Tag Archives: spring

Spring has sprung

In the midst of the wet miserable winter with water coming through the ceiling, trampling through the endless muddy quagmire of a garden and carting wood into the house on a daily basis to keep warm, I wasn’t sure that spring would ever come to us.  Yet, here it is and I am so very glad to see it, dear Reader.  Such a tonic for the soul – birds singing, walking about without coats, blossom appearing in the hedgerows and the garden coming back to life.  Not to mention catching a glimpse of one of nature’s truly awesome sights – hares boxing in the field.  The perfect reward for our epic early morning school run.

Hares

Filled with the joys of spring and buoyed by wondrous blue skies and a sunny day in the offing, we packed the car to the rafters and headed for the beach.  I haven’t seen Poppy and Primrose frolic about together so happily or heard them laugh so much in ages.  Bliss.

beach

Dora loved her first trip to the seaside too – splashing about in the sea, digging in the sand and managing to photobomb every photo I tried to take of the girls.

Dorabeach

Lovely to have a day of doing absolutely nothing as things have been rather busy at Margot and Jerry HQ.  From our first Point to Point as a family which saw Poppy completely hooked on the horses (she is currently planning her rise to riding fame when she tackles the Grand National whilst Primrose has developed rather too much of an interest in betting)…..

Point

….to learning the piggy ropes on a pig course for a new smallholding project with lovely friend and fellow Good Lifer, The Townie Farmer and discovering rather too much information about breeding……

I’m still sniggering like a schoolgirl about this little gem, dear Reader.  Definitely not Dior.

Boar

Then of course there was the excitement of Lady Agatha, our Cream Legbar, FINALLY giving us an egg…..

Aggie egg

and the arrival of some wee Easter chicks.  4 little ones, a few days old, which a lovely neighbour in the village has installed in her shed with a heat lamp.  I am not sure who was more thrilled, me or the children.  One of these tiny fluffsters is destined to join our flock after a bit of growing time but for now, the girls and I are enjoying peeping into the box in the shed and giving them a cuddle, whenever we can.

Best of all that spring has brought with it so far though was a little something I’ve been waiting to arrive on the doormat.  The May 2016 issue of Country Living Magazine with my feature on the wonderful charcuterie made at Parsonage Farm by John and Sarah Mills.

I feel honoured to have had my work commissioned by Country Living but to see it through  to the shelves, married up with stunning photos taken by the HUGELY talented Simon Wheeler (his work can be seen in River Cottage books and so much more), has had me bouncing like a bonny spring lamb.  I am so delighted to have been able to tell John and Sarah’s story and share it with readers all over the country.  They are wonderful people, have taught me heaps and changed the way I think about farming forever.  This feature means a great deal to me, not least because I’ve also ticked off No.1 of 3 on a wish list I made when I started writing nearly three years ago, dear Reader, when we moved from town to country.  To be honest, if this wonderful start is a sign of things yet to come, then we’re in for a good one and I, for one, intend to walk with maybe just a little bit more of a spring in my step.  I do hope you’ll join me, dear Reader.

Spring

An Easter delivery

Easter chickWith spring flowers, chicks and eggs both chocolate and hen, Easter is certainly hot on our heels.  A little rabbit even crept onto the table too (thanks to Pol Roger Champagne for inviting me to share a dinner party favourite), leaving Poppy completely appalled that Mummy and Daddy might have kidnapped the Easter bunny and eaten him!

rabbit

However, Easter just wouldn’t be Easter dear Reader, without lambs.  Bouncing little bundles of spring joy.  In fact, Poppy, Primrose and I have been reminiscing about our orphans from last year and wondering about a few more.  Since I don’t have any grazing of my own to speak of, finding willing landowners happy to part with a field for six months is pretty tricky.

