Return to the Wild

When you're tired out from moving house and feeling creatively low, driving 4 hours might not seem that appealing at first glance. This was me on Friday morning, breaking down the last of the cardboard boxes and journey planning for a getaway with friends. As I typed the postcode into Google, I let out a small groan and started to reconsider the icebox of local sausages, cheese and gin already stowed in my boot. 

What if I told you though, that at the end of that long drive would be a long track......

farm track to The Damson Cabin.jpg

.... that led you through an orchard where sheep left their wool on their favourite scratching post....

Wool on the scratching post

... and tucked into a meadow was the most beautiful cabin?

The Damson Cabin

I've just returned from a magical time away with friends this weekend at The Damson Cabin, a beautiful cabin located in Kidderminster, Worcestershire. When a group of us wished for a weekend away to celebrate a birthday, we all agreed it needed to be inspiring, soothing and if at all possible, remote. The answer came courtesy of Canopy and Stars, a company who specialise in properties with a little more.... character

What I love about Canopy and Stars is their commitment to helping travelers reconnect with nature and experience a holiday that's a little wilder than your average hotel stay. The choices of accommodation are pretty varied, meaning you can find a slice of adventure that suits you or your family's needs pretty easily. The cabin was typical of the sort of thing you might expect to find from a Canopy and Stars property, with a wood burning stove, fairylights to accompany evenings on the porch and eco features such as solar power. 

We spent our time treating one another to delicious meals, using lanterns to light our suppers and blankets to warm our legs as we sipped morning coffees on the porch. When we fancied stretching our legs we found easy walks through woods, orchards and meadows that gave way to stunning views across the Worcestershire hills. 

meadow walks
Worcestershire hills

Ambling back through the farm on which the cabin is located, we stopped to make friends with some of the local characters and all sighed happily at the roses in full bloom, the textures and above all, the quiet. 

farm friends

Sometimes the best thing you can do is step away from the world and let in just a few brilliant, bright and warm women who make your heart sing. When I recall moments from this weekend I think of smiles, time to indulge our crafts and the endless supply of favourite bakes we shared, gladly. Gatherings in which every participant wishes for the greatest of happiness for their fellow travelers are extremely nourishing for the soul. 

As are the oatmeal cookies and cream teas. 

Oatmeal cookies and scones

What's more, somewhere, in the midst of all this celebration of our friendship, creativity and the beautiful surroundings, I even found time to learn something new....

Learning to crochet

 

//// ~ Notes from a blog post:

Pattern- Tenbury Hats & Mittens, Kat Goldin for The Crochet Project

Yarn- The Plucky Knitter Primo in Classic Rock & Bottle Blonde

Damson Cabin via Canopy and Stars, booked and paid for by all guests. Loved and adored by all. 

Open Farm Sunday

One thing I've missed terribly this past year is growing produce for my family. There's a true joy in tending crops, soothing myself by digging hands into soil, learning from fresh challenges brought about by new weather patterns or pests. The best part though was always taking that all back to the table where a curious 3 year old will try something just because she's seen it grow. My daughter's curiousity about the changing flora and fauna in our new rural home is increasing almost daily but the joy of the first harvest of cucumber or potatoes will be much missed this year. 

produce growing at Goldhill Organics

It seemed inevitable therefore, that I made a beeline for local growers when we landed in Dorset back in November. I've been enjoying getting to know whose bees produce honey for our toast, and whose eggs are the best in the honesty box stretch we cruise regularly. When I stumbled over Goldhill Organics though, I had a feeling I was going to become loyal to their efforts very quickly. I'm delighted that my hunch proved correct. 

We now enjoy a regular supply of seasonal organic produce thanks to their vegetable box scheme. I tear open the box weekly and snap off stalks of celery to feed Little One who has undoubtedly appeared from nowhere to scrounge as I unpack. The family have been growing at Goldhill Organic Farm for over 25 years and it's a story of true passion that I've been dying to find out more about. 

Last Sunday, I packed Little One and I into a hot car and drove across beautiful countryside to visit their property as part of Open Farm Sunday. Open Farm Sunday is a charity event, encouraging visitors to learn about production in farms all over the country. From our first experiences of lambing this year, I knew it was something that would fascinate both my daughter and I so I was excited to attend. 

OPen Farm Sunday decorations
Open Farm Sunday decorations
Open Farm Sunday details

In between fields of cattle grazing, a prehistoric hillfort and meadows, is the farm itself. A family effort that has grown to the productive size it is today, Goldhill Organic Farm represents the word I've come to associate with our new environment: abundant. I stood enchanted as I watched fat bees buzz happily around some of the biggest Chive flowers I've ever seen and Little One helped herself to the coriander bed much like a child in a candy store. It's a magical place. 

retro ice cream van

The cafe and courtyard provided welcome relief after a fascinating, if slightly sweltering, tour of the raised beds and polytunnels. We treated ourselves to delicious ice creams from the retro van, stocked up on a little more produce from the farm shop and visited the studios on site. Local artists demonstrated glass blowing and their stunning paintings for visitors to enjoy and the atmosphere was a refreshing mix of nurturing and enthusiastic. 

