Domestic Pursuits

A Return to my Salad Days

When I first moved away from my parents’ home in the 1990s, I spent a summer buying basic household items at eastern Ontario yard sales. Dinnerware, mixing bowls, a giant sunflower print … and cookbooks. Nearly all these things are long gone—the giant sunflower print, having hung in various narrow apartment kitchens and then in our basement stairwell, finally went out to curbside a few months ago after a quarter century of service—but I still have two of the first cookbooks I ever bought: Anne Lindsay’s Smart Cooking (1986) and her follow-up, Lighthearted Everyday Cooking (1991).

In the eighties and nineties, Anne Lindsay was a Canadian household name. A longtime home economist and food writer for numerous Canadian publications who was named to the Order of Canada in 2003, she partnered first with the Canadian Cancer Society and, later, the Heart and Stroke Foundation to produce cookbooks featuring healthy recipes geared to reducing diet-related disease risks. In keeping with the understandings of the era, the recipes were lower in fat than many contemporary recipes—although, as Lindsay herself has noted, they were not usually low fat. Lindsay’s balanced approach to fats was a prescient choice, given subsequent medical research finding that a balanced intake of carbohydrates, proteins and unsaturated fats is the cornerstone of a healthy diet.

My interest in Anne Lindsay’s cookbooks was not so much dietary (although in those days I was, like most young women of my generation, usually trying to lose weight) as being about developing a basic recipe repertoire.  I did, of course, like that the recipes were healthy, but even more than that, I appreciated that they were simple and unadorned. They used ingredients that even I, on a grad student budget, and living in an area with limited grocery options, could find and afford.

Two of the early recipes I learned from Anne Lindsay remain standards in my household: chick-pea salad with red onion and tomato (from Smart Cooking), and red bean salad with feta and peppers (from Lighthearted Everyday Cooking). After all these years I no longer need to consult the cookbooks to make these salads, but for some reason I almost always haul the books out and prop them open on the counter. I have adulterated both recipes over the years (I add avocado and often fusilli to the chick-pea salad, and always make the red bean salad with red cabbage and dried hot peppers) but they remain essentially as Anne Lindsay intended them: straightforward, healthy, and delicious.

Earlier this week while out running errands, I stopped in at a thrift store  to look at (among other things) the cookbooks. Among dozens of discarded paleo, vegan and celebrity cookbooks (one can always trace the downward trajectory of dietary fads and celebrity chefs’ careers by the appearance of their related cookbooks in thrift stores) was a ‘new’ Anne Lindsay cookbook: Lighthearted at Home (2010). I pulled it out and assessed the book, wondering whether it was worth adding to my already burgeoning cookbook library.

Unlike a lot of the cookbooks I see (and buy) these days, Lighthearted at Home is not filled with glossy food-porn pictures. The recipes are plain and unadorned. But as I flipped through the book (at 486 pages it’s a hefty compendium), a feeling of something like solid familiarity filled me. “I could make this for dinner tonight!” I said about one recipe after another. “I already have all these ingredients in the fridge!” So with real regret I put Crissy Teigen’s Cravings back on the shelf and brought Anne Lindsay home instead.

I must pause here to note that I love fancy food-porn cookbooks. I love their glossy pictures. I love the long preambles to the recipes. I love the stories about how the recipes came to be, especially when they involve travel to the south of France or anecdotes about the author’s Kurdish grandmother. I love hearing about the glittering dinner parties where these dishes have held centre stage. I love to imagine the glittering dinner parties at which I will serve all these delectable dishes.

The problem is that between Covid lockdowns and three years of 24/7 caregiving to someone with dementia, there haven’t been a lot of dinner parties in my life lately. The days when we catered our own wedding reception, and hosted midsummer garden parties for years thereafter—those days are long past.

It’s tempting, now that the pandemic is over, and with our elder in long term care, and especially after having redone our dining room, to send out invites, plan table settings—and haul out the most lavish recipes I can find.

