Camellia’s Christmas Sweets…

B3E430F2-2101-4333-A94A-CB3D14962C14We’ve been busy in the kitchen making Christmas sweets and treats! At the same time, we’re in the process of making some much needed renovations to this site – Camellia’s Cottage! Still. Here’s what we’ve been up to- There’s Classic Christmas Fudge-AEBF7E43-EA8B-47F2-B965-2DD63ECCD080

We intended to make some chocolate truffles but got sidetracked making some adorable Chocolate Mice!21B6FFC3-19C3-4E7C-9E70-A33CC32A99A1

Then, there’s Alabama Pralines… an amazing recipe which doesn’t require a candy thermometer!B707ECBF-D6AF-486E-BEEA-F7D6FF44D5F1

And we couldn’t leave off the old Southern Favorite- Divinity… she’s finicky at times, though this time- this batch turned out pretty as a picture!EAE1B7B2-724D-4C3B-84C5-5C6DC73D95C4

We’ve made Sugared Apricots…A15FB696-1BA3-4E17-AD4B-FC57C390BDED

And! Three batches of Toffee! Amazing how butter and sugar can be boiled up into that luscious golden crunch with milk chocolate or semi sweet and toasted chopped pecans blend into this amazing candy! B3E430F2-2101-4333-A94A-CB3D14962C14

Tomorrow  is pound cake making day, with Mimi’s Pound Cake making a welcome appearance! These will be gifts for some very special family members ! DB7E9C45-1389-4C3B-A4FE-FB8DE38D4125

Hopefully, these Christmas Sweets will be welcome additions on Holiday Tables! I hope your Christmas Sweet and Treat making is going well… would love to hear what you’ve been making!

Love y’all, Camellia

* Follow us on Instagram as we continue the renovations. We’ll continue to share a post or two in the meantime. Then by the New Year, hopefully you’ll find more user friendly recipes and shopping lists too!

*All photographs are obviously mine!

Happy Halloween!

7FF6A75D-BACC-4F30-9D34-ADC866642DEAThe Pumpkins…

Have been picked. 48864312-4B54-47B2-8C1F-4949AB6A7837

The Treats…

18741288-56A6-47DC-BC09-0CD18C6720D8Have been made… A823409B-1FB8-4E49-8AC0-8D9C083EA62F

The Crows…

B69A0CD8-3DA3-49EB-B978-18E0BD071D13

Have paused to roost…

On Halloween night, when the Moon drops low… E11F506B-667E-471A-94E4-327986AC3A03

We’re hoping Royalty will stop by.

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Here’s wishing everyone a fun, safe and Happy Halloween!

E7E2934C-A221-426A-88EC-33A9CBDE251A Love y’all, Camellia

*Regardless how busy you are- Paperless Post is there to help you with some of the cutest holiday e-greetings you ever seen! While you’re waiting for Trick or Treaters…it’s so easy- you can send a few good wishes out- it’s not too late now or for any of your holiday or special occasion needs! 54330ACF-D5E4-40CD-90A7-E84B9382D0BB

* All photographs belong to the Camellia’s Cottage Community and should never be used without express permission granted. (the moonlit night was taken by award winning Jeremy Miniard! Find him at jeremy-miniard.fineartamerica.com *This is a compensated post by Paperless Post!

Late Summer’s Verdant Path…

D4E1475A-AC7F-4E3D-90FE-43D32B92985EThe best ways for me to find enjoyment in late summer’s neglected garden, is not in hacking away in disgust or to yank and pull or sweat and swear – though I do admit to a bit of that mingled with my worst complaints…

  • “That’s right let me go out of town and you decide to run wild!’
  • ‘ Choking out your companion plant is as coarse and common as talking religion or politics!’ or…
  • ‘Okay, really? Staging a hostile takeover in this heat? What’s gotten into you?’

Now, as amusing as it is- to talk to our plants this way…it doesn’t work, the damage has already been done! Faced with difficult and mundane jobs like pulling weeds, I enjoy taking a stroll, framing a view, documenting with a few photographs, thinking of my best words, waxing poetic even humming the sweetest melody, in fact- it surprises me that I usually don’t do these things first! But when I do…

I find crisp cool ferns, an unusual view through an errant Mimosa,

13B44B76-0C30-4A74-B0F3-545A80506EFBHydrangeas, this time several on the wane and one amazing fresh green one made even more beautiful in a hazy light.

Views through a garden bench, beauty entwining itself up and around wherever it may find the opportunity…

 

Soft and sweet Lamb’s Ears and an iron bird hiding in rampant rose canes and even Autumn Joy beginning to bloom.

Now, normally I don’t use words like verdant in the course of everyday conversation- but the word did come to mind… ‘Verdant means- Abundant, green vegetation, lush green lawns or rich forestation.’ Weeds or not- that’s what we have!

2CA12AE5-AEE0-4B44-8F90-2D8991616A7EStill.  Verdant was one of the good words… followed by Decent, Fresh, Trustworthy, Wholesome, Bighearted, Devotion, Wholehearted, Loving and Kind.

My good words were followed by Phrases like- Cool and calm, Soft and tender, Milk of Human Kindness, A sweet embrace… Try it! Good words and gentle phrases usually bring forth the Poetic!

