Peeking into the Secret Garden

Rock & Roam Launch Dinner (76 of 280)

Image courtesy of Rock & Roam

Indulge me for a moment, dear Reader.  Picture a beautiful sunset falling into the water at the end of the jetty, wild ponies grazing in the distance, a winding pathway lit with candles and lanterns.  We are met by a lady who hands us a small key.  A key that will lead us into the Secret Garden.

Jerry and I have had some wonderful invitations to events in the past but when Emma Forsyth of Rock & Roam, a new style social club for New Forest residents and weekenders, invited us to her launch party at Gins Barn, near Beaulieu (one of New Forest Escapes’ luxury lets) I jumped at the chance to attend.

A Secret Garden supper crafted by Emma’s team and the fair hands of critically acclaimed London chefs and designers, Edible Stories – just the sound of it was enough to take me back to reading Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s classic for the first time as a little girl.

Image courtesy of Rock & Roam

Image courtesy of Rock & Roam

What a garden it was too, dear Reader.  With such a stunning venue styled with flowers tumbling from the rafters, branches and leaves strewn across tables, candlelight, superb theatre created with sumptuous course after course and even a singing canary in the corner too, the story of little Mary Lennox and the magic of the Secret Garden unfolded.

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From Mary’s days of the Raj with a taste of India served in tiffins, followed by a Bitter Mary to depict orphan Mary, sour and rude, leaving her home to come to England….

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to the loneliness Mary experiences at Lord Craven’s Misselthwaite Manor where she meets a robin, as she explores the grounds, who will lead her to an overgrown doorway

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to reveal the untouched beauty of the deserted garden behind the walls as Mary turns the key

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and the final joy of making the garden bloom with her own hands, bringing her uncle and cousin together again.

Rock & Roam Launch Dinner (47 of 280)

Image courtesy of Rock & Roam

I’m still hoping that every supper I go to is as beautiful as this was.  Judging by the oohs and aahs in the room coming from Emma’s other guests, I imagine that I am not the only one!  Truly a magical evening – a feast for all the senses.  Wonder if the team from Edible Stories would like to set up camp in my kitchen, dear Reader?

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Rock & Roam’s aim is to host pop up events, tastings and experiences that are imaginative, informative, fun and unique so that members and their guests can enjoy the best of New Forest with like-minded locals.  From beekeeping to field photography, gin masterclasses or wild sea swimming, Emma works with a varied team of specialists to put together a calendar full of workshops throughout the year too.  To be honest, dear Reader, if Rock & Roam’s Secret Garden launch supper is anything to go by, then the club’s members are in for a real treat.  This is one for the black book list of Margot loves.

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Spring has sprung

In the midst of the wet miserable winter with water coming through the ceiling, trampling through the endless muddy quagmire of a garden and carting wood into the house on a daily basis to keep warm, I wasn’t sure that spring would ever come to us.  Yet, here it is and I am so very glad to see it, dear Reader.  Such a tonic for the soul – birds singing, walking about without coats, blossom appearing in the hedgerows and the garden coming back to life.  Not to mention catching a glimpse of one of nature’s truly awesome sights – hares boxing in the field.  The perfect reward for our epic early morning school run.

Hares

Filled with the joys of spring and buoyed by wondrous blue skies and a sunny day in the offing, we packed the car to the rafters and headed for the beach.  I haven’t seen Poppy and Primrose frolic about together so happily or heard them laugh so much in ages.  Bliss.

beach

Dora loved her first trip to the seaside too – splashing about in the sea, digging in the sand and managing to photobomb every photo I tried to take of the girls.

Dorabeach

Lovely to have a day of doing absolutely nothing as things have been rather busy at Margot and Jerry HQ.  From our first Point to Point as a family which saw Poppy completely hooked on the horses (she is currently planning her rise to riding fame when she tackles the Grand National whilst Primrose has developed rather too much of an interest in betting)…..