When I began The Maker's Year, back in January, these were the stories I wanted to sniff out: local producers creating something truly magical that was sustainable and nurturing to both communities and the environment. Standing in the courtyard, I watched my daughter running excitedly in circles (thanks ice cream), families laughing together, farm members chatting about challenges and victories from this year's efforts and I knew I'd taken another step closer. There is something very special indeed about reconnecting with a growing cycle and knowing why this year the asparagus struggled but the beans have grown wild. I appreciate the fresh new crops just that little more and try to elevate my day to day cooking to make the most of it. 

Studio open day for Open Farm Sunday

It's really added to the pleasure of collaborating with the team for the new monthly recipes I'm developing as part of the Patreon rewards for the podcast. Each month, I'll be treating subscribers to a recipe that is seasonal, easy to achieve and includes tips for family meal times. I knew that these wonderful producers would provide just the inspiration I needed and Sunday's visit confirmed it. I'll be sharing sneak peaks of ingredients and trips to Goldhill Organic regularly on Snapchat, Twitter etc and you can also grab the monthly recipe by joining the A Playful Day community over on Patreon

Do you love growing produce? I know a lot of you do. Tell me how it's gone this year. I love these stories!

Awakening

Sometimes the best way to find ourselves can be to become entirely lost. I say this as someone who has the knee jerk reaction of feeling claustrophobic at any given moment. At any moment, of any day, I will have a moment when I just want to drop everything and run.... somewhere... anywhere. Anything can trigger it: a crammed diary, too many things on a to do list, or even things just being too predictable and routine. I am nothing if not contrary in my need to feel in control. 

A year ago these feelings were seeping in with all too frequent regularity. I was trying to establish myself as a full time blogger, podcaster and writer. I had a small child who relied on me every day of the week. I was navigating the tornado that is separating from your child's father and the legal and financial twists and turns that result. I'd often find myself in the garden, absentmindedly plucking at weeds or sitting in the local park, eyes shut and turned to the sun. I sat quietly in these moments and tried to ignore a growing discomfort with our life in London. Any small comfort rapidly turned to a claustrophobic need to escape. Cafes felt like they were full of others nailing their parenting or freelance lives. The parks crammed so full of people on sunny days that it was like sitting within a mob when you had a picnic. Suddenly I just needed to get us out or face a day to day existence of the mean reds. 

I picked us up. I took us elsewhere. Against advice and people worrying my impulsive streak had gone too far this time, I took the greatest adventure I've ever taken. I landed in rural Dorset with limited furniture and funds and invited it to surprise me. It's not disappointed me yet. 

Dorset coastline

Since moving to the countryside, I've spent a lot of time just soaking in the surroundings. Moments with my camera getting entirely lost bring me the much needed space for my mind to shake out all its complicated knots and tangles. It's in these moments that I start to feel creative and free again and words flow more easily. I pause and note the new flora and fauna that week. I take in the dry stone walls. I soak up the stonework of the few scattered cottages and above all, I wander without any plan other than to observe. 

Knowing I'd been feeling a little overwhelmed by a second house move, speaking at a fairly big deal conference soon and all the to-do list items I wished to achieve before both, I deliberately got lost last weekend. On my visit to see a friend in Yorkshire, I picked a path and simply put one foot in front of the other. Without any bearings, I went in search of much needed calm.  

Awakening- blossom

The most surprising thing that I found in those isolated few hours was a sense of home. There in the hedgerows was blossom that I recognised. The smell of wild garlic beginning to burst into life reminded me of the same event a few weeks earlier on our warmer Southern shore. Clambering over tree stumps, watching a different flock of lambs, felt at once familiar as it did new and stimulating. My brain was mighty glad for the distraction and my heart beat just a little harder as I took in the sight of Spring filling up the world with colour and texture once more. 

tree stumps and stream

It was tucked by a stream, listening to birdsong and the gentle babble of water that I realised I finally have a sense of sanctuary. It wasn't that London was scary and overbearing, it was that I didn't have a place there anymore. My adventures lie in green spaces, landscapes washed with seasonal colour and outcrops of buildings rather than a jungle of them. 

To me outside is home. It's what I need to reset and make progress again. 

 

Where do you go to refocus?

Wipsandblooms... Adding More Blooms

With the Christmas decorations taken down last week, I spent some time looking really closely at our new living space and pondering what I can to do to add a little cheer until we move into our final home in June. It's hard to put your stamp on a temporary space and yet I find myself needing to settle in somehow. I work from home, I take pictures almost constantly and I like to have a little corner to nestle into and read, knit or pour over recipe books. Having only just moved and then Christmas, I haven't yet felt that sense of belonging that I need to call the place we dwell our home. 

