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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


I had  a birthday recently.

Hurray for cake!   It is always a good day when there’s cake.

That was a statement, not an opinion poll.  Please avert your eyes if you are cake-averse.

Also, I’m not sure we can continue to be friends.

Or cupcakes (yes, I love daisies AND cupcakes.   Combining them seemed only natural.)

Yes, cupcakes are CAKE (I love daisies AND cupcakes. Combining them seemed only natural.)

It was a fairly garden-variety birthday.  That is, not one of the “big” ones with zeros in them.   More like halfway to one of the big ones.

The Ministry of Transportation wrote to tell me that I owed them money for my license plate renewal.

Happy Birthday!

And my mother called to tell me that she felt old on account of my birthday.

Even though it wasn’t one of the big ones.

Sorry, Mom.

And, my friend, Freckles, (who is weeks away from halfway to her next big one) said Happy Birthday by asking me if I realized that it had been 30 years since we had first met.


This was somewhat distressing to me because I distinctly remember having pimples that day.

So then, I felt old on account of my birthday.

Not that old is bad.  I am a fairy godmother-in-training and I can’t wait to have silvery hair.  I think it’s magical and more conducive to spontaneous tra-la-la.

Maybe by the time I get to the next big birthday, my hair will be more magical (and less uncooperative personality disorder).

And, you wouldn’t know that I’m barely half way to one of the big ones by the way Practical Man tries to wind me up while we’re in stores.  He thinks putting the SILVER (geriatric) Vitamins For Women in our cart is hilarious.

I can’t believe we’re spending hard-earned dosh on vitamins in the first place–let alone gender-focused ones that target silly things like bone strength instead of helping me hide at least one of my chins.

Why not spend that money on cake, I ask?

Okay, so maybe that’s why.

Anyway, I like to retaliate for his vitamin gag by deviating from the approved grocery list.

I throw things in the cart when he isn’t paying attention.

Reckless things that aren’t on sale or for which WE DO NOT POSSESS A COUPON!

All is fair in love and shopping with your sweetie, especially when it’s your birthday.

Even if it’s not a big one.

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