Category Archives: Out and About

Be More Margo

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“Come and judge the Best Dressed Margo and Barbara”, she said.  How could I resist such an honour, dear Reader?  Especially when the fabulous talent that is Viv Groskop was in town to preview her new Edinburgh show, Be More Margo.  I whooped at the invitation when the delightful Donna of Sulky Doll stylist fame tweeted me.  As you know well dear Reader, I never need an excuse to don a floral kaftan and spend an evening drinking Prosecco accessorised with obligatory maraschino cherry.

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In a sneaky charity preview of her new Edinburgh Festival show, the rather masterly writer (Sunday TimesThe Independent, Independent on Sunday, The Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Financial Times (Weekend), the Observer, the Guardian, the Spectator, the London Evening Standard, Red, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, High Life and The Pool ), comedian, presenter and all-round amazingly talented woman, Viv Groskop, brings to life all that is brilliantly middle class about The Good Life’s Mrs Margo Leadbetter.  Wafting about in floral maxis and keeping up with the Jones (or should that be, the Goods?), Viv highlights the virtues of Margo as middle class role model.  I fear she may have hit the jackpot as the audience offered their best in tales akin to those shared on ‘Overheard in Waitrose’ from performing yoga in orchards to bringing Ayah from the Far East to nanny in the UK.  Who knew that Winchester could be as much of a spiritual home for Margo as her beloved Surbiton?!!  I’m not sure when I have laughed so much at the mere mention of quinoa.

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With my judging duties over, plenty of knicker-wetting laughter and lots of cash raised for the marvellous Kos Kindness – Winchester and Andover Collection run by the wonderful Roshi and her team, the evening was a huge success.  HUGE thanks to Sulky Doll for organising and inviting me, to Viv for putting up with my gushing over meeting her and to my fabulous friend Siobhan who told me she was simply going to throw on a kaftan when I asked her to come along and ended up greeting me in a floor-length silk number from India which totally trumped my chiffon flowers and turban!  If you are up in Edinburgh for the Fringe then DO get tickets for Viv’s show – if she’s half as funny as she was at her preview, I promise you’re in for a brilliant night out.  I intend to take her advice and channel more of my inner Margo.  If that’s possible, dear Reader.  Got to dash, I’m in the middle of arguing with the Ocado man.  He’s substituted a bottle of Prosecco for my Bolly……….

"After 3, let's repeat after Margo......Awful"

“After 3, let’s repeat after Margo……Awful”

(On a rather more serious note, Roshi and her team coordinate refugee donations at Kos Kindness.  The work they do sees that essential items are shipped to Kos, Samos, Chios and Lesvos for direct distribution to the refugees arriving there daily.  If you can help by donating items, time or a bit of cash, then please get in touch with Roshi at roshihudson@yahoo.co.uk This is such an important cause – what Roshi and her team do really does help those in desperate need).

 

Hats off

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It’s not often that  I get completely obsessed by all things crafty as I am usually utterly hopeless at making anything look more than haphazardly homemade.  However, a couple of weeks ago, I delved into the art of millinery with the most spectacular lady, Rachel Drewer.  I can tell you, dear  Reader, I am already hooked on hat making.

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Secreted away amidst Hampshire farmland, Rachel has a wonderful little studio with oodles and oodles of fabrics, mannequins wearing glamourous creations and enough feathers to fashion her own aviary of birds!  Heaven.  A veritable sweetie shop for all you crafting folk.  With Rachel’s work featuring in British Vogue and Country Life no less, her creations are regular features on the racing circuit.  So it is not surprising that ladies are queuing up the farm track and beyond to have one of her bespoke designs and couture numbers.  Leaving behind a career in the city, Rachel studied millinery with some of the world’s finest designers, including those who have worked for Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel and the Duchess of Cambridge.

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When Rachel is not designing and creating the most stunning headpieces and hats, she also teaches millinery workshops.  So when she invited me to come and have a lesson, I made sure I was there with bells on, dear Reader!  Not only was there tea and cake, fabulous chat from the delightful Rachel (she is one of the most twinkly smiley people I have interviewed) but she also indulged my love of all things green and feathery.  A blissful morning spent in the company of a true artist.