But I’m busy, and tired, and sometimes think I’ve forgotten how to cook food. Real food, not the delicious but hours-long effort of making, say, the Barefoot Contessa‘s roasted eggplant parmesan (worth every minute, by the way). Real food, not hot dogs and Caesar salad, which were the only foods we could get my mother-in-law to eat in the last months before she went into long term care. Real food I could make for dinner any night, without a great deal of fuss—real food I could even make tonight. Anne Lindsay’s cookbooks fit the bill perfectly.

Tonight, for example, I am going to make pasta with sweet peppers, cheese and basil from Lighthearted at Home. It’s a simple, straightforward, healthy recipe that doesn’t take long to prepare, of the sort one could make any weeknight while casting about for something to cook. It reminds me of the recipes and ingredients included in meal delivery kits (which may well crib their offerings from cookbooks like this one). It’s almost a stretch to call it a recipe: just pasta, some vegetables, some cheese, olives, and some herbs. Lindsay recommends serving this dish with broccoli or green beans; I think it would also be great with chicken on the side. I think this dish would also be excellent as next-day leftovers chilled in the fridge, by which point it would be more like a salad (I have a thing for salads, in case this is not already obvious, and am happy to call almost any chilled leftover a salad if it has any vegetable matter in it at all).

No, it’s not exciting. But this dish, this cookbook, and Lindsay’s entire oeuvre, is ideal for when you are either starting out and don’t know what to eat, or have been making dinners for so many years you’ve run out of ideas, or have glutted yourself on so much food porn you’ve forgotten how to cook the basics.

Update: Here’s tonight’s dinner! I wilted in some fresh spinach greens, because I love spinach and throw a few handfuls of it into just about everything. I also stirred some dried hot pepper flakes (from Apache peppers grown in our garden) in with the onions while they sautéed. I should have saved a cup of pasta water to stir in for extra creaminess. And maybe poured in a glug of red wine vinegar, just to take Lindsay’s recipe, already half Greek with the feta and Kalamata olives, the rest of the way (and, if so, I would substitute oregano for the basil).

This is the great thing about this kind of recipe: you can add or substitute ingredients to suit your preferences (Lindsay encourages this very thing) but always have, at base, a solid recipe you can count on to get something good to the table any night of the week.

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Wherein I Enter my Luddite Years

circa 1988 Kenmore electric rangeLate last week we took delivery of our new stove—a circa 1988 coil-topped Kenmore electric range with analogue dials and a large capacity oven. Behold it in all its glory—brown-black back panel, wide coil burners, styled with a set of Merry Mushroom salt and pepper shakers, and an of-the-era apron to match.

The story of this stove is a bit involved, so you might want to stretch out on a Dacron upholstered colonial patterned chesterfield  with an acrylic crocheted afghan (in, say, brown and orange stripes) to read it.

Over the decades I have cooked on quite a few different stoves, including, for ten long years, an electric hot plate. My favourite stove, the one still standing in the secondary kitchen of our formerly apartmentized and then multigenerational family home, is a gas range that generates a lovely and responsive heat. But there is no gas line to the ground floor kitchen, and after 40 years of hard use, the rusted old electric stove with wonky burners and a malfunctioning oven element was overdue for replacement.

In 2020 my mother-in-law’s dementia had progressed to the point where she could no longer live on her own, so we sold her condo  and moved her into our home. We had hoped that inhabiting the ground floor unit would help her retain some sense of autonomy—but  shortly thereafter realized we needed to disable the stove for safety reasons. In August, after moving my mother-in-law into long term care, we plugged in the stove for the first time in three years and realized it was too far gone to fix.

That was when our difficulties began.

At Home Depot we learned that coil-top electric stoves are a species in decline. The coil-tops they do continue to carry include safety devices that limit cooking duration and temperature—a problem for a cook like me during preserving season, when water-bathed bottles of jams and jellies require a steady rolling boil be maintained under them for long enough to ensure a shelf-safe seal. Most of the ceramic-topped stoves now available are not designed for the weight, kettle diameter, or heat requirements of preserving. And buying an induction stove would mean replacing most of my cookware.

I considered buying an electric canner or portable hotplate so I could continue to make preserves—but it seemed ridiculous to buy a new stove and then still need to buy another device to use for canning.