I peered closely at the walls that will form a constant background to whatever I do and whatever pictures I wish to take for the next 6 months. All but one are painted in dark colours that feel more than a little oppressive on gloomy overcast days like today. I started to feel a little despondent just looking until I realised this needs to become a place to nestle into on those dark days. On light filled days I know we will head out as much as possible to explore our new surroundings. I think I need to think of this as a space to recharge after such adventures. 

dark walls

So I started simply and looked at what I already had. Candles here and there, a few prints on the wall that I could enjoy as I pause from typing and editing were a good place to start. I added some lighter fabrics on places like the kitchen table and knew instantly that what I really needed was some pretty sprays of flowers to pick up dark corners. I've found it hard to find a florist here yet so when my Wips and Blooms cohost Katie emailed to share the news that Bloom and Wild would love to support our creativity this month, I was overjoyed. 

Adding a little something to the kitchen table that is the hub of our daily life felt like a changing moment this week. I've always loved cut flowers in my home, almost as much as pottering in the garden. We don't have our own garden here so the need for flowers felt more important than ever. Bloom and Wild send you a seasonal bouquet in the mail (yes really, it's just perfect) and when it arrived I immediately pushed aside my laptop and started creating little pockets of joy round the home. Just the act of cutting the flowers and stepping back to look at how I was arranging them left me feeling calmer and happier. 

arranging flowers

From moments spent pondering new projects to taking a calm 5 minutes knitting between editing jobs, my kitchen table began to feel like I had at last found a little sense of home. It's so simple and yet so satisfying to watch the Alstroemeria slowly open to reveal delicate hues and those Wax Flowers have been particularly bringing me joy all week. 

'The Isla' bouquet kindly provided by Bloom and Wild

'The Isla' bouquet kindly provided by Bloom and Wild

Bloom and Wild have kindly offered a 3 month supply of flowers for our favourite #wipsandblooms image this month. To take part, simply take an in process shot of what you are making with your favourite flower or foliage to share on Instagram. It can be any craft and any bloom you feel like. Just remember to add #wipsandblooms and tag myself (@aplayfulday) and Katie (@ceramicmagpie) so that we can see and enjoy your work. If you need ideas and inspiration, you can look at our WipsandBlooms pinterest board here to help you. 

My current wips&blooms- Hugni by Ysolda Teague in Isle Yarns

My current wips&blooms- Hugni by Ysolda Teague in Isle Yarns

I'll be sharing more Wips and Bloom images too over on Instagram across this month to encourage you to take a moment to capture your making. I can't wait to see what you create. 

New Year Calm and Clarity

When it comes to getting a feel for the emotional state I'm in, you need look no further than the kitchen most days. If the sides are brimming with tins of baked goods, the fridge is bursting with fresh seasonal ingredients, then I'm feeling peachy. If I've slammed oven chips on the table and realised the fish fingers are not even defrosted? Things are bleak and it's best to give me a moment to put things right again. 

baking clutter
lemon zesting

New Year brought the realisation that I need more time for me in 2015. I am tired and I just need to indulge in some good food making and eating before strapping my walking boots back on and journeying into new adventures. As a result my kitchen is a den of activity right now- lemons are being used everywhere (always a good sign) and there's been some pretty special lunches and dinners. 

dressing in a bottle
roasted jerusalem artichokes

I've bee playing around with new to me recipes like this one for roasted Jerusalem artichokes but I've also been on something of a mission....

seeds and nuts

It's got me twice in a week...

dried fruit an nuts

and I'm not there yet.....

breakfast bars

The PERFECT breakfast bar! I've been using up dried fruits, seeds, nuts and oatmeal from the cupboard but I've still not found just the right mixture that I'm craving. I want seedy and nutty, not heavily sugary and not crumbly. What's your favourites? 

Roasted Beetroot, Squash and Goats Cheese Salad aka the Shoulder Season Salad.

The other day I popped out to meet a friend for a playdate with our toddlers and on my way went past a really yummy looking vegetable stall. I couldn't help but slow my pace, point to the figs with the Tot and start adding things to a basket. It was a cold and damp day but I wasn't feeling soup. I wanted lots of vegetables but without the boiling. I wanted colour. I wanted flavour. 

I came home with a portion of squash. I'm not sure the exact variety but it had a creamy green skin and bright orange flesh. It looked great next to the purple and golden beetroot that I also brought home that day. I pondered and rummaged in my fridge, googled around and decided to sort of throw it all together and see what happened. 

What happened was delicious. 

Here's some rough notes for how I accidentally made the best 'Shoulder Season' salad I've ever made:

- Take equal volumes of various beetroots and squash- just go with whatever you find and look fr fun colours to put on your plate. Cube and skin them. 

- Cut some red onions into wedges and put all the chopped veg into a large roasting dish, big enough not to overcrowd them. Toss in about 2 tbsp oil (I used coldpressed olive), season and pop in the oven on 225c for about 35 mins. 

- Meanwhile steam some green beans. I think rocket or spinach would be wonderful here too. 

- During last 10 minutes of the roasting, drizzle 2 tbsp Balsamic Vinegar over the beets, onions and squash and shake it well before popping it back in. 

- Chop about half a cups worth of walnuts and crumble a block of goats cheese. 

- Remove roasted veg from oven and toss in the beans and walnuts. Sprinkle over the cheese. 

I'd also seriously think about a maple and balsamic vinaigrette next time like this one I found- it looks delicious. 

Enjoy!