Camellias,Chocolate and Love…

If there’s one thing about February that always delights me- it’s that camellias are in bloom, chocolate is on the menu or in a heart shaped box and love seems to be in the crisp cool air. This year, the red camellias are showing out, a bumper crop of ruffled blooms, and this tickles me because they’ve taken their own sweet time about getting to a point of consistent blooms- the shrub was chosen for it’s double ruffled petite blossoms- in honor of my mother in law- who I loved with all of my heart- who was petite, beautiful and …well, it just seemed fitting to plant a camellia to honor her life with our state flower, the Camellia.

Valentine’s seems to be an oddly conflicting  holiday. Oh yes, it’s supposed to be all about flowers and chocolate and romance, yet it’s often a disappointing holiday, even with all of the gift ideas, hearts and beautiful sentimental cards- disappointment often stands in the shadows. Still. Love itself comes in many forms- romantic love, yet also love of family, love of friends and yes, love of place. Other than my own home- there is possibly no place on this earth that I love more than a beautiful historic hotel in Point Clear, Alabama which combines all kinds of love… camellias bloom profusely and a certain form of chocolate stole my heart many years ago.

The Grand Hotel is her name. Close by is Mobile Bay and  a quaint town called Fairhope; just down the road is a beautiful small town named Magnolia Springs…now if fair hope, beautiful sunsets, camellias, magnolias and a grand old lady doesn’t give you a clear point of view… I don’t know what possibly could. The pace is slower, Afternoon Tea is served every afternoon, the grounds are filled with huge live oaks that have long gray beards of Spanish moss- under their spreading branches- camellias, azaleas and all manner of distinctly southern plants bloom in profusion around a mossy lagoon. I have visited there during every season of the year, yet February is the time of year I’ve probably enjoyed most- in the lower coastal south- it might get chilly but never so cold as to discourage the camellias or the guests. I’ve been there in formal dress several times in February- it seemed to me, the most glamorous place anyone could be!

Yet, my best memories of the Grand, are of the ones when my children were young and truly learned the exquisite art of dining and dressing for the occasion at a champagne brunch with live music playing softly- tunes like ‘Stars fell on Alabama’ or the more lively- ‘The Alabama Jubilee’. And if there is ever a place on earth for ‘jubilee’ it’s on the shores of Mobile Bay where that amazing phenomenon happens when it’s least expected!

The first time I ever tasted- Flourless Chocolate Cake was at the Grand Hotel, and I recall thinking- ‘What an elegant dessert! Surely, someone could have come up with a more decadent name!’ Somehow, over the years- I was given their recipe for this decadent chocolate dessert. For years, I’ve thought I couldn’t recreate it- and the truth is? Without the backdrop of the Grand Hotel it would no doubt ever taste the same. So! I took the recipe and tweaked it to make the recipe my own – and while our camellia’s are blooming their fool heads off? I decide to try my hand at making it and decorating it with those festive red blooms! So, it was only  appropriate to name it- Camellia’s Flourless Dark Chocolate Cake. It’s way easier to make it than I’d ever have thought- and decorated with red camellias grown right here at the cottage- it was downright gorgeous and…well, it took me back… Here’s how you make it-

Camellia’s Flourless Dark Chocolate Cake...

A dense rich dark chocolate cake, made with baking chocolate and cocoa, a mere 1 cup of sugar, no flour at all, and- to deepen the flavor- espresso powder is added. A small slice garnished with whipped cream is an elegant dessert. 