Together (well I say together, I mostly scoffed cake), we created a headband with some feathers I had acquired.  Those of you who have seen my homemade roadkill pheasant fascinator, I promise I didn’t come by these green ones by running over anything exotic…..

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From creating a good shape to offset the feathers, sticking them in place…

IMG_2122to finally sewing the feathered piece on to a bespoke hairband and finishing with netting.

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The results were staggeringly good and with Rachel’s wonderful patience and teaching skills, I was thoroughly surprised at my efforts.  In fact, my new fascinator will be having its first outing for a family wedding in June.

Rachel runs a whole host of millinery workshops which teach feather techniques, millinery upcycling, introductions to hat making with sinamay, parasisal and silk flowers as well as specific focus on particular hat designs.  For those looking for their own personal workshop session, Rachel offers bespoke tuition which includes a one-to-one day with Rachel in her studio, tailored worksheet on methods, materials, and design tips, follow-up support and more.  I rather liked the sound of her millinery parties – the perfect hen weekend idea alongside a glass of fizz or two.

I am truly delighted with my beautiful bespoke headpiece, dear Reader and entirely indebted to Rachel and her guiding hand.  I am already chomping at the bit to pop back for more tea and cake as well as a chance to play with all the various hats in the studio – the stuff of dressing up dreams, dear Reader.  Not only is Rachel such a talent but I feel I have made a rather lovely and supremely talented new friend right on my doorstep too!  I can’t thank her enough for such a lovely morning, especially as she even let me dress her dear Frank in one of her stunning couture numbers.  Hats off all round, dear Reader!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)…..

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….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.

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

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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 real roasting

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With the days getting shorter and the mornings pitch black, I turn increasingly towards my little morning pick me up, dear  Reader.  A drop of hot, dark happiness to help ease me into the day.  When the school run frazzles me from top to toe, I am dripping wet from my dawn-chorused dog walk and I am buried under a mountain of work, it is my solace.  Coffee.  I can’t live without it.  Perhaps it’s because my dear Mamma hails from Brazil or the fact that I simply can’t function before 10am unless I’ve had my first cup of the dark stuff….whatever the reason, my mornings just wouldn’t be the same without it.

When we first moved from the Big Smoke where coffee houses were ten a penny, it was one of the things that I knew that I would miss the most.  I think that one of Primrose’s first outings was to meet NCT ladies and their babes over a mug of coffee, dear Reader!  Walking down the tow path and along to my favourite café, usually pushing a buggy or trying not to fall over a trike, it was part of my weekend/maternity leave/cheering myself up ritual.    That was until we moved to the wilds of rural Hampshire where the nearest café is a good 20 minutes away in the car.  Worried about my impending caffeine/coffee house withdrawal, Jerry gifted me a now much treasured possession……my little coffee machine.  None of the pod rubbish (sorry sorry sorry I really should apologise for my coffee machine fascism).  A proper grind your own beans, coffee damper, schwaaaaaah sounding number.  It remains the BEST present that Jerry has ever given me for  Christmas and other than the Everhot is the most used gadget in the kitchen.  So when Moonroast Coffee offered me a chance to learn more about what goes into my cup, I jumped straight into the car!  Coffee….on the doorstep….what could be better?!!

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Moonroast Coffee may have humble digs (for now…) but it comes with a seriously impressive list of coffee credentials.  Working in the heart of the Candover valley in Hampshire, Francis and Judy Bradshaw are the 4th generation of the Bradshaw family to be involved in the tea and coffee industry with Francis’ father, Haydon Bradshaw, one of Britain’s top coffee tasters, offering a consultant’s overview of Moonroast’s coffee journey.  Setting up in the back garden, Fran and Judy saw an opportunity to create an artisan roastery making small batch, slow roasted coffee with beans sourced from the best smallholders in the world.

