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There was that time when I bought the REALLY expensive chicken by accident.

$75+ worth of On-Sale, free-range, raised-with-classical-music-in-the-barn-and-wearing-knitted-chicken-sweaters kind of chicken, instead of the On-Sale chicken for the non-fancy-pants folks.

So, I can’t be trusted in the grocery store.

Now, we have an excess of sour cream:  in fact, an entire, unopened container, ready to expire.

Doesn’t that sound perilous?  “Ready to expire”.

Refrigerator products are so melodramatic.

Anyhoo, I thought I could be trusted.  In fact, I felt rather like Ma in Little House on the Prairie when I had a light bulb moment this evening about the nearly-dead dairy product.

I know, I thought.  I’ll make Grandma Helen’s coffee cake.

She used to feed it to us for special breakfasts and it’s all brown-sugary and sour-cream-donut-y and NOT CHOCOLATE, so clearly suitable for breakfast because that’s a rule.

I rushed off on a surge of pride to tell Practical Man as these Ma-in-Little-House-frugal moments are rare from me.  Grandma Helen’s coffee cake has lots of sour cream in it and would use up most of the almost-at-the-pearly-gates container.

Yay, me!

While Practical Man was doing the garbage/recycling in the garage (and no doubt marveling at my frugal brilliance), I made my usual mess in the kitchen.

In addition to flour on the floor, nuts behind the canisters, and butter up my arm, while whipping up the batter, I managed to lift it out of the bowl to “clean” the beaters and they sprayed batter all over the entire world.  There was some in my eyebrow, some on the backsplash, some on Mars, I’m pretty sure.  And, it’s a sticky batter, this sour-cream extravaganza.

As in:  not easily remedied before certain people come in from the garage.

But, I got that sorted (I think – this will explain the weird blobs you see on our light fixtures a few months from now) and grabbed the one-foot-in-the-grave, but un-opened sour cream container from the fridge.

I opened it and stopped short.

It looked funny.

White, like sour cream.

But, also not.

Kind of chunky.

Maybe it had already gone off?

Or, maybe, maybe, maybe…

I realized with a sudden taste of sour dairy in my mouth,

it was not drama-queen sour cream

but instead


highly-tricky-and-well-disguised-all-except-for-the-dastardly-label-oh-please-say-this-happens-to-you-too-won’t-you, COTTAGE CHEESE.


This is precisely, almost exactly like that time I was wondering why the ginger we had frozen in the freezer was so uncooperatively melty when I was trying to grate it.

(It was blobs of frozen garlic puree, hardy-har-har).

I have worked at an institute for higher learning for nearly 25 years.  Honest.

Luckily, Practical Man had brought home a new container of sour cream this very evening.

So, instead of using up excess sour cream, I had to use brand-new sour cream so now, we have to buy some more.

And, I have to figure out what to do with on-its-last-breath cottage cheese.

I’m pretty sure I can’t be trusted though.


The cake is really good.


sour cream coffee cake - piece on a plate


So far I haven’t died.

Or hallucinated.

That seems like a good thing.

Practical Man found a giant puffball yesterday, when he was out in our forest.   When he told me how large it was, I decided I had to see it for myself.

Out in The Nature, as it were.

This tells you what a momentous occasion it was.  Me, out in The Nature, in the middle of the week, no less.

Practical Man standing in the forest by a fence.

That’s Practical Man, not me. If you catch a picture of me in the forest, it’s kind of like capturing a picture of a Sasquatch in the forest (ie: rare).

We ventured out today after lunch, across the yard, down our forest path and back to the last part of our trail, before it ends at the farmer’s lane.  I pointed out what I thought were new trees and Practical Man assured me that those trees had been there for 10 years.  I noted the grassy areas where there used to be just rocks and he shook his head.


Things sure do change in The Nature, when you only come out to visit a few times a decade.

Finally, under the trees, off the trail, I saw it.

I didn’t see any fairies dancing.

But, then, this wasn’t a toadstool.   It was a puffball.

I picture Rubenesque fairies (of the sort I could blend in with), eating ice cream under this cherubic baby.

Or rather, babies.

There were two.

Two puffball mushrooms - one very large one in the foreground.

A giant puffball and a super-cali-fragi-listic-expi-ali-docious puffball.  The giant-est puffball of them all.

It’s hard to capture the scale, when it’s in the forest, but it was GIGANTICO.

Bigger than my head and we all know that my head is blessed with some magnificent largesse.

This mushroom was endowed with some encephalic proportions, yes sirree.

Here’s a picture of it in the kitchen sink, in case you had any doubts about the size of it.

giant puffball so large, it almost won't fit in a standard kitchen sink

The puffball, not my head.

I was slightly nervous, what with it being a wild mushroom and all.   Practical Man knew what it was (Calvatia gigantea) but, to reassure his suburban-born wife, he did a little extra research.  The Google assured us that it was the harmless and edible Giant Puffball (The Google is always truthful and wise, as long as you don’t believe much of what it says.)  And, our friend, Trail Diva, reassured me that we seemed to be the lucky owners of a forest delicacy.

Fried in some butter, it could even be used in lieu of noodles for lasagna, she said.

She had me at “fried in some butter”.

Accordingly, Practical Man plucked it from its forest home and brought it to the house.

It was kind of like bringing home the moon.

