Resolutions

1. Crafting

This is a two-part resolution. Firstly, I’d like to use up the materials I have purchased over the years, and/or use recycled or thrifted materials whenever possible.

Secondly, I’d like to participate in more group or community projects, like Mochimochi Land’s Let’s Knit a Ball Pit — ideally using materials previously specified. The ball pit will be a part of Vogue Knitting LIVE in New York City, and once the event is over they will be donated to the American Foundation for Children with AIDS. I contributed the two knitted balls in the photo above to this project, and I really enjoyed it! I hope that they arrive in time. I’d like to keep the ball rolling, as it were, and donate my time and skills to other events, even if it’s something as simple as hats for the newborn babies at the local children’s hospital.

2. Environmental

I would like to try to decrease our household’s reliance on single-use plastic, and to continue to reuse, repurpose, and recycle. To me, that doesn’t mean being rid of plastics entirely; actually, I think it would be rather wasteful to completely be rid of the plastics we do have, just to buy all new replacements in another material. Rather, I’d like to commit to using recycled plastics, either post-consumer recycled commercial products, or finding a new home for second-hand plastic products, like the lunch boxes above that I bought at a thrift store.

3. In the Kitchen

I want to expand my cooking knowledge, skills, and style — while at the same time trying to keep it reasonably healthy. I think I’ve been stuck in a bit of a rut lately, and I want to do better! To that end, I have purchased even more second-hand cookbooks that I’m not only going to try out, but that I’m going to read through for ideas. At Thing 1’s request, I am looking into more Japanese food:

Sushi by Ryuichi Yoshii (1998)
The Japanese Kitchen by Kimiko Barber (2004)
Ten-Minute Bento by Megumi Fujii (2007)

Of all of the books that I have thrifted lately, I think I am most excited about The Japanese Kitchen, which helps break down and de-mystify each ingredient, and Ten Minute Bento, which is all about quick and easy (and I think will become a favourite cookbook to pull out to prep dinner on busy weeknights). There is a lot about Japanese cooking that I don’t know, but these books look like they’ll really help me get a better grasp on it.

In a more general vein, I have also picked up:

Gordon Ramsay’s Passion for Flavour by Gordon Ramsay (1996)
Deliciously Dairy Free: Fresh and Simple Lactose-Free Recipes for Healthy Eating Every Day by Lesley Waters (2015)
Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens by Jennifer Schaertl (2010)
More Bread Machine Magic by Linda Rehberg and Lois Conway (1997)
Jamie Oliver’s FoodTube Presents: The Cake Book by Cupcake Jemma (2014)
Cocktails for Book Lovers by Tessa Smith McGovern (2014)

Now, some of these, like the cupcake book and the cocktail book, are just for fun — but shouldn’t cooking be fun? The dairy-free one and the one about cooking in small kitchens (and I have to say, that title grabbed my attention) are probably the ones I’d use the most, though. Yet every cookbook is a kind of inspiration for me, even if I don’t try a single dish.

4. Business

I think that it’s time for my business to expand from flea markets to online. I think I will start with local sales, since a lot of my products are both heavy and quite breakable. I just don’t know that it would be cost-effective to try to ship vintage Pyrex or, heaven forbid, cast iron cookware. But vintage Tupperware is both hardy and light enough to make the trip! I think that this expansion will challenge my photography skills (since product photography is quite different than casual snaps) and my organization skills. I’m also looking at how to make it all as environmentally-sound as possible; I especially don’t want to package items in styrofoam, bubble wrap, or air-filled bags, since they’re all single-use plastic. I’m looking into wool and straw and other biodegradable options. People shipped things without breaking them long before plastic was invented, so there have to be options. The question is, can I keep it cost-effective? Challenges, challenges!

So what are your resolutions for the New Year?

Cleaning Coloured Pyrex

At my last flea market, one of the other vendors (a lovely lady selling the most fabulous knitwear) asked me how I get my Pyrex so clean and shiny. She’d had some issues keeping hers looking its best, and was wondering if I had any tips or tricks. I kind of brushed it off with an, “Oh, I just wash it!” But later I thought about it and realized that I really do have a process that I use. I thought I would share it here so that I can help other collectors.

