Thrifting

I absolutely love going thrifting, i.e. going to second-hand shops, antique stores, flea markets, and giveaways in search of treasure. I mean, it’s the kind of treasure that is other peoples’ trash, but that’s totally okay by me. Treasure is in the eye of the beholder, really. Also, this is treasure I can actually afford.


613flea at Aberdeen Pavilion (Lansdowne Park).


The Original Fabric Flea Market at the Glebe Community Center.


The Ottawa Antique Market on Bank Street.

I did find some great treasures lately, like this stack of fabric from the Original Fabric Flea Market. I arrived with only an hour left of the market, and I really regret not showing up for the opening. I still scored some cute vintage prints, a bit of Halloween fabric, and a good chunk of grey faux fur (always in demand for costumes).

I also found two vintage tablecloths and two vintage-style (but brand new) aprons. The aprons are especially useful because I’ve found myself relying on them more and more to save my clothes when cooking — and they get dirty pretty fast, so it’s essential for me to have a small stash of them.

Recently there was a 50% off all books sale at Value Village, and the Salvation Army is currently running a coupon special that if you buy 3 or more books they’re all 50% off. (The coupon is valid until October 31st and is available here, for my fellow thrifters.) My girls are voracious readers, so I picked up dozens of new-to-them books that I will dole out over the coming months. For myself, I picked up the above-pictured Halloween books:

– I Can Decorate: Pumpkin Fun from Practico Media (2007)
Halloween Recipes & Crafts by Christine Savage (2003)
A Zombie Ate My Cupcake by Lily Vanilli (2016)

Books I’d like to go through with the kids:

Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook for Young Readers & Eaters by Jane Yolen (2009)
Starting from Scratch: What You Should Know about Food and Cooking by Sarah Elton (2014)

A bunch of cookbooks, which are disproportionately from Canadian Living because most of the other ones I was interested in that were available, I already had:

The Canadian Living Entertaining Cookbook by Carol Ferguson (1990)
The Canadian Living Christmas Book from the Canadian Living Magazine (1993)
– Canadian Living’s Family Cookbook from the Canadian Living Magazine (1995)
Canadian Living’s Country Cooking by Elizabeth Baird (1994)
Canadian Living’s Best Vegetables by Elizabeth Baird (1995)
Canadian Living’s Best Soups and Stews by Elizabeth Baird (1997)
Canadian Living’s Best One-Dish Meals by Elizabeth Baird (1994)
Canadian Living’s Best Light Cooking by Elizabeth Baird (1994)
Canadian Living’s Best Breads And Pizzas by Elizabeth Baird (1998)
Betty Crocker’s Bread Machine Cookbook from Betty Crocker (1995)
– Restaurant Recipe: Ottawa’s Best Recipes from Loeb (2000)
How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson (2003)

Tucked away in one of these cookbooks was a clipping from a newspaper, which reads (translated roughly from French):

FOUR HAPPY YOUNG LADIES made their Brownie promise at the Notre-Dame d’Aylmer convent last Sunday. They are Dominique Robert, Elaine Davis, Analisa Lemieux, and in the back, Lyne Bisaillon.

As an aside, if anyone in this photo wants the original copy or a high-res scan, I’d be happy to send it to them.

To satisfy my knitting curiosity, I snatched up:

2-at-a-time Socks by Melissa Morgan-Oakes (2007)

I also thought that these old drop spindles were interesting. I’ve made a few attempts at spinning my own yarn in the past; perhaps it’s time to give it another go?

Some of my favourite finds of the last little while were two Pyrex England casserole dishes. The one on the left was originally my mother’s (although probably not the original lid) and it came to her as a wedding gift; the ones on the right I found last weekend. I believe that I mentioned in my Mom’s Homemade Macaroni & Cheese recipe write-up that this is, to me, the proper dish for my mother’s casseroles. Mom taking this dish out of the cupboard meant that I was about to have one of my all-time favourite meals. I still feel happy just looking at these dishes. It’s probably silly, but I bet everyone has a simple object with emotional connections to their childhood like this.

