Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Spring Day

I ran my errands yesterday with the sunroof in my car wide open. (But I did keep the heated seats on!). It felt like an early Spring day, the kind of day I can't wait to have in late March or early April - bright sun, clear blue sky and temperatures at almost 50 degrees. I had to remind myself that it is only the middle of January and there is plenty more winter weather to come. And, sure enough, there were some snow showers last night! However, it was nice to have a day like yesterday after the bitter cold that we suffered through just a week ago. Spring is absolutely my favorite season and Spring in Washington, DC is spectacular! I cannot wait for the cherry trees, the azaleas, the dogwoods, etc. to bloom. I am sure I will be miserable with allergies but, after 8 years of being away, it will be wonderful to enjoy a "real" Spring and not just see it on the calendar.

Yesterday was a scheduled rest day from running for me and I really had to fight temptation and not go out for a run. Today, when I look at the predicted morning temperatures for the next few days - 26/27/29 degrees - I am really trying not to regret that decision. I plan to run 6 miles after I finish my coffee this morning - 3 miles with the dogs and then 3 by myself. I could hear some foxes fighting outside of our bedroom window earlier this morning and I hope they are long gone by the time the dogs and I get out. I do not want to stumble across a fox (or any other animal for that matter) in the dark when I am with the two dogs.  

There were a ton of birds at our feeder and using the bird bath yesterday. I have seen this Robin quite a few times over the last month or so. Apparently, he did not get the memo to head south after summer.
I recently read that providing a reliable source of water in winter is a good way to attract a variety of birds that usually do not visit bird feeders (such as a Robin!). In the cold weather, birds must bathe often in order to keep their feathers in good condition. In addition, birds need plenty of drinking water available so as to maintain a healthy metabolism and stay warm. 

This is the third bird feeder (all different) that I purchased since September.
Although the first two feeders claimed to be "squirrel proof", they were very quickly and easily destroyed by squirrels. Within a few days after I hung Feeder #1, the squirrels chewed the cap off and then climbed inside to eat all of the birdseed. I tried a few quick fixes but the squirrels always got the best of me. Feeder #2 was a little sturdier but somehow the little stinkers figured out how to unlatch Feeder #2 from its hook and would drop it on the ground and then maneuver it around until the bird food spilled out. I had several fat squirrels and many hungry birds. 

I found Feeder #3 (in the photo above) at a local hardware store and it has been great! I think it was only $13.00, much less than the other two. The feeder tube is placed inside a wire cage and the design of the feeder ports and the base prevents seed from collecting so the squirrels cannot cling to the feeder and munch away. The cap is made of metal to prevent squirrel damage and a twist lock keeps the squirrels from lifting the cap. It is incredibly easy to fill and to clean and it is heavy enough so the squirrels can't lift it off of the hook. I always have a good-sized crowd of birds eating in the morning and then again mid-afternoon. 

This book (received as a Christmas present) is helping me to identify and keep track of the birds that have visited.  
My most "exotic" visitors to date include...
Four bluebird "couples" (4 males & 4 females) that visit the feeder together almost every afternoon - almost like they are part of a dinner club! The males are beautiful.
(photo courtesy of the Virginia Bluebird Society)
An absolutely beautiful cardinal (also the state bird of the Commonwealth of Virginia). 
(photo courtesy of James Ownby)
And several woodpeckers.The contrast of the red, black and white is very striking. 
(Photo courtesy of Howard King)

Our dinner last night was Chicken Piccata (as per Cailtynne's request) and I followed this recipe, courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis and Food Network.


2 skinless and boneless chicken breasts, butterflied and then cut in half
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
All-purpose flour, for dredging
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup brined capers, rinsed
1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Dredge chicken in flour and shake off excess.

In a large skillet over medium high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter with 3 tablespoons olive oil. When butter and oil start to sizzle, add 2 pieces of chicken and cook for 3 minutes. When chicken is browned, flip and cook other side for 3 minutes. Remove and transfer to plate. Melt 2 more tablespoons butter and add another 2 tablespoons olive oil. When butter and oil start to sizzle, add the other 2 pieces of chicken and brown both sides in same manner. Remove pan from heat and add chicken to the plate.

Into the pan add the lemon juice, stock and capers. Return to stove and bring to boil, scraping up brown bits from the pan for extra flavor. Check for seasoning. Return all the chicken to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove chicken to platter. Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter to sauce and whisk vigorously. Pour sauce over chicken and garnish with parsley.

Another very easy and very tasty dish that everyone liked! I followed the recipe as written with the exception of greatly reducing the amounts of butter and oil as called for. I used only 1 tablespoon of butter and 2 tablespoons of oil (per batch) when frying the chicken and I did not add the last 2 tablespoons of butter to the sauce. Every little bit helps!

I did make an effort to "fancy" up the presentation of the finished dish with artfully arranged (ha!) slices of lemon, chopped fresh parsley and additional capers. 
Next time, I would broil the lemons for a minute or two before placing them on the chicken.
To accompany the Piccata, I made an Italian Herb bread in the bread machine and steamed some broccoli crowns (surprisingly, always a favorite in our home). I figured you all could imagine what a bowl of steamed broccoli looked like so no photo of that!

This loaf of bread came out and looked a little funky.

It tasted fine though.
As a little teaser, the recipe I am making for dinner tonight is called "You Won't Be Single For Long" Pasta - everyone in the family loves it but, for some reason, I have not made it in a very long time.

Have a great Thursday!

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