Creating a Wildlife Habitat, Part III: When Critters Get Thirsty

Photo courtesy Unsplash

Photo courtesy Unsplash

Now that we’ve covered where to create wildlife habitats, what the requirements are, and looked at how to provide food for wildlife, let’s turn our attention to how to provide water. 

This is one of my favorites, because there are so many different ways to provide it, and because you can accessorize your water features!

As with the other elements, this can be naturally occurring or provided by you. Examples of natural water sources include ponds, lakes, streams, creeks, wetlands and even low places in your yard which hold water.

Man made water sources include bird baths, which come in a variety of sizes, materials and styles. Consider having more than one and varying the heights. If you want something to double as a water feature and yard art check out the beautiful glass models and metal baths with sculptures of birds. 

Another idea is to use the saucer from a terra cotta or plastic pot. You can set these on the ground, on a stump, or on a deck rail - or all three of those. Remember, some wildlife will stay close to the ground while others will drink and bathe higher up.

One thing to consider is placement. Avoid putting a water feature close to bushes where predators, like outdoor cats, can hide.

Now for the accessories! Water wigglers are battery-operated devices that agitate the water very slightly. This keeps the water fresher longer and discourages mosquitos from laying their eggs. Genius!

Another accessory is a dripper/mister. Birds are attracted by the sound of water, so you can set this for a very slow drip or a faster one that you can use to fill the bird bath. Put water-loving plants around it to catch overflow. Or you can use the mister, which puts out a very fine spray, cooling the area around it and some birds, like hummingbirds, will flit back and forth through the mist.

A similar idea is to use quarter inch tubing and snake it up a tree. You can purchase different ends which will allow different levels of spray. You’ll need a splitter to attach to the faucet, and will attach the tubing to that. You might notice birds bathing by rubbing against the wet leaves. 

Think about adding several different water features to really ramp up your habitat!

Photo by Debbie Leblanc Foster

Photo by Debbie Leblanc Foster

2810[top]5: Instagrams to Follow

We don’t get around to Instagramming as much as we should (please follow us!), but as far as branding goes, no one can deny the importance of the square format photo. Here are five of our favorite accounts to follow.

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@adriennehessphoto’s clean styling makes for gorgeous #eyecandy from this Matthews-based product photographer.

reason insta.jpg (a Hyperlocal participant) shares the process of her #handmade jewelry.

pet paradise insta.jpg

@petparadisematthews: because sometimes a #pitty #noseboop is all you need.

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@renfrowfarms provides #sunshine and #urbanfarming all year long.

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@matthews_market keeps you updated on what’s growing #locally.

Around the Table with the Burkes: Survival is the Main Ingredient

Meal planning is a really useful tool for making sure we don’t have McDonald’s every day, but sometimes my ambition on Saturday doesn’t match up with my energy level on a Monday evening. Flexibility and a Plan B helps.

Crib rails and baby gates are merely training devices for the youngest’s future Ninja Warrior care er.

Crib rails and baby gates are merely training devices for the youngest’s future Ninja Warrior career.

Greetings Beacon readers! After a short hiatus Around the Table has returned with more tales of survival and food from the Burke household, survival being the key ingredient these days. I have been suffering from an overdose of tired lately. A death in my family, whirlwind travel, and major changes coming to my household have caused my brain to short circuit. Additionally, my youngest child (2) has decided that a.) he’s never going to sleep again, and b.) crib rails and baby gates are merely training devices for his future Ninja Warrior career. Meal planning is a really useful tool for making sure we don’t have McDonald’s every day, but sometimes my ambition on Saturday doesn’t match up with my energy level on a Monday evening. Flexibility and a Plan B helps.

Last Saturday I had a meeting all afternoon and was out later than I planned, so we ended up ordering pizza. Highlight of the evening was my food allergy kid getting his first slice after months of trialing different pizza components. He was so excited! Can I just serve pizza every day and still maintain “Okay Mom” status?