Point

….to learning the piggy ropes on a pig course for a new smallholding project with lovely friend and fellow Good Lifer, The Townie Farmer and discovering rather too much information about breeding……

I’m still sniggering like a schoolgirl about this little gem, dear Reader.  Definitely not Dior.

Boar

Then of course there was the excitement of Lady Agatha, our Cream Legbar, FINALLY giving us an egg…..

Aggie egg

and the arrival of some wee Easter chicks.  4 little ones, a few days old, which a lovely neighbour in the village has installed in her shed with a heat lamp.  I am not sure who was more thrilled, me or the children.  One of these tiny fluffsters is destined to join our flock after a bit of growing time but for now, the girls and I are enjoying peeping into the box in the shed and giving them a cuddle, whenever we can.

Best of all that spring has brought with it so far though was a little something I’ve been waiting to arrive on the doormat.  The May 2016 issue of Country Living Magazine with my feature on the wonderful charcuterie made at Parsonage Farm by John and Sarah Mills.

I feel honoured to have had my work commissioned by Country Living but to see it through  to the shelves, married up with stunning photos taken by the HUGELY talented Simon Wheeler (his work can be seen in River Cottage books and so much more), has had me bouncing like a bonny spring lamb.  I am so delighted to have been able to tell John and Sarah’s story and share it with readers all over the country.  They are wonderful people, have taught me heaps and changed the way I think about farming forever.  This feature means a great deal to me, not least because I’ve also ticked off No.1 of 3 on a wish list I made when I started writing nearly three years ago, dear Reader, when we moved from town to country.  To be honest, if this wonderful start is a sign of things yet to come, then we’re in for a good one and I, for one, intend to walk with maybe just a little bit more of a spring in my step.  I do hope you’ll join me, dear Reader.

Spring

Mothers

Blossom

The definition of ‘mother’  – a female or thing that creates, nurtures, protects, etc

You’ll have to forgive me, dear Reader.  I’m not usually one for writing these sorts of posts but I felt compelled to scribble something down for Mother’s Day in the face of spending time with some truly wonderful women this week.  For me, being a mother sees me wearing many guises, day after day, week to week, year on year.  I can mostly be found shouting ‘Bugger’ loudly at the most inappropriate moment, accidentally giving Poppy a lesson from Mummy’s very own phonics programme (‘t’ is for tonic water according to nursery – I’m lucky she hasn’t shared the other sounds), making Primrose cringe with embarrassment whenever or wherever I am with her, never remembering the permission slip or which day the kit needs to be in school and so on and so on.  Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that as a mother I would have to turn my hand to plate spinning whilst doing a handstand, trying to work full time, making the tea, helping with homework, making sure there is food in the fridge, washing, ironing, inventing stories on the hop and all whilst listening to Primrose’s piano practice.  Somehow it all seems to happen though.  Well, apart from the handstand – I am RUBBISH at anything sport related…..oh and the plate spinning….no one can really do that, can they?  Anyway, the point is that I’m not superwoman, far from it.  I wish I was but somehow I seem to get through it one disaster at a time.  Motherhood is constantly testing me.  I shout too often, don’t listen enough, struggle to remain patient and would sometimes rather be face down in a large gin and tonic/book/cup of tea/bottle of wine/slice of cake (you can see where my priorities lie, dear  Reader…) than answering to the whims of the tiara-wearing terrorists gorgeous girls I have miraculously managed to produce.  Those are the very same girls who have taught ME a great deal.  They make me want to live up to that definition of a mother, as despite all my faults, they love me and for that I will be eternally thankful.

Mummy

Anyhow, back to the reason for this rather unusual post from me.  This week I witnessed that very definition of motherhood in action and spent time with some truly remarkable ladies – ladies who take the word ‘mother’ and smash it, no matter what is thrown at them.  Ladies for whom I have the utmost admiration, love and respect.  They are the people worthy of flowers, champagne and chocolate on a day of honouring mothers and I want to remind myself of them and many more besides who otherwise might not feel like celebrating Mother’s Day today.