Lambing2015-2 So, missing my three bleating little ones, I decided to offer my very inexperienced services to a lovely local (very patient) shepherdess whose flock was about to triple within a matter of weeks.  The maternity wing was already full of triplets when I got there and in the biting wind and driving rain, the shed was by far the best place for lambs, ewes (and Margot) to shelter.  Keen to put me to work, the shepherdess had me learning the ropes in no time – docking tails, castration (cross your legs – it’s all about the rubber bands)….checking feet and monitoring newborns.   Even the polytunnel had been cleared out to be used as a makeshift intensive care unit for difficult births and struggling lambs.  Such a lot to get done before the next birth and all that while you’re on red alert for any ewes who look as though they might be going into labour.  Scanning and dating I learn, is no real guarantee of just when lambs might make an appearance and the shepherdess has her trusty notebook with her at all times, referring to notes on when each ewe is due and how many babies.  Some are first timers, others are old hands at lambing and will be giving birth for the third or fourth time.  First timers are always more of a worry, the shepherdess tells me.

Lambing2015-1Lambing is a curious thing….much like giving birth to human babies.  A lot of waiting around, a bit of action, a lot more waiting around and then everything happening in a matter of ten minutes.  Reading my sheep husbandry handbook was no real preparation for witnessing my first live lamby birth – it was amazing.  Even more wonderful to be there ready to assist when one lamb got a bit stuck in the process and the ewe had to be helped out.  Oooh, dear Reader, this was truly Lambing Live and I was standing by like James Herriot in the middle of a field, with a bucket full of delivery essentials and a shepherdess sporting a long plastic glove.  I think that the shepherdess was rendered quite dumbstruck when I got out my phone and starting taking pictures…..  Oh the shame, dear Reader, I am a complete total farming amateur!  Too good to miss recording it for the children to see later that day though!

Lambing2015-4

When the second lamb popped out unaided fifteen minutes later, all hands were on deck to get the newborns and ewe into the trailer before the wet lambs became too cold up at the top of the field.  All this care, love and attention for something that will eventually reach the table.  I am in awe of the work all our farmers do and how much effort goes into bringing meat to consumers.

Lambing2015-3

Keen to get more practice in, I popped over with Poppy and Primrose to see how the rest of the ewes were getting on a day or so later.  Tons more naughty scampering triplets and happy ewes!  Anyone who thinks that sheep don’t have much personality couldn’t be more wrong.  You can see just what kind of mothers they are by watching them for five minutes.  Poppy and Primrose spent an hour running up and down the fields with lambs following and gambolling, their mothers watching on or trotting behind.  Definitely what Easter in the countryside is all about!

Much to the girls’ delight, there was even a spot of newborn cuddles to be had.  One of the shepherdess’ more troublesome ewes had given birth to her triplets just the night before our visit and one of her babies had really really struggled to perk up following the trauma of birth.  Dubbed Minnie, we found her in the kitchen in a cardboard box.  A tiny little thing and destined to be fed by bottle for the moment as she hasn’t had much strength and is considerably smaller than her siblings.  Snuggling up to a newborn lamb has to be the highlight for Poppy and Primrose this Easter – much better than a chocolate egg any day they told Jerry and I afterwards in the car on the way home!

Minnie

Looks like little Minnie may well be needing a foster home too………….the prospect sent me scuttling to the garage to get the huge bottle of Milton and lamby bottles out again.  Despite  Jerry rolling his eyes, there may well be a cardboard box with a lamb in it in the kitchen very soon!  Well how could we resist such a darling little face, dear Reader?!!!  Happy Easter!

 

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!

Mad as a March hare

Spring in the air

Spring in the air

March, March, March.  The months seem to be flying by.  Spring is in the air and I felt on top of the world as my winter worn body took in a massive dose of vitamin D last week.  I strolled by the river full of the joys of….well….spring….obviously!  I  planned all the things I was going to do now that winter seemed to be on its way out.  Everyone else seemed to be busy making plans too.  Barbara was finally getting her chickens, Minty was almost at the end of her pregnancy and counting down the weeks, Primrose finally had her place at school confirmed and there had been a flurry of news on weddings, births and new jobs.  The sale of the cottage was moving forward and structural surveys were carried out as we frantically prepared necessary paperwork.  On a blissfully sunny morning, even the future appeared to  to have a ‘spring’ in its step too.

Thoughts of spring bring to mind newborn lambs bouncing in fields, garish daffodils peeking up from the soil, the scent of hyacinths, nature opening its sleepy eyes once more after a long hibernation and the ability to leave the house in just a jacket without need for scarf, hat, gloves or in Poppy’s case, a Michelin man snowsuit which restricts movement but comes in handy when one falls over!   Possibly my favourite(and Jerry’s least) part of spring is the slight (!) craziness it brings out in me – the saying “Mad as a March Hare” doesn’t exist for nothing, dear Reader!