A moon that might kill us with its toxins and pent-up mushroom rage.

What, what, what?

A puffball is a pretty show-offy mushroom with its moon scape-y shape and super-cali-fragi-listic-expi-ali-docious size, I think you’ll agree.  This made me wonder if it might be the mean girl of the mushroom world.

You can tell I love The Nature, right?

We had to use a very big, bread knife and even that wasn’t enough to deal with the extravaganza of mushroom we had on our hands.

Practical Man's hands slicing the first slice off the mushroom

Houston, we need more counter space!

I can hear my friend Pippi saying, “Bleeech”, as I write this.

Not a mushroom fan, that one.

Even I was slightly overcome.  This was bigger than the watermelon we had last week and that took a party and 4 meals to devour.

We have mushroom enough for crowds.

large slices of mushroom on the cutting board. The remaining mushroom beside them still looks HUGE.

Or, for a wicked show-and-tell at school.

Yes, definitely that.

Except, there’s no show-and-tell when you’re an adult, more’s the pity.  Many a meeting could be livened up with some show-and-tell, don’t you think?

I’m not sure mushrooms would make it past the (inevitable) safety checkpoint on the way to work show-and-tell, though.

A plate piled high with strips of mushroom

Looks like tofu, tastes like butter.

Anyway, we cooked it, outside on the barbecue (it’s the expensive hydro rates in the afternoon and it’s 30 degrees C today, that’s why).

Fried in butter, ‘cos those were our instructions.


frying pan with slices of mushroom, golden brown

We both tried a little schnibble, after it had been fried.

(I watched for convulsions, in case Practical Man and The Google and Trail Diva were wrong.)

It tastes pretty good but we’re not sure about the consistency.

Slightly mushy.  Too much butter?

Is there such a thing?

We’ve decided we’ll make lasagna a la Trail Diva with it.

Even though the Italians are probably rolling over in their gnocchi-lined graves.

And Pippi is probably saying, “Double Bleech.”

By the way, this post is a bit of a “do not try this at home” affair.  Don’t–I repeat:  DON’T just grab mushrooms out of your yard and chow down.

Gotta be careful with the fungi, friends.

If we end up hallucinating or dying, I’ll let you know.

Copyright Christine Fader, 2016.  Did you enjoy this post from A Vintage Life?    Share on Facebook       Tweet

Pie or cake?

When it comes to the choice, I’m definitely more of a cake girl.

Cake has icing.


And, unless I’m making layers (So. Very. Traumatic), I can generally handle the baking of a cake.

Or, even little cakes, like these:

daisy cupcakes

Yes, I made these.  It must have been a day after I’d had my requisite 12 hours of sleep.

But pies?

Ooooh, pies are so much more mysterious and complicated.

They are the risotto or souffles of the baking world.

Or, rather, the pastry is.  That is to say, finicky, persnikkety, and prone to drama, drama, drama.

Oh wait, maybe that’s me.

Anyway, you have to admit, pastry is one of the mean girls of the dessert world.  I think that’s why the pie thing never went as viral as the whole cupcake extravaganza did in the last few years.  Making pie pastry seems vintage and quaint and tricky in 2015 (and there’s no icing to use as incentive for generally dough-challenged people like me).  That’s why a great many of us resort to finding our pies at church potlucks and community bake sales.

Shhhhh.  I won’t tell, if you won’t.

Then, there’s my sister-in-law, Roadrunner.  She’s like a female version of Practical Man, with awesome pie-making capabilities.  Not only that, but, Roadrunner’s got all the vintage baking/franco-Canadian/northern-Ontarian pie bases covered:  Meat pies.  Sugar pies.  And, the things that are not pies, but are still kind of mean girls anyway because they are made of some of the same stuff–like The Evil Pastry, cinnamon and brown sugar and butter–as pies:

Pets de Soeurs.

Translation:  “Nun’s farts”.

(Feel free to giggle like a 9 year-old, now).

Or, you can call them their boring English name:  cinnamon pinwheels (but where’s the fun in that?)

Pets de Soeurs cooling on baking racks

Last weekend, Roadrunner took me under her wing (see what I did there?) to teach me how to make The Evil Pastry and its giggly cousins, Pets de Soeurs.

We each had a bowl, some flour, baking powder, salt, veggie shortening, egg, vinegar and warm water.

Of course, I had a magic wand and a “get out of jail free” card from Monopoly just in case, but, it turns out that I didn’t need either of those things, because with this pastry, there was none of that finicky, persnikkety, mean girl stuff about how the:

  • “butter must be extremely cold” or
  • “bowls must be extremely cold” or
  • “cut in with a pastry cutter until it looks like crumbs” or
  • “refrigerate until cold again before rolling out”

or other mean girl malarkey, that I have come to associate with trying to make The Evil Pastry–after which, it always turns out like a brick.

Instead, Roadrunner made it seem straightforward.   Like, making The Evil Pastry was something you could do on any old Monday.

Even though it’s not 1953.

Here I am, pretending I know what I’m doing:

Me, buttering the dough for Pets de Soeurs

Despite the apron, I ended up with flour on my ankles, but let’s not dwell on that.

I’m buttering the dough in stage 1 of making Pets de Soeurs.  I’m pretty sure that this qualifies me as practically being a bona-fide church lady who makes pastry, and any number of other mysterious things (butter tarts jump to mind), even on a Monday.

