Thursday, July 18, 2013

Happy Birthday Susan Reagan - July 19

Happy Birthday Susan Reagan - July 19

All of my children enjoy watching birds in our backyard. Their interest began when they were toddlers. Together we learned the names of our local birds when they pointed them out at the feeder. We talked about their colors, learned to identify the males and females, and watched as they enjoyed the various treats we provided.

We have many memories of encounters with birds in our backyard. Many years ago, a Cooper's Hawk dined on an unlucky sparrow, throwing feathers everywhere, while perched on our feeder. More recently, a Pileated Woodpecker  pummeled an old log looking for bugs and Black-capped Chickadee parents made repeated trips to our suet feeder to gather morsels for each of their five fledglings. One of our favorite things to see is a Mama and Papa Northern Cardinal enjoying an evening date eating black oil sunflower seeds together. This week an adorable board book inspired us to show our feathered friends how much we love that they visit our backyard.

Susan Reagan's career has revolved around art, illustration, and character development. Before picture books, she spent many years working for American Greetings. First, working for the company's subsidiary, Those Characters From Cleveland, at the time when the iconic brands of Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake were being developed. Later, she illustrated greeting cards at American Greetings Card Design Studio. After American Greetings, Reagan moved into freelance illustration that allowed her to create art for American Girl magazine, Papyrus, Clubhouse Jr. Magazine, many children's books including What Kind of Fairy is Merry Berry? by Lindsey Renee and When the Creepy Things Come Out by Melody Carlson, and a book cover for the recently released Odessa Again by Dana Reinhardt. In December 2012, she debuted as an author-illustrator with her board book Tweet Hearts and has a second picture book, Slipper and Flipper in the Quest for the Golden Sun, slated for release in September 2014.

Our family met Susan Reagan last February, at a book signing event for her board book Tweet Hearts.  Since then it has become one of my youngest daughter's favorite books to read before bedtime.  In this book two birds in love count hearts from ten down to one. The text is fun to read aloud and has a perfect length for a very young child to enjoy.

I had an idea to bring Tweet Hearts to life for the whole family by making heart-shape no-melt suet cakes.

The recipe:
2 cups oats
2 cups cornmeal
1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup lard
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
3 child-sized handfuls (or 1 adult handful) black oil sunflower seeds

Melt lard and peanut butter on stove at low heat. Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Once lard and peanut butter are completely melted, mix with the dry ingredients. Spray a cookie sheet. Spread mixture evenly on cookie sheet. Cool in refrigerator or freezer. Cut using a heart-shape cookie cutter. Gather trimmings, flatten, and cut out more hearts. Immediately place in feeder or store in freezer. (Based on a recipe found on Food.com)

After reading Tweet Hearts, my little helpers took turns adding the dry ingredients to the bowl, while I melted the lard and peanut butter on the stove.
The melted fats were very hot so I added them to the bowl and once they cooled slightly everyone took turns mixing.
We spread the suet mixture on a cookie sheet and placed it into the freezer to cool.  (Don't forget about it in the freezer, like I did, because then you will have to wait for it to thaw before you cut out your hearts.)
My little guy was quite pleased to see his first heart! 
(Yes, his shirt is on inside out, backwards, and it is his brother's shirt...but making suet hearts was far more important than fixing those details!)
He enjoyed squishing together and flattening out the trimmings to make more hearts.
We made a double batch which kept us busy for a while.
I think they could go into business making heart-shape suet cakes! They were quite a team.
My daughter was not a big fan of the peanut butter and lard mixture. We had a pair of latex gloves for her to wear which allowed her to use her creativity to sculpt a bird out of the trimmings.
Kinda cute! She wasn't too happy when I set it out for the birds to eat. I didn't realize that she wanted to keep it!
I set aside a few suet cakes for the birds and the rest went into storage bags (washed out cereal bags) for the freezer.
A Tweet Hearts silhouette.
Our family of chickadees really enjoyed having homemade suet instead of the store bought variety.
We don't see too many sparrows, but this one stopped by for a snack.
The heart-shape suet cakes were gone by the next day. We were so happy that they enjoyed them!  
Another memorable bird watching experience!

My family will be making these treats again. The cost of the ingredients was low and they were super easy to make!
Sue -- We hope you have a wonderful birthday! It was so nice to meet you at the Urban Orchid! We hope to see you soon!

Links:
1. Susan Reagan's Website
2. Follow Susan Reagan on Facebook and Twitter
3. Susan Reagan's Portfolio
4. More about Susan Reagan's next book Slipper and Flipper - Susan Reagan Illustration

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