‘Sleep thou, and I will wind thee in my arms…So doth the woodbine, the sweet honeysuckle Gently entwined. Oh, how I love thee! How I dote on thee!’ from A Midsummer’s Nights’ Dream-

Or what about these?‘In life’s uncertain voyage, I will some kindness do them.’ Timon of Athens and  ‘Beauty lives with kindness.’ Two Gentlemen of Virona  – and a personal favorite…

‘To me, fair friend, you never can be old.’ Sonnet 14 All by the poet emeritus of good words….Shakespeare

87F1B149-CA3A-4654-81D4-5417384F49D7It was time…The gazing at pictures, the doodling, dawdling and daydreaming had to stop or nothing would get done. I must admit, my greatest gardening challenge became one of my sweetest musings…

390DD5C5-0D91-48EF-9890-C55C5D71AFA1The Angel Vine had become rampant squalling baby – crying out for immediate attention. A pair of water meter readers couldn’t even find the meter since the Angel Vine had completely covered it over… fiercely verdant? Perhaps not a good phrase… I pulled it back to show them where it was…and decided I could amuse myself no longer. I began pulling and outright hacking and cutting…. and then it happened again…Ah yes, a song… a lullaby… okay really I thought of Willie Nelson’s ‘Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground’ about an angel with a broken wing that Willie fell in love with, that was my first thought. Kept in check, Angel Vine is such a sweet planting…tiny brown vines dotted with tiny green leaves. Angel Vine is a native of New Zealand also known as ‘Mattress Vine’ … so yes, as overgrown as it was- eventually a Lullaby came to mind. May I pause here? I’ll admit it- at first a gardening song starts as an annoying hum…I can’t put words to the tune… but when I do? I am amazed at how perfectly it does fit the situation. Angels, mattresses for cradles and little children…came to mind. The neighborhood is quieter now….children have gone back to school when I’m at my gardening chores…. I began thinking of the times I sent my first graders off to school- it never got easier, I always cried and prayed….counting on these beautiful and promising words for children-

 ‘Become as little trusting loving children. Whoever receives and welcomes one little child is greatest in the Kingdom of heaven… and also welcomes Me. But whoever causes one of these little ones to stumble, whoever entices him or hinders a child’s progress from right thought and conduct… Anyone who causes suffering to a little child- a millstone should be hung around his neck and be thrown in the depths of the sea… Beware that you do not despise or demean one of these little ones… See that you do not offend one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven are always in the presence of and earnestly watch the face of My Father’…’Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to Me.’ 

Stern warnings concerning treatment of children from the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of St. Matthew. So yes, pulling back that Angel Vine I thought of Guardian Angels…prayers for all little children-the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

F81C0824-BDC4-490C-9955-972A1041A154I found myself humming an old Welsh lullaby …Sleep my child let peace attend thee, all through the night.  Guardian Angels will defend thee, all through the night.’

All the while thinking of angels. The pile of trimmings was quite large, I wound the Angel Vine into a verdant wreath and hung it’s delicate form on the Front Door knowing it would stay fresh for only a few short days. My Late Summer’s Verdant Walks, like childhood-   don’t last long, but the memories will be cherished a long while.

Love y’all, Camellia

*All photographs are obviously mine. *The Scripture is from Matthew 18- my interpretation- alongside the Amplified Version of the KJV *Please don’t get any grand ideas that I’m an expert on memorizing Shakespeare! It’s a trick I employ to try to match up my ‘best’ words with poets or quotes from famous folks!  *’All Through the Night- a Welsh lullaby is generally sung around the Christmas holidays- but so beautiful I couldn’t resist. I found no author credited for the song.

Alabama Pralines…

B707ECBF-D6AF-486E-BEEA-F7D6FF44D5F1If you’ve visited any great southern cities, particularly coastal cities such as Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans – chances are you’ve been drawn into a Praline Shop. We southerners call this sweet confection – Praw-leens,  we’ll know right away you aren’t from the south if you call them Pray-leens.  Since we’ve gotten the correct pronunciation out of the way, let me just say, however you pronounce Pralines, you will either love them or say- they’re too sweet!  Eat enough pralines in your lifetime and you will become a praline critic- I complain that some pralines are too grainy- the sugar isn’t smooth enough or sometimes the pecans aren’t toasted enough to suit me. Yet even as I criticize-  I  will stand there and eat a praline until all of the sugary morsel is gone… Every. Single. Time. Why is the South so famous for Pralines?

  • We seem to have a corner on the market of the famous pecan candy.
  • The infamous Southern Sweet Tooth is on full display in that little patty of a   praline.
  • The South grows an abundance of Sugar Cane and we do love our homegrown Pecans.

Still. Food historians tell us that pralines have been made for 100’s of years in the South- getting their start in New Orleans. According to John Egerton’s tome, called Southern Food– he quotes the Picayune Creole Cookbook written in 1901- Pralines are, ‘dainty and delightful confections that have, for upwards of 150 years, delighted…generations of New Orleans…’ Wait a minute! In 1901 they were saying Pralines had been made for 150 years? Crazy, now it’s over 250 years! Egerton goes on to explain that a  French diplomat named Cesar du Plessis-Praslin gave his name to a confection of ‘caramelized almonds and sugar’. Could we pause a minute.. I need to say a prayer of praise- ‘Lord, I’m thankful those Creoles swapped out toasted pecans for the almonds!’ Okay, let’s resume… I want to use my best words to describe pralines-

They are small puddles of caramelized sugar, rich with real butter and thick cream stirred in great copper vats. The fragrance of pralines spills out of candy shops onto sidewalks luring tourists As they watch confectioners with wooden paddles stir the roiling hot sugar to perfection before adding vanilla and exquisitely toasted pecans. On cobbled streets and sidewalks-folks watch in amazement as the hot sugary mass is carefully poured into small patties which become the delectable mass of Southern sweetness, we call Pralines.

