Saturday, October 18, 2014

Vegan Orange Coconut Muffins

Last night I made Vegan Orange Coconut Muffins, flavored with a little orange extract.

Whenever I bake, something always goes wrong--maybe not horribly wrong but at least slightly wrong. Last night was no exception. I ended up spilling pretty much an entire bottle of orange extract on the floor. I had to drive to Winn-Dixie to get another, which was kind of a pain, but I must admit, now that I've safely returned from Winn-Dixie, that the mishap had its upside: The kitchen smelled delicious.

While the muffins were baking, I did some peaceful, easy little chores, like winding the clocks and brushing our very large, ball-shaped cat, Leroy, whom Rob has recently taken to calling "Mr. Hunky."

"Just relax, Mr. Hunky," I was saying.

When the muffins were done, I ate one in the living room while watching an episode of The Rockford Files in my pajamas.

Rob likes to make fun of how lame I am. Last night he got home around 10 and I told him about my evening: "I ate a muffin and watched Rockford with a bunch of cats," I said as we stood in the curiously orangey-smelling kitchen.

Rob grinned and replied, "Now that's partying Leslie-style!"

Vegan Orange Coconut Muffins


11/2 teaspoons egg replacer
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup melted vegan butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup orange juice
1/3 cup almond milk
1 teaspoon orange extract
11/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
11/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup coconut
1/3 cup canned mandarin orange sections, chopped small


2 tablespoons melted vegan butter
3 tablespoons sugar


In a small bowl, beat together the egg replace and water until foamy. Add the "egg" to a large bowl. Add the butter and sugar and mix. Add the orange juice and almond milk and mix again.

In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until just blended. Gently fold in the coconut and mandarin oranges.

Pour into a lined muffin tin and bake at 375 degrees F. for 20 minutes or until slightly browned on top.

When the muffins have cooled, dip the tops in melted butter and roll in sugar.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

New Mushroom

On Friday Rob asked me to go to Native Nurseries on my lunch hour and get some garlic for planting.

I did, and on the way back to work I texted him, "Got the garlic." I didn't mention that I'd also bought a statue of a giant mushroom.

When I got home that night, I opened my trunk and started unloading my purchases.

Rob came out in the driveway and laughed when he saw the giant mushroom. "'Got the garlic,' eh?" he said.

"Shut up," I said, laughing too.

Then he carried the hundred-pound mushroom through the wild petunias and set it up in the spot I'd picked out beside my favorite bench.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Vegan Coconut Date Walnut Muffins

On Friday night after work, I made muffins. Of course my cats were involved, since I plainly prefer my baking ventures to be as unsanitary as possible.

Buntin, our black and orange tortie, really seems to relish the hustle and bustle of baking--and seeing what she can get away with amid the hurly-burly. She likes sneaking into cupboards when I open them. She also enjoys sneaking into drawers. On Friday night she tunneled into a drawer in the Hoosier cabinet and proceeded to bathe herself among my cookbooks.

Carl, meanwhile, was convinced I was mixing up some cat-food muffins, so he was running around the kitchen making very demanding eye contact and "yelling." He got up on the counter to press his point. He was sure I was holding out on him.

Despite all the goings-on, my muffins turned out really good--sweet and moist and satisfying. Here's the recipe, minus the accidental two cups of cat fur.

Vegan Coconut Date Walnut Muffins


2 cups flour
11/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup almond milk
1/3 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup chopped walnuts


2 tablespoons vegan butter, melted
3 tablespoons sugar


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a muffin tin with papers.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt.

In a large bowl, combine sugar, almond milk, canola oil, and vinegar. Mix well. Add the flour mixture, stirring until the ingredients are just blended. Fold in the coconut, dates, and walnuts.

Fill the muffin tin and bake about 20 minutes until the muffins are lightly browned on top.

Once the muffins have cooled, dip the tops in melted butter, then dip them in sugar.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Surprise Lilies

Every September my yard is dotted with surprise lilies (Lycoris radiata). The bright red flowers appear suddenly, without leaves, without warning, following the last summer rains.

I can't take credit for these gorgeous lilies (members of the amaryllis family). They were planted by a gardener (or gardeners) who came before me and have spread themselves about. Maybe the original bulbs were planted 20 years ago. Or maybe it was 50 years ago, or even 80. I'll never know, but I still like to wonder about it.

There is something almost mystical about the flowers, the way they shoot up with such purpose, such determination, straight from the ground, from the dark earth. The flowers, it seems, are like messages--greetings, a cheery hello--from the past, maybe even from the dead.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Sunflower Stepping Stone

Yesterday on my lunch hour I bought a large Christine Sibley stepping stone shaped like a sunflower. I was very excited. After work I wheeled it in the wheelbarrow through the wild petunias and positioned it in front of my favorite bench. Then I stood back to admire the effect.

Soon Bernie, my stray-cat friend, ambled over and settled down on the bench.

"So, Bernie," I said, "what do you think of the new addition?"

He looked at me, and with that look he made himself quite clear. He would like it much better, his look said, with a nice bowl of cat food in the middle.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Vegan Meatballs

Today Rob and I made vegan meatballs. We'd been dreaming about them for weeks. Rob wanted to call them "Everything But the Kitchen Sink Meatballs" because they had so many ingredients--walnuts, oats, panko, tofu, nutritional yeast, sautéed mushrooms. . . . We baked them, then deep-fried them for good measure. Since we'd rolled them in cornstarch, they developed a nice golden, crunchy crust in the hot oil.

