Sunday, April 24, 2016

Vegan Cherry Almond Cookies

Yesterday morning I got up early and made a batch of Vegan Cherry Almond Cookies before dawn. It was very cozy. As I worked, Buntin sat nearby on the counter, tenderly licking the butter wrapper.

The dough was so pretty, rose-petal pink.

“Buntin, can you believe this pretty dough?” I said. “The cherry juice sure makes great food coloring.”

It was hard for me not to eat up all the cherries while I was chopping them—because maraschino cherries are my absolute favorite thing. As I worked with the cherries, I thought of something, a kind-of-funny little memory from high school:

When I was fifteen I got to go to a make-your-own-sundae party, and I topped my sundae with a big cloud of whipped cream, then studded that with a whole bunch of maraschino cherries—probably a dozen. Of course, some of the other, more sophisticated guests gave me a hard time about it, so I felt a little embarrassed about my babyish creation even though it was delicious.

It was such a fabulous party, with a big, long table covered in flavor after flavor of ice cream and every kind of topping you could imagine. There were even beautiful sundae bowls, made of pink glass. I was shy and didn’t really have anybody to talk to at the party, but I had fun eating ice cream and admiring everything.

I remember I was also really proud of the present I had brought (it was a birthday party), a baby-tear plant with the tiniest, most delicate leaves. Around the pot was a sheer purple ribbon tied in a fancy bow.

“What is it?” Anne, the birthday girl, asked me when it came time for me to give her my gift.

“A baby tear,” I said, but I always talked so softly back then that no one could hear me.

“What? An elephant ear?” Anne said.

“A baby tear!” I said, but she still couldn’t hear me and she went around telling everybody it was an elephant ear. I never could clear up the confusion.

Oh, well, it was still a great party, and if I ever have the chance to make my own sundae again, I think I will make it the exact same way I did then (except vegan).

Anyhow, here’s my cherry cookie recipe. I started with this awesome recipe and veganized it, and the cookies turned out just perfect—cute and sweet and so pink.

Vegan Cherry Almond Cookies



3/4 cup Earth Balance, softened to room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon maraschino cherry juice
2 cups flour
16 maraschino cherries, drained and chopped


3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons almond milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Using a hand-held mixer, beat the Earth Balance on high speed until creamy, about a minute. Keep beating and add the sugar, vanilla, and almond extracts. Drizzle in the cherry juice and beat for another minute on high.

Add the flour and mix on low until a very soft dough is formed. Add the cherries and mix on low until the cherries are well distributed.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least four hours. (I chilled mine overnight.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Shape the dough into balls using 1 tablespoon of dough per ball. Line up the balls on the parchment paper.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until the edges begin to brown slightly. Be careful not to overbake—these should be soft cookies.

Cool on a wire rack.

To make the glaze, mix the powdered sugar, almond milk, and vanilla extract together in a small bowl. Stir until smooth.

When the cookies have completely cooled, drizzle them with the glaze.

Becky, June, and Leroy chilling on the breezeway

Good ole June

The Vine House framed by a satsuma branch

Monday, April 11, 2016

New Sod and More

Saturday was the most beautiful and glorious day of all the year so far. It was dazzling. Everything was so green and seemed to shimmer with life, to tremble with it. Spring had truly arrived. Finally!

Rob and I began the day with a trip to Lowe’s, which is how we begin most Saturdays. The garden center was gorgeous in the spring light, full of brilliant, eye-popping colors. We chose Boston ferns, pentas, and petunias for the pots in and around our Vine House, and while Rob was picking out some coconests I started texting pictures of the rose displays to Bunny (my sister).

Lowe’s had the most beautiful roses that day; they were called Parfuma roses (‘First Crush’ . . . ‘Summer Romance’), and I had never seen the like. Oh, the flowers were so fluffy and perfume-y, with extravagant stacks of petals in luscious shades of pink. I kept taking pictures at different angles and texting them to Bunny, and Bunny texted back, “You should get one!”

“You should!” I replied, because Bunny is a genius with roses, and I hatched a plan to get her one for her birthday.

Rob and I bought so many plants at Lowe’s that we had to drop them off at home before we could continue with the rest of our errands.

