My name is Marlene Cornelis. I’m a home cook, recipe developer and food writer living in London (the other one, in Ontario, Canada). I’m passionate about what I like to call modern scratch living: preparing good food from scratch, reviving the art of relaxed hospitality, and doing the odd crafting or home updating project. I also like to share photographs from my ambles around London or travels farther afield.
I don’t adhere to any particular diet — I think you could say I’m a raging omnivore. So, you’ll see vegan, vegetarian and meat dishes throughout these pages, and a general emphasis on healthy cooking with some decadent treats thrown in for good measure. More and more, those treats will be made with less-refined and natural sweeteners — still treats but without the sugar highs and effects of refined white sugar (search for “sweetly unrefined” to see these recipes). The food here may be my old family favourites — classic or updated — or recipes that I’ve just developed in the Urban Cottage kitchen.
I started the blog as a space to exercise my love of writing. Sometimes the focus is all on the food, but I also share personal and family stories and musings.
I hope you’ll enjoy your time here at Urban Cottage Life, and that you’ll find yourself inspired, entertained and motivated to get into the kitchen and make something good.
Sometimes my friends think I’m crazy. A group of us get together several times a year to celebrate birthdays and generally catch up on life. There are two spring birthdays, two in the summer, and mine, marooned in January. A few years ago, I announced that I’d like to cook a meal for everyone to celebrate my birthday instead of the usual take-out or restaurant meal. The reactions went something like this:
“You can’t cook, it’s your birthday!”
“That wouldn’t be right!”
“Why would you want to do that?”
The birthday girl prevailed and I had the pleasure of puttering through cookbooks to plan the menu, going to my favourite market to get the ingredients, and cooking to a carefully orchestrated schedule that actually allowed me to go shopping with my daughter a few hours before the party, secure in the knowledge that the entire meal was prepped and ready to go. When my friends arrived, I was able to put it all together in a way that looked fairly effortless (the wine may have encouraged that assessment). We all had a great time, the meal was praised, and I had one of my best birthday celebrations.
I’ve been cooking and baking since an early age. As evidence of having grown up on a farm in the 60s and 70s, I’m a Certified 4-H Homemaker (how’s that for credentials!). Mind you, I don’t have a single memorable recipe from that experience, but I did learn a lot about growing a vegetable garden.
My early culinary influences were my mother, an amazing and ambitious cook, baker and bread maker (I remember her making puff pastry from scratch, for goodness sake!). Mom was crowned Bake Queen at our local fall fair one year, a title she was proud to have and greatly deserved. I was also lucky to have a glamorous and kind older cousin who lavished all kinds of time on me, including many afternoons spent baking together. Everything was mixed by hand, and I remember struggling to mix heavy cookie dough and our calls of “the precious milk!” when it was time to stir it in to loosen the batter.
Despite all that, I didn’t truly begin to develop my skills in the kitchen on any regular basis until after my first child was born in the early 80s. I began reading about nutrition, bought my first food processor, and found a cooking show — Ruth Fremes’ What’s Cooking — that taught me a lot (those were few and far between in the pre-FoodTV era). I discovered an interest and passion for food that grew over the years through reading and collecting cookbooks and food magazines and watching food shows. Most importantly, though, were hours and hours of experimenting in the kitchen. There were countless family meals and lots of experience with extended family gatherings with anywhere from 9 to 25 people around the table.
Cooking is my creative outlet, my therapy, a way of showing my nearest and dearest how much I care for them. Along the way I’ve given my children a grounding in real food and healthy eating (most of the time, anyway), and I now have the pleasure of seeing that all three of them can shine in the kitchen. And I’m even passing skills along to the next generation!