It’s cold out there!!
What better time to write about birds and their elegant and exquisite songs to get us through this stretch of winter and to help harbor thoughts of spring!
I start with my own talented little Cockatiel Lucy, who learned to sing a snippet from the Mozart Clarinet Quintet when he was a baby!
I was delighted to discover that my little genius was in good company with no less than a starling that was Mozart’s dear pet! I have been reading a charming book; Mozart’s Starling written by eco philosopher and naturalist Lyanda Lynn Haupt.
Today, starlings are considered to be nuisance birds; a species that is aggressive and invasive. In Mozart’s time, starlings were endearing and delightful household pets.
In her book, Lyanda Lynn Haupt describes a beloved starling that Mozart bought in a pet shop in Vienna in 1784. The story goes that as Mozart entered the store, the starling sang a snippet from a piano concerto that Mozart had completed a few months before but was yet to be performed in public! He ended up purchasing the bird, naming it Vogelstar, which means starling in German. He became so attached to his pet, that when it passed away 3 years later, he held a small funeral for Vogelstar and wrote a short elegy:
Here rests a beloved fool,
A starling bird.
Still in his prime
did he experience
the bitter pain of death.
My heart bleeds
when I think about it.
Oh, reader! Shed a tear for him.
I bet he is up above
to praise me
for this act of friendship.
Since while he, unsuspecting,
bled to death
he thought not at all of the man
who can write such good rhymes as these.
Countless works have been composed that depict bird song and much has been written about the practical use of bird song. Is it for the creation and defense of territory, declaring sexual maturity and attracting a mate or simply beautiful music? When we are treated to the throaty and lyrical song of a wood thrush as dusk falls at the end of a long summer day, I prefer to think of the latter!
The talented young composer Alexander Liebermann has transcribed intricate and complicated birdsongs into musical notation. In this video, you can follow the complex rhythm and remarkable pitch of a thrush nightingale!
Coming back inside from the bracing cold calls for comfort food and Chicken Potpie Cornbread Muffins fit the bill! I adapted this dish from a recipe written by Scott Hocker from a recent Food and Wine Magazine article. What can be better than both chicken potpie and cornbread muffins; in one meal! The house smelled heavenly as they baked and they were delicious for dinner along with a green mesclun salad with slices of pear, chunks of parmesan cheese and toasted pecans.
Chicken Potpie Cornbread Muffins
- 1 1/2 cups cornmeal
- 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 large egg
- 1 1/2 cups unsweetened soy or almond milk
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped finely
- 1 small celery, cut into medium dice
- 1 small carrot, cut into medium dice
- 4-5 mushrooms cut into small pieces
- 1/3 cup frozen peas defrosted
- Kosher salt to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried sage
- 1 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup chicken stock or low-sodium broth
- 1/2 cup cooked chicken cut into small pieces
Make the cornbread:
- Step 1 In a bowl, stir together the cornmeal, flour, 3/4 teaspoon salt, baking powder and baking soda. Whisk the egg and soy or almond milk into the cornmeal mixture. Fill 12 (1/2-cup) greased muffin tins about 2/3 full with the cornbread batter. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Make the filling:
- Step 2 In a large cast-iron or heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat until hot, then saute the onion until it softens. Add carrots, mushrooms, celery, salt and pepper to taste, thyme and sage. Cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in green peas. Stir in the flour and cook, until incorporated, about 2 minutes. Pour in the stock and bring to a boil, then stir in the chicken. Season the filling with salt and pepper to taste. Place 2 to 3 tablespoons of the filling over each batter-filled muffin tin.
- Step 3 Bake the muffins until golden around the edges, about 25 minutes. Let the muffins cool slightly and then run a table knife around the edges of the muffins. They will be easier to remove if you wait a bit, although this may be hard to do!!
I decided to use a tree of the week from a trip that I took to the New York Botanical Gardens last fall. I thought a bit a greenery would be appropriate! The tree was part of a whimsical and eccentric exhibit, Kusama: Cosmic Nature by the contemporary Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama; more about the exhibit in my next blog!
“Tree of the Week” from NY Botanical Garden- 9/12/21
STAY WARM AND SAFE!