Sunday, April 23, 2017

How To Create a Wildlife Habitat

visitors to our back yard

We are Just a Family of Four

In 1992 our family of four moved to a farmhouse in a small town in the Puget Sound area.
Directly east and south of us is the Army base Fort Lewis, to the north is a natural pond, and to the west there is a wetlands area--10 acres which will never be developed.

But, we have many visitors

coyote
Our bird feeders are a swirl of activity all day. Squirrels and chipmunks pick up the fallen seeds from the ground, and chase each other back and forth in the hazelnut trees. Rabbits munch on the clover in our lawn. Possums and raccoons live in brush piles and waddle through the side yard every day. Deer graze on the native shrubs, nestle down and chew their cud in the early afternoon in our backyard, and at night slumber in the cedar grove.
Coyotes certainly announce their presence. I want to hate them but I can't--I know they are part of the circle of life that keeps everything in balance (and their babies are soooo cute!).
And occasionally, in the wee hours of the morning, a brown bear ambles through.
We live in paradise (and the animals agree).

male pileated woodpecker

But (you say), I Don't Live in the 100 Acre Woods!

You don't need to have acres of property to invite and enjoy wildlife. Even if you live in an apartment, you can enjoy a bit of Creation if you have access to a balcony or window from which you can hang a bird feeder, hummingbird feeder, or plant a flower to attract butterflies.

Here's What to Do

According to the National Wildlife Federation, there are four basic elements that need to be provided to invite wildlife:
  • Food
  • Water
  • Cover
  • Nesting
I will give you two different plans--one for small house or apartment dwellers who have limited space, and one for those who have a large(r) outdoor area.

If you have a small space

Everyone needs to eat! Even birds. (It's not just about the worms). Hummingbirds and butterflies can be enjoyed in small places too--even from a space as small as an apartment balcony. Here's how:

BIRD FEEDING TIPS

  • Place bird feeders in locations where cats and other predators can not reach them.
  • Place feeders ten to twelve feet from low shrubs.
  • Clean your feeders regularly with hot water, and let them air dry completely. Also keep areas under and around the feeders clean.
  • Keep seed clean and dry, and watch for mold.
  • Use a seed blend designed for your feeder and the types of birds you feed. Avoid blends that contain filler seeds and grains (sorghum and red or golden millet)--birds usually do not eat these, so they end up on the ground and are wasted.
  • Black oil sunflower seed is a favorite of just about every seed-eating species.


HUMMINGBIRD FEEDING TIPS

  • Hummingbird feeders can be purchased an your local hardware store for as little at $10.00
  • Special nectar is not needed--simply mix 1 part sugar with 4 parts hot water. DON'T add red food dye and don't use honey. White sugar only!
  • Empty and refill the feeder every 2 or 3 days to insure that the sugar water is pure.

Monarch butterfly

BUTTERFLY FEEDING TIPS

Butterflies have three basic needs:
  • a source of water (a saucer of water, damp puddles, or damp sand)
  • native flowers for nectar (they are attracted to red, orange, yellow, pink, purple)
  • Butterflies are not shade lovers--they need full sun to warm their wings and to help them navigate; they need feeding flowers that receive full sun from mid-morning to mid-afternoon. Also when planting for butterflies, choose flowers that are native to your area.

If you have a large space

If you live in a larger space, you have even more options for wildlife habitat. Have you thought about creating a space, not only for birds, hummingbirds, and butterflies, but also for:
  • amphibians
  • bats
  • bees


Amphibians

tree frog
I love the sound of the frogs singing in the pond next to our property. As soon as the sun goes down their chorus begins. At first a low melodic tone, that crescendos--and then amazingly comes to a complete stop! "Why?" I wondered. And then I realized.....they need to stop to turn the page of sheet music.
What are amphibians? Frogs, toads, and salamanders fall into that category. So what differentiates an amphibian from a lizard? Amphibians hatch from eggs laid in or near water. They begin their hatched life with gills, and then as adults live mostly on land, returning to the water to breed.
The only thing they need is a pond--natural or created.
  • If there is a natural pond or stream in your area, keep it healthy.
  • Create a pond if none exists.
The National Wildlife Federation has resources to provide further information. (See "Garden for Wildlife") below.

Bats

Bats need a house.
Yes, I'm suggesting that you construct a house for bats (but not in your attic).
No, they are not evil vampires nor will they nest in your hair.
What they will do is consume insects. Large, copious amounts of insects (would you believe up to 1,000 mosquitoes in one hour?!)
You might be surprised to learn that bats don't always live in caves. Some bats winter in caves, but most spend the summer in trees or under bridges. Unlike bird nests, bat nests are very narrow--they prefer tight spaces (which keep their babies warm).
So, why would a bat need a house (from you) rather than a tree (from nature)? Well, as more forests are clear-cut and housing developments are established where groves of trees used to grow, bats are losing their natural habitat.
Bats need us--and we certainly need them!
The ideal location for a bat house would include:
  • lots of sun;
  • be at least 15 feet off the ground (to protect against predators)
  • have a water source nearby (so the mother bat doesn't have to leave her babies for too long).