It’s all due to Roadrunner and you needn’t snicker because, tra-la-la!

One short week after my lesson, I made a pie today.

All By Myself.

With only minimal, occasional yelling of “Pets de Soeurs!”

(It kind of sounds like a bad word, if you say it in a pastry-stricken moment, don’t you think?”

Raspberry pie with lattice top

What can I say?  I was thanking the nuns.

I don’t yet know if it’s an edible pie, because we haven’t tasted it because I plan to give it to my mother as a Mother’s Day gift tomorrow, but it LOOKS like a pie, doesn’t it?  I also figured that in case of any taste or constructions mishaps, I’d doctor it up a wee so as to distract my audience from some of the other flaws.   Check out my basket-weavy top (no matter that I had to mutter “over and under and over and under” repeatedly to myself as I manoeuvered the possibly too-thick dough) on this–may I say it–masterpiece that ACTUALLY LOOKS LIKE A REAL PIE!

Yep, that’s what counts.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Is there anything more quintessentially retro than fondue?

Of course not!  No wonder it’s becoming mainstream again (you might notice, as I have, a scarcity of fondue paraphenalia in thrift stores lately.  Boo hoo).

In case you’re a fondue novice (as one of our guests was) or a fondue skeptic (what, what?!), here are a few tips I came up with, based on the fondue party we had this past weekend.

FonDO break out your “heirloom”, harvest-gold  fondue set from the time your parents almost set the table on fire.

Gold fondue pot from the 1970s

I like to do this while singing songs by John Denver, Arlo Guthrie, and The Mamas and the Papas (some of the soundtrack of my childhood in the 70s) but no matter how peace-love-and-frolicky you feel, pay attention for a second because this also leads me to my next, important suggestion (actually, it’s my mother’s suggestion):

FonDO put your fondus pot(s) on a cutting board.  Our two modern fondue pots actually come with this as part of the set, but in the days of hippy love and fondue mania, folks lived free and dangerously.  The cutting board was the only thing that stood between my parents almost setting the table on fire and my parents actually setting the table (not to mention their 100% polyester outfits) on fire.

FonDO go overboard with the event.  Why have only one fondue when you can have four?  At our fondue last weekend, we had:

  • oil fondue (for meat or better:  dipping tempura-coated cheese, broccoli, mushrooms…)
  • cheese fondue (for dipping bread, veggies, olives, let’s face it:  anything tastes good when dipped in cheese!)
  • broth fondue (we found this most amazingly-delicious recipe for roasted garlic broth!)
  • chocolate fondue (for dipping cake, marshmallows, fruits, nuts, let’s face it:  anything tastes good when dipped in chocolate!)

Three fondue sets in a row on my table

FonDO make things easy on yourself:  buy the packaged cheese fondue.  I used to be a die-hard, must-grate-my-fingers-off-while-preparing-heaps-of-expensive-and-frankly-slightly-stinky-swiss-and- gruyere-and-dithering-about-what-the-heck-to-do-with-the-rest-of-the-bottle-of-icky-kirsch kind of a girl.  But, a couple of years ago, I was short on time and my sister suggested the packaged cheese fondue from a national grocery chain (find it in the cheese section, likely in a box or bag).  It was divine and ready in the microwave in less than 5 minutes!  Trust me, there’s enough chopping and dicing in fondue that you can forgive yourself for cheating on this one step.

Seriously, as long as there’s warm, melty cheese to dunk things in, NO ONE WILL CARE.

FonDO get creative with your dunkings.  Y’know, if you just can’t bear to make things easy on yourself. Sure you can cut up a hunk of French loaf and swirl it in the cheese and it will be DIVINE, but why deprive yourself of making things complicated? Practical Man gave me this daisy pan so we made daisy-shaped mini pound cakes for dunking in the chocolate fondue.  They were totally unnecessary, but they made me smile (or, maybe that was the sugar high, who can tell?)

daisy shaped mini pound cakes

FonDO make the leftovers into something equally yummy.  I suggest caramelized onion pizza with fondue cheese and roasted red peppers (pictured below).  Or re-boil and strain the roasted garlic broth and then use it to crock-pot a delicious roast.

We did both this week.  Didn’t you hear the groans of delight?

pizza made with leftover caramelized onions, fondue cheese and roasted red peppers

FonDON’T forget to hunt in your relatives’ basements/attics and local thrift stores/garage sales for lots of fondue forks.  Seriously, you can never have too many.  Despite this, people will still tussle over which colour they get.  Practical Man calls dibs on the reds.

bundle of fondue forks with coloured ends showing

FonDON’T invite too many people.  Yes, you want to share the awesomeness that is fondue, but if there are too many people, you will end up with fondue pot traffic jams and some people sitting too far away from the pots.  This encourages risky reaching behaviour, not to mention mounting frustration because the cheese fondue inevitably ends up farthest away from where you’re sitting, and all your peace-love-and-fondue-ing will end in tears and cheese-pot-proximity envy.

Friends don’t let friends suffer from cheese-pot-proximity envy.

For 3 fondue pots, I find six people is probably ideal.  Eight, tops, if the invited tend towards self-sacrifice or are fondue Jedi masters.