Sunday I planned on Beef Stew for “Hearty Superb Owl Man Food.” I was going to go with my quick and easy McCormick packet cheat, but that only works if you actually have a packet on hand. So I took to googling recipes and made a bit of a FrankenStew using my Instant Pot. Positives: delicious stew beef from the Farmer’s Market made ultra tender by the Instant Pot. Negatives: waaaaaaay too much tomato paste, and not enough beef broth. Not my finest dish, but not entirely inedible.


My good friend got chickens last weekend. The live, future-egg-laying variety. They’re pretty cute, and I am a bit of an animal nut, so hanging out with chicks instead of working was how I spent most of my days this week. Monday evening rolled around and I threw together some baked pork chops, noodles, and corn. Some days the most basic home cooked foods are a win. Tuesday’s dinner was leftovers. Thank goodness we had some.

Wednesday I shocked my husband by making “real” food – chicken chili and biscuits.

White Chicken Chili:

  • A pound and a half of chicken cut into bite size chunks (I use breasts, thighs also work)

  • 3 cans of white beans, drained and rinsed

  • Seasoning mix (per pound of chicken, I double this for 1.5 pounds):

    • ½ tsp sugar

    • ½ tsp corn starch

    • 1 tsp garlic powder

    • ½ tsp cayenne pepper

    • 1 tsp cumin

    • ½ tsp oregano

    • ½ tsp cilantro

  • 1 cup frozen or canned corn

  • 2-3 cups water

Brown the chicken on all sides, then add water, seasoning mix, and beans. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes. Add the corn and cook another 6-10 minutes. Serve with something you can use to mop sauce!

Thursday I shocked Travis again with meatloaf, squash, and spaetzle. I also did dishes. Travis thinks I might be very sick.

As for tonight, I’m at a loss. I see turkey burgers on my plan, but that seems like a lot of effort. In all likelihood we’re going to end up having pancakes and French toast for dinner. Plan Brinner.

One of these days I’ll head back to the Farmer’s Market and one of these weeks I’ll have myself back on track with my goals for the year.

Late Winter Blooms: A Photoessay

The winter really hasn’t been a harsh one, just cold bursts here and there, but by the time February rolls around I’m 100% ready for spring. Some of the flowers are, too.

The daffodils are already nodding their cheery faces as if to beckon warmer days. The dandelions and dead nettle are keeping the bees fed while hellebores and camellias are brightening shady corners. Meanwhile the pansies (and their more demure cousin, wild violet) are still in full display all over town.

Michelle Sigler's Trifecta of Healing

I felt like I could [originally] help people with just their muscular-skeletal issues. Many think acupuncture is [just] for pain – but it’s actually so much more – anxiety, infertility, allergies… It treats the mind, body, and spirit.
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To long-time massage therapist, Michelle Sigler, 56, of Charlotte, simply doing massage therapy on her clients did not seem to satisfy her deepest desires to help her patients find optimal pain relief.

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“I loved that I was helping people on a very deep level,” she said. “I wanted them to really relax, de-stress, and heal. However, I felt limited by how I could help – I wanted to help them in other areas.”

And so, after trying acupuncture, herself, and finding help and personal relief, she returned to her school, nearly one decade later (this time, at the Jung Tao School of Classical Chinese Medicine in Sugar Grove, NC), to become an acupuncturist. That was 2010. She sequentially furthered her education by going on to complete a two-year program of Chinese Herbal Studies at the Academy for Five Element Acupuncture in Gainesville, Florida.

Today, she feels she can offer the best possible services – a trifecta, really, of massage, acupuncture, and Chinese herbs - all specifically individually designed for her clients’ health. (She’s also a Reiki Master.) Add in her other specialties such as pregnancy massage, hot stone massage, and facial rejuvenation acupuncture and Michelle feels more than satisfied with the wide range of services she can offer.

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“I felt like I could [originally] help people with just their muscular-skeletal issues,” she said. “Many think acupuncture is [just] for pain – but it’s actually so much more – anxiety, infertility, allergies….. It treats the mind, body, and spirit.”

