Meeting Lauren Child

So, dear Reader, this is a rather special post – Primrose and I got to meet one of our heroines of the bedtime story world this week and were rendered utterly starstruck.  For as long as Primrose has been able to hold a pencil, she has been desperate to write her own stories.  Amongst a mix of Enid Blyton, Frog and Toad and all the old fairy tales including an ancient Ladybird book of mine of The Goose Girl, Primrose’s love of quirky characters and twists on traditional tales has definitely been inspired by the author and illustrator, Lauren Child.  So imagine when I told Primrose that we were going to meet her “IN REAL LIFE”, to coin a Primrose phrase.

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The National Trust’s Mottisfont in Hampshire are hosting a retrospective of Lauren’s work – The Art of Lauren Child: Adventures with Charlie and Lola and Friends running from 18 July – 6 September to mark the 15 year anniversary of the first Charlie and Lola book to be published, I Will Not Ever Never Eat a Tomato.  Author and illustrator, Lauren Child MBE, has such an amazing back catalogue of children’s books which has been loved and devoured across the world and is probably best known for her delightful brother and sister creation, doting brother  Charlie and his picklish little sister (small and very funny), LolaLauren seems to have that uncanny knack for being able to slip into the shoes of children we’ve met, grown up with or perhaps even given birth to.  Perhaps it’s her talent for telling it like it is from a child’s perspective that has seen her works adored by children and adults alike.

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With a selection of never before seen items including some of Lauren’s sketchbooks, the exhibition hosts 50 original art works from Lauren’s own personal collection and gives a wonderful insight into the process from sketchbook to published work.  This is a chance to get up close and personal with some of the objects that have served to inspire Lauren’s fabulous and well known stories, such as Lola’s pink milk glass, childhood pyjamas and the truly amazing and wonderfully detailed original sets which were created for Lauren’s retelling of The Princess and the Pea on which she collaborated with Polly Borland.

I think with Clarice (Bean) I wrote and then I drew and it was almost like creating a graphic novel.  Now I tend to write and then draw.  Often people think that everything is done on computer but it really isn’t,” Lauren shared.  “You find things in the photo album which you think might work – so I know exactly where these photos are from as I put together the collages.  They become more than just drawings.”

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The exhibition also offers a chance for Charlie and Lola fans to catch a sneak preview of illustrations from Lauren’s latest book, entitled One Thing, to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Charlie and Lola, which will be published this autumn.

Lauren on One Thing:I wanted to show sums in a really beautiful way – there’s something about the visual beauty of numbers. It’s a story about  Charlie and Lola’s mum telling them that they can have one thing and that bargaining thing that happens with children.  As soon as you say one thing, they immediately start negotiating.    It’s a game I play most days with my daughter.  I wanted to write about the fun of counting and that home truth.’

Alongside the exhibition, Lauren has helped the team at Mottisfont to create a fantastic creative play trail around the house and grounds – perfect for all ages and a chance to go on a real adventure with Charlie and Lola and their friends.  A great day out for the summer hols!  For details of the exhibition and adventure trail, take a look here.

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Meeting the lady herself, Primrose got to ask all her questions.  What inspired you to write Charlie and Lola? How do you create the stories and illustrations?  We had a fab chat about Lola’s invisible friend Soren Lorensen, Lauren’s favourite character Clarice Bean and creating alter egos that you’d like to be and our huge amount of love for That Pesky Rat.  Perhaps the best bit of all was Primrose showing Lauren her own story which she had written and illustrated – A Bad Spell for the Little Fairy.  I shall be eternally grateful to Lauren for making Primrose’s YEAR and for taking the time to talk to her and read her story.  I honestly couldn’t think of a better literary role model and source of creative inspiration for my little writer – a memory that will be treasured forever.

This exhibition is a MUST SEE for anyone who has cherished and enjoyed reading Lauren Child’s books and there’s something for all the family to enjoy as well as going on your own adventures with Charlie and Lola and Friends at Mottisfont during the summer holidays.