To the mothers out there who have held tiny hands and lost them, the mothers who endure illness and manage to keep smiling for their children, those who care for others without complaint, daughters who’ve lost their mothers, those whose roles are reversed with their parents, those who remain strong when faced with phenomenal personal difficulty, mothers who have sacrificed so much in the name of love, those who are both mother and father, those who would give up everything to have one more day with the ones they have loved and lost, the mothers who shield their loved ones from the truth, who nurse a sick child tirelessly and always have a smile or kind word for others even when their day/week/month has been shit, those who become mothers to another’s children, those longing to hold their own bundle, friends who pick each other up from the floor.  For all those wonderful women and so many more because as that definition proves, motherhood is not just about having children but being able to nurture and think of others whatever the relationship……today is for you.  Your patience, strength and courage moves mountains, makes the impossible seem possible and shows us all the true meaning of love.  You are the people I would like to honour on Mother’s Day and say thank you to as I don’t tell you often enough how amazing you are.  Without you, that definition would be nothing.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Flowers1

Giddy up

Half term zoomed past in a rather joyous blur.  Honestly, dear Reader, we ended up galloping here, there and everywhere.  With both girls now utterly smitten by ponies and Poppy proving to be a real natural in the saddle, I couldn’t resist taking them to the National Trust’s Mottisfont to see the current Norman Thelwell exhibition.  Pony-tailed learner drivers on rotund ponies…..couldn’t be more true to life chez Margot and Jerry at the moment, dear Reader!

Thelwell 1

The Giddy Gallops trail round Mottisfont’s grounds proved excellent fun – free range children a plenty being put through their paces on a challenging course.

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Point to point racing, clearing the jumps with the dogs (thank you Mottisfont for being so dog friendly – so lovely to be able to take the pups on our outing too)…

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not to mention polishing the saddles, hanging up the tack and shining boots before taking our tired ‘ponies’ for hot chocolate and cake in the café.

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Giggling over Norman Thelwell’s cartoons and illustrations and marvelling at the 70 original artworks including stunning depictions of local landscapes, it proved to be the perfect day out for the Horse Mad Two from Hampshire.  Watching Poppy and Primrose cantering their imaginary steeds back to the ‘horsebox’ (masquerading as a very muddy Land Rover), I found myself hoping that these two little girls never grow too old for ponies.  Poor Jerry.  We’ll be bankrupt before long!

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With the week ahead fast approaching, we managed to squeeze in a little brunch at the fabulous new look Long Barn café.  Such a treat.

Lashings of toast with raspberry and lavender jam, gargantuan coffees, hot bacon rolls for the girls and even time for a bit of browsing – Long Barn’s displays always have me in magpie mode, coveting everything in site!

Long Barn 7

With half term over, Jerry and the girls back to the grindstone and a mountain of deadlines looming over me, I am wondering if I should take up a permanent pew at the Long Barn to see me through until the Easter hols……coffee and cake on hand at all times.  Wonder if they need a writer in residence, dear Reader?

A little slow food love

January over in a flash, February trying to race past the post.  Where HAS the time gone, dear Reader?  Already at half term, at this rate it’ll be Christmas again before I know it.  Busy isn’t even the word.  What with new columns here and there, and work on something a bit bigger too, I think that I’ve spent at least half of the last month and a half mopping floors and spraying them with doggy disinfectant due to Piddling Piglet, also known as spaniel pup Dora.  Perfect in every way except the fact that at 17 weeks old, if it’s cold or rainy outside, Dora will come back in from the garden and decide that the dining room floor is much nicer to widdle on than wet grass.  It is a good job that she is so utterly adorable…..
Dora Paws

Dora hasn’t been the only thing contributing to puddles indoors either.  Thanks to Storm Imogen, the sitting room ceiling decided to spring rather a big leak (again) and we awoke to the sound of steady dripping one morning.  We are lucky that that’s all it was.  The wind in the night was battering the house with such force that we thought the windows would blow in and trees hanging precariously over us would crush the house.  The mini greenhouse took to flying and was last seen going over the garden gate and onto the lane.  Poor old hens thought that Chicken Little’s prophecy was more fact than fiction too.  Still other than the roof and a fair bit of debris in the garden, all was well.