Fellow preservers, including kind fellow members of the Culinary Historians of Canada, offered helpful advice—some people continue to make preserves just fine on their coil burner or ceramic-topped stoves; others have gone with high wattage portable cooktops—but it seemed that most of the people happily preserving using their ordinary stoves are using older models.

Of course they are.

In our household we take care to reduce our environmental impact. We are longtime thrift hounds, always brake for yard sales, and have picked up so many useful things at curbside over the years that we once published an essay about them. We walk, bike or rollerblade whenever it is possible to do so, and gas up our 14 year-old car about once a month. We limit our energy use, compost, make do and mend, and generally try to live as lightly on the earth as is practicable in  contemporary urban Canada.

When it comes to appliances, however, we’ve found our options increasingly limited. Not so many years ago there was an appliance repair place in every neighbourhood. Here in the Junction even a decade ago there used to be four or five storefronts selling second-hand appliances lined up along Dundas Street West.

It’s not just rising commercial rents that have priced these businesses out. It’s that contemporary appliances are simultaneously vastly more complex and much more fragile. Most appliances—even fridges—now have motherboards. When something goes wrong, it is often cheaper to just replace the whole appliance. In many cases the internal workings are simply not serviceable, no matter how skilled the repair person, meaning that many broken appliances are suitable only for the scrapyard. A salesperson at a midtown appliance showroom told us frankly that the ‘sunset’ on new midrange fixtures is about eight years.


By good fortune and Google, we found a small used appliance shop called Appliance Specialist located about 10 blocks from our house. We went in and sitting in the shop was the perfect stove—electric, coil-topped, large, white, made in Canada and, as a bonus, fully analogue in its operation. The owner, a gentleman originally from Guyana, knows a great deal about appliances, digital and analogue, new and old. He is also, it turns out, an ordained minister, a songwriter, and a gifted landscape photographer. Within the hour our new stove was nestled into our kitchen, where it has been put to daily use ever since.

In my local parent network someone posted a few days ago seeking advice about sourcing a new washer-drier set. In response, commenters extolled the virtues of analogue-only machines, and detailed the troubles they’ve had with the digital components even on expensive machines. Most of these commenters are thirty-somethings with young children, meaning they are what sociologists call ‘digital natives‘ who have likely transacted their entire lives in a post-analogue world.

It occurs to me that there must be a huge potential market for well-built, lasting analogue equipment. At a time when the environmental consequences of human consumption are deeply evident, when the mined materials that go into computer components are increasingly short supply, and when international conflicts have disrupted global supply chains, it seems more than a bit risky to rely on an appliance that will likely require replacing in a few years, and whose cheapness may come at the cost of labour and environmental protections. Economists and policy makers have begun talking about ‘nearshoring’ and ‘reshoring’ manufacturing to reduce some of these risks—what a boon it could be if well-built, truly durable goods came back into vogue.

And don’t even get me started on furniture.

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Image showing vintage Mactac brand bathtub decals in Harvest Gold colour.

Vintage Finds | Flower Power Bathtub Decals

Image showing vintage Rubbermaid brand bathtub decals in green daisy shapes.
Deluxe! Two-tone! Appliques de baignoire!

Whatever happened to bathtub decals? You know, those Mod peel-and-stick shapes that were a feature of many North American bathrooms in the 1970s, as ubiquitous as decorator toilet paper and avocado-coloured fixtures? Where did they go? When did they fall out of fashion? And why, nearly 50 years later, do they still sometimes show up at thrift stores?

When I was a kid, almost everyone’s house, even ours, had peel-and-stick decals in the bathtub. Marketed as a safety device meant to reduce the risk of slips and falls, the decals had the added benefit of upping the decor quotient in an otherwise prosaic room. After the Second World War, woolen mills marketed matching towel sets (under brand names like Fieldcrest and Royal Cannon) to newlyweds setting up households in smart suburban ranch houses, and by the 1960s every department store carried entire lines of bathroom accessories — towels, washcloths, bathmats, even toothbrush holders in coordinating colours. By the later 1960s and especially in the decadent seventies, bathrooms received what in retrospect was completely over-the-top decorating attention, complete with wall-to-wall carpet and heavy drapes. Bathtub decals offered a way for budget-conscious householders to participate in these maximalist decorating trends.

