Of all the creatures on God’s good earth, I think the ones that most consistently make me happy are the Bluebirds. Yes, I said bluebirds, not my dear husband or my darling sons. Let’s face it, while my most joyful moments are certainly those with my family, there are times that they can irritate, annoy, sadden or even enrage me. The Bluebirds, on the other hand, in the brief time they are with us, never fail to make me smile.
What is it I enjoy so much about these fine feathered friends, you may wonder. Well, what don’t I? First, let’s talk about their obvious eponymous feature. Not to wax too poetic, but even the summer sky is jealous of the iridescent cerulean blue of the male Eastern Bluebird. Next to him, nothing else even looks blue. It’s the sort of color you don’t really expect to find in nature, at least not in your own backyard. And then you do. You can’t help but stare, especially as the blue is offset by the rust-red of his puffed-out chest. No wonder Bluebirds are the most popular state bird. Which is not to discount the softer appeal of the muted blue-gray of the female; while less eye-catching, it has its own calming charm.
Then there is the bluebird song. If you are thinking of a harsh ‘chaw, chaw’ you have the aggressive Blue Jay in mind; not even close. While lacking the melodious treble of the cardinal, the cunning repetitions of the Mockingbird or the persistence and volume of the little Wren (who manages to sound like a bird three times his size), the Bluebirds call still never fails to brightens my day. Perhaps because it sounds somewhat like laughter—a cheerful twitter (not the internet kind) and chuckle at the world.
And if those qualities weren’t enough, there is one thing about bluebirds even the least romantic of you can’t fail to appreciate—they eat mosquitoes. And mealworms and grubs and all other sorts of infuriating, disgusting and detested bugs. Better than a bug zapper and no grating ‘zap’!
As a mom and um, ‘homemaker’ (ugh, I hate that term—I didn’t build it, if I had we would have a basement) I also appreciate that Bluebirds do just that. And while the nests they make are not the most elaborate in the bird world, they certainly appear safe and snug. And clean. I’ve actually seen Bluebird mommy removing her babys’ poop out of the nest—poor thing, I guess they haven’t yet invented birdy diapers. Oh, and how have I seen this, you might ask? Oh, because several years ago my above-mentioned dear husband gave me the BEST MOTHER’S DAY GIFT EVER (although, note to Hubby, diamonds are never bad), a bluebird box with a video camera inside that connects directly up to our t.v. So I can watch the birdy show every day.
This year I was so excited when a loving couple of Bluebirds moved into our box this May. And appropriately enough, starting on Mother’s Day, we had our first of four eggs. And then, several weeks later—hatchlings! They were just scrawny featherless lumps with open beaks at first, but after days of almost constant feeding from both parents, they started to take on some feathers and form. And we watched, as Mom and Dad flew back and forth, back and forth with all sorts of creepy crawlers in their beaks, soon to shove down the gullets of their offspring.
And boy did those little guys grow. And eat. And grow. I mean, I raise our own veggies and shop and cook for my boys but at least I don’t have to catch the meat. And digest and regurgitate it. And shove it down their throats. Yes, Bluebird parents do work hard. But they are rewarded. For soon those little critters are ready to leave the nest. Literally. Which is what they did the beginning of this week. One morning I noticed Mom and Dad Blue zipping by with even more verve and nerve that usual, swooping down to the lawn and up onto the top of the box, but not going in. I knew something was up. So I turned on the video—box empty.
Now I know I am supposed to be happy that my little chickies have moved on. As Matthew, dear husband, pointed out, better fledged than dead. (Which , not to get into it too much, it’s still too painful, but that’s exactly what happened one year after a neighbor applied a little too much pesticides to their lawn. We’ve learned to live with the crabgrass and bare patches.) Still, I couldn’t help but get a little teary eyed knowing that my little ones were gone, and soon I wouldn’t be seeing that bright blue flash by anymore. Sigh. I wonder what I’ll be like when my sons go off to college.
Anyway, in celebration of the bluebirds, here’s a recipe for quick blueberry pie:
Pie dough (This is basically a big batch of Julia Child’s recipe—who’s gonna improve on Julia?)
7 ¾ + 1/8 c. pastry or Hecker’s unbleached flour
1.5 T kosher salt
2 ¼ sticks butter
2 ½ c. solid veggie shortening (you might need a tiny bit more)
1 c. ice water
Mix flour and salt in large bowl and cut in butter until it looks like coarse crumbs. Then add the shortening in small bits, cutting into the mixture until it has small clumps and ‘curds’. Use a wooden spoon and add the ice water, stirring until just incorporated. Turn this dough out onto a surface and fold over a few times, but not too much. Now split this recipe into 4-6 equal-sized balls (depending on how big your pie tins are.) Each of these will make one pie bottom or top. Put these in fridge or freezer for long-term storage. I always have a few pie dough balls in the freezer for that absolutely necessary last minute pie.
In my opinion, with good, fresh summer berries, the simpler the better. Just dust the berries with flour and a touch of corn starch, some sugar and fresh lemon juice and let nature do the rest.
Preheat oven to 400. Let pastry dough warm just enough to roll out to about ¼ inch. Make sure you roll evenly and don’t stretch the dough or it will shrink when it bakes. Don’t play with it excessively but don’t be afraid to join any cracks with a bit of water and pressure. Fold rolled dough and lift into pie tin then fold back into place. You can add the blueberries and cover or not, but either way, use your thumbs to roll around the edges, making sure you make enough of a ‘rim’ to catch the invariable blueberry juices upon baking. If covered make sure you cut vents in the top! Put in hot oven for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350. Place cookies sheet under the pie to catch the dripping juices; when the juice is bubbling and the pastry just begins to brown it should be done (about 35- 45 minutes). Best to eat when still warm—with vanilla ice cream. (And invite me over!)