I always watch the birds on my feeder and try to figure out what they are. In the last couple years, I went on a couple actual birding trips and saw how much I hadn’t been seeing–how many birds there were out there that I didn’t know. I’m constantly surprised. These birds are in my backyard in Vermont–if I stop and look for them!

This is a Black-throated Green Warbler that was in the willows along my deck this weekend–a new bird to add to my life list.

And a little closer:
                            Black-throated Green Warbler2

Summer Books

As the summer winds down and a more regular schedule begins, I thought I’d mention a few of my favorite books from the summer.

Unwind (Unwind, #1)  UnWholly (Unwind, #2)I began the summer rereading Unwind  so I could read the sequel, Unwholly by Neal Shusterman. I loved reading Unwind for the second time. Great action, characters, and idea. Unwholly takes place immediately following the end of Unwind so I’m glad I read it again.

Doll BonesDoll Bones by Holly Black is just the right amount of spooky and just the right amount about growing up. What’s not to love about a spooky doll locked in a glass case?

Lincoln's Grave Robbers I loved Steve Sheinkin’s Bomb last year. I love that he always makes me understand a time in history better than I did before. He does it again with Lincoln’s Grave Robbers. I had no idea how popular grave robbing was or why it was done. I also didn’t know the impact of counterfeiters at the time of Lincoln and how counterfeiting and robbing Lincoln’s grave were connected.

Perfect Scoundrels (Heist Society, #3)Perfect Scoundrels by Ally Carter is #3 in the Heist Society books, a series I look forward to. Kat is a teen from a criminal family and is very good at planning and carrying out involved heists. This latest installment is as much fun as the others, but read them in order!

Vampire BabyFinally, a picture book: Vampire Baby by my friend and classmate Kelly Bennett is about a young boy who believes his baby sister has become a vampire when she gets teeth and begins biting everything. He sets out to prove this to his parents. Funny and oh, so true. Youch!

Here’s a fun book trailer for Vampire Baby:;

Mexican Chicken

chicken (about 2 lbs.)
6 med jalapeno chiles
1 onion
1 garlic clove
2 T salad oil
1/4 tsp. cumin
1 10 3/4 ounce can cream of chicken soup
1 10 oz. pkg. frozen spinach
1/2 tsp salt
1 pint sour cream
1 8 oz. pkg. corn chips
1/2 lb. Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (2 cups)

1. Place chicken in pan just large enough to hold it. Add 2 : water; over high heat, heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low; cover saucepan & simmer 35 minutes (for whole chicken) or until chicken is fork tender (no pink). Remove to large bowl; refrigerate 30 minutes or until easy to handle. Discard skin & bones; cut meat into bite sized pieces. Set aside. (Refrigerate broth to use in soup another day.)

2. Remove stems and seeds from chiles; dice. Chop onion, mince garlic.

3. In 10″ skillet over medium heat in hot salad oil, cook diced jalapenos, onion, and garlic until tender. Stir in cumin. Cook 1 minute. Stir in undiluted soup, frozen spinach, and salt; over high heat, heat to boiling, breaking up spinach with fork. Reduce heat to low; coverr & simmer until spinach is cooked. Stir in chicken and sour cream; heat through. Remove from heat.

4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In large casserole dish, arrange 1/2 of the corn chips; top with 1/2 shredded cheese and chicken mixture. Then rest of corn chips and cheese. Bake 30 minutes or until mixture is heated through. 

Serves 8!

Rice Krispie Squares

Bring to a boil:
1 cup Karo syrup
1 cup sugar

Add 1 cup peanut butter and stir until dissolved.

Pour over 6 cups Rice Krispies in a buttered bowl and mix thoroughly.

Pour into 13 x 9″ buttered pan and spread out.

Melt and frost with:
1 cup butterscotch chips (1/2 12 ounce package)
1 cup chocolate chips

Note: Butter the bowl and pan while waiting for the Karo and sugar to boil. Measure the Rice Krispies and peanut butter. Once the mixture boils, work quickly. It hardens as it cools.

Pizza Crust

2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 pkg dry yeast (or 1 tbsp.)
3/4 cups warm water
1 tsp. brown sugar

Measure 1/2 cup warm water in a measuring cup and stir in brown sugar. Dissolve the yeast in the water and set aside for at least 5 minutes.

Measure 2 cups of flour into bowl. Make a depression in the middle of the flour and add olive oil and 1/4 cup warm water. When the yeast mixture has risen for 5 minutes, add it to the flour.

Put the dough on a floured surface. Mix all the ingredients in the bowl and place them on the floured board. Knead the dough for 8 to 10 minutes.

Knead by pushing part of it away from you with the heel of on hand and then folding it back towards you. Repeat with the heel of the other hand. Then rotate the dough 1/4 turn and repeat. Add more flour to the board if the mixture is too wet or too sticky. Eventually the dough will become elastic and will stay together in a cohesive ball.

Rub a clean bowl with olive oil and place the kneaded dough in it. Turn to moisten the top with oil as well. Place a clean dish towel over the bowl and put it in a warm, draft-free place to rise. The oven is a perfect place to let the dough rise. 

When the dough has risen for an hour to an hour and a half, remove it and place it on the floured board. You are now ready to roll out the dough for pizza.

Roll the dough the size and shape of your pan. Lift it onto the pan and roll the edges up to form the crust. Brush the surface with a little olive oil and put this into a very hot oven (450 degrees). (You can add vegetables before baking if you want.) Bake for 5-10 minutes until the crust is set and steamy. Remove from oven. Spread sauce on crust. Add cheese and toppings. Put back in oven for 10-15 minutes until cheese is bubbly.

Macaroni and Cheese

Put water on to boil for macaroni. Cook 1/2 pound of elbow macaroni for this. Cook macaroni as package directs.

Make sauce.

Melt 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter in saucepan over low heat. 

Blend in 1 1/2 tablespoons of flour and some salt and pepper.

Add 3/4 cup of milk. Turn heat up to medium. Stir constantly until mixture thickens and bubbles.

Add 4 oz cheddar cheese cubed. (The smaller it is the quicker it melts.) Stir until melted.

Put macaroni into baking dish. You can use an 8 or 9 inch square or round pan. Pour sauce over macaroni. Stir to mix. 

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in frying pan. Add 1-2 slices of bread cubed. Stir to coat. Sprinkle bread cubes over macaroni.

Cook at 350 degrees for 25 minutes until bubbly on sides.

Quick Chicken Cordon Bleu

1 can cream of chicken soup
2 boneless chicken breasts (about 1 pound)
3-4 slices of ham
3 slices of Swiss cheese

Take a casserole dish and layer: first the chicken, then the ham, then the cheese, and then another layer of chicken.

Over the whole thing pour 2/3 can of the cream of chicken soup. Add a little water to the rest of the soup in the can and stir. Pour the rest over the whole thing.

Place dish into oven and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour.

This will make 3-4 servings.

Stuffed Potato

1. Bake at 350 degrees one hour or until tender:
2 large baking potatoes. (Or microwave 15 minutes.)

2. Slice off top quarter of potato lengthwise and scoop out insides.

3. Mash potato with:
1 & 1/2 tablespoons butter or margarine
2-3 tablespoons sour cream
2 tablespoons milk
salt and pepper to taste
1/8 tsp celery salt

4. Stir in until well distributed:
1/3 cup cubed cooked turkey or chicken or ham or bacon
1/3 cup cubed cheddar cheese
scallions or chives to taste (haha)
2 teaspoons fresh parsley or 1/2 tsp dried

5. Stuff potato and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes to heat through.