29 March 2011

Feed the birds: homemade suet

When we first moved in, we were fortunate enough to have bird-loving neighbors who left us a lot of bird seed when they moved out of the neighborhood (sunflower seeds, millet, and cracked corn). However, we buy a lot of suet.  The birds go crazy for it and although not horribly expensive (1-2$ per block), it comes in plastic containers, which I'm trying to cut back on.

We stopped feeding the birds during the winter because Banjo got sprayed with a skunk. It was horrible! We think the bird seed attracted the skunks to our yard. We haven't seen them in awhile now, so we figure we can start feeding the birds again. The suet doesn't tend to go all over the yard like the loose seed. So, if the skunks come back we can at least continue with the suet.

I found a recipe for homemade suet on the cheap and it's super simple, with a lot less packaging overall. Just lard or shortening, peanut butter, and flour. You can buy a suet feeder for super cheap and sometimes find them at thrift stores.

Duncraft often has sales and special offers on all types of seed and feeders! 

Basic Bird Suet Recipe
• 1 cup vegetable shortening or lard
• 1 cup chunky peanut butter
• 2 cups regular unbleached or bleached flour
• 3 cups yellow cornmeal

1. Melt shortening/lard and peanut butter in large pot on stovetop using medium heat; remove from heat when melted.
2. Measure all the flour and cornmeal right into the pot.
3. Stir, stir, stir until everything is thoroughly blended.
4. Place mixture into your desired containers or as my friend Barbara has done, just pat up a handful and sort of make a hamburger patty type shape. *Note: I spray my containers with Pam as it does help the cakes come out cleaner from the containers.
5. Set your containers or patties into the refrigerator to set and then use as needed.

Duncraft Wild Bird Superstore

Currently Listening to:
Mike Doughty - I Hear the Bells

27 March 2011

this week's menu: #6

Sunday: Lentil & Garden Kale Soup
We have some winter kale in the garden still, so I was planning on making a chickpea and kale curry, but I forgot to soak the beans over night.  So instead, I made a soup.  I used this recipe.  I didn't have onion, so I used onion powder instead, and just threw the mustard seeds in with the soup, I also didn't add any lime, but did add red pepper flakes.  And I blended it, because I am now obsessed with using my immersion blender.

Monday: Battered Tempeh w/ Garden Greens, Rice & Cilantro Ginger Pesto
I used this recipe for the tempeh.  I'm not sure how much of a fan I was, but it was edible and the recipe was simple (just a lot of excess batter).  I've made better tempeh before using a different recipe, but I was looking to try to something new.  The mustard greens were in the freezer from our spring/fall garden.  We finally used up the rest of them to make way for this year's harvest.  We also used up the Cilantro Ginger Pesto we made from garden cilantro last year.  I love making different varieties of pesto and then freezing them in ice cube trays, it's so convenient and relatively inexpensive!

Tuesday: Parsley Pesto & Feta Pizza
Again, the pesto was from Parsley from the garden that we made last year.  We use walnuts to save on costs.  The pizza was pretty good.

Wednesday: leftovers

Thursday: Parsley Pesto Risotto
A  friend had a potluck, so I wanted something relatively simple to cook and I didn't have time to run to the store, so I made a risotto.  I combined a few different recipes to come up with this:
  • 2 cup risotto rice
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 6 garlic cloves, chopped or minced
  • 6-8 cups stock
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Red Pepper Flakes
  • 6 Pesto cubes
  1. To make the risotto, heat 3 tablespoons of butter and add the onion. Cook for 2-3 minutes.
  2. Add the garlic and the rice and stir to combine. Stirring constantly, cooked everything for a minute or so or until all the rice is well coated with butter.
  3. Turn the heat to high and add 2 cups stock into the rice. When it starts boiling strongly, turn the heat down to medium and stir often, at least every minute or so, until the rice absorbs the stock.
  4. Repeat with a 2 more cups of stock.
  5. Add the pesto and the last cups of stock. Stir well to combine. Let the stock absorb.
  6. Add salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste.
This makes a lot of risotto.

