Tag Archives: the Good Life

Summer’s end

You’ll have to forgive me, dear Reader.  Honestly I only crept through the door in the back of the wardrobe for five minutes for a little peace and quiet and next thing I know, spring has sprung and summer was giving us a last hurrah.  I didn’t mean to stay in Narnia so long but somehow the longer I stayed away, the more I was able to focus on the most important things or rather people in my life.  I’ve been working on a series of new projects at the writing desk and at the farmhouse too so the outside world has been lost to me for a time.  Too often I forget to just enjoy the moment.  Taking an extended break from the blog was not really part of the plan initially but I think it’s helped me to focus on what I do want to achieve and not worry about dividing myself into thousands of parts in order to get things done.  To be honest I wasn’t sure that if the blog was perhaps relevant any more or whether or not it would be missed if it just slipped away quietly.  A crisis of confidence shall we say, dear Reader.  So this little break has made me have a long hard think about where I’d like to be and how I move forward with my writing.  In short it’s been good for me.  Before I knew it, the time whooshed past and I’d no idea what or if I’d missed anything important in the land of blogs and social media and magazine columns or life in little Insta squares.  So thank you for bearing with me.  I promise not to be away again for so long.

I am sure you are wondering what’s been happening at the farmhouse?  Well we’ve had a few new arrivals and we reached our first milestone – 1 year at the farmhouse.  I still can’t quite believe it but somehow this beautiful little plot and house are ours and although we still have a long way to do in terms of renovating it, we are all so very happy.  Oh the things I have to tell you, dear Reader.

Since the ducks arrived, there has been nothing but trouble.  They are bonkers and such excellent time wasters.  Luckily they are so adorable otherwise I’d envisage crispy duck on the horizon.  On the hen front, we lost our lovely Cream Legbar hen Marj and we decided to go in search of another blue egg hen, ending up with Minnie and her husband Winston.

Things didn’t turn out so well with Winston sadly and he began attacking everyone and everything in sight, resulting in drawing blood almost every day from one of us.  The children were too terrified to even collect the eggs.  So he had to go.  With no hope of rehoming him because of his aggression, he ended up in the pot.  Not an easy decision but a necessary one.  I remain ever in awe of our girls that they aren’t horrified by the idea of animals loved and cared for becoming food for the table.  Who would have thought that Margot and Jerry could produce such country folklings?

Then came the geese.  Three plump Embden beauties we thought we’d call George, Lucy and Martha.  As seems to now be the way of all things Margot and Jerry HQ, we ended popping over to see our log man and leaving the wood yard with more livestock.  I seem to be on speed dial for rehoming animals.  Turns out that Martha was actually an Arthur and Lucy more of a Luke.  So we have renamed them the Three Tenors – Luciano, Placido and Jose.  Much more fitting when they offer up a merry honk every time someone appears on the driveway!  They are all looking rather less muddy these days and have been a welcome addition to the pond.  Although the ducks are rather less keen on their daily raids on the feeder and bolshy teenage gosling antics.  We had hoped for the tiny splish of webbed feet when Daisy our most maternal duck sat on her eggs for a week or two.  Overnight, she lost them all to a rather cunning rat or stoat.  A rather sad end to spring but I’ve come to accept that nature is all part of farmhouse life.  We’ve promised Poppy and Primrose an incubator for next year.

The lavender harvest was a wonderful success and I am eternally thankful to all who purchased wreaths and bunches from us this summer.  It’s true what they say about small business owners – we do do a little dance every time someone buys something from us.  I couldn’t have managed cutting rows and rows all by hand without a lot of help from friends and family and it has made me more determined than ever to see this little farmhouse business idea succeed.

I’ve also formed a lovely partnership with the talented Saskia from Saskia’s Flower Essences and this year, she took some of our lavender to distill into oil and hydrosol to make her wonderful Easy Sleep spray.  I’m a great believer in the power of plants and flowers and this has certainly been a hit in our household – think This Works but better.  Saskia has a magic touch.

There’ll be a little more before Christmas with some firelighters and a few other bits and bobs but for now, lavender season is well and truly at an end.  The four of us have breathed a huge sign of relief not to have to pick, make wreaths or handle lavender for a wee while.  Watch this space as we develop a new website for Cricket Lavender next year.

Carrying on the countryside capers, our new kitchen garden has been a stonking success.  I’m quite certain that Jerry and I might not have been quite so grumpy about the back breaking work of turning a patch of turf into a vegetable garden if we’d known just how much one small patch could produce.  We’ve had enough to feed half the village, dear Reader!