Here's a link on how to build a bat house:


Bees

honey bee
There have been many stories in the media that our Nation's honeybees are dying off. Pollution and pesticides are decimating their colonies.
Why is that important? Bees are needed for pollination. But it is not just honeybees that are in trouble. Many "wild" bees, butterflies, and moths are also threatened, and without them you and I will not be able to enjoy the fruits and flowers in our local neighborhoods.
Bee houses can provide nesting and protection for the bees species native to your area.

This is where the action is!

The National Wildlife Federation has a wealth of information on creating habitat (little or large), and how to attract, encourage, and support the fauna in your part of the country.


By providing food, water, cover and places for wildlife to raise their young--as well as incorporating sustainable gardening practices--your garden can join the more than 136,000 Certified Wildlife Habitats™ across the country.



I hope you can find ways to discover the wildlife in your corner of the world.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Little drum Roll Please...


My new book is available at Amazon. 

My labor over this was longer than April the giraffe's, but well worth it. I'm happy (and now I can get back to the garden).

Monday, April 10, 2017

How to Chop an Onion

I love to watch cooking shows on television--Master Chef, Chopped and the wonderful chefs on PBS. I'm pretty confident about my cooking skills, but am always in awe of how quickly a professional chefs whips through dicing/mincing an onion.

Do we need to chop onions like a pro?

If you are going to be a professional chef, create amazing dishes for an innumerable list of guests, you need to know how to whack through those onions in a hurry! But that doesn't describe me, and probably isn't you either (I'm guessing). We just want to prepare a lovely meal for ourselves, our spouse, our family, our friends or neighbors.
So what's the hurry?

This is all you really need to get started:

  • good-quality cutting board
  • sharp knife
  • firm onion

The Cutting Board - You can "fake" some kitchen tools (for example you can use a mesh sieve in place of a flour sifter, or use a drinking glass as a cookie cutter), but you must have a real, honest-to-goodness cutting board to save your counter tops, your knives, and your fingers and thumbs.
Cutting boards come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and prices. Before making that purchase, consider that wooden boards need to be seasoned with oil. They don't hold up well after being washed in the dishwasher, and can become a breeding ground for bacteria. I avoid them.
My favorite cutting board is the plastic variety. They are easy to keep clean (sterile), don't splinter or chip, and typically have grippers on the bottom so that they will not slide away from you.
The Knife - There are only a few features of a knife that determine its quality. The most important part of any knife is the blade. Although ceramic blades are now the "in thing" and have an amazing sharpness, they are also fragile and can break easily. I prefer forged stainless steel.
The next consideration is the shape, material, and structure of the handle.
  • The shape of the handle should be comfortable in your hand. Pick up the knife, hold it, and imagine using it in your kitchen. Is it comfortable? I'm petite (5 feet tall) and so large tools feel very unwieldy for me.
  • The material of the handle is also very important. Plastic handles will splinter and shatter easily. Look for a polycarbonate--dishwasher safe and sturdy.
  • Another common feature of the best quality knives is that the tail of the blade, called the tang. It should be solidly riveted into the handle. The length of the steel should be visible from tip of the blade to the butt of the handle. If the handle solidly encases the blade, walk away.
But (you might ask), what is wrong with using a cheap knife? Less expensive knives are made from a much lighter gauge of steel which means that they will not keep a sharp edge for very long. The blades of cheaper knives are also often very thin, making them brittle and more likely to break or for the edge to chip. Handles made from wood or plastic perish very quickly and are usually not dishwasher-safe. Also, the blades are not always set into the handle very securely. All of this makes cheap knives more likely to be blunt which forces you to use more force when cutting with them which in turn makes them more likely to break or for the blade to come loose from the handle.
It's important to keep your knives sharp. Dull knives are a safety hazard and can be very dangerous.
The more blunt a knife's edge is, the more pressure it takes to cut something. The more pressure your hand and the knife apply to a piece of food, the more likely you are to slip and cut your finger instead. Sharpened knives also reduce the time it takes to prepare your meals, since your cuts will be faster and more accurate.
The onion - This might seem a little obvious but.....you need to have a firm onion. Any signs of mildew (the black stuff), large soft areas, or serious sprouting means that you should probably send your onion to that great compost bin in the sky.
A squishy onion is not a good onion to chop/mince/dice or slice.

So, are you ready to get started?