[P.S. In 1981 my parents bought an otherwise modest bungalow in a Toronto-area suburb that had received the full 1970s treatment in the same way a junker car might have a thousand dollar stereo, complete with stuccoed walls (painful!), garish purple wallpaper in loud Mod designs, and wall-to-wall carpet in the everything-Harvest-Gold main floor bathroom. My mother’s solution to the sanitary challenge of shag carpet around the toilet was to cut it into sections that could fit into the washing machine for semi-regular cleaning. The bungalow and its hideous wallpaper are long gone, and it’s a real pity there’s no photographic evidence of its colourful if rather chaotic heyday.]

Bathtub decals continued to be marketed into the 1980s, albeit in relatively subdued colours and patterns, and seem never quite to have disappeared, but never since have they regained their primacy as a standard decor element in North American bathrooms. I am guessing an eighties-era rejection of everything the seventies represented was part of this, followed by shifts in bathroom design in which stand-alone showers and clean lines have dominated ever since. There is also the challenge of keeping the decals from accumulating disgusting bathtub crud, which may be why there are more online instructions for removing old bathtub decals than for choosing them.

Image showing vintage Mactac brand bathtub decals in Harvest Gold colour.
Harvest Gold!

With renewed interest in the more kitschy elements of late midcentury design, it seems that bathtub decals deserve a revival. Maybe not on the bottom of the tub, although they might be cute on the outside of a glass shower door or on a tiled wall. They could even be great mounted on a kitchen backsplash, or on a laptop computer. It’s not out of the question that a few colourful decals could have softened the public response to this recent bathroom-related controversy.

I have two new-in-package sets of vintage bathtub decals, both of 1970s vintage. The green hued (one might say … avocado) ones were made by Rubbermaid (manufactured at Rubbermaid Canada’s Mississauga plant) and appear to date to 1975. I picked these up at Value Village the other day. The harvest gold ones (thrifted a few years ago) are also daisy-patterned and were part of the Mactac line of products made by Morgan Adhesives of Canada Limited in Brampton, Ontario. Both sets of decals were manufactured here in Canada, at plants whose parent companies, unusually, appear to continue operating manufacturing operations in this country. Increasingly long gone, however, are the days when a high school education could still get you a decently paid factory job with benefits — possibly including an employee discount on decorator bathtub decals.

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Treasures from the Old Book and Paper Show

Yesterday morning, bright and early, I took the streetcar halfway across town to attend the Old Book and Paper Show, hosted at the Artscape Wychwood Barns on Christie at St. Clair. The show was scheduled to open at ten, but when I walked in shortly thereafter, the hall was already buzzing with eager browsers and the booths were packed with people and an incredible range of wonderful paper-related things.

This was another first-time event for me. I’ve had a very serendipitous life discovering interesting old books and sometimes other paper treasures at book sales, yard sales, and in random boxes discarded at curbside. I’ve always maintained a large library at home, made up of books kept for research, teaching or pleasure reading, but suppose I have not really considered myself a Collector of books or paper ephemera. Although there are the 1940s issues of Chatelaine Magazine I snap up whenever they appear; and the nineteenth and twentieth century promotional cookbooks and kitchen-related pamphlets; and vintage books on animal husbandry, hunting and trapping, interior decor; and …

So maybe I have become a Collector after all.

At the Old Book and Paper show, I browsed the booths counter-clockwise, and was fortunate to arrive almost immediately at the delightfully-named The Book Not Mad, whose proprietor had laid out a very good selection of Canadiana, garden books, tame and therefore rather sweet erotica, and—catnip for me—old cookbooks and food-related promotional pamphlets. I rifled through those, and—with an eye on the clearly inadequate amount of cash I’d brought—bought three books.

