We had more snow overnight and when I got up today (Boxing Day, why do they call it Boxing Day?) it was almost over the top of the bird bath in my garden. I was feeling kind of bad because I hadn't filled the bird feeders in our yard in some time. They were sitting out there empty and the bird seed was sitting in a large bin underneath the porch steps, which were covered in several feet of snow. There was an empty suet feeder swinging in the wind and I checked the kitchen drawer to see if I at least had a suet block I could put outside, but sadly, no. Then it occurred to me that I could make my own.
You don't know this about me but I'm actually very handy in the kitchen. I've had a subscription to Bon Appetit for almost 20 years. All you know about my culinary skills is that I failed at making a turkey, a recipe that basically involves placing a bird in the oven and removing it three hours later. So I'm feeling a need to balance the scales here.
I have been to a number of blogs that include recipes and also some very impressive, magazine-quality photos of fresh ingredients in various stages of preparation, generally shot against a backdrop of wooden bowls, marble counter tops and Kitchen Aidy-type appliances. I won't mention any names Veronica but I always leave these sites feeling small and inferior. As such, I've decided to chronicle my suet making for your blog reading pleasure.
I found the following recipe online. It comes from Horticulture educator Patricia Collins:
- Melt 1 cup shortening (or lard) in a saucepan on very low heat.
- Add 1 cup peanut butter and stir until melted.
- To this add 1 cup plain flour and 3 cups plain cornmeal. Mix thoroughly.
- Add whole rolled oats, seeds, raisins or bread crumbs if you have any. The final consistency will be putty-like.
- Pour into a disposable 8x8 inch aluminum pan and allow to cool.
I have no idea if this recipe is any good because it's not the one I used.
I'm the type of cook who starts in on a recipe without checking to make sure I have all the ingredients in my pantry. Of course, in this instance, I did not. For the corn meal, I only had about 1 of the 3 necessary cups. When searching for a replacement that would have a similar consistency, I hit upon Malt-o-Meal cereal. Mom would have been proud. I also tossed in some hulled pumpkin seeds, dried tropical fruits, rolled oats and flax seeds (because I care about the heart health of our feathered friends). Basically, you just want to keep throwing things in until it reaches the right consistency.
I stuck mine in the freezer to get it to set quickly. Once it is set you can cut it into blocks. Also, I found the 8x8 pan too small and used bread loaf pans instead (each makes 2 blocks). The blocks are a little greasy since they are made of suet, but that's the point, isn't it?
If there is several feet of snow outside and the feeder is quite a ways from the back door, you'll want to hand the block to your husband and ask him, nicely of course, to put it in the suet holder hanging outside. If you married well, he will oblige you in this. If he has a new camera, he will also take attractive bird feeder pictures for you. I stored the remaining blocks in sandwich bags for freezing and then used my husband's new camera when he wasn't looking to take an impressive suet-cake-in-baggie picture.
Warning: rough transition from suet blocks to dinner guests.
Four of our seven guests made it over yesterday and that is only because they were on the road to begin with, driving up from Tennessee, so had no choice but to keep going. These were my friends Kris and Larry from college and their two children. The others chose, wisely, to stay put. We had a wonderful feast of ham and two kinds of potatoes (because when god gives you potatoes, why stop at just one dish?), green beans almondine, fresh bread and all the aforementioned pies and cookies.
We also had an interesting conversation about nerds. Their 12-year-old daughter is a self-proclaimed nerd. She wears glasses and funny shoes and is exceptionally bright, all of which apparently qualify her. She was telling me that when one is a nerd, one can automatically claim all other nerds as friends. I asked her how many other nerd friends she had and she said about 20. I was impressed. I didn't have that many friends at her age. I asked Jim if this was true. About nerds? I figured he would know because he had told me once that had I known him in high school I wouldn't have dated him. But no, he said he wasn't a nerd, he was invisible. Jim said he invoked an invisibility shield at that age, at which point Kris and Larry said in unison, like in Star Trek, you're a nerd! And Jim said, no, more like in Predator. And they all laughed. I listened to them and thought, I wouldn't have dated any of you. Because, remember, in high school I was a teen bowling sensation.
At the end of the day it was still snowing, great enormous flakes, and I stood at the window and looked out across the field behind our house, which had been transformed into a Currier & Ives wonderland minus the horses, and smiled at the sheer beauty of it all. I logged into Facebook to conduct my social life and saw that Amy Leigh had left a rather terse message on my wall about the fucking snow. Her attitude had progressed from one of mild annoyance two days before to out and out murderous hostility. She was still holed up at her parents' house in Western Kansas, apparently suffering severe cabin fever and reading The Heart is a Lonely Hunter for perhaps the sixth time, as that is all she had brought with her. In fact, it's probably a good thing the roads were not drivable because it's likely, had they been, she would have gone out and committed assault. There is, you know, an historical correlation between Western Kansas, literature and scandalous acts of violence (I'm referring of course to In Cold Blood).
While I am snowbound at least I have ham and two kinds of potatoes and a truckload of pie and my virtual social life. And lots of suet, for what that's worth. If Amy can't get on the roads tomorrow I may have to talk her down from hauling off and icing some unsuspecting wheat farmer. But it's supposed to stop snowing. (Though they've been saying that for two days now.) I suppose if I get too bored I can always make off with Jim's camera and start cooking again. Lucky you.