Henny Pen

On the subject of the hens, dear Reader, we have some sad news to share.  We lost our two favourite hens over Christmas.  Not to Mr Fox but to a serious case of gapeworm that came on too suddenly to cope with usual treatment.  Henny Penny and Layla were quarantined in a makeshift chicken hospital (the girls’ wendy house) but despite all our care, both passed away within 24hrs of each other.  It was Henny’s death on Christmas Day that was perhaps the most devastating for all of us, with Poppy weeping buckets.  She really was such a plucky hen – so funny to watch and bags of character.  Silly to be so sad about losing a hen but she really was exceptionally special.  The coop just isn’t the same without her and with only three remaining, it may be time to think about some new girls joining us.

Hens

With snowdrops on the ground and the bluebells beginning to wake from their winter’s nap, it’s time to start thinking about tidying things up a bit.  Well in the garden at least, since the walls are too wet and the brickwork needs to dry out before it can be repaired.  Too depressing to look at the forecast and spy yet more rain on the horizon.  Still new roses need potting up for growing up the house, a lot of demolition work is already complete and plans for the kitchen garden are all sketched out and seeds purchased – the garden is almost unrecognisable.  Thank goodness too as I had the lovely Becs Parker from BBC Radio Solent’s The Good Life here recording a series of three new recipes from Margot’s Kitchen – Slow Food for Gardeners.  Tune in on Sunday 14th Feb from 1pm-2pm – no doubt you’ll hear Monty and Dora giving their woofs of approval in the background.

What better way to feed the soul on Valentine’s Day than with a bit of slow food love, dear Reader.  Call it a big hug and kiss from me to you.  Perfect whether you’re gardening, dragging the small ones and pups on a walk in the countryside (this passes for romance at Margot and Jerry HQ) or sinking into an armchair to while away the day with a good book.

Slow Cooked Spicy Beef Short Ribs with Chipotle Beans

Chipotle beans and spicy beef

Marinade for beef short ribs

beef short ribs or brisket

1 tsp celery salt

1 tsp smoked paprika (hot or sweet depending on how spicy you like it)

1 tsp of mixed peppercorns (grind these in a pestle and mortar)

1 tsp mustard powder

2 tbsp runny honey

1 garlic clove, whole

500ml good quality beef stock

1/2 can of real ale

Add all the ingredients for the marinade and rub onto the short ribs.  Leave to marinade overnight or for at least 4-6 hours.  Overnight is best for maximum flavour.  When you are ready to cook, seal the meat on a high heat until all the surfaces have colour.  Use a large pan with a lid to do this as you will be cooking the beef for hours and hours in its marinade.  Once all the meat is brown on the outside, pour over beef stock and ale, pop on the pan lid and place in a low oven (no more than 120 degrees) for slow cooking.  The ribs will be ready when the meat can be pulled apart with two forks.

Take the ribs out of the pan once cooked and leave to one side to shred the meat from the bones.  Pop the pan on the stove and reduce the liquid that is left by half.  As it reduces, add 1 tbsp of tomato ketchup and a dash of Worcestershire sauce to thicken it.  Pour this over the shredded beef to serve.

Chipotle beans

1 onion

2 tsp chipotle paste

1 tbsp pomegranate molasses

1 can of haricot beans (include all the juice in the can too)

salt and pepper

Cook this at the same time as the beef short ribs as the beans will be really tender if slow cooked and have bags of flavour too.  Fry roughly chopped onion in a pan (needs to have a lid so a casserole dish with lid would work too), adding the chipotle paste and pomegranate molasses. Fry until the onion has softened a little and is coated in the paste and molasses.  Then add the can of beans and mix until combined.  Pop in low oven alongside the beef to cook for at least 3 hours.  The beans should look thick and be squishy to the touch.  Check the beans after an hour or so and see if you need to add a little water if they are looking a little dry rather than unctuous.