Friday: The Doug Fir Lounge:
On Friday, we went to see our friend Jordan's band, Toro y Moi, play.  We met a bunch of friends there and had a good time.  BRAIDS also played and they were amazing!  Anyway, we got there early to eat before hand.  I had a mushroom hazelnut soup and Willis had pasta with kale.  We ate there out of convenience, but I wouldn't go there on a regular basis.

Currently listening to:
Joan of Arc

23 March 2011


I love hazelnuts. Hazelnuts in chocolate, hazelnut ice cream, and especially hazelnut lattes.  I'm slightly addicted to hazelnut lattes - they suck up a lot of my money and a lot of times I fail to bring my own mug and end up with more waste than I'd like to admit.  I'm also probably too embarrassed to even figure out exactly how much I spend on them throughout the year.  But, I'll hopefully be able to kick that habit with this new substitute.  I've given up on buying them before and can hopefully do it again...or at least cut back.  

Anyway, the reason I purchased hazelnuts in the first place, was not to combat this addiction, but to make the granola that I read about on Food in Jars, a blog about...well...food in jars.   It's almost backpacking/camping season again (finally!), so I want to figure out some good trail recipes.  And for those of you who are hardcore backpackers and are thinking to yourselves, "any season is backpacking season,"  well, not for me!

Then, this morning, I used my new immersion blender, which I bought off Amazon for half the price with the groupon.  Willis had been wanting an immersion blender for the longest time, because it is such a pain to blend hot soups in the food processor.  If you've never tried this, don't.  The soup explodes everywhere, so if you want to avoid a Mt. Vesuvius of soup you either have to blend in small doses or purchase an immersion blender.

OK, so this morning, I used the immersion blender on some half & half to put in my coffee.  Then I ate some granola, then I thought, "I wonder how hard it is to make my own hazelnut syrup to add to this coffee?"  After a quick google search - the answer: not hard at all!

Hazelnut Syrup Recipe(suitable for coffee)

1/2 cup of Finely Chopped Hazelnuts
2 tbsp of Butter
3/4 cup of Syrup (preferably maple)

Making the Hazelnut Syrup:
Melt the butter in a frying pan and toss the hazelnuts in. Cook them until they turn light brown. Add the syrup and heat thoroughly. (Do not boil.) For a stronger favor, add 3/4 cup of finely chopped hazelnuts.

While the syrup is still warm, place a metal strainer over a bowl and pour the syrup into the strainer to seperate the hazlenuts from the syrup. Store the syrup in an air-tight container, preferrably a glass bottle with a twist cap. This syrup will last for up to 4 months.

Currently listening to:

22 March 2011

Sourdough Bread

I've heard and read lots of different things about homemade sourdough, my favorite bread of all times.  And until now, I've never experimented with it.  Mainly, because I'm pretty lazy and from what I've read, sourdough is a commitment.  And, it is - at least, at first.

The starter and the pan loaf.  And yes, I know our oven is filthy...
You can buy starters off the internet or from your local grocery store (if they sell them), or you can get one from a friend, or start your own.  I started making my own starter last week.  I used a fairly simple recipe from The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City.  I rarely purchase books these days, but Willis and I purchased this while we were on vacation in California last year.  The authors contribute to Root Simple, a blog about simple living.  If you wish to support and purchase books about self-reliance, then I'd recommend it, but honestly, most of the concepts can be found on the internet or in many books from the library. 

The starter is basically flour and water in a jar.  Everyday, you have to pour some out and add some more back in.  This is the commitment part.  It's also not as "neat" of a process as I'd like, but I'm sure I'll figure out a way to do things better as I go along.  I've been composting the part that I pour out, which makes our countertop compost tub a little messier than normal.  The book says to "feed" the starter every day for two weeks before you can put it in the fridge and only feed it once a week (or as you use it).  But at week one, you can experiment with the part that you pour out.  So I did.

I used a combination of the recipe from the book and this recipe.  Mainly because the book's recipe called for wheat bran and a "proofing basket," neither of which I had.