FonDON’T forget to use the practical fondue plates.  Even if they’re slightly chippy because your parents obviously had a lot of fun at their ’70s fondue parties.  At first, I’m sure Practical Man thought I was just using these because they came in awesome vintage colours that matched the stoves and fridges we had growing up (harvest gold, fresh avocado, coppertone…) – okay, guilty.

But, it turns out that they really are very practical.

Sectioned fondue plates in white, gold, avocado green, coppertone

And, we need some more (but it’s winter, so no garage sales and the local thrift store have been fondue’d out on account of it was New Year’s Eve not so long ago).  So, swoop in and acquire these funky, retro treasures, if you find them!  It’s important to use those little divided sections to keep your raw stuff (especially meat or shrimp or scallops) away from your cooked stuff and dippy do’s.  Which brings me to:

FonDON’T touch the fondue fork to your lips.  Bad, bad burning sensation!    Fondue is hot, hot, hot (and some people, like me, are slow learners.)  Always cool your food slightly (or take off the fondu fork and transfer to your fun, fondue plate) before tasting.

bundle of fondue forks

FonDON’T overlook the fun dippy do’s!  In addition to the fun dunking and cooking and chatting at fondues, there should be lots of fun dunking and dipping.  While you are waiting for your scalded lips to stop throbbing, survey the land of toppings and goos.  A variety of mustards, hot sauces, aiolis, sirachas, basically any kind of goo that you can plop on your plate and dunk your fondue pieces in, will go a long way to pushing your fondue from fon-dull to fon-delicious!

(Sorry, I couldn’t help myself).

Fondue pot with dippy-do containers around it

This fondue pot we got for our wedding comes with a handy wooden base and containers for a few dippy-do’s (note, these containers are merely a starting point: the best fondues have LOTS of dippy-do’s!)

And last, but not least:

FonDON’T spend the whole party away from the table, if you are hosting.   The best part about fondue is that everyone cooks their own stuff (heck, they can even bring some of their own food and dippy-do’s!)  Other than drinks and a little flame management (deftly provided by Practical Man), there’s not much to do except straighten your polyester muumuu and dive in to having a great time!

White fondue pot surrounded by four dippy do containers

Copyright Christine Fader, 2015.  Did you enjoy this post from A Vintage Life?    Share on Facebook       Tweet

rows of sourdough buns

My husband has developed a new, dangerous habit.

It shocks me, frankly, because back in the late ’90s, as a newly-minted couple, we knew better.  We were wise beyond our years.  We were forward-thinking and pragmatic.  Yes, indeed-y.  We took one look at our wedding registry and averted a looming potential life disaster:  we declined to ask for a counter-top appliance called “a bread-making machine.”

My paternal grandfather spent his childhood in the family bakery in Kitchener, Ontario, twirling pretzels in a way that decades later, he could still replicate with our Play Doh.  It was perhaps inevitable that all that bread-making enthusiasm and genetics landed precisely where one would expect…around my rather bountiful bottom.

So, in 1998, I knew with utter certainty–the same certainty I felt about control-top pantyhose—that I did not need any appliance on our wedding registry that conspired to deliver hot bread to our daily lives.  As for my husband (known around these parts as Practical Man), being the disciplined sort, he can resist almost anything.

That is, with the possible exception of butter.

Especially when said butter accompanies bread, hot from an oven, PEI church supper, vintage Findlay stove, vending machine (ooh, I think I may have just invented something fabulous there) or…well, anywhere.

Really, the smell of hot bread is the devil’s work, isn’t it?

Practical man and I thought so and accordingly, we strode confidently away from the treacherous Bread Machine that loomed large on the wedding registry.   But, since neither of us (thankfully) suffers from Celiac Disease, over the years we have cultivated a household environment that is far from being gluten-free.  We were and are terribly reckless and unfashionable with the flour proteins and these days, tend to follow more of what I call the “gluten-glee” diet.

Hurray for the wheat bellies!

Pasta?  Yes, please.

Baguette?  Mais, oui.

Laugenbroetchen?  Ja, bitte!

Why, we can ask for the doughy goodness in at least three European languages.  Yet, we aren’t pretentious in our gluten glorification.  Equally desired are the hand-made creations:

Multi-grain toast with creamed honey and loads of cinnamon?  Mmmm hmmm.

Cheese scones and cranberry tea biscuits?


Bannock, crumpets, pancakes, YIPPEE!

But, the carbohydrate conundrum gets even worse.

Yes, oh yes, it does.

Despite our early marital wisdom and restraint, we have recently succumbed to the perils of something called a “Sourdough Starter”.

It began innocently enough.  My godson’s father gave Practical Man the sourdough goo “to try”.

I should have known better.  Practical Man loves a challenge, especially when it comes with a high likelihood of built-in failure.  He is a former member of the Canadian Armed Forces Parachute Team (Skyhawks) and all-around daredevil inclined to getting wa-a-a-y too close to things like the cliff edges on Grand Manan Island.

I should have known never to let The Sourdough Starter darken our doors.

Far from languishing in the fridge and growing into either a vigorous or lonely, abandoned science experiment (as it would have done for me) or exploding all over (the way it did for my aunt, years ago), The Sourdough Starter was a raving success.

dough in Practical Man's hands

Practical Man, bonding with the dough.