Ingredients

  • 2 Sticks Butter Cut in pieces- plus more for pan
  • 1/4 Cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder More for dusting pan
  • 2 Teaspoons Instant espresso or coffee granules
  • 1/4 Cup Heavy Cream
  • 8 Ounces Unsweetened Baking Chocolate Chopped
  • 5 Large Eggs
  • 1 Cup Granular Sugar
  • 1/4 Cup Powdered Sugar As needed for dusting
  • Whipped Cream
  • Fresh Mint Leaf, Berries or flowers For garnish

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare 9 inch springform pan (or a 9 inch cake pan lined completely with parchment paper) Butter pan and dust with cocoa powder. Set aside. In a heavy medium saucepan, melt butter on medium low heat, add baking chocolate pieces and carefully stir until melted. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together large eggs, add granulated sugar, espresso powder and cocoa powder until fully combined. Carefully incorporate melted chocolate and butter until th batter is blended well. Pour batter into prepared pan lightly smooth batter. Bake at 350 degrees on center rack until puffed and set, approximately 35 minutes. Allow cake to cool for a full hour in the pan. If needed run a knife around sides of pan (if a baking pan is used, lift out of pan and fold down parchment ) unmold cake on serving platter. (Cake may be wrapped well after cooling and stored for up to 2 days before serving.) When ready to serve, dust with powdered sugar, add whipped cream and  garnish as desired. This is a very rich dense cake, small slices are preferable. 12-16 slices. 

And while we’re talking Camellias, Chocolate and Love… here’s a few ideas to make Valentine’s special:

  • Give or plant a camellia shrub, a special rose even a gardenia to honor a loved one or to beautify your landscape.
  • Bake a special dessert, cookies or a cake to give to friends and loved ones.
  • And, since the Grand Hotel has a spa that has been named one of the best in the country- why not make Spa Water for yourself and loved ones- decorated with rose petals?
  • Or give a spa certificate to a loved one, a friend or even treat yourself to a manicure or pedicure? Maybe find some seasonal flowers (like Camellias) and give a bouquet?

I know. I know. We tend to think of Valentine’s Day as just for couples in love…. I’ve come to believe- love, the sweetest kind is love that’s spread around a bit… so my best idea this year- Determine in the next few days to find folks who could use a hug or a bit of extra love and care- make a card, send a goofy text, write a note, give a call or just visit for a while? Sometimes the best thing of all is to say-

. Love y’all, Camellia

*All photographs are obviously mine. *The photograph of that gorgeous sunset was taken by me at the Marriott Grand Hotel several years ago- I’ve been reassured the sunsets are still glorious! *Choose flowers to decorate food or water that are organically grown or that you know the source. *The dark chocolate flourless cake can be made ahead two days before it’s served- so you’ll have plenty of time to make it this week!

Health and Beauty tip: Tea Tree Oil is an amazing oil for skin treatments and comes from the same family as the Camellia. And did you know? Dark Chocolate has been known to soothe a cough more readily than hot tea or chicken soup? Of course, that a bite of dark chocolate that slowly melts in your mouth! And, if the weather permits at all- the best health advice I can give you this week- is to try to spend 15-20 minutes outside everyday- it lifts the spirits and fresh air is a total body treatment!

Freshen up for Fall, y’all…

60B3C876-BBFB-4CA2-8F15-9308077EBA05In the South, when we start saying- ‘It’s nice outside!’ The Fall days have cooled down, all of that Daylight has been saved…it signals a time when I want to Freshen up for Fall indoors and out… The Cottage is small but has a good many windows which tends to expand the space visually, bringing the Outdoor Views inside. It’s a fact, that if the foliage outside is still lush and green, the sofa pillows have hints of green too; when the foliage is thinner and more colorful– I want to make changes indoors, bring out cozy throws and warm up the color palette. When abundant Fall Vegetables, Fruits and Holiday Foods start showing up too- It’s time to Freshen up for Fall, y’all!6A21141C-7353-4783-B49E-7684D565E3B7

I spent some time last week clearing out and taking inventory of the pantry and freezer to shop here for meals, already in the freezer and take advantage of grocer’s sales on-

  • Turkeys, Corn Meal  and Grits-
  • Sugars- brown and white
  • Apples, Pears, Peppers and Pecans too.
  • (The signature sign of a good Southern hostess, is a bowl of Toasted Pecans!)

