Tag Archives: chickens

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.

Hens

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

A year on

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

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

Clucky cluck

Our feathered ladies and their hen chalet!

Our feathered ladies and their hen chalet!

With all the excitement of not having power for three days following the storm, I completely forgot to tell you about the latest additions to Margot’s brood, dear Reader.  Our first foray into feathers…….CHICKENS!!!!

Having bulldozed Jerry into the idea, aided and abetted by Primrose and Poppy, we somehow managed to find four little hens looking for a ‘good life’ too!  So off I popped in the car for the five mile drive to Alison, the ‘chicken lady’, who was a delight to meet and managed to show us all her cockerels and hens, despite suffering from a dreadful harvest injury having fallen from a ladder whilst picking apples.  Only in the countryside dear Reader…!  Primrose was fascinated by all the different sorts of chickens especially the Legbars and their blue eggs but most of all wanted to see Alison’s pony.  With the mention of vintage tractors too, I thought that Primrose might well adopt Alison and give her own mother the heave-ho!  Chickens, ponies, AND vintage tractors…….Primrose was in seventh heaven!  The whole ‘putting the chickens into a box’ malarkey was hilarious and we nearly lost the four of them in the wind when Primrose opened the crate and attempted to pick one up!  Finally in their cardboard box, I had visions of them escaping in the back of the Lanny as we made our way home along the country lanes….thankfully all was well and the Hampshire feathered four clucked away merrily,

SO without further ado dear Reader, I introduce to you our four clucky hybrid girls:

Primrose's plucky Pru

Primrose’s plucky Pru

Prudence (Pru for short) is Primrose’s hen and she is a Magpie.  The biggest hen by far and quite feisty too!  She was the first to lay on their second day with us and has already given us some beautiful double-yolked eggs.  A rather wonderful treat indeed!

Our little brown girl

Our little brown girl

Henny Penny (Poppy’s girl) is a very friendly little Columbian BlackTail and comes from the same breeder who breeds hens for Prince Charles’ Highgrove estate and Waitrose!  She is a poppet and really doesn’t mind the fact that she has to make do with our more rustic setting when all her little brown henny friends have gone to far grander surroundings.

Our green dotted lady

Dotty, my little hen, (a very nervous Cuckoo Speckledy) seems to be the primary escape artist and can often be found sitting on the roof of the hen house.  Dot evades all human touch for now but I am intent on winning her round with mealworms!

Our rock chick!

Our rock chick!

Finally, Layla, Jerry’s chicken (spot the attempt at a comedy name from Jerry) a beautiful looking Light Sussex.  So far she seems very shy and only ventures out when she spies a handful of corn being scattered.  She loves to cosy up in the nesting box.

With the hens settled and exploring their new surroundings, Jerry set about erecting the electric fence.  A much bigger job than Jerry and I expected.  I’m afraid that Jerry spent most of an afternoon in the rain cursing me for persuading him into an adventure with livestock.  To be fair to Jerry, I had tangled most of the netting and he spent an hour getting soaked to keep the hens safe at night from Mr Foxy Loxy.  To add to the drama, Monty got a little too acquainted with the fence at one point and has since given it and the chickens a very wide berth!!!

Look at those beauties!!!

Look at those beauties!!!

Two weeks in and the excitement of peeping into the nest box hasn’t waned.  Each day, Primrose, Poppy and I tiptoe to the coop to see if our feathered friends have left us any eggy offerings.  I have to say that even the hen’sceptic’ Jerry is mildly won over by the abundance of brown eggs!  Two a day so far and some HUGE eggs have appeared considering the hens are only 24 weeks old.  It is miraculous how they manage it!  Happy to report that I am now completely hen obsessed and spend most mornings (at the crack of dawn standing in the chicken run in my pyjamas, coat and wellies) trying to work out who has given us an egg and who is top of the pecking order.  I have also developed a rather serious habit for buying chicken paraphernalia……..well, would you expect anything less, dear Reader?  In fact, I am off to buy an egg run from my favourite haunt, Garden Trading, right this minute to display our ‘egg’cellent haul in the kitchen for all to see.

Our very first boiled eggs from our own hens! Perfect!