Every Sunday, Practical Man and The Sourdough Starter have bonding time.  First, he dumps the goo from its jar into a bowl.   He carefully weighs out and feeds it flour and water.  Then, he covers it tenderly with a clean tea towel and sets it gently in a warm place.  A hush falls over the kitchen as The Sourdough Starter has its little, bubbly nap.  Later, Practical Man does some sort of incantation over it, throws a bunch more flour around and voila:  the Sourdough Starter turns into fresh-baked bread.

Two loaves, at least.

rows of buns in tins

Now, he’s moving on to evil, evil buns.

The last few weeks alone have produced multiples of plain sourdough, roasted garlic, caramelized onion, banana and smoked cheddar varieties.

And, not amuse-bouche, nouvelle-cuisine-sized morsels either.  These loaves are the stuff of gluten-glee dreams:  Hearty, floured (and–even better–sometimes buttered) boules and gigantic loaves of the sort that I picture rumbling across a field on the laps of French peasants from the ’50s, riding in a Citroen 2CV.

Happy, happy, happy.   With double chins.

Centuries back, I come from good, double-chinned peasant stock, like this.  Let’s face it, I still AM good double-chinned peasant stock, like this.

Last week, Practical Man started converting some of The Sourdough Starter into whole wheat.  Now, we have two jars of goo in the fridge.   Count ‘em, that’s FOUR future loaves of hot bread coming out of the oven.

Nearly two decades into our marriage, all our early restraint and wisdom was apparently for nought.  Instead of merely registering for it, I am now married to it:

Practical Man has become a bread-making machine.

A darn good one.

Plate with bun and butter

There’s no help for it so now, when the charming, evil man pulls his latest carbohydrate creation out of the oven, I immediately order myself to the nearest carb confessional (any old Paleo diet website will do).  When I’m truly desperate, I launch myself  out into The Nature (which I usually avoid even more than control-top pantyhose).  I go anywhere that will allow me to escape the tantalizing smell of hot, fresh-baked heaven.

And that, dear friends, is what is called: the Gluten Flee.


Copyright Christine Fader, 2014.  Did you enjoy this post from A Vintage Life?    Share on Facebook       Tweet         You might also like my book.



This blog title could be an anthem for me and my life.

But, wouldn’t it sound better if delivered with an Alabama accent?  Or, since we’re in Canada, a Newfoundland or Cape Breton accent?

I think I’ll send this to Rick Mercer.  He could really make it into a thing.

You may already agree that I’m four graham crackers short.  I like to pretend that I take after my slightly scatter-brained but completely adored, Great Grandma Hildegard.   She inadvertently invented all kinds of food, including Leathers.   Leathers (as in Roast Beef and Leathers) are a delicious culinary mistake that have thrived through 3 generations of my family.  Signs have been created in homage to Leathers:

Leathers sign

Only in my family…

I should be so lucky with some of my kitchen experiments.

I’ve just finished making a vintage, no-bake dessert to take to Pippi’s dinner party tomorrow evening.   I’m not feeling tip-top, so I took some pain medication earlier which tends to make me even loopier than usual.

Loopy is not good, when combined with the treacherous recipes and general baking chaos that you may remember I tend towards.    The dinner party is among friends and I don’t feel too much pressure so of course, I try something new (which always makes Practical Man pull out what’s left of his hair).

And, after mostly successfully pulling off Scallops Carbonara for the two of us, a few short nights ago (my normally fainty, half-dead heart rate and pulse were through the roof as I “reduced” and “emulsified” and engaged in other scary cooking maneouvers that were way out of my league), I felt bold enough to bake while under the influence of ibuprofen.


My great grandma Hildegard and me

Me and Great Grandma Hildegard, circa 1970

In what I imagine to be true baking a la Great Grandma Hildegard fashion, I vaguely remembered the gist of the recipe for “No-Bake, Refrigerator Extravaganza” when I was in town today to pick up the ingredients.  I got home and realized that I didn’t have everything so I skimmed the recipe again and headed back out to the country store, feeling even less tip-top, to try and find instant pudding.

Vintage recipes often contain words like “No Bake” and ingredients with the word “instant” in front of them, have you noticed?

“Open can of X”

“Pour tin of Y”

“Blend instant Z”

“No baking required!”

These are the sorts of phrases one often finds in recipes from the 50s and 60s.  Mostly fake, uncooked food was the wave of the future.  When we were living on the moon and relying on our Jetsons-style solar easy-bake oven, these recipes and margarine (not butter) would be the stuff of life!

vintage light

This light I found last weekend is from roughly the atomic era and goes really well with no-bake extravaganzas

I am also reassured that in the 50s and 60s, many people seemed to be baking under the influence of alcohol and cigarettes (at least, if you watched MadMen), so a little ibuprofen-induced loopy-ness was barely being authentic to the vintage spirit.

This recipe originated with my aunt and is simple, but delicious and vintage kitschy.  Of course, I didn’t follow the recipe.


No-Bake Chocolate Eclair Cake

1 box graham wafer cookies
2 – 135g packages, instant vanilla pudding
3 cups cold milk
1 liter container Cool Whip topping (thawed) 

In a 9 x 13 pan, put a layer of graham wafer cookies.  Beat the 2 pudding mixes with the cold milk until thick.  Fold in the thawed Cool Whip.    Put half of this mixture on top of the layer of graham wafers.   Add another layer of graham wafers.   Pour on the remainder of the pudding mixture.  Then, add a final layer of graham wafers.   Ice the eclairs with chocolate frosting (from the can).

