Friday, June 29, 2007
On Father's Day, June 17, the four robins flew from their porch nest that we observed for two months. Three went at about the same time but the last one remained, unsure of itself, while being patiently coaxed by his parents in the next tree. He hovered on or near the nest and then was gone, too.
THIS ROBIN'S NEST BELONGS TO MY FRIEND JUDY--HER DAUGHTER FOUND IT IN A SHRUB. IT IS UNUSUAL BECAUSE THE SAME NEST HAD BEEN BUILT UPON EACH YEAR--A ROBIN RECREATED THE SAME SPACE EACH TIME (something I have done this week in my own house/space)
I have enjoyed an unprecedented week of solitude--more or less--but from my immediate family. My boys and husband are on a Western trip, our daughter is in Mexico with a church group helping to build structures. It worked out--with a bit of my arranging--for everyone to be gone at once. Apart from the dog, Lucy, and two bunnies and my husband's aunt, who is more or less self-sufficient, I have been clanging around this big house glad for the space.
Apart from a booksigning, some press interviews about THE PANTRY, and some misc. office work, I have done nothing but read, think, relax, watch movies I've been meaning to watch (especially on hot days when I hid in the cool cellar), plan a bit, and go out with a few friends. I also had a great day in Boston taking a North End Market Tour (but more about that soon).
The days have passed more quickly than I thought they might: I have eaten when I am hungry, slept when I am tired, basically not answering to anyone and with few interruptions (even the phone has been quiet--however, never have I been so glad for cell phones: my daughter's own and my husband's learning how to use ours has kept everyone connected to the mother ship, and that is a reassuring feeling, as if everyone is just in the other room behind a door I can close or open at will). I've been careful not to plan too much or to expect too much of myself. No big "to do" lists--in fact, none.
I'm feeling more productive again as my solo time wanes. Always best on a deadline, I'm probably far more effective when I have people to answer to (like my family) and who depend on me. But I needed this time--a retreat all its own. Worth any beach or luxury spa anywhere. And I'm looking forward to everyone's return to the nest: it needs a bit more clamor again and a little less emptiness.
Friday, June 15, 2007
The yard has been a bird paradise this spring: several pair of cardinals in the lilacs, robins everywhere, some sort of grayish bird with a lovely warble (unless that is the wood thrush sound I remember from the pinewoods), and always chickadees flitting about. For two months we have been watching a mother robin carefully build her nest on the top of a porch column, safely tucked beneath the eave, and then tending her clutch. She started her nest in late April when we were in Kentucky and our friend Judy and daughter Addie watched her all that week--steady and determined, never faltering (and without too much disturbance from my brood to discourage her). In May she lay her eggs and they must have hatched in early June. For the past several weeks we have watched four chicks poke their noses up and now four sizeable bodies are jockeying for position—each looking like a small robin with a distinctive beak and hints of orange in their feathers. They have grown rapidly in only a few weeks and now seem too large for the nest. Soon they will fly and apparently one by one, on their own time.
My own children are still in the nest—two firmly in it and one teetering on the edge, shaking her wings and wanting to fly but not quite ready (nor am I, although there are times I would like to push her out of it). The robins sometimes poke at each other and then nestle in contented, just like my own children will do—like any siblings.
Apart from the mother robin sitting on the nest at night and plumping herself up to cover her chicks, like a great puff ball, we have observed the father darting in and out, often to relieve the mother during the day. Sometimes one swoops in with food followed immediately by the other. At the risk of making a sexist robin statement, he seems much slighter than his plumper mate. I’ve read a bit about robin behavior and it seems that the male will actually roost with the first clutch of chicks while the female is incubating a new brood. And, females are slightly less black so I may have been mixing our robins up! The plumper, brighter of the two may well be the male—and that is the one who is on the nest at night. As you can see from the photos, there are clear differences in markings and size.
Regardless of who is who, it is clear that the male helps feed the chicks and also helps care for them. I had never heard of a male bird helping his mate in this way, but I don’t know much about bird behavior. We’ve learned a lot about them observing them so close to our own lives. [And I know my own husband is as helpful around the house and with our children as this poppa robin seems to be.] But to observe this ritual, the give and take of the parents, and the bustle of their nursery, has been an extraordinary privilege. All of this activity while having a cautious trust of us, and our large bull mastiff dog, despite that their nest is on a column just over our side porch entry, the door that we use the most. The robins observe our comings and goings and family mayhem as we observe theirs.
Today while I gardened around the porch, I watched the mother and father come in and out with long fat worms or to tidy up, sometimes one right after the other, but neither lingering too long. They would more often watch from a nearby tree—perhaps coaching from a safe distance but likely to keep an eye on things while not hovering too close, like any good parent will do. The chicks are more alert now to sounds and motion and even try to catch a bug as it wafts around their nest. They are growing strong and sure and soon will be ready to live their bird lives and feather their own nests. I have grown quite fond of this little brood and I hope, somehow, they will know they can always come back home if they want and are able.