For the purpose of demonstration, I’ll use the two pieces that came into my possession recently. The top one is a JAJ Pyrex casserole in the Market Garden pattern from 1971. (James A. Jobling’s company produced Pyrex in England from 1921 through 1973, when the patent rights reverted to Corning; after this point, the “Pyrex England” backstamp was used.) The bottom is a rectangular casserole from 1956 by the American Pyrex division in the Snowflake pattern, which is the very first pattern that was ever screen printed onto Pyrex. Given the age and condition of these pieces, I really want to keep the designs intact. Most importantly, when I got them there were no chips or nicks, which is something even the best cleaning can’t fix!

To be honest, these dishes aren’t in the worst condition of the ones that have come into my collection; some good examples of how bad it can get are in my old Cleaning Glass post. As is quite common, the inside of the casseroles were in pretty good shape, since people are most picky about keeping the parts that touch their food in the best shape, but the bottoms were worse off. But do not despair if you see this brown residue on a dish that you want, since it will totally come off with a bit of work!

One of the most important things I can say about cleaning old coloured Pyrex, whether it be solid-colour or screen-printed, is not to put it in the dishwasher. They won’t warp or chip in there — after all, they’re meant for the oven and even the oldest are safe for the microwave if there’s no metallic trim. However, the harsh chemicals and high heat of the dishwasher can fade or even completely erase the beautiful colours over time, so I really would recommend avoiding it! Of course, modern Pyrex and Corningware are dishwasher-safe, so if you’re not sure of the age of a piece, look for the stamp on the bottom that labels it as such.

On the Market Garden piece, the worse part was where food debris had collected in the edge around the rim. This is usually really hard to get out, but I have a technique for that which works for most dishes.

When cleaning coloured Pyrex, one of the things you want to avoid the most is heavy-duty scrubbing. So, no highly abrasive cleaning powders or scouring pads! (Although I’m quite enamoured of Lee Valley’s stainless-steel chain mail scrubber, which is great for cast iron, it would utterly ruin a Pyrex dish.) So your best bet is to fill up a sink with hot water and a generous helping of dish soap, and then let that sit overnight. Yes, the same technique for tackling the roasting pan from the Christmas turkey works with Pyrex, but why wouldn’t it?

When it comes time to scrub the dishes in the soapy water, I like to use the double-sided cleaning sponges with the green scrubber. I find that they’re generally abrasive enough to get rid of stains, yet not abrasive enough to remove designs (unless you scrub for a really long time — always be careful!).

And here you can see my secret weapon: bamboo skewers. They’re perfect for getting into tiny little areas that accumulate grime, but because they’re so breakable it’s really difficult to scratch the finish with them. The wide end of the skewer can even be used to concentrate your effort on areas with a thick layer of baked-on grease; I used them to great effect on my enameled cast-iron pan. As a bonus, they’re not strong enough to go through the enamel on cast-iron either (on which you also don’t want to use anything too abrasive lest you damage the finish).

I was lucky this time in that the Snowflake dish came completely clean with this treatment, even though it looked like it was in the worst shape. So I only had to do the next step on the Market Garden piece: a paste of baking soda and lemon or lime juice. The juice is acidic and the baking soda is slightly abrasive, which makes for a perfect cleaning combination. I left the past on overnight to dry, then added more lemon juice to scrub off the stains the next morning. Then, for a super-shiny finish, I gave it one more good wash in dish soap and water.

Sometimes, with dishes in really rough shape, you have to repeat these steps a few times. One other thing you can try, although only as a last resort, is a sink full of hot water and a single dishwasher detergent packet, left to sit overnight. I only do this when the dishes have resisted every other cleaning method, because the detergent is really harsh and concentrated. But I much prefer using one of the packets instead of giving up altogether! However, this time I didn’t have to resort to such drastic measures.

So here are my cleaning results:

Pristine bottom surfaces.

Edges like new.

And interiors from which you’d be happy to serve any guest.

So next time you see an old Pyrex piece that’s a bit worse for wear, don’t automatically discard it because of the amount of work that’d be involved bringing it up to snuff. It may take a couple of rounds of soaking, but it can look like new again without all that much elbow grease!

Teapot Herbs

A couple of months ago I was in the middle of selling a lovely Sadler “Brown Betty” teapot to a customer. I had already made the sale, had cash in hand, and was just wrapping it up in paper for safe transit. We were chatting while I packaged, and she said, “Oh, I have a teapot just like this at home, but I dropped the lid and smashed it. I just had to get a replacement.” To which I replied, “Oh yes, it’s always the lids that go first.”

And then I dropped the lid.

