Tag Archives: renovation project

Preserving Autumn

Autumn is here, dear Reader.  My favourite of all the seasons.  I could wax lyrical about tumbling shades of orange, brown and russet reds, the earthy smell of bonfires, rotund little pumpkins swollen with the last drops of sunshine and the woolly embrace of cardigans and cosy tights.  Somehow I feel so much more at home with autumn.  Perhaps it’s being a redhead and being able to blend in with my surroundings or perhaps it’s simply because autumn gives me an excuse to slow down and appreciate the seasonal changes in the landscape?  Maybe both or neither.  Whatever it is, dear Reader, Keats’ marvellous daydreams of ‘mists and mellow fruitfulness’ resonate with me and cling like little bits of everyday countryside magic.  It’s then that I remember to slow down, take it in and appreciate my lot, a lot more.

Things are beginning to take shape on the house front, although we’ve had our fair share of renovation sagas.  Dramas over the chimney, fireplaces being condemned, dodgy roof tiles, leaky guttering and don’t even get me started on the boiler situation.  Two months after work started, we are still without heating.  Oh and the kitchen isn’t a kitchen anymore either.  Let’s just say it’s rather minimalist, shall we?  Cooking on a camping stove does have some benefits though.  You get to feel like you’re on a camping holiday every day of the week, dear Reader.  Insert the crying emoji here.  Joking aside, it is surprising how much we have managed when it’s been too wet to venture outside to cook on the barbecue.  Those of you who remember the last time I was left with just a camping stove will be pleased to hear that menus have branched out since then.  A little nod of appreciation to the amazing Genevieve Taylor‘s How To Eat Outside: Fabulous Al Fresco Food for BBQs, Bonfires, Camping and More which has been my bible over the last few months.  I am so grateful for her fount of outdoor cookery knowledge.  Who knew you could cook a calzone or make bread on the barbecue?

Still now the house has chimney pots once more after decades without and work starts on the kitchen in a week or two, we are finally moving in the right direction.  The oak floor has been laid in the hallway and the plasterers have skimmed for the next phase.  My very brilliant electrician has had the patience of a saint especially as he isn’t being paid (he’s my Daddy) and I take my hat off to the kitchen cabinet makers who turned up for a last measure up and ended up redesigning the whole kitchen to fit in my new fridge!  I promise I’m not the renovation equivalent of Bridezilla – it’s just that this whole project managing thing is hard work and making decisions on the turn of a sixpence is starting to take its toll.  Each little step forward Jerry and I take, has been about trying to faithfully preserve the past whilst bringing the farmhouse back into the 21st century.  Replumbing, rewiring, rebuilding – there isn’t a ‘re’ we haven’t had to sort out.  So you’ll have to forgive me, dear Reader, if I sound a teensy weensy bit of a nightmare renovator but I simply can’t wait for the woodburners to go in and for the boiler to be fired up for the first time.  The house is in desperate need of drying out and we are definitely in need of something cosy on our little building site, rather than relying on vast quantities of wine and gin to warm us in the evenings when the girls are tucked up in bed with the oil filled radiators on.

With visions of cosiness in mind, I thought it was high time I was rescued from the drudgery of endless tea runs and placating of builders to try out a rather lovely bit of book post which landed on the mat – The Kilner Cookbook.

Kilner has long been synonymous with storing, pickling and preserving seasonal bounty.  Around since 1842, Kilner jars have adorned pantries, larders and kitchen cupboards in almost every household I’ll be bound, dear Reader.  Not just for bottling up pickles, chutneys, preserves and jams, Kilner’s classic clip top pressure sealed jars can be used to cook and store any kind of food or drink.  I’ll bet that you have at least one or two of these glorious jars lurking in your own kitchen, dear Reader.  Such is Kilner’s success.

Marking their 175th anniversary, I found Kilner’s new cookbook to be jam-packed (you’ll excuse the pun I’m sure dear Reader) with recipes to create, make and store so picking out one recipe to share with you was rather a difficult task.  Soups and bircher muesli, cordials and cocktails, layered salads and slaws – honestly, you’d be surprised at how many different ways you can put the humble Kilner to work, dear Reader.  However, misty autumn mornings require sunshine in the kitchen especially if you are cooking on a camping stove and nothing promises that more than a spot of homemade lemon curd.