We ate so many meatballs we had to stretch out on the floor in the sunroom after lunch. The cats walked around on our full stomachs and kneaded them and generally drew unwanted attention to them.

"There's nothing like a cat kneading your stomach when it's full of meatballs," I groaned.

"It's definitely not what you want," Rob agreed.

"I guess we should just get up and do the dishes," I said.

"Yep," Rob sighed. "Cats ruin everything."

Vegan Meatballs


2 or 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces button mushrooms, finely chopped
1½ cups walnuts, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1½ tablespoons fresh oregano, minced
1½ tablespoons fresh basil, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
½ cup nutritional yeast
½ cup quick-cooking oats
½ cup panko
2 teaspoons liquid smoke
2 packs extra-firm tofu, well drained
Cornstarch for dusting
Oil for frying


Sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil until onion is tender. Add the mushrooms and sauté until cooked.

Put the onions, garlic, and mushrooms into a large bowl. Add the walnuts, fennel seeds, oregano, basil, salt, pepper, yeast, oats, panko, and liquid smoke. Break up the tofu with your fingers and add it to the bowl. Stir well to combine all the ingredients.

Use an immersion blender to process the whole mixture until relatively smooth.

Roll the mixture into small balls, about ¾ of an inch in diameter. Roll the balls in cornstarch to coat. Bake on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper at 385 degrees F for 15 minutes.

When the meatballs are done baking, deep fry them in hot oil. Drain on a paper towel.

Serve over whole-wheat spaghetti noodles with marinara sauce.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Wild Strawberry

About three years ago I started collecting Wedgwood's Wild Strawberry pattern.

One day Mom was at my house, looking in my china cabinet, and she said, "You know, that was Aunt Nancy's pattern."

"Oh, my gosh," I said. "That's so interesting! I have such strong memories of her china. I've even written about it before in stories, but somehow I didn't remember it was Wild Strawberry. And yet at some deeper level I must have remembered . . . and that's why I was drawn to it and why I started obsessively collecting it!"

Visits to Aunt Nancy's house were rare and special. She was actually my father's aunt, my great-aunt. She and Uncle Bill (Granny's brother) were rich and had a big house in Winston-Salem, the city where my father's family had lived for generations. Dad always talked about Winston in the most glowing terms. Cakes tasted sweeter there. The daffodils and dogwoods grew more beautifully and flowered more profusely. I could never understand why we lived in Tallahassee instead, and why, when Winston was so wonderful, we so seldom visited.

It was all very perplexing to me.

I was shy and always felt like a stranger in Winston since we hardly ever went there. I don't think I ever really said anything to my relatives (I mostly nodded and smiled), but I wanted so badly to be accepted, to be a real part of the family.

Whenever we went to Uncle Bill and Aunt Nancy's, I was fascinated and would roam the house agog. Aunt Nancy kept her china displayed in the dining room, on a long table with a white table cloth, and I thought the delicate dishes looked like seashells on a white, white beach.

Aunt Nancy used to let my sister Kris and me play with a special doll she had, her own doll from when she was a little girl. The doll was not a child, like most dolls, but an elegant lady with an extensive wardrobe, including dainty kid gloves, high-heeled sandals, and a pearl necklace. Kris and I would sit in front of the fireplace in the living room and dress her up, but even as I was playing, I was listening to the adults, eavesdropping, trying to decipher their secret codes, trying to understand why things were the way they were.

Something had happened before I was born. Something momentous. My grandfather, Dad's dad, the leader of the family, the star of the family, the one who made everything happen, had died. Dad always talked about him in tones of awe. In fact, all Dad's relatives talked about him in this way. He was so funny, so smart. Daring. Stylish. Creative. Innovative. Ahead of his time.

But he had a darker side, too, though nobody said this outright. Somehow I knew, I always knew, that he was an alcoholic.

Dad's father had owned a successful sign company, the J.D. Kimel Sign Company, and Dad used to work for him after school and during the summer when he was young. (Uncle Bill worked for him too.) When my family was visiting in Winston, years later, Dad would drive us around town at night so we could see the neon signs, glowing like stars, that he (Dad) and his father had built so long ago.

"Yeah, that was one of ours, kids," he'd say, pointing out the window, and his voice was wistful though he smiled.

Two years before he died, Dad's father had gotten very sick with congestive heart failure and had been forced to sell the sign company. He wanted to give it to Dad, but Dad wanted to stay in college; he was the first in his family to go to college and had decided to pursue a Ph.D. in physics. So Uncle Bill bought the sign company.

As a child, I could never understand why my father had given up the sign company, why he had given up everything, all connection to the past, why we lived so far away, in such isolation. I could never understand why we lived the way we did. It always seemed, to me, we were in exile. Dad always spoke so highly of his family, but we rarely saw them. Winston was the greatest place on earth, yet we hardly ever went there. Why? As a child, this was my constant, secret question.

Did Dad secretly hate his family? Had he been somehow hurt, driven away? Or did he simply lack the capacity to be close to people? I could never figure out the answers, but my greatest wish was that our separation would end.

And so on those precious trips to Winston-Salem, to Aunt Nancy and Uncle Bill's, I would gaze at Aunt Nancy's china with delight and secret envy. I'm sure it's no coincidence that Aunt Nancy collected Wild Strawberry and now I do too. Even the smallest, most frivolous decisions (like what kind of tea cup to buy) are often influenced by ancient memories and desires.