The MacDonalds who make punk food videos

A Port Hood woman's live-streamed baking show on Facebook has become a family affair – and a Sunday tradition for many

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It was a nice Sunday, the twenty-ninth day of March 2020, the year already declared the most frenzied in about a century. Two weeks had passed since the lockdown was announced and the dreadful plight of coronavirus was only starting to loom in Canada. The Atlantic coast was quieter than usual. Schools were shut. Work was remote. But kitchens in Cape Breton were busy.

Mitch MacDonald, former Canadian Idol runner-up and father of three boys, woke up at his house in Port Hood that morning full of pride and anxiety. He got ready to flat pick his guitar and play a sweet accompaniment for his mom’s baking show on her Facebook page. Mitch does pop, punk, folk, rock and contemporary music. He went with his guitar and stood in front of his parents’ house three doors away. But he could only empathize with his 69-year-old mom, a Facebook entertainer and his favourite childhood baker, Mary Janet MacDonald. She looked at her son from inside her house and couldn’t hug and greet him because of tight COVID restrictions to protect the elderly.

“It killed me,” Mary Janet says, recollecting the moment. Mitch “came to our doorstop and sang from outside for one of our shows. It was really heartbreaking, and we wanted to be with our children and grandchildren.”

Mary Janet focused on the Facebook live session she was minutes away from launching. The show had to go on. Mitch, who performed in the Top Three Tour after the sixth season of Canadian Idol, hammered on his guitar for Mary Janet’s avid Facebook followers, who will tune in to watch her bake.

Mary Janet was meticulous. Her kitchen is kept neat and tidy. She gathered all her notes and listed names of people she wanted to thank on her show. She put her iPhone on a tripod in a little room facing the kitchen. Three, two and one. Mary Janet went live on Facebook to show her followers how to cook her family’s favourite dessert – her famous cinnamon rolls – of course, with a side of mild rock and roll.

Mary Janet MacDonald was the first to recognize her show was about more than just baking   Raghu Para

When Mary Janet’s Facebook live show debuted in late March 2020, only 300 people – wanting to learn the basics of baking from just another mamma – attended the session. But word spread about Mary Janet’s personal touch to her desserts, whipped up with her “Cape Breton hospitality” and her family’s music, and this attracted viewers from across Cape Breton. Mary Janet’s Facebook page, Tunes and Wooden Spoons – named by Mary Janet’s granddaughter, Anna MacDonald – picked up steam in just weeks as the virus kept people home. The page has more than 47,000 followers today.

The ‘virality’ of baking during a pandemic

Cooking shows have been on TV for decades, from The Galloping Gourmet to Chopped and Two Fat Ladies. The first televised cooking show in the world aired in 1946, when the celebrity TV chef Philip Harben showed how to make a lobster puff pastry. Since then, patrons such as James Beard, Graham Kerr and Julia Child have made cooking shows more established forms of TV entertainment people enjoy diving into – be it like a perfunctory rom-com or as food porn.

Canadian researcher and Dalhousie University professor in food distribution and policy, Sylvain Charlebois, said there’s hundreds of hours of cooking shows or documentaries related to food on air every day.

“It’s not climbing Mount Everest or something like that,” he said. “It allows them to dream a little bit.” And he added it’s “healthy” for both people and the economy and things have changed for the better. “With the (TV) networks in the old days, you’ve to pick and choose. A lot of them are usually in the morning or late afternoon. And most people had to be home and there’s no way to record them but it’s much more accessible in this day and age …. You get some inspiration, along with education and entertainment.”

Holly MacIntosh made cinnamon rolls on a Sunday right after being inspired by Mary Janet on her live show   Contributed: Holly MacIntosh

Cooking programs have become particularly popular during the pandemic, including reality shows and competitions. The Netflix series Salt Fat Acid Heat, The Big Family Cooking Showdown and The Great British Baking Show took off even before COVID.

