One year when I was a girl, my mother made an angelfood cake for my birthday. It was from a mix which included multicoloured sprinkles (some of you call those candy bits “hundreds and thousands”). I have no recollection of how old I was, whether all of my brothers were in attendance, whether all were still alive, even, or what present I might have received — I just remember the beautiful wedge of cake, and the fact that Mum had attempted it and it had turned out well.
Maybe I remember the scene because she was relaxed and pleased with her work for once. Mum’s culinary expertise lay in pork chops, meat loaf, scalloped potatoes, pickled red cabbage, and green beans by the truckload, cheap, nourishing food that sustained seven people on a paint-factory worker’s paycheque. Maybe, on this particular evening, Mum’s face was as bright as that slice of white cake shot with rainbow dots of colour.
Whatever the reason, whenever I think of birthday cake, I think of that one.
I was quite pleased, then, at the card I made Aunt Theodora for her 95th birthday:
Sprinkles, glorious sprinkles. They shower downwards at a gentle slant, thanks in great part to this nifty little paintbrush:The purple and yellow background dots were made with a round (think “ordinary”) brush, while the words took a rigger, a brush with longer, fewer bristles, so that it will hold a decent amount of paint while producing thin lines; it’s also called a script brush.
And here is a close-up of the candle. The photo doesn’t show the shininess of the blue. I mixed the blue paint with gum arabic, a liquid that greatly slows the drying time, and then coloured in the flame, starting at the top and finishing by touching the yellow to the blue and tipping the card upright. The result wasn’t quite what I wanted; the time I’d tried this before, the yellow stayed yellow and didn’t blend to make green. Will have to keep experimenting.
although I composed the words for the card, there have likely been hundreds of riffs on the same theme in the history of commercially-produced birthday greetings. So sue me. I’ll pay my lawyer with one Cardi, and you can have the other one.
Anyway, the fact that both the plate and the words on the outside of the card use the same colour helps to give a “black and white” effect to the inside — with just a little added sweetness:
There you have it.
No cats were harmed in the making of this card.
By popular request (okay, Jayne in Australia asked, and I thought Novroz over in Indonesia might not know these birds), I have decided to present a few photos of a European Starling chiseling away at our suet feeder. Since the photos, taken with the zoom lens through the living room window and then tightly cropped, aren’t very sharp, I will
plague treat you to four pictures to give as much fuzzy subtle detail as possible.
Starlings are medium-small birds, bigger than sparrows but smaller than crows. (To compare, the suet cage is about 13 X 15 cm.) Males and females look pretty much the same.
Other than their pink feet, the colouration of European Starlings depends on the season and the time of day. In Winter, they’re spottier because they’ve worn their body feathers down to the spots.*** In their new Spring outfits, they’re a little more uniformly black. In Winter, their beaks are darker; in Spring, they turn yellow.
If you squint a bit, you’ll notice a green sheen on this bird’s feathers. That’s a trick of the sunlight that starlings share with other black-feathered birds.
You don’t need to squint at all to notice that the suet cage is now broadside to the camera. The wind that day was spinning the cage like a hypnotist’s watch.
In this photo, you can see the starling’s long, narrow, pointy beak. It works well for picking bugs out of the grass, plucking berries from bushes, or pulling bits of suet from between the cage bars. Starlings will eat anything. They are not picky eaters, like birds of prey. The raptors, however, aren’t jealous. Instead, they graciously rejoice in the starlings’ easygoing ways that have helped to spread their population, in just over a century, from one end of North America to the other.
Starlings also make tasty, nutritious meals for hawks.
One last picture. Here you can see the starling pausing to inspect its artwork. Will it incise “I love Turtle”? Will it fashion a reliefwork basket of tulips? Will it decide which breadcrumb is biggest and best?
The world will never know.
My funny valentine was in fact the work of many starlings, not simply the sculptor seen above. They often arrive by the dozen, some playing King of the Castle on the suet cage while others stand on the snow beneath, catching the fatty crumbs that the mock warmakers drop. Their chattering and clowning in the snow-coated stillness brightens my day.
***Nota bene: I got this part wrong. Starlings get new clothes for Rosh Hashanah, not Easter. Their new suits are spotted, and by Spring they have worn some of the spots off! Please check out Seabrooke’s informative blog entry for more info on these birds.
This week, several food-related incidents occurred. One was that we’ve gotten back on the Weight Watchers program, and have agreed to swap k.p. duty every other week.
The second is that I’ve been perusing online seed catalogues, making little charts and studying the backyard while playing fetch with the dogs.
The next is that we’ve signed up for Bible studies at the church we’ve started attending. Eh? Well, yes, this denomination is acutely aware of social justice issues, and one of the possibilities for a several-week study is the danger of according corporations the right to patent food.
Frankly, I had no idea what the topic was about. E.g., though, decided that last night’s supper entertainment would be the American documentary film, Food, Inc. It was a well-balanced film. It stated facts clearly, calmly, and soberly. And it disturbed me greatly.
Disregard for animal welfare was only a side issue in this film; human rights abuse was its main focus. Health issues, environmental harm, employment practices tantamount to human trafficking, and governmental and police collusion with food industry owners — suddenly I don’t feel so hungry.
If you’re Canadian, you have a few weeks yet to see this film on the CBC website in the Passionate Eye series (I’m presuming that the programming is inaccessible to people outside the country). But be warned, it isn’t dinner theatre.
I spent today online again, this time researching container gardening tips and gathering a list of calcium-rich foods. Ones that didn’t start with a cow — or patented soybeans, for that matter.
Lemme know if you’re interested in any of the menu plans I concoct for next week. And don’t worry, I’ll smile again soon.
Growing up is just no fun at all.