Thursday, May 21, 2015

Woodland Bird Cookies

Being surrounded by woodland birds here at home, I can't help but admire the seemingly endless variety that make this area their dwelling.  With a beautiful set of American made copper cookie cutters that I recently added to my collection (more on that later), I baked and decorated a medley of adorable cookies as surprises for a few individuals.  Some of the cookies are whimsical, while others look rather much like what I see outside my windows.  Sweet, delicious and colorful, these Woodland Bird Cookies are bound to attract a lot of attention.    

It's always a wise thing to keep a cookie or two after a cookie decorating project so that I can have a sweet nibble with my afternoon tea.  Bakers should always check to see if their product is up to snuff!

Ingredients for this baking project include
  • Chocolate Cookie Cutouts (baked & cooled)
  • Royal Icing (tinted in pastel colors)
  • Green nonpareils
  • Heart Candies
  • Disposable Pastry Bags or Squeeze Bottles
  • Piping Tips #1, #2 & #3

Bluebird and Dove shapes decorated with pastel colors are so much fun to make.  I think these are nice for any type of celebration, be it a birthday, baby shower or wedding.  Pick colors according to theme or preference and then ice away.  There is nothing difficult about decorating these little creatures.

Cardinals and Hummingbirds are naturals in any woodland setting.  Again, you can choose whatever colors you want, but if you want to make them a bit on the realistic side, tint royal icing dark reds and greens for these feathered individuals.

Cardinal Cookies
  • Outline and flood the body, minus the face and beak, in red royal icing. 
  • Outline and flood the cardinal's face in black royal icing.
  • Pipe a yellow beak, and add a white eye.  Let the cookie dry.
  • Outline the body and wing with red royal icing using a #1 piping tip.
  • If you wish, you can delineate the belly with more royal icing (outlined and flooded), then sprinkle with red nonpareils until it's covered;  let this dry and shake off excess nonpareils.

Pastel-Colored Bluebirds
  • Outline and flood the body of each bird in your choice of pastel-colored royal icing; let dry.
  • Outline and flood the leg area with white royal icing; let dry.
  • Pipe a bead of icing around the body of the bird with a #1 piping tip.
  • Using the colors of your choice, pipe small daisy flowers for wings, add a dot for an eye and pipe "lollipop legs"
  • Lollipop legs: a simple line of royal icing with dots for feet.
  • Voila! 

Dove Cookies
  • Outline and flood the base in white royal icing and apply a heart candy on the dove's chest. Let dry
  • Pipe scrolled feathers and add dots in a pastel-colored shade of royal icing with a #2 piping tip.  Add a dot for an eye.
  • Finish the cookie by tracing the outline of the head and chest of the dove in the same color of royal icing as the feathers.  Let the cookies dry

Hummingbird Cookie

  • A.  Outline and flood the head and back of the hummingbird in a light leaf-green royal icing.
  • B.  While the icing is wet, flock the body in green nonpareils.  Let dry and shake off excess nonpareils.
  • C.  Section the belly of the hummingbird in red and white royal icing.  Drag the icings into one another to create a variegated pattern.
  • D.  Outline and flood the beak and feathers of the hummingbird in a mint-green royal icing.  For the wave pattern, add leaf green stripes on the base of the wings while the icing is wet.  Working quickly, drag a toothpick through the stripes to create the pattern.  Let dry.
  • E.  Once the cookie is dry, add a dot for an eye and trace the outline of the wings in a mint green royal icing using a #1 piping tip.

Hummingbird II

This hummingbird isn't flocked with nonpareils (top left).  It is left plain, but is given an outline of royal icing on the back of its body and scrolls for tail feathers.  Dots may or may not be piped on the wings.

Woodland Bird Cookies, Green Tea and Fire King Jadeite.

Bake and decorate Woodland Bird Cookies for the nature enthusiast in your life.  They're a nice way to bring a bit of cheer to a bird-themed celebration.  I think they're also a good way to introduce a bit of ornithology to the young members of your household if you make them very true to form.  Whatever the reason for making these bird cookies, make sure you make them sweet, delicious and thoroughly fun for everyone.  Don't forget to save one or two for yourself!  