Pink penta

Our next stop was Tallahassee Nurseries, where we bought 40 strips of sod. Then we went on to Native Nurseries, where we bought 30 stepping stones embossed with dragonfly, bee, and butterfly designs.

The sod and stepping stones were for a big project we’ve been dreaming about for over a year now. See, there’s a grass path leading from our driveway to the pebble path that takes you to the breezeway, and for the last five years this path has been a total wreck. The grass died in the horrible drought of 2011, and unruly weeds of all kinds promptly took its place. We wanted to re-sod this area, then make a path of stepping stones through it to protect the precious new turf from being trampled. The stepping stones would curve from the driveway to the pebble path, about 60 feet.

When we finally got home with all our purchases, we got right to work on the sodding project. We started digging out the crab grass and other weeds in our target area. Poor old Bernie, my stray-cat friend, came out of the garage, where he’s residing now, and sat nearby in the sun.

“He looks like a drowned rat,” Rob observed cheerfully.

“No, he doesn’t!” I said.

We dug out all the weeds, worked up the soil, and laid our sod and stepping stones, play-fighting all the while about who was doing better work. (I was. Clearly.)

When we finished, we ran the sprinkler on the new grass and stood there admiring it for a while, the sun and water droplets making sparkles and rainbows. Then Bernie gave the stepping stones a trial run. He trotted over all 30 as he hurried back to the garage to enjoy the Savory Salmon Feast I was serving up on Rob’s weight bench.

I tidied up the garage, then got Bernie settled down for bed. By the time he had curled up on his cozy couch by the work table, night was gathering. As I headed back to the house (I got to use the new stepping stones again), the frogs were singing in our little goldfish pond and the satsuma blossoms were glowing in the dark.

Purple coneflower blooming by the Vine House. I can't show any pictures of the new sod because it doesn't look good yet. I'll have to wait until it starts really growing.

Mrs. B.R. Cant rose

Daisy Bunnykins in a patch of powder puff plants

Plumbago and coreopsis

Monday, April 4, 2016

Spring Weekend

Satsumas in bloom around the breezeway

On Friday night it rained over 4 inches. It was a spectacular storm that started in the late afternoon and continued until just before dawn. Rob and I popped popcorn and watched Justified as the lightning flashed and the thunder roared, and I was so glad that Bernie, the old stray tomcat I take care of, had recently decided to take up residence in our garage. (It’s like he decided to go into assisted living.) I knew he was safe and dry, and that gave me peace of mind. I could picture him relaxing on the old couch near Rob’s worktable as the rain made a racket on the tin roof.

I think Bernie is the cutest thing, though Rob disagrees. Bernie’s got a big head, a tiny body, and one eye—and he’s filthy dirty. Though I’ve been taking care of him for years, he has remained steadfastly feral all this time. He still hisses at me every time I present him with his Fancy Feast.

By Saturday morning the rain was done and the birds were singing. I sat at the kitchen table and worked on a craft until it got light outside. I was drinking a Coke and stitching up a little felt Halloween ornament, a friendly bat with pearl beads for eyes and a little smile showing vampire teeth. Softee was sitting next to me on one of the benches at the table, and as I petted her she got so overstimulated that she stood up on her hind legs and started playfully biting my head as she hugged me around the shoulders with her front legs. She kept biting and wrestling me and getting her claws stuck in my pajamas, and I was laughing and laughing and saying, “Softee, you’re making my stitches come out all crooked!”

About 10, Rob and I went to Tallahassee to run some errands. We got a new battery-powered push mower at Lowe’s, and we also bought a beautiful painting at Memory Lane Antiques, near Lake Ella. It’s a swamp scene by Florida artist Donald Gibbs, full of intricate detail—Spanish moss and reeds and a feathery egret. The owner of the store told us that Gibbs painted the delicate strands of moss using a pin instead of a brush.

We spent Saturday afternoon mowing and edging the lawn for the first time this year. I did hours of weeding too, which was the most fun I’ve had in ages. With the rain, the yard had turned bright green—spring had finally come. When we took a break to have some limeade on the breezeway, Rob reported that he'd seen a hummingbird, and I told him I'd seen a chickadee with an inchworm in its beak. "I saw a little box turtle, too," I said, "under a Shi Shi Gashira sasanqua."

