Category Archives: The Farm

Back from the trenches…

The final novel in THE GRASS IS ALWAYS GREENER series is out at last, slightly later than originally intended, but my somewhat unusual excuse is that I’ve only just returned from the trenches. No, I haven’t been at war, just trying to make some order of the chaos that is Great Ground Farm.


First there was the comparatively small job of digging a trench to plumb in the loo…

Then there was the trench for the “Great Wall of GGF”…

Then there was the small matter of landscaping the garden…


Not content with that, I then set about trying to find the water main in order to lay on water to the stables…

Before I’d recovered from that, the new electricity main and water pipe for the workshop needed yet another trench…

And the spring in the paddock needed to be rerouted to the water troughs for the alpacas…

By which time, planning had been approved to build the house…

And then there was the little matter of digging trenches for the rainwater drainage…

And then another trench for the foundations of the steps…


And yet another trench had to be dug (this time for the loo in the fleece workshop)…

And finally (I hope) a very long trench to take mains water down to the top alpaca paddocks, which involved getting out the dowsing rods to find the original pipe….


It would be fair to say that I was all trenched out and more than content to be ensconced at my desk in the Book Shed for a while to finish THE SKIPPERESS’S TALE…

So if anyone needs a cure for writer’s block, one option is to dig a trench or two!


Casserole of pheasant breasts with shitake mushrooms

A soggy start at daybreak, paddling through mud and puddles in driving rain to feed the alpacas & reindeer at Great Ground Farm, made me think about warm hearty food and  sowed the seeds for working out what to cook for tonight’s dinner. Thinking about dinner before I’d even had breakfast was perhaps not such a good idea as it made my working day even more arduous than usual. It’s not that I’m not dedicated to my craft (final edit of THE SKIPPERESS’S TALE is in full swing), but somehow my mind kept wandering from the subject matter back to food. Eventually (daily word count quota at the coal face of creativity reached) I relented and trotted eagerly to the kitchen to see what I could throw together. A problem then arose as I hadn’t had time to go food shopping for a week or two, so would have to work with what was around. I’m also still working with half a kitchen, no hob and an electric oven that’s on its last legs, but compared with the lack of roof and last week’s chimney fire it’s not really a problem at all. So, what ingredients were available? A tin of baked beans, a butternut squash and two bananas didn’t fill me with inspiration (& the bananas were for the parrot’s & macaws’ breakfast tomorrow). The last of the potatoes from the garden, a few green beans and some cavolo nero (black kale). Hmmm. I’d kind of built up my expectations for something a bit more inspiring.

Shitake mushrooms suddenly sprang to mind (or at least had sprung up overnight in a corner of the workshop thanks to a gift from my good friend and benefactor Lady Marrow of Barnsley) along with some pheasant breasts I’d already extricated from a brace of the lifeless feathered creatures that had appeared hanging on the wing mirror of my Land Rover (my aversion to organised game shooting still stands, but I couldn’t bear to waste them).  I haven’t included photos of the breast removal process as it’s a bit gory and reminiscent of Laurie Graham’s brilliant Jack the Ripper novel THE NIGHT IN QUESTION I’m currently reading. If anyone wants tips on how to do it, though, I’m more than happy to advise. Although I wouldn’t advise answering the door to the post lady half way through as the sight of me in a bloodstained apron brandishing a giblet-laden filleting knife gave her a bit of a fright and added another dimension to the complaint I’d made the week before that she’d ‘disturbed me in the middle of a murder’. Now, it seems, the gossip in the village is that the ‘odd man with the llamas’ might be a homicidal maniac. I’m quite upset because they’re not llamas, they’re alpacas…

Anyway, back to the pheasant breasts and shitake mushrooms. Having never combined the two ingredients, it occurred to me that the gamey/earthy flavours might work well together. Fortunately my hunch was correct and the result absolutely delicious…





4 pheasant breasts (or chicken breasts or preferably the more flavoursome thigh fillets would work well too)

250g shitake mushrooms – sliced

3 red onions (peeled & roughly chopped)

2 sticks celery (chopped) [optional]

2 tablespoons plain flour

1 tablesoon olive oil/rape seed oil

1 teaspoon piri piri spice

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

1 teaspoon chopped stem ginger

2 teaspoons mustard

1 tablespoon mango chutney

450ml chicken stock

half glass sherry

dash of soy sauce

4 rashers streaky bacon


Heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.