Happy Baking,


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Fox Kits & Mom

Watching the fox kits and their mother relaxing on our lawn is truly remarkable.  Over the course of this past week or so, the babies have been rambunctious, hilarious and really adorable.  I love how they emerge from behind the forsythia one at a time, and begin their playtime activities with one another.  At times they even manage to get their mother to play along, but most often, mom sits upright with her ears perked and her eyes watchful of any intruders.  She is a good mother who fiercely guards her kits.

It's amazing how tan-colored, bordering on the brown, the babies are at this stage of their life.  In a few months their coats will take on the familiar red tones of their mother.  

I would venture to say that the kits are no more than two months old, but I could be wrong.  Even so, at this age, they are already showing the common traits of little hunters.  The babies stalk and pounce on one another, only to end up biting each other as they roll around on the lawn.  It's almost too hilarious to watch!

This little baby clearly sees something on the lawn.  I have to say that their behavior reminds me so much of a cross between a puppy and a cat.

Mom is grooming herself.
This is the mother who is always nearby.  She is never far from her litter.

Mother fox cleaning her baby.
Look at how lovingly mom grooms her babies.  The little one rolled onto its back is having its chin nibbled on by mom, while the other one crawls all over her.

This short video is a real treat.  I took it from one of the upstairs bedrooms (forgive me for the background music).  The babies are a riot!

Four of the five fox kits.

There are a total of 5 kits in the den near our house, with two female foxes who take turns watching over them.  From what we've observed, the pack seems to consist of the two females, one male and the 5 kits.  Every year we think we won't see anymore foxes, but sure enough, they manage to make a home and have a litter or two on the hill next to our house.  Believe me, I feel very fortunate to be a witness to this little bit of nature.

Friday, May 15, 2015

National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day

It's National Chocolate Chip Cookie today, so I thought I would bake a batch of my all-time favorite and bestselling cookie.  For me, it's chocolate chip cookie day whenever the craving strikes and in order to satisfy that hunger, I turn to my favorite recipe.  

Happy Baking!!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Layers in the Woodland

Here in Pennsylvania, May is all about flowering dogwoods, crabapple trees, viburnum shrubs and even some Cercis siliquastrum (Judas trees).  It's as if the cherry blossoms and beautiful magnolias bow out gracefully, giving these other beauties the chance to take center stage for us to admire.  I'm not reticent about the love that I have for the numerous trees which surround our home.  

It is the layers of the woodland, however, during the warmer months that deserve to be noted for what they are.  I have been wanting to share with you the various noteworthy layers which are crucial to any property, big or small, and I've even included two short videos taken while on my walk around the meadow for you to see what I'm talking about.  Layers in the woodland have several benefits in promoting biodiversity for plants and animals.  The more 'structures' one provides near and around one's home, the more flora and fauna it can sustain throughout the seasons.

The Woodland Layers

The deciduous trees in our woodland far outnumber the coniferous specimens, but both are equally important.  If we observe closely, from day to day, we'll note that during the months of April and May, the layers, from ground to canopy level, fill in very rapidly.  The only thing to complain about is the amount of pollen that gets dropped.

Let's explore the ground layer, shrub layer, sub canopy layer and canopy layer around my home.   

Ground Layer
The ground layer consists of many crucial plants and vegetation.  Thick grass, moss, herbs, plants and flowers play a vital role in our woodland.  The hundreds of bees and butterflies that forage our herbs, wildflowers and perennials need these in order to exist.  They in turn pollinate countless other flora.  Many other invertebrates use these low-lying areas for their day-to-day existence, which then get consumed by countless woodland birds, such as bluejays, robins, crows, mourning doves, cardinals, woodpeckers, finches and wrens.  

I'm standing at the bottom of the hill, right on our driveway, looking up toward the meadow.  This is one of my favorite spots to take notice of what's going on around us.  Besides the humming of those busy bumblebees, I love to hear the cheerful chirping of the robins and the distinct calls of woodpeckers.

