Friday, March 28, 2014

The Swamp Rabbit - from the Falls to Cleveland Park

When bragging about Greenville I always mention the Swamp Rabbit Trail. It’s not the historic migration route for small mammals, nor is it a hiking path leading through marshy lowlands; the Swamp Rabbit Trail is a multi-use greenway system connecting Greenville County with schools, parks, and local businesses. Running along Reedy River for a large portion of its 17.5 miles, the trail utilizes an old rail bed between Greenville and Travelers Rest. The old railway line was nicknamed for the large cottontail rabbit found here in the South, and when trail replaced rail the name stuck. We often utilize two sections of the trail, one down by Swamp Rabbit Cafe and Grocery and the section downtown, connecting Falls Park with Greenville Zoo. With visitors in town this week (one in particular who was asking to visit a playground) we headed east from Falls Park on a sunny afternoon.

The current trail begins at Greenville Technical College, crosses through Falls Park and downtown Greenville, and winds its way all the way to Travelers Rest, although there are plans for several spur trails and possible extensions. The wheels were set in motion in 1999 when the City of Greenville bought the abandoned railroad with plans for a commuter rail and greenway. Although rail intentions were never realized, planning for the trail commenced in 2005 and the Swamp Rabbit Trail officially opened on May 7, 2010. There are constantly improvements being made on the trail, the most recent being the Cancer Survivors Park just past Falls Park. An overgrown section of the trail between Church Street and Cleveland Park became a 6.8 acre park, complete with improved access to the trail, a more bicycle friendly crossing to the Reedy River, as well as gathering spaces for "education and celebration.” I will be happy to see the kudzu, poison ivy and unsightly pipes completely replaced by sculpture and landscaping, and am surprised it hasn’t happened sooner, considering its proximity to downtown and Falls Park.

The bridge over Reedy River in Cancer Survivors Park, before and after
Crossing under McDaniel Avenue we entered Cleveland Park and soon spotted the F-86 Sabre Jet which serves as the memorial to Air Force Maj. Rudolf Anderson, Jr. An Upstate native, he served in Korea, receiving two Distinguished Flying Cross Citations. On October 27, 1962 while on a reconnaissance mission over Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Maj. Rudolph Anderson, Jr. was shot down and killed. The Anderson Memorial Airplane was dedicated on May 19, 1963. After a pause to read the plaques we continued on.

A study in 2012 estimated that more than 350,000 people annually used the trail and that area businesses increased their sales from 30 to 85% (source here). Businesses have cropped up around the trail, not only outfitting the bicyclists and runners that utilize the trail, but catering to the diverse public that the Swamp Rabbit brings to Greenville and surrounding area. I wrote about the Swamp Rabbit Cafe and Grocery here, but other examples include Trailside Creamery, The Forest Coffeehouse and Swamp Rabbit Brewery which just opened this month. To me this provides ample evidence that the trail is used by more than just cyclists, and as the trail enters Cleveland Park we see even more signs of people - school groups, health enthusiasts and especially families - enjoying the greenway on a sunny day. Passing picnic shelters and fitness stations along the way we soon came to the train park, which is just next to the Veterans Memorial. From this point the Swamp Rabbit Trail turns to follow Reedy River east, but we crossed the street and followed Richland Creek.

Within line of sight and a few hundred feet is the Cleveland Park playground, with two large areas for kids of all ages. Adjacent to the Greenville Zoo, we often hear the gibbons howling away while on the swings, and the canopies provide shade on those scorching summer days. With public restrooms, covered picnic areas and a large grassy area for play, this is a perfect turning-around point to pause before eventually returning to Falls Park. The round-trip hike from the falls is under 3 miles and took us three hours with the four kids and frequent stops.

The Swamp Rabbit Trail continues on from Cleveland Park; you can read about that portion in my post The Swamp Rabbit: From Greenville Tech to Cleveland Park. From there the trail will eventually be connected to the Lake Conestee Nature Preserve section, and I think it isn’t a stretch to say someday the Trail will go all the way to Cedar Falls Park, following the Reedy to Fountain Inn. However our time on the Swamp Rabbit had ended for the day as we reached Falls Park, and soon it was time to say au revoir to our friends. I sincerely hope their memories from the Upstate are as enjoyable as ours from the time we spent with them.