So on that note, dear Reader, to mark the opening of The Art of Lauren Child: Adventures with Charlie and Lola and Friends at the National Trust’s Mottisfont this summer, the lovely people at National Trust London and South East have given me 5 FAMILY DAY PASSES to give away to lucky entrants.  All you have to do is to ‘like’ @MottisfontNT on Twitter (or their Facebook page if you’re not on Twitter) and then write a comment here on this post, telling me which Lauren Child book is your favourite and whyEntries will close at 5pm on THURSDAY 23RD JULY.  The National Trust LSE lot will help pick the winning answers so don’t forget to leave me an email address or Twitter handle in the comment box too so that I can contact you if you’ve won. 

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Smelling of roses

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Hurtling towards the end of term, the girls and I are certainly in need of a rest.  The last few days of endless shouting up the stairs for Poppy and Primrose to get a move on and I’m more than a bit frazzled before the clock has ticked towards 8 o’clock.  That and I’ve been working like a demon, tip tapping away on the keyboard at the kitchen table.  The summer holidays are stretching out before us and we can’t wait a single second longer, dear Reader!  Wonder if I’ll still be saying that in a week’s time when the girls have reduced themselves to dealing with squabbles by bashing each other over the head with Lego knights.  Anyhoo, dear Reader, for now it’s time to switch off from work, read a few books that have been gathering dust on the bookshelf and sip a few long gin and tonics in the sunshine.

In need of a serious caffeine fix to keep the matchsticks propping up the eyelids on the last school run of the year, I stopped for a much needed coffee and a little bit of local therapy of a rosy kind.  Heady scents all around were enough to have me feeling rather more zen and on the way to looking less Russell Brand and more coiffured Margot.  What could have performed that minor miracle I hear you ask, dear Reader?  A gorgeous new range of Rose products from Long Barn  whose lavender (as well as beautiful garden and homewares mecca and café) is already a huge Hampshire hit.  Candles, heavenly body butter, soap and a handbag sized tin of sumptuous lip balm…….thank you Long Barn for such a wonderful treat.  Now please bring out a bath oil too and then I shall spend all my evenings in the bath imagining I am in THAT scene from American Beauty!

Long Barn Rose

Returning home with two bedraggled school girls to our garden which resembles more of  a World War II war scene than rosy cottage garden at the moment, I had to do everything to stop the girls from pinching all my new found Long Barn luxuries.  About the only thing that has survived the landscaping is a gorgeous dog rose which has decided to shower us with blooms –  a true thing of beauty amongst a great deal of untidiness.  Thank goodness as it has been 3 weeks of garden upheaval and we’ve needed something to look at that isn’t brown mud and serious amounts of chalk!

Always one to try something different as you know dear Reader,  I decided to give a new recipe a whirl to celebrate all that is wonderful about the rose.  I’d say that this little number is perfect to savour once blooms have started to wilt ever so slightly on the stem.  From antidepressant, digestive stimulant, cleanser to Margot’s scented saviour, the rose really does have the magical medicinal touch.

Rose Cordial

1 litre scented rose petals, rinsed and dried to remove any unwanted insect life (10-12 large blooms)

1 litre water

juice of 1 ½ lemons

700g caster sugar

Rinse the rose petals, rinse and dry them before measuring them in a measuring jug.  Pop the petals in a pan and add the water.  Bring to a simmer, pressing the petals into the water gently.  Cook for no more than 5-10 minutes before removing from the heat and leave to cool for 10 minutes or so.  Using a sieve, strain the liquid from the petals.  Make sure you stand the sieve over a bowl to do this as you’ll need to gently press the petals down to strain out any of the remaining liquid.  None of the liquid is wasted here!

Place the liquid into a clean pan and pop on the stove.  Add the juice of a lemon and then all of the sugar, stirring with a wooden spoon until all the sugar has dissolved.  Allow the liquid to come up to the boil and boil for a few minutes before pouring into sterile bottles.  You can sterilise the bottles by washing them thoroughly in hot soapy water and then placing them in a low oven to dry.  Do store the cordial in the fridge once you’ve bottled it.  The more red petals you have in the mixture, the darker the colour of the cordial.

