veggie loaded potato soup

By Mary Heyl

During the last few weeks of winter, cabin fever may seem unavoidable, especially during winter break! Even if you’re not spending the week enjoying warmer weather down south, there are still plenty of ways to have fun, keep warm, and make some tasty treats.

“This weather is for the birds!” It’s a phrase sometimes grumbled by Western New Yorkers, who are still trying to survive the final, disenchanting weeks of winter. However, even the birds who stick around here for the winter may be about ready to fly south this time of year. Help them out and have fun in the kitchen with these homemade birdseed ornaments!

Before getting started, cut several lengths of twine (5 to 6 inches long) to hang the ornaments and set aside. In a large bowl, mix 4 cups of birdseed with ¾ cup of flour. In a separate bowl, add a packet of gelatin to ½ cup of hot water. Whisk until the gelatin is dissolved, and add 3 tablespoons of corn syrup to the mixture. Pour the gelatin mixture over the birdseed mixture and stir until moistened.

Spray a muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray. Spoon the bird seed mixture into the tin, filling about ¼ of the way full. Fold the twine in half and place in each muffin cup. Next, spoon enough birdseed mixture into each cup until half way full, covering the twine. After two hours, carefully remove the birdseed muffins from the tin. Allow to harden on wax paper for 24 to 48 hours before hanging outside.

When it comes to making a tasty, savory lunch, let your slow cooker do all the work. This vegetarian-friendly loaded baked potato soup is sure to please the whole family (if you want, add a few bacon crumbles to please the meat-lovers).

Place five medium russet potatoes (peeled and chopped into ½-inch cubes), ½ cup of finely diced celery, a medium diced onion, and three cloves of minced garlic in a slow cooker. Add 3 cups of vegetable broth, ¼ cup of butter, 1 teaspoon of salt and a pinch of black pepper. Set the slow cooker to high and cook for 4 hours or put it on the low setting for 8 hours.

If you prefer a smooth soup, use a potato masher or immersion blender to blend the potatoes. For a chunky soup, use a wooden spoon to partially mash the potatoes. Stir in ½ cup of grated parmesan cheese, ½ cup of grated sharp cheddar cheese, ¼ teaspoon of garlic powder and ¼ teaspoon of red pepper flakes. Serve with a dollop of sour cream, chopped green onions, more grated cheddar cheese or whatever toppings you like!

While the soup is cooking, make dessert with the kids: Oatmeal Bear Cookies are as fun to make as they are to eat! In a medium bowl, beat ½ cup of softened butter, ½ cup of sugar and ½ cup of brown sugar on medium speed until blended. Beat in one egg; stir in ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract. In a small bowl, stir together 1 cup of flour, ½ teaspoon of baking soda, ½ teaspoon of salt and ¾ teaspoon of cinnamon. Add to the butter mixture and blend until just mixed. Stir in 1 ½ cups of quick-cooking oats until blended.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Use some of the dough to shape into six 1 ¼ inch balls for the bear heads and set aside. Using the rest of the dough, shape three ½ inch balls for the ears and snout for each bear head (18 total). Roll a third of these in sugar and set aside. Flatten the cookie dough heads with the bottom of a glass. Place three of the smaller cookie dough balls on each head, making the ears and the snout (use the sugar-rolled dough for the snout). Carefully flatten the ears and snout of each bear. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Place 1 chocolate candy on the snout for the nose and 2 mini chocolate candies for the eyes. Let cool and enjoy!