Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Hawk in Nature

Hawk in Nature

It snowed again, a beautiful powdery fluff that made everything seem so pristine. I did what was needed, shoveling the front drive and relieving the cars from their white burden. As I was working I heard the birds around me  – a woodpecker knocking on the trunk of a tree, the frantic chirping of the finches as they rushed in and out of the forsythia bush, geese chatting overhead as they made their way south in a long vee. What I didn’t hear was something that was happening in the backyard.

There were no birds on the feeders, a rather unusual occurrence for the time of day, especially during a snowy day when food is harder to find. They had been there earlier in the day, flitting back and forth between mouthfuls of seed. A mourning dove had joined them and was quietly cooing. Now there was silence. Hmmm.

Then I knew why. Toward the back of the yard was a large bird – a hawk! It was on the snow, pecking at something. By the look of the feathers underneath its feet, the mourning dove was its meal. Poor thing.

Nature can seem cruel at times but then everything has to eat. In the natural scheme of things, there is something for everyone. It is when part of nature becomes greedy that cruelty comes in. Animals that are forced out of their natural habitat must find a source of food. WHYY has been presenting a series by M. Sanjayan called A New Wild about the interaction of people and animals. It is worth seeing and, even more so, contemplating our impact on this incredible earth.

An interview with M. Sanjayan:

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Winter and Baking

Winter and Baking

Let me start off by saying it’s winter, just in case you forgot. It’s cold, often snowy (especially if you live in the northeast), and not particularly inviting to be outside. The birds on the feeders stay only as long as they can eat their fill and then scoot away to their hidden nests. The squirrels are grumpy, chasing each other away from the limited supply of frozen meals. There are no flowers brightening up the neighborhood. 

So I huddle inside, fire up the oven and bake!

This week I made what look like camouflage cookies; they blend in so well on my plates that it is easy to pretend the plate is empty and have another cookie. They are actually oatmeal chocolate chip cookies that are hearty, chewy and delicious. I followed a recipe but did what I usually do, that is I make changes as I go along. For instance, I use coconut sugar instead of granulated. None of my creations look fancy like the creations on The British Baking Show on PBS (Sunday at 8 PM in New Jersey), a show I enjoy watching. Several bakers make three assigned creations each week. At the end of the show, one baker is let go. I couldn’t compete like that. My baking is for home consumption, for family and friends only.

I actually like winter. When I have to go out, I bundle up and feel adventurous. Then I return and appreciate the warm comfort of the indoors. I know spring will be here soon enough and I will be spending less time baking as I plan my garden. But for now, I will blend in with the season, enjoy my baking, and look forward to what each season brings.

The British Baking Show:

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Hydrangea in Winter

Hydrangea in Winter

Well, winter made its presence known today with a storm (some are calling it a blizzard) that dropped snow on a large portion of the Northeast. We were lucky, with only a few inches in our area as opposed to a couple of feet in New York and Boston. More snow is being predicted for Monday. But that is days away and there are things to be done now.

We had to shovel, of course, and the township trucks were on the job early. The birds were a constant presence in our yard and the squirrels were digging into the snow for their buried acorn treasures. Rabbits left footprints as they looked for food. Everyone seemed busy.

But there is a quiet scene, too. In the midst of it all, Mother Nature is planning for the spring. With branches bare and its roots covered in snow, the hydrangea bush is laying on buds. It’s hard to imagine from the tight nubs the beautiful leaves and flowers that will delight us next season. The comfrey leaves have shriveled and gone yet I know the plant is only storing its energy and will return for another year. The hibiscus branches are white and brittle but they can’t fool me. Their blossoms will be dazzling late spring and well through the summer months.

It is the hydrangea bush, though, that is speaking to me now. I know some hydrangeas need shelter but mine have had an unsheltered life and still bloom. I am grateful for that. I sense its determination to survive and thrive despite difficulties. It reminds me that we all have things in life that are challenging and yet there is the hidden drive to blossom when we can, to let our inner selves support us until the right time comes to let the world see our beauty. Sometimes it’s hard to remember what’s inside but the hydrangea can remind us that it is worth the effort.

Taking care of your hydrangea:

Tons of comfrey facts:

What to grow in winter:

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Passenger Pigeons, Extinct

Passenger Pigeons, Extinct

It’s nice to think that things we value last forever but it isn’t always so. Case in point – the Passenger Pigeon. The New Jersey State Museum in Trenton is paying homage to the bird. Through June 27, 2015, it commemorates the 100th anniversary of the death of Martha, the very last passenger pigeon in the world, who died on September 1st, 1914.

