Cleaning bird feeders

What is that nagging chore that you know you should do but you put off because it’s a big production and kind of icky?

Well, there are probably many on my list including cleaning the fridge, cleaning the gutters (man it is high on the roof – even the side much closer to the ground) but perhaps the most avoided of all chores is cleaning the bird feeders.

Now my good birding friends will be saddened to know that I reluctantly do this about two times a year (birding sites tell us to do this monthly).  So, in an effort to be a better bird person I went to work this weekend on cleaning my feeders.

The other part tricky part of this cleaning is that many traditional birding sites tell you to use bleach or at least one part bleach to clean the feeders.  I am trying to eliminate all bleach products from our lives and our household environment.  When someone close to you dies of cancer you start looking at the multiplicity of toxins that surround you and try to eliminate them.  So I found a site that claims a green way to clean your feeders.  Here is the link to the alternate cleaning process.

Here is the process…

What you need:

  • dishwashing gloves (that you will now only use for this chore  – or cleaning the bird bath)
  • brush (again to use only for bird related cleaning)
  • tub to hold your feeders
  • non-smelly dish soap (I use bio-degradable)
  • white vinegar

First, fill the tub with warm water and a good squirt of soap.

Then put in feeders and scrub with a brush.


Then rinse feeders and the tub.

Then fill the tub with cold water and 4 cups of white vinegar.


Let feeders soak in this for one hour.

Remove feeders, rinse with cold water, let air dry.


Fill with seed and re-hang – making the birds happy and healthy.


Making Yogurt the staple of every sustainable/frugal Mom blog

I’ve had encouragement and advice about making yogurt for many years, from many different quarters. My friend Carol makes her batch every week and Agnes whose mother brought over her yogurt starter from Armenia and a deep yogurt history with my husband’s mentor Bob Colombosian (the Colombo yogurt GUY).

So, when I finally decided, with some trepidation, to try to make my own yogurt I found that it was almost a mom-blogosphere trope to outline experiences in making yogurt.  I am still going to forge on and do a quick post on my successful first-time yogurt making.  On round one, I think I can give up store-bought yogurt which is my daily breakfast.  Ben seems like he’s on board – our 16-year-old is not yet sold on plain yogurt – but may try with some VT honey.

I decided to make a small batch in case it was beyond eating I wouldn’t feel awful about wasting milk – a Robb Farm cardinal sin.

Things you will need:

  • Containers that you can sterilize (I used two 40oz. glass containers)
  • A big pot to boil the containers – needs to be able to hold an inch of water over containers.
  • A pot to hold the milk as it heats – something with a thick bottom so the milk won’t scald.
  • Pot holders
  • Tongs to get the containers safely out of the boiling water.
  • Cooler
  • Hot water bottle
  • Funnel for getting yogurt into containers
  • Thermometer to test milk


½ gallon of whole milk

1 cup of plain whole milk yogurt (this is your “mother”) – if you keep making you can use from your last batch)


1.  Place containers in a big pot with water – make sure they have about an inch of water covering – boil for 10 minutes – then move off heat but leave everything in the hot water until you are ready to use


2. Pour milk into heavy bottomed pot – heat the milk to 185-190F


3.  Place pot into a sink full of cold water – cool milk to 120F


4.  Stir in the cup of yogurt starter or “mother” into the cooled milk.


5.  Pour milk/yogurt mix into containers (you’ve now taken them out of the pot).


6.  Place containers into a cooler (in a warm place) and put a warm water bottle on top of them.


7.  Close the cooler and put your timer on for 3 hours – don’t peek this is when the magic yogurt making happens.

8.  After 3 hours put the yogurt containers in the fridge and cool. You now have homemade yogurt!


I’m looking forward to my next round my yogurt panel of experts tell me that using the starter from the previous batch deepens the taste.

[Yogurt update – I’m not on my third generation and the yogurt came out well this round.   Even Mac liked it!]

Organizing my pantry – mental health exercise and perhaps better food management

This has been a tough week as I knew it would be for all my family as we marked the anniversary of my Mom’s death.  I haven’t been helped much by my internal chemistry or news from DC or work.  So, I’ve taken to the cabinets.  That is, I’m organizing all of my pantry cabinets.  While my men think that I’ve lost it – the project is giving me an ever so slight feeling of control.

