the colours, but I’m sure they’re not to everybody’s tastes. I rarely keep my knit items for myself, so I’ll have to figure out who has feet similar sized to mine who also likes this particular pattern mishmash. My kids would very happily wear them, but the size is much too large.

On to the next scrap project! I’m thinking that I need a new pair of wrist warmers, since my hands have been getting rather chilly when gaming in the evening.

Hearty Hamburger Soup

The plague, aka the nasty cold with a sore throat and a cough that has been going around, hit our house hard this week. While I am desperately trying to fend it off, Thing 2 and my husband have succumbed, and Thing 1 is starting to show symptoms. It’s also been ridiculously (if seasonally) cold the last few days, averaging about -35°C (-31°F) at night with the wind chill. All of this together means that the best thing for everyone to eat is a nice, hearty soup.

So last night I made Hearty Hamburger Soup in my Instant Pot. It’s actually a stove top recipe, but it’s easy enough to adapt; I just did all the sautéing in the cooker, drained off the fat, added the rest of the ingredients and then pressure cooked for 30min. This is a dish that I’ve been meaning to make for years, and the ingredients are generally the kind of thing I have stocked in my pantry and freezer. I’m told that my aunt makes a killer version of this dish, but I haven’t been able to wheedle her recipe away from her. The Allrecipes version was quite nice, though. I made the accompanying bread earlier that day in the bread machine; it was Egg-Enriched White Loaf on page 67 of Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf by Jennie Shapter (2002).

Thing 1’s Stir-Fried Ginger Chicken

Thing 1 is learning how to cook, by which I don’t mean just helping me in the kitchen, but actually planning and preparing entire meals. She’s been able to successfully manage pre-packaged food for a while now, so she wanted to step up her game. I gave her free run of my cookbooks last week, but I suggested that for now she stick with some of the ones meant for beginners that I’d picked up over the years. She really likes Essential Cooking Basics: The New Cook by Mary Berry & Marlena Spieler (1997), I think at least in part because it’s full of detailed step-by-step photos, but isn’t only targeted at children. She prepared this dish almost entirely by herself, although I remained nearby to field (many, many) questions and to introduce her to some new techniques.

She chose to make Stir-Fried Ginger Chicken (page 88), which is the kind of meal that takes a lot more time to peel and chop than to actually cook. She was only just starting to prepare when she cut open a sweet pepper to find another tiny pepper growing inside! I’d read about this phenomenon before, but hadn’t chanced upon it myself; it’s called parthenocarpy, which is a kind of internal proliferation of a fruit without fertilization. Basically, it’s a tiny natural clone of the larger pepper — and it’s perfectly edible.


Yes, I know the knife in the background shouldn’t have been left blade-up; Thing 1 put it in the dishwasher moments after this photo was taken.

Knife skills are, I think, one of the most essential parts of learning to cook efficiently. I’m no speed demon myself, but I’m reasonably quick I manage not to cut myself most of the time. I find that even a lot of adults are awkward and slow with a knife in the kitchen, so I hope that starting Thing 1 early acquiring this skill will mean it’s easier for her as she grows up.

Another part of learning how to cook is learning how to adapt a recipe to what you have. I, for example, don’t have a good wok any more, so the dish had to be cooked in a large non-stick frying pan, which meant that the instructions had to change a little bit. Also, I couldn’t find the specific kind of noodle that the recipe called for, so a few adaptations had to be made for that.

Thing 1’s final dish was perfectly prepared: the veggies were still a little crunchy, the chicken was moist, and the noodles were al dente. Everyone went back for seconds, and there was still enough for Thing 1 to take as leftovers for lunch the next day — and show off to her friends.

A Taste of Lebanon

When I was a kid, my mother liked to tell me the story of how she and my father met some of their friends back in the day. You see, Mom and Dad didn’t go to university directly after finishing high school; Dad earned a college diploma first, and Mom worked for a while. This meant that they were a few years older (and hopefully more mature) than most of their classmates. Not only that, but they had gotten married before they started university as well, which was (and I think still is) extremely unusual. This combination of factors meant that they didn’t really fit in with a lot of their peers. However, there was an extremely small community of international students attending the university at the time, and a lot of them were also older, and few were even married couples. My parents naturally fell in with this group of students and they became great friends. This meant that my parents (who are both white and from not only small towns, but military small towns) learned a lot about a number of international cultures and foods when otherwise they probably wouldn’t have done so.

A number of their friends were from Lebanon, and one of them (or possible a few of them, I may be misremembering) wanted to help publish a Lebanese cookbook to be sold in Canada. It was to include a lot of dishes that were common knowledge in Lebanon, but were considered “unusual” and “exotic” at the time throughout most of Canada. My parents got to be the testers for a lot of these dishes, since the authors were trying to tailor the recipes to a wider audience. Always enthusiastic about trying new foods, my parents were very happy guinea pigs.

Now, I think that A Taste of Lebanon: Cooking Today the Lebanese Way (Mary Salloum, 1983) is the book that this eventually became. My father bought my mother a copy for Christmas the year it first came out. My parents used that book regularly until it was passed down to me a few years ago when I started to show a greater interest in cooking.

Imagine my surprise, then, to stumble upon a brand new copy of this book at the Mid-East Food Centre; I didn’t realize that it was still in print! Not bad, considering it’s been more than 35 years. A quick search online revealed that it’s also available online as well. I would definitely highly recommend getting a copy of this book if you’re interested in Lebanese cooking even a little bit. As a bonus, it is a Canadian publication, so it focuses on ingredients that are actually available here.

Finding this book still for sale prompted me to go back to my own copy and make one of the easiest of the recipes therein: hommous bi tahini, i.e. chick pea dip with sesame seed paste. You can buy a large variety of types of hummus in just about every chain grocery store these days, since it’s considered healthy and trendy now. But when I was a kid my parents had to make it for us. Actually, since it’s a no-cook recipe (all you need is a blender), it makes a lot of sense to make your own hummus if you can.

I based the prices here on the everyday listings found on the Superstore website; you could probably find a lot of these ingredients even cheaper if you shop the sales.

Suraj chick peas @ $0.88 for a 540mL can = $0.88
Alkanater tahina @ $8.58 for 907ml, 60ml used = $0.57
Rooster Garlic @ $0.58 for 3 bulbs with 10 cloves each, 1 clove used = $0.02
Windsor iodized table salt @ $1.28 for 1kg, 2.84g used = $0.004
No Name lemon juice @ $2.48 for 946ml, 60ml used = $0.16

Total cost for 1 batch = $1.634

Now compare that to the pre-made prices, which start at $3.47 for a comparable amount, and go up to about $5.00 for the fancier stuff. That’s a pretty big saving if you make it yourself, and it’ll add up if you’re the kind of person who eats it regularly!

Now, my favourite way to eat hummus is on fresh pita bread — and one of the next recipes on my list is pita bread itself, which is also in this cookbook. But I know a lot of health-conscious people prefer it as a veggie dip, as it’s great with sliced sweet peppers, carrots, or celery. (Of course, it’s vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free too — not that these dietary trends were even on the radar of this classic food.) A Taste of Lebanon recommends that hummus and pita be served with any fish recipe, baked kibbi, tabouli, barbequed chicken, or shish kabob. It is truly one of the most versatile dishes I have ever made.