Meet Henrietta, Harriet, Chucky and, um, Sarah. All named by my 4 year old. My 2 year old says they’re just called “chickens”, quite obviously.
They’re very charming, remarkably chatty and they poo an awful lot, but they have just given us our very first egg so they can do what they like.
The dog wants to eat them, the cats want to taunt them and I was just relieved they were still here when I woke up this morning.
When you move to the countryside, a lot of your time is spent looking for nice places to visit. Places which will keep the entire family happy including visiting relatives and any sudden influxes of weekend friends. Farm shops, garden centres, playgrounds, pubs, cafes, restaurants, doctors, dentists…..all sorts. Places you can enjoy whilst sitting back smugly (even in the dentist) and saying to yourself “this is why we moved to the countryside”. Because the countryside is FULL of lovely places to visit. Bursting with fresh produce and happy animals and primroses sprouting on every winding corner. Well all of this is true….sort of….but you have to drive around quite a bit to find them and you have to remind yourself on these drives that each and every one of these lovely places to visit completely makes up for the absence of take-aways and deliveries. I don’t know about you but after a long day with work and kids I’d MUCH rather get in the car and seek out a wood fired pizza van in a teeny tiny village than have it delivered to my door. There’s only a hint of sarcasm, a very small, tired, desperate for a delivery hint.
The place though which really does make up for all of this and much more is Worton Organic Garden. It’s just about the nicest, calmest place on earth and it’s only 20 minutes drive from my front door which in countryside terms is basically at the end of my road. It’s run by David and Anneke Blake who I also like very much and am hugely envious of just about everything they’ve created. I like their attitude, their obvious love for what they do and they’re appreciation of what it is to drink cold white wine on a Saturday lunch time for no particular reason at all. It’s in essence a farm shop but attached to this they have the most delicious cafe and restaurant serving all manner of incredible food, all cooked up in the smallest kitchen you can imagine and enjoyed at enamel topped tables in an extension clad in reclaimed wood. In the Summer you can sit outside amongst the millions of tulips and roses and rows of vegetables. It’s a bit Beatrix Potter with the occasional wooden clog and clucking chicken. It’s enchanting and relaxing and the perfect slice of countryside living. And it’s only open Fri – Sun which means I can’t over indulge too much and so it always feels like a treat. Obviously I don’t want anyone reading this to go there. The perfect thing about it is not too many people know about it yet and that’s just how I like it.
I’ve spent the last few days enjoying a rather wet, broadband free holiday in Devon with the boys. We’ve been searching for Pirate treasure, fishing for fingers, spotting Penguins on Stoke Beach (turned out to be a Guillemot) and enjoying lots of cake and scones.
On a trip to Totnes to the outdoor market, I made a small but exciting purchase. A not quite perfect James Keiller & Son Ginger Preserve jar. I made sure to peek inside before parting with my money and saw lots of crumpled newspaper with a note reading “Very sharp pointy shells. TAKE CARE”. I handed over my 50p quickly and quietly and slipped the jar in to my satchel….
So here are the contents, 2 beautiful and perfectly preserved Murex Brandaris shells accompanied by a note from 1968 written on the back of a Christmas Wishes card.
The note reads….
Murex Brandaris : Produces the purple dye Murex much prized by Roman, Greeks and Phoenicians. The latter created new settlement as a result of their searches for new beach of shells”
Now if that isn’t treasure, I don’t know what is.
As my out of season addiction with the Broad Bean continues, I thought I’d try something a little more warming….seeing as Spring seems to be dressed up in Winter clothing for now.
I love risotto. I learned how to make it when I lived in Venice almost 20 years ago. It was actually my American flatmate who taught me and I’ve been in love with the wonderful Arborio grain ever since. You can make risotto with pretty much anything, that’s the beauty of it. Whenever we’re low on things in the fridge but want something delicious and comforting, risotto is the dish to turn to.
When you know the basic formula you don’t really need to use a recipe, but there are always little tips and secrets to pick up if you take the time to look around. This recipe for Broad Bean Risotto with Mint is nothing out of the ordinary but there is something in here which I certainly wouldn’t have thought of had I made it without a bit of research. Taken from The Eagle Cookbook and found on The Guardian website, this is a delicious, easy and very pretty risotto which was a pleasure to both make and eat. I used mint but also some parsley to garnish – it worked.
