A Winter Solstice Celebration

The winter solstice, also known as “Midwinter” and “The Longest Night” marks the astronomical beginning of winter as well as the shortest day and longest night of the year. After this date (occurring between the 20th-22nd   of December each year) our daylight hours will begin to get longer, but we still have three more months of winter until spring. We decided to begin a new tradition to celebrate not only the winter season, but our neighborhood wildlife that we get so much joy from observing throughout the year.

Suet cake in a re-purposed mug!

Winter marks the beginning of a time of hardship for our wild friends, even though they are perfectly equipped to cope with the harsh outdoor environment, food is not as plentiful as it is in the summer months. So to give them a little boost this is when we hang our suet feeders, peanut cages, and keep our seed feeders full. To make it a little more special we chose a tree in our yard to decorate with some festive treats too!

A string of popcorn and cranberries!
Cranberry & Orange Ornament

Popcorn Strings!: Since these are for wild birds that could be harmed by ingesting string or thread, I chose to string our popcorn on a length of wire.  Birds wont be able to take any with them when they grab a kernel and it eliminates the needle from the equation making this a kid friendly project! We popped plain popcorn in a pot on the stove with a bit of melted tallow instead of our usual bacon fat (yes we really do that and it is amazing). For a splash of color and a little vitamin C and moisture for our feathery friends I added fresh cranberries to the strings, as well as orange slices.

A Polar Bear Bird ‘Cookie”

Bird Friendly “Cookies” are also on the menu Preheat your oven to 350 and combine in the bowl of a food processor until very sticky:

1 cup dried dates & dehydrated apples

½ cup oatmeal

½ cup raisins

¼ unsalted sunflower seeds

¼ cup meal worms (optional)

Transfer mixture to a large bowl and add two Tablespoons natural peanut butter, and one Tablespoon raw honey, stir until thoroughly incorporated, mixture will become hard to stir.  Press into cookie cutter shapes and bake for 20 minutes. Cool, string on wire and hang.

Don’t Forget Good Ole Rabbit: For our very plentiful population of wild rabbits, carrots and apples will be roughly chopped and placed in areas they are known to frequent. Corn cobs will be added to our squirrel feeder…maybe now they’ll stay out of our garage.

What about water? A lot of people express concern about where birds get water in the winter when all fresh water sources are frozen. Rest assured that their water requirements are met by eating snow and wild berries and fruit. But an open water source is always appreciated. You can find various heated bird baths available on the market and you may find that your yard becomes a hot bed of wild bird activity. Purchase a low to the ground bath if you wish to give your rabbit visitors a drink as well.

But where do they sleep?  I have often found myself wondering this same question on blustery cold nights.  Much like our chickens in the coop, wild birds roost together in large groups to conserve heat. They choose tree cavities, the root balls of upturned trees, and the eves and rafters of old barns.  Some species of wild birds will over-winter as a family in the birdhouse they claimed in the spring, so you may want to think twice before you clean it out at the end of the year. – I’d even use it as an excuse to leave that brush pile until spring.  Bird watchers can catch wild birds roosting just after sunset.

A note regarding the special treats mentioned in this article: The popcorn strings, and bird cookies will only be presented on this day until they are gone and they will not be available to wildlife the entire season to prevent dependence on them. If you live in an area that prohibits the feeding of wildlife, please observe these rules as they are there to protect not only the wildlife, but you and your family as well.

Extra Cinnamony Cinnamon Rolls

I am always looking for ways to improve my cinnamon roll game, and I think I have finally created cinnamon roll perfection. Go figure there is a secret ingredient that’s a smidge unusual…TEA! Yep! Instead of using plain water or milk I went the extra mile and infused rich cinnamon flavor into the dough. I used Cinnamon Hearts Pu’erh from Steeped Tea, it’s a warm black tea with cinnamon and cassia and is probably the most cinnamony tea I have ever had the pleasure to drink, I love a warm cup of tea on a cool day with a splash of milk and a spoonful of honey so it seemed ideal for this recipe. It smells like a cinnamon roll even before it becomes a cinnamon roll and I think I’m in love…not only with these rolls but with the endless possibilities of tea flavors that could be used! Here is the recipe and I hope you give it a try, you will not be disappointed.