Our very first boiled egg from our own hens! Perfect!

A time for harvest

Ah autumn, there you are!

Ah autumn, there you are!

What a busy few weeks it has been!  Harvest celebrations, dinner parties in the village, Primrose’s birthday, her party complete with farm animals in our garden and a hilarious moment in the dark changing a Land Rover tyre with Jerry and one of the villagers……  I am definitely ready for a rest in the dark with a large gin and tonic, dear Reader!

Autumn is rushing around too it would seem!  Our little landscape is changing again and walks have become muddier and leaf-strewn.  Everywhere you look, you can see that the harvest has well and truly been brought in.  Gathering with all the villagers to celebrate the bounty in a neighbour’s barn, Jerry, Primrose, Poppy and I felt rather like we had stepped into ‘dreams of foregone times’ last week.  Hops hanging from the ceiling, checked tablecloths and wine flowing, homemade shepherd’s pies made by the ladies of the village (and of course, yours truly) as well as crumbles galore, the whole village sat together following the Sunday service to eat, drink and generally make merry!  A time honoured tradition, made even more special by the whole village singing “Happy Birthday” to Primrose.  Primrose was mortified, slumping further and further down her chair until she was almost under the table!  Poor love!  Mind you, Primrose wasn’t the only one to blush with embarrassment that day.  Asked by the village harvest committee to create a floral display for one of the church windows, I had no idea of the brief and ended up creating a rustic autumnal wreath to sit amongst a sea of really rather elegant blooms.  One villager called it ‘charming’.  I wondered if this was village vernacular was ‘a pile of old rubbish’.  However, I did at least manage to make it all from things in our garden and although it wasn’t the most beautiful tribute to the harvest in the church, it did have a bit of Margot charm.  Well, at least Jerry and the girls thought so!

IMG_0929

Let’s hope they don’t ask me to do anything for Christmas!

Best of all, was the amazing haul of vegetables we were given as we left the harvest lunch.  The village is awash with fantastic kitchen gardens, orchards and flower gardens.  I shall to have to up my game seriously for next year.  Squash, artichokes, potatoes, courgettes, purple and orange carrots….I could hardly carry my handbag as it was brimming with veg!  Dear Reader, I had no idea that pattypans really existed outside of Beatrix Potter but here they are..

I am not sure that this is the same pattypan that Duchess was worried about eating in the veal and ham pie!

I am not sure that this is the same pattypan that Duchess was worried about eating in the veal and ham pie though!  WHAT is a patty-pan?

From harvests and growing your own food……we even managed to parade (albeit briefly) as a smallholding for Primrose’s birthday party.  2 donkeys, 2 goats, 2 pigs, 2 sheep, 2 turkeys, 2 bantams, 2 call ducks, a mini colony of guinea pigs and rabbits and one extremely well behaved dog (note, dear Reader, that it was most certainly not Monty, who was kept inside for fear of him devouring a duck).  A veritable mini Noah’s Ark and all in OUR GARDEN!  A huge hit with children and grown ups alike.  I was happy to play farmer’s wife and it did get me thinking about how marvellous it might be to rear a pig next year when we are a little more settled.  Jerry nearly had a coronary when he heard the farmer who brought the livestock to the cottage, saying that he would happily give us the Kune Kune weaners he had brought that day.  Apparently they do make the most delicious sausages!  Considering that I have finally managed to persuade Jerry to let me have some chickens, I think that asking for a pig for Christmas might be a step too far.  For now, dear Reader, for now…….!

I suppose I shall have to make do with this little piggy!

I suppose I shall have to make do with this little piggy!

Spots, feathers and fowl!

Our indoory springtime!

Our indoory springtime!