Risotto with broad beans and mint
You could use fresh, but not frozen, peas instead of broad beans and you could also substitute basil, marjoram or oregano for mint.
Serves 5–6 as a starter
About 3kg/ 6½lb fresh broad beans (400g/14oz podded and shucked weight – see above)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (optional)
About 2 litres / 3½ pints vegetable or chicken stock
150g/5oz unsalted butter
2 onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
300g/11oz arborio rice
A glass of white wine
A bunch of mint, chopped
About 75g/3oz Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
The first thing I do for this recipe involves a food processor and is entirely optional. I put roughly half the broad beans in a food processor with the olive oil and pulse them roughly for about 20 seconds to make a loose paste. If the paste is too stiff, add a drop of water and pulse again very quickly. This adds a creamy base to the risotto and makes the colour a little more intense.
Put the stock in a pan and bring it to simmering point. Gently heat 100g/4oz of the butter in a separate pan, add the onions and garlic with a little salt and fry gently until tender. Do not let them brown. Turn the heat up high and pour in the rice. Stir it with a wooden spoon for about half a minute, coating it with the butter; do not let it stick to the pan. Add the wine and let it bubble fiercely for about a minute, stirring gently all the time. Quickly stir in the broad bean paste, if using, then reduce the heat and start to add the hot stock in stages as described on pages 92–93. When the rice is done, remove from the heat, add the rest of the butter and cover the pan until it has melted. Stir it in with the broad beans and mint, then add the Parmesan and some seasoning. Serve immediately
It’s been a strange few days. I thought mid week that Spring might actually be here to stay. It was warm, sunny and the house was full to bursting with daffodils. I started thinking about Spring flavoured food to cook and enjoy rather than warming Wintery soups to slurp. I even turned the heating off for a bit and told the children to put jumpers on when they complained of being cold. And now it’s snowing. Big, thick, fluffy flakes of snow have been falling since 7 this morning and all I want is a full roast dinner followed by crumble and custard.
But back to last week. When the sun was shining and the birds were singing, I decided to make Polpo’s Broad Bean, Mint and Ricotta Bruschetta. It was so good that I shall be eating it come rain, snow or shine for the rest of the year. I’ve made it twice since Thursday. I admit to cheating the first time and buying ready podded beans. I was hosting a working lunch “meeting” and had my 2 year old running around and it just wasn’t the right environment for a relaxing hour of podding. The second time however, I popped and podded and the result was even more delicious.
Here’s the recipe and finished dish straight from the pages of Polpo and a picture of my market bought beans pre pod. I tried it the second time with Mozzarella rather than Ricotta – just roughly chop up some good quality Buffalo Mozzarella and mix with some good olive oil and salt and pepper. It made for a much messier Bruschetta but surely that’s half the fun.
Broad Bean, Mint and Ricotta Bruschetta
2 thick slices of sourdough or soda bread
A good handful of podded broad beans
3tbsp fresh ricotta
2tbsp extra virgin olive oil
½ clove of garlic
The zest of one lemon and a little juice
10 mint leaves, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper
Place the broad beans into boiling water for 5 minutes, remove and plunge into cold water. Then drain and skin them. Put them in a small bowl and dress them in the olive oil, the zest, a little lemon juice, most of the mint, salt and pepper.
Toast or grill the slices of bread so that they are crunchy on the outside but still have a bit of give when squeezed. Rub one side of each slice with the cut side of the garlic. The clove will melt into the bread’s hot surface.
Spread the fresh ricotta, with salt and pepper added to taste, on to the hot and prepared bread. Top with the broadf beans and garnish with the remaining chopped mint.
And to finish, a little bit of Cotswold snow on a Sunday in March.
The dust is still flying. We were very almost there and then we found some damp. So off came the plaster. Again.