4CD9B390-63E7-4059-8A51-EDC222D010DBAlabama isn’t widely known for her pralines- the sweet confections of my youth spun sugar more often into Divinity, Peanut Brittle or a plate of Chocolate Fudge; all of which depended on the weather for success. Humidity is the enemy of granulated sugar in cooked candies. Sugar will do weird things like turn grainy or stiff or sit there and sulk- weeping. I know this to be true- I’ve rarely found a perfect day and  have made enough mistakes to throw out whole batches of candy that weren’t fit to eat.  Recently, I found, a yellowed and fragile newspaper clipping with a recipe for Alabama Pralines stuck in my grandmother’s cookbook. I don’t recall that she ever made them. Perhaps she was unskilled at candy making…though she did revel in making a white mass of sugar studded with pecans into Divinity- only on a crisp, cool and dry day sometime before Christmas.  I recall Mimi saying-

‘Edna Earle brought her divinity. It was hard as a rock- I almost broke a tooth trying to eat a piece! You’d think she’d at least check the barometric pressure before she tried to make divinity!’

Will you allow me to go off on a short tangent? I didn’t have a soft cuddly grandmother…no, she was funny, opinionated, had high standards and might have been the best cook I’ve ever known.  The women’s rights movement in the 1960’s never made much of an impression on Mimi. Why? She’d always been in charge of the men in her life.  Mimi was a spicy Southern Spitfire. Still. To find an unmarked recipe for Alabama Pralines in my grandmother’s cookbook intrigued me. I’ll admit I’m no stranger to making candy-

B3E430F2-2101-4333-A94A-CB3D14962C14Toffee and Caramel are two successful favorites…I’ve rarely attempted making Divinity, for fear it might turn out like poor Edna Earles. I’ve tried making pralines a time or two and failed. Anyway, when I decided to make these Alabama Pralines, it was on the absolute worst day for making candy. It was hot and humid- dark clouds threatened rain. I thought this recipe would surely fail. I made them because of one change from the other recipes I’d tried… the Alabama Praline recipe doesn’t call for granulated sugar! Okay, my sweet tooth had flared up too. It didn’t hurt that I had all of the ingredients and a bit of free time. I am happy to report- the recipe for Alabama Pralines not only worked but as most real deal recipes will tell you- pralines can be stored in the freezer. Now, that’s important because faced with a dozen glorious pralines? Let’s just say- they need to be frozen for health and safety concerns! I know you’ll want to make a batch of-

Alabama Pralines 

  • Toast 3/4 chopped pecans and salt. *Here’s how I do it. Put the pecans on a small baking sheet in a single layer- don’t be shy with the salt. Place the salted pecans in a cold oven, setting the temperature to 350 degrees- when the oven has reached 350 degrees- the pecans are toasted perfectly! Set aside and cool. Meanwhile…
  • Over low heat- Melt one stick of Butter- no substitutes and
  • 1/3 cup of light brown sugar- packed.
  • Cook butter and brown sugar over low heat for 3 minutes- stirring constantly
  • Gradually add 2-3 Tablespoons of Half and Half- (you may substitute evaporated milk or heavy cream) Please don’t add milk to the hot sugar and butter mixture all at once lest it bubble up too much! Now-
  • Still on low heat, bring the butter/ brown sugar/ milk mixture up to a boil.
  • Remove from heat- add 1 Teaspoon of Pure Vanilla Extract stirring completely
  • Add 1 cup of sifted confectioner’s sugar-( I had to add another 1/3 cup to my mixture- this could account for the humidity of the day) Beat confectioner’s sugar in well. If the mixture is too thick, you may add a tiny bit more milk
  • Add salted toasted pecans. Stir in well.
  • Drop from heaping tablespoon into glorious puddles on a cookie sheet lined with silicone mat or wax paper until cool.
  • Wrap in wax paper or parchment paper. Yield – one dozen. *When cooled and wrapped the pralines may be stored in the freezer in an airtight container.

Oh my, I hope you’ll try these Alabama Pralines. I would not double the recipe since candy making is a science and the cooking time may vary to get the right consistency. This recipe’s use of confectioner sugar- created a smooth praline-there was no graininess at all, the toasted and salted pecans offered a welcome relief to the oh so sweet praline mixture. Best of all-  no huge copper kettle or wooden paddle required!  Amazingly, the original recipe also says you can pour the praline mixture into a buttered glass baking dish, cool then cut into squares like fudge! I didn’t try that, I wanted to see if I could actually pull off the dropping into buttery puddles! F9BDBF25-017C-4D1F-89B0-402CBB61FA92

I hope you’ll try making a few batches of Alabama Pralines…apparently they remain fresh in the freezer for 6-8 months. Why, if you make them now… Alabama Pralines can be your effort toward Christmas in July! I’m guessing mine won’t last that long! Oh me…

Love y’all, Camellia F7AF9421-91F6-4B68-BC79-34C5BB48972F

* Crushed pralines are a wonderful topping for ice cream.

*John Egerton, a southern food expert, in his landmark work- ‘Southern Food’ subtitled ‘at Home, on the Road, in History’ (copyright 1987) is one of my all time treasured books, find his remarks about Pralines on page 325.

*All photographs are obviously mine

Contemplatin’ Freedom…

408E9F09-38B0-4454-B5EB-16462BF5C81BI was feeling contemplative about the Fourth of July- okay, I was peeling potatoes for the potato salad- a mindless task… that’s when contemplating is easy. We had just gotten back from a last minute trip to Washington D. C., a city that is filled with more  profound history and symbolism than perhaps any other in this nation. It’s a white columned marbled and statuesque city- some of the marble was quarried right here in Alabama! Of course I’ve been to DC several times in my long and storied life- yet I always come away with a sense of awe and wonder; always learning something new…or something I knew seems to come alive in my mind.  For instance, the expanse of the sky overhead is startling for a major city- there are no skyscrapers- by law. Why?

E2F13F06-B017-41B7-8FDD-73C0CC7D0E9CLook at the statue that crowns the dome on top of the US Capitol Building. Her name is Freedom.

  • No building shall rise above Freedom.
  • Nothing in our nation’s capital is allowed to cast a shadow on Freedom.