It won’t last long I promise.  It makes a great syrup to drizzle on a fruit salad, add it to ice cream, mix it with fizzy water or use it as a base for a fruit or elderflower punch…….best of all though, pour a thimbleful into a champagne glass and top up with delicious fizz, be it champagne, Prosecco or lovely Hampshire bubbles for a lovely rose flavoured cocktail.  See, dear Reader, I told you it was restorative!

Rose cordial

Food Fest

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What a food fest at Margot and Jerry HQ this week.  From watercress to strawberries, Hampshire fizz to charcuterie and a bit of jam and gin thrown into the mix, I’ve seen it all.  Skipping off to the launch night of the Hampshire Food Festival at none other than one of Hampshire best loved foodie haunts, The Pig Hotel at Brockenhurst (is it me or do I seem to make a habit of finding a pig everywhere I go lately???), I had a wonderful time chatting to lots of wonderful producers.  Hattingley Valley fizz, Upham Brewery beer, Parsonage Farm charcuterie, Devese Farm Animals’ Goat pâté to name but a few as well as a new find for me, the most sumptuous lobster oil from Catch on the Isle of Wight.

We are so lucky in Hampshire to have such a wealth of foodie delights on the doorstep – thanks so much to Hampshire Fare for inviting a very greedy Margot along for the evening!  A considerable pity that I was driving as I would have tucked into the Hattingley fizz and Twisted Nose gin wholeheartedly…….all in the name of research I assure you, dear Reader.  It is a hard job but someone has to do it!  I can’t wait for all the other Hampshire Food Festival events!  As for The Pig Hotel, I shall certainly be convincing Jerry to whisk me away for an evening of gastronomic heaven in its picture perfect grounds.

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My advice, dear Reader – seek out your local farmers’ market wherever you are.  Everything is usually handmade, delicious, something out of the ordinary and best of all, it won’t have travelled too far to get to you!

From The Pig to watercress…..and the lovely people at @Love_Watercress and Pam Lloyd PR who sent me four marvellous bunches of watercress to create some kitchen magic with the vibrant, iron-rich green stuff.  Not wanting to go down the usual watercress salad and soup route, I set about trying something different.

The favourite?  My Watercress and Pea Mayonnaise – very easy, made in seconds and a perfect partner to some prawns and toasted baguette for lunch.

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Watercress and Pea Mayonnaise (makes enough for a small jar – use within a week to ten days)

1 large bunch of watercress

half a mug of peas (fresh or frozen)

4 large tablespoons of homemade mayonnaise (if you are going to use shop bought, then go for a really good quality one that is made with free range eggs and looks a bit more custardy in colour)

a good squeeze of lemon juice

a few strands of lemon zest

salt to taste – no need for black pepper as the watercress is peppery enough

Whizz all the ingredients up in a food processor et voila, your work is done!  Spoon liberally onto the baguette before adding fresh watercress.  Top with grilled prawns and sprinkle a little smoked paprika on top for some smoky spice.  It also goes rather well with smoked salmon, grilled chicken or used to top a piece of seared trout.  Something rather delicious, made with almost hardly effort at all!

Pity I can’t squeeze a little watercress bed into the garden!  Never more have vegetables been on the agenda at Margot and Jerry HQ as our own veg patch is burgeoning under a make-do-and-mend style polytunnel.  Having really got stuck in this year with growing our own, I’m surprised by how a little amount of space can bring forth such a huge amount.  We’ve got enough lettuce to feed the county!  My battle now commences with rabbits, squirrels, slugs, snails and pigeon.  Our very own Mrs MacGgregor next door takes tending her walled kitchen garden very seriously and I have on more than one occasion come home to find errant rabbits and pigeons left on the doorstep, ready for the pot!  They’d better take more care not to be caught next time.  I, on the other hand, am not sure I am ready to take my veg patch watch to Depth Con 4 levels just yet, dear Reader!

One significant problem according to Poppy and Primrose though…..we forgot to plant strawberries.  In fact, other than a thornless blackberry plant, an autumn raspberry cane and some dead on its feet rhubarb, we didn’t manage to get any soft fruits in this year.  However, with an amazing selection at a PYO very near us, we spent a blissful afternoon on Midsummer’s Day picking strawberries and talking jam.  Sometimes appeasing a 6 year old and a 3 year old is relatively easy!  I shall be cooking up a batch of homemade Strawberry and Lavender jam from the Margot’s Kitchen archives too – forgotten how much we all liked it until my little recipe made an appearance in The Telegraph this week.  Good grief – a proud Margot kitchen moment indeed!  Happy Eating, dear Reader!