* For an interactive map of the trail in its entirety, please click here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Back on the Blue Ridge

Greenville has something that not many cities have – mountains within a 30 minute drive. Along with Paris Mountain State Park and the dozens of hiking opportunities there, the Upstate also boasts the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area. I’ve written about Jones Gap and the Foothills trail (two of the main attractions in the 11,000 acre wilderness area) here, but included in the expanse of protected mountain forest are plenty of other appeals. We’ve developed a tour of sorts, to show visitors a “best of” that is kid-friendly and fits into a day/half-day, and once again we found ourselves headed north with guests in tow – this time our Greek friends from our time in France.

Our first stop was Wildcat Branch Falls. The area around the lower falls, the signage and the trail loop leading to the viewing point for the upper falls have been immensely improved in the past year. For a detailed read about Wildcat Wayside, the historic picnic shelter and nearby trails you can visit the post by Outdoors in Upstate South Carolina. We made the roundtrip hike to see the upper falls, pausing here and there to throw some rocks into the water or take in the view. As the weather in Greenville had been cloudy with scattered rain we had the place mostly to ourselves, even though the clouds had mostly cleared and the temperature warmed.

On our way to Caesars Head SP we pulled into the turn-out for Bald Rock. A granite outcrop over two acres in size, the view faces out over Pickens and Greenville county with Table Rock and Paris Mountain clearly visible even on this partly-cloudy day. Tricked into leaving our coats in the car by the sunshine and warm temperatures, we soon discovered the wind still had quite a bit of bite, especially up here in higher elevations.

We didn’t make the same mistake in Caesars Head. Bundled up we headed out to the overlook, where visibility was surprisingly good considering weather conditions. Cutting through Devil’s Kitchen, the narrow pass between two large pieces of granite, we quickly reached the small overlook which provides the only view of the actual outcrop after which Caesars Head is named; the main overlook is from the top of this craggy cliff. Doubling back a side trail takes you to the parking lot, and we were soon back in the cars ready for the next leg of the day’s tour. It is actually just another mile past the parking lot that the two-mile Raven Cliff Falls trail departs, leading to the overlook for 420-foot Raven Cliff Falls. Although Roberts and I have both made the hike (probably a decade ago), we have yet to take the boys on this more strenuous trail. I am also tempted each time we visit to hike the longer loop (that includes Dismal Trail), as the suspension bridge offers a unique perspective to these spectacular falls.

Leaving the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area we headed west, and paused for a snack at Pumpkintown Mountain Opry. With a restaurant, shops, seasonal entertainment and cottages for rent/sale, the complex is a quaint stop that we often make with guests. The coffee is good, the ice cream better, and the boys often leave with hard candy that ensures sticky fingers for the rest of the trip.

Our final stop was Table Rock State Park, with a view of the south face of the table and "Footstool mountain,” a fishing pond and the Visitor Center. The rocking chairs on the large porch were quite comfortable in the sunshine, and I lingered for a few minutes after the boys headed down to the lake to search for fish. A small fee or a State Park pass will gain you entry to the main section of the park north of Highway 11, but this section to the south is free, meant to provide information and a taste of the park. Backcountry campsites are accessible from the southern portion, although all the trailheads for trails leading to Table Rock are in the northern section.

We have completed this tour countless times: with parents, siblings and friends, just Roberts and I back in the day, or with both boys more recently. Despite the scenery remaining the same, I never tire of the views, the waterfalls, the trails and the nature. Variations on a theme with the changes of seasons, we also see the mountains differently with each new guest we bring to this corner of the Upstate. I’m glad we were able to once more share the beauty with our friends, but I can’t help but wonder who we will be taking on this tour next…

Monday, March 24, 2014

Reunited with good friends

The best thing about meeting old friends is that you can effortlessly pick up where you last left off; it doesn’t matter that years and miles separate you from the last time you saw them, or that the kids have all grown about a foot. You just seamlessly melt back into the friendship you had, and wonder at how small the world can be despite the immense size of it.

Our Greek friends from Clermont-Ferrand moved to Oklahoma last year, and thanks to business in Charlotte and Greenville, we have been able to spend a bit of time with them. These were the friends that so kindly welcomed us to Greece for our summer vacation, and along with Maël, Stephane and Lauris were the “three amigos.” Only two days separate them in age! (And Maël, we missed you and your family, and thought of you often!) 

For two days last week we enjoyed time just hanging around, getting caught up and relaxing, but along with the weekend came some beautiful weather and the chance to show them around town. Saturday we spent downtown, starting off in Falls Park and working our way to the Children’s Garden before finding all nine Mice on Main.

