Well, not exactly. But there are certainly lots of bird families in our back yard. We have had a bluebird box for many years, and for many years pairs of bluebirds would use it for their home to raise a brood of fledglings. For some reason, for some time the box was not sufficiently attractive to bluebirds that inspected it in the early spring. This year that trend has been reversed, and a pair is now in a relay to keep their new hatchlings fed with insects. They started out with a clutch of six beautiful blue eggs. We’re not sure how many babies there are.
Bluebird box occupied for the first time in years
They are not the only birds, probably attracted by water in our fountains and birdbaths in the surrounding desert environment. Lesser goldfinch are feasting on niger thistle seeds. House finches have nested under one of the eaves. They try to crowd out the goldfinches on the feeder. A pair of mourning doves often sit on the garden wall. A pair of ladder back woodpeckers drill on a post that once supported our bat house. Black-chinned hummingbirds are at the feeders, and they will soon be joined by broadtails. A pair of barn swallows are scoping out a place next to our front door to build their nest under an overhang. We hope that our hawk and owl friends will visit our fountain, as well. Unfortunately we no longer see night hawks at dusk, perhaps because of the serious drought we have had for at least six years.
Hawk and owl in a water standoff
In the meantime, the herb garden is filled with flowers, some of them already fading. Our not-so-wild flowers are in full bloom. Columbines, wine cups, penstemons, buckwheat, paintbrush, gay feather, mallows, and many others make the courtyard look like a meadow. All in all, a great foreground for the beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the east and the Jemez Mountains in the west. It is a wonderful time of year, and a wonderful place to be.
Sangre de Cristo Mountains across the trail
Sunset over the Jemez Mountains
Chives in the herb garden
Yellow and Rocky Mountain columbines
Buckwheat, penstemons and boulders in the back yard
The other evening we were invited to a dinner party. It was a little bit of a pot luck, and we were asked to bring a light appetizer. I decided to use some puff pastry from the freezer to make empanadas, but that seemed a little bland, so I also made some mayonnaise as a dipping sauce.
Mayonnaise is so easy to make, and it tastes so much better than the bottled kind, that it seems crazy not to make your own. Especially when you have a fool-proof recipe (so far at least) from one of the world’s greatest chefs. Michel Roux of the Michelin-starred, much-honored Waterside Inn in England, has written a beautiful little book simply called “eggs” (John Wiley and Sons, 2005) filled with amazingly creative, not-so-classic and classic egg recipes including, of course, mayonnaise.
I doctored up the basic recipe using some tricks from Sarah and Evan. The additions of freshly grated horseradish and finely chopped chives or green scallion tops make a great dip that perks up the empanadas.
I filled the empanadas with hearts of palm, parsley, and grated Parmesan, but you can let your imagination run wild: tiny button mushrooms, little shrimp (is that redundant?), water chestnuts, olives (seed removed, of course), cubes of cheese, dolma filling, etc., etc., would all be good. I don’t know, but maybe a little oyster would work.
This recipe makes 20-24 appetizers depending upon how big you make the empanadas
- Put the egg yolks, mustard, salt and pepper in a small mixing bowl with handles and/or on a towel or other non-slip surface. Combine with a balloon whisk until smooth.
- Whisking continuously, add a few drops of oil. When the oil is completely incorporated, add more oil, repeating the process until the mayonnaise thickens. You may then add the oil in a more continuous stream, but pause occasionally to make sure the oil is fully incorporated before adding more.
- When all of the oil has been incorporated, whisk for another minute or so until the mayonnaise is smooth. Then add the lemon juice. The mayonnaise will become visibly less yellow. Adjust with more lemon juice, salt, and pepper to suit your taste.
- Stir in the horseradish and chives or scallions. Add more of either to suit your taste.
- Refrigerate, covered with plastic wrap, until ready to use. This should hold for several hours.
Puff Pastry Empanadas
- ¼ cup parsley, finely chopped
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, freshly and finely grated
- 1 sheet commercial frozen puff pastry, thawed according to directions
- 1 14½ ounce can hearts of palm, drained and cut into ½ inch coins
- 1 egg, beaten well with 2 tablespoons water
- In a small bowl, combine the parsley and Parmesan cheese. Set aside
- On a lightly floured work surface, open the thawed sheet of puff pastry. With a lightly floured rolling pin, flatten the pastry to about 1/16 inch thick
- Using a 3 inch circular cookie cutter (a 2½ inch biscuit cutter will do) cut circles in the flattened pastry dough. Working quickly, place a palm coin and about ¼ teaspoon of the parsley/Parmesan mixture in the center of each circle. Paint the edges of the circles with the egg mixture, using a small pastry brush.
- One by one and using your hands, stretch the dough gently to cover the palm disk. Pinch the edges of the half-moon empanada closed with your finger and then seal with the tines of a dinner fork
- Arrange the empanadas on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper
- Paint the tops of the empanadas with the egg mixture, trying not to let it drip onto the parchment.
- Bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 400°F for 15 minutes or until puffed and lightly browned.
- Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack to cool.
- Serve with the dipping mayonnaise either at room temperature or gently rewarmed.
Egg yolks, mustard, salt and pepper ready to receive the oil
One cup of peanut oil
Parsley and grated Parmesan
Puff pastry empanadas ready for the oven
Baked puff pastries