Category Archives: The Old Cottage

Ring out the old

Dear Reader, 2016 may have had its ups and downs but here at Margot and Jerry HQ there has been plenty of fun, frolics and feasting and much to be thankful for.  Primrose asked me earlier what my best thing of the whole year has been and honestly, dear Reader, I couldn’t pick one particular thing.  2016 has been the year of piddling pups

piggies (Huff, Puff and Snuff)

then there was Provence

and Potter (of the Beatrix kind).

Not forgetting plenty of beautiful views……dear Reader, better ones you’d be hard pushed to find.

Little shoes joined big ones for the first time at school

(Disclaimer – not in shoes below – Poppy’s not THAT small.  I just couldn’t resist adding this picture from a few years ago when Poppy got her first proper pair of shoes, dear Reader. How time has flown)

and wiping away tears, Margot tried not to lose her cool.

Long held ambitions were conquered and even bigger plans made

not least selling the old cottage where our country foundations were laid.

With dogs and cats each up to two and hens now a four,

you may be wondering dear Reader, in 2017 can there really be more?

With Jerry’s patience reaching its peak, I’d be wise, dear Reader, of no more animals to speak.

So Christmas over, it’s time to bid 2016 adieu

Let’s ring out the old year and welcome in the new.

Apologies for the AWFUL rhyme dear Reader – Jerry tells me I must try harder next time.  A very heartfelt thank you to all you faithful followers for reading, commenting, following on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.  Jerry is always very pleased when someone informs him what they’ve read on the blog or in my columns as in his words, he’s always “the last to know”.

Happy New Year to you and yours – may 2017 bring you all you desire and dream of, plus the standard gin accompaniment.  Over and out, dear Reader.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baby it’s cold outside

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Lights are going up, the radio is booming out the first of many festive repeats, the aroma of fir is in the air.  I’m resisting the urge to use the ‘C’ word, dear Reader.  I simply can’t even think about all things festive just yet.  With no news on the house front, deadlines, the end of term looming and Poppy’s birthday very firmly on the horizon (she wakes every morning with a countdown of days until the big 5), my mind rather resembles the inside of the Old Curiosity Shop at the moment.  Too much to do and so little time.

Everywhere I turn of late, we seem to be being encouraged to embrace a perfectly Danish feeling of ‘hygge’.  Well…who doesn’t love the idea of curling up in a chair with a good book in front of the fire, dear Reader?  However, I can’t help but wonder if, for me, it’s not so much the cosiness of woollen blankets and steaming mugs of hot chocolate that I need to be encouraged to find, but more a sense of remembering to take time to stop and simply enjoy things.  This will be our last Christmas in the cottage.  That is a strange prospect in itself when the future seems so uncertain.  I hate not having a plan!  Maybe it’s fate’s way of slowing me down, dear Reader.  Maybe it’s alright for life to be on hold?  With the button firmly on pause, once the rush to get ready for Christmas is over, maybe I will stop and appreciate all the things which are really important.

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Long walks drinking in the views, cooking together, roaring fires, good books, reading to my girls, giggly chats over a glass of red with a good friend, holding hands with Jerry and remembering to moan less and appreciate my lot a lot more – all the things which seem to be easily brushed aside in the full steam ahead of Christmas.  Simple pleasures, dear Reader.

I’d better focus otherwise I am in danger of seeping into Boden catalogue territory at this rate.  So now that the weather has finally taking a turn for the frostier and December is on its way, I’ll be trying to find some my own hygge both inside and out.  Once I’ve stopped furiously tidying for viewings, of course.  Amazing what you can shove in the dishwasher when you’re in hurry to hide things, dear Reader.

The following ‘cosy’ finds seem a very good place to start.

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Cold hands, warm heart.  The perfect warm mittens from Hygge and Fur will make sure that the only ice I encounter will be clinking in my G&T.  You can find all sorts to keep you warm this winter on Hygge and Fur‘s site which recently featured in House and Garden, including a rather lovely pom pom bobble hat I’ve got my eye on.