It is so easy to take our little town for granted, but through the eyes of our visitors we learn to appreciate it more with every tour. Not every town can boast a waterfall in the middle of the city, or such a family-friendly downtown… We are lucky to call Greenville our home, and luckier still that here our paths cross with such good friends.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The first days of spring - a teaser?

With a couple of 70˚ sunny days heralding the first days of spring, I find the rumors of another winter storm in the works and the weather forecast of nights below freezing in the coming week hard to believe. I’ll be moving my starts back inside, but I don’t think there is much hope for the one tomato plant I tucked into a bed in the backyard; more of an experiment than an attempt at anything, it felt so nice to plant something (anything!) after this long winter. However, the lovely warm days have encouraged the flowering trees, and the redbuds, cherries and pears, which are all at peak bloom. The forsythias are just winding down along with the daffodils, but it will not be long before the tulips start to bloom as the creeping phlox is colorfully reappearing all around town.

The pansies are really outdoing themselves this year - most survived the winter!

Our celebration of spring continues, with lots of time spent outdoors as well as the outdoors brought in. The cherry branches blooming on our living room table bring back memories of our wedding, with blooming dogwood on every table. And I admit to moving the vase of daffodils from room to room, based on where I’m spending the most time. But the event that makes me certain that spring is in the air was our first dinner outside. There is only a limited season that evenings outside are so pleasant (before the heat and the mosquitoes) and I intend to take full advantage of our window this year.

The boys went for their traditional shamrock shake on St. Patrick’s day. My understanding is that they would rather drink sprite than that “green thing” but tell that to dad…

Along with the beginning of spring is the resurgence of regular outdoor playdates, as well as another wave of visitors. Some very good friends of ours from our days in France swung by for a few days, and will be back this weekend. I look forward to spending more time with them, showing off Greenville and the foothills, sharing some of our favorite spots to eat and watching the boys get reacquainted with some “old” friends.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A visit from grandmother (in pictures)

Our monthly art class at C.A.T. Studios

In the kitchen baking a no-knead bread

Our own art class at home with all the cool supplies grandmother brought

Enjoying the warm weather in Paris Mountain State Park 

Back in the kitchen, this time for play dough with the recipe out of the most recent edition of Highlights magazine

Spring in Falls Park!

Come back soon grandmother!

Monday, March 17, 2014

St. Patrick's and a few new spots

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! While we didn’t make it to Greenville’s annual parade this year (see pictures from last year’s fun here), we did head downtown to check out the Falls Park fountains, which are once again dyed green for the holiday that honors Irish heritage and celebrates the life and service of St. Patrick. Did you know that St. Patrick wasn’t Irish (his parents were Roman citizens living in modern day England), his color was blue (not green) and the harp, not the shamrock is the symbol of Ireland? I thought it was interesting that the holiday originated in the US, with Irish immigrants who wanted to reconnect with their Irish roots. However in lieu of the corned beef and cabbage we’ll be bringing in some clover to adorn the table and celebrating that the Chicago River thawed enough to be dyed green this past Saturday.

Things are getting back into schedule after a hectic week that included my mother visiting from Chicago and Roberts gone on a business trip. By now we’ve shown her all the typical Greenville sites and can concentrate on new places. It was such an exploration that brought us to Greenville’s latest used bookstore, Joe’s Place. Greenville is long overdue for a bookstore downtown, and the South Main location just across from Falls Park seems perfect. They’ve done a good job with the atmosphere as well, providing cozy corners to sit down with a book and cup of coffee or glass of wine from the wine bar. I had been looking forward to a bookstore opening downtown, as rumors of a M. Judson, a store to sell new books, have been circulating for quite some time. We enjoyed the children’s section in the back, but did notice that the selection throughout seemed a bit slim. Hopefully this is due to being bought out during the opening weekend sale, because I look forward to having not just one, but two bookstores downtown. Although they don’t have the variety or quantity that Mr. K’s or some of the other Greenville used book vendors have, they do have a prime location and a very cool concept - the wine bar, gourmet coffee and local art.

Another discovery was the newest addition to the European food scene in Spartanburg, European Market. Please add it to the list of grocery stores in the Upstate that carry hard-to-find foods from almost every single country in Europe (the original list is here). We picked up a variety of items including farmer’s cheese (the dry curd variety perfect for making Jāņu siers and biezpienu bumbiņas), black currant tea, raspberry syrup, Rīga sprats, smilšu riekstiņi from Vecais beķeris in Latvia (perfect with your morning coffee!), chocolate Kārumiņi for our little sweet tooths waiting at home, and a variety of mustards and jams. I’ll be back, definitely for the smoked fish (I have yet to find a store in Greenville that sells it) and to stock up before the Latvian holidays!