From wonky carrots and mammoth marrows to leaks of another kind and time travel.  As the house renovations rumble on, we experienced our usual chaos when the attic was cleared to make way for new insulation.  Turns out that all our ancient pipes are in desperate need of replacing and as the attic was cleared, a rather large leak was found that we’re lucky hadn’t brought down the ceilings.  Goodness only knows how many years it had been gushing water.  Emergency plumber drafted in, I prayed that our attic related calamities might be at an end.  However, the farmhouse had other plans, dear Reader.  In the space of a few hours, to add to the Cluedo-esque lead piping, we battled with a couple of loose cannon hornets as well as accidentally scooping up two live bumblebee nests.  The silver lining?  A miraculously intact copy of the Daily Mail from 3rd October 1923 was found, complete with front page story featuring a certain moustached German politician by the name of Hitler alongside another headline about a cow rampaging through a village and injuring three people.  A Cow’s Day Out indeed.  The paper has been framed and will be hung in the downstairs loo for posterity, joining another find in the form of  a yellowing edition of The Sun from July 1980 with the headline Russian Spy Plot.  You’ll be pleased to hear that the bumblebees made a great escape too and were collected by a bee man under cover of darkness to be rehomed in a local copse, dear Reader.

In short as you can see, dear Reader, the last few months have been eventful in many ways.  As autumn creeps in, I am back at the writing desk and the house is quiet except for dogs snoring.  Don’t tell Poppy and Primrose but I do miss them when we are back to our old routines of school and work.  However I know that September always brings new adventures, dear Reader and I’m ready for them.

PS – if you’re on Instagram, I’ve started a little hashtag to curate all the mists and mellow fruitfulness of autumn.  I’d love you to join in too – just add #usheringautumnin  to your post and I’ll choose favourites each week to share on a Friday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be More Margo

margo

“Come and judge the Best Dressed Margo and Barbara”, she said.  How could I resist such an honour, dear Reader?  Especially when the fabulous talent that is Viv Groskop was in town to preview her new Edinburgh show, Be More Margo.  I whooped at the invitation when the delightful Donna of Sulky Doll stylist fame tweeted me.  As you know well dear Reader, I never need an excuse to don a floral kaftan and spend an evening drinking Prosecco accessorised with obligatory maraschino cherry.

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In a sneaky charity preview of her new Edinburgh Festival show, the rather masterly writer (Sunday TimesThe Independent, Independent on Sunday, The Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Financial Times (Weekend), the Observer, the Guardian, the Spectator, the London Evening Standard, Red, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, High Life and The Pool ), comedian, presenter and all-round amazingly talented woman, Viv Groskop, brings to life all that is brilliantly middle class about The Good Life’s Mrs Margo Leadbetter.  Wafting about in floral maxis and keeping up with the Jones (or should that be, the Goods?), Viv highlights the virtues of Margo as middle class role model.  I fear she may have hit the jackpot as the audience offered their best in tales akin to those shared on ‘Overheard in Waitrose’ from performing yoga in orchards to bringing Ayah from the Far East to nanny in the UK.  Who knew that Winchester could be as much of a spiritual home for Margo as her beloved Surbiton?!!  I’m not sure when I have laughed so much at the mere mention of quinoa.

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With my judging duties over, plenty of knicker-wetting laughter and lots of cash raised for the marvellous Kos Kindness – Winchester and Andover Collection run by the wonderful Roshi and her team, the evening was a huge success.  HUGE thanks to Sulky Doll for organising and inviting me, to Viv for putting up with my gushing over meeting her and to my fabulous friend Siobhan who told me she was simply going to throw on a kaftan when I asked her to come along and ended up greeting me in a floor-length silk number from India which totally trumped my chiffon flowers and turban!  If you are up in Edinburgh for the Fringe then DO get tickets for Viv’s show – if she’s half as funny as she was at her preview, I promise you’re in for a brilliant night out.  I intend to take her advice and channel more of my inner Margo.  If that’s possible, dear Reader.  Got to dash, I’m in the middle of arguing with the Ocado man.  He’s substituted a bottle of Prosecco for my Bolly……….

"After 3, let's repeat after Margo......Awful"

“After 3, let’s repeat after Margo……Awful”

(On a rather more serious note, Roshi and her team coordinate refugee donations at Kos Kindness.  The work they do sees that essential items are shipped to Kos, Samos, Chios and Lesvos for direct distribution to the refugees arriving there daily.  If you can help by donating items, time or a bit of cash, then please get in touch with Roshi at roshihudson@yahoo.co.uk This is such an important cause – what Roshi and her team do really does help those in desperate need).

