Vegan Florentine Soup

Recipe by Megan Crist
Photography and Styling by Michelle Smith

Well, our annual springtime teaser looks like it is in full swing with tomorrow being chilly again. Here we are about to be in the sweatshirt weather again, which to be honest, is fine with me. It means cozy comfort food like this Tomato Florentine Soup. I love this soup with fresh sourdough -or if you’re not vegan, these Cheddar and Herb Biscuits.

TIME 3 Hours


    large stock pot

    can opener

    chef’s knife

    measuring spoons

    immersion blender


2 tablespoons olive oil

1 diced onion

1 cup chopped celery

1 tablespoon garlic

1 large chopped carrot

1 pound spinach, divided in half

(2) 28ounce cans diced tomatoes

2 quarts vegetable stock

¼ cup maple syrup

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons black pepper

1 pinch cinnamon

1 tablespoon oregano

1 bay leaf


  1. In a large stock pot, sauté onion, garlic, celery, and carrot in olive oil until onions are translucent and edges are starting to brown a bit.
  2. Add remaining ingredients, but reserve half of the spinach. Simmer for 2 hours on low.
  3. Remove bay leaf and purée with immersion blender to a texture of your liking. Alternatively, you can purée the soup in batches using a regular blender.
  4. Stir in the remaining spinach when you are ready to serve. Garnish with a lemon twist or parsley sprigs.

Home Tour: Lucy Kagan & Family

As promised, here are photos from the wonderfully eclectic, art-and-portrait filled home of artist Lucy Kagan and her parents in Raleigh, North Carolina. Lucy is the instructor of the upcoming Journaling class at Gather on Thursday March 27th at 6:30pm. You can register for the the class here.

When I was here taking photos, Lucy’s Dad, a landscape designer and violin instructor, was in his basement workshop making new wooden steps for an outdoor walking path. Her mom, also a landscape designer, was at work but her presence was felt in the lush native gardens surrounding the property and in block prints of hers dotting the walls of the home.

This home previously belonged to Lucy’s Grandparents who, before living here, hailed from Massachusetts and spent part of the year there and the other half in the West Indies. The home is filled with portraits and paintings many of which were made by and feature family members. In addition, there are Meyer lemon trees and an abundance of well-loved houseplants and collected ephemera throughout the home.

Next up I’ll show a few pictures from their yard. Though there aren’t a ton of blooms to show since spring is still emerging, I can only imagine how lush and inspiring their cultivated patch of land around their home is in just a month from now.

Photos by Michelle Smith for Gather Goods Co.

In the Studio – Lucy Kagan

Lucy Kagan, the instructor of the upcoming Creative Journaling class at Gather on Thursday March 28th, is a talented artist and illustrator who grew up in a family focused on art and design here in Raleigh, North Carolina. After going to an arts-centric magnet schools growing up, she then went to Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD for all you art school nerds out there) and studied illustration & textile design. Following that she worked at both URBN and Martha Stewart where she designed products and repeat pattern designs before a wrist injury sent her back here to recover in the lush plant focused home of her parents – both landscape designers and artists themselves.

Lucy is one of those quirky, jill-of-many-trades types that resonates as a kindred spirit with me. In addition to her specific illustrative style, a sweet and whimsical watercolor look rooted in fairies and plants, she has printed and distributed numerous small publications, and graphic novels and sewn (and hand dyed with plants) a line of apparel including the top she is wearing in these photos.

In the Creative Journaling class that she is teaching she will be going over the processes of three different type of journaling styles and teaching you how to stay on track with making your own. The class will go into depth on three different styles: Bullet Journaling, Art Journaling & Autobiographical Comicbook Style Journaling. Students will walk away with a started journal and practice in each technique as well as productivity tips and tools. In a few months she’ll be teaching a specifically illustration based class at Gather as well so be on the lookout for that.

I so enjoyed photographing Lucy at her home base and have more photos to share in the coming days as well. I’m looking forward to carving out some time to express myself through this upcoming journaling class. If you’d like to join us you can register for the class on Thursday March 28th at 6:30pm at Gather here.

Photos by Michelle Smith for Gather Goods Co.

Art Journals – Inspired By: Upcoming Journaling Class at Gather

On Thursday March 28th at 6:30pm, professional illustrator and avid zine maker Lucy Kagan of Cottonbook will be teaching a Journaling Class at Gather in downtown Cary and going over the processes of three different type of journaling styles and teaching you how to stay on track with making your own. The class will go into depth on three different styles: Bullet Journaling, Art Journaling & Autobiographical Comicbook Style Journaling. If you’d like to join the class you can register here. I am really looking forward to going in-depth on this creative process with others and finding some techniques to help me stick-to a habit of doing it more seamlessly in one spot (vs millions of scattered journals).