I’d have to say that my absolute favourite find was a copy of The New Purity Cook Book by Anna Lee (1967). This cookbook was a mainstay in my mother’s kitchen, which is why when I moved out I made sure to buy the reprint The All New Purity Cookbook. And you know, I probably would have been quite satisfied with that, except they made one crucial error to my mind: instead of organizing the index alphabetically like in the original, it was organized by category. This means that’s it’s impossible to quickly search for dishes with one main ingredient. It also leaves me trying to figure out which category some dishes fit into (it can be subjective). So it’s not just for nostalgia, but for practical reasons that I’m so happy I found a copy of the original book, and not only because they’re over $50 each on Amazon (I paid thrift store prices for mine). Not only that, but it’s in near-mint condition — much better than my mom’s well-loved copy!

There are a bunch of flea and Christmas markets coming up soon, which I’m looking forward to even though I’m not even ready to think about the holiday season yet. Heck, I haven’t even gotten through Halloween yet! What I’m looking forward to soonest is Ottawa Give Away Weekend, when people put items they don’t want on the side of the road for anyone to pick up for free if they are so inclined. I’ve found some lovely treasures on this weekend in previous years, including the beautiful antique mirror that hangs in my front hall. You might call it trash picking, but I call it recycling. Why should I buy all new things when there is such a huge variety of awesome second-hand items out there? Newer doesn’t always mean better — and it almost always means more expensive.

Second-Hand Cookbook Finds

This past Friday I went thrift shopping with a friend of mine, and we must have spent at least an hour going through shelf after shelf of second-hand books. In addition to finding a stack of books for my girls (classic Nancy Drew mysteries for my eldest and Garfield comic books for my youngest), and a number of vintage copies of the Serendipity series for my friend, who collects them. For me, I found another copy of the Joy of Cooking (2006 edition) that I plan on gifting one of my girls when she eventually moves out — or I will use to replace my own copy should I ever dump a cupful liquid in it. What made me most excited, though, was:

Nanny Ogg’s Cookbook (Terry Pratchett, 1999), which is a “useful and improving Almanack of Information including Astonishing Recipes from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld”. As my ComicCon costume of Discworld Death probably hinted, I am a huge fan of this series of books. I’m currently loaning my copies out in the hope that my friends will want to do a group costume next year. I am looking forward to trying such recipes from the book as Sticky Toffee Rat Onna Stick (page 98) and Nanny Ogg’s Perfectly Innocent Porridge with Completely Inoffensive Honey Mixture Which Shouldn’t Make Anyone’s Wife Laugh (page 70). Honestly, the book is more of a hilarious commentary than an actual cookbook, but I do hope to try out some of the recipes just for fun.

I also picked up English 18th Century Cookery (Roy Bloom, undated but online research indicates it was first printed sometime in the 1970’s). I look forward to going through the book and recreating what recipes I can, which will be a challenge because, well, as per the foreward:

Many [of the recipes] are still favourites today, yet others have somehow been forgotten. Certainly the quantities are often overwhelming, the directions not always precise and indeed sometimes the ingredients are not suitable for present-day use. Nonetheless the able cook need not be disheartened — commonsense and a little imagination are all that is required to adapt some of these ideas into delicious realities.

The contents of the book are much older than the printing date, as they originate from an 18th-century household library. Luckily there is a glossary, as some of the terminology is no longer in use, and the Net will help me fill in the other blanks. Some substitutions will have to be made, since a number of the ingredients are no longer in common use, and others aren’t available outside of England. Updating recipes from this book looks to be an interesting challenge that I hope I am up to!

Blueberry Bran Muffins Recipe

Recently I came across a copy of The United Churches in Canada: Let’s Break Bread Together — the September 1988 version, though, not the current one. I love cookbooks that are comprised of favourite recipes contributed by members of the organization. I mean, where else can you find quality recipes like this one:

Jokes aside, I have learned how to make some really great dishes from books like these. I have also contributed to a few; off the top of my head I know some of my recipes have ended up in books published by my high school, the local chapter of the Girl Guides of Canada, and my kids’ preschool. Not only are these cookbooks great fundraisers, they’re also a nice way to bring the community together by introducing neighbours to the flavours and dishes that are important to them.