Walking the dogs this time of year always leaves me wondering if I’ve left my toes behind at home.  Enter The Warm Welly Co – a chance find on Twitter which has literally transformed frosty walks for me.  The Warm Welly Co produce neoprene-lined wellies for both adults and children that don’t cost the earth and will keep your feet warm and dry, even when you’re still chasing down a runaway spaniel after an hour in the woods.  FACT.  I love that this fab company was started really by accident by a family of farmers in Cumbria who needed warm wellies to keep the children’s toes warm and toasty during lambing.  Father Christmas will be delivering a couple of pairs for Poppy and Primrose this year too.

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Some of you will know that I’ve been working really hard on a slightly longer project which I hope to be able to share with you soon.  So alongside the obligatory large mug of tea on wintry mornings (and late evenings) at the writing desk, I’ve been donning these beautiful cashmere fingerless gloves (Fagin style) from Turtle Doves. Photo evidence below shows that I have loved them so much that I’ve already covered the label with a leaky pen incident…..literally I’ve slept in them since they arrived, dear Reader. One of the loveliest things about Kate Holbrook’s Shropshire based company, Turtle Doves is that their British design and manufacturing ethos focuses on using textile waste to create beautiful new handmade garments and accessories.  So ALL of their products are made from recycled cashmere and they collect cashmere from charity shops, textile merchants and even offer a ‘free gloves in exchange for your jumper’ service.   What’s not to love about that, dear Reader?  Gorgeous items galore on their site, all fit for under the Christmas tree.

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I can’t take the credit for this next find but it is probably my favourite ‘hygge’ item this winter. Anyone who knows me well, knows that when I’m not writing (or chasing after small children and/or spaniels), I can usually be found reading.  My marvellous friend Florence introduced me to this one – Florence has an amazing knack for always being able to source the perfect gift.  Her site, Blue Bowl, is an utter treasure trove of present heaven, ideal if you’re in search of something for that ‘hard to buy for’ person on your Christmas list. (Florence recently shared new children’s subscription, Scoop with Primrose, a monthly magazine aimed at little book worms aged 8 and up which is SOOOOO much better than what the newsagent has to offer for this age group – needless to say it was right up Primrose’s street). Margot’s bookish find this winter?  Slightly Foxed, a beautifully put together literary quarterly publication which marries great writing from celebrated authors and passionate book lovers in equal measure.  Having recently devoured all five books in Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet chronicles, I have been in dire need of new reading material and I love that Slightly Foxed’s issues reveal a whole host of titles, interesting and sometimes long forgotten just waiting to be discovered or reread in an age of pulp fiction.  This is the London Review of Books for fireside book worms – unadulterated bookish pleasure on every page and almost certain joy for those of us who love the gems to be found in the hallowed spaces of independent bookshops old and new and cosy libraries.  The specially commissioned covers on each issue are a delight in themselves.  A subscription to Slightly Foxed is definitely top of my Christmas list, dear Reader.  Thank you to Jennie for the bountiful bookish ‘hygge’ delivered by the postman – it is not often he gets a whoop!

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Their collection of Slightly Foxed Editions make wonderful gifts too – utterly unique.  Ysenda Maxtone Graham’s Terms and Conditions, recently reviewed in the hallowed pages of Country Life, had me in stitches.  A must for those who have experienced life as a boarder.

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Last but by no means least, the perfect accompaniment to simple pleasures.  Gin.  Of course, I’ll be needing something to sip as I read by the fire, dear Reader and I think I’ve stumbled upon just the thing.  Thank you to the lovely Jane Devonshire for introducing me to Andy from Hampshire’s Gorilla Spirits whose Silverback Gin with No9 Cardamon tonic is simply perfect for a large G&T. With a base of British wheat spirit and warm spices and notes of sweet orange, coriander, acacia blossom and lemongrass, it is a remarkably moreish number.  £1 from each bottle also goes towards supporting The Gorilla Organization which works at the very forefront of gorilla conservation in Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo.  I am hoping that Father Christmas remembers to leave a bottle of Silverback Gin under the tree this year.

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Now it’s over to you, dear Reader.  There’s a frost on the ground, a jingle of bells in the air and smoke wisps curling from the chimney pot.  What will your simple pleasures be this winter?