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Juggling day jobs, Fran and Judy began roasting coffee beans at night with a roaster that was brought over neighbouring fields on a loader, installed in their large shed and Moonroast Coffee was born.  Very much a handcrafted business, Fran takes great care to create his own blends as well as crafting single origin coffees with their own roasting and flavour profile for retail as well as wholesale.  Believe me, dear Reader, this is so much more than your average cup of morning coffee!

Moonroast4The process is fascinating.  From green beans, a lighter shade of Puy lentil, to carefully monitored roasting in the roaster, all the way through to a ristretto or flat white!  The smell wafting through the shed was incredible as the beans were cooled to prevent any further roasting.  You could even hear the crackles coming from the roaster as the beans begin to take on their characteristic colour.

Ethiopian, Guatemalan, Sumatran…..I fear that my mornings may well now involve a good deal of indecision.  That and I am destined to become a coffee bore to anyone who will listen.  Fran gave me some fab tips too – always buy beans and grind them yourself.  Coffee beans stay fresher for marginally longer BUT check out the roasting date on the coffee label if there is one.  Coffee starts to lose its aromas and flavours the longer it is open to the elements.  Not a problem in this house as Jerry and I practically inhale the stuff daily.  Try different beans, single origins or blends.  Like vineyards and vines in the case of wine, beans grown on different soils (or as the winos like to say ‘terroir’) have a distinct and different flavour profile.  Blends, well they bring together different flavour characteristics of combined beans to bring together a distinctive taste too.  Citrus notes, floral ones, body, acidity – all these give the cup of coffee you like it’s own ‘je ne sais quoi’.  Diana Henry, award-winning food writer and all round fabulous foodie, explains the whole coffee code of conduct here, far more beautifully than I ever could.

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There’s an art to the perfect cup of coffee that is more than the foamy fern, heart or swan on the top.  Weighing out the right amount of beans, even the amount of pressure applied with the coffee damper is key.  Too compact and the water struggles to pass through the coffee, too loose and too much flavour is washed away.  Extracting the flavours is what the whole process is all about.

Moonroast2With all this in mind, I shall make sure that I take FAR more time over that first cup of coffee. After all, it’s the deliciously aromatic, wonderfully energising rocket fuel that powers my day.  Somehow it makes me much more able to deal with Primrose’s daily requests for a pony at 6am, Poppy covering herself head to toe in mud on her way from front door to car BEFORE drop off at nursery, chasing Monty across the fields yelling “IDIOT” after him and the awful realisation that I shall never manage to look anything but the essence of being dragged through a hedge backwards as I emergency exit the children, ‘drive-by shooting style’ from the moving car and into the arms of their teachers at the school gates.  Coffee.  I dread to think what I would be WITHOUT YOU.

A huge thanks to Fran, Judy and Rachel from Moonroast Coffee for taking pity on me in my hour of caffeine, creating some of the most delicious flat whites I’ve ever tasted and for letting me in on your wonderful roasting secrets.    Anyone who doesn’t try your coffee is seriously missing out.

Autumn’s arrival

Crab applesAutumn makes me unspeakably happy.  Cable knit cardigans, getting the fires going in the house, TIGHTS, boots, capes and ponchos, russet coloured leaves, sinking into an armchair with a good book and large cup of tea on a Sunday afternoon, stopping with Primrose and Poppy to pick delicious bounty from the hedgerows, TIGHTS, my brown brogues, windfall apples, scarves, long walks in breezy sunshine where the light filters through the trees in the woodland just so, Jerry in warm woolly jumpers, jams and jellies and did I mention TIGHTS, dear Reader?!  Lovely thick opaque tights.  All those wonderful autumnal things and more, seem to make my heart sing.  Even my hair behaves better in the autumn and suddenly rosy cheeks and constantly messy windswept red hair blend into a landscape tinged with the colours of the liquor in the jam pan, rather than stick out like a sore thumb.

