Monday, February 27, 2012

Sunset at Mortons

No trip to the Smoky Mountains is complete without a sunset from Morton's Overlook. This pullout close to Newfound Gap is an excellent spot to watch the sunset especially during the summer months. Arrive early because the parking lot fills up fast.
I can't even begin to describe how spectacular some of the sunsets are. All the varying shades of pink and purple, red and blue, orange and yellow. Only God can create something so beautiful.
 I can't begin to do justice to some of the sunsets we have seen, but here are a few of my favorites.

"Purple Mountains Majesty"

I never get tired watching the fog swirl in and among the mountains. I love how the sun lights up the fog.

"Fire on the Mountain"

Day is dying in the west,

Heav'n is touching earth with rest,

Wait and worship while the night,

Sets her evening lamps alight,

Through all the sky.

The Chimney's are clearly visible in this photo and Newfound Gap Road down at the bottom of the picture.

That is the Cherokee name for these mountains meaning "land of blue smoke"

I am so thankful to the Creator of the Universe for giving us this panorama of beauty for us to enjoy!!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wild about Woodpeckers

This post is all about the woodpecker. About six or seven species of woodpeckers are found in our area, but only five of those have been spotted at my feeders.
The Woodpecker is pretty much the top bird at the feeder's. All other species of birds give way when a woodpecker flies in to feed.

The largest and most uncommon is the Pileated Woodpecker. Nearly as large as a crow it is the most impressive of the Woodpeckers. They are very shy and wary and seem to detect the slightest movement when I try to get a photo of them. On a rare occasion they will come to the suet feeder, but most of the time they forage for carpenter ants, nuts, berries, and other insects..

"Where's the Peanut Butter?"
Occasionally I spread peanut butter in this hole and that is what he is looking for. They can clean out the entire hole just as an appetizer.
 The damage they can do to trees, utility poles or even buildings is unbelievable!

Another woodpecker that visits frequently is the Yellow-Shafted Flicker. Flickers are unusual among other North American Woodpeckers in that their general coloration is brown rather than black and white. This one is a male as you can tell by his black mustache. Unlike most species of woodpeckers, Flickers forage mostly on the ground. Flickers are also one of the few Woodpeckers that migrate.

The Flicker has stunning plumage in both color and pattern. I think they are the most beautiful of all the woodpeckers.

The next few Woodpeckers are some of the more common ones found in our area. This one is a female Red-Bellied Woodpecker and they visit the feeders all year long. If you live in the eastern range of the U.S. it isn't hard to attract them. They even eat the grape jelly I put out in the summer for the Baltimore Orioles.

These two pictures show a male Red-Bellied and you can see the red on his belly.

The next two Woodpeckers are very similar in their coloration and best told apart by their size. The Hairy Woodpecker is larger (top photo) and has a longer bill,  while the Downy is smaller (bottom photo) and has a short bill. The Hairy is a shyer bird and likely to fly away when we are filling the feeders, while the Downy is bolder and will come to the feeder even when I am standing a few feet away.
Female Downy

Male Downy

Last but certainly not least is a Red-Headed Woodpecker. Unfortunately I have not had any success attracting this beautiful bird. I have seen one twice in all the years I lived here but it never stayed around much to my dismay...Sigh.   I do see them at my in-laws which is where I took this photo. 
Which species of Woodpeckers is your favorite?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Homemade Bird Suet

I don't think there is one bird in my garden that doesn't eat this suet. We are having a mild winter so it's not going quite as fast this year, but most winter's I go through a block just about every day.  One year I was having a hard time keeping up with the demand, so I thought I would put out some store bought suet instead. THEY WOULDN'T EAT IT!! Talk about spoiled birds!!!

I got a recipe out of Birds and Bloom years ago but lost it along the way, but I have made it so often, I pretty much just dump my ingredients in a bowl without measuring. So these measurements are approximate and can be adapted to your needs.

First melt your lard and peanut butter together, then add remaining ingredients.
You want it to be a little moist and slightly doughy. If you get it too dry, it won't hold together. If that happens don't despair. Just put it out in a platform feeder or a pan. They will still eat it.

Press firmly into a pan with the back of a spoon.

It's easier to cut it before it firms up. After it's chilled layer the blocks between wax paper or foil and freeze.

