Sunday, September 26, 2010

Making a see-through window bird feeder

After looking online and through numerous stores for a clear see-through bird feeder I can attach on the outside of my second story window, that didn't cost an arm and a leg, I completely gave up and decided to make my own.

After making a couple rough versions, and making a few mistakes, I think I've got a good one that's worthy of sharing, so here it goes:

Tools required:

*1 sheet of 11x14 (or similar sized sheet) plexiglass. .093m works great- anything thicker is not necessary. ($3.57 at Home Depot)
* four small suction cups ($1.50)
*hot glue gun and glue
* A drill. Preferably a roto-tool or dremmel with a plastic cutting rotary bit (not required, but cool addition to the feeder)
*epoxy glue - I used a 2-part mix that set up in 5 minutes.
*Utility knife with new blade

Take the .093 mil sheet of plastic and draw your layout. I used a temporary vis-a-vis marker, knowing I'd be making adjustments. The cuts are coloured coded to show you the layout better.

The layout above shows the basic dimensions. There is a base/floor piece (dark blue) an orange front piece, a yellow back, two angled sides (green and pink) and an aqua roof.

The first thing I cut was the sides (the pink and green sections above). The cool thing about this project is that the measurements don't need to be all set up in advance; they are adjustable as you go along.

The one key thing is that your side pieces (pink and green) be the exact same size and shape, cut off from one side of the sheet of plastic, and be about 1/3 the width of the sheet. Cut this piece first.

With the .093 m sheet, I used a straight edge, used a new blade in my utility knife, pressing hard into the plastic, scoring it about 15 times. Then I turned the sheet over, made a couple of passes on the other side just for luck, then snapped the piece off with my hands.

BTW: I tried this with a thicker piece of plastic and it muffed up the whole thing, cracking way off the line. I would NOT use anything thicker than .093.

Once the side piece is cut, you need to use the width of it to determine the size of the base (or floor) of the feeder. Turn the side piece sideways and use it to make and then cut the base (dark blue) piece.

Then cut an angle across the center of the side piece (to separate the pink piece from the green piece). It is important to measure carefully here so that the angles are the same for each piece once they are cut.

e.g. on a 14"x 4" long piece, draw a line from a mark made at 8" from the bottom of the left side of the plastic piece to a mark made 6"from the bottom on the other, so that the diagonal will be the same on each piece. Since these will both be set on the left and right sides, they need to be equal in size to hold the base and the roof together. (6+8=14; both pieces will match.)

Then cut the roof. It should be bigger than the base, and be slightly larger than the length of the diagonal you cut for the two side pieces.

Here I used the two angled pieces to make my marks, and used a straightedge to make my line and my cut with the utility knife.

Once the base is cut and the roof is cut, the only thing left to determine is how deep you want your feeder to be.

After a few tries, I've noted that a 4" feeder is just too deep. It freaks out the birds to have to get inside it. I settled on 1 3/4" deep and the finches and chickadees seem to like it.

So of the remaining plastic, cut off a strip to go across the front of the feeder any where from 1-2".

The remaining piece will be the back piece.

Reassembled, you get the gist of what we're about to make. They are labeled above, from top left down to bottom left: Roof, front, backing, base (with holes marked out for drainage) and on the right are the 2 side pieces.

After everything is cut out, remove the plastic coating from each side.

The next thing to consider is what size of birds you want to invite to dinner.

If you do not have a dremmel or rotary tool that can cut through plastic, you can skip this part.

I originally thought I wanted bigger holes cut ion the sides to that the birds could have access on three sides instead of just one.

DH suggested I keep the size down in order to keep the bigger birds from pushing out the titmice, chickadees and finches. Blue jays and Cardinals can be pushy.

So I reduced the side of the openings to small rectangles.

It's important to make sure that if you're cutting holes in the side pieces that the bottom edge of the cut hole be the same height as the front panel. In my case, the lowest edge of the cut hole is 1 3/4" from the bottom edge.

I took these outside, because they make such a plastic shardy-mess, and did the cutting there. I also drilled holes in the base piece for drainage.

Do not skip the drain holes. If you do, after the first rain you'll get some sprouts instead of birds.

Then the assembly:

I heated up the glue gun and ran a thin line across the back of the base, then attached the back piece at a 90 degree angle, using the corner of a side piece to make sure I had a good 90 degree angle as the glue set.