All that being said, these cookbooks are not written — and as importantly, are not edited by — professionals. These days it’s not as bad, what with spell check and the ability to digitally track changes when a document is being sent around for review. But you have to be very, very careful to fully read a recipe from start to finish with pre-2000 cookbooks. Well, I mean, you should probably do that anyway with any recipe, but at least in professional cookbooks they’ll generally include all of the ingredients in the ingredient list, and a general expectation of yield, and have fairly clear instructions.

I’ll use the blueberry bran muffins recipe on page 86 of Let’s Break Bread Together as an example. It specified All-Bran Cereal — but what kind? Right now, in Canada, there’s All-Bran Flakes, All-Bran Buds, All-Bran Multigrain Crunch, and All-Bran Granola. Now, I understand that in some cases with older recipes, there was only one variety of an ingredient even though now the company may have branched out. In this case, though, a quick search of the Internet reveals that in the mid-’80’s there was the equivalent of Flakes and Buds, so it should have been specified.

Also, the blueberries in the muffins, which were so clearly stated in the title, were not in the ingredient list. Instead, the kind and quantity of berry were buried in the baking instructions. As you can see from the recipe above, the formatting of this books is such that the ingredients are supposed to be in bold and indented from the rest of the text; they are most often found at the start of the recipe as well. It can be really confusing when ingredients are not where you expect them to be.

Now, please don’t think I’m angry about all this. I’m really not. This book was put together by volunteers (in this case, the United Church in Meadowood, Winnipeg, Manitoba) in their free time before the general use of the home computer. However, what it does for me is it makes me aware of how important precise instructions are to the ease of success of a recipe. It definitely makes me want to give another go-over of the recipes I’ve written, that’s for sure. And if anyone else uses one of my recipes and notices something that should be changed, please let me know so I can fix it!

Here is my version of the blueberry bran muffins recipe, updated for accuracy and to make it a little bit healthier. I have tried out the changes and it resulted in the delectable muffins seen pictured above.

Blueberry Bran Muffins
Makes 16 muffins

In a large mixing bowl, beat:
2 large eggs
Mix in:
1 cup 2% milk*
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup All-Bran Buds
Let stand 15 minutes for Buds to hydrate.
Preheat oven to 400°F (175°C).
In a separate mixing bowl, combine:
2 cups all-purpose white flour
1 cup white sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, stirring until blended.
Fold into batter:
2 cups fresh blueberries**
Spoon batter into greased muffin tins 3/4 full. Bake 15-18 minutes, until done. You will be able to tell that the muffins are done when the tops turn golden-brown and a toothpick or wooden skewer inserted at the center point comes out clean.
Cool the muffins for 5 minutes in the pan, until the tops are just cool enough to touch. Gently, with your fingertips, spin each muffin a quarter turn in the pan. This will dislodge the muffin from the pan and help keep it from sticking. Remove the muffins from the pan and finish cooling them on a wire rack. Once cool, they may be stored in a container for about five days. However, they are best eaten as fresh as possible.

*Alternately, a milk substitute such as almond milk or soy milk may be used. If you do so, reduce the volume of milk substitute by 1 Tbsp, and add 1 Tbsp light vegetable oil such as sunflower or canola.
**Alternately, you may use frozen blueberries. However, before using they should be thawed and the excess liquid drained.

Ottawa ComicCon Day 2: Pro Photos

Day 2 of Ottawa ComicCon (Saturday) I went as Death from the Terry Pratchett Discworld novels. In these novels, Death is an anthropomorphic personification that is generally regarded as a male skeleton, with glowing blue eye sockets, in black robes, who is about seven feet tall. By making a frame that sat on my shoulders, my Death was actually closer to eight feet tall, and would be even taller if someone bigger than me were to wear the costume. It only just fits under average ceilings. The belt at Death’s “waist” is actually in my armpits. It’s hard to get an idea of scale without anything in these photos to compare it to. This costume is almost more of a puppet than anything else.

(All photos in this post by Richard Dufault Photography, also known as Open Shutter Photography.)


Discworld Death loves cats.


The arms of the costume are articulated and can be manipulated from inside. The hands, however, are stuck in one position.


Death with Jiji from Kiki’s Delivery Service.