Refrigerate 24 hours before serving.


It reminds me of the decadence of pot luck parties where you can eat dessert first or have nothing but swedish meatballs for dinner.  But, because I had only skimmed the ingredients, when I got home the second time and started opening can of X and pouring tin of Y, I realized that I STILL didn’t have everything.

I had read the recipe slightly wrong.  Plus, I was sort of amalgamating it with another recipe I’d found online.  Because, I can always manage to talk myself into making things more complicated than they need to be.

Improving 50-year-old recipes, as it were.  Like the ones in this vintage book my friend Shades bought for me,

vintage party book

Your 1960s guide to a “keen” party!

So, the improvisation began.

And then, I ran out of graham crackers, because I had read the new, amalgamated, Frankenstein’d version of the recipe wrong and was actually using a similar but not requisite ingredient, so I had to improvise again.

Then, there was an emergency phone call to my aunt at the last, dramatic moment.

And now, I have to wait 24 hours to see the result.  To see if four graham crackers short really does wreck a vintage dessert.


(Hopefully) delicious-ness lurks within its mysterious depths

It’s like Grandma Hildegard all over again.

At least, I hope.

Copyright Christine Fader, 2013.  Did you enjoy this post from A Vintage Life?    Share on Facebook       Tweet         You might also like my latest book.

Our friends, Smiley and Steel, have bought a new place on the other side of their lake.

It’s still on the sunset side of the water, which is great.  Even more exciting?  It has two bathrooms.

Smiley is in bathroom heaven.

Practical Man and I have 2.5 bathrooms in our way-too-big-for-us house but, even though we are toilette superior, we still sigh a little when we think of Smiley and Steel.

We too aspire to be waterfront dwellers on a mission to buy extra toilet paper for a newfound plethora of commodes.  But, we (I) have a 1974 Boler travel trailer, 1970 Fiat 500 and assorted retro and practical things (him) to coddle and protect.  There’s not usually a lot of space for this kind of large-vintage-objects-and-entourage hoarding nonsense on your average waterfront property.

So, we went to live vicariously through/oogle Smiley and Steel’s new bathrooms on the water.  They have been busy trying to get the phone company to install on the sunset side of the lake, finding the coffee pot and grimacing at the wallpaper borders on the walls.  It was a perfect excuse for me to create a vintage care package.

I took my inspiration from that vintage, “bid on my sandwiches and I might be your girl” tradition:  a boxed lunch.

Vintage, plaid metal cooler

A tisket, a tasket, my vintage metal bask…oh wait. it’s a cooler, not a basket.. I think that means this classifies as vintage AND practical!.

While a boxed lunch auction is certainly a retro notion, in true 21st century fashion, I barely made any of this boxed lunch…er, dinner, myself.

First, Practical Man cooked up a batch of his moan-while-you-eat-it, slow-cooker Goulash.

You can’t be shy with this stuff.  It’s really good and when something is really good like this is, sounds of ecstasy sometimes erupt spontaneously.

But, we’re all in this together so it’s okay.


P-M uses smoked paprika, instead of regular, in his recipe. It’s why I married him.

Plus egg noodles.  Does anybody eat eggs anymore?  Or noodles?

They seem very vintage, somehow.

noodles in a vintage bowl

Glorious pile of carbs

Then, I made my kitchen sink salad, named thus because I basically put in whatever I feel like.  Heirloom tomatoes (no, they’re not going “off”, they’re supposed to look striated and interesting like that!), spring onions, peppers, cranberries, sunflower seeds, feta…and more.  The pumpkin seeds that I throw in happen to be my favourite.


Did you know that pumpkin seeds contain tryptophan, the same ingredient in cooked turkey that makes you nap?  If you’re suffering from insomnia, try 1/2 cup of pumpkin seeds one hour before bed.  I had some as a snack one day without realizing the whole tryptophan thing and whoa Nellie.  I had to go to bed at 3:00 in the afternoon!  I do NOT need that kind of help since I’m already part Rip van Winkle.


For dessert, I made some of my “world-famous” brownies.  Brownies are my one claim to domestic fame and when I arrive off the plane in Europe, the first thing friends say, with a tone of desperation in their voices is, “WHEN are you going to make brownies?!”.


This whole pile might add up to breakfast for Smiley. At least, I hope so.

I know friends don’t count and Europe isn’t the world.  Kindly don’t shatter my “world famous” delusions.

I packed things in assorted vintage Tupperware containers (Good things come in fun, retro packages, haven’t you heard?)

I cozied everything into a vintage, metal picnic basket/cooler.

Please ignore the leftover bottled salad dressing (not vintage unless you count balsamic as vintage because it’s aged).

tupperware containers in vintage metal cooler

Don’t they look like they’re all friends in there?

I was wishing for some sassafras.  That seems like something that belongs in a vintage boxed lunch.   Even though I don’t really know what it is.

So, sans sassafras (but with some plain old sass), care package was complete.  Delivery successful.

Congratulations, Smiley and Steel on your new home!

If I could have sourced it, I would have also loved to include the perfect house-warming gift:  rainbow-hued toilet paper.

There’s nothing like blue, pink or green vintage toilet paper that coordinates with your furry toilet seat cozy, wallpaper, kleenex-box cover, and rubber, stick-down non-slip flowers in the tub to say a truly vintage, “Welcome Home”.

