Tag Archives: valentine’s day

A little slow food love

January over in a flash, February trying to race past the post.  Where HAS the time gone, dear Reader?  Already at half term, at this rate it’ll be Christmas again before I know it.  Busy isn’t even the word.  What with new columns here and there, and work on something a bit bigger too, I think that I’ve spent at least half of the last month and a half mopping floors and spraying them with doggy disinfectant due to Piddling Piglet, also known as spaniel pup Dora.  Perfect in every way except the fact that at 17 weeks old, if it’s cold or rainy outside, Dora will come back in from the garden and decide that the dining room floor is much nicer to widdle on than wet grass.  It is a good job that she is so utterly adorable…..
Dora Paws

Dora hasn’t been the only thing contributing to puddles indoors either.  Thanks to Storm Imogen, the sitting room ceiling decided to spring rather a big leak (again) and we awoke to the sound of steady dripping one morning.  We are lucky that that’s all it was.  The wind in the night was battering the house with such force that we thought the windows would blow in and trees hanging precariously over us would crush the house.  The mini greenhouse took to flying and was last seen going over the garden gate and onto the lane.  Poor old hens thought that Chicken Little’s prophecy was more fact than fiction too.  Still other than the roof and a fair bit of debris in the garden, all was well.

Henny Pen

On the subject of the hens, dear Reader, we have some sad news to share.  We lost our two favourite hens over Christmas.  Not to Mr Fox but to a serious case of gapeworm that came on too suddenly to cope with usual treatment.  Henny Penny and Layla were quarantined in a makeshift chicken hospital (the girls’ wendy house) but despite all our care, both passed away within 24hrs of each other.  It was Henny’s death on Christmas Day that was perhaps the most devastating for all of us, with Poppy weeping buckets.  She really was such a plucky hen – so funny to watch and bags of character.  Silly to be so sad about losing a hen but she really was exceptionally special.  The coop just isn’t the same without her and with only three remaining, it may be time to think about some new girls joining us.


With snowdrops on the ground and the bluebells beginning to wake from their winter’s nap, it’s time to start thinking about tidying things up a bit.  Well in the garden at least, since the walls are too wet and the brickwork needs to dry out before it can be repaired.  Too depressing to look at the forecast and spy yet more rain on the horizon.  Still new roses need potting up for growing up the house, a lot of demolition work is already complete and plans for the kitchen garden are all sketched out and seeds purchased – the garden is almost unrecognisable.  Thank goodness too as I had the lovely Becs Parker from BBC Radio Solent’s The Good Life here recording a series of three new recipes from Margot’s Kitchen – Slow Food for Gardeners.  Tune in on Sunday 14th Feb from 1pm-2pm – no doubt you’ll hear Monty and Dora giving their woofs of approval in the background.

What better way to feed the soul on Valentine’s Day than with a bit of slow food love, dear Reader.  Call it a big hug and kiss from me to you.  Perfect whether you’re gardening, dragging the small ones and pups on a walk in the countryside (this passes for romance at Margot and Jerry HQ) or sinking into an armchair to while away the day with a good book.

Slow Cooked Spicy Beef Short Ribs with Chipotle Beans

Chipotle beans and spicy beef

Marinade for beef short ribs

beef short ribs or brisket

1 tsp celery salt

1 tsp smoked paprika (hot or sweet depending on how spicy you like it)

1 tsp of mixed peppercorns (grind these in a pestle and mortar)

1 tsp mustard powder

2 tbsp runny honey

1 garlic clove, whole

500ml good quality beef stock

1/2 can of real ale

Add all the ingredients for the marinade and rub onto the short ribs.  Leave to marinade overnight or for at least 4-6 hours.  Overnight is best for maximum flavour.  When you are ready to cook, seal the meat on a high heat until all the surfaces have colour.  Use a large pan with a lid to do this as you will be cooking the beef for hours and hours in its marinade.  Once all the meat is brown on the outside, pour over beef stock and ale, pop on the pan lid and place in a low oven (no more than 120 degrees) for slow cooking.  The ribs will be ready when the meat can be pulled apart with two forks.

Take the ribs out of the pan once cooked and leave to one side to shred the meat from the bones.  Pop the pan on the stove and reduce the liquid that is left by half.  As it reduces, add 1 tbsp of tomato ketchup and a dash of Worcestershire sauce to thicken it.  Pour this over the shredded beef to serve.

Chipotle beans

1 onion

2 tsp chipotle paste

1 tbsp pomegranate molasses

1 can of haricot beans (include all the juice in the can too)

salt and pepper

Cook this at the same time as the beef short ribs as the beans will be really tender if slow cooked and have bags of flavour too.  Fry roughly chopped onion in a pan (needs to have a lid so a casserole dish with lid would work too), adding the chipotle paste and pomegranate molasses. Fry until the onion has softened a little and is coated in the paste and molasses.  Then add the can of beans and mix until combined.  Pop in low oven alongside the beef to cook for at least 3 hours.  The beans should look thick and be squishy to the touch.  Check the beans after an hour or so and see if you need to add a little water if they are looking a little dry rather than unctuous.

To serve the beef and beans, warm a few tortillas in the oven, add some chopped coriander or parsley, a squeeze of lime juice and a good dollop of crème fraiche/soured cream.