Then I attached the front piece, and then glued in the sides.

Then I glued the roof on the top, one side at a time-- no need to try to do both at the same time, just make sure that when you put the first edge into the glue that the other side lines up on the roof line. The glue will stay flexible for a while. Then glue the other side once the first side has set.

Then glue on the suction cups. DO NOT use the glue gun for this. I did that on my first feeder and as soon as the sun hit it after a chilly morning, the glue popped out of the suction cups and the feeder fell to its demise.

Use a 2 part flexible epoxy and glue those suckers on good.

Then, given 'em all a good lick, fill it with bird food (Black oil sunflower is a winner) and stick it to the outside of your window.

And the birdwatching and entertainment ensues.... all kinds of entertainment. :-)

Here you can see the first feeder I made. Not as impressive and not as sturdy, also missing a roof. Hence the newer model.

Also note my biggest fan. A real admirer of my work.

One recommendation I got from the guy at the local hardware store was to cover the lower window with window tinting or mirror tinting so that the birds can't see inside at all. I like the idea, but half the fun is watching the excitement of the cat-bird interaction.

After a while the birds realize he can't get them, and he resorts to merely 'chirping' at them in soulful desire and angst.

I'm gonna make more.
Maybe as gifts....

Friday, September 24, 2010

Recipe: Mark's Sage Chicken

Mark's Sage Hen

(I know, how wise can it be if it's dinner...)

This is REALLY, really good, and relatively simple (despite the tedious-looking instructions--it's really just "put garlic and sage under the skin, oil and season"). The clean up is pretty simple, too, if you deglaze the skillet.

For the Chicken:

  • 1 Fryer
  • 1 lemon
  • generous salt and pepper
  • 2 large sprigs fresh sage (about 16 leaves)
  • 5 large cloves garlic
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 2 cups unsalted chicken stock (preferably homemade)
  • 3 T. white wine or vermouth

Bring the chicken up closer to room temperature by leaving it (wrapped) on the counter for 1-2 hours (no more). Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Rinse and dry your bird (any size will do, really, just adjust the time up or down a bit with size). Peel and halve the garlic cloves. In a skillet (something that will take fond), add a little olive oil and then add your bird, breast down and add a little olive oil, rubbing into the skin. Sprinkle salt and pepper on the back of the bird, then inside. Then turn the bird breast side up and add a bit more oil, making sure the breast is well oiled, then salt and pepper. Loosen the skin around the breast so that you can slide a finger under the skin and then around the outside of the legs. Slide 1 or two half cloves of garlic along with 2 safe leaves under the skin of each leg and thigh, and then slide 2-3 cloves and 3-4 sage leaves under the skin of each side of the breast.

Put the remaining sage and garlic into the cavity and then, with a fork, poke the lemon several times, over the chicken until it will drip a little juice and spritz some of the lemon oil onto the bird. Put the lemon in the cavity. Tie the legs with cotton twine. Place skillet and bird inside the pre-heated oven. Set your timer for 1 hr. 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, clean and rinse your green beans.

For the green beans

  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 T. unsalted butter
  • 3 cloves chopped (not minced!) fresh garlic

When the timer goes off, check the bird. It should be golden brown and the leg should move easily. If it's not ready, give it another 15 minutes or so. When done, pull the skillet out and let it cool just a bit (1-2 minutes to reduce spattering grease) on the stove. Carefully move the bid to the cutting board and tent with foil. I use a sturdy spatula and tongs to move the bird, which helps me not leave any skin in the pan.

Pour off as much of the fat as possible and then put the skillet over medium high heat. Add the wine, simmer, and scrape some of the bits off the bottom of the pan. Add the stock and bring back to a simmer and reduce to roughly four tablespoons.

Meanwhile, in a large non-stick skillet, melt butter and add chopped garlic. As soon as it's just lightly browned, add the green beans and a bit of salt and pepper to taste. Toss or stir to coat and saute the beans for 1 minute, then toss again, repeating this process 3 more times. Reduce heat to medium. Toss occasionally to brown some of the beans and to make sure all are tender. Pre-heat your plates.

