A Weekend away & Anniversary Chicken
“It is a wet and miserable morning in this little part of the world, so I’ve left you both a stash of firewood and some simple slippers and cosy socks by the door…” explained Cheryl in her message to me. The weekend was forecast to be extremely wet, cold, and would leave one feeling like it was the middle of winter, when in fact we were only three weeks out of the beginning of summer. Ben and I didn’t mind one bit, for we had just arrived at the most perfect place to “hibernate” for the weekend.
Low clouds drift through the valleys. The morning chant of cow’s dances upon the breeze as layer upon layer of birdsong fills the cool morning air with the intermittent chiming of bells that comes from the sheep in the opposite paddock. I’ve just woken from the enormous cloud-like bed lined with botanical sheets and a marshmallow doona - the most restful night’s sleep I’ve had in years. An artist’s palette of greens and golds brushes over the rolling green hills, the morning dew sparkles.
The fire flickers, taking the chill off. It doesn’t take long for it to provide that cosy heat. I can hear the kettle whistling. The warm liquid hits my lips, my hands cradle the pretty China cup as I wrap the warm, woollen blanket tighter around my shoulders. The view from the front deck, from where I sit, only makes me fall deeper and deeper into the spell that Marge’s Cottage has cast over us.
From the moment we turned into the silver birch lined driveway we knew we had arrived somewhere special. The incessant drizzle fell on our heads as we quickly dashed inside to the warmth of this inviting, wee little cottage set in what can only be described as a slice of lush, green pastured heaven. Every little detail has been run over with a fine toothcomb, Making Marge’s instantly feel like a home away from home – perfumed roses in soft blushing pinks and pale buttercup yellows take occupancy in differing vessels throughout the rooms; cookbooks line the shelf by the fireplace ready for escapism into the myriad worlds depicted by their authors. Cheryl had indeed surprised and delighted us with a freshly baked carrot cake smothered in the most delectable cream cheese frosting, adorned with a small crown of garden roses. It made for a very welcome afternoon tea treat.
I had carefully tucked Belinda Jeffery’s brand-new cookbook, A year of Sundays into my bag before we left which I took the liberty of making my reading companion in the huge rainwater filled, claw-foot bath, which overlooked the undulating hills from the arched window. I scattered crimson rose petals upon the silky warm liquid and allowed myself to slide into the indulgence of it all.
Candles were lit, creating a soft glow as the sun sunk behind the horizon, a simple cheese platter for which I had bought the ingredients at our local deli before leaving home, sat pride of place in the middle of the rustic kitchen table to which we filled our mouths with lavish, creamy d’affoinois; gruyere, muscatels, fiery hot olives, and paper-thin slices of salty prosciutto as we watched clips on the Yorke Peninsula, S.A. – our next destination as a family.
Opening the well-loved hutch in the kitchen was like opening the little doors of an advent calendar. This one here filled with flour, sugar, granola, and cut-glass tumblers. And over here, pretty China plates, teacups, and saucers. The one above that housed a fresh loaf of sourdough, a jar of orange marmalade, and a glass butter keeper with perfectly spreadable butter inside. Tea, coffee, and everything else one may need to create the bones of breakfast, or dinner, supplied – olive oil, eggs, milk, salt, and pepper.
As I wandered back inside to the warmth, I happened to quickly duck back into the bedroom before the beginnings of breakfast began and my goodness what a sight it was – there is something about that soft country light as it sweeps through the window, landing on crumpled, well-slept bed linen. It made me want to curl right back up into that marshmallow cloud, but our tummies were beckoning. Fresh eggs were swiftly whipped with a dollop of crème fraiche, smashed avocado mingled with the tangy brightness of lemon, and sourdough was sliced and toasted. In fact, upon popping the bread into the toaster I was momentarily kept company by two very cheeky superb fairy-wrens at the window, a female, and a striking blue male. They are my most favourite feathered friends and I do hope that they visit again, they are so quick!
After filling our bellies with the fuel needed, we headed out on the winding country roads, its hard not to feel a little lighter when surrounded by these rolling hills. We passed through Korumburra headed towards a town called, Koonwarra, where we met a friend outside the inviting Paddlewheel Farmers market store. Wicker baskets brimming with local, seasonal produce – heirloom carrots in multiple shades of oranges, yellows, and purples; plump strawberries; earth-encrusted potatoes of differing varieties, and strings of Christmas red cocktail truss tomatoes all found a place in my bag. “The jap pumpkins are so very sweet at the moment…” the shop lady gestured, to which a perfect wedge just happened to fall into my hand.
Warming cups of coffee and chai were a welcome elixir at Lyon and Bair, a gorgeous little café in Leongatha that made for the perfect cosy bunker to nestle into as the rain outside continued to fall. Café owner and dear friend, Candace, treated us to golden-encrusted sausage rolls and a most delicious veggie pie which was just what we needed to brace ourselves against the elements once we arrived at Eagles nest in Inverloch. It was a very quick dash to the lookout, coats wrapped tightly around our bodies before retreating to the car, destined for our return to our little haven.