On the subject of new businesses in the Upstate, a few months ago I wrote a quick review of the new restaurant that opened up in our neighborhood, Independent Public Alehouse. For those in Greenville who would like to give it a shot (and you should!), now is the perfect time as there is a living social deal of $15 for $30 to spend on dinner. Click here for the link.

“Here's to a long life and many more. a quick death and an easy one. A pretty girl and an honest one. A cold beer – and another one!” - a St. Patrick's Day Toast

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Upcountry History Museum and children's author Jan Brett

Though we have extensively explored Greenville in our time here, there was one museum we had not yet visited – The Upcountry History Museum. With my mother in town visiting, the perfect opportunity presented itself upon learning the museum currently has an exhibit featuring the art of Jan Brett, of which my mother is a big fan.

From the book "Gingerbread Baby"

If you have any children or were a child yourself, then you might recognize some of Jan Brett’s books. The favorite in this house is “The Mitten,” a story about a young boy who loses one of the white mittens his grandmother knit for him, only for it to become home to a whole bunch of animals. Luckily the boy finds the mitten on his way home, and his grandmother is left wondering how it was stretched to such enormous proportions. Many of the stories begin with a folk tale and feature rich details about cultures around the world, but each and every book is filled with detailed, colorful illustrations that just astound in their beauty. It was a treat seeing the illustrations up close, from so many of her books that I have not yet read with the boys. For those of you in the Upstate, Jan Brett will be doing a personal program and book signing at the museum on April 2nd at 6pm, and the exhibit “The World of Jan Brett” runs through May 4th. For details, please visit the museums website.

From the book "The Umbrella"

Another temporary exhibit is “Protests, Prayers and Progress: Greenville’s Civil Rights Movement.” Leading visitors on a visual tour of the schools, churches and lunch counters, the exhibit documents the local civil rights movement during the 1960s. The exhibit runs through June 15th of this year.

The two floors of the museum documents the history of the Upcountry from the days of its early inhabitants, through the days of the frontier and the first days of Greenville, all the way to the Civil War, days of textile growth and WWII. Through interactive exhibits, videos, artifacts and maps the history of the area is brought to life, providing an educational experience to children and adults alike. I was impressed with all the activities geared towards younger kids, such as the boxes filled with hands-on activities in each exhibit, or the special kids corners in the temporary exhibits (a room with comfy seating and Jan Brett’s books allowed for a moment of peace to look at the art display upstairs, and a classroom complete with toys and seats gave the boys a pause in the Civil Rights exhibit).

The museum is a rather new addition to the Heritage Green. In 1983 a new organization was formed, the Historic Greenville Foundation, whose vision and hard work resulted in completion of construction of the museum in 2002 and five years later a grand opening to the public. Incorporating elements of the area’s history even in its construction (a clock tower similar to that of Greenville’s Old City Hall, a brick façade and barrel-vaulted roof like that of Textile Hall and featuring original cobblestones preserved from downtown Greenville), the museum is an educational tool in constant motion, with new exhibits rotating through every year.

Source here

Heritage Green is also home to the main branch of the Greenville public library system and the Children’s Museum of the Upstate. Free parking for museum patrons is located on Atwood Street. Admission is $5/adult, $4/seniors and $3/children 4-18, and hours are 10:00am to 5:00pm Tuesdays through Saturdays 1:00pm to 5:00pm Sundays.

There's even a room dedicated to Pepsi and its history in the Upstate

For more on Jan Brett, please visit her amazing website, With over 5,000 free coloring, video and activity pages, the site provides hours of rainy-day activities in addition to contests, games and information about her books and appearances.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Celebrating natural birth in the Upstate

I am a firm believer in natural birth; I think that somewhere in the last fifty years America has lost its collective mind allowing the Cesarean rate to climb to over thirty percent. That the US has a higher maternal mortality rate than at least 40 other countries should be setting off alarms left and right that something is wrong – especially since we spend more money, per capita, than any other country on maternity care. From personal experience I know that a normal, healthy pregnancy can end in C-section due to bullying from primary caregivers, but I also know that VBACs are not only possible, but empowering.