Heaven and you won’t be slaving over the stove all day either!  Happy Valentine’s Day, dear Reader.

Monty and Dora

Old wives and black cats

catkinsWith the cottage having to pose as a show home this week, Poppy, Primrose and I took to hiding out in all sorts of places to avoid hovering outside, watching strangers inspecting our house from top to bottom.  Eating sandwiches in a car park in the middle of Richmond Park, driving round and round nearby streets and numerous trips to cafes and our local library have all featured.  Primrose reached seriously impressive levels of espionage to work out whether things had been moved in her bedroom and I crossed all fingers and toes in the hope that no one would open cupboard doors, causing all piles of ironing and clutter to spill out on to the floor!  It has be said, dear Reader, that crossing one’s fingers and waiting for portents of good luck have been part of our daily rituals as we waited with bated breath for news of a potential buyer for the cottage.

Jerry and I have always been a bit superstitious.  When I say a bit, dear Reader….a lone magpie always seems to spell out doom and we have always touched our collars on seeing a hearse drive by.  In fact, on moving into the cottage, we found a brass shamrock with ‘Ireland’ boldly stamped on it, hanging on a nail on one of the cottage’s exposed brick walls.  Imagining that any quantity of ill luck might strike us, we were far too superstitious to take it down.  It is probably one of the most hideous ornaments I have ever laid eyes on but it belongs to the cottage and the golden trefoil has certainly worked its magic for us over the years.  Somehow, it only seems right that we leave it for the next owner.  Good karma after all.

The luck of the Irish!

The luck of the Irish!

Delving into some country wisdom, I discovered that Jerry and I are not alone in crossing our fingers, tipping a cap to a magpie or indeed, throwing salt over our shoulders.  It would appear that superstitions are a wonderful glimpse into our countryside past and are at the heart of the British psyche, with rhymes and rituals native to almost every county in the land.

Imagine a couple of old farmers' wives leaning over this for a gossip!

Imagine a couple of old farmers’ wives leaning over this for a gossip!

Here are but a few little snippets for you to enjoy, my dear Reader:

Magpies have long been the old country wives’ favourite superstition and the rhyme ‘One for sorrow, two for joy’ allegedly dates back to the mid 18th century.  It is said that those black and white winged omens of misfortune were thought to be the very Devil in disguise!  Saluting to Mr Magpie and wishing him a good morrow is commonplace but some of the other rituals are just too wonderful not to be shared!  Yorkshire folk believed that the sign of the cross could help ward off the evil brought by a magpie and spitting (how vulgar!) is noted as a deterrent against the lone magpie returning in a couple of Shires.  However, one of my absolute favourites has to be the flapping one’s arms (as if a bird) and cawing to imitate the magpie’s errant wife!  I can’t say that this method of warding off bad luck would do anything for you other than make those around you think that you had Tourette’s syndrome but one can never tell!

On Valentine’s Day, to see a robin meant that one would marry a sailor, to see a sparrow brought a happy but poor marriage and a goldfinch, well, marrying into endless riches for the lady so lucky to see one of those!  A very limited chance of seeing a real goldfinch in the Big Smoke, I would have thought.  One might be better off loitering outside one of London’s many banks in the hopes of ‘netting’ another sort of gold-feathered friend!  Although, all birds in the City seem to have fallen on hard times these days…

‘Red sky at night, Shepherd’s delight’ is a well-known ditty but did you know, dear Reader, that ‘If Candlemas Day be fair and bright, then Winter shall have another fight’?  Candlemas Day, marks the middle of winter, halfway between the shortest day and the spring equinox and this year fell on 2nd February.  If memory serves correctly, then I think that this year, it was a gloriously sunny day.  A forecast of more cold weather if the superstition is to be believed.

‘Two must never pour from the same pot’ – This made me instantly think of my dear friend, Barbara!  She and I have been known to both pour from the same teapot on numerous occasions.  According to Steve Roud’s A pocket guide to Superstitions of the British Isles, this particular superstition was recorded in 1885 and heralds from near Barbara’s neck of the woods in the county of WorcestershireThe fate of those who pour from said same pot…..the birth of ginger-haired twins!  Dear Barbara, you had better watch out!  One never knows what the stork might bring next…..

In the midst of this rather delightful sojourn into countryside superstitions, I had an awful dream about my tooth falling out and woke next morning in a panic.  Dreaming of teeth….the interpretations that go hand in hand with this are unpleasant to say the least!  Jerry put it down to anxiety over our fate and that of the cottage.  Unfortunately for me, it turned out to be more than a little prophetic as the next day whilst eating a piece of toast, one of my teeth crumbled entirely, leaving a somewhat piratey looking stump and a wailing Margot.  Primrose was sympathetic to a point but in the end, suggested I find a set of wind-up chattering teeth instead as there was no way that the tooth fairy was going to replace it!

Superstitions, old wives’ tales, single magpies and falling teeth aside, it turns out that Lady Luck might just be on our side though, dear Reader.  Maybe just maybe….Jerry and I might have some good news about the cottage but superstitious as we are, to write it would be to jinx it!  Perhaps, I should just put it all down to the velvety black beauty that crosses my path every morning?….

My dearest Lily, a little bit of homegrown luck!

Dearest Lily, our little bit of homegrown luck!