Bluebells, birthdays and a touch of fever

Oh dear Reader, I could really do with a bit of cheering this week.  More on that in a mo but suffice to say that things have been rather hectic of late at Margot and Jerry HQ.  Celebrating reaching halfway to 70 (let’s gloss over that one fairly quickly) was top of the list, shortly followed by some pretty amazing birthday presents from Jerry and the girls.  What could be better than a bottle of my favourite gin, a bottle of Pol, a jolly green handbag and A PIG?!!!!  Yes that’s right, dear Reader.  Jerry bought me a PIG, just a few weeks’ old, for my birthday.  A gorgeous Large Black with inquisitive snout, floppy ears and a penchant for pig nuts.  It was pretty tricky to tell who was squealing more, when we first clapped eyes on each other!  Although, I’m not sure that the dear little piggy will be squealing with excitement quite so much once he’s realised that he will be salami come the autumn…..

CumberlandHaving promised that we wouldn’t name any more animals we intended to eat, Primrose and Poppy promptly dubbed our teeny little porker, Cumberland.  After the sausage.  Obviously.  I suppose if you going to name an animal you’re going to eat, it might as well be a foodie name.  Names aside, there is another little snag with this whole piggy thing….this little piggy doesn’t actually live with us.  Nor does he even live in our neighbour’s field like the lambs did.  Essentially Cumberland is at boarding school.  I know dear Reader and yes, you did read that correctly…we now have a pig at boarding school.  The lovely John and Sarah Mills took pity on me and my dreams of being a pig farmer and offered for me to adopt one of their pigs, taking it from weaner all the way through to slaughter and beyond.  So Cumberland will live with his brothers (Lincolnshire, Merguez, Chorizo…..I could go on) up at Parsonage Farm, home of delicious Hampshire charcuterie for the duration of his fattening up period.

PiggiesSince Jerry and I haven’t suddenly inherited a large estate or managed to persuade any of our other neighbours to part with some land for us to rent, this seemed a very good option for now.  Although, we won’t be able to be that hands-on with Cumberland, this is the very best in next best scenarios and at least we can go and visit him regularly.  When abattoir day comes, I will then pop over to practise my newly found butchery skills and hopefully persuade John and Sarah to let me air-dry some ham over in their cabinets.  A little bit sad that I won’t get to use my new Pig Haynes Manual but a good learning experience all the same until I can have a couple of weaners in the garden…..don’t tell Jerry, dear Reader!  It wasn’t so long ago, that I persuaded him to move all his stuff out of the shed so I could house the lambs temporarily whilst I was still doing their night feeds!  I’m only hoping that he didn’t notice how much damage the piggies had made of a grassy patch in just two days down at John and Sarah’s!

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From pig fever to fever of a whole other kind.  With birthday celebrations over (and hangovers overcome), our little Poppy, with her habit of catching the more rare and unpleasant childhood illnesses, ended up joining more than a handful of Victorian poets and half the population of a workhouse too as she caught scarlet fever.  Never a good moment when the GP has to Google for a diagnosis but there it was in black and white, or rather scarlet spots, scarlet fever.  Always a worry when it’s on the Notifiable Disease list too.  Poor Poppy.  Probably the worst thing she’s had and with imposed house arrest plus feeling distinctly unwell, there wasn’t even an episode of Peppa Pig that would cheer her.  To add to the sickness woes, Primrose then fell ill with an ear infection and a large touch of cabin fever set in, almost resulting in me very nearly trading them both in for a dachshund puppy.  A lie down in a darkened room with the Pig Haynes Manual was the only answer at that point and of course a medicinal gin.  Mother’s ruin?  More like Mother’s restoration, dear Reader.