There was just the right amount of carrot cake left, two slices. So, I popped the kettle on while Ben burrowed into the army-green leather couch. I wrapped a blanket around my shoulders and positioned another on my lap before pouring myself a cup of tea and began to sink deeper and deeper into the stories on the pages of Diana Henry’s book, How to Eat a Peach, as the crisp breeze blew softly across the paddocks. It felt indulgent to do so. To allow another’s words to transport oneself to smoky afternoons of an autumn lunch; lingering over a dish of slow-roast duck legs with sweet-sour plums; celebrating the beginning of summer with burnished apricots atop a tart, and the pleasure that comes from a simple leaf salad with a good vinaigrette. I devoured the words like I would a luscious, golden, herbed-butter roast chook. Which is exactly what we had for dinner.
I am going to call it, Anniversary chicken. Sage, thyme laced butter found its way under the skin. Ribbons of prosciutto tucked in on top. There she sat above sliced Dutch creams glistening with olive oil and sea salt flakes, wedges of pumpkin followed onions, garlic, and slender carrots. I placed those Christmas-red tomatoes on top, a bejewelled crown, before placing everything into the oven. The cottage was full of the most wonderfully lip-tingling aromas as the skin blistered under the heat, turning an insipid, pimply covering to a shattering sheet of gold. There we sat in the quietness of the cottage as the sun’s rays slowly retreated towards the horizon, the flicker of candlelight and the joy that comes from a roast chook. The pleasure in cooking for just two, knowing that the following day leftovers would be piled in between two slices of buttered bread, enjoyed somewhere on the return trip home.
I am savouring these last few hours here at Marge’s, lingering over my pot of tea for just that little longer before I am going to have to peel myself away from the rustic timber table, gather our belongings, and farewell this land of golden-green brushstrokes, crisp country air, and a cottage that has allowed us to simply just be – to breathe, to relax, and to re-charge those inner batteries at a time when we both needed it most.
Oh, and look there, those cheeky fairy-wrens have returned. I see you. I understand why they have decided to call this place home. We will return, one day, to this part of the world and allow Marge’s to wrap her warm, welcoming arms around us once again. It is truly a balm for the body and soul.
Serves 2 with enough leftovers for sandwiches the following day and a couple of days after that too. Or serves 4-6 depending on how hungry you all are, you may just need to increase the quantities of the vegetables.
1.9kg free-range chook
1 lemon, halved
About 60g softened butter
1 tbsp chopped sage leaves
5 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed
Sea Salt and cracked black pepper
3 thin slices of Proscuitto
Extra virgin olive for drizzling and coating
4 slender carrots, halved
1 brown onion, sliced thickly, skin left intact
4 small Dutch cream potatoes, scrubbed and sliced into 1.5cm rounds
A few thinnish wedges of pumpkin, I used jap pumpkin and kept the skin on
A string of cocktail truss tomatoes
2 bay leaves
Before you do anything else, get your chicken from the fridge and place it on the bench for half an hour while you start prepping the veggies. Preheat your oven to 190 degrees Celsius, fan-forced.
Place the potatoes into a medium bowl and toss well with a good glug of olive oil, salt and pepper, then arrange in a single layer in a large roasting pan, keeping them quite close together (the chicken will sit on top of these).
In the same bowl add the rest of the vegetables and bay leaves along with another glug of oil and sea salt and black pepper. Toss to coat everything and then arrange in the roasting pan.
Pat dry your chicken with paper towel, inside and outside and place the lemon halves inside the cavity.
Combine the chopped herbs with the butter in a small bowl and season with sea salt and black pepper. Carefully use your fingers to separate the chicken skin from the breasts, trying your best not to tear it, if you do it doesn’t matter, you can just patch it up as best as you can. Now place a good amount of the herb butter mixture under the skin. Press down with your fingers on the outside so that the butter moves all the way down to the end, continue with the remaining butter. You should be left with a sheet of skin covering herb dotted butter underneath.
Slide the prosciutto slices on top of the butter, under the skin. Position your chook on top of the potatoes, breast side up and drizzle with a good glug of extra virgin olive oil, scatter with sea salt flakes and massage all over the chicken. Place the tomatoes around the chicken, still intact, you may just need to halve them by snapping the stem in half.
Pop the whole lot into the preheated oven and roast for 1 hour. By this stage, your home should be full of the most wonderfully comforting aromas. Open the oven, the skin should be blistered and a beautiful shade of gold. Now, depending on your oven your chook may be ready at this point. To check, insert the blade of a knife into the thickest part of the thigh, the juices that run free should be clear. If there is a hint of pink simply return to the oven. My chook took another 15 minutes after this, so just keep checking every 5 minutes or so.
Once you are happy and confident that she is cooked to perfection, remove from the oven, and allow to rest for at least 15 minutes. This is the time that candles could be lit, and the table set for two (or however many people are joining you) Take to the table, roasting pan and all, and allow yourself, and the others around you to enjoy the simplicity of a good roast chook.
my present to Ben sitting by the window. A Sophie Perez artwork capturing the place where he proposed to me. Contos cliffs, W.A.