Idle Speculation


There’s not too much to do on the farm in February.

sheep grazing Sussex

So we all ran away for the weekend to a beautiful corner of rural Sussex where there were hills and sheep, dark nights and silence, which made a pleasant change from the flat urbanised landscape of Essex. We even had a dusting of snow.

When we came home we said “Wasn’t it lovely? It was so quiet and peaceful without the incessant traffic noise of home.”

We talked about whether we’d like to live there. We said we would.

The London Eye

And then we went up to town. We went to the theatre and there were so many places to eat we had a job to decide which one to pick. We walked along the Thames and stood on the bridges watching the water rush by under our feet.

When we came home we said “Wasn’t it fun? There’s so much to do.”

We talked about whether we’d like to live there. We said it would be lovely to have a pied-à-terre.


But when we thought about it, the hills in Sussex were quite steep and the roads very narrow. And London was very noisy and crowded. Anyway, how could we afford a pied-à-terre?  Then we looked around us at the two cock pheasants strutting along the wall outside the kitchen window, the carpet of snowdrops under the apple trees and the fields beyond and we said “Aren’t we lucky to live here? Why do we want to go anywhere else?”

That’s the trouble with February. It’s such a non-event and leads to far too much idle speculation. Roll on spring.


sliced oranges for marmalade

Diary of a Marmalade Maker

Realise it is already February and I haven’t made any marmalade. No sign of Seville oranges in local town, but foray to town twenty miles west proves more fruitful. Have noticed similar situation in past obtaining red cabbage and cold pressed rapeseed oil. Wonder if this is reflection of our neighbourhood.

Consult recipe book and forsake normal method of boiling and then cutting softened fruit in favour of cutting raw peel and then boiling as recipe promises this technique produces brighter, clearer marmalade.

Making marmalade

Catch thumbnail and skin with knife while slicing. Wish I’d used my normal recipe. Discover have bought insufficient Seville oranges and make up quantity with blood oranges. Much simmering of aforesaid peel results in glorious smell that pervades whole house. Realise recipe calls for demerara sugar of which only half a packet in pantry. Make up quanitity with granulated. Feel this can only add to the brighter, clearer marmalade.

Much boiling and checking of temperature. Marmalade refuses to rise above 102C. Saucer test confirms setting point not reached. Move pan to electric cooker. Answer phone and hear recorded message about boilers. Take some time pressing buttons to bar number. Marmalade now risen to 105C so should set well. Pour into jars. Note that marmalade looks distinctly dark and opaque. Leave to cool. Label and put on shelf next to last jar of 2016 marmalade. Which is a considerably brighter, clearer marmalade.

home made marmalade

Resolve to revert to normal recipe next year. Wonder why I am so easily seduced by new recipes that offer wondrous results when there was nothing wrong with original.

Discover an orange can keep both grandson and dog entertained for quite a long while.

Wait for both to fall asleep and eat orange.


A Rabbit for the Pot

rabbit for the pot

As you may have deduced from my last post, currently we have a plentiful supply of rabbit meat. Perhaps a little too plentiful when we’re eating it every day. Many of my friends are aghast that we eat rabbits. I’m not sure if it’s because they think of rabbits as cute, furry pets or as inedible vermin. Whichever, it seems a little irrational to shun a lean, free-range meat like wild rabbit.

If you can get hold of some wild rabbit, then I urge you to give it a try. There are plenty of places online to buy as well as butchers and some supermarkets. I like to make a few jars of confit of rabbit, potted rabbit and rabbit liver pate (using a recipe for chicken liver pate). Mostly, I use the jointed rabbits to make casseroles, pies and curries or strip the meat from the bones and mince it with bacon or belly pork to make meatballs. There are plenty of recipes around for rabbit though I find that wild rabbits often need a longer cooking time than that given for farmed rabbit.


potted rabbit recipe

Two of my favourite rabbit recipes are Delia Smith’s Old English Rabbit Pie and Roasted Wild Rabbit and Bacon. Rabbit also makes a good curry and I often use it to replace the chicken in Anjum Anand’s Black Pepper Chicken recipe in her Indian Every Day book, though I put it in a slow oven for at least two hours rather than simmer for a short while on the hob.

Mostly though I cook my Store Cupboard Game recipe, which also works well with venison and hare. This is one of those adaptable recipes where you use what’s to hand. Add a few cubes of bacon or ham or squeeze in some tomato puree. A couple of squares of dark chocolate give a little oomph or replace the herbs with spices and add some chickpeas to bring out different flavours.