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Autumn is almost the best time in the world to get into seasonal cookery.  Who needs more of an excuse to pop a stew into the bottom of the oven to slow cook or pick blackberries on a long walk?  Comfort food at its best.  With that in mind, I popped off to watch a new friend in action.  Everything about the lovely Cherie Denham from Flavour Passion screams foodie!  The first time I met her she rendered me speechless with scones lighter than air topped with lashings of her Blackberry jelly.  Winning me over with food is always a dead cert. for cementing a friendship.  She’s pretty good ‘craic’, as they say in her Irish homeland, too!

Trained at Leith’s School of Food and Wine, Cherie then became a teacher there, earning yet more culinary stripes with her own catering business and as a home economist consultant for none other than River Cottage’s Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall when River Cottage’s first cookbook hit the scene.  Now running a whole host of seasonal cookery demonstrations from her stunning countryside cottage, Cherie shows her guests how to create an array of dishes from original recipes that can be scaled up or down depending on the occasion and most importantly, shares her culinary hacks.  Easy canapés, crowd pleasing dishes, cosy autumn kitchen suppers, something a little more refined – this is cookery for those with busy lives who need tried and tested recipes that are a bit hit with everyone from the children to Saturday evening dinner party guests.  Jerry was in seventh heaven with the Slow Braised Spicy Chipotle Beef Cherie sent me home with………the whole plateful was snaffled in seconds.

Demonstrations seem to be THE thing when it comes to cooking these days and I can see the appeal.  This is the countryside’s Tupperware party for the 21st century, dear Reader but OH SO MUCH more glamourous and useful!  Rather like your best friend sharing all the secrets you’ve been dying for her to divulge for years.  All cooking abilities are welcome.  In fact, the guest list for Cherie’s demo was rather like a modern who’s who of Cluedo – was it the anaesthetist, the students off to university for their first year, the farmer’s wife, interior designer or godfather’s wife that nicked the last slice of Warm Lemony Treacle Tart….?  I wonder, dear  Reader.  Can’t blame them, it was seriously scrummy and I shall certainly be returning for more culinary inspiration when Cherie demos Christmas in November!

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Inspired by my amazing morning and immensely delicious dishes, my kitchen now looks more like a production line than farmhouse haven!  Elderberries, crab apples, quinces, herbs from the garden for drying – we’ve got it all going on in Margot’s Kitchen at the moment, dear Reader! The cottage is groaning under the weight of all the apples that seem to arrive by the carrier bag full and are left on the doorstep by lovely villagers.  With jams and jellies a go go, I’ve taken to trying a few new numbers with the apples too as I can’t bear to see them go to waste.  Crab apple vodka, windfall apple butter, hedgerow compote, fruit leathers for the girls and my favourite so far, apple crisps.  I haven’t even got round to picking the sloes yet but I must, before they are snapped up by the birds.  First frost is just far too long away to leave a batch of sloe gin to chance!

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If like me, your house is turning into an orchard quicker than you can say cider, then this will help turn a few of those appley beauties into something everyone can enjoy.  Here, just for you my dear Reader, is my recipe for Apple Crisps.

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Apple Crisps

1 or 2 apples, not cookers

sprinkling of cinnamon

greaseproof paper

Peel and core your apples, cutting out any maggoty bits if like me you’ve used a few windfalls.  Using a mandolin (the culinary version rather than musical), finely slice the apple so that you have rings or half rings depending on how many maggoty bits you’ve had to cut out.   You could do this with a knife but remember it does have to be paper thin slices.

Line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper and place apple slices on the paper.  You may have to line a couple of baking sheets depending on how many apples you have decided to use.  Sprinkle over the cinnamon.  NO SUGAR NEEDED.

Place in bottom of the Aga (in my case the ever faithful Everhot) or in a very low oven from anywhere from 2 hours or until you have achieved the level of crispness you would like.  Best to do this when you need to do some slow cooking as the oven will need to be on low (no more than 120 degrees Centigrade) for a while.  Keep checking the slices every now and again to make sure they are not burning.  You can choose to leave them until they are really crisp or simple dried out and still a bit chewy.  Lovely as an after school snack, crushed over yoghurt, stirred into vanilla ice cream – the choice is yours!

Happy autumn, dear Reader!  I’m off to buy some more tights……