Sunday, April 13, 2014

Repainting the Fence



Two Saturdays ago, Rob and I repainted the dark green fence that runs along North Adams Street in front of our house. The old paint had really faded over the years. We installed the fence in 2007, and it hadn't been painted since then.

Painting was fun because it was the first truly warm day of the year and for once I wasn't cooped up in an office. I was out in the world, enjoying the spring. We were kneeling among the lyre-leaf sage and golden ragwort, and we could smell the festive aroma of our neighbors' barbecues. Everybody was celebrating the season.

Bubbles, who is not actually our cat, was keeping us company, rolling around in the grass, looking cute. Rob and I were singing Gordon Lightfoot songs and cheerfully criticizing each other's painting, blaming each other for drips and missed spots. Rob thought I was putting my paint on too thin. I thought he was putting his on too thick.

And so it went--a little arguing, a little singing. The air smelled of smoked pork and wisteria. It took us about four hours to finish the fence, and we admired it for the rest of the day.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

From Mom



My mom made me this little bunny for my birthday. Doesn't he have a lot of personality? His expression, to me, is so humble and sweet. I had fun posing him in the violets, and then in our cabbage patch.

I got a bunch of neat birthday presents, but the bunny is my favorite. It's funny because Mom didn't even want to count him as a present. "Oh, that's not anything," she said at my party when I found him among some pink tissue paper and curly ribbon. "It's just a topper."

Mom often adds "toppers" to presents. Toppers are little mini presents that decorate the tops of bigger presents. Mom loves making toppers, especially when there's supposed to be a limit on the number of gifts given. See, you can put a bunch of toppers on a present and it still counts as one present. Those are the rules, according to Mom. So, yes, toppers are a great way to get around gift limits and spoil your grown children and grandchildren.

Mom's sneaky, and we like to make fun of her about it, but we sure wouldn't want her to change.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

New Garden Furniture



About a month ago, Rob and I bought some vintage cast-iron garden furniture in Dothan--a bench and two chairs, with a fern motif. We scraped the rust off, primed everything, and painted each piece a nice, glossy black. Last night we applied our last coat of paint, and today we finally arranged our new furniture by the pond. Now Rob and Bubbles (our neighbors' cat) can watch the goldfish in style.

This afternoon Chip, my teddy bear, tried out one of the new chairs. In the picture above, he's waiting for me to bring him his lunch--some pimento cheese sandwiches and Sprite arranged on a little tray, with a Reese's Peanut Butter Egg for dessert.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Vegan Pecan Balls



The other day I made a vegan version of the pecan balls my mom always baked at Christmas when I was a kid. They were really good (rich and vegan-buttery) and they brought back lots of happy memories.

In December when I was young, Mom would become a baking fiend, whipping up pecan balls, date balls, toffee, fudge, icebox fruitcake, cut-out cookies, party mix, spiced pecans, cheese wafers, and more. She'd fill old tins and Cool Whip containers with goodies, hiding them from us kids (we were ravenous freaks), saving them up to use as presents and to serve on the big day. Finally, on Christmas Eve, we were free to dig in. We'd pull everything out and have a little party just for us, for our family (Mom and four kids).

Mom would put her special Christmas table cloth on the table, and my sister Kris and I would make punch out of Sprite and lime sherbet. We'd arrange our treats on Mom's best dishes. The party mix would go in a big cut-glass bowl with a silver rim, and the cookies and candy would go on a round white platter that looked like a giant, wide-open flower (it had a ruffled edge).

We used to laugh so much as we ate like pigs. I'm afraid we kids were pretty goofy and obnoxious. One of Mom's old friends used to send these unintentionally hilarious Christmas newsletters that we always looked forward to receiving, and I think lots of our jokes were about the newsletters; I believe Kris would even do dramatic readings.

I guess I think it's pretty neat that we could have such a great party with only five people, the same people we saw every day. We'd be so excited even though nobody was coming over (all our relatives lived far away). Christmas music would be playing, and my brother, Jacob, would be dancing. The tree would be sparkling, and cats would be casually sharpening their claws on the Christmas presents, ripping up the wrapping paper. Things could get pretty crazy.

Pecan balls were part of the fun. I'm glad I can still enjoy them now even though I'm a poor deprived vegan.

Vegan Pecan Balls

Ingredients:

1 cup vegan butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup finely chopped pecans
Powdered sugar

Directions:

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter, sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy. Gradually add the flour. Stir in the pecans. Shape rounded teaspoonfuls of dough into balls. Place 1 inch apart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 325 degrees F for 20 to 22 minutes or until the cookies are set and the bottoms are lightly browned. Let the cookies sit for 2 to 3 minutes before removing to wire racks to cool. Roll in powdered sugar when cool enough to handle.