While I was clearing out inside– the sunny cool days beckoned me outdoors more than once! A year ago, we visited the historic Grand Hotel near Fairhope, Alabama.. the abundant colorful arrangements in the foyer were stunning. I wanted recreate them here -if space allowed!67EC36D1-1C1B-4DC2-942B-24461F95947C

It doesn’t. Still. Outside here at the cottage- the sky’s the limit! So, here’s what we did-

  • Inside, we cleared off counters, cleaned out pantry and fridge, used what we had on hand and freshened up while still taking advantage of the abundance of Fall. We cozied up the sofas and chairs with a few throws and a big bowl filled with Fall Fruits and Vegetables.75DE720A-8EF3-4F07-A761-CCDA5F945125
  • We looked outside and made note of the views. It’s still nice outside, so why put up the outdoor cushions when we still have a few weeks to enjoy it? We can keep the cushions and a paisley throw nearby inside for reading or relaxing. We pulled terra cotta pots and urns in closer-still lush with summer Ferns and a big pot of dark Coleus clustered beside the chaise. At the same time? We improved the view from indoors- the cozy cluster outside is hiding bare rose branches and hydrangeas no longer at their peak.701DC1D7-5A1C-4F12-B6FA-8AF9E668EE65
  •  Over the sink, the kitchen window overlooks an ironwork table and chairs…now bare from summer’s plants or arrangements- we put a big pot of fat Mums and some faux white baby pumpkins in a galvanized tub to brighten the view from inside while taking advantage of a dogwood beginning to change from summer’s green to Fall’s Brilliant Red. 00323B39-22B4-49A5-810F-3F9830B7659C
  • *Note: Most faux pumpkins are a better fit for continuous outdoor use. Bring them in if you’re expecting a downpour! Don’t be afraid to mix faux and real in arrangements or fruit bowl.  Abundance is key. Real baby pumpkins and gourds will stay fresh a while longer if refrigerated- hopefully ’til Thanksgiving!
  • In another area- we set up a Big Disguise. Where a tree had to be removed is a big bare hole not yet ready for re-planting… 2901D58C-9A8A-4702-92EF-3234D01CFFA6
  • In front of the railing, we set up a temporary Fall scene using a small Fire Pit and a Flea Market Ironwork Container with a faux candle. Take a look! 0E5D3182-3D2C-4B06-B62D-197656DE011DNow, while it’s not as grand as the famous Grand Hotel… it’s a big scale arrangement that was fun to assemble with some fresh Magnolia Leaves, swept up fallen leaves, Nandina Berries, vines and bundles of twigs. D4EC8D16-8657-4329-9C2D-8BF040BC8EE1
  • This arrangement, using what we had on hand- is whimsical, improves the outside and freshens up the view from inside Camellia’s Cottage for now, as we prepare to enjoy Fall!

I’d love to know- How do you Freshen up your cottage or castle for Fall?

Love y’all, Camellia

*All photographs are obviously mine.

*The photographs of large scale floral arrangements were taken at the Grand Hotel and Spa in Point Clear, Alabama- beautiful all year round… Well over 100 years old, The Grand is a Stately Southern Lady lounging on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay, Alabama. Everyone should try to visit at least once in a lifetime! It is now part of the resort collection of Marriott® Hotels.

Words are powerful…

image

Words are powerful. Fifteen years ago, a grand lady who sits among ancient bearded live oaks taught me a lesson about words. I brought that lesson home to Camellia’s Cottage. Over and over, words have proven to be a powerfully quiet presence here and there. Often I am reluctant to share these things in a print, for some reason I feel compelled to share the lesson of words with you now. Built at Point Clear, Alabama in the 1840’s, the Grand Hotel has been a beloved place almost all of my life- it sprawls across an area of astonishing beauty, among trees that must be over a hundred years old- live oaks with gray Spanish moss; to go there is to experience the finest Mobile’s Eastern Shore has to offer to visitors. The Grand Hotel has known her share of hardships; she has been battered by war, hurricanes and upheavals. Yet she was always beautiful. As she gracefully aged along those shores inevitably the historic hotel needed repairs and upgrades, not unlike Camellia’s Cottage. Added in 2002, the Spa at the Grand Hotel has consistently been one of the highest ranked Spas by Conde Nast and other travel guides. I am not surprised by these rankings – I was there the very first year-when the paint was barely dry, when those who had helped build and staff the Spa were still around to tell about it. I recall exclaiming to the Spa Manager- ‘This is the most peaceful place I have ever been.’ Now, that’s sayin’ something- Point Clear is one of the most peaceful places on earth; yet every time I have been at the Grand Hotel- with it’s wonderful food, bonafide botanical gardens, sitting regally on Mobile Bay…why is it that windowless inner Spa seems so incredibly filled with embracing warmth, pervading peace, quiet hospitality and a spiritual ethereal atmosphere? The Manager told me that before the floors were laid, before the walls were installed and while the rafters of the Spa were still exposed, she asked her team to write their best words, quotes and phrases on the raw wood. img_2278

