Saturday, October 25, 2014

Halloween Cuties

Frankenstein and friends

On Thursday Mom had a pumpkin-carving party and she gave me these adorable felt ornaments she made. Whenever you go to Mom's house she always gives you something: old newspapers to use as garden mulch, maybe, or an interesting catalog she got in the mail. This time, she gave me these tiny handmade decorations--a jack o'lantern, a cat, a ghost, a bat, a witch, and some sweet little monsters.

All the guests at the party (Bunny, Kris, Sophie, and me) were exclaiming over them.

"Aww, they're so cute," Sophie said (in her scarecrow costume and new blue braces).

"Look at the little cat!" Bunny cried. "She's got so much personality!"

"Each one is a little character!" I said. "I just love their expressions--they're so . . . expressive!" (I always say something dumb.)

Mom didn't think the ornaments were any big deal. She gave them to me in the exact same way that she'd give me some old newspapers. "Oh, and here are your ornaments," she said after we'd carved our pumpkins and eaten hot soup and cobbler and were about to head home.

But I was really enchanted by them. I can't believe Mom can still sew so well even though she had a stroke and went blind in one eye last year. She'd be embarrassed and pretty mad if I ever said anything "sappy" to her (and so I won't), but I can say what I want to here (she's not a blog reader): My mom is an amazing person and I will always treasure these special gifts.

bat and jack o'lantern

black cat

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 replacer 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.