Our journey into the good life ‘part 2’: I wonder if we could start our own shop?!

I’ve put off writing this post for ages. Not because I’m not immensely proud of the journey we have gone on, but because there is so much water under the bridge, I don’t know where to start!

As regular readers of the blog may have seen from the original ‘Our Journey Into The Good Life’ post, I grew up on the farm, as my Dad had before me. I loved every aspect of living on the farm and my parents had instilled a strong work ethic in us, and themselves worked very hard over very long hours. My 2 great aunts that lived on the farm were an amazing influence and inspiration. Born just after the turn of the century, they had seen so many changes in the world, yet they still lived their way; collecting fruit from the hedgerows, growing vegetables, making clothes and repairing clothes, bottling and jarring till their hearts were content. Reading everyday, staying active into their 90’s, being so proud of what they had seen women achieve in their lifetime,  (they couldn’t believe girls now went for school for as long as boys, women were not only voting but we had a female prime minister), they really made me want to pass this lifestyle on to my children!


So I will pick up my story in the summer of 2005. I was a bright eyed and bushy tailed, 19 year old student of Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge (Anglia Polytechnic ‘in those days’) , having just finished my 2nd year at university. In the long summer break before starting my 3rd year, we thought it would be a cool idea to open a little shop on the farm. This was part of an experiment into farm diversification to see if we could potentially bring in enough income from this, that after my 3rd year at university had finished that the farm could support me coming to work there full time! So we put up a little wooden summerhouse shed, in the middle of our farm, with a bit of space for car parking out the front, and we had a shop. A very sparse shop, but a shop nonetheless! We sold in the shop eggs from our free range hens, potatoes that we grew on the farm, and some veg that we had planted in late spring/early summer in readiness for this venture into retail. We weren’t a grower of vegetables, this was new to us. We had an alarm so we could hear cars driving down to the car park and I would run to the shop when it went off, eager to serve the customers the best eggs, potatoes and vegetables around. We hardly had anything in the shop at all, it was quite pitiful looking back. But what we did have was amazing, and I was proud as punch of it! As we sold each bunch of carrots, I would scurry off to the field and pull another fresh bunch to replace it. I got the buzz and I was hooked! Mum and Dad amazingly said they would keep the shop open while I returned to university for my final year. We had never had actual retail customers down at the farm before, and it was quite exciting.




So after the hard work I’d put in on my summer break, I just had time for a girls holiday with my friend, also called Vicki, and then it was back off for my 3rd and final year. However, never one to stick to a plan, I happened to meet a nice red- haired chap whilst on holiday in Crete. He lived in Cambridge, where I was studying, and was working in a pub. This nice chap of course, turned out to be love of my life, and future husband, Ben! How life throws these curve balls at you?!

During my 3rd year, Ben spent a lot of time visiting the farm with me. He jumped into farm life with both feet. He even got into the early morning rises to watch a bit of cricket with my Dad before going out to tend to the animals. We had, over the course of the year, grown the shop to include a few lines for other local producers, and Mum and Dad had been on a course to learn sausage making, and we had started retailing our own home reared meat too. With Ben and I taking frequent trips back to the farm, our friends, acquaintances and even Ben’s pub customers were putting in orders to us, for shopping to bring back for them to Cambridge. We were starting to get a bit excited. ‘There could be something in this’, we would say to each other with youthful enthusiasm, ‘People in this city want this amazing stuff from the farm, maybe, just maybe, we should open a shop here, right in the middle of the city’.


Testing out the produce from our first suppliers to our farm shop, local honey, straight from the jar!


Problem with me and Ben is, our crazy ideas soon turn into realities! Ben has a flair for retail and selling, and throws himself into anything he does. Within a year of meeting he had learnt how to look after animals, butcher meats, fit in with a farming family as an outsider and ‘townie’ (very tough order) and we were in the process of signing a lease at our first city store, on Victoria Road Cambridge.



Well guys, I’m sure you can pick up on the story from here! What an amazing 12 years it’s been though. We now have a different store on Victoria Avenue (after spending time on Chesterton rd inbetween). We still have a little store and all our production on the farm. Ben still runs the butchery, I still run the bakery. We have an online store (fancy that for a little girl from the farm?!). We produce more on our still working farm that ever before. We have an arsenal of hundreds of amazing products from other businesses and producers just like us! We have laughed. We have cried. We have been so exhausted we couldn’t stand any longer! We have made life long friends, and learnt so much about such a fantastic industry. We have been immensely proud. And…we still love it. But do you know my best achievent? Ben and I are now married with 2 beautiful boys of our own. And they live with us on the farm. They get that magical childhood that I had! We have so much more we want to achieve, but with this goal I can safely say ‘mission accomplished’!