It was such a beautiful day that when Buntin, our temperamental tortie, sneaked out of the house (all our cats, except Bernie, are indoor cats), I didn’t bring her inside right away. Instead, I carried her around in the sun for a while and let her smell things, which is what cats like to do, mainly, when they're outside. Rob was walking with us and making suggestions about where to stop. “Let her smell the lemon blossoms,” he said. “And don’t forget the glorious roses.”

The north side of the yard after mowing

Winged pig on the breezeway

Birdhouse and plum branches

Lemon blossoms

Rob admiring the lemon tree

Rob and Buntin

Leroy rejoicing for spring

Monday, February 29, 2016

February Projects

February was another busy month for home-improvement projects around here. Rob and I were hard at work every weekend. We started fixing up the bathroom in the main house, planted lots of plants, and even did a little Easter decorating.

We spent the beginning of the month on our bathroom project. We started by touching up the paint, a nice clean white called Icicle. We also added some trim in the corners of the room. Before we added the trim, the corners were rather messy and unprofessional-looking because a former owner of the house had "paneled" the walls himself with some old floor boards. Well, we covered up the messy, uneven corners with trim and plenty of caulk and painted everything with several coats of Icicle. When we were done, the room looked more finished and way less crazy. Still, there's more I'd like to do. In my dreams the bathroom has a stained-glass window and is lighted by a little vintage chandelier.

I'm trying to finish all my planting before it gets too hot. Over the course of the month, I planted 24 holly ferns (in the border along the southern edge of the vegetable garden), 18 autumn ferns (around the breezeway and in the bed around the barn), six coonties (around the barn), two Iwai Nishiki flowering quinces (at the edge of the meadow), and a Palace Princess camellia (on the south side of the backyard). Rob and I also started putting in our spring-summer vegetable garden. So far, we've planted Red Pontiac potatoes, Nantes carrots, Watermelon radishes, cilantro, and catnip.

Coonties, tea olive, and Shi Shi Gashira sasanquas by the breezeway

Trilliums (and sad bunny) by the pond

On February 27, I put up my Easter tree. When I was growing up, my mom always had an egg tree, even when we barely had any furniture. It was made from a branch painted white and planted in a terracotta pot full of plaster. All the decorations were homemade, from real egg shells that we hollowed out ourselves. Hollowing out eggs was fun. We'd make a tiny hole at the top of the egg, then one at the bottom, and then we'd blow into the top hole and force the yolk and the white out into a bowl.

We'd wrap the delicate shells in ribbons and lace, or we'd paint them with fingernail polish. And sometimes we'd cut a hole in the front of the shell and create a little scene inside the egg, with pebble-sized china bunnies and chicks posed on velvet grass among dainty silk leaves and flowers.

My sister Kris and I loved making Easter eggs, and over the years we even developed some special decorating techniques that were all our own. One technique involved sitting in a certain clover patch in the front yard (sitting in the clover patch was key). Once positioned, we’d sprinkle drops of food coloring on our eggs and roll the eggs in the clovers so the colors got smeared and made beautiful, unplanned patterns. We’d work until the eggs were entirely covered in swirling colors and not a bit of white showed. Then we’d varnish the eggs with Mom’s pearly nail polish and add little loops of ribbon so we could hang them on the egg tree, which always stood in the same spot under the living room window, year after year.

These days I buy most of my Easter ornaments, but I do have a few that I made myself. Just last week, in fact, I whipped up a trio of felt chickens. They're really dumb, with enormous heads and legs of uneven lengths. I love them. I didn't actually intend them to be funny, but they make me laugh every time I see them.

I'm very fond of my Peter Rabbit ornament. I have a Jemima Puddle-Duck ornament too. I'm a big Beatrix Potter fan.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Over the Years at Wakulla Springs

I wanted to tell you about a favorite place of mine, Tallahassee’s most famous tourist attraction, Wakulla Springs State Park. The park is home to one of the world’s biggest freshwater springs, thousands of acres of woods, and an elegant Spanish-style lodge built in 1937 (with stucco walls and a red tile roof).