A freshly mown meadow gives you a clear picture of the various woodland layers.  Those large deciduous trees on the horizon, wind their way around the field.  Let me assure you, they are quite majestic to behold up close.

The meadow is dotted with clusters of wildflowers which range in color, from whites and yellows, to light mauves and pinks.

This short video is really meant to be listened to.  There is quite a lot happening here.  Do you hear the crickets?

Let's not forget the herbs and beautiful ostrich ferns which thrive enthusiastically.  The flowering herbs (I do let them flower) are very popular with the bees and butterflies.  Nothing gives me greater pleasure than watching them buzz from flower to flower when the weather gets warmer.

The proliferating ostrich ferns provide a lot of shelter to smaller animals, such as woodchucks, squirrels, chipmunks and foxes.  

At the moment, we have a fox with her kits taking refuge behind a hill of ferns and forsythia.  We've spotted them on the lawn next to our house (photo above taken on Mother's Day), so it's only a matter of time before they become bolder and venture out beyond the surrounding acres.

Shrub Layer
Shrub layers provide a number of benefits to the woodland and one's property. Not only do they serve as windbreaks and barriers for privacy, but they also have the added advantage of providing shelter and food to the wildlife (look at the fawn standing next to those raspberry shrubs).  Some of our favorite shrubs here at home include: rhododendron, viburnum, azaleas, forsythia, holly, and of course, raspberry.

You know it's May when the azaleas are in full bloom.  They seem to punctuate the landscape with glorious colors this time of year, and they aren't shy to show just how beautiful they are.

Every single year I harvest some raspberries for our consumption and am thrilled at their tart, full-flavored juiciness.  More often than not, we eat them as is, but if I'm feeling especially decadent, then I add them to tarts and other desserts.  I never tire of these berries and neither do the wildlife!

Looking down our driveway, you can see the various woodland layers.  We have a lot of shrubs that line this steep path, and yet, the dense canopy of trees provide most of the shade here.  Even on very hot days, this area stays cool.  This photo was taken in the thick of summer. 

Sub Canopy Layer
It is the sub canopy layer that really garners so much attention during the months of April and May.  The crabapples have been glorious!  So fragrant, infinitely beautiful and very colorful, it's nice walking up to one.

Dogwoods are among my favorite trees.  You can always count on their flower show in May.  Although we have mostly white dogwoods here, I noticed a few pink and coral-colored ones in a wooded area behind the barn.

Canopy Layer
The canopy layer is perhaps the most important layer for any woodland, property or area.  These tall trees are useful in so many ways by providing shade and thus lowering surrounding temperatures, supplying oxygen, removing greenhouse gases and smog, protecting structures from high wind, reducing noise pollution and minimizing flooding.  If that weren't enough, the trees are home to a number of wildlife.  It's good to have large trees on one's property.

Our trees include:
  • Eastern Hemlock
  • Eastern White Pine
  • Pitch Pine
  • Black Ash
  • Catalpa
  • Flowering Dogwood
  • Norway Maple
  • Silver Maple
  • American Beech
  • American Chestnut
  • American Linden
  • Black Locust
  • Black Walnut
  • Black Oak
  • Magnolia
  • Sycamore
  • Tulip Tree
  • White Oak
  • Yellow Birch

Over the course of the past 5-6 years, bare areas of land have slowly but surely been replanted with native trees in an effort to benefit the landscape.  It's been very successful as you can see from the photo above.  I can only imagine what this will look like in another 5 years.

Standing at the western end of the meadow, you can hear how much activity there is on this particular afternoon.  

Note: If your speakers are on high, I suggest you lower them a bit, because of the birds.  They can be loud!

Layers in the Woodland

Improving one's landscape by planting trees, shrubs, flowers, herbs or reseeding lawns is always a wise thing to do.  Knowing how each of these layers works and recognizing the importance of biodiversity will help guide your choices when planting.  As stewards of the land which surrounds us, how we treat our woodlands, properties and landscapes today, will have a tremendous impact on what we leave behind for generations to come.