Friday, June 29, 2012

While riding my bicycle recently I came up behind two young girls, maybe ten - twelve years old, riding tandem on one bike. Skinny, in sleeveless T’s and shorts, already full into summer now that school is out, they were laughing and joking away, all the while whizzing down the highway. As I got closer, I realized that one of the girls had a bird on her shoulder. A baby magpie! I had to stop them and ask about the bird. “My brother found it, and my grand-dad said that if it was still around in the morning I could keep it.”  Once out of the nest, baby magpies are pretty good in size but you can recognize them easily because they haven’t grown out their long tail feathers yet, and their black and white markings are not quite distinct, their fluffy gray under-feathers coming through. This chick clung tenaciously to the girl’s shoulder as if its life depended on it, which it did.

“He sure is pretty,” I said. “What are you feeding him?”

“Actually we think it’s a she, and we’re feeding her worms and bread crumbs.” They replied.

“You could call her Pat,” I said. “That name would work for either a girl or boy.”

“We named her Ringo.” One girl said.

“Oh, yes, that’s a much nicer name!” I replied.

Bird life can be surprising. Once migrating birds arrive and settle in it doesn’t seem to take too long before we begin to see gangly, fluffy babies showing up.

Wild turkeys reside in Wyoming all year long, roosting high in the trees at night to stay safe from predators. But this time of year the mamas nest in the tall grass until their eggs hatch out. I’m always in awe of their bravery, though the nests are really well hidden.

About a month ago, I found a single turkey egg on the lawn one morning. I called around the neighborhood to see who might have a broody hen, and the egg found a home under one of my friend Kari’s big fluffy hens. And then, last week, it hatched: A little wild turkey that the hen would have nothing to do with! So into a cardboard box with a heat lamp it went. Kari got another little turkey from the feed store and the two seem to be doing well. I don’t want to mess with nature too much, but still, that egg… I just couldn’t resist giving it a chance.

June is a month for rhubarb. We have a jungle of it in the garden. If you have some and notice the plant sending out big flower stalks, just pull them out and the plant will produce longer. To harvest, reach way down to the bottom of the stalk and just give it a good yank. Trim off the big leaves, as they are known to be toxic. When you have a nice pile of the stalks, rinse them well, and chop into small pieces. There are many recipes for rhubarb. Here are three of my favorites:


                                            RHUBARB CAKE 

                                       ¾ cup non-fat plain yogurt
                                       4 cups chopped rhubarb
                                       1 ¼ cups packed brown sugar
                                       ½ cup softened butter
                                       2 eggs
                                       2 cups flour, 1/2 whole wheat if you prefer
                                       1 tsp. baking soda
                                       ¼ tsp. salt
                                       1 tb. Vanilla 
                                        ½ cup sugar
                                        2 tb. softened butter & 2 tsp. cinnamon

Mix the rhubarb and yogurt in a small bowl and set aside. In another bowl, cream together brown sugar, butter, eggs& vanilla.  Add flour, soda and salt, then fold in the rhubarb mixture and blend until well mixed. Pour into a well-buttered 9x13 pan.
Mix all topping ingredients with your fingers and sprinkle over the top of the batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until done. This cake is sometimes served with a brandy sauce, but is so good all by itself, that I have presented it here solo.

                                                COLD RHUBARB TEA!
                                                4 cups diced rhubarb
                                                4 cups water
                                                Grated rind of one lemon
                                                ¾ to 1 cup sugar

Simmer rhubarb in water until very tender- about 25 minutes. Strain. Stir in sugar and rind while still hot. Cool and serve over ice. This tea is surprisingly good and refreshing. The recipe came from my great cousin Pricilla in New Hampshire, who said she got the recipe from “The Best of Shaker Cooking” cookbook.

                                      RHUBARB- BLUEBERRY CUSTARD PIE
                                      Make a pie crust:
                                      2 cups flour
                                      12 tablespoons chilled butter
                                      4 oz. cream cheese
                                      1 tsp. salt
                                      1/3 to ½ cup cold orange or apple juice.
Toss the flour and salt in a medium bowl. Cut in the butter and cream cheese with a butter knife and pastry cutter until fats are about pea-sized. Sprinkle the juice a little at a time and just toss and squeeze the dough with your hands until it comes together. Divide it in two and wrap in wax paper, flattening it a little. Chill while you make the rest.

                                      4 eggs, ¼ cup milk & 1/3 cup flour
                                      1 ½ cups sugar, 1 tb. vanilla
                                      ½ tsp. cinnamon and a generous tsp. of nutmeg
                                      4 cups rhubarb
                                      1 cup blueberries
Toss everything together except the blueberries. Set aside. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. When your dough is chilled enough to handle, roll out half on a well floured board and place in a pie pan. Trim edges. Roll the other half out and cut into long strips. Now comes the fun part. Pour in the filling, sprinkling the blueberries over the top at the last and weave a top with the strips. Be artful ! Bake 10 minutes at 400, then cover the edges with foil and lower the heat to 350. Bake another 45-55 minutes. This is really good. Even folks who say they don’t like rhubarb, wind up liking this pie!