Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


The magpie that came to stay.

I sprinkled a generous amount of fenugreek, my signature herb of this summer, over and under the skin layer of several pieces of chicken thigh and leg on the bone, along with some pepper and a squirt of lemon juice. Then I coated them with yogurt and put them in the refrigerator in a plastic-wrapped bowl to sit and marinate for a while, making a mental note never to buy plastic wrap again because of press reports. You never know whether it’s a beat-up or another thalidomide. Then again, if you were on the safe side of everything, you’d starve. Chicken? Shot full of growth hormone. Beef? Causes global warming. Kangaroo? You can’t eat the coat of arms. Potatoes? Acrylamide alert! Sheep? See cow, above. Tofu? Causes vegetarianism.

Two hours later the barbecue was glowing and the shadows were creeping across the lawn and I had some twelve-inch white zucchinis (no, you can’t buy them; our next door neighbour gave us a bag of them from the jungle-like vine in his backyard) sliced lengthways and brushed with olive oil and dusted with salt and pepper and basil and grilling away nicely next to the chicken. Needless to say, the aroma was somewhat enticing, which is not surprising. You could marinate bone-in chicken for the grill in motor oil and they’d come running.


Every night it's the same. I go out about eight or so into the mid-summer warmth of the back garden and sit at the table under the pergola and gaze at the sky.

As soon as I sit down, CLOP! something lands heavily on top of the timber paling fence at the side. The something is a magpie. I call it Half-Beak because due to some kind of accident it has only half of its lower beak. So as well as being ungainly, Half-beak also has a severe overbite, giving it a comical air. A clown in a magpie suit.

I first noticed Half-beak, a female, a couple of years ago when I found her partner by the side of the road with a damaged wing after he was apparently hit by a car. I packed him gently into a box and took him to a neighbour (another neighbour, not the zucchini one) who works for an animal shelter. I didn't expect the bird to survive but the neighbour brought him back two weeks later with a repaired wing and a loud caw, and we released him and away he flew to reunite with Half-beak. Now they are regular fixtures. (I suppose I should give him a name as well but nothing suggests itself, so I'll him Mr Half-beak.) You go inside for more ice in your gin and tonic and you come out again to find them on the table pecking at your linguine marinara without so much as a by-your-leave. Mrs Half-beak, of course, has had to modify her technique for picking up food but she manages reasonably well. She has to. Her two young, in their first summer, caw at her loudly and endlessly for food. They'll be on their own soon. Magpies pair for as long as they both live and they can live to 30. Who needs canaries?


The wind, a straight northerly, got up at three in the morning and raged and the sash windows of this house rattled and shook and other things banged and thumped and I lay awake writing things in my head. I believe there was a full moon or close to it. I fell asleep about six as the night was paling.

Now it's early afternoon and 37 degrees. The boys' daytime sleep is an idea that is beginning to lose its appeal for them, and they certainly won't countenance it at all in the heat. Instead, they get up to mischief in their bedroom. Today’s mischief is pulling out the winter drawer and putting on snow hats and mittens and pretending it’s cold. 37 degrees. I’m going to take them to the pool and sit next to it or in it with one eye on them and the other on the Sunday newspaper. Or that other Hemingway book I’ve never gotten around to.


jo_blue said...

Hi KH, you made me laugh today, thanks. The motor oil comment - LOL. That's interesting about the magpies, but I'm curious, are the Halfbeaks into swooping your boys, or you? I remember horrible magpies that used to swoop down on us every springtime and we'd try to protect ourselves with sticks - maybe we should have just fed them some of your linguine marinara. :)

The chicken sounds lovely - is it just natural yoghurt that you use? Is there such a thing as dried fenugreek and would it be the same?


A Melbourne Girl said...

KH, we have a lot of young magpies and their families around our place at this time of year too. I love to watch them pick their way around the nature strip and gardens as they try to find grubs and worms. Most of all though, I love their warbling. Nothing better for me.

Anna said...

Sounds like a great way to spend an afternoon/evening

kitchen hand said...

Jo Blue, the magpies are not swooping now, in fact quite the reverse; we had to educate the boys not to run at the magpies when they were foraging on the grass.

Lesley, their warbling is a wonderful sound. I think of it as gargling diamonds.

Anna, it would be even better if we could get the boys to switch off at 7p.m!

kitchen hand said...

Jo Blue: yes, regular natural yogurt, or Greek-style for richer flavour. I usually use dried fenugreek flakes, but frozen fenugreek leaves are becoming available in Sydney Road spice shops.