At the heart of her work is the knowledge that these treatments and modalities offer an Eastern perspective and an alternative to traditional Western medicine-care.

“I want people to know that they have an alternative to their healthcare,” she said. “That they have health freedom and that they can choose which direction they want to go.”

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Michelle realizes that some people’s fear of needles or, of the unknown, is something she must navigate while providing care. “I think that people are scared about acupuncture because they associate needles with getting shots at a doctor’s office,” she said. “[Those types of] needles tear the skin, these needles are [small and] solid.”

However, her overarching philosophy remains fundamental to her work. “[Acupuncture] is based on a Daoist philosophy - the perspective is very different – it’s very holistic cosmic energies of cold, wind, heat, damp, dryness and existing in us,” explained Michelle. “We are born from the earth and so the energies that we see in nature are a part of us – and they resonate with us.”

While acupuncture is used for pain relief and musculoskeletal problems, it can easily be used for any number of other ailments ranging from infertility and hormone imbalance to sleep and digestive function.

The history Chinese acupuncture dates back a few thousand years; it was first referenced in 100 BCE. Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine in which thin solid needles are inserted into the skin at various “acupuncture points” along specific pathways, called meridians, located throughout the body. It is a key component of traditional Chinese medicine which states in order to achieve optimal health, good “qi” or “chi” (energy/life flow), a person’s yin/yang must be in balance. The very light, small needles (smaller than a sewing needle) used are of various sizes and lengths. Sessions range from 20 minutes to one hour. The number of needles used corresponds to the condition being treated, its severity, and the philosophy of the practitioner.

While acupuncture is used for pain relief and musculoskeletal problems, it can easily be used for any number of other ailments ranging from infertility and hormone imbalance to sleep and digestive function.

“I have seen miraculous things,” Michelle said. “I’ve seen people who are very discouraged by the western medical system and get the runaround by one specialist and another… They are not getting relief. I can help people – that’s what keeps me motivated to do this kind of work.”

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Michelle Sigler, LAc LMBT
1118 Sam Newell Rd, #D3

Creating a Wildlife Habitat, Part II: Food for Thought

In the last article we looked at sites for wildlife habitats (homes, businesses, places of worship, and public sites such as parks). We also looked at the requirements: food, water, cover, places to raise young, and sustainable gardening practices.

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In the next few installments we’ll examine each requirement separately to see how easy they are to provide.

Let’s kick off with food. This can be natural (like acorns, seeds, nuts) or something that you provide (like bird seed, suet or corn).

If you’re feeding birds, natural sources of food include plants that provide berries (like blueberries), seeds (echinacea or Black-eyed Susan), nuts (pecan or hazelnut), or nectar (for hummingbirds). Notice that these can all feed people, too!

To provide food in a fast and efficient manner think about using bird feeders. It’s important to do your research and know what foods your favorite birds prefer, what type of feeder to use, and where to hang it for the best result. Keeping feeders filled and cleaned is important. And make sure to buy quality seed instead of a giant bag of mostly millet, which most of our birds don't eat!

If squirrels eat a lot of your seed, add a baffle to prevent them from shimmying up a pole to help themselves to the bird food.  Remember that squirrels can jump quite a long ways from any direction, so take that into account when hanging feeders.

Winter months and cold weather can be hard on our birds.  I like to provide suet for a high energy food for birds.  It's easy to make your own and a great project for kids.  

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Who doesn't love seeing hummingbirds?  Put out feeders in more than one location (out of the line-of-sight) and keep them clean by a weekly scrubbing.  The nectar will ferment quickly in very hot weather, so you'll need to change it regularly.

If you’re trying to attract pollinators, focus on providing a variety of native plants of different colors and shapes.  Use native plants to get the biggest environmental bang for your buck.

So there you have it - a quick and easy way to provide food for critters in your yard.  And the best thing is that you get the joy of seeing nature up close!

Mark Frye: Alchemist of Love

They had endured innumerable crises and experiences; their love was a story for the ages. Harry and Carla Workman turned to Matthews jeweler Mark Frye to capture their constant faith and love in wearable form.