Bluebells2With all slowly on the mend, the four of us took to the woods for a much needed change of scene.  It’s a wonder a red cross hasn’t been daubed on the front door!  Still, our little secret glade of bluebells never fails to lift the spirits and we even managed a bit of den building too.  It’s such a gorgeous spot.  Pity I can’t keep Cumberland up there really.  I certainly wouldn’t mind having to venture up to the woods each day.  Perhaps I should just build myself a “Mummy needs a quiet 5 minutes” sort of den up there instead, complete with emergency gin rations and a good book?  Now there’s an idea, dear Reader………

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Bringing home the bacon

Ooh dear Reader, I have been really looking forward to telling you about my latest exploits all week.  As you know, I have had my eye on getting a pig but with no land nearby for sale or to rent, having my own pigs is just not an option at the moment.  A huge blow but not an unexpected one.  Our village is particularly anti-pig and since every field around here is prime grazing for ponies, Jerry and I have been thinking about alternatives to renting a grassy field.  There must be someone nearby who needs a piggy rotivator!

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Determined to learn more about all things porcine, off I popped to discover more about the joys of pigs at Parsonage Farm and join one of John and Sarah Mills’ regular workshops.  John and Sarah Mills are true advocates of field to fork eating and their livestock doesn’t travel much further than to the abattoir and back, before making it to the butcher’s block.  I know I have mentioned it before but their salami and air dried ham and beef is to die for too!  So much so that I have been dying to learn how to make my own salami as well as bacon and sausages since I met them.  So, where better for a beginner like me to start than with one of their Charcuterie workshops, dear Reader?

I confess, dear Reader, that I know very little about butchering any kind of animal.  When our orphan lambs went to slaughter last year, we took the carcasses to a local butcher who did the job for us so going on a butchery and charcuterie workshop was high on the priority list to aid me in my quest to advance my good life skills!

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Taking us through from whole pig to pancetta was the wonderful Marc Frederic (Le Charcutier Anglais as he is known) who, apart from having the best butcher’s chat I’ve heard in a long time, is also a dab hand at all things charcuti (wonder if I could make that one, catch on, dear Reader…?) and his skills are known from here to Thailand.  His selection of butcher’s kit is incredibly impressive too, including a rather large knife rather hilariously named a “chopper” (yes, I did snigger like a school girl, dear Reader).

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Getting down to the nitty gritty, I learn that different pigs are better for different things.  For example, a Tamworth (the meat we are working on) makes a good pig for bacon as it has the ability to achieve the right meat to fat ratio.  So it might be perfect for bacon and sausages but not so good for other types of charcuterie such as salami or air dried hams.  Other slow growing porkers would be a better option if charcuterie was the end goal.  I have to say for me, the Tamworth is my favourite of the pigs on the rare breed list – I have rather a soft spot for their russet hair and they make the cutest piglets you’ve ever seen, dear Reader.  Back to pork…..

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Some serious sawing, filleting skills and knife sharpening lessons later and we begin to see what you might recognise when choosing choice cuts from the butcher’s counter.  There’s also a large tray of meat (and fat) that is reserved for later – offcuts from our butchery.  I think that I learned more about meat in the first few hours of the course than I have in a lifetime of cooking and eating it!  Coppa, lardo, bath chaps, trotters for gelatine……a good butcher knows how to use as much of the animal as is possible.  Real nose to tail eating.  Everything but the squeak but not the pesky sinews, tendons and bits of cartilage which shouldn’t even go into sausages.  Marc’s knife skills (and patience guiding us beginners with the right cuts here and how close to take the blade) are amazing.  It turns out that I have been sharpening my knives at home completely the wrong way for years.

Sausage making was hilarious!  I can’t wait to get my own kit.  Brilliant fun and so easy once you know how.  The best bit with making your own sausages is that once you’ve mastered the basics, you can begin experimenting with flavours and create your own sausage recipes.  Endless hours of fun in my book!

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Marc made it all look so easy.  Getting the hang of the sausage machine certainly had me in fits of giggles but then, dear Reader, I have never been known for my maturity! photo 1Almost impossible not to think of every sausage (and sausage skin) innuendo in the process but in the end, I was quite proud of my handiwork – not too embarrassing for a first try.  Tying them is a real skill I can assure you, dear Reader.  I made sure that I shot a video of Marc’s demonstration because I knew that I would never remember any of it when it came to having a go at home!