A little bit of news

autumn-2015Well autumn is in full swing and you are probably wondering if I have dropped off the edge of the planet as it’s been SOOOOOO long since I penned you a little note, dear Reader.  In truth, I have been plucking up the courage to write this one for some time and then with all that’s happened over the last month, I simply haven’t had a spare moment to tell you.

So let’s start at the very beginning, shall we?  Huff, Puff and Snuff made their final journey – a sad but happy day for all of us.

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I never cease to be amazed at how well Poppy and Primrose deal with abattoir day.  Far better than I do for a start.  I feel wonderfully relieved that my haphazard hobby farming over the last three years hasn’t resulted in them being put off meat for life.  Quite the opposite, dear Reader, they love being a part of it all, caring for the animals until D-day and knowing where the food on their plate comes from.  So thanks to Puff, roast pork on that first Sunday was truly delicious and made Primrose’s 8th birthday lunch all the more special.

Yes, dear Reader, our dear little Primrose turned 8 at the beginning of this month.  Where does the time go I wonder?  Anyone wanting to give a group of 7/8 year olds a fun birthday treat (as well as the inevitable sugar rush…..and believe me it was epic) should give Chocolate Craft in Alresford a ring.

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Vats of tempered chocolate and 8 children are seriously seriously entertaining when mixed together.  Best birthday party I’ve sorted out in years and the children all went home with a mountain of chocolate – much appreciated by their mums and dads!

Before all of that, there was Poppy’s first day at school.  Not a moment too soon as far as she was concerned.  Talk about wishing her life away!  Her school bag was packed the first day of the summer holidays.  Inevitably, the house is much quieter without both the girls during the day and the dogs wait patiently for their playmates to return home.  However, I am busying myself with rather a large project and I feel that although this is the end of an era, a new chapter is heading my way in more ways than one.

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And then Dora turned one.  Still pretty half pint-sized for a spaniel but rather more grown up these days.  Sweet and mad in equal measure but always utterly adorable Isadora.  Even Monty has succumbed to her charms.

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However I digress dear Reader.  The bit of news I really wanted to share with you has been rather harder to pop into words than I thought.  Not least because it was not an easy decision for the four of us to make.

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After 3 years of living in our cosy cottage and settling into village life, we’ve decided that the time has come for pastures new and the house is on the market.  At this point in time, the future seems a little uncertain but rest assured dear Reader, we won’t be going too far.  In fact, we wouldn’t think of leaving the countryside we have come to know and love.  Dare I say it….we are looking for a farm perhaps?   Jerry is already resigned to the fact that his life from now on will feature rather more animals than he ever imagined when we married.  Poor chap.  I keep reminding him of all the bacon sandwiches he has enjoyed in that time…..

I hope you’ll wish us luck, keep all fingers and toes crossed and bear with me over the next few months as we search for a new home and try to find a new owner for our little cottage.  I’m already looking forward to setting up camp at a new Margot and Jerry HQ.  That’s if keeping the cottage as a ‘show home’ doesn’t kill me before then, dear Reader……

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Land girl

You’ll be pleased to hear that I’ve been swotting up on the good life this month, dear Reader.  As most of you will know, when we first moved here in summer 2013, it marked the beginning of a new life for the four of us – turning our back on the urban sprawl and learning the ways of the countryside.  In fact it was the view above of one of the cottage’s neighbouring fields which convinced us to move.  For a couple of beginners like Jerry and I, the prospect of living the good life was more than a little daunting.  Yet here we are, nearly three years down the line and we’ve raised orphan lambs, adopted a Large Black called Cumberland and an elderly pony named Willow, taken on hens and now have a share in three little piglets, Huff, Puff and Snuff.  We never intended to grow such a menagerie – it just sort of happened.  I often wonder if our friends ever thought that we would turn out to be this animal mad when we left the Big Smoke.

