Before dawn on a cold, drizzly weekend morning, few things are worth waking up for, but it's not every day I get the chance to see an owl. Tomorrow, I'll rise and shine for the early morning shift of The Big Sit, a day-long bird watching event held at Fields Pond in Holden, home of Maine Audubon's Penobscot Valley Chapter.
Last summer when we moved from Boston to Bangor, the northern terminus of civilization, we hoped to become outdoorsy. Neither of us spent much time in the woods growing up; mine was a beach-going, sleeping-under-rooves kind of family, while exploring untamed mountains in southern California meant Rod had to carry a handgun, to defend against cougars and fugitives.
We're already becoming more earthy-crunchy: we've learned how to camp, eat fiddleheads, and tell a fir tree from a spruce. We joined Maine Audubon to learn more about the plants and animals in the Maine woods. They put on lots of interesting programs at the Fields Pond Center. I've learned about bird photography, seabird conservation, and badass raptors that'll steal and eat your cat.
Precision, though, has never been my strong suit. I do not know a black-capped chickadee from a Carolina, a herring gull from a glaucous, or even a crow from a raven. Categorizing and counting, though important for tracking and protecting species, doesn't interest me. I am a lazy and forgetful birdwatcher, content to be outside, gazing at the little guys while allowing them to carry on in anonymity.
Thus, the comprehensive list of Birds I Know on Sight:1. Blue Jay
4. Great Blue Heron
5. Arctic Tern
6. Mallard Duck*
8. Bald Eagle
12. Penguin (Emperor, Chinstrap, and Rockhopper)
16. Canada Goose
*I can also identify this bird by ear
Serious birder or not, anyone sitting outside at 6am needs hot coffee and a muffin. To my basic muffin recipe, I added shredded carrot and orange zest. The result is a fluffy, wholesome nod to carrot cake with a touch of citrus zing that'll knock the sleep out of your eyes.
Except for the cup of sugar, these muffins are fairly healthy. Applesauce replaces most of the oil, and whole wheat pastry flour provides fiber without weighing the muffins down.
Carrot-Orange Muffins1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup rice milk
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon ground flax seed
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange peel, lightly packed
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 cup shredded carrot (2 medium)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon toasted wheat germ (optional)
Preheat oven to 350F. Line a muffin tray with paper liners or oil the cups.
In a large bowl, whisk together oil, applesauce, rice milk, vinegar, flax seed, water, vanilla extract, and orange peel until well combined.
In a large bowl sift together the flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry and combine, without over-mixing. Stir in the shredded carrot and walnuts.
Divide batter evenly among muffin cups. Sprinkle wheat germ on top of each muffin.
Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the tops of the muffins are browned and a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean. Remove the muffins from the oven and cool on a wire rack.
Variation: substitute one mashed banana for the flax seed and water for even fruitier muffins.