Friday, June 8, 2007
AN ANTIQUE PIE MEASURE MARKS VENTS AND PORTIONS
It finally happened. After more than a year of trying to get our acts together, despite a busy week for all (including lots of time in the garden and family arriving tomorrow for a few days, and some writing deadlines), Edie, Rosemary and I had pie day at the Pond house. [My friend Linda, who is a school librarian and helps run her family farmstand, dropped in for a time, too. She has her own pie recipe which she wants to share at another time and she brought each of us a beautiful dozen of free-range local eggs.]
I should preface this blog entry with the fact that I have long suffered from pie-crust-a-phobia (there must be a scientific term for this). Mine inevitably tear or rip and I have ended up just cutting and pasting and pushing the crust into a pie pan and hoping for the best. I equate it with when I tried to learn to sew on a machine and just gave up in frustration over too many jammed bobbins. Pie-making is one of the few things I have dreaded in the kitchen and have gone out of my way to avoid--so much so that we order pies at Thanksgiving from an excellent pie baker or have friends bring them ["Oh, bring a pie! PLEASE!]. I can bake and cook almost anything--even if I lean towards comfort foods--and pie fillings have never been an issue. But the thought of making pie dough and rolling it out has brought near fits and fevers.
FRESH RHUBARB FROM NEW HAMPSHIRE GARDENS and CALIFORNIA STRAWBERRIES MAKE A GOOD PAIRING
Meanwhile, about this time of year, during rhubarb season, my husband starts "watering", as he says, for a rhubarb pie. Temple could eat pie morning, noon and night and in old Yankee tradition will gladly have pie for breakfast. So he pesters a round of unwitting pie-making friends and they gladly oblige while I roll my eyes, secretly grateful.
ROSEMARY WORKING THE DOUGH
I realized today, thanks to Rosemary, that it is all about the right equipment, the proper temperature and minimal handling (and a certain finesse with the rolling pin). The rest is, well, as easy as pie. Among many lovely culinary talents (she also made the turkey cheese log last Thanksgiving--see "Harvest Home" blog from November 24, 2006), her pantries are in my book. She brought the makings of dinner, too, among her pie paraphenelia: chicken thighs marinated in lemon and garlic and onion, risotto with cheese, fresh asparagus, and a marscapone fruit tart.
ROLLING THE DOUGH
We blended flour, and a bit of sugar and salt, with part butter and part shortening (all cold) in a food processor, chilled it for a bit, then mixed in a special blend of liquid, tossed that in and worked it up just a bit, patted it into small disks, wrapped it up and chilled it again. Then we made our filling out of rhubarb or strawberry/rhubarb (Edie found some amazingly sweet California strawberries at a local market), rolled out our bottom shells, filled them, then rolled out the tops. Before baking, we brushed on heavy cream, and dusted them with sugar. I learned one important thing: roll evenly from the center outwards and use a firm but light hand.
ROSEMARY'S PIE DOUGH (a variation from an old recipe)
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups cold fat—I use 8 oz. unsalted butter and 1/2 c. Crisco® (or any preferred combination)
1/2 cup ice water
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
If using a food processor blend the dry ingredients, add the butter (cubed) and pulse a few times. Add the shortening and pulse again until all the fat is cut in. Dump in a large bowl.
Blend the liquid ingredients well and begin to add to the flour/fat mix, fluffing it up with a fork. This is generally the right amount of liquid but sometimes needs a little less or a little more. In which case, just add drizzles of ice water.
Dump onto a counter top and press quickly with the heel of your hand, flip the edges over the middle and press again to bring the dough together. Divide into 4 equal pieces, wrap in plastic wrap and chill.
CRIMPING THE PIE IS A FUN FINISH
5-6 cups rhubarb
1 1/2 c. sugar
3 Tbsp. Minute Tapioca®
1 tsp. orange zest
2 Tbsp. butter
Brush top crust with cream, sprinkle with sugar.
425 for 20 minutes, 375 for another hour--check every 20 min. and cover edges.
Alternatively, bake at 375 the entire time--about 1 1/2 hours.
Make sure filling is bubbling well before removing from the oven.
EDIE DISPLAYS HER PERFECT PIE READY FOR THE OVEN
APRONS AWAIT ANOTHER DAY in OUR KITCHEN CORNER
A RHUBARB PIE FOR TEMPLE AND A WEE ONE FOR DOT (dear friend, neighbor and faithful blog reader)
After our pie afternoon we were treated to Rosemary's dinner on our patio--which she effortlessly put together while we were making pie. I planted a variety of pumpkins and squash in the morning, had good friends over and learned how to make perfect pie dough in the afternoon, and even got some potential PANTRY book-related writing assignments in the midst of it all (in an uncanny coincidence that I can't detail now). My husband is glad that he will have pie more often (and that I've finally used the granite countertops to roll dough on!). A perfect day: three pies and three disks of dough for the freezer. And rhubarb pie tomorrow for breakfast!