Pause and contemplate that! Profound, especially when you consider that Freedom was commissioned in bronze when our nation was divided- literally by civil war and unrest. The pediment that Freedom stands on is embossed with the Latin words E Pluribus Unum, out of many one.  The center part of the capitol building had been destroyed during the War of 1812.. it was being rebuilt; the new plans included the iconic dome…made of cast iron weighing 1000’s of pounds… President Lincoln insisted that work continue on the building despite the war that had torn us apart, so the American people would be encouraged that our nation would once again be united and whole.

F7C6A780-B268-464D-BB94-1E223DA6F00BWhen we last visited Washington D.C. renovations were being made to the interior of the dome, now completed, it is once again a masterpiece.  I couldn’t help being reminded of one of my favorite Scriptures…

‘Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses who have  gone before us, let us throw aside every encumbrance and run with patient endurance the portion of the race set before us…’ Hebrews 12:1

George Washington figures strongly in the painting- he is flanked by Liberty and Victory within the dome and each symbolic creature seems to be looking down from the heavens…other figures represent aspects of American life and industry that helped forge our freedom. For instance, Mercury is offering a bag of gold to Robert Morris- the financier of the American Revolution, the war which defeated tyranny and the power of a monarch.  Americans prize freedom; historically, we’ve been willing to fight and struggle to remain free. Now, I know most of you are thinking…

‘Wow, that’s pretty heavy stuff to be thinking when you’re peeling potatoes.’ Well, yes, I guess it is-  however, even Southern girls can contemplate things like this quicker’n whipping up a bowl of potato salad!  After all, it was the Fourth of July- it’s not all about fireworks and barbeque- though I must admit to lovin’ the tastier aspects…. George Washington loved pit barbeque- even gave a few barbeques himself! A tall athletic man, Washington was also endowed with amazing leadership skills, wealth and an impeccable reputation- wouldn’t even lie about cutting down a cherry tree as any school age child is taught. The cherry trees surrounding the Tidal Basin evoke his memory. George Washington was honored as a Revolutionary War General, the First US President and also called The Father of our Country. Washington was named a national icon in the 1800’s when the new capitol dome was being designed. The dome’s design includes a feature that bathes the entire Rotunda in light. Light is symbolic of Truth and Goodness… the two virtues that our government and her people should always strive to attain.

Anytime you’re going on vacation to an historic city- there’s so much to see and do…it’s good to have a few goals. For this trip to Washington DC, the purpose of our trip was to attend an award ceremony at the Pentagon and take the tour, which included the location in the building where an airliner struck the Pentagon on 9/11- the damaged section is now a chapel with  an honor anteroom, including a window looking toward the frightful path of the weaponized plane and overlooking a memorial garden for the 183 lives lost that fateful day. Also we wanted to see the newly renovated dome, eat a lobster roll at Luke’s near the National Portrait Gallery, eat at Bobby Flay’s Burger Palace in Georgetown and we had plans  to watch the somberly beautiful- Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. CD31FDD7-D9A1-44C7-BD8D-23B97C0FDEB3

The day we were there, four funerals were to be held. As we waited for our tram to take us back- everyone became quiet and with hands over heart- we watched as a caisson slowly passed by- with 6 saddled black horses- the horses on the left had riders…the horses on the right were riderless adding to the  beautiful yet haunting sight. No photographs were taken out of respect for the slain veteran. The architecture in the cemetery is astounding in its masterful detail.

I had finished making our Fourth of July potato salad… A thought had occurred to me- Just how long had it been since I had actually read the Declaration of Independence and why among all of our national holidays had I not made a tradition of reading it? We read the Thanksgiving stories of Pilgrims and Indians, we read the ‘Night before Christmas’ to our bright eyed children…of all the traditions we have in this great nation…why not read the Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July? Oh, I think we all know some of the beautiful phrases-

  • ‘When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary…’
  • “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’
  • ‘And…with a firm reliance on divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.’

Yet somehow the whole declaration and its history isn’t dwelt upon annually. For instance, when you read the whole document- just the reading of the indictments of the monarch, King George III- are extremely informative. The time frame of it’s writing is also interesting… the Revolutionary War was already underway  when the declaration was written and ratified. Even more pressing and dramatic to contemplate- British war ships were bearing down upon New York Harbor!

In June of 1776, the colonies had become increasingly united concerning the need to declare independence from the Crown and Parliament. The delegates appointed a Committee of Five, which included Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson- Time was of the essence…

Jefferson was assigned the task of writing the declaration…he had a little over 2 weeks to write what would become one of the most important documents in human history. After consulting others who edited the document… Jefferson wrote that they ‘mangled it’  even as he exclaimed in his later years that the edits to sentence structure and removal of a full fourth of his original produced ‘the majestic document’ we now know as the Declaration of Independence…it was accepted on July 2, 1776. With that, the colonies had officially severed ties with Great Britain. John Adams believed that eventually Independence Day would become a day of celebration for generations.

  • On July 4 with a few more changes…
  • the wording was approved, it was signed and sent to the printer.
  • Two hundred copies were printed-

Now, this is important! President of the Continental Congress, John Hancock sent a broadside copy of the Declaration to General George Washington, who ordered that the declaration be read in full publically on July 9, 1776 to encourage folks to join the cause and to inspire his troops in New York City…wait for it…

  • The Declaration of Independence was read aloud… as 1000’s of soldiers on British warships were in New York Harbor!
  • This is profound enough, yet when you consider that 225 years later… the United States was attacked near the same location.
  • Standing overlooking the New York Harbor the Twin Towers were pummeled by those who would terrorize the American People.
  • Symbolism is one of our greatest teachers… Overlooking the same New York Harbor, rising up out of the ashes, in 2014 the new and gleaming One World Trade Center stands 1776 feet tall…

EA88D03E-E929-4DDA-BBB1-1CC5A50428C0May I be so bold as to suggest that-between July 4 and July 9 of each year… we make an effort to read the Declaration of Independence?After all, it ultimately became the spectacles through which the US Constitution is interpreted.   And in the reading of it, perhaps we will hear the echoes General George Washington’s voice , full of truth and goodness- as he declares Freedom from Tyranny and hear the inspiring words of the majestic document that still inspires generations..

