THE SIMPLE EDIT

A Shropshire lass who went away and a New Yorker who came to stay

Food

Our Simple Spring Preen

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It’s Springtime!

The countryside is dotted by the yellow of rapeseed fields and the daffodils dance lazily in the breeze.

Here in Ludlow, Lucy and I have decided that Spring heralds not just a new start for nature, it means we have to take our cue too.

All winter, we stuck our feet into thick socks and muddy wellies, our faces weathered and windswept by all those outdoor walks.

The extra padding that is so comforting in winter feels somewhat unwieldy now that the warmer weather has arrived.

We know that all too soon, we are going to have to expose elbows, knees, wobbly bits and toes to the elements.

So, we’ve put together a three-step pampering plan using what Ludlow and the surrounding area has to offer.

Step 1: Feet

We’re at the age where corns, calluses and bunions (gulp) call for serious attention so our very first stop is with local chiropodist, Kerry Banks (01584 891727).

Getting those cracks smoothed over is a blissful experience and once Kerry has worked her magic, we’re ready to get our feet noticed with a pedicure at one of our favourite salons: Nail Gallery and Vanilla Orchid.

We may be bumpkins but we still know our Nars Ikiru Pastel Blue from our Butter Majestic Red!

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Step 2: Face

It may be a bit of mutton into lamb (excuse the Spring pun), but the face has been ignored all of winter and it is definitely time for renewal.

We’ve been talking about trying out the new spas at  Overton Grange and Fishmore Hall for months now so it’s time to stop procrastinating and book that much needed facial (the Light Lunch Spa Day Package at Fishmore is looking particularly tempting).

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Step  3: Fitness

Winter was a time of stop/start training. There were weeks when the only exercise we had was shovelling food into our mouths. Now our elbows are suffering from bursitis (as we write this, we are tucking into a lemon scone and warm cinnamon roll at The Green Cafe).

The lack of training and willpower has to stop!

We both need a realistic goal to motivate us so this May we have signed up for the 26K Big Black Mountain Challenge walk in the Brecon Beacons (Claire calls it the ‘Big Break Me Challenge’ given our sporadic training schedule).

Not content with suffering alone, we’ve duped 15 other mums into taking part.  In the countryside, walking is the proverbial ‘killing many birds with one stone’; the best way of getting together with friends, motivating each other, socialising, gossiping, walking the dogs and exercising all at once.

There you have it. Three little steps to physical, mental and spiritual rejuvenation.

IMG_0344Similarly, our home and garden are also in need of an uplift. Spring cleaning and tending to the garden feels right.

Once we’ve completed our simple steps, it will be time to dust off the Yellow Peril and head out to visit some local gardens.

First on our list:  Stockton Bury and Hampton Court for a bit of inspiration.  Watch this space…

Getting through filthy February

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We love January. I can see you raising a skeptical eyebrow but for us, January not only heralds a fresh start and time to reflect, but also the opportunity to fire up exciting, new ventures, plan holidays, pick up a new skill and give mind and body a good kick-start.

February, on the other hand, is not a welcome month; it is January’s hangover and March’s grumpy neighbor. If February were a colour tone, it would be sludgy brown washed with a cloud of grey to match how we feel – bah humbug.

We are not quite ready to come out of hibernation and if there’s ever a time to view life with a half-glass full attitude, it’s over the ensuing weeks.

However, there’s enough January feel-good to tide us over and here are a few ideas to get you through filthy February, in and around Ludlow.

 THE GREAT OUTDOORS

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Titterstone Clee viewed from the West

The Dutch say that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes. So invest in a good pair of wellies, a decent waterproof (Countrywide in Ludlow have a good selection) and get outdoors.

This time of year, the countryside is at its most wet and wild and if we get another very cold front, you can experience the most spectacular views all across the outstandingly beautiful Shropshire hills and valleys.

To date, we have already scaled to the top of the Titterstone Clee, bounded up and down Carding Mill Valley and stomped through a very misty, muddy Mortimers Forest.

Next on our list: Batch Valley, the Stiperstones, Croft Castle and the Brown Clee. For more inspiration try: Shropshire Great Outdoors Walking or National Trust.

BIRDLIFE

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Greenfinches and a Goldfinch

The dawn chorus is slowly warming up but for the most part, all you can spot are LBJs (little brown jobs) flitting around the hedgerows. We’ve invested in a birdfeeder (try Ludlow Homecare) and have been amazed by the colours of our local garden birds and the simple pleasure they provide.

The flash of red from the elusive woodpecker is enough to warm even the coldest heart. Hanging from our birdfeeder this morning are gorgeous goldfinches, a particularly handsome bullfinch, the habitual but very pretty blue tits, an opportunist, plump pheasant, a jet black black-bird (our top songster), a flitter of nuthatches, a loyal robin and of course, a few LBJs which we’ve yet to identify.

Click here for an excellent site on how to identify garden birds for amateur enthusiasts.

