Friday, 5 December 2008

The small gifts of December . . .

"I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.
'We are nearer to Spring

Than we were in September,'
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December."
~ Oliver Herford, I Heard a Bird Sing

One thing that we really love to do here at Oak Cottage, is to feed the birds. Not a crumb in this house, or bacon rind, or fat from off of a roast goes to waste at all. Stale cookies and bread, or cake . . . whatever we, or Jess, don't eat . . . goes to the birds.

Oh my, how they love it! We have quite a few species that come to our garden too, from sparrows, to gold finches, nuthatches, blackbirds, thrushes, tits,wagtails, etc. There's quite a lot. At night you can hear the housesparrows in the eves of the house, their little wings fluttering against the walls. It's a very comforting sound, and I imagine them all in there cosying up and bedding down for the night. There is even a woodpecker that visits our nuts from time to time, in all his glory and splendour, his great majesty to behold.

I sometimes make my own fat balls. A mixture of peanut butter, suet, chopped apple, raisins, honey, oats and seeds . . . they really love these. I make them up quite a few at a time, and then keep them in the freezer . . . . doling them out as the birds eat them up.

The other morning on my way to work, I could hear a beautiful song coming from the hedgerow as I passed. I stood and listened for a time. I think it was a blackbird, but cannot be certain. I am not smart enough to be able to tell the song of one bird from another yet . . . except for the very obvious ones like the song thrush or the cuckoo. As I stood and listened, my heart swelled with joy. It was so lovelyand sweet . . . and then another gift appeared . . . up on the branch of an oak tree, I saw a little Jenny Wren hopping from one dry branch to another. They are so small, these little wrens, and it is quite easy to miss one if you are not carefully watching. What a wonder to see this shy little bird!!! I stood very still and watched it for a time, and then . . . off on another tree, a woodpecker appeared and began to hammer for a bit. It was like they were putting on a special and secret show for just me.

I often seem to dawdle on my way to work. It's not that I don't want to get there, but that I am enjoying all the sights, smells and sounds along the way. Oh how I do love to live in the countryside where I live, so that I can be blessed with all these little gifts every day! Things are so peaceful and quiet except for the bird song, or the slight rustle in the leaves beneath the hedgerow of a shy creature going about their way, perhaps a rabbit or a squirrel going about their daily business.

The other week as I walked down the drive the Tudor roses were full of squirrels feasting on the rose hips, all swollen and red and juicy. They were so much fun to watch, as they hopped from one bush to another filling their cheeks and holding the round red globes in their paws while they ate. The birds love them too.

Gone are the flowers of spring and summer . . . here are the red berries in the holly bushes and the orange berries of the buck thorn. Yes, the trees are vacant, having shed their leaves in the last few dances of autumn, but still beauty abounds . . . as all nature bursts out in the last fruits of the year, and gets ready to bed down for the long winter ahead. Is there a season that I do not love??? I think not . . .

Here's a lovely recipe for a roast chicken that I have adapted from one I found in a Barefoot Contessa book. I love the moist juiciness of the chicken that contrasts so well with the crunchiness of the croutons, all succulent and flavourful, gilded with the juices of the chicken. It's kind of like Chicken and stuffing, but better . . . if you know what I mean.

*Roasted Lemon Chicken With Croutons*
Serves 3 - 4

A simple chicken, stuffed with lemon, roasted and then sliced onto a bed of warm croutons so they soak up all the delicious juices of the chicken . . . How good is that??? In my opinion, roast chicken in any way shape or form can’t be beat . . .

1 (2.5) kg roasting chicken
1 large onion, sliced
Olive oil
Sea Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 unwaxed lemons, quartered
2 TBS butter, softened
6 cups bread cubes, ¾ inch (1 baguette or round boule, I have even used a cubed olive ciabatta loaf)

Pre-heat oven to 200*C/400*F. Toss the onion with a little olive oil in a small roasting pan. Wash your chicken and remove any excess fat and pinfeathers. Sprinkle the insides with salt and pepper then stuff with the lemon quarters, giving each one a little squeeze before you put it in. The last quarter I squeeze all over the outside of the chicken before finally placing it inside. Rub the outside of the chicken with the softened butter, sprinkle with more salt and pepper and place on top of the onions in the roasting tray.

Roast for 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours, or until the juices run clear when you cut between the leg and the thigh. Cover with foil and allow to sit for 15 minutes while you do the croutons. The onions in the bottom will probably be burnt looking, but don’t worry, the flavour will be good.

Heat a large saute pan with 2 TBS olive oil until very hot. Lower the heat to medium low and saute the bread cubes, stirring frequently, until nicely browned. This will take around 10 minutes or so. Just before they are done I stir in a knob of butter and sprinkle them with salt and pepper.

Place the croutons on a serving platter and slice the chicken on top. Strain the juices from the pan, discarding the onion and spoon over all. Serve warm.

PS - There's a big surprise coming for you very soon! I can't wait!


Linda's World said...

I love the birds too. My bird feeder is broken at the moment, no way to hang it ~ I had it on the porch rail but a naughty squirrel was making a pig out of himself feasting at a large & full feeder. So I had to remove it. The chicken recipe sound delicious. I baked a lovely salmon steak tonight and we had some left over sliced onions from the other day so I place the slices all around the salmon as it baked. It surely made the house smell good and the baked onion rings were really good with the salmon. I never dreamed we'd eat them, just put them there to flavor the fish. Happy Friday, Marie

Grammy Staffy said...