Clean & slice the mushrooms (there’s no need to removed the stalks if they aren’t tough) and put on a baking tray in the top of the oven with a little of the oil for about 20 mins.

Meanwhile put the onions in an oven proof casserole dish with a little oil and put in the middle of the oven (without the lid).

Mix the piri piri spice with the plain flour (reserving about two teaspoonfuls) and toss the pheasant breasts in it.

Take the mushrooms out of the oven, dust with the reserved flour and replace in the oven for another 10 mins.

By now, the onions should have begun to caramelise. Throw the pheasant breast in with them, drizzle with the rest of the oil, and cook until the breast have browned. Tossing them half way through will make them cook more evenly.

In the meantime the mushrooms need to be doused in the sherry (sake would work equally as well, but I couldn’t find any) and cooked for about 10 more mins.

Finally, put the mushrooms, chopped celery, garlic, mustard, chutney, soy sauce and chicken stock in with the breasts, put on the lid and cook for about 30-45 minutes.

Grill the streaky bacon to serve on top (or it could be chopped, fried & combined with the casserole).

I served it with roasted charlotte potatoes, crispy black kale & green beans.



Please excuse the large serving in the photo – I was extremely hungry!

I’m now planning another shitake mushroom recipe for tomorrow – probably with beef.

And, for those of you who have requested recipes using either alpaca or reindeer meat, the answer is firmly in the negative. I’m not sure I’d enjoy cooking with, let alone eating, anything that had a personality and a name…

Driving Miss Maisy…

Photo post.

Source: Driving Miss Maisy…

Killing Magpies

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My eight year old nephew looked at my to-do list (a blackboard in the kitchen) on which I’d put a large tick next to ‘KILLING MAGPIES’. I quickly allayed his fears at what I’d been doing to explain that it was the title of a recently completed novel. Needless to say, he was very relieved (as am I at having finished it!) Set on a farmstead dominated by a Queen Anne house built onto the remains of a medieval priory (the fictitious Rattledown Priory) which is run as bed & breakfast/farmshop/alpaca farm/glamping site & wedding venue, it tells the story of a failed actress who falls in love with the place before being drawn into a plot involving an ancient curse, murder and mystery.

Where, he asked, did I get my inspiration? I luckily hadn’t gone into detail about the curse and murders, so was able to wave a hand casually over the surrounding Great Ground Farm – with its alpacas, reindeer and shepherds hut and tell him that I was writing about what I know and experience daily.




‘So,’ he asked sagely, looking at the next entry on my to-do list, ‘I suppose that means I won’t come next time to find you walking on eggshells?’

If you go down to the woods today…

What we thought would be ‘a little bit of tidying up’ in the woodland became a quite extensive operation – removing an ancient pheasant pen made of twisted mesh half buried in the mud and numerous fallen trees (33 to be precise). At least there will be a plentiful supply of logs for the log burner in the new house (when it’s built). Then began the task of building a 7 foot high perimeter fence. In case you’re about to ask why, the photographs should answer the question…


Yes – the reindeer have arrived and settled well into their new home.


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The Great Wall of…



“…200 bricks and 2000 words a day” —Winston Churchill to Stanley Baldwin, 1928
Agonising, back-breaking but very therapeutic and ultimately rewarding. For a change, I’m not talking about wrestling to capture and organise disparate words to form a novel, but piecing more than 13000 separate bricks to make a wall to surround the new garden. Bricklaying was Winston Churchill’s favoured way of keeping the ‘black dog’ of depression at bay. In fact, he wrote that an ideal day would include “the laying of hundreds of bricks”.
As with many tasks (especially writing a novel), it was as well to be somewhat ignorant of quite how arduous and daunting it was going to be. Several months later, it’s almost finished…
“There are four kinds of people in the world, Ms. Harper. Those who build walls. Those who protect walls. Those who breach walls. And those who tear down walls. Much of life is discovering who you are. When you find out, you also realize there are places you can no longer go, things you can no longer do, words you can no longer say.”
― P.S. BaberCassie Draws the Universe
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