The Declaration of Independence-  ‘…with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other- our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.’

Every thing they had was offered for the cause of Liberty- their lands, possessions and incomes, their very lives and the one thing these brave men valued above all- their honorable reputations.

E2F13F06-B017-41B7-8FDD-73C0CC7D0E9CRemember Freedom? Standing high above our nation’s capitol building? Contemplate Freedom, often. Let nothing overshadow Freedom. Let nothing rise above Freedom.

Independence Day is a wonderful national holiday, full of many reasons to be thankful for the protection of divine Providence – I hope yours was full of good food, fireworks, inspiration and contemplatin’ Freedom.

Love y’all, Camellia

*Please make note: The purpose of Camellia’s Cottage is not political opinion or commentary. Our purpose is to promote gracious inspiration and genteel conversations.

*All photographs are obviously mine. The photograph of the small American flag was near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, I wondered if perhaps a young child had placed it there…

*Forgive me for not crediting sources…many are from tour guides and multiple resources from which notes were taken but no one source to provide a consistent resource.

The Bird’s Nest…

719B2E01-6F3A-48B2-A501-289E21B1D32EOk, I admit it, the mailbox is old and needs to be replaced… it’s one of those jobs we’ve put off doing. The mailbox isn’t in a great location to begin with and our other options aren’t that great. The postal workers are good sports about it, even though the red flag has been long gone and the mailbox tends to stand open almost all the time… to be honest it’s a busy box. We were surprised this year in early May to discover at the very back of the mailbox- there was a bird’s nest! Of all places…

Here at the cottage, we’re used to finding bird’s nests- one favorite spot seems to be right above the front door, which I frankly find charming. We don’t disturb those front door nests or any others we find. Occasionally we’ve had a front door nest fall on the doormat and tried to put it back, knowing it probably wouldn’t be used again, since we’ve touched it. Another favorite spot seems to be among the rose bushes along the picket fence out front. We know this, we don’t disturb them, we like them! To me, a bird’s nest is one of the most hopeful things in nature. This year in January, it was time to cut the roses back hard- they had become leggy and too tall, so we took a few inches off at a time, precisely to keep from disturbing any unseen bird’s nests, since we’ve noticed they’re used over again.  We found no rose bush nests this time, so the pruning was done… Now, I’m no expert on birding or bird nest building but I have to admit I have a strong admiration for their building skills- some are works of art and some are sort of messy but still charming.

18863792-0A9F-42CE-8324-3BF4D5B2222EWe left one for several years- which had been built in a galvanized pitcher left on it’s side was under a little outbuilding. Finally we decided that it had been abandoned. That nest was so well built, I haven’t been able to dislodge it. I keep it, I love to look at it. I’ve even named it’s photograph- ‘Empty Nest’.  I’ve even built a few faux nests by using craft store ‘nests’ and embellishing them- especially around Eastertime.

The mailbox nest was a puzzle- weeks went by… we kept watch on it -no activity was detected. I even mused that perhaps it was a vacation home, since the only quiet time for the mailbox would have been on Saturday afternoons, Sundays and occasional Monday holidays. A few days ago, when I removed the mail, which included a package, several catalogs and a magazine.. and a long envelope, the nest came forward with the letter! I tugged on it to see if there was any sign of tiny feathers or eggshell shards….nothing to indicate that the nest had been inhabited. I snapped a picture and left it. Then, I engaged in some covert bird watching to see if a flurry of sparrows or finches or brown thrush would flutter around it. Nothing.  I named the photograph ‘Special Delivery’4E3622E3-8FC3-4555-AFA0-BFE5003A4D06

Later in the day, I removed it and inspected the mailbox nest further- a veritable work of art, look at the perfectly round entrance, protective entrance twigs and the edging of moss! Hmm…I wondered who had been pilfering the bright green moss I had used on the urns by the front door! Some little feathered friends! I marveled at the tiny birds who were making a lovely nest…far back in the darkened and dilapidated mailbox…. I have to admit, there was an element of sadness to think such a pretty nest had never become a place of rest for a momma bird to lay her eggs, raise her young, feed them worms from our garden and finally teach these little ones to fly- and yet, what lesson in nesting… of using our gifts, putting forth the effort to build a home and adding beauty no matter where we are!

Love y’all, Camellia

* photographs are obviously mine. *Please don’t remove a bird’s nest if you find one…don’t disturb or touch it either, unless you find something unusual like this or an obviously abandoned nest! Thank you! 66C4041F-FC76-482E-BB36-94694EC2A3A0*I’ve put this one on display for now and I consider the nest to be a rare find, a natural wonder and a treasure!

Limeade with Roses and Mint…

89A1EE9D-7E5B-42D7-811B-7740D727B42EWhat a day this is! The Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs and Cinco de Maya…a perfect blend of Roses, Mint and Lime if you ask me. I know, I know there have been recipes for Margarita Juleps and Mint Margaritas…but really this seems to be a time to blend something special. I’m not just celebrating an important Southern celebration- none other than the Kentucky Derby, where you can certainly find some amazing and classic Mint Juleps! I’ve even picked my favorite to win the race! Yet, Cinco de Maya is a fun holiday too- I made it a treat with chili dogs and limeade for lunch today! Though some guacamole would have hit the spot, too. Actually- I’m in the mood to celebrate because the roses here at the cottage are just showing out! Can you believe it?