Photo courtesy Mark Frye

Photo courtesy Mark Frye

When long-time jeweler, Mark Frye, manager of Trade Street Jewelers (100 West John Street), was asked to create a one-of-a-kind necklace for the Workman family, last fall, he knew little about the back story and the long journey which was about to unfold right before his eyes.

His clients, Harry and Carla Workman of Mint Hill, had previously lived a 15-year family journey – starting with Carla taking on Harry’s three children at marriage, to Carla’s subsequent diagnosis with cancer. Then, four years ago, her mother was diagnosed with brain cancer (and passed).

The original design created by Harry Workman’s daughter.

The original design created by Harry Workman’s daughter.

They had endured innumerable crises and experiences; this was a story for the ages, said Harry, who had all along imagined an infinity symbol with an anchor as an indelible image reflecting their constant faith and love.

And, so, he asked his daughter to create such an image; they also toyed with getting matching tattoos on their ring fingers. Then, one day, last year, he got a tattoo of such an anchor on his forearm and went home to show his wife.

She said, “I’m not going to get a tattoo like that!” But, she had a thought: to create a likeness of that same image using pieces of both her mother’s jewelry and her own. Who better to ask this of but her beloved jeweler, Mark.

By using the images provided, Mark would make a three-dimensional piece of what was two dimensional. Together with a designer from Texas, who cast the piece, the result would allow “the full design with the breaks and wraps” which you can’t see on the flat image.

At points, Mark says, he and the Workmans were in touch so often that their conversations eclipsed those he’d usually have with his family or children. One month later, the final creation was born.

Photo courtesy Mark Frye

Photo courtesy Mark Frye

“I love the symbol of all of it,” said Carla. “It’s beautiful,” she said, adding that she wears it all the time. To secure the free-dangling hooks, Mark eventually put the three-dimensional piece on a solid shape of white gold so that the fragile end pieces wouldn’t break or get caught on clothing.

“The tattoo has become a story of our love story,” Harry said. “The emblem has become a family crest. [Now] Carla wears precious metal from the precious family. [Our symbol] is memorialized from this medallion that Mark made so beautifully.”

Although Mark is often asked to make custom pieces, this experience has touched his heart and cemented his relationship with the Workmans. “This was a unique experience,” he said. “This was different because it had a story that had deep sentiment to them - that was the significance.” Add in the request “coming from an already great customer,” and the result meant a lot to Mark, too. It is work which gives his talents and skills even greater meaning.

In the future, Harry doesn’t think that any more anchors will be created for family members, but he and Carla have their own design, forever. “It’s something really special between us,” said Carla. “That we’re always going to be bound together…in infinity.”

Kind of like their relationship with Mark.

Photo courtesy Harry Workman

Photo courtesy Harry Workman

Trade Street Jewelers
100 W John St, Matthews
(704) 321-7944

M - F 10 a.m. til 5 p.m.
Sa 10 a.m. til 4 p.m.

2810[top]5: Highlights from the Guild of Charlotte Artists Show

The Guild of Charlotte Artists Small Works Show is currently on display in the Novant Hospital Matthews Lobby (1500 Matthews Township Pkwy) and will be on display through March 2. The show contains over 60 two-dimensional works under 12-inches in either dimension. Awards were presented during the show’s reception February 3. If you see something you like, all works are available for sale.

We picked a few of our favorites to share here.

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Love Nest by Patti Ratcliffe
Oil on Canvas

sunflowers and apples Jean Rupprecht.jpg

Sunflowers and Apples by
Jean Rupprecht
Oil on Canvas

playful skies booty moran.jpg

Playful Skies by Booty Moran

Oil on Canvas

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Awake by Pat Williams
Woodcut Reduction

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Provence by Carol Pighin
Oil on Canvas

Creating a Wildlife Habitat: Part I

Every wildlife habitat requires the same things: food, water, cover, places to raise young, and sustainable practices.