My family has been visiting Wakulla Springs for half a century now, since I was a baby. We go at least once a year, and we were just there with Dad a few weeks ago, on Christmas Eve.

Over the years our visits have become kind of like pilgrimages to a holy place—there's something ritualistic about them. Of course, Wakulla Springs is changing; the limpkins are gone and the water's much darker now than it used to be. But the charm of the park is its "sameness," the way it seems frozen in time, and I think we come back again and again to remind ourselves of all that's best in Tallahassee, of what's beautiful and essential, of what we want to hold onto.

On our Christmas Eve visit we took a river boat tour, walked a trail strewn with golden leaves, and ate lunch (complete with fried green tomatoes) in the lodge’s Edward Ball Dining Room. At the end of the day, in a cozy corner of the lobby, we opened our Christmas presents. We were sunk deep in some comfortable leather chairs under the cypress ceiling, which is a work of art, brightly painted with tropical birds and flowers and graceful Spanish galleons.

Before we went home, Sophie and Jake played an intense game of checkers at one of the lobby’s old marble checkerboard tables. The lodge is resplendent with marble, especially Tennessee marble, known for its distinctive pinkish-gray color. There’s a marble staircase leading up to the 27 guest rooms, and the old-fashioned soda fountain (across the lobby from the dining room) has a 70-foot marble counter.

I've never gotten to spend the night at the lodge, but my sister Kris has. According to Kris, the rooms are TV-free, furnished tastefully with homey, well-worn antiques. Kris's dream is to spend the night on New Year’s Eve, when the lodge offers packages that include a moonlight boat ride, a band and dancing in the lobby, champagne at midnight, and desserts after that.

Kris has got to be Wakulla Springs’ biggest fan. In summer she and Sophie and Jake go swimming at the park almost every weekend, and have picnics on the white sand beach under the cypress trees. The kids snorkel and jump off the big, scary diving tower, and then they go to the soda fountain for ice cream cones and Cokes.

Sophie and Jake’s visits to Wakulla Springs are a little different than mine and Kris’s were when we were children. Back then we didn’t even know swimming was an option. We always went to the springs wearing our good shoes and church dresses, and we’d ride on the boat and then we’d go home. (Our parents were kind of formal.)

But Kris and I loved Wakulla Springs anyway. We loved the boat rides. I still do. On Christmas Eve we saw alligators, anhingas, ibises, herons, coots, moorhens, and merganzers in the morning mist. Our guide called to the animals, summoning them in the old chanting style that the boatmen at Wakulla Springs have used for generations.

Dad, silver haired, sat in the chilly breeze, in his familiar denim jacket, saying, “Did you all know some of these old cypresses were here when Columbus landed?”

"Ah," I said, nodding and trying and failing to look wise. "That's so amazing."

Jake and I were sitting together, and he had his Kindle with him. He started showing me a video he made last summer with his GoPro; it was of himself jumping off the top of the diving tower.

"Oh, that's awesome," I said. (I've never had the courage to jump off the tower.) "Let me see it again."

"I'm really glad I got the GoPro," Jake sighed as we watched a second time. (He's 12.) "I think it was a good investment."

"It sure helps you remember the summer in winter," I agreed.

"I like remembering," Jake sighed again. (He was buttering me up now, trying to please an old lady.) "I just like it so much."

Jake posing in front of the lodge in 2007

Interior of the lobby, 1995

Bunny and Sophie playing checkers in the lobby, 2013

The painted ceiling, 2015

Ceiling detail

Dining room, 2015

The swimming area, 2010. Photo by Kris Kimel

Sophie and Jake jumping off the diving tower, 2011. Photo by Kris Kimel

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Painting the Back Bedroom

Last weekend Rob and I painted the trim in the back bedroom. The trim in there had always bothered me because half of it was painted and the other half was bare wood. Plus, the bare wood part wasn't even stained or varnished and wasn't even completely bare; bits of old white paint were stuck around all the nails. Obviously somebody, years before, had tried to strip the wood, but they hadn't quite succeeded. I wanted all the trim to match, so Rob and I gave everything a few good coats of a nice neutral color called Mannequin Cream.