Store Cupboard Rabbit Casserole

still life with rabbit and vegetables

Joint your rabbit and cut the back into two pieces or three if the rabbit is large.

Heat a large knob of butter in an ovenproof pan and fry a sliced onion (with chopped garlic, celery and carrots if available) until softened.

Add the rabbit joints and cook for five or ten minutes until they’re lightly browned.

Stir in 60ml vermouth (or 125ml of wine), a can of tomatoes and enough water (or stock) to almost cover the rabbit.

Add a scattering of thyme leaves (or dried oregano), a grinding of salt and pepper, cover with the lid and put into a low oven (150C) for at least three hours by which time the meat will be falling off the bones.

When the cooking time is up, lift the meat and vegetables onto a serving dish (discarding any loose bone) and boil the liquid on the hotplate until reduced and thickened.


Night time thoughts

bed with patchwork quilt

Woken at 3am by conversation outside bedroom door as one son returns from evening out and the other sets off to work. Still wide awake at 3.15am. Try to lull myself back to sleep by making lists in my head. Manage to list a boy’s name for every letter of the alphabet, struggle with girl’s name beginning with X. Remember visualisation technique suggested by midwife to block pain and imagine that I’m on a beach, sand between my toes, water lapping gently, sun warming my back … Mind drifts. Which beach? Where am I walking to? Have soon planned holiday in the sun and vowed to take up open water swimming. Remember that visualisation was of little help during labour too.

Try relaxation from yoga class. Concentrate on breathing. Cannot stop thinking about breathing. Wonder what will happen if I stop thinking about breathing. Try to recreate soothing voice of the yoga teacher in my head to remind of next step. Ask myself why I stopped going to yoga and remember that it clashed with netball. Try to work out schedule for doing both and progress to many brilliant thoughts, none of which relate to yoga or netball. Suspect some thoughts may seem slightly less brilliant at 7am.

Drift off to sleep with notion that writing something on the blog every day for a week might jolt me out of my blogging lethargy. Wonder if people might think such prolific output strange but vow to try it. Decide it prudent to keep idea to myself until have actually carried out intention.

Every Step Counts

footprints in frost

Last year, I wore one of those fitness trackers for a couple of months and became mildly obsessed with how many steps I took each day. Then the battery ran out and the tracker was put to one side and forgotten. But when I was counting the steps, I wondered about the value of some. After all, there’s a world of difference between pottering around the kitchen while baking on a Sunday afternoon and power walking up a hill.

What if some of those steps were worthless? A study from the University of Cambridge revealed that a brisk twenty minute walk every day reduces the risk of early death by 25% but is a casual saunter of any benefit? I thought about some of the steps I’ve walked in the past week in speed order:

The Supermarket Shuffle. A ponderous walk also requiring negotiations around static and slow moving obstacles.

The Sunday Saunter. A postprandial amble with time to stop and talk with friends and neighbours or watch paramotors.

morning sun on foggy day

The Mindful Walk. Looking around at the landscape, stopping to photograph the light shining through the branches on a foggy morning or feeling the crunch of ice beneath the feet.

The Thinking Walk. There seems to be an optimum speed at which my brain works best and I can mull over problems or make grand plans. Bill hates it when I return from a walk with the words “I’ve been thinking …”

The Dog Walk. Brisk walking interspersed with stops to attach or remove the lead, backward walking as I scan the horizon for my dog and bending down to nip under barriers.

The Nordic Walk. Fast walking, propelled by poles. Only undertaken in a group away from home as I feel too self-conscious to stride out with poles around the farm.

The Walking Netball Walk. Very fast walking in short spurts co-ordinated with catching and throwing a ball and avoiding collisions with other players.

While I might not be getting an intense aerobic workout from all these forms of walking, I enjoy them and they get me outside in all weathers (apart from supermarket shopping). If being outside and active makes me happy then it must be doing good so it doesn’t surprise me that Natural England have concluded that walking can result in improved self-esteem and mood states.

Phew! Those steps are all worthwhile. They just have different values.

Do you walk for pleasure? Are you a mindful walker embracing the world with every step or do you stride purposefully from A to B?

You might also like to read these articles about the joys of walking:

Daily Walks

Hygge – Celebrating the Cold, the Bleak and the Blissful

Waste Not Those Feet