The first, Better Cooking and Baking, was published by Robertshaw-Fulton Controls Canada in 1956. I had never heard of Robertshaw-Fulton before, but have learned that the company produced thermostats and other controls for electric heating elements. Many of the recipes—for apple pie, mushroom casserole, tomato soup cake (yes: it sounds awful, but midcentury cookbook enthusiast and TikTok recipe tester B. Dylan Hollis says it’s not half bad with the right frosting)—are familiar fare in mid-century cookbooks. Where Better Cooking and Baking differs, however, is in that the recipes are divided into two principal sections: Oven Cooking, and Range Top Recipes. Along the way, readers—who may be new to electric cooking—are also instructed in Correct Placement of Pans in Oven and shown schematic illustrations of stovetop sensing elements for stovetop burners. The cookbook has delightful photographs, which include lovely now-vintage oven and serving ware, and includes very helpful guides to kneading bread, shaping rolls and preparing pastry. I am guessing this cookbook was given away at trade shows and possibly also came free with the purchase of electric ranges containing Robertshaw-Fulton controls. 

My second purchase from The Book Not Mad was Tasty Meals for Every Day, issued by Canada Packers under the Maple Leaf Products banner in 1933. By 1933 the Depression was well advanced, and many of the recipes in Tasty Meals for Every Day are geared toward “economical meals.” There are, for example, plenty of recipes calling for chopped or ground meats, and many of them involve meat cooked in and with vegetables in order to stretch a dish to feed an entire family. The recipes are credited to “Margaret H. Rees, Dietician” who, according to Elizabeth Driver’s Culinary Landmarks: A Bibliography of Canadian Cookbooks, 1825-1949 (2008: 756), worked for Canada Packers and created or compiled recipes for at least one other company cookbook. I am guessing that this promotional cookbook was given away at public events like the Canadian National Exhibition

I bought this cookbook for two reasons. First, Canada Packers operated out of the Junction-area Union Stockyards (at Keele and St. Clair) until 1983. The Stockyards—located less than a kilometre from my house, albeit on the other side of the proverbial tracks—has been developed into housing and large format retail spaces since the 1990s, although at least one slaughterhouse remains in operation, for now. The second reason I bought Tasty Meals for Every Day was because it includes handwritten recipes on the endpapers—my very favourite thing to find in an old cookbook. The recipes in my copy are an (unlabeled) chocolate cake recipe, which includes allspice and mace; ‘Chocolate Cream Filling or Blanc Mange;’ ‘Boiled Icing,’ Chocolate Frosting,’ and ‘Divinity Fudge.’ From these handwritten recipes, and from the grease marks in the cakes and pastries section of the cookbook, it seems pretty clear that the woman who received this cookbook kept it not for the meat recipes but for the desserts. 

My third find at The Book Not Mad’s booth was this intriguing, vest pocked-sized A.B.C. of Mixing Cocktails. The book is undated but was produced before 1932 and possibly prior to 1926, when the company (sold to industrialist Harry C. Hatch in 1923) was renamed Hiram Walker-Gooderham Worts in a merger (note: the Distillery District’s Distillery Heritage website lists the date as “circa 1928”). Toronto-based Gooderham & Worts Distillers was located in what is now known as the historic Distillery District: after production shut down in 1990, the site (named a National Historic Site in 1988) remained largely vacant until it was redeveloped into galleries, shops and condos that have maintained most of the site’s nineteenth century industrial architecture. 

I’m not quite sure what to make of this little book. Prohibition wasn’t formally repealed in Ontario until 1927, and remained in effect in the US until 1933. In Quebec, however, Prohibition lasted only until 1921, and G&W (or HWGW, as the company became known) exported enthusiastically to the province. I have seen reference to a bilingual, 1930 edition of A.B.C. of Mixing Cocktails, which obviously would have been distributed in la Belle Province (a digitized copy can be viewed here), so I am guessing that my edition (which includes a couple of mixed drinks with French names) would also have been made available in regions to which G&W could legally have exported alcohol. At the same time, the names of many of the mixed drinks—American Beauty, Astoria Cocktail, Bronx Cocktail, Manhattan Cocktail, Millionaire Cocktail, New Orleans Gin Fizz, Saratoga Cocktail, etc.—seem very American, very Jazz Age, meaning the book might have been subtly marketed to bootleggers’ American customers … or at least to Canadian drinkers who wanted to feel like they were consuming illicit beverages in a Detroit speakeasy. 