Primrose's Bo Peep outfit would be ideal...not sure I could squeeze into it though

Primrose’s Bo Peep outfit would be ideal…although might be tricky to squeeze into it

Sneaking a brief moment of peace and armed with a delicious glass of red, I settled down to read the latest copy of Country Living.  “Fancy yourself as a farmer?” read an article on the magazine’s Keep Britain Farming campaign.  Maybe this was the job opportunity I had been looking for?  I pictured myself milking cows, shearing sheep and tending to the herd on my own mini farm in a shepherdess’ outfit a la Marie Antoinette!  What could be more Good Life than that?  I have always quite liked the idea of being a farmer and growing my own meat.  Glued to the television watching Channel 4’s First Time Farmers a few weeks ago, I had scoffed “How difficult can it be to look after a few cows?”  Thus speaks the ultimate townie!  The answer arrived with lightning bolt speed and was blatantly obvious as I watched with the wide-eyed realisation that REAL farming was jolly hard work.  I have saluted farmers ever since for their endless daily grind.  Not at all like the River Cottage life I had envisaged.  I certainly wasn’t too sure about putting my hand up a cow’s bottom or giving a newborn lamb mouth to mouth, not to mention collecting dead animals from the pasture at dawn.  Where was the cute and cuddly side of farming?  Delicate little ducklings, reviving lambs by the AGA, bucolic scenes of harvesting and listening to The Wurzles (all together now “I’ve got a brand new combine harvester…).  Hugh FW had made it all look like a dream!  Thank goodness, Jerry arrived home from work before red wine masked any sensible decision making skills and I had had a chance to apply!  Dear Reader, that was my first March hare moment of the week!

Leaving alternative career paths behind me, I decided to steep myself in some further countryside lore instead.  Despite what BBC Weather tells us, spring is not official until the Vernal Equinox.  Marking the halfway point between winter and summer, the equinox occurs on 20th March this year.  Dear Reader, one might wonder what on earth this has to do with hares.  Indeed!  Well, hares and spring have long been entertwined, since pagan times.  The hare was said to be a symbol for regeneration, femininity and love and sightings of them heralded the return of spring.  Ostara (Eostre), the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and fertility was often said to take the form of a hare or would be pictured alongside a white hare.  Wonderfully mythical creatures, there are even tales of brokenhearted girls turning into hares and roaming the countryside haunting their unfaithful lovers.  The phrase ‘Mad as a March hare’ is believed to have arisen as a result of how hares behave during the mating season.  Solitary animals, they come together in the spring, displaying rather aggressive mating rituals as females ‘box’ away the unwanted attentions of a male they have no interest in breeding with.  Who would have thought that those fluffy long-eared cousins of the bunny would be the feisty females of the animal world?  Thankfully for Jerry, I can’t claim to be as feisty as a doe!  I am more of a Mad Hatter’s tea party version of a March hare – a ‘say it like it is’ sort of feisty!

Photo: The Complete Ilustrated Works of Lewis Carroll, Chancellor Press

Photo: The Complete Ilustrated Works of Lewis Carroll, Chancellor Press

“Have some wine”, the March Hare said in an encouraging tone.  Alice looked all around the table but there was nothing on it but tea.  “I don’t see any wine”, she remarked. “There isn’t any”, said the March Hare.  “Then it wasn’t very civil of you to offer it”, said Alice, angrily.  “It wasn’t very civil of you to sit down without being invited”, said the March Hare. 

(Chapter VII, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll)

Pouring myself another glass of wine (well all the best plans, spring or otherwise, have been made with a tipple or two), I focused on my second (and BEST) ‘hare’brained idea of the week, dear Reader.  I think that Jerry, Primrose, Poppy and I might be even more excited about this one than we are about leaving London and moving to the countryside.  Well, how could I complete no.11 on this list (11. Walk MY OWN dog) without one of these.

Well, how could one resist such a sweet face, dear Reader?!

How could one resist such a sweet face, dear Reader?!