Comfort Food and At Home with the Birds

In anticipation of the coming snowstorm, I have been reflecting on indoor pleasures. As I tweak this post, my two Diamond Dove Girls are hanging out with me on the futon. The image below is straight from my phone: I managed to lower the screen to take it before they left. Actually just about everything else in this post is from the phone camera.

I don’t try to take good pictures of the indoor crowd very often because it’s simply too complicated. And they don’t like it. Let a Zebra Finch perch on top of my laptop screen and start singing – I’ll whip out my phone to record a video and he vanishes. Beyond the screen sometimes I can catch the Zebra Finches playing with my socks. But this post isn’t about the birds so much as it’s a little ode to the food we eat. One word for the bird at the top of the post. It’s Mr. Green. He still wants to be a Zebra Finch. He keeps practicing his Zebra Finch vocabulary.

We just got a new 25-lb. box of spray millet, which now comes imported from France (on the left, above). It used to come from Canada. And then for a while from somewhere in the US. I don’t know why the market has moved to France but it comes loose in a nice box and takes me about an hour to cut off all the stems and put into plastic bags of about 5 lbs. each for storage, to be broken down into smaller plastic bags as needed. The birds adore it. But they eat a lot of other healthy stuff. I grow spouts for them, and every morning they get little platters consisting of chopped curly parsley, Kray diet (rice, beans, peas and corn) mixed with fortified Roudybush Nibles, egg food, dried bugs, and another cooked food prepared for bird appetites. In addition to all that, they have excellent Abba seed mixes. They are spoiled!

Feeding the birds so well has had an effect on my own diet. I gave up chicken and meat in general soon after I started living with birds and have never missed it. And after cooking good food for the birds every morning, I think it was a natural progression to make beautiful, healthy food for myself.

I decided to take pictures a couple days ago while I was assembling a roasted veggie melange – I usually have roasted veggies on hand but hadn’t made any for a while. I love root veggies and beets in particular. So it started out with carrots, turnips and both red and golden beets. Then I put the beet greens loosely chopped on top to steam the root veggies. Eggplant and cauliflower atop that, whole garlic cloves, olive oil, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper, and then baked for an hour and a half in a 350-degree oven. The last photograph is what it looks like just out of the oven – not too colorful with cauliflower on top.

But look at it on the plate. Beet colors and the greens are the best.

My travels to see birds in other countries have inspired my cooking too. I fell in love with farofa in Brazil and decided to make some to have on hand. There are more elaborate recipes I’m sure, but I just saute chopped onions and add cassava flour to the pan and toss until golden. This particular batch was made with already toasted farinha. I just season with salt and pepper.

I added some farofa to my plate of roasted vegetables below. Normally I would just scatter it on top but I wanted you to be able to see it. Also, the green Aji Amarillo dipping sauce that is kind of ignominiously glommed onto the plate, is a really wonderful recipe I found on the internet before I went to Peru. (It has a mayonnaise base which has encouraged me to make my own mayo.) I have been making it ever since. It’s good with everything.

Roasted veggies often serve as a base for a wonderful salad. I reheat the veggies on my plate in the microwave and build a salad on top of it. Hidden treasure lurks beneath the lettuce, radicchio, and whatever.

Something else I discovered online this year when I was looking for something to do with extra cilantro was a vegan recipe for cream of cilantro soup. I modified the recipe by adding serrano chile, because I like the flavor and I am a chile fan. Below is a picture of my last bowlful, to which I added popcorn, which is a tradition in Ecuador.

It’s easy to take pictures of food, especially with the cell phone – so handy – I do it a lot. Thanks to my birds, I think I celebrate making my own meals as much as I do theirs, if not more.

One of my many male Zebra Finches in a quiet moment

The birds have been very, very good for me. They are certainly keeping me good company through this pandemic winter. I hope to find time to devote to sharing some of their singing in future posts. But in the meantime I felt like taking a little break to celebrate food.

Thanks for tolerating my totally off-topic foray into dispelling the winter doldrums. Hope you are comfortable and eating well.

2013 off to a lazy start…

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I confess, I didn’t get up at the crack of dawn to welcome my First Bird of 2013…but I filled the feeders and the birdbaths last night and hope that was welcome enough. As it turned out, it was a beautiful day: bright sunshine, hardly any wind. Cold, but clear. As much as we need precipitation, I cannot complain about the year starting out sunny.

I did finally manage to get through the rest of my Brazil pictures on flickr anyway and edit them so they have the correct date taken. Of course doing this pulled me back into South America and its birds and renewed my resolve to spend time on the rest of the identification challenges that remain.

In keeping with the Brazilian theme, I celebrated the new year by making farofa to have with my New Year’s dinner. I am pleased with the results and looking forward to further experimentation.

Around two this afternoon, after playing Bach for the birds, I donned long underwear and warm outerwear and went out in the yard to wait for birds to come back to the feeders. Two in the afternoon is not prime time, but I wanted to have the sun behind me since my yard faces west.

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Black-Capped Chickadee

The Black-Capped Chickadees were the first to return. I’m always happy to see them, and Dark-Eyed Juncos…

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Dark-Eyed Junco

Perhaps best of all was to witness two White-Breasted Nuthatches in the yard simultaneously. I wasn’t sure until today that there were still two, since I never see more than one at a time hanging on the peanut feeder…

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White-Breasted Nuthatch

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on the peanut feeder

…unlike the House Sparrows.

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The House Finches were more challenging to capture today.

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Female House Finch

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Male House Finch


And it was definitely the wrong time of day to see either the Cardinals or the Downy Woodpeckers: they tend to show up early and late.






But here’s a photo of the male Northern Cardinal through the window last weekend.

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Northern Cardinal

Back inside, I was happy to read in The New York Times “Science Times” section that researchers have discovered birds react emotionally to music like we do. This is something I observed from the very beginning when I started playing music for birds: I was most attracted to them because they seemed to be listening to music much like I do, and that is where our conversation began. Now we have scientific proof. Always a good idea.

It has been a deliciously lazy day and it will be hard to go back to work tomorrow.

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