It was a 2 day process with the risings, but the steps in between were fairly simple.  I put some of the dough in a bread pan, because I like to make grilled cheeses and used the left over bread on the baking stone.  So far, I've cut into the blob from the baking stone, and it's not that bad!!

I plan to put the pan loaf in the freezer until we finish the blob and the other bread we purchased from the store last week.

17 March 2011

Irish Brown Bread

It's St. Patrick's day, so I thought I'd try my hands on making some brown bread. I've never made it before, but have consumed enough to know what qualifies as tasty. Most places around here sell "irish soda bread" during this time of year. Most of the time, it's a sweet white bread with raisins and carraway seeds or something bizarre like that. Little do they know that they are missing out on the deliciousness that is brown bread.

My aunt Siobhan always had the best brown bread in her house. Crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, perfect when when smothered in golden creamy butter and enjoyed best with a nice cuppa tea.
I found that plate as part of a set at a local Salvation Army during a half off sale.  It was made in Arklow, Ireland.
I combined a few different recipes for this bread. It turned out pretty good, for my first go. It's a little salty, so next time I will cut back on the salt.

I've also been trying to cut down on my purchasing of packaging this month so I tried to use a lot of what I had on hand. However, I did purchase some Kerrygold butter, because there is nothing like it. You're supposed to use really coarse whole wheat flour, but I just used what was in the fridge but mixed in some rye flour and coarsley ground oats. I also made my own buttermilk, which is basically just milk and apple cider vinegar. I've never really experimented to see if there is a difference between using real buttermilk or making your own, but I've never had a real issue with it.

1 1/3 cups whole milk
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cup rye flour
1/2 cup ground oats
2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
4 tbsp cold butter

Mix the milk and apple cider vinegar together. Mix the flours, oats, salt, baking powder, and baking soda together. Cut in the butter. Add the "buttermilk" mixture and stir together. Place the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead about 4-5 times. Shape the dough gently into a round loaf and place on a baking pan. Cut a cross into the top. Bake at 350 for 30 mins. Rotate and bake for another 30 mins. Let cool. Smother with butter and enjoy!

15 March 2011

Adopt the Internet Day

Today is Adopt the Internet Day! Petfinder is asking everyone to help spread the word about pet adoption through the internet. So, I thought I'd take this opportunity to introduce you to Banjo and Bandit (we also call him Dito, short for Bandito).

As I type this, they are both snuggled up next to me, and I couldn't ask for anything better.

Banjo is a 4 year old Australian Shepherd/Border Collie mix. Willis adopted her a few years ago from a coworker. I think Banjo started her life on a farm, but for some reason, couldn't cut it. I'm not exactly sure why not, as she lives up to her breed's expectations. She herds us outside, is extremely focused (on fetch), and comprehends most of the english language. After a few other trial homes, She eventually made her way into Willis' life via a co-worker. At first, she was a masterful escape artist, busting out of her crate and opening up windows while Willis' was away at work. Eventually, she got bored of that lifestyle and settled into being home alone. She loves going on camping & backpacking trips, playing fetch, and eating cheese and carrots.

Bandit is a very different dog. A 4 year old Jack Russell Terrier, adopted from Project Pooch. Project Pooch is an amazing non-profit, benefiting both dogs and youth. The kennel is located within the Maclaren Youth Correctional Facility, and pairs incarcerated youth with shelter dogs. We don't know much about Dito's life, but here's what I've concluded: Bandit was bought as a puppy from a breeder and eventually given up to the Humane Society (probably because he's a crazy JRT). The youth at Project Pooch worked with him until he earned his Canine Good Citizen Certificate. He was adopted out to another home, but eventually returned after about 4 months. The same day my little rat, Bog, died, I saw Bandit's photo on Facebook and immediately fell in love. In April, Bandit will have been with us for a year. He's a great dog. He loves playing chuck-it, sleeping under the covers, and eating anything he can get his paws on.