EXTRA CINNAMONY CINNAMON ROLLS:

1 package active dry yeast, dissolved in warm water according to product directions

3 cups flour, plus more for kneading

¼ cup maple syrup

¼ cup melted butter

1 tsp salt

1 egg lightly beaten

1/2 cup warm not hot cinnamon tea (I got mine here)

a splash of milk

 

For Filling:

1 stick softened butter

½ cup or more cinnamon sugar

½ cup brown sugar

 

For Frosting:

1 stick softened butter

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp vanilla

4 cups powdered sugar

1-2 Tbs milk

Combine all ingredients with mixer and set aside.

Start by dissolving yeast packet in water according to the directions on the packet. While the yeast is doing its thing, in a medium sized bowl, add 3 cups flour, & salt. To this add the maple syrup, melted butter, egg, warm tea, and milk *Note: Do NOT use hot tea, hot liquids will scorch the yeast and render it useless, allow the tea to cool until warm before adding it to the recipe.

Add dissolved yeast and stir until a nice dough is formed. Depending on the day you may find that you need to add more flour or more tea/milk. I find that humidity plays a huge roll in bread making.

Grease the bowl the dough was mixed in with oil and place the dough in the bowl to rise in a warm place.

When dough has doubled in size turn out onto floured surface sprinkle with flour and knead once more adding flour until no longer tacky. With a rolling pin, roll dough flat.

Spread softened butter onto flattened dough with the back of a spoon, sprinkle liberally with cinnamon sugar, then sprinkle with brown sugar.

Starting at one end, begin rolling the dough into a log. From here you can cut the roll into a log the length of a loaf pan to make a cinnamon loaf, or cut into1 ½ inch disks and arrange in your favorite pan.

Bake in oven preheated to 350 degrees and bake for 25-35 min depending on the pan you choose, watch them closely.

Allow cinnamon rolls to cool, then frost and serve!

Roll out the dough
Spread surface with butter and sprinkle cinnamon sugar liberally over the top
Sprinkle with 1/2 cup brown sugar
Roll it up and cut into loaves for cinnamon swirl bread, Allow to rise a second time.
Or cut into 1 1/2 inch disks for cinnamon rolls, and allow to rise again.
Cinnamon rolls fresh from the oven

How To Make Brown Sugar

I want to share a little “kitchen hack” with you that will hopefully save you some swearing and a trip to the store! According to my husband we are always out of brown sugar. Lets be clear, he never bakes. I only hear this when he’s getting ready to put something in the smoker. For instance, last week he smoked two pork butts and thankfully we had brown sugar when he needed to make his rub so all was right with the world. When I started making a double batch of my famous “Mrs. Yoder’s Cookies” yesterday guess what…the brown sugar canister was empty. Most people would probably jump in the car and run to the store. Not me. I have everything I need to make brown sugar right in my pantry.

I’m sure some of you probably already know this, but for those who don’t: Sugar + Molasses = Brown Sugar

Yep. Two ingredients, that’s it! Plus you can make it in a snap in any quantity you desire. I typically like to make enough to fill up my little brown sugar canister

Brown Sugar:

  • 3 Cups Granulated Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup Molasses of Your Choice
  • Medium Sized Bowl
  • Whisk

Keep in mind this is one recipe you just sort of eyeball. You can start with a ½ cup of molasses, but you may find you need to add more depending on your preferences.

Place both ingredients in the bowl and whisk until no molasses blobs remain. Use immediately or store in an air tight container. I like to keep a nice clay disk in my brown sugar to keep it from turning into a sugar brick, but that is optional.

Combine sugar and molasses
Whisk the sugar and Molasses together
Scoop homemade brown sugar into your canister or use immediately!