 

A taste of autumn

Autumn 2015

The last few weeks have seen me rather busy, dear Reader, with one thing and another.  Flat tyres on a dark, foggy night (HUGE thanks to Megs, owner of gorgeous pub The Woolpack for rescuing damsels in distress), funerals and our usual countryside chaos all rolled into one.  Prudence, our bossy hen departed from the coop and the arrival of two new hens (Cora, a Rhode Rock, and Lady Agatha, a very flighty Cream Legbar) caused quite a stir with the three remaining hens.  I have to say, dear Reader, that hunting for escaped hens in my neighbours’ garden for 2 hours is something I had not expected when we decided to add to our flock.  All seems well now at least and after some considerable wing clipping, Lady Agatha is choosing to stay in the garden rather than masterminding the next breakout.  She had better start laying those green blue eggs soon!

autumn leaves

In all the mayhem, we have found time to kick up the leaves in the last throes of autumn though.  I even caught myself humming The Byrds’ Turn, Turn, Turn strolling along the bridleway with Monty.  Don’t worry, I was drowned out by Monty barking at a partridge, dear Reader.

We finally bid farewell to dear Cumberland, our porker, fostered for us at the marvellous Parsonage Farm and then trotted off to attempt a considerable amount of butchery and sausage making all in one day.  Far from squeamish, Poppy and Primrose really enjoyed making sausages and salami and John and Sarah Mills from Parsonage were on hand to make sure that all was done correctly!  A huge thanks to them!  Only my second attempt at butchery, I think that I did pretty well considering and we had a chest freezer full in no time.  I won’t go into how I ended driving a pig’s head (minus body) around half of Hampshire one Wednesday morning.  I promise it wasn’t anything sinister or some sort of Cameron spin-off gag, dear Reader.  Suffice to say, said pig’s head went to a good home and returned as a natural history specimen which Primrose insisted on taking into school for ‘show and tell’.  You can only imagine her teacher’s joy…….

With the bacon cured on a hook in our boot room/laundry room/general dumping ground and a ham for Boxing Day on the go too, we are well on the way to being prepared for all porky goodness for the ‘C’ word.  Certainly put me in mind of a scene from Badger’s sett in The Wind in the Willows.

bacon

With Christmas on the brain and fizz for the day firmly in my mind, I popped over to see the first pickings of this year’s Harvest for a new English sparkling wine which will soon be gracing our vintners, Raimes English Sparkling.

Graps

Looking for ways to diversify the family farm, Augusta Raimes and her husband Robert, turned over 2 large plots on the farm to the planting of the classic champagne combination of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Munier in 2011 and with a course at Plumpton College under her belt, Augusta began her winegrowing journey.  Talking to Augusta, her enthusiasm for winemaking is infectious.  As she turns over the harvested grapes all crated up for the next stage of the process, her excitement is palpable, not only for how much the vines have produced thus far but for how their wine is taking shape under the guidance of Hattingley Valley’s Emma Rice, who is already known for creating Hattingley’s internationally recognised and award-winning wines.

Augusta Raimes

From grape to glass is a fascinating process and at Raimes, it’s a real family affair too with everyone lending a hand to get the harvest in.  As lovers of a good drop, Jerry and I have long dreamed of making our own wine so it was a morning full of inspiration for me!  One day, dear Reader, one day.  In the meantime, I shall be very excited to taste Raimes English Sparkling when the time is nigh – definitely one to watch, dear Reader.  Lovely, local fizz – what could be better?!

Raimes

Never a dull moment here at Margot HQ, last week saw a little stint on the radio too.  Monty was a marvellous addition to the recordings of 4 foodie segments for BBC Radio Solent’s The Good Life when the lovely Becs Parker came to record from the old cottage.  He even managed to sneak the black pudding off the kitchen worktop when I answered the door to the postman.  Ever the model of perfect spaniel behaviour, dear Reader…..  Still Confit duck leg with smoked lentils and balsamic roasted beetroot made it onto Sunday’s programme untouched by hound (you can listen again here).  Tune in for the next 3 Sundays to hear all sorts of treats….and some more of Monty no doubt….from Margot’s Kitchen!  I’ll leave you with a sneaky peak of something to warm the cockles after a windy walk.  Anyone for Venison Pie, dear Reader?