Journals are arguably one of the most treasured possessions of a creative mind. No matter the form, time has shown that most creatives use them in some capacity to flesh out their ideas, to express themselves, and to process the world around them. I’ve rounded up some inspiring art journals here from others.

I have dozens of different types of journals but my favorite/most consistent form of personal self expression/discovery is collaging. I’m also a huge fan of bullet journaling which I will go into more depth on another day (and of course at the class on Thursday March 28th – will you be there? Sign up here).

Images: Fruit Journal Page by Carolyn Gavin, Light all my lights journal page by Abigail Halpin , Flowers and Girl Journal page by Abigail Halpin, illustrated art journal page by StudioSilvana, Joy journal page by Abigail HalpinFlowers journal page by Carolyn Gavin, Flowers and bike journal page by Carolyn Gavin, Jungle Portrait by Fiphie

Shop & Merchandising Inspiration: Terrain, Pennsylvania

I’ve often remarked to my husband (any anyone else who wants to talk with me about some of my favorite subjects: plants, shops, branding and merchandising) that Terrain is my Disneyland. The shop which is part of the Urbn umbrella that also runs Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters and Free People has my number.

Everything about the space is merchandised impeccably and branded in that subliminal organic, natural, high end way that sets if apart from a lot of other retail out there. The plants are also very well maintained. It is also, like any of the stores under the Urbn umbrella brands, very of the moment. It is aspirational and inspirational to mere mortals like myself who, with currently a team of one, do all the photographing, blogging, lease management, event coordination, upfitting, product purchasing, shipping, designing, email responding and so on and on and on (though a few years ago I did manage a team of 8 at Gather – even then something of this scale felt unfathomable).

Regardless, it is inspiring to see what those teams of thousands do when they are focused exclusively on color ways, on finding the most perfect product, on creating custom display fixtures and so forth, into their space.

We have family that lives near their nursery/store in Pennsylvania so we always take a detour to stop in every time we are in the vicinity. As with many things these pictures don’t really do it justice. It’s really about the in store experience and really needs to be walked in person to appreciate it in full.

The outside grounds are like any other plant nursery and filled with trees, shrubs and other large plants and outdoor decor and seating. Inside is where the magic really happens. It is as you would expect from walking into any Anthropologie store only change the palette to muted greens, the subject matter to plants and related ephemera versus clothing.

Here air plants are merchandised in front of a large display wall of moss. Though it is a fine line between this and say The Rainforest Cafe, somehow it works, and though very very heavy-handed, manages not to feel that way.

An azalea topiary forced to bloom early.
Their onsite cafe in a solarium style space.
A cluster of blooming kalancho.
Blue and white china interspersed with cookbooks and a large spray painted faux floral installation above a concrete utility sink.
The front cafe area skewed a little too theme park/lodge for my tastes but I bet in the evening it doesn’t feel quite so kitchy.
I like the blade sign here against the dark shed with of course tall tropical plants surrounding it.

What stores do you think really nail what they do across the board?

iphone photos by Michelle Smith for Gather Goods Co

In The Studio with Sarah Jane Tart

Now that I’ve shared other inspiring painting spaces are you all ready to see where Sarah Jane Tart, the artist & instructor of the upcoming Floral Painting Class at Gather on Saturday March 16th creates her work? Recently, I visited Sarah Jane at her home studio in Durham to take photos of her and her space and learn more about her. I just loved the area she has dedicated to her craft and that it is set up for her to be reminded to create something every day because of it’s location adjacent to her living room.

Sarah Jane works full-time as a graphic designer and her husband is a nurse. They share their home with their adorable golden retriever puppy.

How gorgeous is this wooden easel? Sarah Jane said her husband bought it for her and it made her feel like an “official” painter. Her workspace is setup off of her living room and kitchen in a little alcove with great light that used to be the dining room.

In addition to the easel positioned in front of a big window, Sarah Jane has a desk area that she has set up against the far wall that she shares with her husband. Here she keeps her planners, printer, fresh cut flowers (she recently splurged on a flower subscription service) and other inspiring art by other artists.

The painting you see here is the first she ever created in her floral series and was inspired by her wedding bouquet, though she’s been painting all her life and flowers have long been an inspiration for her.