In America Walks into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops (Oxford University Press, 2011), my favourite historian, Christine Sismondo, writes of the relationship between Canadian distillers and American drinkers during Prohibition in the US, 

Prohibition was effectively a farce in Canada. The country had no equivalent to the Webb-Kenyon Act, which had prohibited the shipment of alcohol from wet to dry states. Several distillers, most notably the Seagram Company, under the control of entrepreneurial Samuel Bronfman, took immediate advantage of this legal oversight and began building a mail-order alcohol empire within Canada. When America went dry, Canadian suppliers such as Bronfman saw the potential for sales south of the border and began ramping up production, ignoring ethical concerns. As Harry Hatch, president of Hiram Walker [Hiram Walker-Gooderham Worts], put it, “The Volstead Act does not prevent us from exporting at all. It prevents somebody over there from importing. There is a difference.” 

This means it was entirely possible, perhaps even likely, that A.B.C. of Mixing Cocktails could have found its way into a few American vest pockets prior to 1933. Which makes one wonder: had Jay Gatsby been carrying one, would he have survived George Wilson’s bullet? 

Fun Fact 1: A.B.C. of Mixing Cocktails includes a recipe for “Flu Cocktail,” which seems very of its post-1918 Influenza Epidemic era. In case anyone wishes to try it in the Covid era, it calls for 

  • 1 dash of Jamaica Ginger
  • 1 teaspoonful of Lemon Juice
  • 1 teaspoonful Rock Candy Syrup
  • 1 glass of G & W “Four Roses” Rye
    Stir together and serve in same glass

Fun Fact 2: I paid $15 for my copy of A.B.C. of Mixing Cocktails, and thought it a fair price, but see that the book is considered scarce, and the couple of copies available online are listed for over $400 CDN. Yikes. Well; I guess I’ll drink to that. If you don’t want to spend the money on a print version, you can read a digitized copy online here

From another seller’s booth I bought this 1941 copy of Emergencies in War, prepared by the Canadian Red Cross Society. The booklet was produced during the Battle of Britain (1940) and Blitz (1940-1941), during which Nazi warplanes carpet-bombed civilian as well as strategic targets in efforts to force Britain to submit to German terms (the same approach Russia has used in its targeting of civilian populations in Ukraine in 2022). Emergencies in War assumes its Canadian civilian readers may well find themselves under direct attack, and seeks to prepare them accordingly, with advice on dealing with shock, bleeding, burns and other wounds. It includes chapters on Psychology of Emergencies — noting, “fear is an implement of war” — and Air Raid Precautions.

A very relevant example from the Psychology of Emergencies chapter is the reported use of noise to terrorize civilian populations:

Fear has played a large part in the progress of the present war to date. Hitler, realizing that fear is the most powerful and deep-rooted instinct in human nature, has repeatedly, and successfully, and without conscience, made use of it to achieve his conquests. For instance, note how he has made use of loud noises to produce fear. German dive-bombers have sirens placed on their wings, and German bombs have vanes which make them scream as they descend. The masses of civilian population in Poland, Holland, Belgium and France broke into frenzy in the face of dive-bombers roaring down at 600 miles an hour, with sirens wailing, bombs screeching and machine-guns blazing, and swarmed on to the highways, effectively blocking them to fast manoeuvering of allied armaments. 

For this chapter alone, the book is excellent, and—it must be said—timely, more than eighty years later. This, incidentally, is a subject I will shortly have much more to say about over at The Space Between Us. 