Good morning dear,
I just wanted to say hello. It is 12:15 a.m. and we just got home from the temple. I made us 30 later than we needed to be because I left my purse there and we had to drive back a few miles to get it. uggr!! I will look forward to reading your post in the morn when I am not so tired. Have a great day, Love, Lura

Jan said...

We have a variety of birds in our garden too ,we are so lucky they visit us ,Your walk to work was a delight I benjoyed walking with you today Jan xx

LYN said...


Joan said...

You are so lucky Marie living right out in the country. I have been birdwatching for nearly 40 years and I have never seen a Nuthatch. Stuart has seen them on occasion but I always miss them. maybe next time. Love Joan.

Gloria said...

Dear Marie I love December too (only I dont likke here is so hot because is summer!) but I love many things, make cookies, garnish the house,the Advent is so nice etc., and I love birds, sadly the dogs sometimes run to the birds and I love how they sing.
Dear Marie this week I will receive a cousin of mine with her hubby to come from England to my house for a week and dad and Mom come here too to stay with the. They ccame to Chile 10 years ago and now back.
We are cousins for my GranPa who was from England and live here until pass a way many years ago, (My mom was so little) so this is a busy week, I will try to visit all my favorites blogs when I have time and place some recipes in my Blog but you know how is this. The chils are so excited because they nwe them when were so little.
Send you huggsss and love, Gloria

MarilynInMiamiFL said...

Good Morning Marie :)
We too are birdwatchers...we have two feeders right outside our home office window along with a birdbath. The most interesting birds so far are the parrots. They are all colors and gorgeous. I also love the goldfinches...but haven't gotten a picture of them yet. I will send a pic of the parrots :)
The chicken recipe looks great..I am going to try it :)
Have a great weekend.

MarilynInMiamiFL :)

Raquel said...

We love the birdies too. Mom and Dad usually have several feeders up, but this year they have had to cut back, as the food has doubled in price. I, too, love the little presents - there is nothing prettier than a cardinal hopping around in the snow! Chicken sounds lovely - and I love chicken and stuffing so I know it would be good! Can't wait to see what your surprise is!!!!

Tracy said...

Oh, how sweet. Marie! I love birds...I miss feeding them though. We've stopped feeding them as no one seems to visit...Our cat Charlie, as well as the many neighborhood cats that slink around too, seem to keep the feathered-friends from lingering long. The birds here where I am living in Norway are different to those where I am from in the USA. So trips home to the States it's fun to see and here old friends on the wing. This chicken recipe is lovely...Hubby would LOVE this one! Hope we get to talk this weekend. I'm sending you an email today--kind of a crazy week :o7 Happy weekend to you both. LOVE YOU ((HUGS))

Doris the Great said...

Can you send or post your recipe for the birds -- quantities etc? And how do you hang them.

Thank you.

win said...

I remember that when my father-in-law couldn't go outside because of his age and health he so missed the birds that he ordered ceramic birds that chirped! I do think the singing of birds is so soothing and has health benefits, don't you? Loved the bird pictures! I can just see you going back and forth to the manor house! Thanks for your delightful writings!


The Blonde Duck said...

I wish we had more birds. We live in a new subdivision, so the trees look more like bushes...the only thing I ever had was a armadillo!

Susan said...

Love the new look, Marie and the birdies are so beautiful! Also, the chicken looks really yummy!

Traci said...

Beautiful pictures! The chicken sounds tasty!

Proverbs 31 said...

I'm having chicken for sunday lunch & I know how I'm going to cook it lovely thanks for another great recipe!!!!! Marie x

Marie said...

We have only recently erected a bird feeder on our balcony and have enjoyed watching the tiny birds come down to feed. I suspect we'd have similar birds here as you - certainly we have plenty of the pretty blue tits you show in your pictures. The others I've noticed are waxwings, tofted tits, the beautifully coloured bullfinch and of course the little sparrows. It's a delight to watch them feed.

Here we feed them sunflower seeds. You can make the talgballs, but most bird people in Sweden recommend sunflower seeds because they need the high fat content to survive the arctic chill.

As usual, your recipe is a feast for the eyes and tastebuds. Another one to bookmark for next mobnth's menu.

Lucy said...

Wow I am very sorry I have been busy and not had enough time to check the blogs I regularly look at - I feel I have missed a lot here!

Loving the new look and style :)

(and the birds :D ) xxxx

jenjen said...

Those birds are so colorful and sweet. We don't have many birds here for some reason. Maybe if I put up a bird feeder that might change... I had one up but it seemed that the squirrels ate all of the bird food. Your chicken recipe looks wonderful. Perfect for a Sunday afternoon after church. I will have to try it out soon.

Love your new look too Marie!

Grammy Staffy said...

Hello again,
This is the first day that I've had to really take it easy in about 3 weeks....and I have been lazy. I've enjoyed taking time to slowing read and reread several of your posts. They always make me smile and touch my heart.

I love birds too. I especially love my birdy alarm clock that wakes me all during the spring and summer. I don't hear them as much lately but I am sure they will come back.

What surprise do we have coming up? huh??? huh??? I can't wait. I am planning a surprise for you too. Can you guess what it is???

Have a nice weekend. ((love and hugs4U))) Lura

Anonymous said...

love your new blog design Marie :D
it looks veryyy nice ..!

Jeanie said...

My heart is lifted up too when I see the little birds Marie.
No more so when a little wild robin flew on to my hand twice to take seed from me one winter. What an honour that was!
I so enjoy reading your entries they are full of joy and happiness for all around you.
Jeanie xxxx