Saturday, February 8, 2020

Our Miniature Mountain Man named Ewan

Life with grandchildren is always interesting.  Ewan our youngest is particularly entertaining.  He is a nine year old with an old soul who can read between the lines and pick up on subtle nuances.  He always knows when the adults in his life are leaving out some important information or discussing something he really doesn't need to know.  He can hear better than any animal in the forest.  We are convinced he is going to grow up to be the next Grizzley Adams, a true mountain man.  He loves our cabin in the woods.  He said it would be the perfect place to live off the grid, and it has good wifi.  I'm not sure if living off the grid includes having wifi, but I left it at that. 

I may have mentioned that his favorite Christmas gift this year was a hatchet.  He already has a Bowie knife.  Both of these items are never far from his sight unless he is in school.  He was also thrilled to receive a portable shovel for digging.  You never know when you have to survive in the woods. 

Before the dust settled from opening Christmas presents, Ewan headed outside.  He had important work to do.  He was going to build a shelter.  A shelter from what, I don't know.  He convinced his cousin Jack to help for a while even though Jack prefers the comforts of inside shelters.

They worked very hard until it was time to go home.  I had no idea if it was still standing.  No one had checked since Christmas but today Ewan's parents wanted to go shopping to an outlet, about a half hour from our house, that sells chicken   They had to go right past our house, so Ewan asked if he could stay with us instead.  He ate a snack of bacon and eggs and then wanted to head out to check on his shelter.  Of course he brought his knife and hatchet.  I told him to be careful and let him go out.  About ten minutes later I went out to check on him.  I found him chopping down a twenty foot cedar tree.

I watched for a minute, and he was really going to town on the tree.  He had it almost chopped down.

It was hung up in the other trees, but he was determined.  I asked if I could help push it down, but I couldn't budge it.  Next thing I know, down it came right next to the stump but was still standing straight.  No that isn't blood on the tree stump.  It's a cedar tree and the heart of the tree is red like that, but at quick glance it was a little frightening. 

By that time his parents returned.  His dad helped him finish the job for now.  They pushed the tree down and he cut it in half.  I'm not sure what he will do with it, but he chose it because it was so straight.  At this stage of the project, he had to go home.  Our next family get together will be in six weeks when we have our annual St. Patrick's Day meal and Leprechaun search.  Hopefully it will be a nice day for working outside because I'm certain he will have his knife and hatchet with him.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Embellishing Plain Millet Suet Cakes

We feed the birds.  Anyone who knows us, knows we love watching the birds dart in and out of the feeders.  It's especially important to supplement food in the winter when natural food is scarce in Wisconsin.  There are many birds who don't migrate and need the fuel to survive the cold temperatures and snow.  I blogged about a recipe more than a year ago.  I have made this many times.

Recently I didn't have all the ingredients for this recipe, but I did have a bunch of pre-packaged suet cakes.  We pick up a box now and then when they are on sale.  Sometimes they can be as inexpensive as $.50 each.  I checked my supplies and saw I had two boxes on hand.

If you look carefully, these are two different types of food.  The box on the right states it is No Melt and is marketed as Woodpecker dough.  I learned the hard way that these do not melt just as it says on the box.  It's perfect for the summer heat but is not suet.   The cakes look similar but are not. I did break up these blocks and put them on a platform feeder for the birds to enjoy that way.

Woodpecker Dough

I have a spindle feeder, and I wanted to melt the suet cakes so I could reshape them into the cylinder shape.  The cakes look slightly different from the woodpecker dough.  They feel greasier, and you can see seeds mixed in the product.  The ones I have only contain millet and millet is not a favorite of the birds.  Some birds will eat them, but most of the birds will not unless they are starving.  My remedy for this situation is to first melt the blocks.  I put three of them into a microwavable bowl and microwaved for two minutes.  I have also put them in a saucepan on low heat.  It is your choice as to what method works best for you.  When melted, stir them together into a greasy, seedy slurry.

At this point I stir in sunflower seeds and/or peanuts.  Stir until the suet cools to the point where the seeds incorporate as opposed to floating.  It cools in a couple of minutes.  At this point, I pack the ingredients in a container sprayed with cooking spray.  Spraying makes it easier to release.  Make sure you pack it tight to get all the air pockets out.  I used a five pound cottage cheese container.  While it is soft, I put a large metal bolt through the middle to make a hole in the center so I can fit it over the spindle feeder I have.  It isn't pretty, but it works.

I let it firm up overnight.  In the morning or after a few hours, remove the metal piece and turn the container over like you would a layer cake.  The embellished suet cake pops right out.  A bonus is the cost savings.  A pre-made suet cake of this style and size runs about $12.00 whereas my home made cakes cost less than $2.00.

The birds love these.  It attracts all kinds of birds.  The cardinals and all types of woodpeckers especially like them.

Red Bellied Woodpecker 
Male and Female Northern Cardinal 
White Breasted Nuthatch 
Red Breasted Nuthatch
Hairy Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
As you can see, the old suet cylinder is nearly gone.  The new one is ready to go.  Most of the sunflower seeds have been picked out of the old one, so the new one will be welcomed.  It's like I am making them finish their main course before bringing on the dessert.