So, if you're in the market for a pup, please adopt! There are a lot of amazing dogs out there just waiting for forever homes. Just please be prepared to commit and stop the shelter cycle! Be prepared to have this creature in your life for a long time (this may mean less moving around, less vacationing, etc). Be prepared to spend more money: you've got to feed them, pay for vet care, and pay for training and dog sitters! Be prepared to be outside more: dogs are better dogs when they go on regular walks, run around in the mud, and play lots of training games like fetch or hide and seek!

With all that being said, if we had more room in our home and more money, I would totally welcome Cookie into our lives! Check him out on Petfinder.com.

Have you provided a forever home to a cute creature? If so, what's their name and how did you find them? Help spread the word!

14 March 2011

The end of our winter garden

We're pulling up the last of the winter garden, mainly leeks and kale, to make room for spring time plantings, like potatoes!  We've given some to family members and are throwing the rest in morning scrambles.  Willis has set up the grow station in the basement to start seeds and this past weekend, we purchased some chard starts.  Since, we've had a few seasons worth of garden in our home, I thought I'd show a one year time lapse of one section of our yard.

March 2010: 2 months after we moved in. You can't really tell, but there is a random pile of rocks, lamb's ear, and prickly pear in the middle of the yard! WTF!
April 201: We planted a mini plum tree in between the wisteria and the hibiscus. We pulled up a bunch of bricks that the previous owner had laid and put in a border.  We used cardboard and compost to kill off the grass, and put up a bee box.  The dogwood blooms.
April 2010: We moved the random pile of rocks and lamb's ear and added in some moss and blueberry bushes.  We also added stepping stones and added in some drip irrigation, to make watering easier and less wasteful.  The wisteria blooms.
August 2010: The squash goes crazy!!  The squash winds up the fence and attacks the wisteria.  The strawberries gasp for air.  The hibiscus blooms.
March 2011:  The wisteria is gone!!!!  Although you can't tell, the lamb's ear, strawberries, mosses, and blueberry bushes still surround the plum tree.  I don't know why this photo looks like it's from the '70s.

13 March 2011

this week's menu: #5

Portobello Burger & Parmesan Potatoes - Last week, I got two portobellos from work via the food bank (thanks Marijke!).  I destemmed them and soaked them in a bowl with some olive oil, tamari, balsamic vinegar, garlic powder, paprika, basil, salt pepper, and red chili flakes.  I cooked them in the cast iron until tender and added some cheddar cheese near the end.  I topped my burger off with some ketchup and Nayonaise, that I bought from the new Grocery Outlet near our house, for 49 cents!!
Willis made his famous Parmesan Potatoes and as always, the meal was delicious.

Baked Potato Soup - my favorite recipe.  I love this soup.  It is so easy and so delicious.  I skip the bacon and just use olive oil and bacon salt.  I used leeks from the garden, instead of onion; veggie stock instead of chicken broth; and hot pepper flakes instead of hot sauce.

I was at work all night and just ate leftover soup.  I am not sure what Willis made.

Proper Eats I had the kid's burrito and a side of chips and salsa.  Willis had the Proper Plate.  I love this place.  It's an organic vegan cafe (but you can cheat and get dairy cheese added to things) and market.  They have an amazing bulk section in the market and the food in the cafe is always amazing. 

Sushi Mazi - I went out to dinner with my family and we attempted to go to Papa G's.  Unfortunately, it was kind of crowded, so we went to a sushi restaurant a couple of block away.

Horse Brass Pub - We went out for the third night in a row. Gasp!  But, it was for a good cause:  Courtney's 30th birthday!!!!!

06 March 2011

this week's menu #4

I took a break from the weekly menu posts due to us being on vacation.  But rest assured, we ate plenty of deliciousness overseas: chips, jam donuts (berliners), maultaschen, chicken man, etc.

This week's menu has included:

Winter Squash Nachos  - Willis made a delicious mix of winter squash, beans, and cheese to eat with nachos.

Focaccia & Seitan - Willis loves making focaccia.

Seitan, Kale, and Baked Parmesan Potatoes


Pinto Beans & Rice w/ Kale & Hushpuppies w/ Almond Honey Butter

Frozen Pizza

Pasta Dinner @ a friend's house.