To serve the beef and beans, warm a few tortillas in the oven, add some chopped coriander or parsley, a squeeze of lime juice and a good dollop of crème fraiche/soured cream.

Heaven and you won’t be slaving over the stove all day either!  Happy Valentine’s Day, dear Reader.

Monty and Dora

Margot’s 12 Faves of Christmas

With Poppy’s 4th birthday out of the way and a week of cards and cake dutifully observed, Christmas has finally entered the cottage.  A huge succession of large parcels have descended (thank goodness for next day delivery) and in true last minute Margot form, all food bar the main event arrived by the back door in time too.  The postman and I are on first name terms and he brings Monty biscuits.  Keep it between us, dear Reader…..I have panic bought pretty much everything for Christmas.  Every year I promise myself that I will have everything ready by the beginning of December so that I can actually enjoy the lead up to the big festive day and apart from the year that Poppy was born, I haven’t managed to be even vaguely organised!  However, I’ve decided that the best way to combat all the Christmas rush and stress is to take a leaf out of the Danes’ book and embrace ‘hygge’.  Everything else can wait.

candles

From what I can gather, Hygge (pronounced hooga) is all about the art of cosiness – enjoying good things with good people, creating a magical glow with candelight, making time to stop and think, appreciating what we have, rather than wanting more……  The perfect winter antidote.  So this Christmas, I shall making like a Dane, feasting with the people I love, taking a moment to stop and stare at the roaring fire in the grate (whilst sipping sloe gin obviously, dear Reader), remembering that cooking Christmas lunch is only like cooking a Sunday roast and switching off from the world outside to make Lego farms with Poppy and Primrose, sip hot tea, eat crumpets, savour long muddy walks in the woods, scoff Quality Street, finally watch the end of Mad Men and dive into my latest haul of Raffaela Barker novels.

Before I sign off until the New Year though, dear Reader, I thought I’d share my 2015 Christmas favourites with you – my 12 ‘faves’ of Christmas….

  1. Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without a pheasant wreath so here is this year’s homemade effort.  Thanks so much to Phil the pheasant who was trapped in the dog proof fencing and as I went to rescue him, decided to fly off, leaving me with all his tail feathers in my hand!  Phil, I do hope you haven’t been the butt of numerous jokes – pop back and I’ll find you a jumper.

Christmas wreath

2. Despite the ridiculously unseasonal weather, I will STILL be snuggling down on the sofa with my favourite people by the fire, even if it means we will be wearing t-shirts and drinking pina coladas in the sitting room.  Letters written to the Big Man have already been laid on the fire and we watched as the smoke curled up the chimney, hoping they reach him in time.

Fire

3. Hot steaming mugs of tea and good books with my beautiful cashmere bed socks before everyone else gets up – Yawn London you have made my Christmas this year so a huge thank you to you.

Yawn

4. Finding out who’s been naughty or nice with Primrose and Poppy at the Long Barn in Alresford – really magical and so much fun. FC Long Barn

5. Our very own handmade pigs in blankets from our first pig, Cumberland.

Pigs in blankets6. How could I forget the Christmas tree?  Ours doesn’t go up until after Poppy’s birthday but I adore it when it is finally in situ – you can’t beat the smell of fir in the house.  I even managed to embrace the tree decoration free for all…….

Christmas tree

7. We always have a new book for Christmas and Christmas week, we read our favourite Chistmas bedtime stories including an Oxford Annual of Christmas I’ve had since I was 6!  Poppy and Primrose love the stories of Victorian Christmases and Mummers.  However, the book that is asked for time and time again has to be The Jolly Christmas Postman.

Jolly Postman

8. Christmas Monty – I promise he hasn’t eaten Father Christmas but he IS terribly suspicious of men in red suits falling down the chimney….

