The Birds & the Berries

This is my happiest time of the year. Everything has come alive and is an affirmation of the goodness of life. Our 10 day vacation in Hope, post Elliott’s conference in Cape Cod, happily coincided with the advent of fresh berries, baby robins, Elliott’s birthday, and our 32 anniversary!My friends the Meneguses, who have a fantastic farm down the road, shared some just picked raspberries, currants, and black raspberries which, together with newly ripened N.J. blueberries from Silver Lake Farm made a blissful lunch. I also made a large batch of lemon curd from some of those yolks frozen with sugar from the angel food cakes for the NYU Molecular Gastronomy demo. I also was able to use up all the lemons leftover from a test for the upcoming book. A spoonful of lemon curd mixed into 0 fat Greek yogurt, together with some blueberries, is shear heaven.

This has not been a good year for sour cherries but Maria shared 2 pounds of her harvest so that I could make my father’s 94th birthday pie with fresh cherries. Since I only needed 1 ½ pounds for the pie, I made us a little half pie with 6 ounces of frozen pie dough leftover from Woody’s visit several months ago when I made him a Concord grape pie. I cut out the scraps with a biscuit cutter and though it looks a bit homely it was fabulous. The main reason is that I blind baked the shell and the decorative pieces, cooked the filling on the stove top for about 5 minutes until nicely thickened, put together the pie and baked it for another 5 minutes. The crust was perfectly crisp and the filling nicely set—holding together but very slightly runny (I don’t like an overly jelled filling). Using up all these leftovers made me feel like the virtuous country housewife I’ve always longed to be. But the greatest joy of the vacation was getting to watch the baby robins nested in the rhododendron bush just a few feet from the bedroom window. I had seen the 5 little eggs nestled within a few weeks before and squelched the omnivorous thought ‘omelet’ before it could take root in my brain! When we returned from Cape Cod I noticed that all 5 eggs had hatched and watched the scrawny little necks swaying frantically as the parents appeared with food, their beaks open impossibly wide, screeching to be fed. I watched one parent trying to stuff a large worm down the throat of the biggest baby, failing and trying it on a smaller baby, then going back to the bigger one and finally succeeding. During a rain storm I watched as the mother robin sat on the nest with her wing outstretched to protect all 5 of the babies and understood for the first time the literal meaning of “taking someone under your wing.” Robin parent Camouflaged. Within days the biggest baby robin was walking all over its siblings and perching at the edge of the nest flapping its wings to keep its balance. It was so fat it seemed puffier than its parents and yet it became the last to leave the nest. I found myself wondering if it was too fat to fly. But next thing I knew there it was perched on one of the rhododendron branches, still being fed by its parents. I’m sure he’s destined to become king of his own territory come Fall. The others had all flown off except for the littlest one that had fallen out of the nest and sat on the ground chirping helplessly. (Actually I considered the possibility that his big brother had inadvertently pushed him out.) I wondered if the parents would give up on it and contemplated returning it to the nest but when I got close they started chirping loudly in alarm so I decided to give it a few hours and see what would happen. To my relief they continued to feed it on the ground and it started to half hop half fly, never getting more than a few inches off the ground. By the next day it had gone and I like to think it learned how to fly. What an amazing thing it must be for them to discover their ability to take wing. I’m more than a little envious. I miss my bird’s eye view of the nestlings and hope they return next summer.