I suppose you could say that it was all Country Living’s fault.  Almost as soon as we had moved in, I stumbled on a series the magazine had commissioned on Walnuts Farm and its owners Nick and Bella Ivins.  Charting life as a family run smallholding, it gave an insight into how the bucolic pastoral idyll we had always dreamed of could be achieved.  I say we, dear  Reader.  Anyone who knows us well will certainly agree that Jerry never pictured washing down a sheep’s backside in his idyllic rural scene.  Country Living’s series on Walnuts Farm shared Nick and Bella’s growing your own tips, how-tos for those brave enough to give livestock a go and many a delicious recipe using hedgerow fodder.  Nick and Bella painted a wonderful portrait of smallholder life and made it seem somehow achievable on a small scale for a pair of Londoners seriously lacking in green fingers.

Imagine my joy, dear Reader, when Nick and Bella announced that there was to be a book to follow the series.  The New Homesteader was an eagerly awaited parcel – thank you to Nick and Bella for the fabulous gift and for the invaluable tweets and replies on caring for lambs, pigs etc when we got a bit stuck.  I very nearly bit the postman’s hand off to rip open the jiffy bag and devour the contents!

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The book doesn’t disappoint.  It is a wonderfully put together tome of self-sufficiency and learning to live the good life.  Leaving the city behind and relocating to Walnuts Farm ten years ago, Nick and Bella have embraced becoming smallholders with their daughters Flora and Peggy, making it work for them and fit in with family life, rather than being slaves to the land.

Their book offers practical advice on a plethora of ‘good lifer’ topics (accompanied by Nick’s beautiful photography) from yoghurt and butter making… Homesteader to the benefits of planting wild flower meadows…

Homesteader2keeping pigs and hens, planning an orchard and getting started in the kitchen garden.  Nick and Bella’s aim with The New Homesteader is to inspire others to give modern homesteading a go whether it’s in the countryside, city or suburbs.  You might not be able to keep pigs in a courtyard garden in South West London but you can grow fruit and veg in pots or try your hand at making your own butter (not as difficult as you may think).  Honestly, dear Reader, even if you have no desire to up sticks for a rural living, I challenge you not to fall in love with the wonderful pictures and story which Nick and Bell tell in The New Homesteader.  It’s a rare treat and the perfect read for those who yearn for a slice of the good life.  The pictures of their delightful home will have you on Pinterest seeking to recreate their country chic in a jiffy!

Taking yet another leaf out of Nick and Bella’s book, Jerry and I have turned all land girl on our little plot (I’ve been channelling victory rolls and khaki cropped dungarees) this spring.  Jerry looks wonderful in a head scarf and pinny…..  He’ll kill me for telling such fibs.  With our veg patch sowings underway, we’ve planted our own wildflower meadow in a patch of long grass bordering the driveway and taken to some guerrilla sowing on our verges too.  We used seeds from a fab little company called Seedball  – thank you so much chaps for sending us a selection of your marvellous seed tins.  We’ve already ordered a few more tins!  The Seedball seeds couldn’t be easier to sow.  Each Seedball tin comes with seeds, compost and a little chilli to put off the birds all rolled in together so that the seeds have the best chance of growing.

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Growing your own wildflower patch is as simple as throwing the seedballs onto the area which you’d like the wildflowers to grow, watering a little and then waiting for them to pop up.  Perfect for the more erratic gardener like me…..  I can’t wait to try the Herb and Tea seed mixes.  Not blessed with acres of kitchen garden, I shall be popping those in a container near the kitchen window.  Now’s the perfect time to sow and you don’t need a huge garden to scatter a few seeds.  The bees will love you forever and you never know, it could be the start of your very own smallholding, dear Reader.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Marvellous marmalade

 

snowOn a cold and frosty morning with a touch of the white stuff just kissing the ground, there is nothing better than a large pot of tea on the kitchen table and the delicate fragrance of oranges wafting through the house.  Cold days were meant for making marmalade.  The end of January and the appearance of Seville oranges simply cannot be a mere coincidence (there seems to be no reasonable logic as to why we don’t have them in the summer but somehow we don’t).  Those beautiful sunshine orbs of culinary delight were designed to bring joy to even the gloomiest of January days.  After an awful week of writer’s malaise and then being struck down with the worst case of tonsillitis I think I’ve ever had, I certainly needed their orangey cheeriness to tempt me back into the kitchen.

marmaladeWe are huge fans of marmalade at Margot and Jerry HQ.  Marmalade on toast, marmalade in cakes, marmalade on ham……  I think that perhaps we have smeared it on almost everything, hence we are down to the last pot from last year’s marmalade marathon.

