IMG_6776Welcome to Urban Cottage Life!

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.

My Story

Sometimes my friends just don’t get me. 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 earliest culinary influence was my mother, an amazing and ambitious cook, baker and bread maker  (she even made puff pastry from scratch!). 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). 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!


  1. Though I don’t share your embrace of cooking as both therapy and relaxation – I know the results are wonderful! Linda

    • That’s it! 4-H was a formative experience for me, and one that’s quite unfamiliar to most of the people I meet in the urban life I lead now. Thank you for the compliment! I’ve looked at your blog, and it really appeals to me — I’ll be following it! Mar

    • Thank you for this nomination, Clanmother! I’ve been at a friend’s cottage without access to Internet the past couple of days. We’ve just begun the 9-hour trip home (we’re on Highway 17 now between Sault Ste Marie & Sudbury), and I was thrilled and honoured to find your nomination waiting for me. This is my first blogging award and I’m looking forward to completing the requirements for it once I’m back home. Stay tuned! Marlene (aka Musing Mar)

      • I so enjoy visiting your blog! Looking forward to our ongoing dialogue. Safe trip home! I found that nominating other bloggers for the award was just as exciting as the honour of receiving the award. It is a way of connecting our blogging community.

      • Thank you, and likewise! It’s been a week of unanticipated events, and I’ve had barely any writing time. I just managed to finish a post about my granddaughter’s birthday cake that I started last week (the post, not the cake). Hoping to blog about your generous award next. One of the unanticipated aspects of blogging for me is the sense of community. This has been a rich experience in many ways.

      • So very, very true…My thought for today was from Maya Angelou: “I sustain myself with the love of family.” May it be so for all of us… And there is always a reason for a second piece of cake.

    • Thank you so much! I’m pleased at how far my photography’s come since I started. I’ve found that appreciative readers like you have really helped build my confidence!

    • Thank you for this honour, Lukasz! I appreciate that you selected my blog for this award. I am looking forward to accepting the award and passing it on to others. But first, we are having a big party this weekend so I have lots of cooking to do – it will have to be after that.

      And congratulations to you on being nominated. I enjoy following your blog and think you deserve the honour!

    • Thank you so much, and happy new year to you too! Just returning from vacation, so I’ll check out the requirements soon. So honoured to be nominated!

    • Oh, thank you so much – graze! I’m so pleased that you’ve chosen to follow me. I would love to visit Florence, and maybe I can go there through your blog!

    • Thank you for this honour! I will check out the requirements soon. (I haven’t been blogging a lot lately, but my cast is coming off soon so I’m hoping to be getting back to it before long.)

  2. Love that this is a gift to your children! And what a special one at that. I need to start going through my mom and grandmothers’ recipes so they won’t be lost. Thanks for the idea! 🙂

    • Sarah, I’m glad I’ve inspired you to seek out your family recipes. Food memories are so strong and those old family recipes create a sense of connection among the generations. Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

  3. Hi Marlene! I came over to you from Tracy’s pumpkin party and I love your blog! Tracy was so kind to include me in her party even though my blog isn’t a cooking one, although I have shared a couple of recipes here and there, and so it’s been lovely to have been introduced to you and the other guests at her wonderful party!
    I live in England (a good 3 hours from London!) and the only claim I have to visiting Ontario is that once, the plane I was travelling in had to land there and stop over for a few hours, so I saw the inside of the airport! How wonderful that you have given your children a love of cooking from your own example and now in sharing your delicious recipes here. I look forward very much to visiting more of your blog, but just wanted to drop by and say ‘Hi’ in the meantime. It’s a pleasure to meet you 🙂

    • Sherri, thank you for your kind comment. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to respond. I hope that if you ever return to Ontario you get to see more of our beautiful province than the inside of the airport! Wasn’t it wonderful to be included in Tracey’s pumpkin party? It’s a great way to be introduced to other bloggers. I’ve already spent some time on yours, and will be going back!

    • Sherri, thank you for nominating my blog for this award. I’m honoured to be in such good company! I’ve displayed the badge on my Awards page. It’s lovely getting to know you in this warm and friendly corner of the internet. Cheers!

      • Ahh, yes it is so lovely to get to know you too Marlene and this lovely community here. It really is a warm and friendly corner of the internet isn’t it? Cheers to you too 🙂

  4. I immediately connected to your bio above! Another 4-Her! I wrote about my 4-H capon project and also about Pennsylvania Dutch cooking traditions in my memoir Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World. I’ve actually been to Ontario, Canada. Perhaps you know some of my Canadian Mennonite friends who live nearby. Your blog is just plain beautiful. Grateful for your comment on Tracy Lee Karner’s blog. Hope we can stay in touch.

    • Thank you for your compliment about my blog, Shirley. I call it my labour of love. It’s always fun to connect with others who have a 4-H background, as it speaks of the rural background that I left behind when I entered adult life, but which I carry with me always. There are many Mennonite communities in the Southwest/South parts of Ontario, for example around Aylmer and Waterloo, as well as on the north shore of Lake Huron where I visit a friend of mine at her cottage. I would love to read your memoir to learn more about your experiences. I will seek it out, and follow your blog as I know you have much to teach me about the art of writing.

  5. You’re definitely a brilliant writer…would love to try one of your dishes! I recently took up cooking…because of Pinterest. I’m assuming the photo accompanying the recipe piqued my interest. Anyway, I’ve tried over 225 recipes in the last 18 months!

    • Thank you for that wonderful compliment! It’s great to see someone who is taking up cooking, and with such gusto as proven by the 225 recipes. One of my goals is to make cooking in general and my recipes in particular accessible to people. Enjoy your adventures in the kitchen!

  6. Hi Marlene! I have just discovered your blog through FBC. We have very similar stories! I also live in Southwestern Ontario and took 4-H. I took enough clubs to earn my dozen silver spoons, just before they changed the style of them. That will date me!

  7. Hi Marlene. How are you doing. I’ve just signed on to your blog and look forward to following. I also love scratch cooking. Can’t wait to see and try your recipes. Take care.

    • Hi Anna – so nice to hear from you. Thank you for following my blog, I appreciate that! If you try any recipes, do leave a comment on them and let me know what you think! Cheers, Marlene

    • Thank you so much, Shy. I’m glad you stopped by! I’m just down the highway from you, in London, so we’re practically blogging neighbours 🙂 I’ve just visited your blog and it’s such a beautiful mix of food and and food travel. That photo of cherry clafoutis stopped me in my tracks — it’s a stunner!

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