Monthly Archives: January 2024

Strictly for the birds

Well, not really... But I have a job ahead of me taming this camera/lens OR I need to get a new one that's up to what I want to do with it. Out of 70 pics, this is the only one I kept because it's not a blurry mess.

Jay with a peanut
Lightly edited Jay and his peanut. I absolutely love the blue stripes on their wings.

I know bird photography is hard, but even then the sensor isn't up to it with the shutter speed and aperture on this thing. Cameras have evolved since *checks* 2007/8 when this camera came out, and the buyer at the time did not have bird photography in mind in the first place.

Things I can try before chucking it all out and saving up for a new one:

  • use a tripod (need to find the right screw to attach camera to tripod)
  • clean the windows (they're not that dirty, honestly)
  • not take pics through the kitchen window (the birds won't dare to come close enough for the 150mm zoom I have)
  • trying out different settings

That last one would require me to go through the manual, and we all know how we feel about that, don't we? 😅

Have you succeeded in taking pics of the birds visiting your garden, and can you share them? Drop a link in the comments! I'd love to check out your pictures!

Two sunflowers close up

Backyard Wildlife College closes its doors!

But Collegium “Vanachter in den Hof” receives a boost with additional human caretaker!

salad-bar
The wildflower strip at Backyard Wildlife College; our bees and other creepy crawlies enjoyed this a lot.

On June 30 Backyard Wildlife College in Allentown, PA, closed its doors forever — we’re unsure if any new tenants at the human dwelling have moved in and kept up with the wildlife improvements, or if the wildflower strip (aka the salad and protein bar) disappeared when management prepared the property for a new caretaker human. In any case, some of the infrastructure went to neighbouring backyards. You can now find Café Colibri at the human dwelling to the left, and the heated birdbath, squirrel picnic table, and feeding tube right next door to the original location. You don’t have to travel far, and we carefully checked that the humans are wildlife-friendly.

The human caretaker has permanently relocated to Belgium, and has taken up the position of assistant caretaker at Collegium Vanachter in den hof (VIDH) in Flanders, with a side-gig as Orchid Whisperer (more about this in a separate post).

zomer23-overview-garden
Some portraits from the star performers in summer 2023 at Collegium Vanachter in den hof.

We look forward to learning how European wildlife delights the humans near their dwellings in the Old World. We already received reports of sightings of Erik Brown (Squirrel), and of Freddy Fox barking deep into the night. Owl hoot-offs are a nightly occurrence. Over the summer the mosquito aerial combat team prevented most outdoor human activity and we are curious to hear how both parties will negotiate a truce next summer.

At the moment, the caretakers are spoiling the Feathered Division rotten with this fab new addition to the infrastructure, and bespoke mixes of fat, insects, and nuts and seeds. They are setting themselves up for a real challenging Big Garden Birdwatch (Flemish edition) to count all the feathered visitors in late January.

Bird tube feeder mounted on a tray, and covered with a big L-shaped roof, sits on a small round table on a patio. Four birds are on the structure.
New infrastructure at Collegium VIDH is a hit with the Feathered faculty, staff and students!

PSA: For continuity we will continue using the category BackyardWildlifeCollege for all garden-related wildlife adventures even after this relocation.

Rich milk chocolate date and almond gateau

So: here's the recipe, scroll further down for the blabla story that other blogs put before the repice. I personally prefer the reverse: tell me how to do it, then tell me why this dish matters to you. 己所不欲勿施於人 as Confucius said. (Do not do to others as you wouldn't have done to yourself.1 )

Grab a 25 cm/10inch sandwich tin (I use one with a removable bottom), and a few mixing bowls, then gather the following ingredients, and follow the instructions below:

Ingredients:

  • 175g (6oz) unsalted butter
  • 250g (9oz) good quality milk chocolate. For my US-based friends: Trader Joe's Imported Belgian Chocolate is excellent, I personally vouch for it.
  • 3 whole eggs
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 125g (4oz) light brown sugar
  • 175g (6oz) ground almonds
  • 100g (3 1/2oz) whole almonds crushed
  • 150g (5oz) medjool dates (or poach ordinary dates in water and sugar for ± 3 mins), cut in small pieces

Instructions:

  1. Grease the sandwich tin, and line the base with a circle of grease-proof paper
  2. Preheat the oven to 170C (325F, gas mark 3)
  3. Melt butter and chocolate together au bain-marie or in microwave
  4. Beat the whole three eggs with egg yolks and sugar until the mixture is pale and thick.
  5. Add the ground almonds, the crushed almonds and the dates to that mixture, combine well
  6. Incorporate the butter and chocolate mixture
  7. Pour everything into the sandwich tin and bake for about 50 mins. (I needed to add another 15mins, but our oven is geriatric and temperamental)
  8. Leave to cool before turning out
  9. Decorate with an icing sugar pattern right before serving, if you fancy

Tadaaaa!

chocolate-gateau
Icing decoration optional, but tasty!

On Christmas day we had not prepared the quiche that was murmured about – that one had fallen by the wayside. Just as well, so there was a small pie-shaped hole still available for our guests to try out this gateau. (I know I called it a torte in that previous post but to err is human.) Everyone enjoyed it, after all the other delights we served – including a gorgeous Yule log. Just look at that picture!

yule-log-2023
Our reindeer decoration approves of the Yule Log.

Anyways: it's still as good as I remember, and it reminded me of a very thick brownie with added pizzazz: ever so slightly crunchy on top, moist and substantially chocolatey on the inside, and almond flavour everywhere. My cousin compared it to frangipane but with chocolate, and that's the almonds talking.

This thing was so delish we even saved the crumbs from my clumsy cutting effort for the next day. (Tip: use a sharp knife and a decisive cut.) The Belgian Army didn't show up, neither did the Navy, to help us out, so we hid the rest of the cake in the freezer, because there was serious temptation to eat all the leftovers in one go and that might not have ended well. We're now slowly munching our way through it one piece at a time. We're tempted by cake, not by new year's resolutions here!

chocolate-gateau-piece
This yummy piece of cake survived the freezer effortlessly.

  1. Analects 12:2