This process is also a small step to increase our financial sanity.  After our mortgage, food costs are our biggest monthly expense.  I’m hoping that knowing what we have in the pantry and fridge (tackling that next week) will allow us to better utilize our food. Meal planning is even harder if you have no clear picture of what’s available.  “Let’s Eat what we have” has become my battle cry.

Here are my steps:

  1. Take everything out of the cabinet – yes it’s a little scary at the bottom the cabinets (mine at least) but as the hymn tells us, be not afraid.


  1. Check expiration dates (wow we had a lot of out of date baked beans) – throw the things that are too old – donate things you will NEVER eat (i.e. low sodium rice-a-roni – while a San Francisco treat needs to go).
  1. Group things in a logical manner by type – this gets a little tricky because everyone organizes things differently – whoever uses the kitchen most should win.
  1. Clean shelves – put down new shelving paper. I’m using non-sticky type as I really hate sticking then re-sticking the shelving paper.
  1. Restock with edible and now findable food.


  1. Label shelves – now I admit that this crosses a line – BUT if you want to get others to follow your system, it might help. Again, this is getting A LOT of eye rolling from my family so we will see if it works in the long run.


  1. Start using what you have in your pantry – i.e. the coffee I’m drinking is from a hidden packet of freeze dried Starbucks I was thrilled to find!


So I know this doesn’t fix much in the world – and it may be a clear sign I’ve gone around the bend – but for now it gives me a little sense of harmony in a crazy week.


One-year anniversary and Blonde Brownies

As we approach the one-year anniversary of my Mom’s death I’m filled with a number of feelings sometimes in progression, sometimes all at the same time.  Grief is no longer a constant presence in everything I do, but it catches me at random moments especially when I wish I could share something or ask something of my Mom.

Today I’m attempting to bake a family favorite, my Mom’s blonde brownies.  This is one of my Mom’s recipes that I never tried to replicate (like her macaroni & cheese) because it was so beloved that my version could not possibly come up to snuff.  “As good as Grandma’s” has been a hard bar to get over. But today I came across this recipe in my Mom’s handwriting and decided to give it a try.

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Here are the steps:


Wet ingredients together, then dry added just like any cookie dough, but no separate mixing the dry and no sifting (gasp).  This is much easier than my standard chocolate chip dough.

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Spreading in the pan takes a little work.  It’s good to take a second look from the side to see if the dough is even (or have your sharp-eyed kid help).  No picture of the sprinkling of the chocolate chips because what happens in the kitchen stays in the kitchen and sometimes a few chips may go astray…


The final product looks about right, but we will see if it passes muster.  Seeing the pan filled with the blonde brownies brings back good memories of boys small and big clamoring for them to be cut.  My Mom filled our lives with love, care, and support. I hope that in some way baking her cookies for my family honors that legacy.


Pumpkin Bread from the Great New England Recipes cookbook


My grandmother’s recipes were featured in the 1983 Yankee Magazine’s Great New England recipes cookbook.  For years I have used a recipe from another lady in that cookbook, Pat Estey from Epping, NH (right down the road).  This bread is explained as a wonderful bread for bake sales and I have found that’s true.  This is a consistent hit but warning – it has a ton of sugar!




Here is the recipe –

  • 2/3 cup of canola oil
  • 2 2/3 cups of sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 can (15 or 16 oz) pumpkin or squash
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 3 1/3 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • 2/3 cup coarsely chopped nuts (optional)
  • 2/3 cup raisins (optional)
  • 2/3 cup chopped dates (optional)

Grease a 9×5 or three 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pans.  In a large bowl, cream shortening and sugar until fluffy.  Stir in eggs, pumpkin and water.  Mix together flour, soda, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, and cloves, and add to egg and pumpkin mixture.  Stir in nuts, and raisins and dates if desired.  Pour into pans and bake at 350 about 60-70 mins.  Cool in pans 10 minutes.  Finish cooling on rack.


Dayenu – It would have been enough for us

I’m thinking about gratitude – or trying to in these dark days.

I was thinking of the great song we learned for Passover to sing with the kids, it’s about the gifts that God has given the people throughout history and how any of these great gifts were more than enough.  What gifts do we receive every day that we don’t earn through anything we have done – hundreds – thousands every day.