Of course, it fell straight down onto the concrete floor and smashed into tiny little pieces. The customer and I stared at each other mutely for a moment, and then I asked her, “So… Do you want the brown and green one instead?”

So I returned home that day with a pretty little teapot with lots of life left in it, but that is unsalable because of a lack of lid. “What am I going to do with this?” I thought. But then it occurred to me that Mother’s Day was coming up, and that my mother loves tea, so maybe I could make her something? I ended up using the teapot as a little herb planter. I planted basil inside, two different varieties.

Mom liked the gift so much that I’ve started hunting down lidless teapots to use as planters for different herbs. So far I’ve found her a metal one that obviously used to be used on an open fire, and one of those vibrantly-painted ones that’s a tea-for-one set with a pot on the top and a matching cup on the bottom. I think that after a while we’ll have a full-fledged herb garden, possibly even branching out to flowers or seasonal arrangements after a while. It really pleases me that we now have a use for these otherwise-unusable items — and now the hunt is on for more teapots to rescue. This should be fun!

Rockland Community Garage Sale

The whole town of Rockland sets aside the holiday Monday of the Victoria Day Weekend every year for the Rockland Community Garage Sale. The sale centers around the parking lot of the Independant Grocer on Laurier Street, where a flea market pops up for the day while the main store is closed. (I believe the garden center was open, though.) While this is the hub of activity, the sales continue throughout the town and a leisurely walk or drive around will lead you to some scores.

I spent the day out searching for finds with a friend of mine. She’d been going to this sale for many years, and she is the one who alerted me to its existence — I’d never gone before! My friend was hoping that a particular booth with scrapbooking supplies would be there again this year; sadly, we never found that particular vendor. However, we both came away with some fantastic bargains.

Front to back, left to right, I came home with:

– a bag of white Christmas bead garland (free)
– a bag of tiny Christmas balls (free)
– three sets of light-up LED shoelaces ($5 each)
Borderlands for the PS3 ($5 — and yes, somehow I didn’t have the original game)
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass for the Nintendo DS ($5)
Pokemon Pearl Version for the Nintendo DS ($5)
Pokemon Diamond for the Nintendo DS ($5)
Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief for the Nintendo DS ($5)
– a brand new Hogwarts scarf ($3)
– a fish bowl or possibly a candle globe (free)
– a small lunch box ($0.25)
– a bread maker (free — to replace mine, which I’ve worn out)
– Super MasterMind ($2)
– a massive load of glass marbles ($10)
– two pictures ($0.50 each — and I only want the frames to try out Epbot’s frame resizing tutorial)

According to my math, that means that I spent $56.25, which is generally more than I’ll spend in a day of thrifting, but those DS games will be saved for Thing 1’s birthday, so I feel I’m ahead of the game there.

I think my favourite find, I think, was the big bags of marbles. This was a combined purchase from a couple of different sources, but I love the look and weight of them all. I’m determined to teach the girls how to play this summer. I don’t know how they’ve managed to miss it, but although the kids have a double-set marble run that they build regularly, they don’t play the game the way I used to as a kid. I think it’s a good thing to learn, and maybe they can teach it to their friends. Who knows, perhaps I’ll start a classic childhood game fad at their school?

Shabby Chic Tea Light Holders

At Russell Flea this past Saturday, I was able to debut my latest work with upcycled items: shabby chic tea light holders made with vintage spoons.

They look pretty simple, but I honestly didn’t think I’d get them done in time. It turns out that drilling through stainless steel — some of which was 4mm thick depending on the design — with my old hand drill was very, very difficult. I snapped two bits, dulled at least three more, and almost burned out my drill’s motor. At no point was the work ever quick; it seemed to take forever to make a single hole.

Despite the difficulties, in the end I was quite satisfied with how the first pale pink ones turned out, so I made two more in pale green. My favourite is the one made from the intricate little sauce ladle (which of course was the one with the thickest handle and gave me the most difficulty).

In addition to adding these new pieces to my lineup, I also remembered to purchase some lovely dark maple syrup from McCannell Craftwork. Laurie McCannell and I had stalls that abutted each other this week, so it was hard to forget! We had a chance to chat about yarn and a whole host of other subjects between customers while she spun yarn at her wheel and I knit. It was lovely.

I also got some great news this weekend! I’ve been accepted to 613flea for Saturday, April 21st. For those not familiar, 613flea is a monthly market held at Aberdeen Pavilion in Lansdowne Park. There’s always so much to see there, and so many fantastic finds and delicious food. So feel free to pop by between 10:00am to 4:00pm in two weeks — as always, admission is free!