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A lot of ground has been lost, literally and figuratively, on the environmental front recently. Rather than throwing your hands up in despair how about asking what we as individuals can do. Small acts can make a difference.

We’re going to explore how to create wildlife habitats in several columns. Today we’ll look at the requirements for wildlife habitats and places to create habitats. 

Every wildlife habitat requires the same things: food, water, cover, places to raise young, and sustainable practices. These requirements can be naturally occurring, such as a pond or berry-bearing plant, or you can provide them in the form of a bird bath or feeder. Over the next few columns, we’ll look at how easy it is to provide each of the required elements.

The best, and easiest, place to start is your own home. Size isn’t an obstacle. You can create a habitat at an apartment with a balcony or patio, a farm with acreage, or anything in between.

You can also create a wildlife habitat at a daycare, nursery school, as well as elementary, middle and high schools, and on college campuses. Obtaining permission from the school and/or county authorities is a starting point. Creating a budget is next, along with establishing a committee to create and care for the habitat long-term. Matthews has many examples of wildlife habitats at schools. Ask if your school is a habitat and if they need your help!

Businesses can also be habitats and can get good PR for taking this step. We have veterinarians to investment companies certified! Places of worship are logical places to care for flora and fauna. This is an excellent project for children of all ages. We have several places of worship that are wildlife habitats, and there’s always room for more.

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Finally, public areas such as parks make fabulous habitats and provide education for all who use them with the addition of signage. Squirrel Lake Park is a great example, with large educational signs and small signs with QR codes for plant identification. Check out the bird feeder system that was created and is maintained by Habitat and Wildlife Keepers (HAWK), a local chapter of North Carolina Wildlife Federation.

Matthews is the 64th Community Wildlife Habitat certified by National Wildlife Federation. HAWK (Habitat and Wildlife Keepers, a local chapter of NC Wildlife Federation) created Matthews Naturally, a community-wide program which certified the Town as a wildlife habitat, and is responsible for recertifying every year. You can be part of Matthews Naturally by certifying your home, a school, place of worship or business.

Building habitats for wildlife is one small thing that makes a big difference, especially if we work together.

The Portance of the Pansy

If you, like me, haven’t fully appreciated the power of the pansy, take a closer look next time you’re at the nursery. Their cheerful demeanor can win over the most curmudgeonly of gardeners.
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There was a time in my life where I really didn’t respect the pansy*.

Dotting landscapes in front of retail strips all across America, they just seemed too showy and dainty for my tastes. I like plants that can duke it out through the worst of seasons and survive. Pansies seemed to be a placeholder for zinnia season and I wasn’t going to waste my money.

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More recently, though, I’ve come around to their colorful faces. The cheery yellows and purples are welcome sights in the middle of a gray winter. If we can’t have sun we should at least have their cheerful petals to brighten the days.

The flowers can wear a coat of frost and still look fantastic. Forget to water them for a bit and they’re fine. (You don’t want to drown their roots, though, so make sure they have well-draining soil.) They don’t complain about a little bit of shade but show off even more in full sun. And those colors! I think there are prettier and prettier colors every year; from deep plums to palest of oranges, the faces dappled with several colors at once, like a calico Muppet. Once their brilliance fades, just pinch off the flower head to encourage more blooms.

If you have a good source of pansies that haven’t been sprayed with pesticides, you can even eat the flowers. Is it a coincidence they thrive in winter and are chock full of Vitamin C? To me, they taste like bland lettuce, so I toss them in salads. Other ideas include topping cupcakes with flowers or freezing the blooms in ice cubes for an especially pretty cocktail.

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If you, like me, haven’t fully appreciated the power of the pansy, take a closer look next time you’re at the nursery. Their cheerful demeanor can win over the most curmudgeonly of gardeners.

*For both simplicity and alliteration in my title, I’m lumping pansies and violas into one big happy group. They are, in fact, both in the viola family.