Perhaps the most exciting part of the whole day for me was learning how to make bacon – something I could definitely see myself doing at home.  Marc showed us how to prepare the pork for curing and the steps needed to create our very own pancetta.

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A fantastic day, dear Reader – I can highly recommend it and Marc’s insight and teaching alongside his witty repartee made the day full of fun as well as learning.  I loved every minute of the workshop and Sarah and John’s delicious lunch was a triumph and a reminder of all the amazing things that can be done when care and respect is given to bringing food from the field to the table.

I can report that the bacon after its seven days curing was well worth the effort!  Jerry, Poppy and Primrose are already wondering when I shall be making some more.  I’ve even been looking for meat slicers and sausage machines on Ebay!  Now if I could just find somewhere to put these little beauties!  You know me, dear Reader, never take no for answer……so keep this to yourself, but I may already have a plan in mind!  Oink oink!

Sarah's pigs

An Easter delivery

Easter chickWith spring flowers, chicks and eggs both chocolate and hen, Easter is certainly hot on our heels.  A little rabbit even crept onto the table too (thanks to Pol Roger Champagne for inviting me to share a dinner party favourite), leaving Poppy completely appalled that Mummy and Daddy might have kidnapped the Easter bunny and eaten him!

rabbit

However, Easter just wouldn’t be Easter dear Reader, without lambs.  Bouncing little bundles of spring joy.  In fact, Poppy, Primrose and I have been reminiscing about our orphans from last year and wondering about a few more.  Since I don’t have any grazing of my own to speak of, finding willing landowners happy to part with a field for six months is pretty tricky.

Lambing2015-2 So, missing my three bleating little ones, I decided to offer my very inexperienced services to a lovely local (very patient) shepherdess whose flock was about to triple within a matter of weeks.  The maternity wing was already full of triplets when I got there and in the biting wind and driving rain, the shed was by far the best place for lambs, ewes (and Margot) to shelter.  Keen to put me to work, the shepherdess had me learning the ropes in no time – docking tails, castration (cross your legs – it’s all about the rubber bands)….checking feet and monitoring newborns.   Even the polytunnel had been cleared out to be used as a makeshift intensive care unit for difficult births and struggling lambs.  Such a lot to get done before the next birth and all that while you’re on red alert for any ewes who look as though they might be going into labour.  Scanning and dating I learn, is no real guarantee of just when lambs might make an appearance and the shepherdess has her trusty notebook with her at all times, referring to notes on when each ewe is due and how many babies.  Some are first timers, others are old hands at lambing and will be giving birth for the third or fourth time.  First timers are always more of a worry, the shepherdess tells me.

Lambing2015-1Lambing is a curious thing….much like giving birth to human babies.  A lot of waiting around, a bit of action, a lot more waiting around and then everything happening in a matter of ten minutes.  Reading my sheep husbandry handbook was no real preparation for witnessing my first live lamby birth – it was amazing.  Even more wonderful to be there ready to assist when one lamb got a bit stuck in the process and the ewe had to be helped out.  Oooh, dear Reader, this was truly Lambing Live and I was standing by like James Herriot in the middle of a field, with a bucket full of delivery essentials and a shepherdess sporting a long plastic glove.  I think that the shepherdess was rendered quite dumbstruck when I got out my phone and starting taking pictures…..  Oh the shame, dear Reader, I am a complete total farming amateur!  Too good to miss recording it for the children to see later that day though!

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When the second lamb popped out unaided fifteen minutes later, all hands were on deck to get the newborns and ewe into the trailer before the wet lambs became too cold up at the top of the field.  All this care, love and attention for something that will eventually reach the table.  I am in awe of the work all our farmers do and how much effort goes into bringing meat to consumers.

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Keen to get more practice in, I popped over with Poppy and Primrose to see how the rest of the ewes were getting on a day or so later.  Tons more naughty scampering triplets and happy ewes!  Anyone who thinks that sheep don’t have much personality couldn’t be more wrong.  You can see just what kind of mothers they are by watching them for five minutes.  Poppy and Primrose spent an hour running up and down the fields with lambs following and gambolling, their mothers watching on or trotting behind.  Definitely what Easter in the countryside is all about!

