birdwatching and buttermilk muffins

On my way into work this morning, as I walked the sidewalk path from the parking garage to the hospital, I heard the leaves in the oak trees above me rustling with activity, despite the lack of a noticeable breeze.  Birds chirped and chittered in the branches, occasionally swooping out and over to another nearby tree. The birds grew louder and more insistent as I neared the stretch of holly trees that flank either side of the sidewalk in front of the main hospital doors.

I’m fairly obsessed with birds, and for reasons I can’t explain, I am compelled to identify each one that I spot. It likely comes from growing up in a house with my father and his similar obsession with naming the living creatures we encountered. We had guidebooks on trees and flowers, insects and snakes, and, of course, birds. Similar guidebooks, more modern versions of my dad’s, now rest on my office bookshelf.

These birds were greyish, with chests of burnt orange– American Robins – and they were swarming the branches of the holly trees above me, gorging themselves on the abundant tiny red berries. The robins flew from tree to tree, plucking holly berries when they landed, singing about it all the while, and making quite a fuss.

I smiled, and I stopped to watch them. I wanted to photograph them, and to record their voices, so that I could see and hear them later, when they’ve moved on to other trees, in other places.

This simple thing – standing below the swarming of the robins — brightened my morning. It made up for the angry patient I’ve been dealing with lately, the one who routinely curses and belittles her doctors (including me) and nurses and therapists. It made up for the headache I had at the time, and it made up for having to leave my children with our (newest) babysitter so I could work today. It almost made up for having to work this weekend and next.

Taking these little moments of joy for granted is so easy to do. How easy it would have been to ignore the chirping, to keep my head down and neglect the world around me. And how sad it would have been if I had.

It is often simple things, small things, which make the most meaningful impact on my life. A picture my son drew for me. The brave smile on my daughter’s face as she got her ears pierced last weekend. Seeing bluebirds perched on our fence. Hundreds of robins, flittering about, and getting drunk on holly berries.

And warm buttermilk muffins slathered with butter and jam.

Yield: 12 muffins

Buttermilk Muffins

These muffins are faintly sweet, but very versatile. They work beautifully as dinner rolls, cut in half with a smear of butter, or serve them for breakfast with honey or jam. Or snack on them plain, which is what we do.


2 cups (250 grams) all purpose flour
1/8 cup (25 grams) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 egg
1-1/4 cup buttermilk


Preheat oven to 400 degrees and place rack in middle position. Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick baking spray or lightly grease with butter.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a small bowl, stir the butter, egg, and buttermilk together until well blended. Add the liquid ingredients to the flour mixture and stir just until well combined. Batter will be thick.

Ladle batter into the prepared muffin tin, filling each muffin cup about 2/3 full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until edges of muffins have turned golden brown. Serve warm.

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19 Responses to “birdwatching and buttermilk muffins”

  1. 1
    Brooke — January 21, 2013 @ 4:20 pm

    Glad to hear you enjoy the birdies, too! I do the same thing. I wish I was better at identifying them! and the biscuits look lovely.

  2. 2
    Brian @ A Thought For Food — January 21, 2013 @ 4:46 pm

    Oh yes… the simple joys of life. Nature is full of them.

    This is such a wonderful recipe, MJ. Love that it’s just a tad bit sweet.

    • 2.1
      Merry-Jennifer — January 21, 2013 @ 7:49 pm

      Thank you, Brian. Yep, the’re just a tad sweet, and it makes them just perfect. 🙂

  3. 3
    Anna — January 21, 2013 @ 6:09 pm

    A lovely post. It’s so true that often the little things bring with them the most joy (I’m often terrible at remembering that though!). These muffins look delicious (and I have 3/4 of a carton in the fridge waiting to be used!). Do you think they would freeze ok?

    • 3.1
      Merry-Jennifer — January 21, 2013 @ 7:48 pm

      Thank you, Anna! You know, they never last that long around here, so I haven’t tried freezing them. But please, if you try it, will you report back to me and let me know how it goes? I’d bet that they’d freeze just fine!

  4. 4
    Lana @ Never Enough Thyme — January 22, 2013 @ 2:18 pm

    Back in the summer we put up a bird feeder in the back yard and filled it with feed especially for song birds. It’s wonderful to just sit and watch and listen. I have found it so relaxing to just sit still and watch that feeder. And it’s pretty doggone entertaining, too, when the squirrels try to figure out how to get up that slippery pole 🙂

  5. 5
    DessertForTwo — January 22, 2013 @ 4:56 pm

    What a sweet story. We are quite the birders in our family too 🙂

    These muffins look great–intriguing and delicious!

  6. 6
    Tina — January 22, 2013 @ 10:55 pm

    I miss the robins. I know summer is around the corner when they return here.

  7. 7
    Kathryn — January 23, 2013 @ 6:08 am

    I really think that it is those fleeting moments that make life what it is. Sure the big stuff can be pretty good but it’s that little stuff that really makes you happy.

  8. 8
    Paula — January 23, 2013 @ 5:25 pm

    Lovely post and wonderful looking muffins. While it will be a few more weeks before we see the robins, I’m content to watch the blue jays, chickadees and morning doves that visit us every day. A few Springs back we had a robin build a nest under our deck. She had three little chicks and I’d sneak out when she was away from the next to video the babies. I never stayed long as I didn’t want to upset them but I did get some great footage that I treasure. I hoped Mommy robin would come back each year to lay new eggs but she never returned.

  9. 9
    megan @ whatmegansmaking — January 24, 2013 @ 7:11 am

    I love the simplicity of these. And lovely post – although I have to say that I don’t think I could recognize too many birds on sight…

  10. 10
    Cheryl Arkison — January 24, 2013 @ 4:11 pm

    Now I’m wistful for May, when our robins take over the trees.

  11. 11
    Di {CookTheTV} — January 26, 2013 @ 9:37 am

    Hi Jennifer,
    Checking out your site from twitter. Oh my gosh, all of your recipes look soooo good. My only regret is not having found you sooner!
    🙂 Di

  12. 12
    Anna — January 29, 2013 @ 1:14 am

    Just wanted to report back and let you know that I froze these muffins with great success (they’re so simple and delicious!). Before I froze them I split them and filled them with jam. When I wanted to eat them, I left them to defrost on the bench for a couple of hours and then I zapped them in the microwave for 10 seconds. They defrosted perfectly! Thanks for a great recipe. Also, I went one step further with melting the butter and browned it which was delicious.

  13. 13
    Erika @ The Hopeless Housewife — February 4, 2013 @ 7:44 pm

    What a lovely breakfast treat!

  14. 14
    Ashley Jean — February 11, 2013 @ 10:30 pm

    don’t have kosher salt can i use regular table salt?

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