When your sauce has reduced (about 6 minutes) your green beans should be done. Turn the heat down on both and carve your bird. If the bird is small enough, I'll often just halve it. You can either sauce the plate and place the chicken on it, keeping the skin crispier, or spoon the sauce over the chicken. Next, plate the green beans, making sure to get the garlic nubblies as well as the beans.

I can usually skip the starch, but there's a strong argument for a bit of polenta here, if only to soak up any left over sauce. If you were to add a little sauteed leek, I suspect that your guests wouldn't hate you for it.

A Pinot Noir, or even a Primativo pairs well with this, but really many lighter reds or dry whites (Pinot Grigio comes to mind) will do well.

A note on the chicken and the stock:

Firstly, the fresher and less factory raised your bird, the better. I buy mine from a small grocer that sources his from Tewes Poultry just 5 miles south of me. The results are very worth while. Also, it really helps to keep the breast moist, while getting the thighs tender if the cooking is gentle and even. This is why I let the bird sit out for an hour or two and only cook it at 350'. Chicken stock can actually make or break this dish. Cheap, salty broth is not good. The best is homemade, with chicken feet, backs and necks. The mouth-feel of a sauce made with this stock is unmistakably velvety and rich without being heavy. Trust me, it is well worth the effort of making and freezing a large batch of stock some weekend.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Things You Wish You'd Done

We've been doing a bit of trim and finish work over the past few months and it brings home some things that I wish I had been much more focused on. Primarily, framing.

It's clear to me now that in addition to framing for your drywaller, you also need to frame with your trim and your floor and your cabinets in mind.

What's that mean?

First, use straight, solid lumber anywhere that it's going to be creating a key nailing surface for trim.

Early on, when we were furring the walls out, we used a few inferior 2x4's that torqued out from the wall a bit in a few places. You don't notice this so much when you're working. Alas, after you spray with foam (immobilizing the 2x4), and then drywall over it, you sure do notice that the gypsum board protrudes 1/2" past the outside edge of the door jamb (you "fix" this by cutting back the gypsum board as much as you can and still hide it with trim.). You also do notice this in the corners where you have a funny gap where the tiles are square but the wall is not and the trim doesn't cover it. Which brings me to the second reminder...

Make sure your walls are square and plumb. Yes, you may have to get out the cat's paw and re-nail a 2x4, but it's worth it. This is ESPECIALLY true in bathrooms and kitchens or anyplace where you are tiling. Believe me. Here's a tip: An uncut corner piece of OSB can give you a pretty good read on square, if you don't have a framing square handy...and even if you do.

And while we're talking about "square and plumb", anywhere that you may be hanging cabinets or installing counters, you really also want your walls to be straight. You do not want some 2x4's bowing out into the room while others bow out of the room. That makes it hard to make a counter look right and to hang cabinets. A nice straight piece of OSB can help with the straight. I'd not worry too much about any irregularities down low in a kitchen space where it will be hidden by cabinets, nor up high. At counter and eye height, however, pay extra attention. Also make sure that you don't have any warping of the vertical framing members. You'll be looking for those when screwing cleats or cabinets to the wall.

And while we're talking about screwing cleats to the wall, let's talk about nailing surfaces. What about nailing surfaces? We like 'em, that's what. Lots of them. Especially in corners. Floors can bow, but you can bend trim a bit to accommodate this. Of course, if you can't find anything to nail the trim to, you're not going to bend it. Also, when you're trying to get good looking joints, you need the trim to be solidly nailed. You can't just nail into drywall and expect the trim to stay put. So, before you put away the pneumatic nailer, grab lots of scrap lumber and make sure every corner has lots of additional spacers and/or nailing blocks so that there's a nice big nailing surface at floor trim level. If the floor is funky or badly uneven, add a nailer on the sole plate too. Sometimes it's hard to get a good nailing angle.

And while we're adding blocks, make sure you also think about where cabinets may be hung or where you may be hanging shelves or perhaps even a grab bar (around a tub?). Put some additional blocking and nailing blocks at strategic locations. That will both make it much easier to secure loads to the wall later, but also stiffen the wall.

I'm not saying we had a whole lot of screw-ups, but when you're installing trim, or counters or cabinets, you're going to experience all of them. There are always work-arounds, but some are harder than others and regardless, framing screw ups can kill momentum, and make a relatively easy job take much longer.

More tips on framing HERE.