Venison pie2

Marvellous marmalade

 

snowOn a cold and frosty morning with a touch of the white stuff just kissing the ground, there is nothing better than a large pot of tea on the kitchen table and the delicate fragrance of oranges wafting through the house.  Cold days were meant for making marmalade.  The end of January and the appearance of Seville oranges simply cannot be a mere coincidence (there seems to be no reasonable logic as to why we don’t have them in the summer but somehow we don’t).  Those beautiful sunshine orbs of culinary delight were designed to bring joy to even the gloomiest of January days.  After an awful week of writer’s malaise and then being struck down with the worst case of tonsillitis I think I’ve ever had, I certainly needed their orangey cheeriness to tempt me back into the kitchen.

marmaladeWe are huge fans of marmalade at Margot and Jerry HQ.  Marmalade on toast, marmalade in cakes, marmalade on ham……  I think that perhaps we have smeared it on almost everything, hence we are down to the last pot from last year’s marmalade marathon.

It would seem that we are not alone either with our love of dear old Paddington’s preferred preserve either.  Did you know dear Reader, that each year in Cumbria, the World Marmalade Awards are held, with entries flying in from all over the place?  Staggering, isn’t it?  One day, I may even be brave enough to bubble wrap one of my attempts and enter the Amateur categories just for a bit of fun!  I can only imagine that it is every bit as fierce as our annual village show where the judging is tighter than a sprinter’s jock strap and entries receive short and to the point critiques, next to their tiny tasting spoons.

With so many marmalade recipes out there (believe me half the village swear that their family recipe is the best), the key is to find one that works for you.  Something tried and tested and easy in my case!  I use the wonderful Pam Corbin’s (River Cottage preserving queen) ‘whole fruit’ method – so simple to follow and has marmalade made in an afternoon.  Always keen to turn my hand to a bit of a kitchen experiment though, this year I thought I might tamper with the recipe a bit and add some ‘alternative’ flavours of my own to enhance the zestiness of the Seville oranges.

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First up, a lavender marmalade using culinary lavender from Hampshire lavender farm, Long Barn in Alresford.  Adding the lavender at the end of the marmalade cooking stage is the key – too much and the results will end up tasting rather like a zingy pot pourri!  You have been warned, dear Reader!  A teaspoon of culinary lavender between 3 small jars of marmalade is plenty –  tiny flecks of purply blue peeking out between the shreds when you look at the jar.  A good spoonful of the lavender marmalade added to a simple madeira loaf cake recipe or classic Victoria sponge mix is pure afternoon magic with a cup of Lady Grey.

marmalade cake

Running out of Sevilles, I thought that I might try ‘marmalading’ some of Jerry’s other seasonal favourites, blood oranges.  Using the same ‘whole fruit method’ and simply swapping the Sevilles for blood oranges, I then added a little something special when the marmalade had completed its unctuous molten lava simmering stage.   GIN!  Well, if you can have whisky marmalade, dear Reader, then why not gin marmalade….?  As you know, gin is never too far from my thoughts.

Twisted noseChoosing a local favourite (lovely Twisted Nose gin who I’ve told you about before, dear Reader), I added 3 tsp of gin for each medium sized jar and stirred through before popping into jars.  The gorgeous pink grapefruit notes of the gin really went well with the blood orange overall flavour of this batch of marmalade.  Not a buttery toast sort of marmalade (gin at the breakfast table being frowned upon by most, dear Reader…) but a brilliant little number for using as a glaze.  Something I tested out with my latest recipe.

Sticky marmalade pork

Sticky marmalade pork (Serves 4)

6 thick cut pork belly slices

2 tbsp. blood orange gin marmalade

3 tbsp. dark muscovado sugar

a small pinch of mustard powder

juice of half a lemon

4 star anise

salt and pepper

Begin by preheating the oven to 220 degrees Centigrade/ gas mark 7/ 425F.

Pat the pork slices dry and place them in a large ovenproof dish – season with salt and pepper.  In a bowl, mix the marmalade, sugar, mustard powder and lemon together.

Spoon the mixture over the pork belly and coat the slices on both sides before sliding the star anise between the slices.

Place in the oven for around 40 minutes.  Keep checking the pork and basting with the sauce regularly.  After 40 minutes, the pork should have crispy edges and a slightly charred, barbecue look.

Sticky, messy, sweet and savoury – something a little different from the usual marmalade on toast.  Served with a red cabbage and carrot coleslaw with a mustard and cider vinegar dressing, it’s the perfect supper to drive away any wintry blues and any lingering tonsillitis….

Before I sign off dear Reader, just to say that I shall be talking all things marmalade with the lovely Georgie on BBC Radio Solent’s programme The Good Life on Sunday 1st February just after 1pm – do tune in.  Pretty please.

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