We had fun painting, and the cats got into the spirit too. The house was in complete disarray, and Buntin, June, and Frankie were making the most of it. All the bedroom furniture and decorations were piled up in the hallway, and they were climbing precarious towers of books and leaping from one wobbly end table to another. As we painted we kept hearing crashing sounds.

We took a break for lunch on Saturday at the Laredo Grill, one of Quincy's few restaurants. It's a cheerful place near the Piggly Wiggly and a great asset to our little town. The waiter at the Laredo Grill likes to tease me about my vegan-ness. I always order the Double A Combination Platter with "no cheese and no sour cream," and whenever he presents me with my plate, he says, "For you, seƱorita. Extra cheese!" He says it in the most deadpan manner; he never cracks a smile.

On Sunday Rob and I touched up the trim with our artist brushes. Then, after the last coat had dried, we cleaned the cat fur off each piece of furniture and moved it back into place. We cleaned cat fur off the walls, too, with a dust mop.

The room was transformed; it looked so much better.

"I don't know what made more of a difference," Rob said, "the painting or the de-cat-ifying."

Carl supervising the painting process

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Camellia Show

Last Saturday my sister Bunny, Dad, and I went to the Tallahassee Camellia Society’s annual show. It was held in Eyster Auditorium at the Doyle Conner Agricultural Complex. The auditorium was full of tables covered with row after row of red, pink, and white blooms in all different shapes and sizes. The flowers sat in little clear bud vases, fresh from yards all over the Tallahassee area.

Taylor's Perfection. My pictures from the camellia show never turn out (because the auditorium's too dark), so I'm just including some shots from my yard and neighborhood. I'm sorry!

The best part of the show was the camellia sale held out front on the sidewalk leading up to the Conner Building. There were dozens of plants available, all kinds of interesting varieties from Loch Laurel Nursery up in Valdosta, which specializes in camellias. Before we even went in to see the show, Bunny and I engaged in a camellia-shopping frenzy. I bought five camellias in about two minutes: Mr. Sam, Dancing Blaze, Harriet Bisbee, John Rumbach, and Miss Charleston Variegated. Bunny only bought two because her yard is full.

“I can’t believe you only bought two!” I said.

“I wasn’t supposed to buy any!” Bunny said. “I’ve still got one from last year that I can’t find a place for!” (It's true. I've seen it, still sitting in its pot.)

Bunny has over a hundred camellias on a city lot. Many were planted long ago, not by Bunny but by a former owner, and have grown to tree size. Her backyard is a camellia forest, a maze, with a little turquoise table-and-chair set in the middle, hidden. Bunny used to throw amazing Halloween parties, and at her last one a life-size plastic skeleton was sitting at the table. He was having tea by candlelight and moonlight, the table arranged with a real silver teapot.

Stephens Garden

The blooms at the show, except for the ones at the winners table, were displayed alphabetically by cultivar name.

“Now, we have to go in order!” Bunny said.

So we made our way along the tables, starting with the A's, taking pictures and jotting down names of coveted plants: Brother Rose, Bryan, First Blush. . . . Dad was wearing overalls, and he had his bright yellow camera around his neck. His bountiful silver-white hair always reminds me of his favorite camellia, Silver Waves.

“I wanted to enter the show this year,” Bunny sighed, “but of course I didn’t get it together.”

“It’s my dream to enter,” I said. “But I think my plants might need to get a little bit bigger first. Each one only has, like, two flowers.”

“Let’s make a New Year’s resolution that we’re all going to enter next year!” Dad said with his characteristic Dad enthusiasm. “We’ll do it together.”

“I guess we’ll be in the Novice category since it will be our first show,” Bunny noted.

Dad nodded, smiling: “And we may just sweep it, if all of us enter.” Dad has 50 camellias in his yard, and I have 95. Mom's got to have a good 75.

I don't know this one's name, but it sure is pretty.

One of the camellia society members was going around the room with a gigantic bloom in a plastic bucket. The flower was about a foot across and bright, luscious pink.