All about Autumn!

It used to be something I could only admit to a select few close friends. It’s was a bit of a shameful secret that had to stay hidden to the general population for fear of scorn and ridicule. But the tide is turning. The army of people in the same camp as me is growning, the movement is gathering momentum. It’s beginning to be socially acceptable to say it in public…

I hate summer. I love autumn. And winter, come to think of it. I love the dark night, the clocks going back, the winter weather and all that comes along with it.


So now that there’s enough people in the cold weather camp that I can comfortably hold my head high and admit I love the sometimes drab and dreary season, here’s my top 10 highlights of autumn.

1. There’s loads of stuff to collect!

Its nice with little ones to have a purpose when you take them out, so you can give them a clear mission for what you’re doing; ‘we’re going to go the park and have a go on the swings’, ‘we’re going to go to a shop and buy some milk’ etc. I find it easier so they can understand a bit more about the world around them and they can feel in control of what’s  happening. It just so happens Autumn gives you so many missions! It starts early autumn with picking blackberries, then there’s acorns, fir cones, conkers and even pretty leaves to name but a few. My boys love going on a mission to collect something and return proud as punch with their pockets full of treasures! It really engages them with the world around them too.


2. You don’t get your hopes up!

The summer fills you with false hope! You visualise weeks of wearing a t shirt and being outside in the sunshine. Major disappointment. In Autumn you get prepared with warm coats and jumpers and you expect grey and miserable. So when you have beautiful sunny days it’s a delightfully unexpected bonus! Which leads me nicely into number 3.

3. The sun isn’t too hot!

Moan about everything weather related in the U.K. dont we? Well on the whole I won’t moan about much, except it being too hot! If you have ever seen the hair colour of my family you may sympathise a little more. When both boys were born the first thing the health visitors said to me was ‘you’ll have to be very carful with them in the sun with that hair colour’! And although I’m not a red head myself, I’m extremely fair. This means summer is riddled with sun cream fights, feeling greasy (never yet found a suncream that doesn’t feel gross) and saying ‘put your hat on’ a hundred times a day.

4. Amazing shadows!

I just love that low afternoon sun! So magical.


5. The clocks go back!

Strange thing to love isn’t it? Thing is, in our line of work, when it’s light you are out working. Plus the animals can’t be shut in for the night until it’s dark. So you can’t get an evening in and switch off until that’s done at 10:30 in the evening in the summer. In the winter the evenings in the house are longer which is a delightful bonus. Yes, there’s still work to be done in the home often, but it’s inside and comfy! And there is the odd chance for an evening film.

6. Lighting the fire!

We are so lucky to have a log burner in our house. Family snuggles in front of the fire are second to none. I try to not put the central heating on until after the clocks have gone back, but we do get a sneaky fire or 2 in before this time. When my Dad grew up in the house that we live in now, there was no electricity so the fire and candle light were essential! Explains why he now hates candles!

7. The scenery

Its just breathtaking in Autumn. The colours, the changing views as the leaves thin out, the very early frosts that show up the dewy cobwebs in the hedges. I’ve never had many skills in photography, but it’s the one time of year that I always think it would be a cool skill to have. We go out on far more walks on Autumn just to take it all in. Plus it’s easy to take for granted the wonder of nature, so it’s good to remind ourselves we are very lucky to live in the middle of all this!

8. The cute winter clothes come out

Because who doesn’t love to see a toddler in his snuggly overalls?!


9. The crazy train comes into town!

If you work in retail and you don’t love this time of year as we start the preparation for Christmas, you seriously  need to re think your career choice. Especially food production and retail! It’s stressful, its pressured, normal life and routine go out of the window for a little while; but would we have it any other way? NO! Because when hundreds of families sit around their beautiful Christmas tree, sit down together for their most important family meal of the year, or share hand made mince pies while carrying out their annual carol singing tradition, there is no better feeling of satisfaction and pride for us. We know we helped make that family occasion special, we provided food made with love to a family occasion full of love. And that’s pretty amazing, and definitely worth long hours, sore feet, and very little sleep for a month or 2!

10. I’ve saved the best for last…THE FOOD!

What more is there to say? The food! I was made to eat Autumnal food. I love the orange and greens, the gravies and sauces, the slow cooking and roasting, the casseroling the and soup-erising (this should definitely be a word)! I love all the squashes and root veg. I love the meals that you can put in the slow cooker in the morning and return to a wonderful smelling house later in the day! And I actually thank summer for this. It’s long enough to miss this sort of food that you really appreciate it when it comes back!



