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Happy 4th Birthday, Chai!

August 3, 2014

I haven’t written a blog post for a very, very long time.

I miss it.  And I am thinking of starting again.  If only to post recipes for my reference.

Things have changed.  There’s been fewer birds and less baking in my life lately.  I will explain someday.

But to start off I want to celebrate Chai’s birthday (a few days late)– it is hard to believe he is already four years old!  I wish I had the enthusiasm to post a whole look back at his year like I did for his 3rd birthday.  If you would like to see what he’s been up to, you can see on my Instagram feed.

I thought instead I’d just post this recent photo of him, which might explain why I’ve been distracted from blogging…

 

Chai kiss

“Oh no!  Da bride kissed me!  Does dat me we is married now?”

I’m married now!  It will be one month tomorrow.

What’s new and exciting in your life?

It’s a Tough World

September 21, 2013

 

a humpback whale I saw in June off northern Vancouver Island–

a beautiful part of a fragile world

It’s a tough world for nature.

Here’s a collection of a few sad stories that I’ve been thinking about lately:

Around 7500 songbirds were killed by a flare at a gas plant in New Brunswick about a week ago.  The zoologist interviewed mentioned how many birds are killed by cats each year– see The Oatmeal’s “comic” about that.

Looking for information about wildlife affected by the oil spill at Cold Lake I also read that Alberta has averaged over two oil spills per day in the last thirty-seven years. (This link includes an interactive map.)

And it’s not only oil spills that affect the environment– a molasses spill in Honolulu earlier this month has caused a massive die-off of sea life.

Recently a trailer for a documentary called Midway has been getting shared around, which shares a bit about the plight of albatrosses and how plastic litter affects them.  Bird and Moon did a piece on it earlier this year too.

Last Friday a 28-year-old male orca was found dead near Tofino, on western Vancouver Island.

Today was the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup.  Today until the 29th is the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (not only the ocean, but lakes and rivers too–  you can still sign up a cleanup near you.)  My friend and I have signed up to help clean along part of the Puntledge River next week.  If you missed out on your chance to get involved, please take a little time to pick up some litter.  Or maybe donate some money to (or volunteer for) an environmental non-profit, or… you decide.  Just please do something nice for nature.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy 3rd Birthday, Chai!

July 30, 2013

I’m sorry that I haven’t been blogging…

 

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Things have been getting in the way.

Ha ha, no, I can’t blame Chai.  I could give you various reasons for why I’ve been quiet on here, but it doesn’t really matter– I am back in time for a very special day–

It is time to celebrate…

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Chai’s 3rd birthday!

Chai is a very busy boy so I thought I would share some photos of him since we were reunited at the end of last field season.

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Saying goodbye to his niece before driving to British Columbia

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Enjoying the luxury of the hotel after 11 hours in the car

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Trying to relax on the ferry

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Helping unpack

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Finding a new favourite spot in our new apartment


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Testing out the dreaminess factor of the new duvet cover

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Meeting several of the new neighbours

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Taking interest in the fruit I brought home through a volunteer harvesting program

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And then helping with the preserving of it

(He was particularly curious about the popping sound as the jars sealed)

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Helping with craft fair preparation

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The craft sale profits went to buying Chai pricey diet food,

which was his least favourite part of this year!

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Santa’s helper wrapping presents

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Chai enjoyed the daily excitement of opening the advent calendar my mum made us

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Playing with one of his Christmas presents

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It took a while, but eventually he didn’t mind wearing his Christmas bow-tie

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He had already forgotten the Christmas spirit by Boxing Day,

when we had a lost Boston Terrier visitor for a few hours

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Helping with laundry

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Participating in yoga

It’s about time to stop, but I could add many, many more photos… Chai is just so photogenic. ;)

I made the decision last year to stay year-round on the island and give up the nomadic field biologist life.  But an opportunity came up that I couldn’t turn down and I ended up back in northern Alberta for a seven-month contract.  This is the last time Chai, I promise!

But Chai seems to be happy spending the summer with my parents again–

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Taking naps

IMG_3032 And taking naps in the farm fresh air

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Happy Birthday Chai!

Whipped Shortbread

December 19, 2012

When I was young, every year my mum would bake Christmas cookies.  I only remember two kinds, almond drops and whipped shortbread.  The almond drops were my sister Michelle’s favourite, but I would only eat them because I liked the almond on the top.  Whipped shortbread were my favourite (but Michelle only liked the cherry on top of those.)