Social media has stormed into everyone’s lives and with COVID padlocking the masses in their homes, binge-watching has only become more compulsive. From Twitch and YouTube’s personalized “cook with me” channels to buzz-worthy TikTok food challenges, the hypnotic craving for egg-whisking and bread-kneading is only getting more feverish. Michelle Obama is the latest to join the party as her Waffles + Mochi, a family and a kid-friendly cooking show on Netflix, is kicking off in March. And to punctuate with a “cheesy” pun, that’s just the tip of the iceberg lettuce.

The Cape Breton care and cure

For some, culinary shows are just an ever-present background sound that even treats insomnia, but for many the sound speaks solace. They would binge-devour these videos like their favourite cheddar cheese soup. For people like Holly MacIntosh, the experience is even better – almost “therapeutic,” she says. She said the feeling is calming and is nothing less than entrancing.

She’s the best ambassador Cape Breton has ever had. She promotes the culture, she promotes the entertainment, and she promotes the food.Holly MacIntosh

Holly MacIntosh was more than pleased after trying out Mary Janet’s porridge brown bread and found the experience therapeutic   Contributed: Holly MacIntosh

“I’m home a lot. And that’s why and how I decided to amuse myself,” she says. MacIntosh was diagnosed with a rare, extremely high-risk autoimmune disease in early January 2020. That was a week before COVID hit. She grew up in Dundee, N.S. and has lived all her life in her family property. At 62, MacIntosh followed her doctor’s advice not to leave her house during the pandemic. She missed visits with her children and grandchildren, who live in Halifax and Calgary. She’s been waiting for the vaccine since then and started taking to Facebook to relieve her isolation in the meantime. “It’s certainly a nice diversion,” she says.

Two months of R&R via Facebook continued. And one day she stumbled upon a Facebook page that talks baking and culture and runs with some hip music and step-dancing, hosted by a fellow Cape Breton woman – Mary Janet. MacIntosh was flabbergasted by her simplicity and relatable cooking demeanor.

“It’s fun, laid back time. There’s no pretense. No putting on. She’s very genuine,” MacIntosh says. She got hooked that Sunday and has never missed another show since. She feels that learning recipes was only a part of it, and she was intrigued by the live session, which according to her was non-controversial, community-like and cultural. She calls the Sunday live event “the highlight” of her week that helps pick up her spirits.

“There’s a lot of good things that came out of COVID and the Mary Janet Show for me is right at the top,” she says. She believes the music in the shows – in resonance with Mary Janet’s natural tone – is a cherry on the cake. “It’s like going to a free concert every Sunday afternoon because there’s almost always entertainment.”

“She’s the best ambassador Cape Breton has ever had. She promotes the culture, she promotes the entertainment, and she promotes the food.”

Mary Janet has baked all her life because she wasn’t able to afford to buy desserts for her seven children   Contributed: Mary Janet MacDonald

Mary Janet shares the same amount of pride when it comes to Cape Breton. She thinks the island exemplifies hospitality and music. In fact, she’s partnered with many guest musicians from the area, including her most recent collaboration with the Mi’kmaq fiddler Morgan Toney, and tries to feature them on her shows. The land might also have something to do with Mitch becoming a star singer. Mitch said he felt the music has paired well with the food on the show. The slogan of the Inverness County municipality is, it’s the musical coast, Mitch boasted with a grin. Cape Breton “has a lot of talent per capita, a lot of success and musicians from the area,” he said. “People just latched on to that.”

Mary Janet will always have her musician picked for the week. Her shows run for a couple of hours on average. And she was the first to recognize her show was more than just baking. Her Facebook followers range from cancer patients to NASA scientists. And all the way from Europe, Australia and New Zealand to Ontario, Halifax and Cape Breton.

“So many are saying it’s giving them a little peace during times it’s so scary for so many,” Mary Janet says. “I’m getting as much out of it as I’m giving them.”

Tracey McGuire lives in Ailsa Craig, Ont. and she’s never been to Cape Breton. She says Mary Janet has inspired her and she can’t wait to visit the island after the pandemic. She says Mary Janet’s warmth and sociability reminds her of the host of the Food Network program Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten, and her baking takes her back to her days with her Scottish grandma.