Birdwatching in Matthews

To be in the natural environment, it’s inherently relaxing. When you know the sounds, you are much more aware of what’s around.
— Tony Lombardino
Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

When Matthews resident, Tony Lombardino, repeatedly appeared in Laurie Horne’s bird supply-store, Backyard Birds (1819 Matthews Township Parkway), the shop owner began to take notice. Tony didn’t ask many questions but knew much about birds, fowl, and wildlife.

Hawk photo via Unsplash

Hawk photo via Unsplash

As time went on, Laurie realized he seemingly had all the answers. She also learned that he was an avid birder who has lead many bird walks for visitors to the Rockefeller University Field Research Center in Millbrook, NY, and as a docent at the Lab of Ornithology at Cornell University. She asked if he would lead her monthly bird walk group, and, so, the second-Saturday-of-the-month bird walks at (first Squirrel Lake and now) Colonel Francis Beatty Park began. That was more than three years ago.

Today, a dedicated group of between five to twelve individuals regularly join Tony, and, of course, Laurie. Not all are bird aficionados; some are photographers. But, all share a love of the wild, nature, and, of course, birds.

"This is very informative,” said Laurie, “and not just the birds you see in the back yard feeders.” Over the years, the group has seen dozens of seasonal birds, waterfowl and even a bald eagle.

On this frigid day, eight people joined Tony to walk the park. Conversation excitedly turned to what birds people had seen recently, and then to the specific birds right near them: Ruby-crowned ringlet (only here in winter), gadwall (duck), song sparrow, chipping sparrow, red-tailed hawk, and brown-headed nuthatch. Each sound and visual spotting produced a flurry of discussion with rapid-fire identification and other ancillary, but related information.

Also present was wildlife biologist and avid birdwatcher, David Crowe, on his first meet-up with the Matthews group. “This is a fun travel hobby,” he said. “You can stay watching birds all year.”

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

With an education in neurobiology, and experience working on a 12-acre wildlife refuge, Tony learned decades ago about the lifestyle of birds in the wild, how they reproduce, and nearly all the bird songs and calls. (Tony’s original work focused on the song of birds and how their brains produce the sounds). Ornithology remains a deep love and passion.

“When I’m hearing them, I know it’s part of the communication system,” said Tony. “[It’s] what allows them to propagate…and continue to be here….Everything we are seeing and tracking helps us appreciate what’s been here longer [than we have].”

Part of Tony and Laurie’s joint mission is to offer an experience which is both fun and informational. “People don’t realize how easy the bird walks are,” Laurie said. “They think you need hiking boots and dress. [In this case, you] walk from the parking lot to the field and stand watching.” The two picked Colonel Francis Beatty Park for “the terrain and the habitat it offers,” she said.

Tony explained, “There is consistency [in returning to] one area, be in nature, in something that’s deeply resonant for human beings. To be in the natural environment, it’s inherently relaxing. When you know the sounds, you are much more aware of what’s around.”

Backyard Birds
Matthews Festival Shopping Center
1819 Matthews Township Pkwy Suite 800 704-841-9453.

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Photo by Cyma Shapiro

Don Brown’s Friendly ‘51 Ford

All photos by Cyma Shapiro

All photos by Cyma Shapiro

Don Brown, 68, of Charlotte, out (on his birthday!) with his woodworking partner, Brad Warlick, 64, of Indian Trail, doing business at Matthews Business Center. On this day, the popular 1961 ballad, “Crazy” by Patsy Kline, was blaring out the window as he proudly displayed his prized 1951 Ford stakebed truck with a flathead V8 engine. Purchased four years ago from some “guys fixing it up in Columbia, South Carolina, and making it road-worthy,” it gets 15 mpg and goes no more than 45 mph.

Originally used to haul hay in Kentucky and North Carolina, Brown’s contribution is the license plates (previously used on taxis, buses, trucks, etc.) from all 50 states, given to him by people and purchased at antique stores and flea markets. Most prized plates are the one from his uncle in Kansas and the other one from the county of Bedford, VA, which, coincidentally, is his father’s namesake. “This is a friendly vehicle,” he said. “It attracts attention from everyone. Everybody wants to say, ‘hi’ and take my photo.”