My sister Pamela posted a photo of her shortbread a few weeks ago on Facebook, which made me want to make some.  Those red and green cherries  pretty much contain every food additive that I am trying to keep out of my diet (and are pricey besides!) but I couldn’t resist.  Mmmm….  They are a juicy bite that goes perfectly with the crumbly, buttery shortbread.

whipped shortbreadWhipped Shortbread

(makes about 20 cookies)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar)

1/4 cup cornstarch

1 cup butter, softened

approximately 20 green and red glace cherries, optional

Preheat oven to 325ºC.  In a large bowl,  stir together flour, icing sugar, and cornstarch.  Add butter and beat with an electric mixer on low until well blended, then on high until whipped like cream.  Drop by spoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet.  Garnish each cookie with a cherry, if desired.  Bake until edges are just beginning to colour, about 8-10 minutes, but watch carefully.

Fresh out of the oven the texture of these won’t be as nice as once you wait for them to cool.

That Christmas plate was a gift from my family to my grandmother, sometime in the ’80s I’d guess.  I inherited it this fall when I went through some boxes of china with my mother.   You will see more family heirlooms in coming posts.

What was your favourite Christmas treat as a child?

 

Peppermint Meringues

December 18, 2012

On a Christmas baking kick and have leftover egg yolks– perhaps from making cranberry curd shortbread bars?

Might I suggest making peppermint meringues?

I’m not a huge candy cane fan, but I think they add just the right amount of peppermint flavour and look very pretty as well, sprinkled on meringues.   These are quite small cookies, almost more candy than cookie, and fat-free, so it’s pretty easy to find room for some, or to convince your friends/coworkers/family that they should eat a couple.

peppermint meringues

Peppermint Meringues

(makes about 48 small cookies, recipe adapted slightly from Allrecipes)

2 egg whites

1/8 tsp salt

1/8 tsp cream of tartar

1/2 cup white sugar or evaporated cane juice

1-2 peppermint candy canes, crushed as needed

Preheat oven to 225  °F. Line 2 cookie sheets with foil.  In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar to soft peaks. Gradually add sugar, continuing to beat until whites form stiff peaks.  Spoon into a plastic sandwich bag and snip a corner off, or use a piping bag, and pipe into small mounds on the lined cookie sheets, about 1-inch apart.  Sprinkle with crushed candy canes.

Bake for 1 1/2 hours in preheated oven, but do not allow too brown. Turn off oven but leave the meringues in the oven with the door ajar until completely cool. Loosen from foil with metal spatula.

The fresher the eggs, the better!

Meringues + humidity are not a good mix, but I have found putting them in an airtight cookie tin with several of those desiccant packages that come in vitamin bottles seems to do the trick, at least here.  In somewhere like Costa Rica you might be out of luck. ;)

Another meringue recipe that looks good but I haven’t tried making yet, is these Meringue Mushrooms.

Do you like candy canes? Or what’s your favourite Christmas candy?

Cranberry Shortbread Bars

December 17, 2012

Every year around this time I bake something festive for a potluck-type thing at work.  Two years ago, it was these:

melted snowmake cookies

Melted snowman cookies

If you want to make your own, Google it, and you’ll find all sorts of blog posts about them.

Last year, it was these:

marble Christmas cookies

Marbled Christmas cookies, which I blogged about here.

I had plans to make cookies again this year, but then I thought about it.  They look nice, but (to me, anyway) they never taste that good, and they are A LOT of work.  So after a lot of searching, I came up with an easier,  still brightly festive (but naturally-coloured), delicious idea– cranberry curd shortbread bars.  (Easier is relatively speaking.  This is nothing like cutting and baking and icing a ton of cookies, but it still is a multi-step recipe.)

The original cranberry curd bars idea comes from theKitchn.  I didn’t like how that curd recipe contained so many eggs, so I slightly modified Cooking Melangery’s curd recipe, using less sugar.   The original’s shortbread crust had ground nuts in it, but being thrifty I just went with the crust from my Lemon Bars.  I also added some shortbread stars to fancy them up.

cranberry shortbread star bars

Cranberry Curd Shortbread Bars

(makes one 9 x 13″ pan)

For the cranberry curd:

3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries

1/2 cup water

3 egg yolks

1 egg

2/3 cup sugar

57 grams  (4 tbsp) butter

For the shortbread crust:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup icing (confectioners’) sugar, sifted, plus extra for dusting

200 grams (1 cup minus 2 tbsp) butter, softened

In a medium saucepan, combine cranberries and water.  Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until all the cranberries pop.  Pass through a food mill or sieve to remove the skins, and let cranberry puree cool.   Clean saucepan.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 9×13″ pan with foil, then grease the foil. In a medium bowl, stir together 2 cups flour and icing sugar. Add the butter and mix until the dough comes together.  (I find it easiest to use my hands!) If desired, roll out a small amount of dough and cut star shapes using a mini cutter and place in a pie plate or other small pan.  Press remaining dough into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until edges start to lightly brown.  The stars will only need to be baked for about 5 minutes; watch them carefully.