 

 

A03D9E70-2991-417A-8C53-AC99888026D7

 

So, after I had admired the garden which smells heavenly- I picked some rose petals and fresh mint. Mint, to be honest, is a bit invasive… though run a mower over some of it and the fragrance is…. well like a bit of fresh mint! Mimi often made Mint Iced Tea, so I’m reminded of her when the mint returns each spring- C20EBCCB-9846-4884-ABD5-0235DE0DF9E5

I like to make up a batch of mint flavored sugar syrup for the spring and summer iced tea! Later, while I was stirring up the limeade, I decided to make up something special… to celebrate all of it! Here’s what I did:

99D32BD2-25D3-4D1A-9660-D363A9F8486BCamellia’s Limeade with Mint and Rose

  • Mix your favorite Limeade concentrate according to directions, reducing the water by 1/4- *I prefer reduced water limeade concentrate to making fresh limeade for this particular drink.
  • Chill the pitcher of limeade thoroughly.
  • In another pitcher, muddle together a handful of fresh mint leaves, 4-5 limes quartered, 1/2 cup of powdered sugar and one teaspoon of rose water until thoroughly mashed and mint leaf and lime peel oils have thoroughly combined with juices, sugar and rose water. *Alcoholic version: add a jigger or two of your favorite Bourbon or White Rum to the muddled mix.
  • Invite your guests to ‘season’ their own glasses if this isn’t strong enough. Also it is wonderful to mix up sugar and salt and lime zest to rim the glasses! *I prefer the non- alcoholic version- but hey! some folks prefer a more celebratory drink!
  • Add Limeade to Muddled Mixture, chill very well. Top off each glass with a bit of club soda for fizz!
  • Pour into glasses with finely crushed ice. Load with more crushed ice if preferred.
  • Garnish with mint leaves, a lime wedge and of course a rose petal makes it extra special!

While Camellia’s Limeade with Mint and Roses was created for the combo of the Kentucky Derby and Cinco de Maya, it’s also a perfect drink for a Garden Party or a Bride’s Sip and See!  While you’re at it- why not mince a few clean and chemical free rose petals and a 1/2 teaspoon of rosewater to your favorite shortbread! Limeade with Mint and Roses is a wonderful refreshing drink for any occasion!

We visited Churchill Downs several years ago- the racetrack and grounds are amazing;  the whole Louisville area is beautiful, with bluegrass fields, horse farms and distilleries. We were there the week after Derby and the Roses there were beautiful! While at the racetrack, tour guides showed us a special area where very special racehorses are buried. Horses have been buried since ancient times for various reasons- however, at Churchill Downs, the horses, in the traditional manner of burial- just the Head, the Heart and the Hooves are buried symbolically…

‘The head for determination- the will to win, the heart for the spirit and courage of the horse and the hooves for the speed to run the race; oh, that humans would run the race with the qualities of champion horses… Religion often dictates the proper way to bury the dead. Devotion dictates how we honor that which has died….Wherefore, seeing we also are encompassed about by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily besets us; and let us run with patience the race that is set before us. Looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2 ‘ from chapter 25, Cave Dwellers and Racetracks- from  Four Days- the Lazarus Principle by Brenda Wyatt.

I think whenever we celebrate life in all of it’s many forms, we have decided to live, really live. Do what lights you up, what makes your heart sing, what makes you run the race set before you with patience and joy!-  like Racehorses or these exuberant Roses. Find ways to celebrate life- and if you need refreshment?  Limeade with Roses and Mint  just might hit the spot!

Love y’all, Camellia

P.S. Now, ladies- I’ve lived in places where Blue Laws were in effect, and in dry counties if you get my drift… so, obey the law! If you decide to imbibe-You’ll have to drive well over two counties away to make sure no one sees you buying that liquor- so be sure to persuade a gentleman to procure it for you, just not on Sunday! And for heaven’s sake when you drink- no swigging from a bottle or can- drink from a julep cup or a fine glass; hold it above your waist, otherwise it’s trashy.

*Rosewater is available at most grocers or online- use it sparingly; a little dab on each wrist and behind each ear is nice too!

*All photographs are obviously mine. *Four Days- the Lazarus Principle was written by me- I gave myself permission to quote from it! Available on Amazon.com and other fine booksellers. *

My Derby Horse is number 13, I not a very good gambler but I liked the looks of him and had sort of a Cinco de Maya sounding name- Bravazo! I plan to lift a glass to the winner whoever it is! 99D32BD2-25D3-4D1A-9660-D363A9F8486B

Blackberry Winter…

 

8979C783-6F46-423E-A431-72F8D77B43F5So, how can you tell if it’s Blackberry Winter? It’s hard to pin it down and for sure, it won’t be on your calendar as National Holiday or even in the Farmer’s Almanac… to be precise and we do like to be precise- Blackberry Winter is a cool spell, when Spring temperatures dip almost to frost levels in Spring…even late Spring… Sometimes not… okay- so it’s not precise- here’s the real way to determine Blackberry Winter- it occurs when the blackberries are in bud and bloom.

