A year on

wild flowers
There we have it.  Our first year of living in the countryside.  It’s simply bizarre to think that a year ago we left the Big Smoke and moved to Hampshire to begin a new life in the country.  WHERE has the time gone, dear Reader?  So many wonderful, funny, strange, downright mad things have happened to us in that time.

To name a few, we got some chickens……..we took on some orphans…….Jerry brewed his own beer and I foraged from the hedgerows with a good deal of trepidation – Primrose and Jerry telling me, rather helpfully, that I was destined to poison the whole family with my concoctions.  Continue reading

Cooking full circle

Time for a spot of cooking!  It seems ages since I last shared a recipe over here so when The Happy Foodie asked me to take a little culinary challenge, well I simply couldn’t resist, dear Reader!

As anyone who knows me well knows, new cookbooks are pure heaven to me. I simply can’t resist flicking through tantalising recipes, thinking of occasions that I might try one out – some of them are even to be found on the bedside table for just before bed reading! So when I came across Rosie Ramsden’s new cookbook, The Recipe Wheel, I was intrigued to find something rather more exciting than a collection of delicious treats to cook and serve up.

Rosie Ramsden's fab new book, The Recipe Wheel

Rosie Ramsden’s fab new book, The Recipe Wheel

The concept is simple but innovative at the same time. There are series of mind maps – one basic recipe at the centre of the wheel which can be adapted to suit any occasion, mood or variety of ingredients: Cooking for Friends, something for a Night In, creating a dish to Impress, hassle-free No Frills recipes and even ideas for what to do with those Leftovers. The core of one recipe ‘mind map’ could be Roast Chicken and then with Rosie’s creative recipe wheel, this basic recipe is translated into a Chicken and Mango curry for a Night In or a delicious dish to Impress like Chicken salad with Blood Orange. No hard and fast rules which allows the cook to mix and match ingredients and be creative with a dish. Sounds brilliant, doesn’t it? Perhaps one of the best things about the recipe wheel is that it gives great ideas for leftovers too.

Inspired by Rosie’s recipe wheel idea, I wondered if I could have a go at creating my own wheel using an ingredient at the centre of the wheel rather than a dish. Take the humble courgette – there always seems to be one or two lingering at the bottom of the vegetable drawer in our fridge and I’m always trying to think of new ways to jazz up the way I use it. You know that this Margot loves all things foodie, dear Reader! The garden is certainly showing signs of there being tons of them in our little veg patch before long and so Rosie’s recipe wheel revelation couldn’t have come sooner! With a little bit of thought and to kick off Margot’s new Kitchen blog post page where I’ll be featuring recipes of all sorts, I created my own wheel with a little illustrative help from Primrose (aged 5, she draws courgettes and everything else so much better than I do):

My very own courgette wheel!

My very own courgette wheel!

All of my recipes are courgette based, some using a little to add background flavour, some where it is the star of the show and some fancier than others but, just like Rosie’s fab recipe wheel idea, each dish suits a particular mood or occasion. Jerry certainly hasn’t complained about my 5 new ways with courgettes and he’s a self-certified carnivore.

Friends: Courgette and feta fritters with lemon and mint dipping sauce

Night in: Almost Ratatouille (my very own take on that fab Provençal number)

Impress: Courgette, sorrel and pea risotto served with zucchini fritti and basil oil

Leftovers: Arancini with roasted tomato sauce

Bitten by the bug, I’ve been thinking of recipe wheel ideas ever since and have already tried quite a few dishes from The Recipe Wheel. It’s amazing that no one has thought to put together a recipe book like this before. No more endless thumbing to the index to work out recipes using up the ingredients in the fridge, no more wondering about how you can elevate a recipe you’ve been churning out for years – Rosie’s done that all for you! She’s certainly given me lots of new ideas.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourites from this week – Get Creative: Smoked salmon bruschetta with sweet courgette relish. A perfect dinner party starter that allows you to spend your time with a chilled glass of rosé rather than slaving over the stove when your guests arrive.

Sweet courgette relish (makes enough for a dinner party starter for 4)

1/2 courgette, grated

1 spring onion, chopped finely

1 1/2 tsp wholegrain mustard

1 tsp runny honey

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar or apple balsamic vinegar

black pepper and salt

a good handful of fresh dill

Couldn’t be easier…..  Into a mixing bowl, grate the courgette and add the finely chopped spring onion.  To this, add mustard, cider vinegar, olive oil, honey, salt and pepper.  Using a little whisk, whisk the wet ingredients into the courgette and spring onion and taste.  Now add a handful of chopped fresh dill and leave for 1 hour in the fridge in a jam jar for the flavours to infuse.

Bruschetta part: Make some rough croutons using French bread sliced on the diagonal, drizzle over some olive oil and bake in a hot oven (180 degrees centigrade/350F/gas mark 4) until golden.  Leave to cool.

