My extended family has a holiday tradition of decorating gingerbread houses at grandma's with all of the cousins. It's always a fun -- if messy -- afternoon of visiting as we whip up royal icing and add pounds of candy to the big wooden houses my father-in-law built for annual use. Oh, the candy. The colorful, beautiful, teeth-wrecking, tantrum-inducing candy. I hate having so much candy around. I hate having to monitor my children's candy consumption once we bring our finished house home. Sure I love to gather with relatives, but the candy is one part of this tradition I could do without.
But how do you do gingerbread houses otherwise?
You make a bird feeder, that's how.
While cousins dabbled in sugar, my children and I used popcorn, pretzels, peanuts, sunflower seeds, crackers, dried fruit and a colorful variety of bird seed. The best part is most of my materials were already in my pantry and I didn't have to shell out a lot of money. I experimented with two types of mortar: vegetable shortening and peanut butter, both mixed with equal parts cornmeal. The cornmeal makes the mixture easier to spread. It also makes the peanut butter safer for birds to consume. (Ever got peanut butter stuck on the roof of your mouth? Try that with a beak!) I preferred the shortening, but the fact that my peanut butter variety was crunchy may have been a factor in why it was clumpier and harder to use.
I placed our finished house on our sheltered patio where we could see it from the window. Within a half hour, this is what it looked like:
The peanuts in the shell were a clear favorite. We have since remodeled that side of the house with more.
As mentioned my gingerbread house here is wood, but this bird feeder idea could be used with crackers, stale bread or even empty cardboard boxes. As long as it won't be placed where rain or snow will make it wet and soggy, the house base can be made out of anything.
I thought the candy-less house would be a hard sell for my children, but they loved it, too. My 4-year-old son enjoys watching the birds eat what he helped create. We're making this type of gingerbread house a new tradition.
How do you like to feed the birds?