Monday, May 30, 2016

A Summery Day



Though it’s still technically spring, Saturday felt like high summer. The air was sultry, the cicadas were roaring, and the yard was jungle-y green. Rob and I spent the day weeding and mowing, but it was so hot we had to keep taking breaks. We’d sit on the breezeway and eat fresh pineapple and popsicles under the ceiling fan.

In the morning I planted 15 Southern lady ferns in the big bed under the giant water oak in the backyard. Lady ferns are my favorite fern because they’re just so . . . “ladylike"—delicate and graceful and pretty. As I worked, I kept thinking about all the other ferns I'd like to add to the bed—Christmas and royal and netted chain. Ferns lend a softness and lushness to the landscape that no other plant can (in my opinion), and they provide shelter for toads, lizards, turtles, and other small animals.

Saturday was an especially fun day because I worked in the yard, bur I also got to enjoy it. I had time to observe little things. In our Ambersweet orange tree, a pair of cardinals has built a nest. Well, we checked the nest on Saturday and the babies have hatched! There are three of them, so fuzzy and sleepy. When we peeked in, they were sprawled about the little pine-needle nest, their eyes closed. We could see them breathing. Their beaks were bright yellow and their down was gray.

In the late afternoon we weeded the vegetable garden and picked some cilantro and catnip. During one of our breaks on the breezeway, we decided to see how the cats would like the fresh "nip" (they've only had the dried stuff before). At first only Carl had a leaf. But then something happened. I was writing in my journal, and Rob reported: “Maggie stole Carl’s leaf! She came up and bit him on the foot and he got scared and ran away, and she took over his leaf! I thought she wanted to play, but she just wanted his leaf! I thought she was being nice, but she was being a jerk!”

This was surprising because Maggie is usually very nice and polite to the other cats and is well known for her purring and peacemaking.

“Maggie,” Rob laughed, “I didn’t know you had it in you!”

It was evening by then, and we could hear a concert on the courthouse square, which is about a mile away. The music was drifting through the trees.

Rob passed out more catnip, and soon each cat had a leaf.

The cats enjoyed the fresh catnip in a funny, restrained sort of way. They seemed not to know quite what to do with it. Each was possessive of his or her leaf. "But they seem to just want to be near it," Rob said, "or they just want to lie down on top of it."


Carl on top of the jelly cupboard


June sitting on the rocker in her special June style


A frog by our little goldfish pond


Our potato harvest. We got 27 pounds, with very little insect damage. We were proud!


The north side of the yard. This view is the result of the big re-sodding project we did in April.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Vegan Thumbprint Cookies



On Saturday morning I made Vegan Thumbprint Cookies. They turned out just perfect—sweet and salty and cute, with a spot of pink icing in the middle and lots of cheery sprinkles everywhere else.

Buntin, our temperamental tortie, assisted me in the kitchen as she usually does. I let her lick a butter wrapper, but when she tried to lick the dough, I had to discourage her—and she got so mad she went and hid in a cabinet among some canned goods.

Rob shut the door behind her, smiling. “It’s the only place she can be herself, she says.”

She was in the cabinet about a minute. Then I got the cookies in the oven and she and I went and sat on the floor in the sunroom in an inviting little sunbeam. We were soon joined by several other cats, because cats find sunbeams irresistible.

Maggie was rolling around in the warm, yellow light, reveling, looking chubby and cute.

“Oh, Maggie Rollarounder,” Rob said when he came by, “a sunbeam sure is great, isn’t it?”

She responded with another roll. He was right. The sunbeam was so great I decided to have my breakfast in it. While the cats enjoyed some heart-shaped treats that looked like valentine candy but smelled like sardines, I served myself a nice little plate of Vegan Thumbprint Cookies.

Vegan Thumbprint Cookies

Ingredients:

Cookies

1 cup vegan butter, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Sprinkles

Icing

2 tablespoons almond milk
2 teaspoons maraschino cherry juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
11/4 cups powdered sugar

Directions:

Whisk the flour and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside.

Beat the butter, sugar, and vanilla at medium speed with a handheld mixer until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture, mixing until incorporated. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Roll a heaping tablespoon of dough into a ball, then roll the ball in sprinkles and place it on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough, spacing the balls about 2 inches apart. Using your thumb, make an indentation in the center of each cookie.

Bake for 10 minutes or until slightly firm. Remove the cookie sheet from the oven. Using your thumb, press into the center of each cookie again. Return the cookies to the oven and bake until golden brown, about 13 to 15 more minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

To make the icing, combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and stir until smooth. Using a spoon, fill the center of each cookie with icing.

Note: I started with this lovely recipe and veganized it.


I took this picture of Sophie after her ballet recital on Saturday night. She did an awesome job with her dancing!


Here's a bit of a little display I made in one of my bookcases recently. I love arranging (and rearranging) my silly collections.

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 girls made a little fun of my babyish creation, so I felt a tad embarrassed about it 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

Ingredients:

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

Glaze

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


Directions:

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 the 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 worktable, 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