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.

Own Two Hands: The Flea Market Stall

I’ve been giving it a lot of deliberation, and I have decided that it’s time to branch out with my passions. Much as I enjoy cooking, I don’t think I’m skilled enough to do it as a business. However, possibly as an offshoot of my enjoyment of food, I love thrifting for vintage and antique kitchenware and houseware. But I have been doing it for so long that I don’t really need anything anymore! So I’m opening a flea market stall where I can sell some of my fantastic finds.

I’ve started with the Russell Flea market, which is a new market that runs some Saturdays from 9:00am to 3:00pm at Russell High School (982 North Russell Road, Russell, ON). Here’s my schedule so far:

Own Two Hands at Russell Flea
Saturday, March 24th, 2018, 9:00am to 3:00pm
Saturday, April 7th, 2018, 9:00am to 3:00pm
Saturday, May 19th, 2018, 9:00am to 3:00pm
Saturday, June 2nd, 2018, 9:00am to 3:00pm
Saturday, June 16th, 2018, 9:00am to 3:00pm
Saturday, June 30th, 2018, 9:00am to 3:00pm


Some of the vintage Tupperware that will be appearing in my stall.

I’m also planning on participating in other markets, like hopefully 613flea, and perhaps Stittsville’s Carp Road Flea Market, and McHaffie’s Flea Market. I will keep an updated list of where I’ll be on my About page. For now, though, I’m taking things slowly as I am on the steep end of the learning curve.

So what does this mean in terms of my blog? Not much, to be completely honest. I will still write about cooking, and food, and recipes, and thrifting, and family. I’m basically expanding what I do out of the blogosphere and into the material world.

I look forward to seeing you at the market!

Spiced Pancakes with Apples & Caramel Syrup Recipe

Last night I had a very specific idea of what I wanted to make for dinner, and I really didn’t want to head out of the house again to buy ingredients, especially dragging the kids with me. It’s not really that big of a deal to get groceries with my kids, but it inevitably takes twice as long — or more — than shopping on my own. I looked at a couple of pancake recipes in my cookbooks, but nothing was exactly what I was craving. I wanted to make some kind of spiced pancake that paired well with chopped apples, which were the only fruit I had left in the fridge. Apples are a staple around here, since they winter well and can last months if kept properly. For those reasons, they’re also relatively inexpensive all year long. (Berries, which I generally prefer, get ridiculously pricey in the winter since they all have to be imported, and they begin to spoil after only a few days.) I started by combining about four different recipes; I made so many changes after a while that I knew if I didn’t write it all down, I’d never be able to duplicate my results.

In the end, I’m extremely happy with what I came up with: Spiced Pancakes with Apples & Caramel Syrup. We had it for dinner, but it would make an equally tasty breakfast or even a dessert. The pancakes are also great on their own and can be served with the more traditional butter/margarine with syrup (preferably maple), honey, or jam, or fruit butter (apple butter would be divine).

Here’s the recipe:

Spiced Pancakes with Apples & Caramel Syrup
Yields 10 to 12 five-inch-diameter pancakes (approx.)*

In a large bowl, mix together:
1 1/2 cups flour
3 Tbsp granulated sugar
2 1/2 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
In another large bowl, combine:
1 1/2 cups plus 2 Tbsp 2% cow’s milk OR almond milk OR soy milk**
3 Tbsp plus 1 tsp canola*** oil
1 egg, beaten

Whisk together wet ingredients until they become a smooth mixture. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients. Beat mixture with an electric or hand mixer until batter is smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally with a rubber spatula to remove lumps.

Cooking the spiced pancakes uses the same technique as my buckwheat pancakes. Lightly coat the cooking surface of a heavy, non-stick frying pan with cooking spray. Place the pan on the burner, turn the heat on to just a little bit higher than medium heat, and immediately pour a single ladle-full of batter directly into the center of the pan. (Never preheat an empty nonstick pan.) The batter will spread out without help to its optimal thickness. Watch the cooking pancake carefully for bubbles to appear on its surface. When the bubbles pop and leave little craters behind that don’t immediately refill in with batter, it’s time to flip the pancake. Have patience when cooking pancakes; better that they be cooked on a low temperature and finish slowly than to have them burn. Once the batter has started to solidify, you can peek underneath the pancake to check its colour. Cook each side until it is golden brown.

While the pancakes are cooking, core and roughly chop:
4-5 medium-sized eating apples****
Place the apples in a bowl to serve alongside your pancakes, if they are to be topped at the table. Beside the apples, place:
caramel syrup*****
whipped cream (optional)******
finely chopped walnuts

When the pancakes are cooked, serve immediately or stack on a warm plate which is covered by another warm plate when not being dished onto. To keep the pancakes warm, it helps to cover the top plate and edges with a tea towel or two.

My preferred way of plating the pancakes is to place one or two on a plate, mound with chopped apples, (optionally) dollop on a bit of whipped cream, and drizzle with caramel syrup. Lightly sprinkle each dish with chopped walnuts for added crunch and flavour.

Enjoy!