“It’s Anne Hightower,” he said, offering us a peek in the bucket. “It’s been in my refrigerator for 11 days.”

“Well, why on earth didn’t you enter it?” a lady asked.

“Because it’s been in my refrigerator for 11 days!” he replied. “It’s in no condition.”

None of us knew what he was talking about; the enormous flower looked absolutely perfect.

We had such a great time at the show. We admired each bloom in a leisurely fashion and gabbed about nearly every one.

I was making all kinds of dorky comments: “I love all the fluff and ruffles on this one. . . . Oh, this one reminds me of a valentine. . . . And this one reminds me of a strawberry cupcake!”


Sunday, December 20, 2015

Refinished Floors

Last week we got our sunroom and kitchen floors refinished. Both really needed it. The sunroom floor had water damage and most of the old finish had peeled off, and the kitchen floor was painted dark green. Both floors are wood (pine), and we had them sanded and varnished.

Rob happened to be out of town while the work was being done, but I was at home. I camped out in the "Little House” with all 12 cats until the varnish was dry and the fumes had cleared.

The Little House is a small building in our backyard that looks like a child’s playhouse. We use it as an office now, but in the old days it served as a kitchen.

The cats were really well behaved in the Little House, though it had to be hard on them to be confined to such a small space for five solid days. There was no growling or hissing or discontented meowing—not even any scratching at the door. It was because I pulled out the hide-a-bed, which they love, and they were too busy snuggling to cause any trouble.

Every night after work during my confinement in the Little House, I’d sit on the hide-a-bed too, surrounded by cats. I was making felt Christmas ornaments and calling cute, rotund Leroy "Mr. Roundandham," which is Rob's new name for him. Seated on the hide-a-bed, I stitched up four little felt trees decorated with seed beads, bugle beads, sequins, fancy buttons, and gold rickrack. My progress was somewhat slower than it might have been because I kept losing my sewing supplies under the covers or under a cat.

The new floors look awesome by the way. When Rob saw the kitchen, he said, "This one looks like a beautiful rollerskating rink or basketball court. It's just so smooth and perfect."

The sunroom floor is just as nice. Thank you, McIver Floor Sanding and Installation!



Saturday, December 12, 2015

New Orleans

Mansion in the Garden District

Over Thanksgiving weekend, my mom, sisters, niece, nephew, and I went on a little trip to New Orleans. We had so much fun. We stayed at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Canal Street, toured the Garden District, shopped on Royal Street, and ate tons of beignets and pralines and other New Orleans specialties.

We saw so many neat things. At night in Jackson Square, fortune tellers read tarot cards by candlelight. There was a girl dressed up in faded 19th-century clothes, including high-button shoes and a hoop skirt. Holding a tattered parasol, she posed by the iron gates of Jackson Square Park, her face painted like a skull. A white horse pulled a carriage past her, but when we looked closer we saw that it was no ordinary horse; it had glittering hoofs, a single white horn, and white feathered wings.

Urn in Jackson Square Park

Cocoally is a really cute shop in the French Quarter.

I'm tempted to write about everything we saw and everything we did, but I know that would be boring. Instead, I'll just tell you about two funny little incidents involving Sophie and Jake, my niece and nephew:

On Thanksgiving Day we ate at Chartres House. It took a while to get seated. As we waited around on the sunny, warm sidewalk, Jake kept dancing next to Sophie and playing an invisible saxophone. He seemed to be playing some smooth jazz. Sophie was so embarrassed. She kept coming up to Kris and saying (she was just teasing), “Mommy, if you don’t take control of your child, I’m going to throw him in the street!”

Sophie, Kris, and Jake at Cafe Du Monde

One of our favorite shops in New Orleans was a little place called Adorn that sold surreal (but cute) cat portraits by the artist Cary Chun Lee. There was a whole wall of these bold, bright, funny, cool cat paintings. We were mesmerized. Some cats held voodoo dolls. Others held cigarettes or flowers or pizza.

“I like the little guy eating a piece of toast,” I said, pointing.

“It’s a beignet,” Sophie said, teasing again, rolling her eyes at me. “You’re uncultured, Leslie."