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Cocktail Hour

You’ll have to forgive me, dear Reader.  I have been somewhat off the boil in blog terms of late. The last month and a bit has had many ups and downs, mostly house related and I have been burying my head in a good bit of writing to try and create a more pleasing chapter for the four of us.  Enter cocktail hour.  At just the right time.

If you follow me on Instagram you will know, dear Reader, that cocktails have featured rather heavily since Christmas.  It’s all strictly medicinal, I can assure you.  One of the most wonderful presents I have ever received was from Jerry’s grandparents who gifted me a little vintage Gordon’s Gin cocktail book from circa 1950s.  Not only does it list my favourites – old fashioned Gimlets, a recipe for ‘Gin Fizz’ but it also has the hilariously named Television Special with orange squash (slightly yuck) and White Lady which embraces that back of the booze cupboard lurker, Cointreau.  The ultimate for me though has to be the glorious ‘Gin and it’ which with one sip, I am transported to the drawing room at Home Place (from Elizabeth Jane Howard’s brilliant Cazalet Chronicles – I am totally obsessed with the books, dear Reader) where Edward or Hugh is preparing me a sharpener to sip in beaded evening dress, before dinner.  Best of all are the handwritten recipes in the back written by one of Jerry’s great-grandparents.  Truly the loveliest of gifts and I send G and G a huge kiss for thinking to pass it on to me, as I know they will be reading this.

With cocktail recipes well and truly tested at home, it was time to have a go at shaking up something new.  So it should come as no surprise to you, dear Reader, that I hotfooted my way to Winchester to enjoy an evening of cocktails as part of the fabulous Winchester Cocktail Week organised by the brilliant Cabinet Rooms.  A huge thanks to Gary and Marcus for the invitation – how could I refuse?!!  Also a special mention to my trusted chauffeur for the evening, my father in law, who drove across Hampshire to make sure that I didn’t have a Cinderella moment.

It has to be said that, a cocktail is really only as good as its ingredients.  So where best to start? Well, the ingredients of course and one of my favourite foragers, cooks and foodie wonders, Naked Jam.

Jen Williams is an artisan producer of award winning jams and conserves – her syrups, cordials and jams contain seasonal, local fruits or foraged ingredients with no artificial colours, flavourings, setting agents or preservatives.  Bottled beautiful bounty.  Jen is a fount of knowledge when it comes to the foraged flavours and it’s not for nothing that she’s been snapped up by Chewton Glen to run a unique course for The Kitchen, Chewton Glen’s new cookery school.

That evening, her gorgeous syrups and recipes included a cocktail with the autumnal mellowness of medlar syrup, a surprisingly drinkable chilli and balsamic number with vodka and the salty swirl of seaweed which produced a syrup that had depth, earthiness and just the right hint of the sea to add to the glass.  This was not cocktail making, dear Reader, this was sheer alcoholic alchemy. Jen knows just what will work and her lightness of touch in combining flavours needs to be tasted to be believed.  Inspired by her enthusiasm, I came away with some of her delicious velvety medlar syrup to recreate a little something at home.

It was a treat to meet the lovely Gin Monocle Company (an artisan mobile gin bar – gin on the move, what’s not to love?) who served up this rather unusual number – a Gin Fizzless – gin and ale together, rather a revelation that slipped down nicely and altogether too quickly.

The canapes created by Fiona Hill (Twitter – @realfoodnf) were to die for too.

My advice, dear Reader?  If you haven’t sampled the delights of Winchester Cocktail Week then you really ought to get it in the diary for next year.  With different venues all over the city, a veritable fountain of cocktails to be sipped and savoured, it’s a great week to explore Winchester’s emerging drinks’ scene.  Well done to the marvellous Cabinet Rooms‘ chaps!  Keep your eyes peeled for more events and insights into the city’s food and drink scene as they have also taken over the Art Café on Jewry Street in Winchester.  I can’t wait to see what they concoct next!

As for me, it’s Friday, dear Reader and very nearly time to get the cocktail shaker out……..  After all, it MUST be gin o’clock somewhere in the world.  I’ll draw the curtains and get the fire going, you pour the gin.  It would be rude not to join them, wouldn’t it dear Reader?!

Brief disclaimer – This does not constitute as encouragement of daytime drinking and Margot is in no way suggesting the reader has a few gins in the dark by his or herself before doing the school run.  Have them after you’ve picked up the children.

 

 

 

 

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.

Rock & Roam Launch Dinner (47 of 280)

Image courtesy of Rock & Roam

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

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

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Mothers

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

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

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

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

Happy Mother’s Day.

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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?