“It was very familiar to me. When you make it with love, everything turns out and it doesn’t matter,” McGuire said. “It’s like sitting with an old friend in a table even though you’re on the internet.”

Every Sunday I’m either grinning or crying watching the show because I’m spending time with her and I’m thinking, in the pandemic on the other side of the country that I get to visit mom’s kitchen. How lucky am I? And it all started with just a little Facebook post.Margie MacDonald

Tracey McGuire tries gingersnaps while watching Mary Janet and her sister Mamie, who was a guest on a Sunday show   Contributed: Tracey McGuire

McGuire is 57 years old and had a series of personal losses in her family last year. She says the pandemic has meant a constant fight against loneliness. “We’re missing everybody, we’re missing hugging. We’re missing getting together as a family – things we took for granted.” McGuire also liked learning about Cape Breton food. And Mary Janet’s special Christmas pork pies – made with no pork whatsoever – are still an enigma in McGuire’s mind. Mary Janet’s live show acts as a stress buster for her that she watches the show every week with her husband. “My husband likes it because he knows how happy I am,” she says.

“She’s a born hostess and she’s there to entertain … she’s got just a lovely way – ‘nothing too much trouble,’ ‘c’mon I got an extra plate,’ kinda thing.” 

Her family is all she kneads

Mary Janet stands as a true inspiration and is always on the lookout to make the world better, says her daughter, Margie MacDonald, who lives in Calgary. Margie missed Cape Breton and her family when the pandemic began. So she posted a message on Facebook, asking her mom to make her cinnamon rolls virtually. She tagged her mom on Facebook and soon the family reacted to it. Everybody helped set the stage and Mary Janet performed on Facebook – live – for the first time. Initially, Mary Janet wasn’t the most comfortable on Facebook. “I’m not a tech person but I’ve learned a lot. If I’ve a tech issue, I’ll master it the next time,” Mary Janet says.

At 69, Mary Janet learned how to use Facebook and has engaged tens of thousands of followers.   Contributed: Mary Janet MacDonald

What the family perceived as a one-off event turned into a Sunday afternoon routine. Sundays meant only church, but soon there were cinnamon rolls as well. She has baked – cookies, cakes, desserts and breads – all her life because she wasn’t able to afford to buy desserts for her seven children. She worked for 30 years as a secretary for a school board in Cape Breton, moved to Calgary for a couple of years and returned to Halifax to work as a caregiver for a home health care service provider.

Margie teaches math in high school and likes being the initiator. “It’s like this Facebook grandma came along at the right time to just make Sunday even brighter for so many of us,” Margie says. “There’s so many baking shows that have higher production quality. And here you’ve my mom going live with her phone …. Every Sunday I’m either grinning or crying watching the show, because I’m spending time with her and I’m thinking, in the pandemic on the other side of the country that I get to visit mom’s kitchen. How lucky am I? And it all started with just a little Facebook post. And I think it truly shines away on what one person can do.”

macdonalds family
From left: Mitch MacDonald, Gordie MacDonald, Kelly MacDonald and Brennan MacDonald, perform in a band called Company Road and also perform on mom Mary Janet MacDonald’s shows   Contributed: Mary Janet MacDonald

The first time Mary Janet ever thought of spicing up the show with music was when she threw her bread into the oven for 20 minutes and wasn’t sure what song to play next. Mitch, with brothers Gordie MacDonald and Brennan MacDonald and sister Kelly MacDonald, decided to pitch in. Her husband, Cecil MacDonald – a shy customer – helps Mary Janet in everything from lighting to furniture. Margie minds merchandising, and Mitch’s wife does administration.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this had it not been for each and every one of the children,” Mary Janet said. “They all have different roles to play.”

COVID was a scary thing for Mary Janet’s family, but the Facebook show “was godsent,” she says. “It opened up a whole new world.”