Around the Table with the Burkes: Super Spouse Dinner Takeover

Tonight we’ll be roasting hot dogs over a campfire with friends. The side will likely be s’mores and chances are good there will not be a vegetable in sight.
Photo by Norah Burke

Photo by Norah Burke

Photo by Norah Burke

Photo by Norah Burke

This week seemed to fly by, didn’t it? I didn’t get to the Farmer’s Market last Saturday thanks to a migraine, fortunately winter vegetables have a delightfully long shelf life so I still had cauliflower from the week before as well as some meat in our freezer to create our meals this week.

On Saturday I helped throw a last minute birthday party for a good friend (hi Kelly!). My contribution was homemade baked mac n’ cheese and a chocolate cream pie. I know you want those recipes, the mac n’ cheese can be found here (note: I replace the onion with a tablespoon of onion powder for kid friendliness). The chocolate cream pie recipe is here, for this one I have made the crust in the past and it’s phenomenal, but when I’m feeling lazy I pick up an Oreo crumb crust from the grocery store.

My husband Travis racked up some super spouse points this week by taking the lead on dinners. On Sunday he made hamburgers, sweet potato fries, and corn.

Photo by Norah Burke

Photo by Norah Burke

Monday he grilled pork chops (from the Market), and I roasted cauliflower. I coat the cauliflower in 2 tbsp soy sauce, 2 tbsp olive oil, black pepper, and garlic and then roast it on a sheet pan in a 425 degree oven for 20-30 minutes.

Tuesday and Wednesday I was out of the house, so Travis served up leftovers to the kids. Supposedly they ate them all. I never look a gift break from parenting in the mouth.

Thursday I assuaged my mom and wife guilt with roasted butternut squash, rice pilaf, and soy-ginger-garlic-brown sugar chicken. Lest you think I’m some culinary professional, the chicken was… not great. I didn’t cut my pieces uniformly so some were overcooked to rubber, blech. The rice pilaf isn’t authentic, per se, it’s more of a 1950s midwestern version (my source lived in Ohio for a long time…), but it’s a favorite of the husband and yummy.

Photo by Norah Burke

Photo by Norah Burke

Oma’s Rice Pilaf

  • 1 ¼ cups Parboiled (converted) Rice

  • 1 10.5 ounce can Beef Consommé

  • 1 10.5 ounce can French Onion Soup

  • 6 Tbsp Butter (I always cut this to 4-ish)

Combine the ingredients in an oven safe covered dish. Cook in 350 degree oven for 45 minutes, remove lid and cook uncovered for an additional 15 minutes.

Tonight we’ll be roasting hot dogs over a campfire with friends. The side will likely be s’mores and chances are good there will not be a vegetable in sight. I’ll be back at the market tomorrow on the hunt for spinach, broccoli, and carrots. And let’s be honest, coffee from Good Cup and some kind of pastry. Bundle up and join me!

Photo by Norah Burke

Photo by Norah Burke

Around the Table with the Burkes: A Week Without Takeout

[One] resolution for the new year is to eat out less, I’m going to call this week a success and enjoy this sense of pride before life happens and we get derailed.

Happy New Year, readers! There’s nothing like being home after travel, is there? I took my time at the Farmer’s Market on Saturday, it was slow and smaller than usual thanks to the holidays, but it’s the season for some of my favorite vegetables. Broccoli and Cauliflower! Mustard greens, some beautiful lettuce, and sweet potatoes rounded out my purchases for the week.