I’m excited for Sarah Jane to teach us her process at the upcoming Painting Florals class at Gather on Saturday March 16th where you will walk away with your own finished piece inspired by a floral arrangement still life. Will I see you there? You can register here.

All photos taken by me, Michelle Smith for Gather Goods Co.

Inspired By: Painting Studio Spaces

Now that I’ve thought about all the tools and process of painting, I’m daydreaming about painting studios ahead of the Floral Painting class at Gather on Saturday March 16th. I am always fascinated by how other artists set up their work space. Painters tend to have specific things in their spaces: a window with good light, an easel or wall where you can tack your paintings in progress, space to hang your inspiration or other art in process, flat files and storage for your canvas and of course your paints and brushes close by.

Some artists prefer a more serene, calm space with lots of blank walls and others like to be surrounded by little vignettes of collected items and inspiration. I find that most artists are collectors and magpies at heart and like to “see” their treasures around them, including their supplies since they are very visually driven people.

I love the idea of a tucked away backyard studio space where you can get as messy as you like and keep your home and art separate. That is a one-day goal for myself, hopefully with a dog underfoot just like here but really any space with great light and lots of wall space to hang things on will do.

Do you dream about one day having a space where you can paint and create? What does it look like? Do you already have one? I’d love to see.

Will you be joining me at the Floral Painting Class at Gather with instructor Sarah Jane Tart on Saturday March 16th? You can register here.

Images: Rustic painting retreat, Collection of artist tools & inspiration, paintbrushes in glass vessels, paint tube display, backyard art cabin, tall windows in artist studio, plant filled painting space

Feeling Painterly, Inspired By: Upcoming Floral Painting Class at Gather

I’m feeling inspired by all things painterly due to an upcoming Floral Painting class at Gather on March 16th. Participants will learn to make their own floral masterpiece taught by Durham, NC based graphic designer/painter Sarah Jane Tart at our downtown Cary, NC studio and classroom space. Students will paint from a fresh bouquet still life. Very fun. If you’d like to join, you can register here.

Images: A Creative Mess / Caroline South, Scraps of Us / Simone Bodmer-Turner / Stoneware Vessels by Apparatu / Handmade paper samples from @farmettepress image by foil & ink / Art by Laura Horn

Whenever I begin a painting or any piece of graphic art I first start by assembling inspiration either digitally or on a physical pinboard. I then start to see what patterns are emerging. Here I see lots of earthy muted shades of salmon, terracotta, sage greens, rust, charcoal, creams and gray blues. As far as graphics I see repeated rectangular and circular shapes stacked together in an organic fashion. Identifying these commonalities helps to give you a visual template to refer to in the back of your head of imagery that resonates with you and styles to experiment with and incorporate into your piece.

While not specifically floral per say, elements from the above can still be worked into your own art in subtle ways creating texture and layers. My own art process and process in general involves lots of layers built upon one another. I am currently working with encaustic painting techniques just as a personal creative release and I’m enjoying it a lot.

Paint covered hand photo via Maureen O’Neill / Paint covered apron via The Odyssey Online / Belladonna Art

I love how messy that painting is. It is a chance to work with your hands and get them dirty and to step away from all the screens we are so often focused on. It is a good excuse to just experiment and not have set expectations or results in mind as far as output. When I’m painting I certainly get paint all over my hands, surfaces, feet you name it so it’s always good to have an apron on hand to protect your clothes.

Having the tools that you need on hand is definitely helpful when the urge to create strikes. As you get better at your craft you can invest in higher quality brushes and paints but I am a firm believer that you should start with what you have and learn as much as you can, then when your skills improve and you meet the tools at your level you will be amazed at how symbiotic it becomes. This recently happened when I upgraded my camera which I have been using for years and years to a much more professional level one, I was blown away at how much my skills that have been growing over time gelled with the technology. I’m glad I’ve worked my way up, it was such a treat to reward myself with the “next level” of tool instead of just having it straight out of the gate.

Paint Covered Apron via Clare Basler / Black Paint Palette / Paint Colors via Moglea / Brush Strokes / Art Brushes

As far as taking care of your painting tools, the most important thing is washing out your brushes after every use so they don’t harden and become permanently unusable. You should store your brushes bristle side up as well and you can even make (or buy) brush rolls that store nicely when you amass a large collection or need a portable solution.

