Tag Archives: Margot Tries the Good Life

Bidding 2018 a fond farewell

Sixteenth century poet and farmer, Thomas Tusser was right, dear Reader – Christmas really does come but once a year and this one seems to have been and gone in a flash. A blur of feasting and wrapping, cooking and chatting, drinking and games by the fire. The farmhouse always outdoes itself this time of year. Feelings of cosiness abound and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Good job too as there’s the small matter of who would feed and water the animals if we decided to up sticks for the Caribbean. I know I’d hate it, dear Reader. Really I would.

So what did a second Christmas at the farmhouse have in store for us? Well, it saw a homegrown goose gracing the table for the first time. Sadly there were no sprouts from the kitchen garden as the caterpillars got there first – better luck next year on the veg front I hope. I can’t deny that I was dreading the lead up to Christmas with the whole ‘Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat’ but although the geese weren’t nearly fat enough (too much free ranging and not enough slouching on the sofa watching a box set – the geese that is), they tasted rather marvellous. Raising a Christmas goose was a very steep learning curve but you know me, dear Reader, I like a challenge and this year’s efforts certainly haven’t put us off. However, I’ve jotted down a few things to remember. Not least sticking to plucking birds outside, dear Reader. I’m still finding feathers all over the house a week later and the slightest hum of a Michael Buble’s tune will see me reliving the horror of being covered head to toe in feathers and NOT in a Swan Lake Darcey Bussell kind of way. Spitting feathers has taken on a new literal meaning for me.

As much as I love Christmas and all its twinkly lights and feasting, my favourite part of this time of year comes between Christmas and New Year – the slow in-betweens, twixtmas, the lull. The time when I live on a diet of Christmas cake and tea, marmite toast and sloe gin negronis. The time when I shut out the outside world and nestle down with Jerry and the girls, losing myself in a haze of cosy fires and good books. It’s when I remember what I’m grateful for the most.

When we drag ourselves away from the fire, we’ve also been spending a fair bit of time with our three new girls – Betsy, Molly and Meryl. I think that everyone thought it utter madness to get Shetland sheep (they are not known for their ability to cooperate or stay put) but these wily woollies have cast a spell on us all. Even Jerry. As they rush to greet us every time we walk up to the field, I can’t help but feel that sheep at the farmhouse is the icing on the Christmas cake, dear Reader. As with all the arrivals on our smallholding, I can’t imagine the place without them. There’ll be more excitement in the New Year when one more ewe will join us – Myrtle – and we’ll see the bouncing and bleating of our own tiny lambs in 2019.

On the whole, 2018 has been good to us. More renovations, more writing for me. Primrose turning 10, Poppy reaching 7. I must speak to the management. The time just keeps ticking away with no regard for a mother’s need to hit the pause button occasionally, dear Reader. Despite numerous attempts to test whether dogs actually share the whole cat nine lives thing, Monty has managed to survive 2018 relatively unscathed whilst Dora has perfected the art of the withering look to cope with his daily idiocy. The ducks have escaped a cassoulet, the hens seem to love Roger the cockerel and last but by no means least, Jerry retains his title as ‘the most patient man in the universe’ even though his wife tests him with her farmhouse schemes weekly. If you’ve any wishes for 2019 going spare, do offer them up for Jerry. I’ve asked for another dog, dear Reader……

Finally, there’s you. A hearty thanks to all those who still read this little blog, who follow on Instagram or Twitter, champion my scribblings in various mags and share them on social media. It really does mean a lot so thank you. Without further ado, I’m off to begin bribing Jerry with a martini and ushering in another year with a large gin – well you wouldn’t expect anything less, would you? So from me to you, here’s to 2019 – may it be the best yet for us all. Happy New Year, dearest Reader!

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.

 

 

 

 

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

img_3326

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.

fire

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.

fullsizerender-8

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.

fullsizerender

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.

fullsizerender-2

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!

fullsizerender-1

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.

img_3190-1

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.

img_3263

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?

Aye Aye at The Master Builders

exterior-view-of-the-master-builders-at-bucklers-hard

With the summer nearly over, Jerry and I sneaked in a weekend off before back to school and back to work chaos began and slipped away for a night on the Beaulieu River without the girls.  The summer holidays have been glorious and after a couple of weeks in France, we really didn’t want it to end, much less come back to reality.  So when a rare chance to snatch some last minute peace and quiet just the two of us came our way, overnight bags were packed and waiting by the door before you could say G and T time!  Our hosts for the evening?  The rather wonderfully quirky and nautical The Master Builders in Bucker’s Hard.  For anyone looking for somewhere in the New Forest to spend the weekend, we can heartily recommend it.

Set back from the river’s edge, The Master Builders has bags of nautique chic (think Rule Britannia) with rooms which start from £99 per room per night including a New Forest breakfast.  From Posh Classics in the Henry Adams Wing……..

img_3014to Chic and Luxury rooms in the main house (we stayed in one of the Quirky Luxury rooms), The Master Builders is the perfect place for a weekend getaway in the New Forest.  Dogs are very welcome too and your hound can order to his heart’s content with the Dog Room Service menu, ensuring that his stay is as comfortable as yours.  The spaniels would have had a field day, dear Reader!

img_3002

Whether you intend to sip a riverside pint or large G&T, the new Yachtsman’s Bar & Garden is open daily from 11am and even offers the option of a take away menu from 5pm – a fantastic option if you are moored nearby.  Yachties take note.  Wonderfully relaxed, Jerry and I watched as fabulously gargantuan portions of classic pub grub with a few little Italian twists and plenty of local delights were served up.  The Ringwood ale battered haddock and chips and South Coast Seafood Sharing platter looked real winners – Jerry had to repeatedly tell me to stop staring as the table next to us tucked in.

img_3008

Seated in the Riverview Restaurant, I’m glad I hadn’t sneaked a chip from our neighbouring table as Chef Tom and his kitchen brigade produced the most marvellous three courses from start to finish.  The A la Carte menu is a treasure trove of lip smackingly gutsy flavours executed beautifully with a large emphasis on locally sourced produce and the best of the New Forest.  I must make particular mention of the rabbit loin and black pudding as well as the lamb rump with spiced cauliflower and pomegranate which was a delight and the apple millefeuille which Jerry had for pudding was light as a feather, palate cleansingly clean and fresh tasting.  We hadn’t been sure of what to expect.  To say that we were surprised would be an understatement.   Quite frankly, it was one of the loveliest meals we’ve had in an age and Jose, the restaurant manager could not have been more obliging, including letting me sneak into the kitchen to chat to Chef.

img_3005

The table of digestifs was more than a little inviting too, dear Reader!

fullsizerender-4

Waking up to the gentle sounds of the river below our window, I think you’ll agree, dear Reader that you would be hard pushed to open the curtains to a more peaceful view…..

img_3011No stay would be complete without a leisurely breakfast – we really couldn’t resist the rather spectacular New Forest breakfast which supports and champions New Forest Marque produce.

img_3013

Jerry was most put out when I made him wait until his breakfast had been snapped.  It was far too good not to warrant a picture, dear Reader!  I did let him eat it in the end…..

img_1242

From the décor to the food, the service to the location, it was a very enjoyable night away.  The Master Builders is a great little New Forest weekend bolthole – perfect for long walks and even longer G & Ts, delicious food for any occasion whether it’s three courses in the Riverview Restaurant or a hearty pub lunch with a difference and the well appointed rooms with a view offer up cosiness alongside a slice of riverside get aways.  A huge thank you to Claire and Clive for organising and hosting us.  Jerry and I can’t wait to come back!