Every year around this time I bake something festive for a potluck-type thing at work. Two years ago, it was these:
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:
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 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
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?
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.
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!
I wonder the eye is the tastiest bit, or is it just the easier place to start?
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?
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…
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?
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.
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tbsp canola oil or melted butter
2 tsp sugar
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.
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.”
He’s got a black crown.
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?
Yesterday I shared a pancake recipe with summer berries, today I’m (finally!) sharing another berry idea. It was Judiete’s birthday at the end of July and we used that as an opportunity to invite the rest of our banding crew to our cabin by the lake for a birthday/end-0f-season party. So of course I also used the opportunity to bake cupcakes.
I made vanilla cupcakes using my favourite recipe and iced them with my favourite frosting. Some I frosted with vanilla, and for chocolate, I added some Nutella (and a little extra milk) to the icing. (You could use cocoa instead, of course.) To pipe the vanilla I used a Ziploc bag with a corner snipped off, as I didn’t have my piping tips. And then I added raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries. The end result were pretty, colourful (with no food colouring needed!) delicious summery cupcakes. They also took far less time than decorating with multicoloured frosting.
I’m sure someday I’ll make similar ones again.
What’s your favourite summer berry?
I apologise for my blogging absence. Looking back at my last post, suppers on the porch by the lake feel so long ago! I am back in Mackenzie for another fall, banding birds, and picking wild blueberries whenever I can. I already have 19 cups in the freezer and big plans for jam-making, syrup-making, and a winter-ful of breakfasts, smoothies and baking.
But for now I am also enjoying them fresh with yoghurt and granola, with ice cream, in crisps (I bought an old toaster oven for $4 and now I have the ability to bake smalls things out at the station!), and in pancakes. Some of the local volunteers have been supplying us from their raspberry bushes so I’ve been enjoying those as well.
This weekend was my first four days off and I headed down to Prince George to meet up with my mum and brother who came from Alberta, and we visited with various relatives. I dragged them along with me to the farmers’ market and it was as good as I remember it being from last year. Then they came here for a visit (my brother had never been to a banding station before) and, among other things, we picked blueberries. They left yesterday, and this morning I slept in and made pancakes. Delcious, delicous pancakes. I am very sad that this was the last of this year’s raspberry crop.
(makes approximately 8 pancakes, serves 3 to 4)
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp sugar
1 1/4 cups milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp canola oil or melted butter
approximately 1/2 cup blueberries
approximately 2/3 cup raspberries, each raspberry halved
Heat a frying pan over low heat. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and sugar. In a medium bowl, beat eggs, then stir in milk, vanilla, and oil. Stir wet ingredients into dry until just combined.
When the pan is hot enough to make a drop of cold water dance, grease lightly with butter. Add enough batter to make a pancake, then dot with blueberries and raspberries. Cook until underside is golden (the top will be covered in bubbles), then flip and cook other side. Repeat, cleaning pan as needed, as the raspberries tend to stick to the pan.
Serve as desired.
It is quite lovely to eat supper on our porch, looking at the lake, and enjoying the tastes of the season. Here is a recipe for one of my favorite accompaniments to grilled salmon, avocado dip, which we recently had with grilled corn and a strawberry-spinach salad.
fresh lemon or lime juice, to taste
1 1/2 tbsp plain yoghurt (you could use mayonnaise if you don’t have yoghurt)
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
In a small bowl, mash avocado. Squeeze in some lemon or lime juice. Stir in yoghurt and garlic, then season with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust citrus and seasonings. Serve with grilled or roasted salmon.
If you are interested in the salad, it is spinach, strawberries, candied pecans, and goat cheese, with a balsamic vinegar-olive oil dressing with just a hint of sugar, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.
For another delicious salmon recipe, try my maple salmon.
For another great strawberry-spinach salad recipe, see my recipe here.
How do you like your salmon?
Have you ever grilled corn? This summer was my first time and I love it!