FAMILY TIME

This month, make the most of your support network. For those of you who’ve seen enough of your children over Christmas but feel the grandparents are missing out, gently nudge them towards Shropshire Hills Discovery Centre which is offering a How to Tell a Bedtime Story workshop throughout February. From 20-24 February, the Centre is also holding a Fantastic Beasts workshop where children can ‘learn about some of the fantastic beasts of the wizarding world’.

WELL-BEING

Why do we choose to dry out during a habitually cold and wet month? It’s that New Year new beginning isn’t it? If like us, your motivation is already seeping away, then bring yourself back to focus with techniques to boost the spirit. On 3 February, Friends Meeting House in Ludlow is holding classes on Meditation and Mindfulness.

For cooking enthusiasts, on 25 February, Shropshire Hills Discovery Centre is holding a Gluten and Dairy Free Cookery Class, a great opportunity to get inspired.

Looking to be more creative? Have a look at the wonderfully eccentric and very welcoming Westhope College,which offers craft courses ranging from basket weaving and hand embroidery to upholstery and jewellery.

Classes are small and intimate and your course fee includes homemade lunch served at a formally laid table and afternoon tea and cake.

EATING OUT

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Yummy chowder at The Green Cafe in Ludlow

We may not have the handful of 3-star Michelin restaurants of the past but Ludlow still has a fantastic selection of pubs, cafes and restaurants.

A favourite image on Instagram recently has been a log fire viewed through a glass of prosecco. Claire and I are all about moderation: it’s important to treat yourself every now and then (and quite frankly, we could do with a break from kale, porridge and quinoa) so when it really is too foul to go outside, find a place by the fire, enjoy a meal made from local produce and experience the true meaning of ‘hygge’.

Restaurants and pubs we have enjoyed: Mill on the Green, Ludlow Kitchen, Pizza Ten, The Unicorn Inn, Koo Japanese Restaurant, The Blue Boar, Pizza Express, Riverside Inn, Chang Thai, The Charlton Arms. Find a full listing here.

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As fully paid up members of the sandwich generation (middle-aged, caught between a young family and ageing parents, juggling work and family, battling the bulge) we know it’s not always possible to accomplish all of the above.

This month, the idea is to manage the stress: strip down the to-do list, learn to prioritise and give yourself much needed ‘me time’. When the weather outside is pants, the children are bickering and you are constantly chasing your tail, here’s a very Simple solution: run yourself a deep bath, pour yourself a stiff drink, light a scented candle, shut the door and…BREATHE.

How to make crab apple jelly without becoming crabby

This is a rather late posting about crab apples. I just had some of my home-made crab apple jelly with a bit of cheese and remember I wanted to post my crab apple jelly making journey which can serve either as a warning or a guide…your preference.

So this year as a fully paid up associate member of the do-it-yourself tribe, I decided to try something with the bounty harvested from the crab apple trees in the garden. This is my second year in my home and the trees were resplendent with red, fiery fruit and I couldn’t stand to see them drop and rot again, if I could help it.

So I looked up recipes — essentially the first page of Google. I viewed Pinterest and there are plenty of pictures of lovely looking jars of crab apple jelly, many linked to recipes that begin in the middle and describe adding 10 parts to one part so I parted company there.

I couldn’t find any recipes or advice suited to this novice such as: This is what a crab apple looks like, they are small fiddly things and you will hate crab apples and yourself after an hour of topping and tailing and cutting the things. Admittedly, I didn’t bother with YouTube, I’m a traditionalist and I need to read recipes. In the end, I winged it and used a couple of recipes as a guide. However, this Mary Wynne recipe was my main guide as it included a way to measure the crab apples from the start.

HOW TO DO IT

 

Step 1: Crab apples come in different sizes. Mine was at the smaller end of the scale. One tree bore fruit as early as August and two only began to bear fruit towards the end of October, early November and the fruit is not only smaller than this bunch below but also green.

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Red, fiery fruit

Step 2: Get your gear together. I realised I needed:

  • a large pot
  • a thermometer
  • jars
  • wax discs for sealing
  • muslin (who has this lying around??)
  • A net for straining
  • Time (lots of it)
  • Patience – you’ll need extra when things aren’t going according to plan

Step 3: Wash, get rid of the stems, slice and cut into half if the apples are on the smaller side. Admission: I got bored after more than an hour (I used up all my patience in the beginning!) and started to cut off the top and bottom then sliced in half. After two hours I just pulled the stems and sliced as realised that muslin net comes in handy in straining since I wasn’t going to use the pulp!

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Pour enough water that you can see but the apples don’t float

Step 4: Add water to your crab apples. Recipes all seem to begin at this point. Warning: recipes also tell you to use enough water to cover the crab apples mine kept floating so where should I stop? Aargh! Mary Wynne to the rescue: Add enough water to be able to see, but no [sic] so much that the crabapples are floating. I interpreted it as the photo shows above.