On Saturday I made chicken stir fry. To me, stir-frying is one of those magical cooking techniques where you put in things you like and the result is always delicious. Vegetable stir-fry, beef stir-fry, pork stir-fry, fish stir-fry, all good. Chicken stir-fry is one of the dishes my mom made when I was little to stretch a package of chicken to feed six people. I change my recipe pretty much every time I make it, but my starting point is usually the following:

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Chicken Stir Fry

  • 1-2 pounds boneless chicken breasts (or thighs if you like dark meat), cut into 1-2 inch chunks

  • 2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil (here’s another place to change up the flavor by using sesame oil, or a blend of the two)

  • Marinade:

  • ½ Tbsp Garlic Powder, or 4-5 minced cloves (or more, you can never skimp on garlic IMO)

  • 1 tsp Ginger

  • 1 Tbsp Honey

  • ¼ - 1/3 cup Soy Sauce

  • 2 Tbsp Corn Starch

Additional Spice Options (I play around to see what we like): Chinese Five Spice, Chili Powder, Cayenne Pepper, Paprika, Cinnamon, Wasabi. A shake here, a pinch there, sometimes nothing extra at all

Vegetables (pick and choose any or all): Baby Corn, Broccoli, Green Beans, Carrots, Snap Peas, Bell Peppers, Water Chestnuts, Onions, Mushrooms (I guess? If you like that kind of thing)

Put the chicken chunks into a bowl, pour in the marinade, and stir to coat. Prepare your vegetable selections, making sure everything is cut into uniform sizes. Vegetables that take longer to cook (corn, water chestnuts, carrots) should be cut smaller than faster cooking vegetables. In a wok (I used a cheap wok from IKEA for 10 years, and recently replaced it with this one since I stir fry a lot it’s worth the investment to me) heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil to shimmering hot. HOT is the key to stir fry (but don’t light your kitchen on fire, keep both eyes on it!). Drop the chicken and marinade into the wok and cook, stirring constantly, until the chicken is browned on the outside. Add your vegetables and continue cooking until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are tender, but still brightly colored. Watch your heat, you want it to be hot, but not burn. If you like to have a little sauce, toward the end of cooking pour a few tablespoons of water into the pan, dribbling it along the side of the wok so it heats up before it hits the rest of the ingredients. Serve over the rice variety of your choice (my fave is Basmati, but any variety will do).

norah quinoa taco.jpg

My plan for Sunday was to rest in preparation for a big New Year’s Eve dinner, so my husband threw together some pasta and crusty bread. Quick, simple, and I didn’t have to make it!

I love making biscuits from scratch when I have a chance (isn’t it a requirement for Southern residency?).

Monday I baked a spiral ham with sweet potatoes, spaetzle, and biscuits. I love making biscuits from scratch when I have a chance (isn’t it a requirement for Southern residency?). I start with Betty Crocker’s Baking Powder Biscuit recipe, which I found in my oldest, most beaten up cookbook, but is now online thanks to the magic of the internet. I replace the shortening with butter and the milk with buttermilk.

Tuesday we had leftover ham, much to my children’s delight. My son opted for rolled up deli turkey. Insert eye roll.

I got experimental on Wednesday, making a dish that was both new to us and vegetarian. I made a resolution to start incorporating more meatless meals into our dinner menu, to both save money and reduce our environmental impact. So I made quinoa and black bean tacos from my new vegetarian cookbook “Love Real Food.” I was pleasantly surprised, they were quite good. I’ll tweak the spices next time because the flavor wasn’t as in your face as we like, probably with more garlic (have you noticed yet how much I like garlic? Because I really like garlic. Fortunately, there is lots of garlic to be found at the Market), more chili powder, and possibly the addition of a homemade taco sauce because we were missing some moisture. But overall the tacos were really good, I think we’ll make them a regular addition. I topped mine with lettuce from the Market, cheddar cheese, corn, and some crumbled tortilla chips for crunch. If you’re wondering how they went over with the kids, well… it’s good to keep chicken nuggets in the freezer.

I threw together a quick chicken chili on Thursday with boxed cornbread.

Today we’ll clean out all of the leftovers from this week; there are lots of options. I’m sure my kids will complain about all of them and ask for McDonald’s, but I’m not going to give in because we made it through a week without takeout! Another resolution for the new year is to eat out less, I’m going to call this week a success and enjoy this sense of pride before life happens and we get derailed.

Enjoy your weekend!