Much to the girls’ delight, there was even a spot of newborn cuddles to be had.  One of the shepherdess’ more troublesome ewes had given birth to her triplets just the night before our visit and one of her babies had really really struggled to perk up following the trauma of birth.  Dubbed Minnie, we found her in the kitchen in a cardboard box.  A tiny little thing and destined to be fed by bottle for the moment as she hasn’t had much strength and is considerably smaller than her siblings.  Snuggling up to a newborn lamb has to be the highlight for Poppy and Primrose this Easter – much better than a chocolate egg any day they told Jerry and I afterwards in the car on the way home!

Minnie

Looks like little Minnie may well be needing a foster home too………….the prospect sent me scuttling to the garage to get the huge bottle of Milton and lamby bottles out again.  Despite  Jerry rolling his eyes, there may well be a cardboard box with a lamb in it in the kitchen very soon!  Well how could we resist such a darling little face, dear Reader?!!!  Happy Easter!

 

Tea’s on the table

It’s not often that I get so engrossed in a new cookbook that I end up pretty much cooking every recipe from cover to cover.  However, the latest offering from Ebury Publishing to land on the doormat was something rather special.  If you are a mother (or father – let’s not have any gender stereotyping here, dear Reader) and you love cooking, this is the book for you.  It’s a wonderful example of how family cookbooks should be – completely unpatronising and all about cooking dishes that the whole family can enjoy together.  Dear Reader, I give you The 5 o’clock Apron: Proper Food for Modern Families by Claire Thomson, mother of 3, chef, restaurant owner and all round fab foodie (in no particular order).

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With poor old Poppy ill for the last month with tonsillitis and then various mystery bugs, the book could not have been more timely.  Tempting her to eat has been pretty tricky so I was exceptionally grateful for some new culinary delights to cajole her back into nosh.  Easy Peasy Rose ice cream was a godsend and easily whipped up in minutes for a little one who could not eat much.  I tested it out on some grown ups too at a dinner party and they’ve been clamouring for the recipe ever since.  Just for the record, I am NOT sharing this one – it’s too good to share.

Trying new things is what this book is all about.  With that in mind, I had a go at making some Labneh – a recipe that was completely new on me.  This yoghurt based soft cheese is so easy to do and tastes wonderful in both savoury and sweet variations – it has been a revelation to be honest.  Who would have thought that with almost no kit and just some salt and yoghurt, that you could knock up a delicious cheese overnight?  Genius.  I shall be making this with the girls over and over again.

Labneh

Perhaps the reason I loved Claire’s book so much is that I could really relate to the reasons she decided to pen these recipes.  I often find myself cooking meals for the children and then something else for Jerry and me and the time it takes to cook more than just one meal is time I could be doing other things…….(daily mantra: get that piece of writing finished, Margot).  I think that we all make the mistake of thinking that children can’t cope with gutsy flavours or aren’t interested in trying new things.  Well with most, that simply couldn’t be further from the truth.  Certainly when it came to testing out Claire’s new recipes on Poppy and Primrose, moving away from our boring midweek staples of lasagne and chicken risotto made the food much more exciting!  As Claire writes in her book, “Make food interesting”.

Delicious Chard Borek - a great handheld after school supper.

Delicious Chard Borek – great handheld after school fodder.

Honestly dear  Reader, there is not a dud recipe in this cookbook.  So I urge you to step away from Wednesday night’s spag bol rut and liven up the supper table with recipes such as Chicken Shawarma and hummus, Cassoulet or Sweet and Sour Chicken Wings with ‘slaw.  Why not have Snail bread for breakfast or Ginger Beer scones for afternoon tea?  It’s not about making mealtimes more time-consuming or complicated.  Believe me – this book will SAVE you time!  Make The 5 O’clock Apron the family cookbook you buy this year.  You won’t regret it.

chicken wingsHave a look at some of Claire’s fab recipes from The 5 O’clock Apron on The Happy Foodie site too.