I mentioned in a previous post that the Joyful Birth and Breastfeeding Expo came to Spartanburg this past weekend, and internationally known midwife, speaker and author Ina May Gaskin was the featured speaker. In Ina May natural birth has found a champion and a teacher. Founder and director of the Farm Midwifery Center in Summertown, TN, Ina May is the author of several books well-known in the natural birth community including “Guide to Childbirth,” “Guide to Breastfeeding” and “Birth Matters: A Midwife’s Manifesta.”

She spoke about delivering breech babies, twins, and “big babies.” Anecdotes about midwives she had met from all over the world provided colorful commentary, but the take home message was clear; women need to have faith in their bodies, and their caregivers have to support them and their choices. Yes, medicine has come a long way, but it still has a long way to go… and the health of mothers and babies across the US depends on information being available and accessible for pregnant women and their partners.


I think the 4th annual Joyful Birth and Breastfeeding Expo was an exciting success. Motivational to mothers like me who have experienced natural birth and wish to help friends who are considering their options; informative about the local businesses here in Greenville/Spartanburg that provide services to new moms; a powerful reminder that as a woman who wishes she could turn back time before that first Cesarean and be better informed, that I am not alone. Thank you to the organizers for their work in bringing natural birth awareness to the Upstate, thank you to Ina May Gaskin for an inspiring talk (and happy birthday!) and I hope to attend the Joyful Birth and Breastfeeding Expo again in 2015!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Solidarity with Ukraine

Ukraine is a country in east Europe, bordered by Belarus and Poland among others, but to their east lies Russia. If you haven’t heard of the recent developments in the region, please read this buzzfeed article, which provides a quick overview of the history and current events in Ukraine.

source here

My heart is with the people of Ukraine. Although the Latvian peoples are Balts and the Ukrainians are Slavs, the two countries share a similar history. Both spent a significant number of years illegally incorporated into the USSR, both regained their independence in 1991, and now both (it seems) have lost territory to Russia’s aggression: Latvia lost Abrene in 1945, and it seems just a matter of time before Crimea is seized and assimilated into Russia. Similarities don’t end there, for the reason why these two territories have such a high percentage of Russian inhabitants (the main excuse Putin has used to defend his actions) are the deportations that took place after World War II, when Crimea’s native Crimean Tatars and Abrene’s native Latvians were deported en masse to Central Asia and Siberia, and Russians were resettled in the area to replace them.

source here

Looking at the bigger picture the world’s reaction to this illegal occupation sets a terrible precedent. By not countering, Putin has been given the go-ahead to do as he pleases. Crimea is an important port in the region, giving Russia access to the Black Sea and therefore the Mediterranean (currently Sevastopol is the key to Moscow military strategy as the country's only warm-water seaport that can operate year-round)… A port on the Baltic Sea would be extremely beneficial, a fact which puts the Baltic countries and even Poland at significant risk. In fact, Russia has already increased their military presence and has been conducting readiness drills near the Lithuanian and Polish borders (in Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave tucked between Poland, Lithuania and the Baltic sea, which is headquarters for the Russian Baltic fleet, but is not directly connected to Russia and therefore not an ideal port). Must we be reminded that World War II started with the invasion of Poland, resulting in 50 million to 85 million fatalities? 

source here

See also "Ukraine Crisis Stokes Baltic Nerves" from Reuters

The jump from annexation of Crimea to World War is a big one, but maybe not so far-fetched. Putin wasted no time between the end of the Olympics and his invasion of Ukraine, ruining the expensive new image of Russia he had so carefully crafted in Sochi. He is risking financial stability, the support of his allies and possibly the compliance of the Russian people. He is violating international law as well as the Budapest Memorandum, the treaty signed in 1994 by the US, Britain, Russia and Ukraine guaranteeing the integrity of Ukraine’s borders. Is it so unbelievable he might take it to the next level? And although I believe the United States should already be more involved (America gave its word that Ukraine would be protected), it will have no choice but to engage if the Baltics are threatened. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are members of NATO, assuring European and American involvement if their borders are breached.

A Lenin statue is toppled in Kiev source here

In the most danger are the Ukrainian people themselves. The Crimean Tatars know from experience to fear for their lives if the peninsula comes under Russian control, and the Ukrainians have substantial historical knowledge of life as part of the Soviet Union as well: mass deportations, disappearances, rampant robbery and destruction. 