Homemade Bird Suet

These measurements are based on a 9x13 pan and are approximate.
2 1/2 cups lard, bacon grease, shortening etc.
1-1/2 cups chunky peanut butter
1 cup quick oats
1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar opt.
4-5 cups yellow corn meal, it might take more depending on what extra ingredients you add....don't use corn meal mix.
1/4 cup raisins soaked in hot water till softened
Extra ingredients you can add are, chopped berries, bread/cracker crumbs,sunflower chips, stale dry cereal etc.
Melt your lard/shortening and peanut butter together. Add remaining ingredients. You don't want to get it too dry or it won't stick together. It should be just a bit doughy. Press firmly into a 9x13 pan. I press down with the back of a spoon. Cut into desired sized blocks then let chill for several hours. After it's chilled take out of pan and freeze between wax paper or tin-foil.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Caramel Icing

This Carmel Icing goes perfectly with Chocolate Cake and stays soft if you make it according to these directions. The secret is to just bring to a boil, remove from heat and let it cool off before adding your powdered sugar. You will end up using a lot less powdered sugar that way.


Caramel Icing

1 stick butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
powdered sugar
Melt butter and sugar over medium to low heat for 2 minutes stirring constantly. Start timing when butter starts melting. After 2 minutes, add 1/4 cup milk. Just bring to a boil then take off of heat and set pan in cold water till lukewarm.
Add vanilla and powdered sugar to desired consistency.

Friday, February 10, 2012


Today I was blessed with another visit by a flock of bluebirds that make an appearance every now and then.
 This time they hung around for at least an hour and they were so entertaining and fun to watch. They appear to be getting a little bolder around the feeders and except for the woodpeckers, they pretty much held their ground.

Hey Mr Finch...This is a post for bluebirds only. Skedaddle!

Note to self...Plant more berry bearing shrubs and trees.

Look at me...I can walk on water.

If there was a bird popularity contest, I think bluebirds would win hands down. They are such a joy to have around. What bird is your favorite?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Lemon Pull-Aparts

I had this recipe pinned on Pinterest (great but addicting site) and decided to make them today because
#1. I had all the ingredients on hand.
#2. We planned to clean out the basement today and I wanted to put it off as long as possible.
# 3.We love lemony, citrusy flavors and these had just the right amount of lemon flavor.
#4. Same as #2

Make sure you use real lemon zest because that is what gives it the awesome flavor.

Lemon Pull-Aparts

12 Rhodes dinner rolls, thawed but still cold (note...I put mine in the refrigerator overnight and they were just right in the morning)
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup sugar
3 Tbsp butter, melted

1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon soft butter
1 Tbsp lemon juice or hot water to desired consistancy
A little bit of lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Cut rolls in half and place in a greased 9×13" pan. Drizzle with the melted butter. Mix lemon zest and sugar together in a small bowl. Sprinkle HALF of the lemon sugar mixture over the rolls. Cover and let raise till doubled.  Sprinkle remaining sugar mixture on top. Bake at 350 for about 20-25 minutes. Remove from pan. Combine glaze ingredients. Drizzle over rolls while still warm.


Friday, February 3, 2012

Strip Steaks

At one time steak was one of our favorite foods, especially when dining out, but it seems like it's getting harder and harder to find a good one.  After so many disappointing steaks at outrageous prices we decided to try to make our own.
I found this recipe on the Pioneer Woman's website and it is one we really like.We usually use Strip Steaks or Rib-Eyes, but a Filet would be even better.The ones in this post are Strip Steaks and only cost $7.50 for both!

About two hours before you want to start your steaks, set them out on the counter.

Sprinkle a light layer of Lawry's Seasoned Salt on both sides.....

Followed by a generous layer of Lemon Pepper. Now let the steaks come to room temperature at least 1-2 hours.

A cast iron pan with ridges like this is great if you like the grill marks on your steak, but you can use a regular pan as well. A non-stick is not the best choice. This pan is perfect to cook two steaks.

Let your pan get nice and hot over medium-high heat. Add 3-4 Tbsp butter into your pan and let it just start to brown a little bit.

Add the steaks to the hot pan. For a medium cooked steak, cook 2 minutes then rotate the steak 90 degrees. The purpose of this rotation is to form a criss-cross pattern on your steak, and to cook the steak more evenly. 2 minutes after the rotation, go ahead and flip the steak to the other side.

 After 2 minutes, rotate, cook two more minutes. Should be around 4 minutes per side. This will vary according to how you like your steaks done and on the thickness of your steak.
While your steak is cooking, spoon the butter that is in the pan over the steak.

Letting your steaks rest for a minute or two after cooking results in a juicer steak.