Tag Archives: bluebells

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.

Henny Pen

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.


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

Bluebells, birthdays and a touch of fever

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

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

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


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

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


A little wobble

A wibbly wobbly mess.....

A wibbly wobbly mess…..

Making a mad dash from London to Hampshire for a meeting at Primrose’s new school one evening last week, I had one precious hour in the car to contemplate life, the universe and new kitchens.  Having sold our house in the Big Smoke, we are waiting for solicitors to let us know when all is set with the new ‘cottage’.  Moving is tantalisingly close now yet still we are in limbo.  Patience I know, dear Reader, is required….  However, I am ready to get packing and start carving up kitchen cabinets and fitting an Everhot!  Bombing down the M3 with music blaring, I was lost in these very thoughts as I passed field upon field of glorious oil seed rape all sunshine and dayglow yellow in the evening light.

Turning off the motorway, driving through windy lanes and then up the long school driveway, I wondered what Primrose’s new school might have in store for me that evening.  Stepping into a room filled with exceptionally well turned out mummies, I quickly breathed a sigh of relief that I had decided to leave my Barbour in the car.  Thank goodness I had also dusted the cobwebs off my Portobello Market ‘Mulberry‘ handbag.  Where were the ladies in wellies and tweed?  This was, after all, a countryside school.  A sea of double barrelled surnames rather than shotguns….I felt cheated, dear Reader.  Talk turned to our relocation, choice of village and profession and I felt instantly sidelined – a ‘townie’ in their midst.  What was I doing?  I was never going to fit in in the countryside if these über-mums were anything to go by.  Everyone seemed to live within ten minutes of the school and they all knew each other in that rather annoying “Do you remember when little Johnny did such and such at the May day fair?“.  It was like being on the set of Mean Girls.  Where was the industrial sized gin when I needed it?!  Suddenly I could see that our school run of 25mins each way would probably result in no one wanting to come and play with Primrose after school.  Too late to do anything about it now though…..as we were about to exchange on our new house and Jerry was set on living a 15 minute drive away from the best commuter station.  I drove back to London and went straight to bed, convinced that moving to the countryside was all a massive mistake.

'Walking is Man's best medicine' - Hippocrates

‘Walking is Man’s best medicine’ – Hippocrates

To make matters worse, Primrose had her own wobble the following morning and decided that she wasn’t going to move.  Tears and wailing ensued and cries of “You and Daddy are very mean taking me from all my friends…”  Our usual morning chit-chat was replaced with sniffs and blowing of noses as I tried gallantly to save the situation and talk up the advantages of having a bigger garden.  Neither of us were convinced to be honest, dear Reader.  Nursery drop off completed (tears at the door for the first time), I armed myself with strong coffee and the advice of some very sweet friends and headed off to the park with Poppy and the pup.  Woodpeckers, bluebells, a serene herd of deer, giggly toddler and a happy hound…..amazing how a good walk and the sights and sounds of nature at its best can restore a troubled soul.  Just enjoying moments looking, listening and being able to marvel at all the things which somehow the hustle and bustle doesn’t allow time for.  The countryside makes you want to slow down, take stock and enjoy the simpler things in life, like a good walk.  With that mantra firmly in hand, I decided that I was not going to let a little wobble about moving stand in our way, nor the cast of Mean Schoolmums either!  Turned out that Primrose had had a change of heart too as she skipped out of the nursery doors with a drawing of our new house in Hampshire in her hand………and despite our little wobbles, we are both smiling about our new life in the countryside.

A little glimpse of how Primrose sees our future.

Primrose’s little glimpse into our future in the countryside!