Christmas Monty

9.  We’ve been so busy with one and thing another, that I forgot to tell you about a new four legged friend of ours.  Introducing Willow, the 28 year old Welsh Mountain pony.  A very sweet farmer’s daughter who lives nearby asked us if we could fuss over her old pony, groom her and take her out for hacks.  As you can imagine, it was like all Poppy and Primrose’s Christmases had come at once and now it’s Willow this and Willow that.  Christmas Eve will see us taking carrots to her and her horsey companion.  A complete wish come true for 2 pony mad girls and 1 pony mad Mummy, dear Reader.  Jerry has taken to frowning at the number of riding hats and paraphernalia in the hallway……

Willow

10.  Cheese.  Need I say more.  I have a fridge full and it makes me rather happy, dear Reader.  Oh that and the Christmas Double Issue of Country Life!  I shall be sneaking down the stairs in the dark, Nigella style, to midnight feast on Stilton and Tunworth cheese whilst reading a page or two of this country Christmas treat.

Christmas CL

11.  Winter walks – in between all the feasting and present giving, there’s nothing like trudging up to the woods and blowing away the cobwebs. Can’t wait for a crisp frost to coat our little corner of countryside.

winter leave

12.  Perhaps the best thing under the Christmas tree this year will be our newest addition….  Meet Isadora, dear Reader.  Dora for short.  All black velvet and gorgeous puppyness.  Arriving on an early Christmas delivery, we’ve already been enjoying plenty of cuddles.  Jerry certainly knows how to get a Christmas present right!  However, Monty is still not too sure if it is love at first sight.  He will be taking a view on the whole puppy pulling his ears and sleeping on his bed situation, post Christmas.

Dora

SO that takes us to 2 cats, 2 dogs, 5 hens, 1 pony and a pig in the freeezer……wonder what else we can find a home for in 2016?!!  I would say that we were mad but if you’ve been reading this since the very beginning, then you already know that, dear Reader!  Wishing a very Happy Christmas to you and yours – may your Christmas be filled with feasting, plenty of cosiness and most importantly, love, peace and a little gin.  See you on the other side x

Star

Back to school

IMG_1539With the festive train fast approaching and looking for some foodie inspiration, I jumped at the chance to trot off back to school, dear Reader.  Cookery school to be exact – following a wonderful invitation from Season Cookery School at Lainston House, part of the Exclusive Hotels group.  Considering that this was the first time in goodness knows how long that I have been allowed out without my 7 and 3 year old chaperones, you can imagine I was more than a bit excited.

Lesson of the day – bread making.

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Season Cookery School runs a variety of cookery courses to suit all skills, levels and interests.  From courses to help you impress your dinner guests to knife skills and something perfect for this time of year – Christmas cooking for the day itself or festive feasts over the course of the week of Christmas.  Bread making was a perfect choice for me though, dear Reader as I have been keen to brush up on my dough skills for some time.  A great opportunity to learn some more tips and tricks to have me baking with success every time at home.

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The school kitchen has a wonderful layout and setup and all in the grounds of the stunning Lainston House Hotel – ooh it was like walking into Masterchef kitchen itself, dear Reader!

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Harriet Mitchell, our chef and teacher for the morning (much less scary than Monica Galetti), made sure that we got cracking with our prep and was exceptionally good at taking the recipes step by step, demonstrating each process and explaining the theory behind using particular techniques.  Fresh yeast was a new one for me but the results were far better than my attempts with dried yeast at home – definitely a top tip and much easier to find in the shops than you think!  Simply ask your local bakery or supermarket instore bakers.

From focaccia

to bloomers

scones

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to pizza

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A wonderful selection of recipes to work on, plenty of time to ask questions and for good measure, a bit of time sitting by the oven door with everything crossed GBBO style!  Amazing how competitive all of us on the course became with each other!

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Afterwards, lunch and a chance to taste our efforts.  A fabulous morning with plenty of laughs that has left me armed with ‘cheffy’ knowledge to go home and experiment with in my own kitchen.  Thanks so much to Sylvain Gachot, Cookery school manager and Harriet Mitchell, Chef de Partie at Pennyhill Park.  I shall certainly be popping in a request to Father Christmas for another day at Season Cookery School.  I do hope I have been good enough, dear Reader!