  • Begin by placing the onion on the cutting board and slicing off the top and bottom ends. This is a good thing--it now has two flat sides and isn't so likely so roll around and slip away. Flip the onion over to that it is resting on one of the flat ends.
  • Now place the blade of your knife across the center of the upward-facing flat end. The edge of your blade should aim for the center of the onion. Slice straight down.
  • You now have an onion approximately cut in half. Set one half aside (for now).
  • Peel off the skin from one half and then place it on the cutting board, flat side down, curved side facing up. The top and bottom ends should be pointing left and right.
  • Next you are going to slice through the onion from right to left (if you are right-handed) and left-to right if you are a lefty. You will end up with semi-circular sections. (No fingertips please!
  • (For the sake of brevity and my sanity, lets assume from now on that you are right-handed. Only 10 percent of the population--like me!!--is gifted with being left-handed).
  • Now take a moment to read and understand this next step before you proceed.
Depending on how thin or thick you made your slices, you are now looking at one-half of an onion that has been turned into maybe 8, 10, or 12 slices. Take 3 of those slices and lay they down on the cutting board. Turn the stack of slices so that the flat side is near you (south) and the round side is to the north.
Working from right to left, cut through the semi-circles and turn those long curves strips into little chunks. Be careful when you get to the end, because there's not much room for your fingers.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Unloved Vegetable

Each Wednesday during Lent, our church has a mid-week service at 6:30 pm. And, like all good Lutherans, we use this as an opportunity (excuse) to have a potluck dinner in the hour before. I asked my friends at our table "What would you like to see on my blog? I'm looking for inspiration."

"Rutabagas" was the reply. I don't know if they were sincere in their desire to see a recipe for that humble, under-represented vegetable, or if they tossed the name out as a challenge. Whether a joke or an urgent plea, I'm feeling up to the task. Here's my idea for what to do to add rutabagas to the list of hits coming out of your kitchen:

Roasted Root Vegetables
  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 1 pound red-skinned potatoes, unpeeled, scrubbed, and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 pound butternut squash, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 pound rutabagas, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 pound parsnips, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 onions, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 large red onion, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 10 garlic cloves, peeled
  1. Position 1 rack in bottom third of oven and 1 rack in center of oven and preheat to 400°F. 
  2. Spray 2 heavy large baking sheets with nonstick spray. Combine all remaining ingredients except garlic in very large bowl; toss to coat. Season generously with salt and pepper. Divide vegetable mixture between prepared sheets. Place 1 sheet on each oven rack. Roast 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reverse positions of baking sheets. Add 5 garlic cloves to each baking sheet.
  3. Continue to roast until all vegetables are tender and brown in spots, stirring and turning vegetables occasionally, about 45 minutes longer. (Can be prepared 4 hours ahead. Let stand on baking sheets at room temperature. Rewarm in 450°F oven until heated through, about 15 minutes.)
  4. Transfer roasted vegetables to large bowl and then serve.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Enjoy Life

I drafted this post several weeks ago when I assumed that Spring would be "just around the corner". On the first official day of Spring, our weather was anything other than "spring-like". In fact, we have broken all records for rainfall, receiving one year's worth of precipitation in just the past 4 months. 

Despite the lack of sunshine (or even a bit of warmth), I know that Spring is on the way. The rhubarb is starting to pop up from its winter slumber and daffodils are blooming in the flowerbeds. So, it's time to...




Live.
Love.
Enjoy.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do


My parents were young adults during the Great Depression of 1929-30. For them the words "Use it up, wear it out, make it do" was more than a catchy phrase or casual mantra. It was a way of life that they carried with them each and every day until the end of their lives in the latter part of the 20th century.

In my growing up years, we were frugal long before the concept of living "green".
  • We re-used aluminum foil.
  • We saved the heels of loaves of bread to make our own bread crumbs.
  • We didn't purchase oil for frying--mom had a little pot sitting on the back of the stove into which she poured the grease that remained from frying bacon. (I still hold onto two of these three habits).
  • We drank water from the tap (not a plastic bottle).
  • Laundry was hung on the line to dry.
  • Diapers were washed, not used once and throw way.
  • We used a push lawn mower.
  • We had and knew how to use maps, not GPS.
  • We recycled milk, soda, and beer bottles.

Leftover Spaghetti Sauce

Too much to throw away. Not enough for even one serving of pasta. So, what do you do? I have a freezer container just for this purpose. Pour the that last little bit of sauce into the container and pop it into the freezer. Next time you have leftover spaghetti sauce, repeat, repeat, repeat. Spaghetti sauce stored in an air-tight container will last for a year at most, but at least 6 months.



Cooked Vegetables

One cooked carrot. A couple of parsnips. A handful of green beans. They could be tossed out (and usually are, right?) But why? Are they spoiled? Or are you just weary of them?

I save most (not all) of my vegetable leftovers. Yes, I toss out (into the compost pile) the sulfurous veggies such as cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, but the carrots, celery, and parsnips are saved in a zip-lock bag that stays in the freezer. They love being tossed into a pot of stew or vegetable soup.



