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Showing posts with label gift ideas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gift ideas. Show all posts

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Winter Birdseed Cakes

 



I hope I don't need to state that this is not intended for human consumption. All that being said, I can't stop you, if you are so tempted. Live your life, right?

The holidays are coming and a lot of people are joining the "Support Small Businesses" movement! While this is incredible, it's still going to be a difficult holiday season for many humans on this planet. Not only have many lost loved ones, have come down with a chronic illness, are isolated from what we all used to view as a normal life...and let's not forget the financial hardship that has kissed all of us full on the lips this year. I'd love to tell you to buck up, to hold on, to stay optimistic...but I won't. I'll just tell you that I'm with you, I understand, and that it's okay to do a handmade holiday this year. 

Although I am an incredibly social person, I have enjoyed the last few holidays with only my husband and myself. Thanksgiving, especially, was lovely, as we got to enjoy all the stuff we wanted without a large family, screaming children, drunk uncles, and pants. (Yes, pants. And bras, for that matter, which I frankly don't see having a comeback after 2020.) The point is that, although this year has been exceedingly and extremely difficult for me and my family, it has been oddly freeing. So, no, I have no problem sending out handmade cards and gifts this year for the holidays! I don't think you should either...

This birdseed cake project is frugal gift-giving at its finest. I do this whenever I have something like fried chicken or doughnuts and I have to clean out my pot of oil and fat. I usually dispose of the fat in the garbage pail, but don't scrape it clean...because I'm using it to make these cakes.

And, hey, all you really need is a fancy ribbon for it to be #PinterestWorthy.

Winter Birdseed Cakes
yield 1 doz muffin-sized cakes

  • The remains of a greasy oil-filled pot, usually 6 or 7 Tbsp of fat
  • 1 c steel-cut oats
  • 1 c whole dried corn*
    • I owe my friends at KC Farm School at Gibb's Road for this particular corn, that's been dried in my pantry!
    • I'm using corn in my recipe because I have a lot of jays in my area, but please feel free to substitute this for dried fruits, depending on the kinds of birds you have in your area.
  • 1 2/3 c birdseed mix
  • 1/4 c flour
  • 4 Tbsp sugar or honey
  • 2 Tbsp unflavored gelatin bloomed in about 6 Tbsp cold water
  • String or ribbon, as you like
  • **A wooden skewer or a chopstick, as well as a muffin tin
Bloom your gelatin and grease the muffin tins with oil. Heat your oil leftover from your last deep-frying adventure (which will probably have some goodies in the bottom of the pan) and add the oats, corn, and birdseed mix. Scrape the bottom of the pan with a spatula to ensure you get absolutely everything off the bottom of the pan. This is a great way to also get rid of bacon grease or schmaltz from the bottom of a pan, even if you aren't deep-frying anything. A little fat is good for the birds, because birds are carnivores, and they eat bugs...which do have some fat on them! 

Add in your oats, corn, and bird seed mix, and stir gently. The idea of this step is to make sure that your granules are coated with your fat. Sprinkle in your flour and add the sugar or honey, and continue to cook on medium-low heat for about 3 minutes. Make sure you're scraping the bottom and the corners well with your spatula!

Add your gelatin and turn off the heat. Stir well to make sure that the gelatin melts and everything is incorporated. Next comes the fun part that also takes the longest!

Portion the birdseed mix in the greased muffin tins and pack down well to ensure that everything is as dense as possible. You can do this with a spatula, of course, or you can wet your hands and press it down tight with your fingers. As little air as possible could be in this seed cake! Remember, it has to stand up to being outside in the wind and rain, and being knocked about by birds, squirrels, and other woodland creatures that would like a nibble.

Use an oiled wooden skewer or a metal chopstick to poke holes near where the top would be for each cake. This is essential to do now, before it sets, so you can hang the seed cake outside on string later. Set these in the fridge or on the counter, in a cool place, for at least two hours. While we wait, I'd like to talk a little about how birdwatching has nurtured my soul in this troubled and uncertain time.

I was certainly never what one would call a bird watcher, or bird enthusiast. Backyard birding seemed to be the hobby of someone's great aunt that you talk to every so often, that has books about it and sits in the park every weekday and feeds the birds. Being stuck inside for 8 months, however, helps you explore your inner old auntie and set her free with all the wild abandon you would imagine that person to have. Looking back on my first spring indoors, I was quite grateful when my husband's late grandmother gifted us her two encyclopedias on backyard birding when the pandemic hit. I was safe at home and able to watch from my huge windows and cozy couch. 

My cat appreciated all of the snuggles, too.

Sitting at my window, watching the birds, and sipping my coffee was a meditative act that I could easily do when I was feeling restless and anxious. I told myself that when I started there may not always be birds, but - to my surprise - there were a lot more birds than I expected. I'm fortunate enough to live near a forest and to have four mature trees on my property, so there is plenty of nature to be had. From my couch, I've watched puffy red cardinals fluff themselves up to keep warm, and small groups of starlings glitter in the morning light. I've laughed over Blue Jays and how much they scream and fight with each other. I've even had the pleasure of seeing baby rabbits wander across my yard in the early morning. If you've ever had the opportunity of gazing into the eyes of a wild animal, you'll know how oddly exhilarating and humbling it is. 

The birds have been integral to my backyard permaculture endeavors, as well, with my victory garden. I'm aware that birds are usually considered a pest when it comes to gardening, but I have appreciated their presence when it came to insect and pest control. Jays are aggressive, so they keep stray cats away from my garden. The finches, sparrows, and coal tits have been wonderful to watch from my office window, as they perch on my Giant Sunflowers and eat the seeds, which is a worthwhile investment for entertainment alone. When the seeds were gone, they turned to the nasty beetles and grasshoppers when they noticed I had a reliable food source. Did they eat the odd strawberry or tomato? Certainly. But did I have considerably less pests this year, now that I'd taken an uber-organic approach to the garden instead of spraying everything with neem oil and calling it a day? Yes, absolutely!

I know this is getting preachy, but believe me when I say that the birdfeeders I now have hanging from my roof have brought me peace in a way I didn't believe they would have. I live in the Midwest of America, so that means I get to see cardinals, blue jays, woodpeckers, golden orioles, starlings, sparrows, mourning doves, falcons, and more. Giving myself permission to sit lazily and watch these animals go about their day has given me a strange sense of peace and connection to nature. I hope this will encourage you to at least try hanging up a birdfeeder near your window, just to see what will happen. 



To remove, all one has to do is give them a rather strong knock when you turn the tin upside-down, but you may use a spatula to get the cakes out of their hiding places. String them on ribbon or twine and double-knot a square knot at the top to get your loop to be tight. I like to let these air-cure on a cooling rack for at least a day at room temperature before I set them outside, but this step isn't absolutely necessary if you're living in a dry climate. 

And there you have it! A thoughtful, attractive gift for the bird-lover in your life. These thrifty things are excellent stocking-stuffers, or the perfect "Just Because" gift. They can be made any time you deep-fry something and happen to want to clean out the bottom of your pan in an economical way, and they store for ages so you can keep them in your cellar or pantry for a quick gift on the fly. I know that my birds appreciate it, especially in winter when their diets have to change. Remember, not all birds migrate, so if you play your cards right, you're going to have some wonderful winter entertainment if you invest your time in making these. 

Please be safe this holiday season.

Thanks so much! Happy cooking, happy eating, and happy gifting!