The recipe in The Kilner Cookbook is simple enough even for the beginner cook and takes next to no time at all.  The only thing you have to watch is the heat under the bowl, otherwise you’ll end up with lemony scrambled egg rather than unctuous lemon curd.  Whisk away and you’ll witness the marvellous alchemy in the bowl as the curd thickens.  Mouthwatering zinginess – perfect for hot buttered toast, scones or crumpets, spooned over Greek yoghurt with hedgerow blackberries before the birds take them all, added to a lemon meringue pie or spread generously in the middle of a Victorian sponge.  The possibilities are endless and it will keep for up to 2 weeks in a Kilner jar in the fridge.

Whilst waiting for the toaster to ping, I set about perusing the book for other gems within its 100 recipes which aim to help us preserve more and reduce food waste.  Imagine my delight when I realised that Kilner have added a spiralizer jar, cocktail shaker, coffee grinder and a butter churner to their vast range too.  175 years on and this Yorkshire born brand with its patented vacuum seal system is still going strong, with plenty more innovative products to boot.  The thought of homemade butter whisked up in a jiffy has already sent me rushing out to add to my Kilner collection.  There’s even a whole host of suggestions for using Kilner jars to make snow globes, lanterns, terrariums and much more on the Kilner website.

With autumn mornings sorted with luscious lemon curd, it was time to turn my attentions to bottling up something for colder, darker evenings.  The garden awash with blackthorn trees doubling over with inky skinned sloes just begging to be picked, I couldn’t resist steeping them for a batch of sloe gin in my new measuring Kilner jar.  Now with some patience, that preserved little tipple will be rather a nice accompaniment reading my book on the sofa by the fire.  That’s once we have a fire, of course.  Well I’ve sorted the gin bit at least, dear Reader….

A big thank you to Ebury Publishing and The Happy Foodie for the lovely book post and Kilner jar.

A New Chapter

It’s Midsummer’s Eve and instead of saluting the sun’s last hurrah on the longest day, I’ve finally sat down to pen all my news to you at the kitchen table, dear Reader.  Except the kitchen table isn’t where it used to be.  To be honest, the kitchen isn’t the same kitchen I penned the last post from either.  You’ll have to bear with me, dear Reader.  I realise you haven’t heard from me in a little while.  It isn’t that I’ve dropped off the planet or heaven forbid, moved back to the Big Smoke.  No fear of that, I promise.  It’s just that everything on the writing front has had to take a bit of a back seat in the last few months as life required rather more input from me on the organisational front than I’d hoped for.  Let’s just say that there is a very long winded version of the whole saga that has been selling and buying a house but I thought you might enjoy the tale a whole lot more if I opted for a more succinct retelling. After all, it might take me all year to fill you in on the nitty gritty (really it was quite a rollercoaster ride) and I’m sure you’ve got better things to be doing like finding the perfect spot to enjoy the sunset with a large gin and a good book.  Trust me, dear Reader, it’s time to turn the page and begin a new chapter.

So you will have gathered by now that we are no longer living in the cottage.  In fact, we bid farewell to our beloved old timbered friend a couple of weeks ago.  Saying goodbye to the village and house we’d come to love was no easy task especially as Poppy can only remember life in the country – memories of London are few and far between for her even when Primrose and I tell tales of Richmond Park and Monty the pup.  It has seen many firsts for her as well as for us and out of all of us, I feel she is the most at home amongst fields rather than bustling streets.  To be honest, we’ve all changed.  I hardly recognise the Margot that left London four years ago these days.  Country life has been the making of us.

With barely any time to reminisce on memories made in our first foray into country living, the cottage was sold and new owners were chomping at the bit to move in.  Cue the first problem dear Reader…..  Nowhere to move to.   We’d already ruled out a fair few houses and buying was fast looking like it wasn’t going to happen.  “Rent”, all our friends exclaimed.  However, the prospect of trying to find somewhere to rent with the more boisterous half of Noah’s ark (yes, you, spaniels) needing a roof over their heads was enough to send me hiding in the under stairs cupboard with a bottle of gin.  Why was finding somewhere to live proving so difficult you might ask, dear Reader?  You see the problem was that we’d already fallen in love, dear Reader.  Hook, line and sinker.