  1. I’m one the thousands of loyal fans! She made us all look forward to Sundays, the silver lining in the Covid crazy world we are living in.

  2. I love the story, the people are amazing and Mary Janet is a breath of fresh air and you feel like you are one of her friends as she welcomes you into her kitchen….. A beautiful family

  3. I have been watching Tunes and Wooden Spoons since the beginning and so thankful to have a visit with Mary Janet every Sunday afternoon. . I started watching as the idea of a cooking show from Cape Breton seemed very interesting. What I didn’t realize was that this was far more than a cooking show. When you have a cup of tea with Mary Janet and her friends, it is just like being there. So very comforting. These visits always went a long way to help cure my loneliness during Covid. Love this lady.

  4. Haven’t missed a show yet! Can’t wait for Sunday afternoons.Sure have enjoyed all her stories and just her being down to earth. Makes the time feel almost normal during this pandemic.She sure has a talented family and I love seeing them. absolutely love Grandmas Kitchen!

  5. Mary Janet is the best. I have been following her right from the beginning. She is so warm and shares so many wonderful stories, music and all her delicious recipes. I have learned so much from her. I am 72 years old and finally have learned how to make date squares. My husband is so pleased.
    Covid has been so hard on everyone but having this show to watch every Sunday has helped so much

  6. Thank you for this wonderful article on Mary Janet, she truly is an Ambassador for Cape Breton. I look forward to watching her on Sundays, it really brightens up the week. I get to enjoy downhome hospitality, local entertainment and delicious baking, what more could you ask for in these frightening Covid times. I hope Mary Janet will continue to be an inspiration to us all for a long time to come. Thank you Mary Janet for all the joy you bring to all of us who tune in to Tunes and Wooden Spoons.

  7. Learnt about Mary Janet from a local news story here in Gatineau Quebec (Aylmer)… it peaked my interest and I searched her out on FB and have been a faithful follower ever since… my latest cook along (and there have been many) was a wonderful Potato Soup for St. Patrick’s day. I’m always excited to see what she’s going to do next …. what makes her special is that she’s one of us, she’s family

  8. I absolutely love this woman and her show. I am not a baker, but have made some of MJ’s delicious recipes. I hope this continues after all this s@@t is over!

  9. What beautiful comments about a wonderful ,caring talented woman who has given so much of her time to us,love her weekly shows .I get to cook with one of my beautiful grand children every Sun .,what a special time for us.Great easy recipes.

  10. Wonderful read! So proud of you Mary Janet! What a wonderful thing you have done to promote Cape Breton, homemade baking and its wonderful music!
    I too agree with being the Canadian Ina Garten. Easy going, relaxed and enjoying cooking!
    Sending Hugs!

  11. I think Mary Janet is the best she reminds me of my dear Mum. It’s like being in your comfort zone watching her. Makes you feel that everything will be ok.

  12. Don’t get to see all your shows…….but love ❤️ to watch when I can ….thank you for all your hard work in these Covid times

  13. It truly is a must on Sunday. Mary Janet is the definition of hospitality. She bakes like my mother and Nana did. Music is the icing on the cake.

  14. I’ve watched every show from the beginning and I look forward to sitting with my iPad every Sunday at 2 pm watching and learning from Mary Janet, she’s been a Godsend and I hope she continues, it wouldn’t be Sunday without watcher her.

  15. Just love your show. I don’t think I missed many since last year! Sure has helped me get through this covid!

    Hope to see you in Port Hood this summer!!!!!

  16. Beautiful story. Thank you so much Mary Janet for keeping us all sane during such a devastating time. I had something to really look forward to.

    Your show & recipes are amazing & I’ve made many of them!

  17. What a wonderful article & so true!
    Mary Janet has brought so much joy to so many this past year. I truly enjoy watching her shows on Sunday & if I miss it , I know I can always watch it later. It’s like having a visit with an old friend.
    I wanted to bake a raisin pie for a friend last month but didn’t have a recipe. I messaged Mary Janet to see if she had one & she quickly replied with her recipe…it was delicious .
    Her kindness will always be remembered.
    I have lived in Ontario the past 40 years, was born & raised in Cape Breton , where my heart will always be & so looking forward to visiting again when this pandemic has passed… hopefully meet Mary Janet.
    Thank You so much Mary Janet from a proud Cape Bretoner .

