Thursday, March 26, 2009

Happy Bird Casserole

You know, animals need good food too! I found an $8 juicer at the ABCCM thrift store today and juiced some carrots. The mash left over was just too nice to put in the composter with the worms, so I made some Happy Bird Casserole for Cracker and Phillip.
Many people don't realize that pet birds, especially parrots, cannot live a long, healthy life on seed alone. In fact, many people don't even realize that parakeets (budgies) and cockatiels are parrots at all! Parrots are hookbills and their bodies are designed to eat a variety of foods, including lots of fresh greens. My birds eat Harrison's Pellets, which are organic and preservative-free. They're great and I highly recommend them. It's worth the cost.
Seeds are the bird equivalent of junk food. Sure, they can live off of it, but not for very long. It is essentially a slow starvation diet. Parakeets can live to be 18 years old, and cockatiels can live to be 30. There is no reason why a pet bird should have it's life cut short because of poor diet.
In addition to healthy pellets, pet birds should be given fresh greens and vegetables, fruit (if they like it- some birds don't), and occasionally grains and seeds. Check online or with a vet to find out which foods are safe. (For example, avocados can kill a parrot in minutes).
Here is one variation of a recipe for Happy Bird Casserole, which is a nice treat to give to your birds...

Mix together:
1 C. cooked brown rice
1/2 C. mashed carrots
1/4 C. cooked and mashed sweet potato
1 tbsp. ground flax seed
dash of cayenne pepper or paprika

To make convenient serving size portions for later, stuff the casserole into ice cube tray slots and freeze. When you want to use it, pop one out and microwave to thaw it. When it's completely cool, it's ready to be nibbled!
Variations on this recipe are almost endless. Add finely chopped broccoli, apples, kale, etc... Just make sure that all ingredients are fresh and free of dirt and/or mold. (Some things to avoid are: onions, mushrooms, avocado, and anything that you are unsure of. Birds have very delicate systems!)

Saturday, March 21, 2009


This might be the easiest sustainability project I've ever completed, unless you count passive composting, which is a little ridiculous to begin with. This is another one of those things that I thought was a lot more involved until I read otherwise in a book called Toolbox for Sustainable City Living, which is available at Firestorm Cafe and Books in downtown Asheville.
Basically, all you need to do is acquire some red wrigglers (Eisenia fetida) and about ten minutes. According to Toolbox for Sustainable City Living, these worms are special because they do really well in compost as opposed to soil, and they secrete a substance that kills pathogenic bacteria. So when a nasty bacteria touches it's skin, the bacteria dies.
I posted a wanted listing on Freecycle and the next day a sweet woman had a container of worms waiting on her porch for me. Someone had given some to her, and they had reproduced. "It feels good to pay it forward!" she chirped as I was leaving. (Thanks gift economics!)

So here's how you do this thing:

Get a container. It can be made of plastic or wood. I had these left over from when I started passively composting last year and they got too small. I'm sure something suitable could be easily dumpstered.
Drill some ventilation holes. However you see fit. The book reccomended a couple of large holes with screens over them. I used a drill bit and made a bunch of them then duct-taped some cheesecloth over them.
Layer the bottom with some bedding. This can be shredded newspaper, cardboard, dry leaves, or something similar. (This will have to be replaced at some point when the worms eventually eat it.)
Add your compost and worms. Voila!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Surprise Spring Cupcakes

I had forgotten how much I miss cooking vegan. I fell out of that circle of friends a while back, but recently I've met a few people with very specialized dietary restrictions. When I worked in a restaurant, it always annoyed me that everyone had some special allergy and had to ask a million questions before they could order. But when I can cook something because I want to, and not because have to (i.e.- DEATH ALLERGY), it's really enjoyable.
So, today my good friend Jenny and I are hosting a Spring potluck and I decided to make some cupcakes. But not just any cupcakes. Vegan, sugar-free cupcakes.

Here's how I made them:

For cupcakes:
2/3 C. soymilk
1/2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1/3 C. vegetable oil
1&1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1&1/3 C. all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2/3 C. agave nectar/syrup

For icing/mousse:
1 large avocado
1 tbsp. (or more depending on taste, color, texture) cocoa powder
agave nectar to taste

Heat oven to 325F.
Mix soymilk and vinegar and let sit for a few minutes while it curdles.
Beat in wet ingredients.
Sift in dry ingredients.
Mix until smooth.
Fill cupcake liners 3/4 full of batter.
Bake 20 min. or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Let them cool for at least 1 hour.

For the Icing/Mousse:
use an electric mixer to beat avocado, cocoa, and agave nectar smooth.
As you can see in the photo, some little pieces of avocado wouldn't beat smooth, so it had some green flecks. Depending on your equipment, this might not happen.

To decorate the cupcakes, I put a pinch of bee pollen (not necessarily vegan, I know) in the center and made flower petals with almond slivers. Cute! (And yes, they taste good!!)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bread Making

I've been experimenting with breadmaking lately. So when I found this recipe I was pretty excited.
Making bread always seemed intimidating and difficult. It was always easier to go to the store and buy a loaf of something with a million ingredients wrapped in a plastic bag. I don't eat much bread anyway, so the loaf would sit around for a while (in the fridge), all of the preservatives giving it a half-life about on par with double-plastic wrap hugging it.
So I stopped buying bread and didn't really miss it. I made a couple of white loaves and froze one, so those lasted me quite a while. Now that I've got more time on my hands, I have more time to start experimenting with different kinds of bread.
My first couple of attempts yielded delicious, but dense loaves, and my baguette experiment unfortunately ended up being way too salty due to a gram/teaspoon misconversion (whoops). But despite these supposed setbacks, I find myself surprised that I still enjoy the breadmaking process. It's magical, and there is something really cathartic about kneading dough until my arms are tired (and then some). I don't recall ever being taught how to knead dough, but it seems as though that knowledge has worked its way into the collective consciousness of humankind. The movements are fluid and natural. After a while of having your hands groping at the supple, skin-like mass, and giving it space to grow in privacy...I tend to get attached to it. I almost don't care how it turns out (although I'm slowly learning that it's very hard to mess up when it comes to making bread). I'm making some obvious allusions to raising children, which is what breadmaking is- a mini lession in patience, nurturing, and care, ending in the final result which is delightful despite the independent nature of each loaf.
It makes me feel more human than almost anything else to be in my home and spend a couple of hours breadmaking. Bread is something that is pretty much universally loved. I don't know anyone without dietary restrictions that would refuse a slice hot-out-of-the-oven.
I encourage you to try this recipe, and many others. Breadmaking is becoming a lost art, as are most DIY skills. But bread is basic. It represents human nourishment, community, and the home. And it's not as hard as you think!