The birds once numbered in the billions but within a few decades became extinct. They were over-hunted and their forest nesting areas were decimated for agriculture. It’s ironic that the largest bird population in the world came down to zero, because of us.

Yes, we humans have needs – for housing, for sustenance, for reproduction. But so do other creatures. Should our needs always supersede those of others? We’re smart, surely we can figure out how to live within nature rather than decimating nature.

We can ask this about people, too. Can we respect all life, even if it is dissimilar to our own? Can we make room for those who look different from us, who hold various opinions, who have other beliefs? Or are we destined to be passenger pigeons, extinct by our own hands?

Facts about the Passenger Pigeon:

A state-by-state look at the Passenger Pigeon:

Go see the exhibit for yourself!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Coping with Winter

Coping with Winter

We’ve had a few cloudy days here, some rain, a bit of snow these past few weeks. Things look bare and winter-worn and we are only a third of the way into the season. The trees reveal their hidden nests, small ones for birds, larger ones for squirrels. The natural world seems to be in waiting mode.

What about all the excitement of the new year? Has it disappeared already?

Not for Mother Nature, it hasn’t. Nature is alive and active: there is life to protect during the cold months. The leaves may be gone but the trees have merely slowed down, conserving their energy in a process called dormancy, waiting for Spring. Squirrels are busy fattening up for the coming cold weather still to come. Birds fluff up their feathers to keep themselves warm as they munch on the seed in the feeders or wherever they can find it and seek shelter in coniferous tree branches. Deer huddle in groups, slow their metabolism, and watch out for each other. Chipmunks semi-hibernate, lowering their body temperature, though they don’t actually sleep.  They are coping with winter in their own special ways.

And what about us? How are we coping with winter?

Just because it’s cold doesn’t mean we have to hibernate. It’s a good time to reconnect with friends who are busy all summer. Libraries offer programs like book discussions, art exhibits, author visits. Forget resolutions – follow your intentions to do what feels right to you. Every year, every season has its excitement. It’s called life.

How trees survive winter:

Birds keep warm in winter:

Monday, December 29, 2014

Pumpkin Recipes for the New Year

Pumpkin Recipes for the New Year

Well, Thanksgiving is over and winter is officially here. It was time to dig into the pumpkin that has been gracing our front steps. What should I do with it? The seeds were the easy part- bake and eat. But what about the rest? Time to consult prior recipes and find new ones.

Pumpkin soup is one of my favorites and I make it each year. I like to try new things, however, so I looked online and came up with some possibilities that sound scrumptious. The good part of all of this is if I run out of pumpkin I can always use butternut squash, which the market seems to have all season.

Surely I’m not the only one who is eager to experiment so if you have a pumpkin recipe that you love and are willing to share, please send it along. Meanwhile, let’s try some of these. Happy eating.

And BTW Have a Happy and Healthy 2015!

Chocolate Pumpkin Muffins:

Chef John’s Pumpkin Scones:

Pasta with Pumpkin Sauce from Circle B Kitchen:

100 Ways to cook a pumpkin from Endless Simmer:

Pumpkin Oat Pancakes from Cookie & Kate- it’s gluten free:

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cozy in Our Indoor Backyard

Cozy in Our Indoor Backyard

This past week has been cold and often rainy so I decided to enjoy our backyard inside. We stacked firewood from a two-year-old cord (now nicely weathered) in the fireplace in our den then added branches that had fallen onto the lawn during the windy Fall days for kindling. The logs were lit and blazed with delicious warmth. The scene cozied up the den. We planted ourselves on the sofas and read books in the light and warmth of the flames. Ahhh.
            We tend to make fewer fires than most people who have fireplaces which means that the leftover wood in the cord is nice and dry for the next season/s. We discovered how wet wood can be really smoky so we appreciate letting the wood age.
            But what about the environmental cost of having a fireplace? Well, there is a cost but that impact depends on the type of fireplace, the kind of wood, even the kind of fuel. Whether a tree is burned or dies it oxidizes, just at a different rate. Trees are a renewable resource – we can replace them. Reputable wood harvesters know how to actively manage their wood lots.
            I admit I like my fireplace. I also confess that I am concerned about its consequences. Isn’t that like so much of life? We make choices and hope they aren’t harmful as they support us in how we choose to live.

What kind of wood is good for the fireplace?

Pros and cons of different kinds of fireplaces:

And what about the environment?