*This recipe can easily be doubled (or more) to serve a larger crowd. My family of four generally eats about a batch and a half of pancakes, and the leftovers go in the fridge to be reheated the next day.
**I used almond milk.
***Canola oil may be replaced by another light oil such as sunflower or vegetable oil.
****My favourites are Ambrosia and Honeycrisp, but whichever you like is fine. Use your best judgement about the size of the apples and how much the people you’re serving are likely to eat; my family likes their pancakes loaded with fruit, as pictured, but yours may differ. Since the apples are a topping and not a baking ingredient, having an exact quantity is not as essential.
*****Store-bought is fine, but you can also make your own. I got my recipe from the Joy of Cooking (page 849, 2006 edition, Rombauer & Becker), but you could just as easily use the Caramel Syrup Recipe from Martha Stewart, as they are virtually identical. They’re both essentially cooked sugar and water. Optionally, you can add a splash of vanilla for additional flavour. I’d recommend preparing this in advance, since it takes a while to cool down enough to eat. Also, I burned my first batch because I was trying to do too many things at once and forgot about it for about twenty seconds. That was all it took to make it completely inedible. The second batch was supervised nonstop and turned out well. Please learn from my mistakes!
******Real whipped cream, canned whipped cream, and non-dairy whipped cream substitutes are all grand.

Crumpets and Tea

Back in my old blog I posted all kinds of patterns I had designed, and I’ve been trying to slowly re-post them on this blog so that they can go back into circulation. So here’s en embroidery pattern that I designed back in 2014:

I would have taken new and better pictures, but I gave them away as gifts ages ago!

My younger brother is a huge fan of the 1995 movie Tank Girl. I mean, I loved that movie, but his fandom by far surpasses mine. I am all in favour of sarcastic embroidery, especially when it can be combined with practical objects. (This idea of pretty and practical is not new to me.) It’s not very often that I get a chance to embroider something for my brother –- he’s not generally a huge fan of embroidered items in general, and is often difficult to find gifts for. So for his birthday in 2014 I made him Tank Girl kitchen towels. The quotes are all from the interrogation scene.

These are commercially-made, 100% cotton tea towels (labeled as “premium flour sack tea towels” by Cantina), which I bought at $12.99 for a four-pack at Home Outfitters. They are 61cm X 91cm. I don’t think those specific ones in specific are available any more, but it’s possible to find something similar with a quick Internet search. Each towel that embroidered is actually two: one for the front, and another sewn onto the back to cover the wrong side of the embroidery. I chose the stitching colours of brown and brick red based on my brother’s preferences, trying to be fairly neutral so as to match his kitchen decor.

I also cross-stitched a coordinating fingertip towel for his bathroom, starting with a towel with an Aida fabric panel built in. They are available at most crafting supply stores (or online), and generally cost around $5.00.

So here are the patterns:


Click through for extremely large versions of these images which you can print to scale.

For the tea towels, I ran them through the washer and dryer a couple of times to shrink the fabric. I learned the hard way years ago to do this as it keeps the design from shrinking at a different speed than the stitching — which really sucks when you spent this much time working on something! It’s not as big of a deal with a mounted piece, but something like a towel is going to be washed over and over again. To transfer the pattern onto fabric, I printed them out to the proper scale to fit on my towels, then set the design underneath the fabric and used an embroidery transfer pen with the kind of ink that disappears when you wet it to trace the pattern onto the fabric. Then when I was done stitching, I just washed out the pen marks.

The cross-stitch pattern was transferred via the standard counting method instead of inking in the pattern first. I won’t go into the details of how to do counted cross-stitch here, but there are loads of resources online to teach you how, including a bunch of YouTube videos if you’re a visual learner like me.

You’re welcome to use these patterns I designed for personal, educational, or small business use! And if you do, please send me a picture. I’d love to see your work.

Vintage Stand Mixer

It’s come up before that I like old things, not just because they’re old, but for reasons that are:

a) stylistic (some of them are just pretty);
b) environmental (why buy new and add to pollution when there are working older versions of the same thing out there?); and
c) budgetary (old/used items tend to be cheaper than new, unless they’re very rare)

So it’s no surprise that when I recently found a really cheap vintage Dormeyer Princess stand mixer from the 1950’s up for sale, I jumped on the opportunity. I took the chance and bought it based only on some pretty bad photos, but I figured the risk was worth it. As I suspected, it needed a bit of work, but nothing I couldn’t handle.

The main part of the mixer needed a bit of cleaning.

However, what I was most worried about was the state of the power cord, which was dangerously frayed. It looked like it had been poorly repaired more than once. So I went out and bought a completely new cord and installed that — a fairly painless process, as it turns out.

When I opened up the main body, it was disgustingly gungy inside. I took it apart as much as possible, washed all the non-mechanical bits in hot soapy water, and wiped down the motor and all electrical/mechanical bits down thoroughly.

Now it’s clean inside and out, the wiring is safe, and it works like a charm!

It’s pretty, too. I think the styling is very reminiscent of an old Chevrolet.

In the end, the total cost to me was about $30, plus an hour or two of work. Not bad when a nice modern KitchenAid stand mixer costs about $600. Apparently there was originally a juicer and a meat grinder attachment for this model, which I’ll keep an eye out for while thrifting. I wonder if I could find a dough hook that would work with it as well? That would be lovely.