Never have I felt the juxtaposition of town and country more acutely than a recent weekend dash to New York and back for a dear family member’s wedding. Saying goodbye to straw bales on the school run and green fields (plus two small girls) to be greeted by cabs honking, neon lights flashing and the whoosh of urban living was a far more epic contrast from our every day life than I could ever have imagined. Continue reading
I left you last week, dear Reader, with a half finished kitchen and a long list of camping stove menus. Things could only get better from that point on….or so I thought. However, when darkness fell upon the house (for the second time) as our builders drilled a hole through our electrics, I wondered how I would manage in the glow of camping stove gas and candlelight. With one wall (new plaster, paint and all) smashed into to find the possible errant screw, the builders prompted left saying that there was nothing they could do until the electrician could come back in 2 days time. Not ideal. Being of the non-confrontational sort, I smiled and said with a slightly jumpy giggle “You can’t leave me like this with 2 small children.” “Well it’s not like we are leaving you with dangerous electrics – the trip switch will just pop loudly if anything else blows”, was the answer. Reassuring, dear Reader. In the light (no pun intended, believe me) of our newest drama, I set off to our local farm shop café in search of sustenance, warmth and illumination for the girls. To be honest, I was determined to find a meal for Primrose and Poppy that wasn’t something along the beans, lentils, chickpeas, chicken, stew or anything cooked on the camping stove front as moaning had reached fever pitch. We arrived in the hopes of finding a homemade steak and ale pie, only to find that they had stopped serving food ten minutes before we arrived. Disaster. With a VERY disgruntled Primrose who reprimanded me for not knowing the opening times of the café off by heart, we returned to cook….yes you guessed it…more chicken. Chicken, chicken, chicken…..if we eat any more of it, I shall consider taking up residence in the hen house permanently. Continue reading
I have to say, dear Reader, that I have been really suffering from Christmas malaise this year. Our first countryside Christmas and I am not quite ready to be Christmassy just yet! I AM excited but there just seems so much to get through before the 25th that pretty soon, I shall be ready to flop by the fire with a bottle of sloe gin and not surface until New Year’s eve!
Desperately trying to be organised, I did manage to get to our local farm shop’s ‘Christmas Fayre’ and it didn’t disappoint! Hung turkeys, oodles of Christmas gifts, mulled wine and mince pies…..Christmas on a platter! Newlyns Farm Shop did a jolly good job of twisting my Christmas arm and I stocked up on the essentials: meat, wine, panettone and Gentleman’s Relish! There were gifts a plenty to buy too so no family member will be without something foodie in their stocking this year. A wonderful way to start the festive season. Jerry and I enjoyed being plied with mulled wine and mince pies immensely! The Christmas feast on the day itself has its festive centrepiece as Jerry and I finally persuaded Primrose that Christmas goose is much like ‘posh chicken’. (She stills remembers me tricking her into eating Jemima Puddleduck). Rather nonchalantly, she did ask if we would be slaughtering one of our own chickens for lunch – frightening how she has become more ‘countrified’ than the rest of us so quickly! So with Primrose’s help, I shall trek over to the farm shop on Christmas Eve to pick up our bird and try to hide it from Monty’s ravenous jaws when I get home.
Don’t worry, Monty certainly won’t be going without – thanks to the lovely farm shop butchers! He will have his own Christmas gnawfest with this little number…
With festive fayre in the bag so to speak, I could turn my attentions to the buying of presents. Don’t tell anyone, dear Reader but I am afraid that I might not be able to give some of the presents I have bought to their intended recipients as they are simply too fabulous to give away. I know, I know……Christmas is ALL about the giving of presents and not the receiving part. However, I might have to sneak this little kindling set at the very back under the tree and hope that no one notices it. I would so dearly like to keep it!
With a huge dent made into the long list of preparations, surely dear Reader, it wouldn’t be amiss to treat myself to an early festive tipple or two?! I have been a good Margot after all…..promise.
(The lovely Countrywives have very kindly invited me into their country coven and I shall be adding my favourite Christmas recipes over on their website each week – do come over and take a look if you have a mo)
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:
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!
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.
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!
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!!!
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.
Harvest is here and the village and hedgerows are laden with sumptuous treats! Apples are everywhere and almost every villager has offered us some of the bountiful produce! Our dear new neighbours, the Worthingtons have an orchard the other side of the fence which is truly to die for and what is more dear Reader, is that they have said that we can pick apples until we drop! I have, of course, taken them up on that offer. Oooh I am already planning endless crumbles, tarte tatins, jellies, apple butters, chutney……delicious….and it is not even National Apple Day (21st October).