Friday, December 6, 2013

Christmas Decorating



On Sunday Rob and I put up our Christmas tree. It was so much fun. We listened to Christmas songs and heated up some cider in a pot on the stove. The house smelled wonderfully cinnamon-y and was a big, festive mess of boxes and fallen plastic pine needles (our poor old tree was shedding).

The cats assisted with the decorating, of course. June's services, in particular, were indispensable. While we were looking the other way, she stole six feet of silver garland. “June!” I cried as she went streaking down the hall with the garland in her mouth. She ended up wrestling the shiny stuff and getting all tangled up in it.

Buntin stretched out under the tree and cleaned herself. Softee batted ornaments. These may be two reasons why, in the end, our tree fell a bit short of Martha Stewart standards. Oh, well. What it lacked in tidiness it made up for in sparkle.

At night we popped popcorn and watched A Charlie Brown Christmas as the tree stood faithfully in its corner and glowed. The cats slept on our laps. Being helpful is so tiring.


I like really dumb ornaments.


Mom made this one.


I have a collection of cute, funny toys that I bring out only at Christmastime and arrange under the tree. This fine tradition allows me to continue to buy Sanrio products at the age of 47.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Vegan Sweet Potato Maafe



A coworker of mine, Evelyn, brought this dish to our office Thanksgiving party and passed out lovely color copies of the recipe. Well, I liked it so much I made it at home the very next night. A maafe is a spicy West African-style stew cooked with a sauce made from peanut butter and tomatoes. I served my maafe over quinoa, but it would also go well with couscous or brown rice. I like quinoa because it's really nutritious; it's a complete protein and a good source of iron and fiber.

Vegan Sweet Potato Maafe

Ingredients:

2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
Enough peanut oil to coat sweet potatoes
2 medium onions, diced
8 cloves of garlic, minced
6 Tabasco peppers, minced
3 bell peppers or 8 clown peppers, chopped small
More peanut oil--about 1/4 cup
2 tomatoes, diced
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
4 turnips, peeled and chopped
4 cups water
4 Tbls tomato paste
1 1/3 cups peanut butter
1 cup hot water
1 head green cabbage, chopped
Salt to taste

Directions:

Chop the sweet potatoes. Put them in a bowl and coat them with peanut oil and salt to taste. Spread them on a baking sheet and bake at 450 degrees F until soft and a little brown.

In a large soup pot, sauté onions and peppers in oil until soft. Add garlic and sauté a couple more minutes. Add tomatoes, carrots, turnips, and water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the carrots are soft.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the tomato paste, peanut butter, hot water, and salt to taste.

When the carrots are soft, add the sweet potatoes to the pot, along with the peanut butter sauce and cabbage. Adjust the salt if needed. Cook until the cabbage is tender.

Serve hot over quinoa or brown rice.


Rob enjoying a bowl of sweet potato maafe


We've been cooking a lot with clown peppers lately. We've got so many!


This birdbath has nothing to do with anything; I just think it's cute. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Vegan Gingerbread Muffins



I love gingerbread; I always have. Gingerbread has always been my favorite. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of going with Mom to Heidi's Bakery and choosing a cookie from the big glass case. My sister Kris always got thumbprint cookies, and I always got a gingerbread boy, with raisins for buttons down the front of his tummy. Trips to Heidi's were rare, an extra special treat. We'd go early in the morning, in the dark, and then eat cookies for breakfast in the car on the way to school. I'd feel very fancy and lucky and spoiled--because my cookie was so pretty and came in such a pretty, dainty white bag.

I got a hankering for gingerbread about a week ago and started looking for recipes. I would have liked to whip up some handsome gingerbread boys, but since I'm kind of a terrible baker I decided I better go with something easier--gingerbread muffins. Even I can't mess up muffins. I used this terrific recipe and tweaked it just a bit.

Vegan Gingerbread Muffins

Ingredients:

2/3 cup almond milk
2 tsps apple cider vinegar
4 Tbls ground flaxseed
2 1/2 cups flour
4 tsps baking powder
2 Tbls ground ginger
2 tsps ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
2/3 cup molasses
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsps vanilla

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a muffin tin with 12 muffin papers.

Measure the almond milk into a medium-sized bowl. Mix the apple cider vinegar and flaxseed together in a separate small bowl; stir vigorously for about a minute. Then add the vinegar/flaxseed to the almond milk and let it sit for a few minutes.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Make a well in the center and add the milk mixture. Then add the oil, applesauce, molasses, brown sugar, and vanilla. Mix everything together until just moistened; be careful not to overmix.

Fill muffin tins and bake for about 22 minutes.