To 2 heaped tbsp of crème fraiche, add 1 tsp of horseradish, a squeeze of lemon and a tiny pinch of salt – mix well.  Using a teaspoon, place a small amount of the flavoured creme fraiche onto your toasted croutons, add a piece of smoked salmon to finish.  Garnish with more fresh dill and serve with the sweet courgette relish on the side.

Now all you need is someone to pour you a drink – summery heaven!  Long may this glorious sunshine last!

Get Creative: Smoked salmon bruschetta with sweet courgette relish

Get Creative: Smoked salmon bruschetta with sweet courgette relish

Scaling dizzy heights

The Vyne, National Trust, Hampshire  - scene of our big tree climb

The Vyne, National Trust, Hampshire – scene of our big tree climb

As quickly as it was organised, the day came for Primrose and I to complete our biggest country challenge yet.  You know, the one I’ve been dreading……no.1 of all the National Trust’s 50 things project - Climb a tree.  With this year’s summer of 50 Things already upon us and with so many events and adventures to go on in London and South East, it seemed fitting that we should start at the very beginning with no 1. Continue reading

Midsummer magic

A little midsummer rose magic

Perfect for Thumbelina!

With midsummer here at last, I’ve been wondering if we have been touched by a bit of that good old midsummer magic of late.  Don’t worry we weren’t last seen dancing naked at dawn around a stone circle or joining a load of druids on a pilgrimage to mark the summer solstice.  (Although, Jerry swears he was on the 18:23 from Waterloo with Druid Arthur Uther Pendragon on Friday night).  No, nothing all ‘Glasto’ drastic as that.  However, trundling along the parish boundaries in an ancient village church tradition to bless the fields and the beauty of our little patch of countryside, I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps  Jerry and I had gone native, dear Reader.  In a month or two, it will be the anniversary of our first year here and it is difficult to imagine us anywhere else these days. Continue reading

Ticking off the list

The Vyne, National Trust, Hampshire - surrounded by magical woodland

The Vyne, National Trust, Hampshire – surrounded by magical woodland

Having had a tricky few weeks with the lambs and a broody chicken to boot, we decided that we all needed a bit of a treat and some time to enjoy outdoorsy adventures (not smallholding related ones at least) a bit further afield.  With a half term full of rain and cabin fever setting in……thank goodness for Primrose and her love of lists.  You’ll see why in a mo, dear Reader!

Last year, Primrose, Poppy and I spent a whole summer gallivanting round all sorts of fabulous National Trust properties and places around London and the South East in order to tick off our 50 Things list.  You may remember that our adventures were featured on NT London and South East’s blog.  Ooh the things we got up to!  A summer of den building, pond dipping, camping out under the stairs……..all thanks to this magical list!  I was going to say that the list is endless but it is a very manageable 50 things – all very good fun and definitely a must for the summer holidays, come rain or shine!  To celebrate the launch of the first #50Things weekend of this year’s season, we were very kindly invited to come along to one of our favourite NT places, The Vyne for an afternoon of bug hunting and cake.  Who could resist such an invitation, I ask you dear Reader? Continue reading

Raising orphans

No82 having a good nosh - our only ewe.

No82 having a good nosh – our only ewe.  She has a lovely tattoo of 82 on her side, hence the natty name!

Dear Reader, I do apologise for the break in transmission.  I’ll be honest, I have been putting off writing this post as the past two weeks have had some serious ups and bottomless downs unfortunately and my birthday in between.  We are all exhausted here at Margot and Jerry HQ.  Raising orphan lambs is no picnic.  Not only is there relentless bottle feeding and checking to be done but lambs (as I was told by so many farmers) have a desire to snuff it lurking around every corner and ours have certainly tried to prove that fact.

When we started out, we had a tiny scrawny black faced lamb (our Suffolk cross dubbed Blackie….I know original isn’t it?!) that was struggling to bottle feed and it took us a week or so to get him sucking as well as to cure his awful bowels.  Poor chap was in a dreadful state but perked up with round the clock care and gentle persuasion.  He now follows us all like a little puppy and is most put out when you don’t stop to pat him on your way to filling up the feed trough. Continue reading

And then there were three more….

Flowers for church on Easter Day

Flowers for church on Easter Day

Easter has departed for another year, leaving behind the most obscene amount of chocolate that I have ever seen.  Spoilt rotten by so many, Primrose and Poppy seem to have a chocolate Everest stashed in the cupboard.  CUE the serious choc-induced madness at church on Easter Day, resulting in Poppy screaming most of the way through the first few hymns and then half of the sermon.  With disapproving glances from some villagers, I made a point of praying for a large gin and tonic when the vicar asked us to call to mind any matters private and personal that could be offered up during the prayers.  Perhaps I should remember to put a hip flask in my handbag for such occasions…?

Still spring in the village is a fantastic sight to behold and everywhere we look there are signs of rejuvenation all around.  Wild garlic in the hedgerows, the crazy cawing of rooks and their babies can be overheard in the trees all around us and we even spied some baby deer from afar up near the woods.  With so many baby animals about, several trips have been made to the local lambing sheds to see the sheep equivalent of a maternity unit.  Truly marvellous to behold. Continue reading