  18. A wonderful write up on such a lovely down to earth lady.So look forwards to Sunday afternoons, to watch my favorite show.

    I have learned so much but,the thing that surprised me most of all,you do not have to cover your bread for it to rise.

    Thanks for all you do Mary Janet!

  19. I love Mary Janet and her cooking. It is so down home feeling. If I can’t watch it live, I will watch the recorded version later.
    Sunday afternoon bliss!

  20. My son Bradley Murphy moved home to cook for me when the pandemic first started as I am a pharmacist. He prepared meals to help stimulate the immune system. After a month he moved to Margaret to work on a farm as this was a chance he would never have again. He is also a musician who is teaching at the music school in Cheticamp. He sometimes accompanies Morgan Toney. I think you should have him on your show.

  21. I spend most Sunday’s with Mary Janet and have since the beginning and I really look forward to it. I’ve learned a lot of baking secrets from her and the entertainment has just been a bonus! Great article about a NS treasure!

  22. Thank you Mary Janet , and your beautiful family for allowing us all into your home . We love you and look forward to many more baking days together.

  23. That’s a great story of my very favourite Sunday activity. I never miss Mary Janets cooking show, enjoying every minute if it. I’m a Caper living in Yarmouth, spent all my growing up years at functions around Inverness County on weekends and all summer. Growing up in a home where I had two fluent Gaelic speakers, all the phrases and music are dear to my heart.

    I was one of the 300 first watchers the first show and shared it with all my FB friends who immediately joined in watching.

    Keep up the great work Mary Janet. You are a breath of fresh air and make this woman homesick every week…..that’s a good thing.

  24. Mary Janet’s Sunday baking show was and still is a godsend … love the show and if I can’t watch it live I will watch the video… I’ve learned more from her than I ever knew about baking … she makes it so simple even people like myself will have the confidence to try … Thank you Mary Janet and family for show ❤️

  25. Mary Janet was absolutely a God send to so many of us , I was scrolling Facebook that very Sunday when she first begun her first show on you tube … I thought I found this down to earth person and I knew she was a little nervous with her first show but I was ready to follow her making my favourite recipe “cinnamon rolls “ .Not for one minute did she ever pretend to me somebody who she wasn’t , and quote “ she wasn’t changing for any of us now “ unquote , she made her famous cinnamon rolls just the way it used to be ,no fancy gadgets and hands done the job with her all time famous blue Tupperware bowl . She will always be my Sunday therapy having only missed one show which was April 19th 2020..
    I have laughed and shed a few tears ( while she talks about her children in Alberta) Her entertainment on Sundays with so many musicians is also entertaining..
    I’m so looking forward to making a trip to CB to meet Mary Janet when this COVID settles .. and waiting for her cookbook to be published ❤️

  26. You have been such a blessing to everyone That is a wonderful article about you and your family. Your entertaining and baking are top notch.You are such a positive person. All the difficulties for families in the past year you have been there for them.God bless you.Keep up the good work❤❤

  27. Love ❤️ love ❤️ love your show!! I am so impressed with you and your show! I am the same age as you and can’t imagine being able to do what you are doing! Not only are you helping many people cope but you are leaving your children a legacy!
    Covid opened a door for you while other doors were closed. Reading the article I realize how much I miss my kids and grandkids and all the get togethers we haven’t had. I beet my first vaccine on Monday so hopefully things will improve. Looking forward to more of your baking! Enjoying from Ontario
    Sandi Martin

  28. I’ve been following Mary Janet from the first Cinnamon Roll show. I wouldn’t miss it for anything. Sometimes I bake with her, sometimes I just watch and enjoy. It’s just like watching my late mom baking and talking, she so “down home”. As a fellow Cape Bretoner, living in Halifax, it brings me back home every Sunday. The entertainment is second to none…I’m sure she has a difficult time deciding who to showcase each week. Mary Janet should be nominated/named as Ambassador to Cape Breton!! Also be nominated for volunteer of the year for all she has done for all of us by taking our mind away from COVID during the past year.