There will be chilly nights, maybe even a few days and nights of nippy weather! The South has fickle weather almost all year round- so some may say,

‘No, it’s too early for Blackberry Winter’ Or- ‘You know, we always have more than one Blackberry Winter, if the frosts kills the first blackberry blooms’…

Still. Blackberry Winter comes at a time- when there’s not a ripe blackberry to be found anywhere – except…in the produce aisle, surely forced in a greenhouse or in the frozen fruit section. Whatever or however I find these berries- for some reason- a Blackberry Winter throws a longing on me for Blackberry Jam and hot buttered Biscuits, like my Uncle Roland used to make OR… I’m longing for a Blackberry Cobbler. So, when we had a Spring cool snap a few days ago, I had to make one! AACD7A83-11B7-4561-BC09-F5B59964B08C

Before I tell you how I made it, let me say- when you make a Cobbler, I’m sure you like it best your way and it’s fine with me! However, until I was an adult, I never knew cobblers could even have biscuit topping. The term cobbler is obscure, some thought the topping resembled cobbled streets- some believed the topping referred to the work of a shoe repairman known as a cobbler. With that in mind- the Southern Cobblers I know and love were always pie crust topped- with sugared fruit, the fruit juices, butter held together with thin dumplings made of pie crust dough. That dough was ‘nailed into’ the fruit to thicken and bind the fruit and juices under a single pie crust on top. B13BF731-77C2-4162-A3FB-9C21CC77BE43

Of course, the top crust is best  buttered and sugared for good color and taste! Here’s how you make:

Camellia’s Blackberry Cobbler

  • You will need-
  • Pie Crust Dough for a single crust 9 inch pie (scraps are used in filling) Make your favorite dough or purchase a ready made crust- flat rolled.
  • 4 cups of fresh or frozen plump Blackberries (I often use a mix of both)
  • 1-1/2 cups of Granulated Sugar plus more for sprinkling over the top of crust
  • 2 Tbs. Corn Starch
  • Zest of  1/2 medium Lemon (save the lemon for another purpose if so desired)
  • 1 stick of Salted Butter* at room temperature- *you may not need the whole stick! It is used to generously butter the pan, to dot the berries before they cook and for smearing on the top crust! ** Southern recipes generally call for salted butter, you may use unsalted just add a pinch of salt to the sugar/ corn starch mixture!

4EB14C60-0DBC-4999-816C-020ED249CAF3Several hours or the night before– place 4 cups of Blackberries in a bowl. Combine 2 Tbs of Corn Starch and 1- 1 1/2 cups of Granulated Sugar- gently combine with 4 cups of Blackberries. Allow to chill until the sugar has dissolved completely and berries are soaked until natural juices have formed  (blackberries are tart – so give them time to  fully soak).

  • Ready to bake? Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Butter generously a 9×9 square glass baking dish.
  • Line a clean baking sheet with parchment.
  • Sprinkle lemon zest over the berries and combine.
  • Pour blackberries and juice into baking dish.
  • Cut the unbaked chilled pie crust into approximately an 8 inch square saving scraps! Set aside large pastry square, keep chilled.
  •  Cut pastry scraps like short ‘dumpling’ lengths and even distribute into the berry mixture. 177718D9-CEBF-41B4-943C-2088C8E3CF6B
  • Dot berries and pastry dumplings with butter.
  • Sprinkle with more granulated sugar.
  • Carefully place large square pastry onto berries, cutting slits in pastry for steam to escape while baking.
  • Dot pastry top with more softened butter and sprinkle top crust generously with more sugar!827ECDFE-F433-4F24-97B9-B4FDA07C0358
  • Bake for approximately one hour or until filling thickens and the crust is a beautiful golden brown! *Parchment lined baking sheet may increase cooking time by up to 15 minutes. Start checking after 55 minutes up to 1 hour or longer.
  • The cobbler’s berries will be hot right after baking! Allow to cool. Makes 4 generous servings. Top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and get ready to swoon! 8C17FBEC-39E4-4E22-839E-D0EBECBCEABA

This recipe can be doubled using a larger pan. Any larger? The cobbler just won’t turn out with the same crust and thickened fruit! Okay, is anyone ready to have more than one Blackberry Winter? I know I’m ready for Spring and more cobblers– blackberry, sweet potato, strawberry, chocolate, apple, blueberry…Oh my! Yum!

Love y’all, Camellia

*Photographs are obviously mine!

**We don’t have blooms quite yet, but certainly buds! So who knows? We may have another cool snap or two!

 

The Problem of the Eggshell…

0A6F795E-CDE0-459B-9C00-026306A1C4AFIf Winter is the season of sleep, dreams and faith- then Spring is surely the season of miracles… miracles unfolding before our very eyes as the sap defies gravity and rises up to bare tree limbs- proof every year of the Resurrection! Even, as intricate nests hold delicate eggs, Spring brings the miracle of new life heralding the proof of Easter’s Promise.

‘As many as received Jesus,  to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His Name.’ John 1:11-12

Let that sink in…our position with God is a gift– we are re-born with the position as a child of God- with the power ‘to become’ – to reach our full potential. Becoming is a process and often living in this old world is a struggle…right? Recently, our friend Sally Smith sent some adorable photographs of baby ducks and birds…

1A725CC6-F9B2-4CBA-8086-716A70D69813I started thinking of Spring as the time of new birth but also of these tiny creatures’ struggle to emerge…the Problem of the Eggshell- and I was reminded of this story…

‘As a child, I loved to go to the county fair- I particularly liked the incubators in which eggs were becoming baby chickens- it was messy. The shell would be slightly cracked or maybe you could see part of a baby chick. The shell was restricting the little bird’s progress, the egg would roll around… a little kick and the crack would become larger. I could see damp feathers and perhaps little feet. I admit it was a struggle to hold back- I knew I could help the baby chick. Why, I could break the shell open myself …! The baby chick wouldn’t have to work so hard. The chick wouldn’t have to struggle breaking the shell it had outgrown… the instructors at the show explained- ‘If you break open the shell, instead of letting the baby chick do it alone, the little legs will not be strong- the baby chick’s whole body is being strengthened by the struggle to get out of that shell’. The Problem of the Eggshell’ is a lesson in the ‘Power to become’ – the struggle strengthens us! Without it, we will not be strong. (Jesus) invites us to struggle. He gives us ‘Power to become’…

B75CBFBA-CF0E-41EB-973E-80C0B99E4209One of the most profound lessons of Springtime comes through tiny creatures who have struggled and solved the Problem of the Eggshell…and dared to become!  Jesus said- ‘If thou canst believe, all things are possible…’ Mark 9:23

Have a Blessed Lord’s Day!