As far as paints to buy, again, start with what you can and as far as colors you really only need a basic palette of red, yellow, blue, black and white and from there every color can be mixed, this way you are really creating the colors you need and want versus having to buy a specific shade. My painting teacher in college drilled that into as, as well as how to make our own canvases (super easy) and that the paint should be the consistency of tomato soup so it is easy to spread on the canvas. As far as painting on canvas you also want to make sure it is primed with gesso first so that the paint “takes” evenly.

Are you a painter, a dabbler? Do you prefer oils or acrylics or watercolor? Something else? Do you want to learn or just have a pretty floral painting to hang on your wall? Will you be joining us for the Painting Florals Class at Gather on Saturday March 16th? If so, you’ll need to register here.

Cheddar and Herb Biscuits Recipe

Recipe & Text by Megan Crist
Photography and Styling by Michelle Smith

I’ve been diving into southern culture lately. I make a lot of multicultural dishes, but hello! I’m looking everywhere except where I am for something mouthwatering to make for dinner. The American South really does have its own repertoire of delicious food. Trust me when I tell you, I’ve done a lot of reading on the subject. I’m still no expert, partly because I’m vegetarian, but one of my favorites is, and always will be, the classic biscuit.

They say you can’t get a truly good biscuit outside of the South and I don’t know how true that is, since I’ve never actually had a biscuit outside of the south. So this is my savory biscuit recipe, for which I’ve learned many uses. It’s not just a vehicle for bacon, eggs, and cheese… Try topping casseroles or cobblers with biscuit dough for example. Crumbling day-old baked biscuits into tomato pie lends texture and keeps the sogginess away. It means cozy comfort food like this Tomato Florentine Soup (link) has an equally delicious and flavorful carb for dipping.

TIME 3 Hours


food processor

mixing bowl   

chef’s knife

measuring spoons

baking sheet

parchment paper or silpat


4 cups all purpose flour

2 teaspoons salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

½ teaspoon garlic powder

½ cup cheddar cheese

⅓ cup parmesan cheese

¼ cup chopped parsley or herbs of your choice

1 tablespoon sugar

½ teaspoon baking soda

1¾ teaspoon baking powder

8 ounces butter, ½ inch cubes, cold + 2 tablespoons for melting

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

8 ounces milk


  1. Mix the herbs and dry ingredients in the food processor.
  2. Add the cold butter cubes and pulse a couple times.
  3. Pulse several more times while streaming in the liquid.
  4. Turn the dough out into the mixing bowl.
  5. Gently work the dough together by pressing, not by kneading. If you REALLY need more moisture to bring the dough together, try adding a dollop of sour cream or yogurt.
  6. Roll out dough to about ¾-1 inch thick. This is highly debatable, but there is a nice spring to this recipe.
  7. Layer the scraps on top of each other to roll out once more. There should be about 12 biscuits.
  8. Freeze biscuits at least 2 hours, or up to one month ahead.
  9. Preheat oven to 425F. When ready to bake, remove as many biscuits as needed from the freezer and brush the tops with melted butter. Do not defrost before baking.

Inspired by Embroidery Artists & Fiber Art

This Thursday at Gather we’re hosting an embroidery class with Allie Paige of Humble North Hamilton. She’s going to teach students a variety of stitches and they’ll walk away with a finished piece inspired by the state of North Carolina and its state flower the dogwood. I’ve rounded up some work from other inspiring embroidery & fiber artists below.

How beautiful is this tone on tone piece on a translucent fabric background by Ontario based artist Sarah Godfrey? I love that the textures in this piece are what make the impact versus bright color. You can follow her on Instagram here.

Lisa Smirnova’s work is vibrant and painterly. This embroidered peach rendering feels very retro and modern to me because of the colors (and subject matter) that are very of the moment but have a decidedly 60’s feel at the same time evocative of avocado kitchen counters, salmon colored appliances and wax fruit in bowls.

This piece by Amelia Dennigan reminds me of fireworks and ocean corral and just how similar the shapes in nature are, whether they come in the form of pyrotechnics or underwater plant life.

Here, Thea Haines a textile design instructor at Sheridan College, shows us different embroidery stitched on naturally dyed fabric swatches resulting in a cohesive collection.

How cool are the textures in this piece-in-progress by local Raleigh based embroidery artist Elena Caron?

More work by Lisa Spirnova, this time her work is an avant-garde apparel piece on a deep navy waffle textured fabric that allows the corrals and pink threads to really pop.

A Scandinavian-inspired botanical silhouette looks just right on a pink circular background on this art by Claire Crider.

A patchwork coat embellished further by Lisa Spirnova.