Russell Flea on Saturday

It’s my second flea market at Russell Flea this coming Saturday (9:00am to 3:00pm), and I am super excited. I think I’m starting to get the hang of this booth set-up and tear-down thing. I’m really looking forward to meeting all kinds of new people and hopefully chatting about cooking, collecting, and handicrafts.

This Saturday my booth will be in the cafetorium — that’s essentially the cafeteria with a stage at the back that’s to the left of the main entrance. You should be able to see me off to your left as soon as you go through the cafetorium doors. (Am I the only one who thinks that the word “cafetorium” is kind of silly? I mean, it’s no worse than the “gymatorium” in the elementary school that I grew up with, which is an even sillier word, if you ask me. All of these combos just mean that the sports groups and performing arts groups have to compete for time and space, anyway.)

This very much not-to-scale map shows you where you should be able to find me. I combined two layouts that were done to different scales so that I could draw that red arrow. But I hope it’s clear enough.

One of the items I’ll be bringing back this week is the footstool/table that I upcycled from a vintage suitcase. It hasn’t found a home yet, so this might be your chance to snap it up.

I did hope to make a few more items in time for Saturday, but I’ve been experiencing technical difficulties, namely that I keep snapping drill bits. I’ll hit the hardware store tomorrow and try to pick up a stronger bit. If all goes well, some all-new upcycled items (if that’s the proper term) will be ready for the weekend.

I’ve also added a bunch of items to my vintage kitchenware lineup — I wish that I could keep them all, but I just don’t have the space! These sweet 1980’s Pyrex mixing bowls have a clear bottom. With the practicality that one expects from this brand, the colour is on the outside of the bowl, with clear glass inside so the colour shines through. This means that you can use a hand mixer or similar tool without having to worry that you’ll scratch the finish off. These things are definitely built to last.

Hope to see you there!

Saint Patrick’s Day Thrifting

This past Saturday I spent the day with a good friend of mine down in the Glebe. We started with a Saint Patrick’s Day lunch at Patty’s Pub, where we had great food and conversation while we listened to the live band playing Irish folk music. Then we headed out to 613flea (a great urban flea market) just up the road in the Aberdeen Pavilion in Lansdowne Park. When we finished there, we browsed the Ottawa Antique Market, and then we rounded out our day by perusing a second-hand charity shop. I know it’s not the kind of thing that everyone’s into (heaven knows my husband has no interest whatsoever), but my friend and I had a fabulous time!

Of course, I did return home with a few treasures. I think my favourite one of the bunch is a copy of the 1889 (seventieth edition) printing of the 1877 volume The Home Cook Book, which was compiled by the Ladies of Toronto and Chief Cities and Towns in Canada as a fundraiser for the Sick Kids Hospital. From what I understand, this is the very first Canadian cookbook that was compiled by an organization to be sold in order to raise funds. It’s such a common thing to do these days (especially as it gets easier and easier to self-publish inexpensively) that most of us who like to cook have at least one of these in our collection — and have probably contributed to a few.

I’m really looking forward to diving into this book and trying to recreate some of the recipes. It’s going to be interesting, because the instructions are sparse and often vague as so many old cookbooks often are, since they assume a great deal of previous experience on the part of the reader. The book also refers to culinary techniques, measurements, and ingredients we don’t use any more. I mean, what is a quiet oven? Or a quick oven? Do we even grow Spitzenberg or Greening apples any more in Canada? When they talk about currants, do they mean dried or fresh? How much does a wineglass hold? Or a teacup? I’m going to be doing a lot of Googling, I tell you.

Now, I love the feel and smell of old books, but this is the digital age after all and the book is well out of copyright. It was actually archived online by the University of Toronto and the Toronto Public Library; you can check it out in all its glory here. Or if you’re like me and you don’t want your old books contaminated by kitchen spatter, when you’re cooking you can always pull up the digital version on your phone or tablet.

The fantastic old cookbook wasn’t my only find, though! I picked up an 8×10″ print of Carabara Designs‘ hand-lettered print of the “Do you want ants?” quote from the TV show Archer. I am constantly amazed by my kids’ capability to utterly destroy the kitchen with two pieces of toast, so I’ve been thinking this a lot lately.