Read Radio Free Europe's "Fear is in the Air Among Crimean Tatars"
and "Putin's Career Rooted in Russia's KGB" by the Washington Post

This is why the whole world should sit up and pay attention. This is why it isn’t just “some former republic of the Soviet Union” that is at stake. This is why we can’t just sit and watch the events unfold on our televisions and mobiles.

source here

The first step is to raise awareness of the events in the region. Be informed on current events, and utilize social media to disseminate information. Write letters to the editor, call in to radio stations, tweet, like and share good posts.
Sign petitions; contact your local representatives and even the White House. Let them know you are concerned about the lack of response by the US, especially when we gave our word that Ukraine would be protected.
Attend demonstrations in your area. (Click here for demonstrations in Rīga, LatviaWashington DC and even Russia)

Facebook event link here

This situation does not have to end in war. Through diplomatic maneuvering and economic sanctions Putin can be made to understand he does not have full license to do as he pleases. Lithuania has banned entry into the country for 18 former Ukrainian government officials suspected of human rights abuses and use of force and violence against peaceful protesters. Canada has taken the first steps in recalling their ambassador to Russia, and many European and Asian countries have officially come out against Russia’s illegal move into the sovereign country of Ukraine. But there is so much more that can be done. The West needs to send aid to Ukraine, in form of energy, training for financial and election institutions and anti- corruption efforts. There must be economic sanctions for Russia, and access to global financial markets must be restricted. Russia needs to be kicked out of the G8, the forum for the governments the leading industrialized countries in the world. I’m no political or economic guru, but even I can see limiting Russia’s funding for a war effort would make Putin rethink his recent incursion. Oh, and renew plans for the missile defense complex in Poland and the Czech Republic... we'll need it.

via Kristaps Skutelis on twitter

 As insignificant as this blog article may be in the grand scheme of things, it is what I have to offer the Ukrainian people. Dear friends, may you be free to elect a government, rebuild your country and live in peace. May the rest of the world open their eyes to Putin’s true intentions, and may this crisis resolve peacefully.

Artist: Linda Anna Raistere

Monday, March 3, 2014

Snowballs in the freezer

Why do snowballs melt in the freezer? For other rookie parents like me out there, they don’t, they are just shrinking. The air is very dry to help minimize frost, which causes the finer particles on the exterior of the snowball to evaporate – similar to why ice cubes will reduce in size over time. What’s left is an ice ball; good thing the boys are planning on pitching them into the pool come summer, and not throw them at one another. Will sealing them in a Ziploc help?

The daffodils are blooming here in the Upstate, but the tulips I bought today to brighten the dining room are imported from Canada. Despite the 70˚ day here in Greenville snow is in the forecast for Thursday… Only in the South, eh?

To all moms, dads, grandparents and parents-to-be in the Upstate, the Joyful Birth & Breastfeeding Expo is this Saturday in Spartanburg. This is a fantastic opportunity to check out local companies, learn about kid's activities in the Upstate, support the natural birth community here in SC, and to hear author/midwife Ina May Gaskin speak. A champion of natural birth and renowned for her practice’s exemplary results and low intervention rates, Ina May Gaskin has gained international notoriety as the leader of a movement that seeks to stop the hyper-medicalization of birth. To find more information about the expo click here, and for a full program of the speakers and events at the expo click here.

A sunny day was spent in the country yesterday in the company of friends, complete with bike racing, digging in the sand and a bonfire. I made vegan cupcakes, my first attempt at a dessert without butter and eggs. While searching for a recipe I almost tossed in the hat, as a majority of recipes called for things like arrowroot powder or coconut oil (I thought this was a facial treatment?), butter substitute (what is that anyways, I can’t even pronounce most of the ingredients?) or a food processor. Finally I found this recipe for chocolate cupcakes with strawberry filling, for which I had all the ingredients on hand… and they came out great. So if you find yourself in a situation like I did (I'm omnivorous but was visiting friends who follow a vegan diet) and want a rich dessert with no fuss, try this recipe from Especially great this time of year when all those beautiful strawberries start showing up in the store…

We spent the day in the garden, preparing the beds with a truckload of horse manure courtesy of the country friends (thanks guys! (and I expect your best dung joke in the comments please)). The blueberry bushes are budding, the strawberry, celery plant, green onions and garlic all sprouting and greening up, but we’re still holding our breath to see if last year’s transplanted raspberry and grape will make it. So far the only seeds planted are the frost-tolerant snap peas and salads, but I imagine I’ll be able to proceed quite soon, despite Thursday’s weather forecast for snow. Plus maybe I will be able to replace those shrunken snowballs and spare the boys some disappointment?
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