Cheese Rinds

If the only cheese you consume is Velveeta or shredded cheese in a bag you can skip ahead to the next topic. However, if you occasionally purchase hard or semi-hard Italian cheeses (Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino-Romano, etc.) then this is for you.

Although cheese rinds are difficult (if not impossible) to chew, they can be shredded on a micro-plane and used in any dish. But the rinds can also be saved in the freezer for use in soups, sauces, and chowders. Just toss chunks of rind into the pot as the mixture slowly simmers and, in a few hours, the rind will be smaller or perhaps disappear and the flavor of your dish will be enhanced. Remove and discard any leftover pieces before serving.

And they can also be used to make stock--yes, instead of chicken, beef, or fish you can use leftover cheese rinds to begin a flavorful stock. Here's how:
  • Simmer about 1/2 pound of hard cheese rinds in 8 cups of water for 3 to 4 hours. The resulting broth can be used in any soup or chowder typically flavored with cheese--for example potato, broccoli, or cauliflower.

Storing Cheese Rinds

  • To keep the rinds from molding or becoming harder, start a cheese rind bag in your freezer. Use a zip closure bag and toss in rinds as they become available. Cheese rinds will keep for up to a year in the freezer if stored in an airtight bag or container.

Rotisserie Chicken Leftovers

Our local grocery store (Safeway) features $5.00 Friday--for just 5 dollars you can purchase a whole chicken already seasoned, roasted, and ready to go home with you for dinner. And Costco has roast chickens for $4.99 every day. My frugal bones don't allow me to take advantage of even this offer very often. (My own version is shown below.)

However, if you find yourself in possession of an already-cooked chicken, and you have feasted from it's succulent thighs, legs and breast portions--what do you do with the leftovers? I'm going to assume that most of you toss them into the trash.

Here's another idea--place the leftover skin and bones into a medium-sized saucepan. Toss in a carrot, some celery (if you have it--if not, that's OK), and an onion. Add water to cover and then simmer for 3 or 4 hours.

What--you don't have that much time? Well, do you have a crock pot (i.e. slow cooker)? Store your rotisserie chicken scraps in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning place them, with the aforementioned veggies and water into your crock pot. Set the cooking level to low. Go to work, and when you come home you will have an amazing broth that you can use for soup.
Now, here's that do-it-yourself rotisserie chicken recipe that I promised (and you don't need a rotisserie!)
1 large whole chicken (about 5 to 6 pounds), washed and patted dry with paper towels
1 medium onion (leave it whole--just remove the dry papery skin)
2 tablespoons seasoning salt, or make your own with
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. celery salt
  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.
  2. Place onion in the cavity of the chicken.
  3. Liberally apply seasoning to all surfaces of the chicken.
  4. Place in oven-safe container.
  5. Don't add water!
  6. Allow chicken to cook for 5 hours (no peaking allowed!)
Yes, I know this sounds ridiculous--no cover and no water? Surely it will go up in flames, but I promise you that it won't. After 5 hours you will have the most succulent, moist, flavorful roast chicken.



Mashed Potatoes

Is there anything less inspiring that a bowl of cold mashed potatoes? My mom used to stir in an egg and some flour and cook mashed potato cakes. Mine never taste as good as Mom's. (Perhaps because I don't keep that little pot of leftover bacon grease on the back of my stove).

Here's a recipe for potato soup:

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 small onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 2-1/2 cups whole milk
  • 3 cups leftover mashed potatoes
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • dried parsley and shredded cheddar cheese for garnish

Directions

  1. In a large saucepan melt the butter over medium heat, then add in onion. Cook until golden brown (almost caramelized)--10 minutes.
  2. Once the onions are golden add the all-purpose flour and mix well until the onions have been coated with the flour mixture. Add the whole milk and stir for one minute.
  3. Then add in the mashed potatoes, mixing until all the potatoes have broken up. Cook on medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes or until potatoes are smooth. Taste the soup and add salt and black pepper if desired.
  4. Ladle into bowls and top with dried parsley, shredded cheddar cheese, and cracked black pepper.

Shrimp Shells

OK, by now you probably think I have completely lost my mind. Just humor me for a moment. Do you ever prepare clam chowder and need a bit of broth? Do you ever cook seafood risotto? You probably reach for a can or box of chicken broth, right? But, I assume you have heard of fish stock. Maybe you have even made it a time or two. Why not stock made from shrimp shells?

I save my shrimp shells in a zip-lock bag which I keep in the freezer. When the bag is full, I place the shells (still frozen) in a stock pot with onions, celery, and a carrot or two and then cover with water. Simmer for about 20 minutes then strain. You have a lovely seafood broth which you can use immediately, or store in the freezer.