It would seem that we are not alone either with our love of dear old Paddington’s preferred preserve either.  Did you know dear Reader, that each year in Cumbria, the World Marmalade Awards are held, with entries flying in from all over the place?  Staggering, isn’t it?  One day, I may even be brave enough to bubble wrap one of my attempts and enter the Amateur categories just for a bit of fun!  I can only imagine that it is every bit as fierce as our annual village show where the judging is tighter than a sprinter’s jock strap and entries receive short and to the point critiques, next to their tiny tasting spoons.

With so many marmalade recipes out there (believe me half the village swear that their family recipe is the best), the key is to find one that works for you.  Something tried and tested and easy in my case!  I use the wonderful Pam Corbin’s (River Cottage preserving queen) ‘whole fruit’ method – so simple to follow and has marmalade made in an afternoon.  Always keen to turn my hand to a bit of a kitchen experiment though, this year I thought I might tamper with the recipe a bit and add some ‘alternative’ flavours of my own to enhance the zestiness of the Seville oranges.

Marmalade2

First up, a lavender marmalade using culinary lavender from Hampshire lavender farm, Long Barn in Alresford.  Adding the lavender at the end of the marmalade cooking stage is the key – too much and the results will end up tasting rather like a zingy pot pourri!  You have been warned, dear Reader!  A teaspoon of culinary lavender between 3 small jars of marmalade is plenty –  tiny flecks of purply blue peeking out between the shreds when you look at the jar.  A good spoonful of the lavender marmalade added to a simple madeira loaf cake recipe or classic Victoria sponge mix is pure afternoon magic with a cup of Lady Grey.

marmalade cake

Running out of Sevilles, I thought that I might try ‘marmalading’ some of Jerry’s other seasonal favourites, blood oranges.  Using the same ‘whole fruit method’ and simply swapping the Sevilles for blood oranges, I then added a little something special when the marmalade had completed its unctuous molten lava simmering stage.   GIN!  Well, if you can have whisky marmalade, dear Reader, then why not gin marmalade….?  As you know, gin is never too far from my thoughts.

Twisted noseChoosing a local favourite (lovely Twisted Nose gin who I’ve told you about before, dear Reader), I added 3 tsp of gin for each medium sized jar and stirred through before popping into jars.  The gorgeous pink grapefruit notes of the gin really went well with the blood orange overall flavour of this batch of marmalade.  Not a buttery toast sort of marmalade (gin at the breakfast table being frowned upon by most, dear Reader…) but a brilliant little number for using as a glaze.  Something I tested out with my latest recipe.

Sticky marmalade pork

Sticky marmalade pork (Serves 4)

6 thick cut pork belly slices

2 tbsp. blood orange gin marmalade

3 tbsp. dark muscovado sugar

a small pinch of mustard powder

juice of half a lemon

4 star anise

salt and pepper

Begin by preheating the oven to 220 degrees Centigrade/ gas mark 7/ 425F.

Pat the pork slices dry and place them in a large ovenproof dish – season with salt and pepper.  In a bowl, mix the marmalade, sugar, mustard powder and lemon together.

Spoon the mixture over the pork belly and coat the slices on both sides before sliding the star anise between the slices.

Place in the oven for around 40 minutes.  Keep checking the pork and basting with the sauce regularly.  After 40 minutes, the pork should have crispy edges and a slightly charred, barbecue look.

Sticky, messy, sweet and savoury – something a little different from the usual marmalade on toast.  Served with a red cabbage and carrot coleslaw with a mustard and cider vinegar dressing, it’s the perfect supper to drive away any wintry blues and any lingering tonsillitis….

Before I sign off dear Reader, just to say that I shall be talking all things marmalade with the lovely Georgie on BBC Radio Solent’s programme The Good Life on Sunday 1st February just after 1pm – do tune in.  Pretty please.