So, while the last remaining walls dry and the floor tiles are left to stick, I’m doing a little bit of set dressing. Its going to look absolutely wonderful when it’s all done and already the extra space has changed my life. I have a utility room. The washing machine and dryer are no longer in the kitchen. I can have them on all day long and I don’t care. And I have a linen cupboard which has made me happier than any inanimate object really should. And, I’ve got Pigeon on my walls which is making me feel very grown up indeed.
What could be cheerier than new walls and a jug of daffodils.
I have a new social media addiction. I doubt it will quite take over my love of Instagram but it’s going to be a close one. Vine is a FREE app for iPhone and iPad which allows you to film 6 second movies. You hold your finger down on the screen for as long as you want to record which means you can do six 1 second pieces of film (or more / less) which is then edited automatically and posted. You have the choice to share your movies just within the Vine community, or further afield through your Facebook and Twitter profiles.
The platform looks like Instagram but with moving images. Download it now and have a look at some of the Editor’s pics. It’s amazing what you can do with 6 seconds of film.
I don’t generally use ANTW as a platform for rants, well not often anyway, but I have a quick one today which I’ll try to keep brief.
Can someone please explain to me this current need to caption things, photographs mainly, with the phrase “so this happened”, or “so this is happening”. Not only is it hugely irritating and a bit too over friendly, but I’m sure it’s also grammatically incorrect on all kinds of levels. I’ve been looking in to it and it’s not just Instagram, Twitter and Facebook which seem to be suffering from the occasional “so…” caption. There are blogs published under the title “So This Happened…” and “So, this happened…” which I suppose at least involves a comma. There are people I like and respect using the phrase all too freely and flippantly. Mostly it seems to partner a picture of some kind of food which either has or is about to be consumed. A great big greasy burger, an eye watering spread of Indian take away or a bar full of alcohol or perhaps even a tattoo in mid branding.
I do see how it works and I do understand the appeal, to a point, and perhaps it’s just my prudish, British sensibility which causes it to bother me at all. Who knows. All I do know is that I’m finding it even more annoying than LOL and I never, ever thought that possible.
So, that happened. Is that right? Oh I don’t really care.
The hole may still only be the size of a football but I can see the other side and that’s all the reason I need. Ebay has become my obsession of late, I’ve even delved in to the pages of Gumtree but I still can’t make out what’s real and what’s a paid for ad. It’s far too confusing to buy from let alone look at.
Once the hole becomes a door way and the two houses become one, we will have 6 rooms to furnish and decorate. All the walls are being painted white and the carpets replaced so in theory we’re being given a clean, blank canvas. Obviously when you’re joining two houses together you have the problem of having two of everything. We don’t need two kitchens so are ripping one out to make a through dining room from our existing kitchen. The small second sitting room will become a study and the dining room we’re not using, will become a grown up carpeted seating area with no room for toys.
The first room to consider is our existing kitchen which will be losing the large kitchen table to be replaced with a smaller table. The dryer and washing machine which take up two corners of the room, will be going next door in to the utility room so that frees up a whole load more space. The downstairs loo which leads off the kitchen, has today been ripped out to make way for the hole to next door. So this small corridor now needs to be thought about too and will eventually become much needed under stairs, corridor, storage.
So far I’ve made two big purchases for the kitchen : a new dresser and a small enamel topped table. Both are from second hand shops, one in Witney (The Old Pill Factory) and the other in Whitstable (Valentines Vintage). The dresser was priced with an accompanying note which read….make me an offer….so I did and got it for half price. Never pay full price when shopping in vintage or second hand shops. It shall be painted sunflower yellow, as all dressers should. The enamel topped table is absolutely beautiful and solves the need for a small table which can also double as more surface space.
I don’t want big bulky chairs so I decided on stools. Determined to stay away from Ikea and the like, I started looking on Ebay for things which could be made in to interesting stools or seats. I found the most amazing vintage American lard barrels. Two of them. I’m going to put them on coasters and top with cushions.
Another thing I discovered this week was that Marks and Spencer are selling potted Hyacinth bulbs for just £2. Re-potted in an old colander, they make a very nice addition to the new enamel table. And they help take my mind off the masses of dust and rubble a small hole in the wall can cause.