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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?

Berry Cupcakes

August 28, 2012

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?

Blueberry-and-Raspberry Pancakes

August 27, 2012

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.

Blueberry-Raspberry Pancakes

(makes approximately 8 pancakes, serves 3 to 4)

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 1/2 tsp baking powder

2 tsp sugar

2 eggs

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.

 

Salmon with Avocado Sauce

August 2, 2012

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.

Avocado Dip

(serves 2)

1/2 avocado

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!

Happy 2nd Birthday, Chai!

July 30, 2012

It’s Chai’s 2nd birthday!  Last year, I arrived at my parent’s place back from my summer field job just in time to celebrate his first birthday.  However, this year my summer position goes a little longer– I’ll see you on the 9th, Chai! 😉

I didn’t have time to prepare a look back at his second year as today is also my coworker Judiete’s birthday and we had our whole crew down for a party on the weekend, so I was pretty busy cooking and baking for that (and having fun with the rest of the girls, too!)

So here are a few photos from one of our last days together on the island.

 

 

My baby Chai, all grown up!

 

French Toast Sandwiches

July 21, 2012

This morning we woke up at 3:30 a.m. to wind and rain, so we decided to postpone today’s banding session and went back to sleep.  So by the time we got up again, we’d been in bed for almost 12 hours!  The breeze is still strong but the rain had cleared up and the sun was out, and it was a perfect day for brunch on the porch.

I had an idea to make cream cheese and jam french toast sandwiches for quite some time now, but had never tried it.   Last shopping trip I picked up a jar of Crofter’s Organic raspberry jam, as I had noticed it is sweetened with fair trade sugar.  It turned out to be not-too-sweet, which is how I like my jam, and perfect for this recipe.

Cream Cheese and Jam French Toast Sandwiches

(serves 2)

2 eggs

2-3 tbsp milk

1/2 tsp vanilla

4 slices bread

cream cheese

raspberry jam or flavour of choice

In a bowl wide enough to fit your bread in, whisk together eggs, milk, and vanilla.  Spread two slices of bread with cream cheese.  Spread the other two slices with jam.  Sandwich together.  Dip in egg mixture and let the excess drip off.  Fry in greased frying pan until golden and serve as desired.

I don’t actually measure the milk in my french toast batter, but in my experience the less the better.

We had a crew exchange last week so unfortunately I won’t be putting a Gabrielle seal-of-approval on my recipes anymore ;).  But now Judiete is here and she proclaimed this delicious.  I’ll be definitely making this again.

What kind of french toast do you like?

What’s your favourite flavour of jam?

Chickpea-Feta Summer Salad

July 11, 2012

Is it too hot to cook where you are?  Our cabin doesn’t have air conditioning or even a fan so it can get a bit warm.  It actually was a little cooler today, but the day was hazy with smoke from a forest fire and I didn’t feel up to making an elaborate meal.  Thinking about a salad to make I recalled this recipe tucked away in my recipe book.  So after a lovely swim in the lake, I made it.  Gabrielle asked, “Are you going to post this on your blog?”  so I count that as a rave review. 😉

Chickpea-Feta Summer Salad

(serves 2, adapted from Canadian Living)

2 tbsp lemon juice

1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp cumin

black pepper to taste

1 cup chickpeas

10-12 cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered

3/4 cup diced cucumber

1/2 orange or yellow pepper, diced

2 green onions, thinly sliced

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

1/4 cup crumbled feta

2 handfuls baby spinach leaves, torn into bite-sized pieces

In a large bowl, stir together lemon juice, olive oil, cumin, and black pepper.  Add chickpeas, tomatoes, cucumber, pepper, onions, feta, and walnuts; mix.

Divide spinach leaves between two serving bowls.  Top with salad.  Serve.

Blueberry-Lemon Cake

July 10, 2012

This is the time of year when the big 2-lb boxes of blueberries are in the stores. While not as tasty as wild blueberries, they are still a welcome taste of summer.  We’ve been eating them on and in pancakes, adding them to our granola, and making fruit salad.

I also wanted to bake something with them, so I set out on an internet search.  Remembering how well cottage cheese worked in pancakes I wondered if it would work well in a cake as well.  Googling blueberry cottage cheese cake I ended up at a blog entirely in Russian.  After employing the wonder of Google Translate, using an online conversion calculator to change the recipe from grams, and adapting to my tastes and pan size, here is my result.

Blueberry-Lemon Cake

(makes 1 loaf, adapted from Divine Cuisine)

1/3 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup cottage cheese

2 eggs

1/2 tsp vanilla

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1- 2 tsp lemon zest

1 cup blueberries

Preheat oven to 350°F.  In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until well-combined.  Beat in cottage cheese, then eggs, one at a time, and then add vanilla.  In a small bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, and lemon zest.  Mix into wet ingredients until well-combined (batter will be very thick.)  Gently fold in blueberries.   Place in a greased 8″ x 4″ loaf pan and bake for 50- 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack.

This was very tasty with ice cream, and also packed well for lunches.

I know, cottage cheese cake sounds weird.  But trust me, you can’t really tell that it is in there.  It adds protein and contributes to the cake’s moistness and texture.  I added 1 tsp of lemon zest to the cake, which gave it a very light lemon flavour.  If you don’t like lemon, just leave it out.  Or add extra if you really like lemon.

