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What kind of monster do you think I am?  After researching catapults this evening with my 9 year old, the title of this post does sound like a dish that would be served at a European medieval banquet.  The idea of braised lettuce reared it’s ugly head again after I harvested all of my lettuce because of the threat of hot weather.  There was no way we’d be able to eat all of it as salads before it went bad.  So, I mentioned it to my Mom this morning and she told me that her Dad had made braised lettuce with peas, once, years ago, but the flavor was so amazing she’s never forgotten it.  I then turned to the helpful internet, first epicurious, and then a general google search for inspiration.  I had some aging leeks, so I sautéed them in oil and butter, then added the lettuces, 2 bibbs, quartered, plus some chicken broth, and cooked coverede at a low heat for about 20 minutes.  Even though I wasn’t convinced about the peas, I added them (frozen) at the end of cooking.  And the results?  Eh.  The first few bites were good, but then, I was quite hungry.  And they went well with the quick veal stroganoff I made to accompany it.  But after it sat on the plate for a while it lost something.  I think the lettuces might have started bolting before I picked them, and so the centers were bitter.  It definitely did not make me want to repeat the experiment.

This experience has reminded me of some of the challenges of learning how to be a good kitchen gardener.  The obvious one is learning how to plant so you have the right amount of produce that you like at the right time.  But honestly I think there will always be surpluses.  I’ve had some other “failed successes” over the years, and the failure is usually due to a kitchen failure  (i.e. my screw up).  Last year I tried snow peas, since I’ve found regular peas to be too much trouble, and take up too much room, for too long, for what you get.  I had a bumper crop.  However, I totally messed up cooking them.  I made a huge batch of shrimp with snow peas, but didn’t realize that you have to string the pods.  Yeah.  Disgusting.  The year before that I had a bumper crop of these beautiful Japanese eggplant, Fairy Tale.  But I had heard that you don’t need to salt Japanese eggplant to get rid of their bitterness, so I didn’t.  Mistake.  The sad thing is that I was totally turned off to both of these veggies because of my kitchen errors. I haven’t given up trying new stuff, although I have given up on snow peas and eggplant.  It’ll be a while before I try those again.

Finally I have to give all of you bird lovers out there an update on how our little darlings are doing.  They are great!  They’re getting their “big boy” feathers in, their wing and tail feathers are coming in, too, and they look like real birds now.  I tried to sneak over from the other side, off the patio, to get a shot, and got totally dive bombed by one of the parents.  Plus the little guys are so alert, they saw me coming and hunkered down into their nest for protection.  The best views of them are still from our sunroom window.  They are starting to stretch their wings and are constantly grooming themselves (they look itchy).  They are getting crowded in that nest too, I am primarily worried about one of them falling out.  Fortunately the nest is in a protected area, so the dog can’t get them if they do.  You’ve got to figure that they will be learning to fly by the end of the week.  It’s so exciting!

It is with great sadness that I have to tell you about the death of one of the baby robins.  I thought they had made it through that long rainy Tuesday, but I was wrong.  Almost as soon as I got up on Wednesday I knew there was something wrong.  As I looked and looked out my window at the nest, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach.  It appeared that there were only 2 babies being fed.  I felt quite bereft and couldn’t settle until I went outside and investigated around their nest. And there he, or she, was.  Hanging limply in the rose vines.  My 5-year old asked, what made it die, Mom?  There are a couple of probable causes.  There was always one chick that was slower and less visible than the other two.  His siblings always popped right up, aggressively seeking the worms that Hector and Heloise brought back.  I saw the parents making an effort to feed them all, but you’ve got to figure the more eager ones got more food.  Then it was a cold, windy, and rainy day, I’m sure the nest was soaking wet.  He could have just died, and the mother pushed him out.  Or he could have been knocked out in the middle of the night by accident, and died of exposure.  Or, saddest of all, he could have been knocked out on purpose, but I choose not to believe that.  It is true that birds do lay more eggs than they expect, or are able, to raise to adulthood, as a biological insurance policy, the “spare heir”.  Natural selection in action is not pretty.

My experiences with this nest, and the loss of one of the chicks, made me think about the fact that baby birds, and other wildlife, are falling out of their nests and getting displaced a lot around this time of the year.  Many people do not know what to do if they find an injured or orphaned animal.  The best thing to do is to leave them alone.  Their parents will continue to care for them even if they are not in the nest.  If you can return a baby bird to its nest, do so.  Touching it once will not make its parents reject it.  If it truly is displaced, or orphaned, and you live within driving distance of the Great Swamp Wildlife Refuge, in Morris County, there’s a great organization just outside of it where you can bring injured or orphaned birds.  The Raptor Trust is a truly amazing organization, whose goal is the care and rehabilitation of injured wild birds.  You can visit them and see many types of raptors that cannot be released for some reason.  Also, the State of New Jersey licenses wildlife rehabilitators, people who are trained to care for injured or displaced wildlife of all kinds.  Here’s a link to New Jersey’s Division of Fish and Wildlife’s list of wildlife rehabilitators.  We’ve had experiences with the two in our area, due to some unfortunate happenings with baby raccoons, and have found them to be incredibly helpful.  If you live in a different state, just go to your state’s Fish and Wildlife Department, I’m sure they will be able to help you.

Finally, to end on a positive note, the other two baby Robins seem to be just fine.  I had a minor scare this morning when I looked out and saw no parents and the chicks did not seem to be moving.  Finally Heloise showed up with a beak of worms and the little dears popped up.  They are getting big!  They grow up so fast!  My nine-year old observed that their eyes have opened.  They are getting their feathers, too, and starting to look like birds, and not some bizarre alien embryos. As I was showing one of my friends the nest, she remarked that if she had such a visible nest, she would spend all day watching them.  In doing so, I’m becoming quite attached to them.