Armed with an apple picker, Primrose, Poppy and I spent a glorious afternoon gathering apples and learning all about old English varieties of cookers and eaters. Mrs Worthington is now known as ‘apple lady’ according to Poppy. Trampling in and amongst the apple trees, I was reminded of why we moved to the countryside in the first place – a desire to lead a simpler life. Well, Margot’s idea of a simpler life at any rate! There will be no knitting of yoghurt here! On a sunny day in September, it was heavenly to watch my own dear dots scrambling through the apple boughs and munching on their treasured finds. At that moment, I could honestly not imagine anything better! My mind is now full of ideas of growing my own mini orchard once we have tackled the jungle that is the garden. Perhaps it was the talk of cider that got me thinking about my own apples and the need for an apple press?
With our baskets laden, we skipped home to cook an apple cake. I know what you are thinking, dear Reader….MARGOT DOES NOT MAKE CAKES. This is true. However, the girls called for cake and I was desperate to use my new gadget. All hail the miraculous apple peeler and thank the Lord for Nigel Slater who has a really easy cake recipe which even this baking criminal can manage!
Girls merrily scoffing cake, I had time to panic about the annual village Harvest lunch. The form is that everyone makes something for the table and I have been asked to prepare a shepherd’s pie. Nothing too extraordinary about that – shepherd’s pie is shepherd’s pie. Well I think it is at any rate but you never know, the village might have an ancient pie tradition which I haven’t discovered as yet. The real anxiety, resting pie issues to one side, is that in addition to the culinary part comes a request for a harvest floral display for the village church. Oh dear! I have been frantically researching autumn displays and wreaths for days now and I am still none the wiser. Where is a local florist when you need one? Do they not realise that I am townie and know nothing of arranging flowers? At this rate, I might just have to hang apples from the church ceiling in a decorative fashion…….apple bobbing anyone?!
Last week, I received a rather wonderful countryside accessory from the lovely people at Garden Trading – a compost bucket. Not just any compost bucket but a beautiful specimen in the perfect colour to match my new country kitchen. Never one to shy away from a challenge, this started a whole lot of kitchen and garden thinking in the Margot household! We have never had the space, time or inclination to think about creating our own compost heap but, coincidentally, it turns out that our ramshackle garden at the new cottage has not one but two compost heaps. So, it would seem that the compost bucket has arrived at just the right time!
Composting is, of course, the most environmentally friendly way of recycling your kitchen and garden waste, not to mention the best way to get wonderfully enriched soil for the garden. Although most won’t have the space for a compost heap of their own, it would appear that kitchen waste recycling is on the up in the Big Smoke as its inhabitants try to do their little bit for the planet. With the likes of Zac Goldsmith championing the ‘Go Green’ mantra, it would seem that recycling has become terribly fashionable dear Reader! Even here in our little corner of suburbia, I was surprised to find out that the local council provides a caddy which one can use to deposit kitchen waste and it is collected alongside the ordinary rubbish – incredibly simple even for the laziest amongst us and cuts down the number of full to bursting black bags each week. Guaranteed to earn one a place at Zac’s supper party table! With that in mind, I thought old Margot should give it a go and make a start with a little bit of recycling – rubber gloves at the ready!
Visions of raking through the bin trying to pick out the bits that could be composted, have always put me off doing this in the past. I hadn’t a clue of where to start with the whole composting lark! According to the garden gurus, the first job is to know what can go into a compost bin (apparently wayward children and bitey puppies cannot be composted…). So, just for you, dear Reader, here is what can be thrown on the heap!
Kitchen waste – coffee grounds, tea leaves, tea bags (cut into them to help break them down), vegetable and fruit peelings/scraps. NO meat, cooked veg or dairy products.
Green garden waste – grass clippings, prunings, fallen leaves (that sort of thing). You can add stinging nettles to your heap to add extra nutrients apparently.
Some top tips for getting started on Garden Trading’s blog and the Recycle Now website has a great step by step guide to the perfect heap here. Not ready for that quite yet but I am pleased to report, dear Reader, that I have been dutifully using my new bucket to recycle our kitchen waste. I added a bit of newspaper to the inner removable liner so that the sludgier peelings and leftover scraps wouldn’t have me scrubbing out the bucket every time I emptied it out. Newspaper is compostable too so this will just add to the perfect heap. Scented candles are already working overtime on preventing the house smelling of dog so the air tight seal on the lid is a godsend when it comes to preventing any unwanted whiffs emanating from the bucket! So far so good, our bin bags have been considerably lighter and we intend to keep it up once we move and have our own compost mountains to maintain. Although, saying that, Jerry is already mithering about how my fruit and veg compostable compote will no doubt spoil the perfect bacteria equilibrium for his grass clippings heap! He also mentioned watching out for rodents. Surely he can’t mean…..RATS…..dear Reader? Rats in Margot’s perfect bit of countryside? I should jolly well hope not!