For another good blueberry dessert, try my Starberry Shortcake.

Speaking of Russian, I recently read the book A Mountain of Crumbs by Elena Gorokhova.  It’s a fascinating memoir about growing up in the Soviet Union, and it gives insight on to what it was like to live under communism.  I highly recommend it.

Botanizing

July 7, 2012

A couple of months ago I had a conversation with an acquaintance about my interest in birds and my career as an avian field biologist.  He expressed wonderment that I could be so focussed on one thing.

But as I tried to explain, I’m not only interested in birds.  Yes, I take jobs studying them.  I use the chance to volunteer with them as an excuse for travelling.  I go birding as a hobby.  I photograph them.  And I even decorate my house with them.  It is true, birds are my special favourite,  but I am also quite fascinated by nature as a whole.

I am very much enjoying working in the boreal forest this summer.  It was hard leaving Vancouver Island, where spring was well on its way, and arriving up north where the trees were still without leaves and the plants were just starting to grow again.  But things greened up nicely and it has been a real pleasure rediscovering old familiar plants  as well as finding new species as they come into flower.

Western Wood Lily, Lillium philadelphicum var. andinum

I haven’t seen them since 2008 when I went to visit my gramma in Manitoba; I was pleasantly surprised to see how common they are along some of the roads around here.

Another nice surprise has been the orchids.

Northern Green Bog-Orchid, Platanthera hyperborea  (formerly Habenaria hyperborea)

I’ve found these at several of our banding sites, and taking a walk in the campground I discovered that one could almost consider them abundant along some stretches of the road.

Round-Leaved Bog-orchid, Platantherea orbiculata  (formerly Habenaria orbiculata)

I have only seen one of these so far, by one of our net lanes.

Roundleaf Orchid, Amerorchis rotundifolia (formerly Round-leaved Orchid, Orchis rotundifolia)

This was the first species of orchid I found up here, just as it was being stepped on by a visiting biologist!  I didn’t get a photograph of that one so when we returned to that site today I kept my eyes peeled as we passed through the area where it had been.  Sure enough, we found this one and one in poorer shape (perhaps just older, or perhaps it was the stepped on one.)  If I were in charge of naming it, it wouldn’t have been after the leaves– Freckle-flowered Orchid would be better, I think. 😉 (Speaking of names, it is ridiculously confusing how many common and scientific names each plant seems to have! Also, if anyone disagrees with my i.d.s, please, let me know.)

Just as we were picking up our gear to continue hiking out, somehow I spied a tiny plant a few metres from the orchids, and recognized it as a sundew from my trusty plant guide.  Earlier this year Gabrielle had shared some of her hopes for the summer, which included seeing a moose (we saw one in the ditch around 3 a.m. yesterday morning on our way to our farthest site) and seeing a carnivorous plant.  Well, here was the answer to that second desire!

Round-leaved Sundew, Drosera rotundifolia 

There were quite a few of them in a small area.   I had never seen them before either and as geeky as it might sound, I was quite excited.  If you want to learn more about them, see the Wikipedia article.

Any butterfly buffs who can i.d. that butterfly on the lily for me?  The internet has failed me so far.

What parts of nature  fascinate you?

Scanning Code of Practice

July 4, 2012

What do a toothbrush, a bottle of Tylenol, a lemon, two bags of frozen vegetables, a knife, a leash for Chai, and the following three things have in common?

Fair trade organic chocolate

Chai’s laser bee toy

Reusable to-go cup

Stumped?

I got them all for free!

This one’s for Canadians– do you know about the Scanning Code of Practice?

Have you ever had something scan at the check-out for higher than the shelf price?  If you point it out, often they’ll do a price check, and give you the lower price.  But if the store subscribes to the code, you should get the item for free, unless the price is over $10.  In that case you will get $10 off.  My mum bought me a thermos at Wal-mart for Christmas which scanned as $28, but the shelf price said $16.00, so she got it for $6.

If you are buying multiples of the same item, only the first one will be free, and the remainder will be the lower posted price.  (Although once my mum and I both bought the same mis-priced toothbrush, paying for them separately, so we both got them free.)

Not all cashiers will know about the code, but there is usually a sign posted near the cash register that you can point them to.  The manager will know, and they should happily give you the discount, even if the cashier is being a pain about it.  Nearly every major retailer in Canada (except Zellers), as many independent ones, follow it (for a list, see here.)  I’ve gotten things for free at Wal-mart, Superstore,  Extra Foods, Quality Foods, and Canadian Tire.

Most of my Scanning Code of Practice scores have happened serendipitously.  But sometimes, I’ve sought them out.  Some retailers will make a display of sale items on an end of shelf display in addition to their regular shelf location.  Then, when the sale is over, they might forget to change the price on one of those displays.  That is how I got a bag of frozen peas for free at Superstore.  Going back to the store a few days later for some needed item, I noticed the price still hadn’t been corrected– so I picked up a free bag of corn as well!  If you really are keen on saving money, it might be worth it to schedule your grocery shopping for the day the sale prices change to a new flyer and see if you can score some deals due to forgetful employees.

Tell your friends!

Have you ever gotten something for free because of the Scanning Code of Practice?