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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.

Ummmm…

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.

Sigh.

The cake is really good.

Tra-la-la.

sour cream coffee cake - piece on a plate

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Pie or cake?

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

Cake has icing.

Tra-la-la!

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.


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?

Ahem, hem, hem:   KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON CARBOHYDRATES.

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 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.


In our household, we often joke that we have a role reversal going. Case in point:  I spent one sunny, Saturday afternoon rummaging through a junkyard with my friend, Trevor.

When I returned home, dusty, with a heart and camera full of rusty, tree-entwined vintage vehicles, the glorious smell of baking bread wafted out to greet me…as did my amused husband who had been home slaving over a hot oven all day.   If that doesn’t describe a perfect day, then I don’t know what does.

My husband drew the line at wearing one of my fun, vintage aprons though.

I find them in second-hand stores or at yard sales and often, can’t bear to leave them behind.  They’re usually homemade (and for much tinier waists than I possess) with kitschy vintage touches like rick-rack, scalloped edges and even, smocking.   They evoke a time of beautiful, rounded fridges (not a fingerprinted, stainless steel front in sight), one grainy TV channel and the advent of margarine, pastel-coloured marshmallow “salads” and other foods not found in nature.

apron I’m happy to don one of these sartorial time machines and spend an afternoon baking another vintage-turned-fashionable treat:  cupcakes.  I find them manageable, for one who sometimes needs a life preserver when wading into the stew that is cooking and baking.

I stumble through the measuring and mixing, put up with the plopping into pans and baking parts…all so I can get to the hypnotic peace of using a pastry bag to pipe icing on their little, rounded tops.

It’s like Thai Chi, piping is.   Seriously.  You should try it.

I believe it’s how those women-of-a-certain-era  managed to welcome everyone home in Leave it to Beaver fashion day after day, even when life in bouffants and polyester chafed.

Piping icing:  it’s probably why they didn’t need yoga.

Even though I may look like the picture of vintage domesticity, working in my kitchen, apron apparently tied to the stove, I know the truth:  my modern vintage life is about zen-cupcake-making and a partner who loves bread baking and future junkyards to explore.

Now, if I could just get my hands on one of those great vintage-inspired fridges!