Well what a week it has been!  Just when I thought that things were settling back down to normal, Primrose, after weeks and weeks of exposure at nursery, finally contracted chickenpox!  Spotty blisters all over her forced lockdown at the cottage and the girls and I tried to keep ourselves busy to help distract Primrose from feeling too itchy!  A whole week in quarantine was not easy and we were on the verge of madness on several occasions.  The girls and I painted, made egg box daffodils, constructed sets of Playmobil, baked and used a great deal of glitter and shiny sequins from Primrose’s Mister Maker box despite my innate control freakiness!  Most strange……we are never THAT crafty in our house!  Watching Primrose and Poppy playing really nicely together when they are usually at loggerheads over toys, I started to think that chickenpox had also delivered some sort of weird spell over the cottage.  It was at this moment that I had a brainwave….  Perhaps it was listening to too much of Bob the Builder’s mantra (brainwashing as Jerry likes to call it) of ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ or perhaps I was having one of those Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest kind of moments, BUT I suddenly decided to test out my upholstery skills.  I know, I know, dear Reader, upholstery skills!  This, coming from the woman who was flummaxed for an hour when trying to set up her sewing machine, the same woman who made sewing on name tapes look like a marathon.  To cut a long story short, my Chesterfield sofa has been losing feathers at an alarming rate and more than one dinner party guest has received an unwelcome pinch of the bottom so something had to be done and sooner rather than later!  The plan: to make a new inside cover to stop the feathers from spilling it.  A challenge but I thought that with my dear Mamma’s help, I might just be able to have a good go at it.  Apparently it is never a good idea to attempt such things unless one has experience……..

I promise no chickens, ducks or geese were harmed in the mending of this cushion!

I promise no chickens, ducks or geese were harmed in the mending of this cushion!

I don’t think that I have seen my lovely Mamma laugh for that long in some time!  I have to admit it was very funny, dear Reader.  The kitchen looked more like a chicken plucking factory than an upholsterers and at some point whilst I was sewing the seams on the new inside covers, my mother did question why I hadn’t paid the £80 to have them done professionally!  I blame the Great British Sewing Bee for encouraging one and all to sew……let’s face it some of us just do not cut the mustard!  A few hours later, some wonky lines of sewing courtesy of the machine (a bad workmen always blames his tools) and a lot of wheezing (turns out I had inhaled rather a lot of dander), my cushions were all sewn up and the cushions could go back on.  Mission accomplished but I do think that if they go again, I might just take them to the shop up the road to have them properly upholstered!  I can’t see the stitches holding for long…

Luckily for all at Margot and Jerry HQ, a phonecall from Barbara saved the house from further making do and mending inspired Margot moments!  An offer to save us from chickenpox chaos, swapping spots for real chickens, freshly baked scones, scrumptious kitchen suppers and a dose of good old countryside air!  Heaven!  Weekends with Tom, Barbara and their darling boy are as restorative as a delicious cup of tea…..made in a teapot of course.  (Barbara and I berrated Tom over breakfast for using a single teabag in a cup to make the morning brew – not at all the same!)  Having introduced us to her new brood of hens, a rather attractive set of ladies, Primrose, Poppy and I were talking of henkeeping all the way home, much to Jerry’s bemusement!  A wonderful way to end the Easter holidays.

Not a chickenpox spot in sight....

Not a poxy spot in sight….

Primrose firmly on the mend, it turns out that Poppy has now caught the pox….  Another week of quarantine but at least we have the prospect of our new little chap to keep us going.  Only another 3 more days until we bring him home!  (Not at all overexcited, dear Reader….)!

Our sweet little Monty...counting down the hours now!

Our sweet little Monty…counting down the hours now!

Chick chick chick

Chicken Licken

Chicken Licken – he’s a little on the ‘egg’centric side….

chicken…..Lay a little egg for me!  Primrose and I adore that silly ditty and were busy singing away when the phone rang and it was Barbara with news of  her 4 new Henny Pennies.  Very soon it will be eggs all round for their little corner of countryside when the weather warms up and the days start to get longer.  (Apparently chickens tend not to lay all that much in winter).  There is nothing that says living the good life more than keeping chickens!  Recounting Tom and Barbara’s news, I did suggest to Jerry that perhaps the perfect moving present for us would be a pair of hens.  Dear Reader, I am sure you can imagine what the response was.  It turns out that apparently, I will have enough on my plate with finding a house to move to and house training a new pup without adding chickens to the mix.  Jerry may have a point but I would hate to admit it….  I might just have to settle for booking myself on a henkeeping course with the lovely Sara Ward from Hen Corner who makes it her mission to spread the Good Life in the depths of urban living.  She really would give Tom and Barbara a run for their money!