It’s bathroom heaven.

Copyright Christine Fader, 2013.  Did you enjoy this post from A Vintage Life?    Share on Facebook       Tweet         You might also like my latest book.

I always think of home veggie gardening as a vintage activity.

Maybe it’s because I am known to wear a giant-brimmed hat and women always used to wear hats, back in the day.

me in my red cowboy hat (1973).

Me, in my red cowboy hat (1973).
The string is presumably so I don’t fling the hat off with my exuberant tra-la-la.

Or, maybe gardening feels vintage because of the rubber boots.  They make me invincible to The Nature from the knees down.  And, you can jump in puddles with impulsive tra-la-la.

My rubber boots

Black (for the real country jobs); red (for mild gardening); checkered (for always); flowered (my ‘zippidy-doo-dah ones’ for special occasions or when Practical Man is out of town)

Maybe it feels vintage because gardening is all about growing your own food and eating local.   That whole recent trend?  Vintage, actually!

Or, perhaps veggie gardening feels vintage because Apple hasn’t yet invented some kind of iMiracle to help with

  • the weeding,
  • the more weeding,
  • the even more weeding (even though you thought you got them all yesterday)
  • the never-ending weeding.

I would sleep outside the Apple store if they came out with an iWeeder.  Instead, I feel that I am channeling my ancestors as we behold the resilience and fortitude that are weeds.

Very vintage.

But now, boys and girls, it is officially scape season.  There’s just no escaping it.  The scapes, I mean.

Hee hee.

A scape is the edible curly-cue that grows out of the centre of hard-necked garlic varieties.  They’re like a cowlick in an otherwise beautiful garlic coiffure (I feel a kinship).  In our part of the world, we harvest garlic scapes in June, a month or two before the actual garlic bulbs in the ground are ready.  Scapes are very mild and taste like garlicky asparagus.

garlic scapes

Some of our beautiful scapes. Also (ahem), some weeds.

Confession:  When I was 16 and billeted for a week into a German family in West Berlin, they served gigantic, tree-trunk spears of white asparagus for dinner (with pickled eel).   I ate it because I was a polite Canadian girl (and I didn’t yet know how to say “Oh, I’m terribly sorry, I’m allergic to this whole dinner” in German so I was linguistically prevented from telling a colossal, cross-cultural fib).  After that dinner, I never thought I would say that I loved something that tasted like asparagus.

If you hate asparagus, you must try it tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper, then grilled.  Parmesan shaved over the top once they’re cooked to nutty, caramelized perfection (about 10 minutes) only makes it even more irresistible.  Soooo Yum!  Use the same recipe for the scapes (or saute on the stovetop with some white wine, hot pepper flakes and the rest of the above).  As for the pickled eel, well, you’ll have to make decisions for yourself.  I prefer my eels…ugh…no I’m afraid, I don’t prefer eels.

But, garlic scapes are great.  That is, of course, unless you’re one of those modern-day-abundant, immortal creatures who roams the night and is in love with some girl called Bella.  Then, forget about the grilling and you might also want to avoid our property even if it’s safely after dark in the light of a beautiful moonscape (I’m on kind of a scape roll) and you look all sparkly.

We are not vampire people.  We are not sparkly, but rather, possibly smelly, because we loooove the garlic.  We watch and wait until suddenly, almost overnight, it happens:  scapes!  Right now, our garden landscape (sorry, I’ll try to stop soon) is resplendent with the curly little gems.

Practical Man planted three kinds of hard-necked garlic last fall:

  • Music (isn’t that a lovely name for a garlic?)
  • German Red (makes me think of Snoopy as the Red Baron.  Also, slightly of eel.)
  • Georgia Fire (loved the name and spicy connotations).

Garlic grows really well in our terrible soil.  It’s as if we have a glittering city of skyscapers in our garden (okay, that one  was reaching).  This year, we are eagerly awaiting the arrival of 80 bulbs.  Looking at the patch, over the garden fence, it’s a veritable seascape (I can’t help myself) of garlic, as far as the eye can see.

So, gardening:  yes, it’s vintage.  Sure, it’s weedy.  There can be great hats and boots.  And, somewhere in all the weeding, you get goodies, fresh from the earth.

Or, at least garlic, which, in our house, is a major food group.  If you haven’t had scapes, look for them at your local farm stands, farm gates and markets.

And, I’m sorry for all the bad puns.

I’m looking around for a scapegoat, but I can’t find one.


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This past weekend, I was up to my elbows in construction…of the cake kind.

Vintage tupperware cake carrier

My vintage tupperware cake carrier, just waiting for an evil, evil layer cake

It was my friend Pippi’s birthday, hence my foray into the perilous world of baking a layer cake–a dark and treacherous place I hadn’t ventured near in roughly a decade.

I had conveniently forgotten why I had eschewed the baking of layers.  I’m told this sort of amnesia is common with all horrible things such as delivering a baby and getting one’s bits waxed.  But, all too soon, it came rushing back to me.

First of all, it’s sort of a two-day affair.   And, even though he kindly offered help (he’s a bit of a baking genius) as I embarked on this ridiculous mission, Practical Man knew better than to stick around after I (somewhat snippily) informed him that I was justfinethankyouverymuch.  I mean, why should a simple layer cake be a two-day AND a two-person job?  Especially when one of those people was guaranteed to be better at it and make the other one look really inept even though she was wearing a much better apron?