A little house left for years tucked away down a farm track with 3.5 acres of knee high grass surrounding it.  A house which the girls and I passed every day on our drive to school, wondering who lived there and why no one wanted to buy it.  I can’t lie to you dear Reader.  When we finally decided to go and see it, it was love at first viewing.  The house had Jerry and I giggling like school children – the wood panelling, the leadlight windows, the beech trees, the original Edwardian taps.  I could go on.  It was like that magical moment when you know you just click with someone and you are rendered deaf and blind to the world around you.  In our case, it wasn’t someone, it was something.  The problem or should I say problems…?  We couldn’t afford it and it was a wreck……(and I do really mean that – the house had been shut up for nearly 5 years).  Oh and let’s not forget the final fly in the ointment, the vendor wouldn’t accept our meagre offer.  In the end after so much toing and froing with the agent, there was nothing to do but walk away.  So we did, despite some awful soul searching, gut wrenching conversations at 3am over nearly three months to see if somehow we could make it all work and trying everything in a desperate attempt to appeal to the vendor’s better nature.  I can’t tell you how much I cried.

However it seems that Fate had other plans.  Nearly four months after our final offer had been rejected, just at the point when we’d almost given up hope of finding anywhere to live, the house came back to us.  In fact, the timing could not have been better – that day we’d lost out on sealed bids on another wreck nearby (well you wouldn’t expect Jerry and I to be interested in anything habitable, would you?).  Utterly despondent when the agent rang, it took me a little while to realise she wasn’t joking!  The saying ‘When one door closes, another opens’ couldn’t have been more true for us. In this case, the door that opened was rather a pink one.  The rest, as they say, is history, dear Reader.

So that’s where Jerry, the girls and I find ourselves.  Sometimes you stumble upon mad things in life and sometimes there are the mad things that seem to gravitate towards you screaming “Do it, do it, do it”, dear Reader.  Well that certainly seems to have a habit of happening to Jerry and I…  Selling a perfectly lovely home to buy another isn’t particularly mad in itself, that is unless the house you are buying has no working kitchen, wet walls, leaky roof, dry rot, bathrooms unchanged from the Edwardian era, a condemned boiler, oil tank and gas hob. It’s amazing what you can easily gloss over when you fall in love, isn’t it dear Reader?

Jerry and I knew that the house needed a lot of work but we weren’t expecting a lack of running water for the first few days after we moved in.  I lived in fear of needing the loo!  We’re not even on mains water, dear Reader.  There’s a borehole and the water comes from the nearby farm. To add to the long list of things to fix, said water tested positive for E.Coli so it’s bottled only for the time being.  Never mind the fact that we’ve nothing but a camping stove and a gas barbecue to cook on.  Getting to sleep proved rather challenging on the first night too as visitors with hob nailed boots were jigging in the attic. Squirrels I prayed thought.  Only squirrels.  When the plumber arrived to fix the water tank the next morning, it turned out to be more of the other sort of rodents leaping about up there – you know, the ones with long tails, dear Reader.  Still, it seems that Poppy’s dreams of living in a caravan are coming true finally – it’s just that this caravan is not the shiny VW one she was imagining, it’s a large static one with brick and flint walls.

You’re probably thinking that we are entirely mad and you’d be right but bizarrely none of this seems to bother Jerry and I that much.  We have found home.  The girls are blissfully happy.  I watch them building dens in the new garden, making houses for faerie queens, climbing trees, taking turns in the wheelbarrow chariot and I feel so blessed that we have been able to make this happen for them.  It will take more than a lot of our blood (I’ve already been attacked by brambles just trying to free the windows that were stuck fast), sweat and tears to get the house working again and we’ll have to do much of it ourselves but it is all worth it when I see Poppy and Primrose enjoying their new surroundings.  As for the Monty and Dora, the cats and hens?  Well they have died and gone to heaven.  Not literally of course.  It’s all new to them too.  None of them have ever known such space from just outside the back door.

To be honest, I know it sounds awfully twee but we simply couldn’t be happier, dear Reader.  So you’ll have to forgive me for taking so long to pen this post but I’ve been waylaid by my new surroundings.  Each time we uncover something new from under thick layers of dust, peeling wallpaper or overgrown shrubbery, I feel the same way I felt when I walked into our new hallway for the first time and I just can’t stop pinching myself.  Lucky, just doesn’t even cover it.

So it’s time for a new chapter for Margot and Jerry.  Time to really turn our hands to the good life with all this lovely land we’ve now acquired.  I hope you’ll follow us as we attempt to graduate from haphazard bumpkins to full scale smallholders. Well, that’s the plan, at any rate, dear Reader….  Wish us luck!