Whisk together the egg yolks and egg, then whisk in sugar.  Place cranberry puree back in the saucepan, then stir in the egg mixture.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 10 minutes.  Remove the pan from heat and stir in butter.

Spread warm curd over crust.  Bake at 350°F for 10-15 minutes, or until edges are set but middle is still slightly jiggly.

Let cool, then refrigerate before cutting.  Garnish with shortbread stars and dust with icing sugar if desired, preferably just before serving (icing sugar will melt into the bars after a little while.) Store covered in the refrigerator.

The curd is delicious just on its own.  You could make it and cook it slightly longer, then keep it in the fridge for about a week, serving it on ice cream, yoghurt, waffles, pancakes… or just eating it straight.  :)

What to do with those leftover egg whites?  I’ll have a suggestion (hopefully!) tomorrow.

After I sprinkled on the icing sugar and took photos, I looked out the window to see snowflakes falling  just like powdered sugar.  Actually, not quite– it was huge clumps of snow falling.  It was our first snow of the season, so I took Chai out to see it, interrupting him from eating his dinner.  He is on a diet so that is a big deal to him!  But apparently freedom matters more than food, because he ran off in the snow.  Thankfully I got him back from under a parked truck by shaking his food container.  The snow remains– but rain is in the forecast, so it’s not clear if I’ll be having a white Christmas or not.

Have you done any Christmas baking this year?

Salmon Run

November 12, 2012

Recently I celebrated my fourth anniversary of moving to Vancouver Island.  Really?  This is my fifth winter here?  I was asked if it feels like home.  Yes, it does, to an extent.   However, I’ve spent the last three summers in the prairie provinces and when there it has always felt strange to say that I am from British Columbia, since I was born in Saskatchewan and my parents live in Alberta (where I graduated high school.)

Now that I intend on making this a permanent stay I’ve decided I need to get to know my home better.  And what could be more British-Columbian than going to see spawning salmon?  So earlier this month I headed over to Puntledge Park in Courtenay with my friend and her son to check out the chum salmon run.

dead salmon and dead leaves

It feels like it’s been quite a while since I’ve gone out and tried to do some real photography!  I have to sheepishly admit that it has been much easier just to rely on my iPhone most of the time when I want to take a picture.  It was a gloomy day and I should have had my tripod, plus I don’t have a polarizing filter, so photographing live fish properly was pretty much out of the question.  But I did manage to get one shot that I rather like, with it’s painterly quality.

The next week the sun came out and I decided to try again– but that part of the valley was under clouds!  I decided to focus on photographing the gulls instead.  I’m not particularly pleased with any of these photos, but they are better than nothing! ;)

Glaucous-winged Gull– didn’t his mother ever teach him to use a napkin?

Immature Glaucous-winged Gull

I wonder the eye is the tastiest bit, or is it just the easier place to start?

California Gull

There were a few of these guys mixed in with the Glaucous-wingeds and Mews.  I find them to be the most handsome of the gulls here.

I spent a long time watching this buffoon, defending his perch in the middle of the river.  He spent a lot of time yelling and grabbed this Mew Gull by the wing when it swam too close.

To see some lovely salmon photography from the same spot this fall, I recommend heading over to Island Nature and reading this post  and the one after.

What’s something special about your province/state/area?

The Great Fort McMoney Recycling Scheme

September 12, 2012

This post was meant to be written long ago…

It was a sunny day in mid-May.  My coworker Gabrielle and I were driving around scouting out potential banding sites, and after mulling over an idea for a while, I finally spoke up.  “Hey, could you stop so I could pick up that pile of cans in the ditch?”  I was starting to notice cans and bottles everywhere, or so it seemed, and being a good environmentalist (and, I’ll admit, thinking about the potential of making a few extra bucks) I couldn’t stand just passing them by.

Soon Gabrielle joined in on my can and bottle collecting scheme, and we were going for walks in the campground and towards the village, bag in hand.

We cleaned up all our banding sites and the areas where we parked.  And then we started going for drives on our days off, eventually clearing the first 10 km of the gravel road that lead to four of our banding sites, and several kilometers of the nearby highway as well.  Apparently people in the oil sands make so much money they don’t care about the fact they are throwing money out the window when they toss out their empties.

