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.

Gregorio’s Mishap and Recovery

When I got home last Sunday night, after unpacking just enough, the birds were all chattering busily as usual, welcoming me, I guess. At some point doing my chores, I stopped for a moment and remembered Gregorio, but before I could say his name he started singing an extra long version of his song, repeating and repeating, “Gregorio, Gregorio, Gregorio…” I could have had no better welcome.

I haven’t dared write about Gregorio’s trials until I was sure of a happy ending.

Backtrack a few weeks before I went to Ohio: on a beautiful Saturday I was out working in the yard. After a couple hours I went back in the house. There, in the kitchen sink, was a fallen moth trap with a bird stuck in it. A zebra finch male, to be exact. I was horrified, and I felt terrible, because I should have known better than to put moth traps in the kitchen. But I had been getting so tired of the Indian flour moths, I stuck a couple traps on top of the crowded little shelves that jut out over the sink, thinking the birds were too busy elsewhere to get into it, or just relaxed with the thought that the birds have lived in the house for so long with few mishaps, I stopped paying attention to the fact that just in the past few days the zebra finches were starting to explore regions they had ignored for ages.

Zebra Finches on top of the kitchen cupboard

I was just too distracted, lackadaisical, thoughtless to make the connection.

and checking out the inside...

So there he was, my little finch, alive but very still, stuck in the trap, having lost a lot of feathers due to struggling with the adhesive. I reached in and pulled him out as gently as possible. A few of his remaining secondary feathers were stuck together so I washed him gently under warm running water and dried him in a towel. What to do with him? I couldn’t release him, because he wouldn’t be able to fly around high enough to reach the middle door of any one of the finch cages, which is essential if a bird is going to eat in this house. The only solution was to incarcerate him temporarily. And he would have to grow some feathers before my trip, because I didn’t want to add yet another cage to the burden for my bird care person. I had no idea how long it would take for him to grow back his feathers. Right now all I could be concerned about was his survival. (By the way, I could not bring myself to take pictures of him in his worst state.)

I put him inside one of the finch cages temporarily and closed the door while I went down to the basement to find the infirmary. It’s a dumb little cage that I picked up years ago for not a lot of money, and whenever I have a bird to isolate from the rest, I use it. I started thinking about preparing an extra little breakfast tray every morning. I found a water dish and a few accoutrements to make the cage as homey as possible. I knew he would hate being confined, but there was no other option.

When I had the cage ready, I stuck my little bald creature inside and started to look for a place to put the cage, out of the way, perhaps, in the dining room. No, no, no! was the reaction I got from my little prisoner. He vehemently objected to being away from the action, hopping up and down and throwing himself against the sides of the cage, so I set him on top of the coffee table in the middle of the living room, where he could see and hear all the other birds and vice versa. Looking back, I realize that was already a good indicator that he was going to fight his predicament and overcome it.

It wasn’t until maybe the middle of the next day that I figured out it was Gregorio, when I had taken inventory of the other male zebra finch’s songs and he was the only one not singing. Poor little Gregorio. I felt even worse: the past week almost every tape I listened to, Gregorio was singing on it, and I thought I had grown tired of hearing him. Now I didn’t know if I’d ever hear him sing again.

The first few days were extremely awkward. A couple times he hopped out of the cage past my hand when the door was open while I was changing this or that other dish, only to flop down to the floor, where I’d catch him easily. Once he was a little harder to catch, underneath the butcher block island in the kitchen, but I scooted him out and picked him up. He finally got the idea that he couldn’t fly and became somewhat resigned to his fate. I was afraid he wasn’t eating well either, seeming to eat only spray millet, and I lectured him about eating better if he wanted to grow back his feathers. Eat your vegetables! I have a feeling spray millet is like dessert for birds, but even if that was all he was eating I didn’t have the resolve to remove it from the cage to force him to eat something else. It must have been comfort food too.

I don’t think it was quite a week when I heard him vocalize for the first time. He wasn’t singing yet but he was calling. That was encouraging. He was growing little fluffy feathers around his head. I couldn’t tell what was happening with his other feathers; he had lost most of his primaries and secondaries on one wing, and I knew he had a lot of contour feathers to grow back as well. Then one afternoon when I was sitting writing on the futon, his cage right next to me on the coffee table, he sang a little. “Gregorio, Gregorio.” I knew he was on the mend!

A few days before I wanted to release him, calculating his release date was going be five days before I left for Ohio, I had his cage perched on the kitchen counter where I took him every morning and evening to clean and refill things, and I explained I wanted to make sure he could fly high enough to get into a finch cage to eat and that was why he was still locked up. As if to challenge my protective caution, he flung himself all the way up to the top of his little cage. Look at me, I can fly this high, I can reach the cage door. Patience, my little man, patience. It’s only a few days, and we’ll let you out.

Gregorio was eating more of his food, and the fuzz on his head was filling in. Saturday came, and I set him up with his breakfast just in case he had to return to the cage. I put the cage on the coffee table and opened the door. Within seconds he was out. He first tried flying all the way up to a curtain rod and fell down to the floor, disgusted he didn’t make it. But as soon as I thought he might be able to break up his flight into stages, he did exactly that, landing on top of a cage, and then eventually making his way to the curtain rod. You know what they say about great minds thinking alike…

Gregorio upon release

It wasn’t until then that I took a few pictures of him.

bald but brave

When I saw him eating spray millet inside a cage, I knew he was going to be all right.

Gregorio inside a regular finch cage

One time I looked up and he was snuggling with a Society Finch. Another time I saw him paired up with another male zebra finch, which is how it’s gotten to be in this house with only one female zebra finch left, so the guys choose partners, not for sex but for companionship, and it’s really a nice thing to see. I hadn’t been worried about the other birds picking on him, but it was yet another reason to incarcerate him until he got back on his wings.

Well here we are now and I barely recognize him. He still looks a little flat-headed and his tail feathers are a little stiff, but he’s zipping around with all the other birds, up to his old mischievous ways, and needless to say I don’t have any moth traps anywhere the birds can get to.

All the while as I was writing this Gregorio was singing his song. He knows I’m writing about him, and I’m sure he’s trying to add his two cents. He just started up again. Gregorio, Gregor, Gregorio, Gregor…