Love y’all, Camellia

*A big thank you to Sally Smith from Camp Creek Creations for giving us permission to use her wonderful photographs! Visit their website at www.CampCreekCreations.com

99754824-A0E6-4A0C-8346-4FCAC3F6CAEE** Peep! (photograph obviously mine, not Sally’s!) The story of the county fair is from- ‘Four Days- the Lazarus Principle’ – pages 25-27 and is available on Amazon.com

Spring’s Garden Party…

E8DE2819-5EEA-45D5-9B6B-2489DB6755BFI’m never really sure who’s going to show up at the Spring Garden Parties…it’s such a fickle dance. Who’ll show up early or be fashionably late? Will they be effusive, bring extra guests. Stand around half heartedly, even look bored. Perhaps they’ll chat like magpies or huddle together shivering and complaining. Spring is more like a house party that begins in fits and starts- gets rained out, stalls or lasts for weeks on end.

C5CCE609-5179-4CC4-B108-C8035B8D1B48As an amateur gardener, albeit for a long time… I’ve tried to arrange things so that most years- everyone doesn’t show up all at once. Here in Alabama-

  • We always count on the Camellia Cotillion to kick things off early- since they always bloom when nothing else is happening- they definitely steal the show.
  •  Back in those fickle February days, Flowering Quince showed up dressed to kill but the Yellow Bells never rang out even once.
  • The Daffodil Trumpets sounded early and are almost all played out; they’re exhausted, really. And, Tulips stayed out of sight this year, the Hyacinths barely bloomed. But those the Wood Hyacinths are such nymphs- they came and went before we knew it- though we’re always thankful for the sweet scent they bring.
  • It was a safe bet that the Green Iris Swords would come join the Shamrocks in March, we were lucky this year to welcome quite a few.
  • The Judas Trees made a poor show of themselves and are currently weeping bitter and bloody tears on the driveway.
  • The Roses had to cut back this year, who knows if New Dawn will even stop by.621D6073-2C39-4E6A-AD0A-0D27D177C887
  • Oh well, the Violet Tonic Teas have been quietly huddled in small groups for weeks now, gathering strength and vigor, whispering among themselves.
  • Last week, while we were waiting for Easter’s Dogwoods to unfurl, the Azaleas up and decided to make fools of themselves!
  • Thankfully, the Bearded Iris showed up to chaperone, looking stiff and proper, though I must say, they’re keeping to themselves at a safe distance! I thought surely I could count on an array of Irises to keep things in check with their pale but piercing leafy stares.DEBC40FD-D231-4196-9608-638B8D4317A8

Even though the Spring Dance started early this year, wouldn’t you know- it’s been taken over by the Azalea Ball! To be honest, the younger Azaleas are being shy about showing off- maybe it’s the influence of Iris and the Chaperones? In years past, the older Azaleas showed up dressed in somber green with tiny pink polka dots- sitting and sulking on the sidelines with a few shrinking Violets at their feet. Not this year- ‘Oh, no sirree, bobtail cat!’ They’re showing their bloomers! 556F0D96-0D9B-4CB3-A96D-FDA9F320DFAF

I’ve decided Azaleas are subject to mood changes- sometimes standoffish and almost rude. This year, they’re snickering and giggling like magpies- dressed in ruffled shocking pink! I’m half expecting to see dyed to match shoes peeping out beneath their outrageous gowns! Honestly, the Mockingbirds are out in full force! I think even they’re shocked at the Azaleas!  Unpredictable.

Spring is always unpredictable, yet she’s always missed, greatly desired, wanted desperately, dearly loved and really welcomed. It must be said, usually Southern Springs are flawed-  by weather, circumstances beyond our control- like when frowning Jack Frost appears- throwing hailstones as big as golf balls! We try to schedule Spring’s Garden Events- only to scrap the actual Outdoor Parties. in favor of acting as bemused bystanders. Spring is anything but boring. Like well planned parties- either the Guests of Honor don’t show up or an uninvited guest arrives- we might lower our eyes at the overdressed Flamboyants or give the side eye to the underdressed, even the bedraggled or depressed which puts a damper on any party. Frankly, I prefer the Flamboyants, like this year’s Azaleas- with oversized personalities which offer Spring’s Garden Parties endless amusement.E3E700DF-C13C-4D9A-AA5D-EDB40251FDF4

The Azalea Trails in Alabama are legendary! We celebrate the Beauty and Bounty of Spring with irrepressible Joy! Okay. We’d like a little more notice than the nightly weather report. Honestly- The Farmer’s Almanac, the Barometer and the definite twinges of  Arthritic Chips on our Shoulders are more reliable than the Weatherman.  Still. Mother Nature and her Fickle Shenanigans!

But really, who am I to be judging the Natural World? When I’m up on my High Horse sitting on a Climate Controlled Saddle? I’ve been late. I’ve been unpredictable. I’ve even been flamboyant a time or two. Okay- rarely…I’m just saying, maybe I’ve bloomed at the wrong time myself. After all, I’m Camellia. I love me a good Southern Spring-

  • Violets, Dogwoods,
  • Wood Hyacinths, Bearded Iris,
  • Daffodils, even prickly Quince and oh yes!
  • Azaleas-

Especially the Flamboyant Old Girls out there having the time of their lives! Really, y’all- those Azaleas are crazy! Swaying and Sashaying! Thanks for stopping by our Spring Garden Party!

Love y’all, Camellia

*All photographs are obviously mine. **Judas Trees are the common Redbud- many call these trees with tiny buds and heart shaped leaves- Judas Trees, even that Southern author- William Faulkner.  I’ll let you research that!