The print has pride of place on the side of the cupboard above the kitchen counter peninsula, hopefully where the kids will see it. But kids being kids, they probably won’t even notice. Ah, well. I think it’s perfect, and it even matches the paint job. Now all I need is a coordinating print to go underneath.

Last but not least, I picked up some Fuzzy Navel Jam from Tastes of Temptation. This jam tastes just like summer, which is exactly what I need right about now. Honestly, I liked everything they had on offer, but this was the one that made me smile the most. Spread on a piece of fresh homemade bread, it makes a divine snack with a cup of tea!

Cleaning Up a Tiny Cast Iron Pan

Not too long after I got the cast iron Nomar braiser, I found over the course of my thrifting a lovely little cast iron enameled pan. It’s only about 6.5″ (16.5cm) across, so I guess it’s individual-sized for frying. But a very popular baking trend at the moment is to bake and serve cakes and breads in cast iron pans, and this little pan would make a lovely serving for two for that kind of dish.

The inside doesn’t look half bad! There’s only a few scratches on the shiny enamel. And a bit of a squint at the handle reveals that it’s actually a Le Creuset, which means top-of-the-line workmanship. They don’t currently sell a pan this small, but one that’s about twice the size is $210.00, which does give an idea of how much it would have cost when new.

The bottom of the pan, however, needed some TLC. Luckily it’s not as bad as last time.

I used the baking-powder-and-lemon-juice paste technique again, and it worked a treat. It didn’t make too much of a difference to the inside…

But now the outside looks lovely too! There are a few scratches that can’t be removed, but all of the gunk is gone. And this time, it only took one application of the paste and a good scrub, instead of a couple days of soaking and scrubbing. Works for me!

Cleaning Enameled Cast Iron

I picked up a box of old, used kitchenware a while back, and buried down deep at the bottom was what looked like an enameled cast iron casserole dish. It was in pretty rough shape.

The inside wasn’t too badly off; there seemed to be some staining, but no chips or pits in the coating. The outside, however, was a mess:

My best guess is that the previous owner(s) had regularly cleaned the inside where food would actually touch, but were lackadaisical at best about cleaning the exterior. There was a brand name on the bottom, but it was so covered in gunk that I couldn’t quite make it out. But it seemed like a solid piece, so I decided to give cleaning it up a shot.

(I was also going to write about two vintage Pyrex dishes from the same box that had cleaned up really nicely with a lot of elbow grease, but yesterday I managed to bump into them and send them crashing to the floor. They hit each other on the way down and shattered into teeny tiny little pieces. They were only Cornflower Blue dishes, probably about 30 to 40 years old and not terribly rare, but after all that work I was — and still am — rather pissed off that I made such a stupid mistake. Anyway, that’s why there are Pyrex casseroles in that photo as well.)

One of the suggestions that I found online was to coat the piece in a paste of baking soda and lemon or lime juice, so I tried that first. If nothing else, it smelled nicer than any other cleaner I tried!

It actually made a pretty good dent in polishing up the interior.

However, it didn’t have the penetrating power to get a the worst of the exterior’s years of caked-on grease. I’m going to keep this technique in my arsenal for future reference, though, since it did do wonders for the areas where the damage wasn’t so bad, like on the outside of the lid.

The next tip I tried was to soak the pot overnight in a solution of two parts water to one part vinegar. This made so little difference that I didn’t even bother taking a picture. It was just a waste of time.

My friend suggested that I fill the sink with water and add two dishwasher pods, which did end up being the technique I was looking for. Even so, I had to soak for 12 hours, give it a scrub, change the water, and then return it to soak. This technique took three days, but just look how it turned out!

While it was soaking, I was finally able to get a good look at the logo. It’s a Nomar braiser, and my research dates it from the late 1960’s to early 1970’s:

At some point Nomar was bought out by Staub, which is a competitor of Le Creuset. Apparently, back when they went by the Nomar name, the brand was an even stronger competitor. And Le Creuset is the be-all and end-all of cast iron ware these days!

My roaster holds about 2.5L, which puts it between Le Creuset’s 1.5L and 3.5L braisers… Which retail for $200 and $340 CAD, respectively. So my piece old Nomar was definitely worth the work I put into it!

And I have to say, it’s awfully pretty.