But it’s so easy to skate through each day without stopping to look at these gifts.  I have a tendency to strive to be so organized, focused and efficient that I miss the joy that’s right in front of me.  My brother Rich and I were talking recently about lists and being “efficient” – he reminded me that maybe I don’t want to be the person with the grave inscription of “She Checked Off A Lot Of To-Do Boxes”… No ! I really don’t want that!

Here is a beautiful (and short) Ted Talk by David Steindl-Rast on the practice of gratitude and how being simply grateful for moments though out the day helps our happiness.  I happened to hear this as I was driving home from an excellent meal with my dearest girlfriends.  It was a cosmic poke!

How to be happy? Be grateful.

So it’s not about being Pollyannaish about the challenges that face us.  It’s about stopping, looking and going – look at moments in your life and be grateful – and if you miss one moment the next one is a possibility.  Like the sun shining through on a bitter New England morning.


Mica’s Granola

Here is a recipe for wonderful granola that I make about every other week.  This is a recipe from my Aunt Mica.  Mica is one of those people who act as angels in your life – right when you need one.  We ate ALOT of this granola last winter on many dark and cold VT mornings.  Mica is a strong advocate of using what you like in this and experimenting – this is my current version.

Here is my attempt at sketch noting the recipe….









Here is the traditional layout of the recipe


  • 8-10 cups of rolled oats (not quick oats)
  • 1-2 cups of nuts (walnuts, pecans or almonds) chopped coarsely
  • 1/2 – 1 cup of sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup of wheat or oat bran
  • 1 cup of ground flax seed or chia seeds
  • 1 cup of coconut, either sweetened or unsweetened
  • 1 t of cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup of honey or maple syrup (real!)
  • 1 t of vanilla
  • 1-2 cups of raisins or dried cranberries, only add after granola is baked and cooled


  • Heat over to 325 degrees
  • Coat pan with oil –  (one 12x 16 or two 8 x12 pans)
  • Heat oil and honey or maple syrup in microwave so the liquid is warm and mixes together
  • Mix all dry ingredients together with the sweetener/oil mix
  • Add the vanilla
  • Bake for 20 minutes, remove from oven, stir/flip, and put back in over for another 15-20 minutes until the granola looks baked
  • Cool and add cranberries or raisins






p.s. from Mica – The amounts are approximate since I don’t measure anything, this recipe can deal with substitutions, even omissions, for personal taste. 



Baking Bread

It’s a cold gray day here, and we will soon have snow/cold rain coming down.  I’m trying my Mom’s bread recipe that I haven’t done in many years.  It’s fairly simple (recipe below) and it makes a sweet, crumbly bread which is good for toast, or communion, which is what my Mom would use it for when she was Rector at St. Johns in the Mountains in Stowe VT.

I love baking bread but haven’t found the time over the last year to produce many loaves.  I find when I do make bread and share it with my family and with friends there is a feeling of satisfaction (especially if enjoyed).  You feel like you are really feeding the people you love.

Here is Mom’s recipe for “Altar Bread” (can be used in non-church settings):

  1. Vegetable Oil – 1Tbsp.
  2. Honey – 1/4 Cup
  3. Milk – 1 Cup
  4. Water – 1 Cup
  5. Yeast (dry) – 1 pkg. (2 1/4 tsp.)
  6. Water – 1/4 Cup
  7. Whole Wheat/White Four – 4+Cup
  • Mix first five ingredients – heat to lukewarm (78 F)
  • Stir yeast into 1/4 of quite warm water (80F)
  • Add to other liquid; then pour into large mixing bowl
  • Stir in flour.  “If you need more to handle, add more white unless you are going for orty.”
  • Turn onto floured surface and knead.
  • Scrape mixing bowl and grease with butter or oil.  Then round bread dough into a ball – give the top a little butter.
  • Let rise in a warm place one hour.
  • Deflate and turn onto floured surface, flattening out the dough a bit with knuckles.
  • Cut into many portions as you want loaves – small or large.  Shape into round loaves, place on an oiled baking sheet (s) and cover with waxed paper.  Let rise 20 mins. While oven is heating.
  • Bake at 415 (F) for 10 minutes.
  • Then bake at 350 for 15 minutes.  Keep watch as the bread can bake faster depending on your oven.

p.s. It may be impossible to wait for it to cool all the way before testing.  We would tear into the first hot loaves as kids… and still today.