Step 5: Boil, boil, boil and trouble. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 mins until fruit is soft. The first batch I made, I stuck a spoon in it to stir and boy, oh boy what a bitter brew! I had to throw it out. I fumed, sulked and started again two days later. Be warned stainless steel or wooden spoon!

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Enough juice for jelly

Step 6: Straining: What alchemy is this? I brought a net made for straining fruit. Heavens to Betsy how do you actually get it to strain so it dripped into the bowl? I hadn’t a clue and neither did Google. I just tied it in a knot and left it in a stainless steel bowl and hoped that a fairy would do some magic overnight. The next morning it was still in the bowl but crucially sat in a fair amount of juice. I squeezed the net several times against the sides with a wooden spoon and managed to yield close to the required 4 cups recommended by Ms Wynne.

A belated tip came from a friend who has a farm: her mother simply pegged the net to something deep like a bucket (clean obvs!).

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Note: only a wooden or stainless steel spoon

Step 7: Pour it into the pot and bring to a boil again and then simmer for 10 mins. I added a bit of cinnamon bark which the recipe suggested was optional. Skim the foam off the top and add the sugar. I bought jam sugar even though I understand crab apples are full of pectin.

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Step 8: Fahrenheit or centigrade? Boil on low until you get to the required temp. Get your bottles sterilised and into the dishwasher or sterilise in the oven. I reused some old coffee jars which had rubber seals. What a mistake…

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Step 9: Should they look that colour? I removed from the heat, finally putting to use those coffee jars I held on to for years EXCEPT the rubber seals refused to stick and kept rising up. I panicked, took the top off and used a plastic wax disc. Then I stuck them in a hot water bath which was pointless as the seal wouldn’t seal!

Step 10: Trial and error. I had hoped to gift these but thought I better try them myself first. They taste better than I expected then again I would say so given the sweat and tears that went into this concoction. Next year the crab apples may very well provide nutrients to the earth because I’m not so sure I can face them again.

Farm shop trail

When you live in the sticks, one of life’s little luxuries is food.  We keep writing about it, so you know here in Ludlow we are well catered for: a fair number of farmers’ markets, delis and of course farm shops.  We love them because they can be unique and we like knowing the provenance of our food.

We applaud and support farm shops that are taking the initiative to showcase not only their own produce and specialities but also other local food producers. Lucy and I thought it would be interesting to highlight a few.

After a bit of research involving recommendations from friends and families, farm shop signs that cropped up in our sight lines while travelling around and, of course, Google; we came up with a less-than-exhaustive list of four shops within a ten-mile radius of Ludlow. One was immediately disqualified because there was nothing farm like about it. Look if you’re going to call yourself a farm shop, well for a start a proximity to a farm would be nice! The big farm shop baby of the bunch is the Ludlow Food Centre – Lucy’s fan favourite but she’s already covered it here so it’s not included.

Quarry Farm Shop

img_2168Quarry Farm based in Luston just outside Leominster is fairly special and is one that I was already familiar with and have now introduced Lucy to. I enjoy their meat and before I discovered the farm shop often bought their tasty pies and sausage rolls from various village shops. The Quarry Farm shop itself has unexpected surprises in stock. Lucy says it’s a perfect one-stop shop for those special occasions when you’re entertaining guests. You can impress with very little effort because aside from posh popcorn, artisan drinks, vegetables, a good selection of wines, the owners will also give you top tips on how to prepare and cook the meats you select. And, when friends stay over (happens a lot in the countryside!) the shop sells the best frozen croissants and pain au chocolates – a firm breakfast favourite of my own little Edit.

Monkland Cheese Dairy

img_2173As its name suggests it’s all about the cheese! This working dairy just outside Leominster produces local, artisan cheeses and boasts an award-winning cafe which we didn’t get to sample on our farm shop tour. We’ll save  it for next time.  This is a tiny shop with a small selection of food products such as locally produced condiments and liqueurs, ideal for gift giving. We walked away with Monkland brand Smoked Little Hereford and The Other Monk cheeses, local Herefordshire produced British cassis, Damson Gin, chilli jam, farmhouse pickle and even a couple of greeting cards.

Froggatts

img_2178The farm shop that really isn’t!   From the outset this shop announces itself to be not just quirky but perky too. Just a couple of miles outside Ludlow off the A49 the owners claim a love of all things vintage and in the shop, you will find an interesting and fun mix of retro pieces, and painted, upcycled items. This is a great spot if you share the vintage love. Lucy planned to sneak back for a decorative mirror and wooden shelf she had spotted.  Froggats also has a very sweet little cafe which again, we didn’t have time to sample but we were tempted by the delicious baking smells wafting from the little kitchen.  There was a display of reasonably priced farm fruit, vegetables and homemade jams but on the day we visited, the fridges were bare of any of their rare-breed pork. Never mind any excuse to return!

Lucy and I rather enjoyed the Farm Shop trail and we will be returning to this theme soon because there are a few more to explore. But for now the season to be jolly approaches, so our Xmas special on things to do, see, buy and bake is up next.