  29. Mary Janet is the best. Love watching her show. It’s like you are right there with her, in her kitchen. I try not to miss a show. Love you Mary Janet! ❤️❤️

  30. Well well, what a beautiful story . I just love Mary Jane cooking show. I’m originally from Glace Bay Nova Scotia, but I’ve lived in Alberta 41 years . I’m presently live in Fort Mcmurray . Here baking always brings back memories of my mother always baking for her family and the recipes are so similar . Mary Jane , you should now do some down home cooking. Like roast , soups. You will be helping a lot of you people how to cook.

    God Bless and keep doing what you do .

    Theresa(Donovan) Verreault

  31. Mary Janet and her talented family have brought such joy to so many people during Covid. Sunday’s from 2 until she is finished is my personal “me” time and often my hubby listens to the great entertainment she provides. I have picked up so many baking tips and now have 7 grain bread every morning for breakfast. Mary Janet’s show has been very therapeutic, look forward to every Sunday spending time with this beautiful lady. Wonderful write up and so deserving!

  32. Wow!! What a wonderful story and family. I have enjoyed many of your shoes and all of your recipes. So happy for your successes. Thanks for the recipes and the wonderful music.

    Warm Refards

  33. Such a true story, I know Mary Janet and family very well, and there is nothing that she can’t do, cook, sew, sing, dance, you name it, even a great cheer leader at her grandson’s hockey games. If I miss her Sunday shows, I can watch it anytime, night or day, it is there for everyone. She has many viewers and she deserves all the recognition she gets, she is one of a kind and Port Hood is proud of her.

  34. I’m from the Ottawa Valley and watch Tunes and Wooden Spoons every Sunday. It’s like sitting in a friend’s kitchen. I’m 79 years of age and have never made bread from scratch in my life and now make the Herb Bread which is a hit with family and friends. What did we ever do without Mary Janet and her talented family. She’s a breath of Cape Breton air during Covid.

  35. An amazing family show.I watch it every Sunday and now bake bread every week. No more bought bread. I have fried most of the recipes but my favourite Is the bread pudding and of course all the breads. Mary Janet is down home, genuine loving person. Licking her fingers and all make her the best in the cooking world.

  36. I love watching the show every week. Reminds me of home now that I live in Ontario. Can’t wait till I can visit again. She is a god send.

  37. I do enjoy your Sunday visit into my kitchen. Like hearing the stories, your guests , music and off course the baking. Keep up the great work Mary Janet as you do bring people together. Keep baking and entertaining your fans.

  38. Love it,enjoy every Sunday afternoon with Mary Janet.She is so down to earth and keeps us all smilling !
    Just hope she continues long after all this craziness is over

  39. I agree , Sundays spent in Cape Breton has been the highlight of covid for me! I enjoy Mary Janet’s down home loveliness, the recipes and tips and all the wonderful entertainment. We will be back to CapeBreton my husband’s home as soon as we are allowed to visit!

  40. Spending Sunday afternoon with Mary Janet that first week was reassuring….life would go on, we were not alone, there was love and laughter, good people and good food. Mary Janet is so kind and warm hearted. She says, “Come into my kitchen and make yourself at home.” We watch every week from Massachusetts.

  41. Mary Janet is totally delightful and a really great baker! I have learned so much from her and every one of her recipes is delicious. She is a joy to watch on Sunday afternoons

  42. Mary Janet and her incredibly talented family have been a inspiration and have lifted my spirit every Sunday for the last year.
    To me, they are now are part of my “virtual” family.

  43. Beautifully written article that captures the very essence of Mary Janet, her family and her ‘Tunes and Wooden Spoons’show. I feel very blessed to be a part of this wonderful story.

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