He retreated to a safe distance and gallantly pretended he didn’t hear his sweet beloved saying bad words in the kitchen.

I’m probably doing it wrong but for me, baking a layer cake takes hours what with the sifting and stirring, alternating the goo with the non-goo, the baking and cooling.  Not so good for impatient sorts, also known as fans of the one-pot-stick-it-all-in-the-oven-at-one-time-and-be-done-with-it type that I happen to be.  I baked the cake on Friday evening after work (during the cheap electricity time so that Practical Man could bask in my frugal brilliance) and then let it cool, cool, cool before I went to bed and had to place it in its moisture-preserving vintage cake carrier overnight.

But, when you’re yawning in your pajamas and ready to sleep, somehow there’s never quite enough greasing and flouring and parchment papering to disengage the cake easily from its cozy pan and I end up holding it upside down while simultaneously trying to crane my neck underneath it to see if it’s detaching.  It’s not, so then I right it, run the knife around it one more time and then invert it again but it’s still not budging so I try shaking it a little and muttering about the inferior quality of flour and parchment paper these days and I am sweating quite a bit on my only trump card–my lovely apron.  Next comes the channeling of Charlie Brown and repeated utterances of “Good Grief!” with more peering underneath and spreading my fingers across the surface of the cake in what I hope is a cake-come-hither kind of way, but that only manages to cause denty fingerprints.  I feel my heart beating in my throat (and very, VERY bad words in my head) as I try to avert the fatal scenario where it suddenly releases in the manner of that awful cheesecake incident of 2012 and comes crashing to the earth in a thousand, crumbly pieces and I have to start from the very beginning all over again.

Stressful, this cake building stuff.  I don’t know how Duff and Buddy and Anna Olson do it.  Of course, they probably have diamond-encrusted swear jars and someone on speed dial to come and cleanse their auras afterward.  But finally, it was safely in the container and I got to go to bed where I snuggled with the baking genius, hoping some of his talent and (somewhat exasperating) patience would rub off on me.

The next day, the fun continued because you see, with a layer cake, the giggles don’t end with the baking.  There’s the building.

Lots of eyeballing required.  Measuring and blah, blah, blah.

Have I mentioned that precision and patience are not really my thing?  I can never quite manage to get Layer One in the centre of the plate and of course, once it’s on there, it seems to have welded itself to the surface as if it’s a person trying to get a baker’s genius to rub off on herself.   I have to estimate how much of the giant pail of icing I’ve made is required to cover the first layer and sides (and that is somehow all over the cupboards and back splash and ceiling) and I always do it wrong (Practical Man is great with spacial tasks like this but there is no way I’m asking for his help because I am justfinethankyouverymuch).  So now, the bottom of the cake is thick with mortar-like frosting and I end up desperately trying to a) get Layer Two lined up so that it doesn’t resemble that famous tower in Pisa and 2) cover Layer Two of the cake with the pitiful remaining 1/2 cup of icing (if only I hadn’t wasted so much on the cupboards, backsplash and ceiling!) and in the end, it looks as if I’m trying to pull off some kind of hideous cake comb over.

But, all that will be hidden by the decorations which consist of M&Ms and mini M&Ms made into flowers.  This is the part for me: creative, pretti-fying and above all, simple.  I can tra-la-la while I make little flowers that reference a simpler, bucolic time of layer cakes and lovely people who don’t curse.   Let’s be honest though, this phase of the never-ending layer cake marathon is really all about rewarding the baker.  M&M on cake.  M&M in mouth.  Cake.  Mouth.  Cake.  Mouth.

It’s a system.

I think this is how that amnesia-after-horrible-life-experiences thing starts to work.  You forget about the agony once your brain is plied–systematically–with chocolate.

The finished cake

The finished cake

Were I less inclined to the vintage, I might have simply bought a cake, as many modern folk do.  Store-bought cakes  are reliable and built to withstand a minor earthquake (or our drive through the back woods of an Ontario cottage lane to the scene of the birthday celebration).  After all the drama and trauma and dents to my karma, my banana cake with cream cheese icing was L.O.A.

Leaning On Arrival.

But, I am justfinethankyouverymuch.

Vintage foods are some of my favourites.  Green cocktail olives stuffed with pimento, devilled eggs, rice krispie squares:  eating vintage is truly like taking a trip in a time machine (without the accompanying vertigo).

Lately, my weekend breakfast has been nostalgic and so, so yummy.  I start with oatmeal (once a dreaded food until I had to eat it at Brownie camp and realized that it was NOT at all the same as icky, sticky cream of wheat):


Of course, it’s even more fun, if you serve it in a fun, vintage Pyrex bowl:


Mix in some thawed, frozen raspberries (or fresh, in season but I live in the Great White North so our raspberry season is precious and fleeting).  Somehow, they also taste better if they’re in another vintage pyrex bowl:


Add a dash of homemade maple syrup (or store bought, if you don’t have Practical Man’s Best Maple Syrup, made lovingly every Spring from our forest trees, like I have):


Then, voila!  A delicious, old time-y breakfast:


Excited about oatmeal.  I’m pretty sure this means that my breakfast is no longer the only thing in our house that could be considered old time-y…