She strongly believed words are so powerful that even if those written words are covered with tile, carpet, sheetrock, paint and plaster- the unseen words would radiate through the interior of the windowless Spa. I believed her. I kept those words in my heart for five years before I acted on them. Ancient Scripture attests to the power of Words, we know the written word is especially powerful, think of a Handwritten Note as opposed to a quickly muttered ‘Thank you’– which is more powerful? I wanted hidden handwritten words to be part of my home. Let me be clear, this cottage is not historical, it is not sprawling across acres of bay front property, but it was aging and needed to be renovated. Oddly enough, in the same year the Grand Hotel Spa manager had shared her wisdom of powerful words, I had already started an assessment at home by going into each room, writing down what I liked about each room and how each room made me feel. Here is what I wrote about the Front Entry:

  • The front door faces harsh western heat and light
  • The foyer is cramped, dreary and dark
  • It isn’t a welcoming entrance-
  • No matter what I’ve done to improve it, all of these years the front entrance is the space I most dislike.

I made furious notes about the problem of the Front Entrance and decided the Renovations would begin in there. Five years later, according to my notes,

  • we would remove the foyer wall to install a wide opening into the living room,
  • we would grab a mere 18 inches from an old laundry/storage room behind the foyer wall-
  • we would add additional lighting

On and on…until truly the Entry was stripped down to gaping holes, studs, subflooring and rafters. Recently, I found the journal account of those notes- I had written a prayer before renovation began-

‘Oh Lord, You have said, ‘Do all that is in your heart to do’ and ‘Do not neglect the gift that is in you’. Let me get this renovation right! Call forth the gifts!  As I recall in Your Word, when the Tabernacle was being built, artisans, craftsmen and carpenters were called in. The workmen have been called in here- bring forth the plan, bring forth their gifts!. Let me get this right! Guide my thoughts, ‘gift’ me. Help me write the vision for this space, for You have said- ‘Write the vision and make it plain…’ Bring forth the gifts of light, wisdom and hospitality for this place. Amen.

The next page in the journal has the detailed vision and drawings. The work began. Walking through the rubble- bare rafters and all, I recalled the wisdom of the Grand Hotel Spa. Over a 3 day weekend while the workmen were gone- I wrote words, phrases, quotes, scriptures on every bare surface- on the ceiling rafters, the wall studs, even a section of subflooring beneath the front door! img_2279

My notes say- ‘Write words where they will not be seen- words of peace, love, joy, hospitality, friendship, safety, shelter, compassion, mercy, welcome, come back soon.’  Some of my favorite passages of Scripture were included-

  • ‘The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord lift His Face to shine upon you and grant you peace.’
  • ‘I am come that they might have life and have it in abundance.’
  • ‘I, the Lord God, have loved you with an everlasting love.’
  • ‘Welcome strangers into your midst, for some in so doing have entertained angels unaware.’
  • ‘Beloved if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.’