Polly Put the Kettle On

I got a box of old kitchenware to go through recently, and at the bottom of that box was a vintage (1976, if I’m reading the label right) whistling tea kettle. I gave it a scrub and put it on the stove to boil some water to clean the inside, and I was struck by how at home it looked there. I mean, obviously it belongs on a stove, but how much it fit in with my idea of home.

You see, when I was a kid this was exactly the kind of kettle we’d have permanently set on our kitchen stove. My parents are inveterate tea-drinkers (orange pekoe only, thank you very much), and there was always a pot of tea on the stove or a kettle on the boil. The kettle only left the stove on special occasions when Mom was cooking an extremely large or complicated meal. One of the first things I learned how to prepare was tea to my parents’ specifications. To this day, “Put the kettle on!” is slang for, “I’m coming over for a visit and a chat!”


The engraving on the bottom reads “Product of West Bend Company, West Bend, Wisconsin, Made in U.S.A., SINGING TEA KETTLE, Stainless steel with solid copper bottom, 2 1/2 quart, 7 76”

When I was really little, we had a kettle similar to this one but without the whistle. Apparently at one point my father forgot that it was on the stove and left the room, and the kettle boiled dry and then melted. So my mom bought a kettle with a whistle as a replacement. This kettle (or ones like it, since they do sometimes develop leaks) lasted for some years until my father filled the kettle, put it on the stove, and then went out to the garage for some reason. The kettle screamed away until it was boiled dry, and then it too melted down. Exasperated, my mother went out to the store and bought an electric kettle with an automatic shut-off. Dad, being a creature of habit, soon filled the brand new plastic kettle and put it on the stove, then turned the burner on. He didn’t leave the room this time, but he didn’t notice the mistake he’d made until the plastic melted. Don’t ask me how he didn’t smell it.

Since then, my parents have bought other kettles, all of which live on a counter that’s not near the stove and all of which are totally different shapes than the whistling kettles that I remember them having as a child. Dad learned his lesson, we hope, and has not melted a kettle since, and never will again, knock on wood. Despite the kettle saga, to me the “proper” kind is a stainless-steel whistling kettle that just covers the larger burner rings. The kettle singing is a cue that I am home, and Mom and Dad are home, and things can’t be all that bad because someone is making tea.

A Year Gone By

The one-year anniversary of this blog (blogiversary?) slipped by on February 13th without me really noticing it. Sitting down at the computer to write a blog post before I shut down my computer and crawl into bed has become a part of my daily routine. It has given me a chance to reflect on the things I’ve worked on or that have interested me. On a more practical note, blogging has allowed me to keep track of what I’ve done, where I got the recipe/instructions/pattern, and how it turned out — and in a searchable format. I can’t count the number of times I’ve grabbed my phone and used the search function on this blog as a quick memory aid.


Kirkland Asian Beef Noodle Soup kit with added soft-boiled eggs. It looks reasonably appetizing, but it tastes powdery and somehow more artificial than an instant ramen packet. Thumbs down from me.

Have I learned anything over the last year? Well, I’ve expanded my cooking skills considerably. I no longer rely on the same repertoire of a few reliable recipes day in and day out. I mean, of course I still have some that I go back to over and over again, but that’s interspersed with trying new things. And trying new things has started to help me get over the fear of failure when learning. One of the great things about cooking is that even if you mess it up, it’s only one meal. It may seem like a big deal at the time, especially for the more difficult dishes, but in the grand scheme of things it’s not so bad. The important thing is that I learn from my failures.


Homemade chicken noodle soup with half an avocado filled with ranch dressing, and a Dad’s Biscuit. I may have added a few too many noodles to the soup this time, but it tasted fine.

I’m also enjoying how blogging has pushed me to try new foods and new techniques — and that, by extension, has influenced how my children experience the culinary world. So long as it’s not burned to a crisp, my husband will eat just about anything so long as he doesn’t have to cook it. (That’s not to say that he doesn’t have his preferences, but he’ll still eat stuff he’s not fond of.) But my kids, though, are more resistant to culinary change. They’re not super-picky eaters (and boy, have I heard stories about kids like that), but they tend to complain when a food isn’t one of their favourites. I think that exposing them to new foods so often now has taught them that just because a food is new, that doesn’t mean they won’t like it. There’s still resistance there, but not at the same level as this time last year. And I have to say it’s heartwarming when I overhear my kids brag to their friends about my cooking — and then try to persuade their friends to try something new.