Cleaning Glass

Because I am passionate about thrifting, a lot of second-hand items come my way from friends and family, garage sales, thrift shops, charity stores, estate sales and moving sales. I’d like to say that everything that I get comes in tip-top shape, but unfortunately that’s not the case. A certain amount of wear-and-tear is expected, especially when it comes to vintage or antique pieces that have seen everyday use. That doesn’t bother me at all. What I will not condone the level of filth of some of these items.

That isn’t to say that I won’t work with something that is scuzzy. On the contrary — but I won’t keep an item that I can’t get clean. Luckily, a lot of kitchen items are metal, glass, or plastic, which can all be recycled in this area if I can’t bring them up to an acceptable level. But I much prefer to put some elbow grease into it to get things spic and span again if I can. Reuse before recycling, if possible, as it were. If you factor in the time it takes me to clean pieces like this, it’s probably not cost-effective, but to me it’s still worth it to keep something perfectly serviceable out of a landfill or recycling center. Those teachers who repeated, “Reduce, reuse, recycle!” to me as a child should be happy that something stuck.


Before and after cleaning of some glass cookware that I came by recently.

Clear glass, especially Pyrex and Anchor ware, are some of my favourites when it comes to bringing things back up to snuff. The heavy, clear glass is impermeable, so even long-standing coatings of dirt and grease don’t sink under the surface. This glassware is dishwasher-safe, so often I can get the machine to do a lot of the work for me. I mean, there are all kinds of tricks online to help remove different kinds of gunge, but in my experience a lot of soap, hot water, soaking, and scrubbing usually does the trick. I’ve discovered that one of the best things to use to scrape off stubborn, caked-on food is bamboo skewers. You can put a fair amount of pressure behind the wood, but it’s still fragile enough that it will break before scratching or etching the glass.

There’s just something terribly satisfying about seeing what was once a shamefully dirty dish become something you wouldn’t hesitate to use to serve your grandmother.

New Toy

So I have a bit of thing for hunting for interesting vintage kitchen gear. Part of this is the love of the hunt, part of it is because I love the look of older pieces, and part of it is because I actually use a lot of these things and I just can’t afford to buy them new. And, let’s face it, the phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!” was beaten so thoroughly into my head as a child that I just can’t shake it free. My new toy is a case in point: a Oster Regency Kitchen Center, circa 1983.

Oster Kitchen Center Slicer Shredder Salad Maker
Kitchen Center with slicer/shredder/salad maker/French fry cutter attachment and four cutting discs (shredder, French fry cutter, thick slicer, and thin slicer).

I adore the styling of the KitchenAid and Smeg stand mixers, but heaven knows that I can’t afford one. I do have a beautiful Dormeyer Princess mixer, but so far I only have the mixer attachment for it. My new-to-me Kitchen Center has slicer/shredder/salad maker/French fry cutter, mixer/doughmaker, and blender attachments. Actually, it originally came with a grinder as well, but that part went missing sometime in the last 35 years.


Kitchen Center with blender attachment.

Also missing: the mixing bowls! Well, two bowls that looked about right came with it, but it turns out that they weren’t the correct ones. I shopped around at my local thrift stores and found a total of four that work for about $20, which is reasonable when you consider they’d be about $70 on Amazon.

I was a little worried when I took the machine apart to clean it and realized that some of the gears are plastic. I have a bad habit of putting too much strain on my machines and stripping plastic gears. I’ve ruined a couple of blenders that way. Luckily, the gears for the blender attachment are all metal. We’ll see if the other attachments’ gears are durable enough to withstand my not-so-tender ministrations.


Kitchen Center with mixer/dough maker attachment.

I have to admit that the part I am most enthused about is the stand mixer/dough maker. So many recipes and instructional videos just call for you to use one. I mean sure, it’s possible to do it all by hand, but sometimes I just don’t want to put in all that effort. Also, it can sometimes be a bit tricky to translate directions (especially timing/consistency) from machine mixing to hand mixing.

Apparently there were a whole lot of other attachments that were additional, optional purchases. The one that interests me the most was the pasta accessory, which included five processing discs for thin or thic spaghetti, lasagne, rigatoni, and fettuccine. Unfortunately, it looks like it attached to the (missing) grinder. So I’ll be keeping an eye out for these pieces during my future thrifting expeditions. There may be homemade ramen in my future yet!