Now, I’m sure the workmen thought they were working for an eccentric at the very least. The words are now covered up, unseen. I kept a sample of words I wrote on a board that was removed from the old foyer, but if you come to Camellia’s Cottage, I can’t show you anything more than a bare ceiling, walls and floors. The results of the powerful words are known.img_2280

The Entry feels larger and more open than it actually is, there is an abundance of natural light. My assessment now would be that the Entry is one of my favorite spaces in the whole Cottage.  The total renovation of the cottage lasted close to five years. When the Entry was finished enough to welcome folks, regularly I would hear, ‘This house is so peaceful.’ The choice of words are almost the same ones I used so long ago at the Grand Hotel Spa. Personally when I come in the front door or just walk through the Entry- unseen words continue to set the tone and inspire me. The cottage is not grand, it is home. Words are powerful, even unseen, unspoken. Words do make a difference.

Love y’all, Camellia

For more information about the Grand Hotel – go to https://www.marriott.com/spas/ptlal-grand-hotel or in your search engine put Marriott Grand Hotel in Point Clear Alabama- Marriott manages this historic hotel property which is owned by Retirement Systems of Alabama and is part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail the Spa at the Grand Hotel was ranking #1 for 2009,2010, 2011 in the Marriott Guest Satisfaction and in the top 100 spas by Conde Nast

Opening photograph of the grounds of the Grand Hotel are mine- as are the others

Birthdays…

 

imageBirthdays are the best time to send a handwritten note. I know, I know…it’s fun to find a funny card, or let someone else express the sentiment- but somehow I think seeing ‘Happy Birthday’ handwritten makes it more special. Here’s a few things I like to say…

  • ‘You are a miracle !’
  • ‘My life is richer because of you !’
  • ‘ Life is sweeter with you in it!’
  • ‘Let’s eat birthday cake!’
  • ‘Today we celebrate you!’

Adding a gift card or some cash in a little purse or wallet is always a good idea-imageAnd since we have a birthday girl at Camellia’s Cottage in May- I did some window shopping at JCrew –

J Crew ‘bling’ jewelry with classic clothing is what the girls around here like! And they had eye-popping displays! The clothes were striped or solid and cotton sweaters, tee shirts, checked shirts and jeans, lots of denim in fact. Go birthday shopping!

Birthdays are also a great time to take a fun trip- May is a great time to head to the beach!

*Allie Mac recommends –

  • Gulf Shores, Perdido and Orange Beaches on the Gulf of Mexico
  • Go over to Pensacola to see the Blue Angels fly.
  • Take a tour of Historic Mobile.
  • Relax at the Marriott Grand Hotel and Spa at Point Clear. The guys can play a round of golf on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Course there-or fish off the pier while the girls go to the spa!
  • Stroll around Fairhope or Magnolia Springs on Mobile Bay- that’s always a good idea.
  • The food on the Bay or Gulf Coast is the best seafood you will find anywhere, any time… image

Allie Mac got so excited about that, she mapped it all out! You have to wonder about anybody who wouldn’t want to go to South Alabama! *We’ll drag out this map again later on…

And here is one of my personal favorite things to do on my birthday or any day! image Go get a cup of cappuccino! What a way to say ‘I love you!’ with that sweet little heart the barista makes! (That’s Italian for that guy whippin’ up that fancy coffee!) Whatever way you choose to say ‘Happy Birthday!’ – big or small, I hope you will do it- a birthday is different than other holidays- it is specific to the person.  Remember their day and say- I’m glad you were born!

So- to the adorable birthday girl at Camellia’s Cottage –

  • ‘Happy Birthday! We love you!’
  • ‘Our life is richer with you in it!’
  • ‘Let’s celebrate you!’ ‘You are a miracle!’
  • We hope your birthday is filled with all the good things life has to offer – including cupcakes and shopping, getting some sand between your toes and freckles on your nose!

And to all of those who have a birthday today, in May or any day- You are a ‘milagro’ in any language! We hope all your birthday dreams come true!

Love y’all, Camellia


J Crew   www.jcrew.com

Marriott Grand Hotel and Spa www.marriottgrand.com

Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail https://www.rtjgolf.com

Alabama Department of Tourism www.alabama.tourism.gov

Blue Angels U.S. Navy – for schedule go to  www.visitpensacola.com