A quick dinner of fried rice using whatever leftovers were in the fridge. Ingredients included roast chicken, roast beef, red onion, green onion, potatoes, corn, peas, mushrooms, garlic, and eggs, cooked together with a bit of soy sauce and miso broth. Tasty.

Where do I want to go from here? Well, I have a whole list of dishes I want to try, and a stack of new cookbooks from Christmas that I’ve barely cracked. My friends bought me a copy of The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen by Sean Sherman (2017), and I am highly intrigued. I also want to dive into How To Cook Indian by Sanjeev Kapoor (2011), which my husband bought me. Although these books are from completely different cultures and corners of the globe, they do share a commonality in that I’ll have to learn where to source some of the ingredients that are less common around here (or common, but only seasonally). I also want to improve my breadmaking skills, and learn to make rum balls and pavlovas.


Fresh fruit tarts made from crust leftover after making full-sized pies. The filling is basically a peeled, chopped apple, strawberries, and blueberries, with a bit of white and brown sugar and a dash of cinnamon.

Mostly, I just want to keep learning. There is so much out there to try! I want to push my personal boundaries when it comes to cooking, and try new techniques when it comes to handicrafts, and start my own small business when it comes to thrifting. I want to challenge myself. I want to expand. I want to grow. And I want to keep writing about it.

Valentine’s Day Sweets

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, which for me meant that the day before was spent in the kitchen baking. Okay, well, not the whole day; some of my time was spent in the kitchen dealing with a leaking dishwasher. That slowed things down immensely. Luckily, the issue was a slightly-clogged drain pipe and dirt in the door seal that kept it from being watertight, and a good cleaning of the machine fixed the leak. If your dishwasher is going to leak, a fix without having to purchase expensive parts is best, really. Also, there wasn’t enough water that came out to cause much damage. The basement ceiling is a drop ceiling and the walls and floor are only half-finished, so there’s not much there for the water to damage anyway.

When I did get to bake, the first thing I tried was a double-batch of White Layer Cake found on page 110 of Essential Cooking Basics: The New Cook by Mary Berry & Marlena Spieler (1997). I used crab apple jelly that I’d made back in the fall as filling. This recipe was very nicely illustrated and easy to follow. It yielded lovely cupcakes that had a crumbly, buttery texture, which were similar to a good cornmeal muffin on top but with a softer middle. The recipe does call for self-rising flour, which I’ve come to realize is a really common ingredient in British recipes, but isn’t something the average cook would have in the pantry around here. Heck, not all grocery stores carry it. Fortunately, it’s easy enough to make with all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt: directions here.

As I discovered, a single batch only yields about a dozen cupcakes, and I wanted to make 48 (half for Thing 1’s Guide troupe, and half for Thing 2’s Sparks troupe). By the time I’d figured this out, I’d run out of a few ingredients; this recipe takes a lot of eggs. I was getting a bit pressed for time, so I dug out a package each of IKEA Muffinsmix Choklad and Muffinsmix Citron (just-add-water chocolate and lemon cake mix, respectively). Thing 1 got the IKEA cupcakes and Thing 2 got the Mary Berry ones, and I honestly think that Thing 2 got the better end of the deal by a long shot.

Next came the treats for the treats for the girls’ homeroom classes at school. I’d planned on making orange sugar cookies for which I’d found a vintage Bake King recipe sheet tucked into an old cookbook, but those required the dough to be chilled and I had simply run out of time. I fell back on a recipe that I’d used successfully in the past for Fudgy Pumpkin Coffee Brownies (minus the coffee, since the intended audience was children). This recipe can be found on page 222 of Purely Pumpkin by Allison Day (2016). Once again, I substituted whole wheat flour for einkorn or light spelt flour, and even with this change, the brownies turned out great. This recipe invariably yields moist, rich brownies with just the right level of sweetness. As a bonus, I got to use up some of the Halloween pumpkin puree that’s still in my freezer. And none of the brownies came back home, so I figure that at least some of the kids (and/or the teachers) liked them.