My mother as Death of Rats.

My mother went along with me and made a costume for Death of Rats, another Discworld character. This character is also known as The Grim Squeaker, and is really more of a small aspect of Death given physical form in the book Reaper Man. As per Wikipedia, “Death of Rats resembles a rodentine skeleton walking on its hind legs, wearing a black robe, and carrying a tiny scythe”.


Unfortunately the Death of Rats’ cowl kept falling down, and we didn’t notice until after the photo shoot.

Ottawa ComicCon Begins Today!

Today is the first day of Ottawa ComicCon! If all goes well, my costume lineup should be as follows:


Left: graphics from Pokémon Go; center: Death as illustrated by Paul Kidby in The Art of Discworld; right: Jack Nicholson as the Joker (1989) via Warner Bros.

Friday: Pokémon Go player, with Thing 1 as Vaporeon and Thing 2 as Flareon
Saturday: Death from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld
Sunday: Femme version of the Joker from the 1989 version of Batman

Hope to see you all there! Don’t hesitate to stop by and say hello if you see me.

Teddy Bear Birthday Cake

When I was eight years old, my mother threw me a teddy bear birthday party. I hadn’t thought about it in years, but it suddenly came to mind when I was perusing the used book sale at the public library. There, on the shelf, was a discontinued copy of A Piece of Cake: Fun and Easy Theme Parties for Children (Gwenn Boechler, 1987), which pretty much had my birthday party pictured on the front.

We decorated those headbands (which the book calls party hats). We made teddy bear paper-bag puppets. We ate that cake.

I love it when I find books like this! Books that contain patterns or recipes for things I remember doing or gifts I remember receiving as a child. It doesn’t happen often, but I think that’s why I treasure it so much when I am lucky enough to stumble upon them.

The highlight of the birthday party was, I think, the teddy bear cake. I know my mother baked me a cake for every birthday until I was a teen (at which point she either made me a blueberry cream cheese flan, or I baked my own cake), sometimes two if my actual birthday and my birthday party ended up being too far apart. Although I do have vague recollections of rainbow sprinkles, I honestly couldn’t tell you anything specific about the cakes Mom baked, except on this year. I remember looking at the instructions for how to put it together. I remember icing the cake. I remember that the candies we used for the claws had black licorice centers, like a Good & Plenty. I remember that the nose and tongue were Smarties.

On the whole, what I remember the most is being so proud of this awesome cake — which is funny, because my mom, unbeknownst to me, thought that it was a terrible failure. No part of it turned out the way she wanted it to. According to her, making this cake was what convinced her that she had no talent whatsoever at cooking. But to me, it was a triumph.

(I heartily disagree with the idea that Mom can’t cook, by the way. Who do you think is responsible for all of those lovely Sunday dinners?)

I guess it just goes to show you that children perceive the world completely differently than adults do. We can all be so critical of ourselves and our work. But a child doesn’t notice if a cake slumps to one side, or if it’s store-bought cake mix, or if the decorations don’t turn out quite as intended. What they remember — especially if you cook together — is the pride of accomplishment. Maybe us adults could use a hit of that in our day-to-day life. There’s nothing wrong with striving to do better, but there’s also nothing wrong with being proud of your work. If it makes someone happy, that’s perfection enough.

Beginner Books Tutorial

March Break is here for those of us with kids in the English public school system in Ontario, and that means that many of us who aren’t going away on vacation are scrambling to find something for our kids to do. Usually that means digging out the bikes for the first rides of the year, or pulling on the rain boots to go puddle jumping. Well, not this year. This year has been one of the coldest months of March on record (it was about -30°C (-22°F) with the wind chill last night), following a record-breaking warm February. That means all the snow melted a bit, then turned to ice, and isn’t good for winter fun — when we want to brave the cold at all. Hence, we are planning a lot of indoor activities

Around here there are indoor play places and child-friendly museums open year-round; rec centers have special events planned; most businesses have something going on to entertain the kids. But one thing that having a huge chunk of the under-fourteen demographic off school all at the same time means is that everything is packed. So in our house we choose to make our own fun rather than wait in line or squeeze through the masses.