My favourite finds at the Old Book and Paper Show were 1930s and 1940s issues of Canadian Home Journal, a woman’s magazine that ran from 1905 as The Home Journal (and 1910 as Canadian Home Journal) until 1958. Middlebrow Canada describes the CHJ as similar to Chatelaine Magazine, but in browsing the issues I bought yesterday, I’d say the CHJ is notably lighter weight in terms of the issues it addressed. Where Chatelaine, even in the thirties but definitely by the forties, is usually proto-feminist in orientation, and tackles social issues intelligently and pretty much head-on, the CHJ takes a softer approach, foregrounding stories and serialized novellas in which traditional themes are advanced and including (at least in my reading so far) much briefer non-fiction articles that tackle their subjects somewhat in passing. Where CHJ has it over Chatelaine, however, is in its visuals, which are wonderful. Chatelaine covers are very good, but look at these CHJ covers! I just love them. 

I hesitate to mention advertisements, because far too often ephemera resellers rip ads out of old magazines and sell them individually as tear sheets. I don’t get this at all. It seems to me that the ads lose their value when removed from their context, particularly the record the magazines, their format, design, articles and advertisements offer of the era in which they were published. Ads can be scanned, which I suppose would undercut much of their resale value. And yet—advertisements are emblematic of the mass production era, and maybe it would be better to enjoy them that way. 

Still, have a gander at this gorgeous advertisement for Congoleum Gold Seal Rugs! Isn’t it incredible? I would die—positively die! (only metaphorically, of course)—to have this kitchen! 

So endeth my day at the Old Books and Paper Show. There was so much I didn’t have a chance to enjoy, especially the numerous boxes of old photographs and postcards at various vendors’ tables. They were utterly swarmed with people and I didn’t want to push in. I was also, if I am honest, experiencing information overload. Also, the vendor from whom I bought the Canadian Home Journals had tons and tons of old magazines (including old Vogues) and catalogues (Eaton’s, Canadian Tire, etc.) I would have loved to look at longer. Maybe next time. It was a fun event, and I’ll definitely go to the next one. 

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milkweed fluff, loosed from its casing

Putting the Gardens to Bed

At six o’clock the setting moon casts its waning glow in the west, while a thin wedge of dawn opens up on the eastern horizon. A pale, thin dawn that silhouettes the trees, stark and bare on this November morning. At seven the little birds congregate at the feeder, wings buffeting the air, their tiny heated hearts beating impossibly fast. Beneath them fat squirrels gather seeds the birds kick down and plan their own incursions at the feeder.

purple asters with yellow centres, glowing in the November lightYesterday, on the last improbably warm day of this beautiful fall, I finished putting the gardens to bed. On Thursday I planted the garlic, pushing fat cloves down into yielding soil, and set the containers against a stone wall in our front garden where they will receive reflected heat and light, and yesterday I mulched them and tucked leaves deep around the containers.

Yesterday I pulled the last of the tomatoes, harvesting the green fruit, and picked red and green peppers. One final, fibrous eggplant revealed itself, too woody to be eaten, and so with regret it went into the compost. All the containers are now tucked away; the walks swept; leaves mounded on the gardens; a couple of nursery trees dug down into the soil to overwinter; patio furniture put away; the air conditioning compressor covered; verandahs swept.

The final task—the one I always put off until last—was to clean out the eavestroughs on the garage. A few years ago we had the eavestroughs on the house replaced and covered with gutter shields, and this has saved us from needing to wedge an extension ladder between the houses, climb up two stories and stick our heads above the roofline in the narrow space, hoping not to swallow too much leaf litter while hauling it out. But the garage eavestroughs are old and uncovered, and fill up over the season with decaying leaf material and bits of grit from the old shingles. Usually I complete this messy task on the last possible day, while rain and flurries swirl about my frozen head. Yesterday it merely rained, a warm rain, as I sang ‘Swamp Thing’ to myself and hauled buckets of sludge down a step ladder and dumped them into the compost (where they will make incredibly rich soil).

milkweed fluff, loosed from its casingThen I put the ladder away, swept the walks one last time, and cast my eyes over the gardens, looking for anything that might be vulnerable to winter. The only container plant left uncovered is the pineapple sage, now blooming in bright red fireworks, which I will cut and bring in today before tucking the very last of the pots away.

There are flurries in the forecast for tomorrow, and then it will be time to turn inward, to warm interior spaces, and hearty meals, and cozy evenings spent with books.

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