Living at a fishing lodge that didn’t have recycling bins, we learned to ask our new neighbours if we could have their recyclables.  We also may have done some rummaging in the trash, raiding garbage cans at the lodge, in a provincial recreation area near one of our sites, and at gas stations and anywhere else I saw cans and bottles in the trash.  We got pretty into it.

(There were 86 bottles and cans in here, at one of our banding sites.

Who just leaves $8.60 behind?)

Yes, it was hard work, and often rather gross.   And we never got over how ridiculous we felt whenever we sorted empties on the lawn. (We tried to do it when there were few other guests around!)

But it was worth it.  I don’t think I made a single trip to Fort McMurray that didn’t start with a stop at the bottle depot.  The workers there recognized us and week by week the deposits we received back piled up.

In Alberta, containers 1L and under have a deposit of 10 cents and over 1L it is 25 cents.

(877 cans, so that’s $87.70!)

Partway through the summer, Gabrielle was transferred to another field location and Judiete came to join me.  I worried at first that she wouldn’t be as enthusiastic about amassing a pile of stinky bottles in the cabin, but she joined right in.  She even made a recycling sign for a bin that we kept on our porch that other guests were soon filling for us.

And after just 3 months, our recycling grand total equaled…

$1103!

With my half of the money, I have plans to buy a bicycle.  I’ve been shopping online but I may have to wait until next year to get the one I want… stay tuned for an update on the bicycle that recycling bought.

I’ve still been picking up cans and bottles here in BC, but the deposit is only 5 cents for small containers and 20 cents for large ones, and people seem much less inclined to throw recyclables in ditch or garbage… which is good for the environment, but bad for my spare change fund.

Have you ever thrown a recycable bottle or can into the trash?  WHY?

If you see a can or bottle on the ground, do you pick it up?

Crepes

September 9, 2012

I hope that you are getting tired of breakfast recipes… or blueberry recipes…  because I’m not. ;) I had crêpes this morning and anticipate making them many more mornings.   Gabrielle and Judiete– I’m sorry I never made these!  They are so delicious!

This is based on a recipe that I made once in high school, from an old Canadian Egg Marketing Agency recipe booklet.

Crêpes

(makes 5-6)

2 eggs

1/2 cup milk

1/2 tbsp canola oil or melted butter

2 tsp sugar

dash salt

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

In a medium bowl, whisk eggs with a fork, then whisk in milk.  Whisk in oil, sugar, and salt, then slowly add in flour, whisking until smooth.

Lightly oil a frying pan and heat over medium.  Pour about 1/4 cup batter into pan, tipping to coat bottom.  Cook until surface is dry and edges are starting to brown. Flip and cook other side, about 30 to 45 seconds.  Transfer to a cooling rack.  Repeat with remaining batter.  Crêpes can be stacked if using immediately.

Fill crêpes as desired.  I used plain yoghurt, sliced fresh peaches and wild blueberries, topped them with more, and then drizzled them all with maple syrup.

Nutcases

September 5, 2012

I’m sorry.  I have been neglecting my blog lately.  But even more, I have been very neglectful of the “Birds” side of Birds and Baking, as I just checked and I’ve only had two posts in that category all year-long!

In real life, I am very much immersed in the bird side of things at the banding station.  We’ve been having fairly busy days, ranging from 35 to 129 birds banded of now 61 species for the season.  Often we are banding the same species over and over again– Orange-crowned warblers, Ruby-crowned kinglets, and White-throated sparrows were some of the higher numbers banded today.  But every once in a while something a little more special shows up in the nets and someone gets a surprise when they pull a bird out of a bag back at the banding lab.

We’ve actually had one or more nuthatches per day for the last few days, but regardless, every time I find one in the net or take out of a birdbag they make me smile.  They are cute, make cute noises, and as one friend pointed out to me a long time ago, they smell really good (like pine trees, from spending so much time pressed up against the bark.)

As I mentioned last year, I tend to come up with nicknames for birds, so lately I’ve been calling nuthatches “nutcases.”

 

Male Red-breasted nuthatch

He’s got a black crown.

Female Red-breasted nuthatch

She’s got a blue-gray crown.

If you want to see more bird photos, and have Instagram on your phone, you can follow me– “theOvenbird”.  I am working on amassing the world’s largest Instagram bird-in-hand photo collection! ;)

Also, my four-day weekend is coming up, so look forward to some more posts soon!

Have you seen any good birds lately?

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