With that in mind, here is a tutorial for one of my kids’ favourite crafts: beginner books. There are two versions: one for the younger crowd, which only requires mastery of a pair of scissors and a blunt darning needle, and a slightly fancier one that requires more sophisticated tools, a bit of patience, and more adult supervision.

Basic Book

Supplies Needed:
– one piece of 12″ x 9″ (30.5cm x 22.9cm) coloured construction paper
– 5 to 7 pieces of 8.5″ x 11″ (21.6cm x 27.9cm) blank paper (recycled or GOOS (good on one side) is fine)
– 24″ (61cm) yarn or string
– scissors
– blunt-tipped darning needle with large hole
– art supplies for decorating front cover of book, if desired

1. Put your construction paper and blank paper on a flat surface.

2. Fold the construction paper in half. Fold the stack of blank paper in half. Place the blank paper inside the construction paper.

3. Using the scissors, cut five small slits along the folded edge of the booklet. For best results, work from the center out. Make sure that the slits go through all of the papers.

4. Thread the darning needle with the wool. Starting at inside of the the center slit and leaving about a 3″ (7.6cm) tail behind, start stitching in one direction (it doesn’t matter which).

5. When you reach the slit closest to the edge, wrap the yarn around the edge and come back up through the same hole, then continue stitching in the reverse direction. Make sure to tug the yarn snug, but not so tight that it crinkles the paper.

6. When you get to the other end of the book, wrap the yarn around the edge as you did for the opposite end, and continue stitching.

7. Stitching this way should eventually bring you back to the center of the book on the inside. Keeping the yarn snug, but once again not so snug that it wrinkles the paper, tie a double or triple knot in the yarn. Trim the yarn to about 1/2″ (1.25cm) long.

8. If desired, decorate the cover of the book, as per the first photo. Your book is done and ready to be filled!

Fancy Book


Finished fancy book using dollar store contact paper.

Supplies Needed:
– thin cardboard from a cereal box or other packaging
– self-adhesive peel-and-stick contact paper or laminate, OR wrapping paper/wallpaper, spray adhesive, and a glue stick
– 5 to 7 pieces of 8.5″ x 11″ (21.6cm x 27.9cm) blank paper (recycled or GOOS (good on one side) is fine)
– 36″ (91cm) thin ribbon
– 2 large-bore beads
– blunt-tipped darning needle with large hole
– scissors
– pen
– utility knife
– hammer
– 5 nails
– scrap wood

1. Trim the largest flat part of your cereal box until it is rectangular.

2. Trim your contact/wrapping/wall paper until it is 1″ larger all around than the cardboard.

3. Peel the backing off of the contact paper and adhere it carefully to the outside of the cardboard, pressing out air bubbles as you go. If you are using wrapping/wall paper, go outside and spray the cardboard with spray adhesive. (The spraying should be done by an adult.) Come back inside and place the sticky side of the cardboard on the back of the wrapping/wall paper. With any kind of paper, fold the excess to the inside of the box and trim the corners. If using wrapping/wall paper, stick the excess to the cardboard using a glue stick.

4. Using a pen, draw a line down the center of the interior of the cover where the spine will be. Then use a utility knife to score the line, being careful not to cut through the paper. (Cutting with sharp knives should be done by an adult.)

5. Fold the cover in half along the scored line.

6. If necessary, trim your blank paper so that it is about 1/2″ (1.25cm) smaller all the way around than the cover. Fold the blank paper in half and line it up with the center of the cover.

7. Place the scrap wood under the spine of the book. Using the hammer and being very careful to keep the pages from moving, tap the nails through the blank paper and the cover all at once. For best results, work from the center out. Remove the nails.


Finished fancy book using IKEA wrapping paper.

8. With the same technique as the basic book but starting at the bottom of the book, sew the spine together using the darning needle. Leave the tail much longer this time as ornamentation. To secure the ribbon, tie into a double knot at the bottom of the book. Thread one bead on each end of the ribbon and knot underneath to add a bit of pizzazz. Your book is done!

Optionally, you can use a glue stick to stick the first page to the inside of the front cover, and the last page to the inside of the back cover. This will create a more finished look.

I hope that your kids enjoy this craft as much as mine do!