With all this talk of chickens and eggs, Primrose turned her attentions and mine towards Easter and eggs of a certain chocolatey variety.  Images of fluffy chicks and daffodils have surrounded us suddenly despite the fact that spring seems to have mysteriously disappeared and we are still dressing for outings in the Arctic Circle.  Primrose has been somewhat perplexed by tales of the Easter Bunny and got very upset when a child at nursery school said that the bunny laid the eggs.  Primrose quite rightly pointed out that eggs and bunnies did not go together and from what I can tell, all dreams of Easter bunnies were dashed to pieces.  Oh dear!  After much cajoling, we settled on the Easter Chicken laying the eggs and the Easter Bunny fulfilling the Postman Pat SDS (Special Delivery Service) end of the role.  Fingers crossed, the Bunny has more luck than good old Pat does on his travels!  That postman is more calamitous than Margot and that’s saying something!  In a bid to while away the long hours endlessly waiting for spring, Primrose and I decided to create some special eggs of our own since we have no chickens to lay some for us (for the moment anyway).  Dear Reader, I have to confess that this quite un-Margotlike burst of craftiness was also prompted by Primrose’s sudden ability to sing all the various theme tunes from CBeebies cartoons off by heart……

How to make your own Chocolate eggs

So here’s how you do it!  We used the most beautiful pastel shaded eggs laid by lovely feathery ladies of the Cotswold Legbars variety from Clarence Court eggs (@ClarenceCourt).  They were really rather gorgeous to look at.

Oooh such pretty eggs!

Oooh such pretty eggs!

1. Pierce the egg with a needle and then carefully peel a tiny bit if shell away so you have a small opening.  Use a chopstick or other long thin object (knitting needle, skewer etc) to burst the yolk and allow egg to drain away into a container.  (Afterwards, we indulged in glorious scrambled eggs and smoked salmon with delicious discarded yolks and whites…waste not, want not)!

2. Once all the egg has drained away, wash the shell inside and out with hot water to make sure that all traces of raw egg have been banished.  Leave the egg to dry ensuring that air can get into the inside so it dries thoroughly.

3. Decorate your egg once dryPrimrose and I used watercolours but you could use poster paints.  Use an egg cup to keep your egg steady as you paint. 

(I must warn you – keep it simple and don’t get carried away with lavish designs if you are utterly useless at painting as I am.  Primrose is so very arty and thoroughly admonished all my efforts.  Apparently, what I thought was a reasonable attempt at a chick was more like a duck)!

A dead ringer for Faberge...don't you think, dear Reader?

A dead ringer for Faberge…don’t you think, dear Reader?

4. Melt the chocolate.  One can do this the traditional bain-marie way (bowl over pan of hot water or use a double saucepan) or melt it in a bowl in the microwave.  If you are using the microwave method, be careful not to scorch the chocolate.  Check and stir at intervals. (I must warn you that filling the eggs takes a fair bit of chocolate so make sure you have at least a few hundred gram bars to hand)

5. Once the chocolate is melted, then spoon it into a piping bag.  Alternatively, I use a small freezer bag (use one corner, spoon choc into the corner and snip the very end of the corner off et voilà, a homemade piping bag).  Working with chocolate is a messy business and I can never be bothered to wash out piping bags!

6. Pipe the chocolate into the egg shell carefully and fill to the top.  It takes a little bit of time so be patient.  Finish with a blob of chocolate to seal the hole and leave to stand in the egg box in the fridge.

7. Once the chocolate has solidified, turn the eggs in the box so that the hole is on the bottom (and noone can see it!).

And there you have it, REAL eggs filled with chocolate.  I can promise you one thing, dear Reader, almost anyone you give these to won’t fail to be impressed and will think that you have worked slavishly on these ‘eggs’elent creations (sorry!).  Primrose and I were pretty pleased with our efforts despite my inferior painting skills and will definitely be making some more in time for our traditional Easter egg hunt.  Poppy was happy to join in too and glancing over to the kitchen table, I can tell you, dear Reader, that she is well and truly busy with one of the most important parts of the whole operation – scoffing the leftover melted chocolate from the bowl!

Happy Easter chickens!

Happy Easter chickens!