So haters of the cold and dark, I’m sorry. I will be silenced no longer! I love Autumn. I shall hold my woolly hat covered head high and say it with pride!


The Weekend Baking Session and the Quinoa Bars


As I continue my journey to get a bit fitter and healthier, shed a few pounds, and generally feel better, I have noticed something that’s actually quite obvious, yet hits you in the face like a hammer. When I eat better, when I move more, so does the whole family! And then comes the Mum guilt that you’ve let them eat badly in the first place!

Its easy to forget sometimes that you are the whole world to your little infants. They live within your set of accepted rules and routines (well mostly they do) and they look to you for guidance and acceptance. This has never been so apparent to me as when I have improved my diet. My children are eating biscuits because those are the snacks that are in the cupboard. My children are eating biscuits because I’ve deemed it ok for them to eat biscuits. My children are eating biscuits because I am eating biscuits.

So what has happened when Mum isn’t eating biscuits all the time? Well there’s no magic spell that suddenly makes them hate sugar, that’s for sure. We’d have all used it years ago if there were! But the frequency of snacks has definitely slowed down, they have tried a lot more things that they otherwise wouldn’t have (always have to try a bit of what Mum and Dad are having) and we are cooking more at home, so they are more involved with making a meal and learning some life skills, something that regular readers of the blog know I love as much as them actually eating the healthy food.

So here’s another thing that’s changed. At the weekend, I try to do a bit of fun baking with the boys. As I’m always baking for work, I worry that they might ‘miss out’ on the whole ‘baking a cake with Mum’ thing, so I make a conscious effort to include one baking session a week. Baking for fun is much different than when they help prepare dinner. Preparing dinner is a necessity, it’s about leaning about ingredients, skills and encouraging them to try to new foods and make meals more approachable, and ultimately be healthy. Baking for fun, however, is all about devouring your sugary treat afterwards!! So I’m determined this weekly bake off won’t stop, I just need to get creative with non sugar packed recipes, that make a healthier treat afterwards that we can all enjoy with a cup of tea!


Out first attempt at healthy snack making was Quinoa, Banana & Peanut Butter Bars. I thought I had heard you could use Quinoa to make a crispy snack bar, so I gave it a google to see if this was in fact a ‘thing’, and to my delight it was! I don’t know if I’m the only one that hadn’t even heard of Quinoa 10 years ago, now we even make it into snack bars! So below is the recipe I invented. Sorry to all UK readers, it’s all measured in cups. Purely because it’s so much easier with the children to get them to fill up a cup and tip it in than it is to operate scales!


1 cup oats

1/2 cup uncooked Quinoa

1/3 cup almonds flaked

1/4 cup chia seeds

3/4 cup diced dates

1.5 tsp ground cinnnamon

2 large or 3 small ripe bananas

2 tbsp peanut butter (I use meridian as it only has peanuts in it!)

1.5 tbsp honey

1 tbsp agave nectar

35g dark chocolate (I use 85% cocoa)

How we made it tasty:

Tip oats, uncooked Quinoa, nuts, seeds, dried fruit and spices into a bowl and stir to combine.

In a separate bowl, thoroughly mash the bananas.

In a small pan, heat together the peanut butter, honey and agave nectar until completely runny and mixed together.

Combine the dry ingredient with the contents of the pan and the mashed bananas. Leo stir, Arthur stir. Mummy stir just to make sure it is actually stirred!!

Then tip into a small baking tin, lined with greaseproof paper (my tin was about 8inch square) and press down with the back of a spoon.


Bake in a medium (180oC) oven for 15-20 minutes, turning the tin around half way through. When it’s done it should be firm to touch and golden on top. Take it out of the oven and leave to cool in the tin for about 5-10 minutes, then take out of the tin and cut into 12 portions, and leave to cool completely.

When cold, I melted the chocolate in a heatproof bowl above a pan of boiling water (I did this without the children!) and drizzled it all over the top of the bars. Then refrigerate until the chocolate has set. I then wrapped each bar in greaseproof and stored in the fridge, I think they would last about 5 days but they didn’t get the chance.

I’m going to try it again with different combinations of fruit, nuts and seeds, it’s one of those great recipes that you can make totally differently by switching some of the add-ins around. Next time I might try with some crystallised ginger and orange juice too. Or maybe puréed pumpkin and spices. Or maybe cashew and raisin. There’s no escaping it, I love food!

But anyway, we got our baking session in. We made a much healthier snack that the whole family really enjoyed (came to 195 calories per bar, and was really filling). And it’s inspired us to do more of the same next week! I could get used to this healthy transformation thing!







Ben’s King Prawn & Edamame Bean Chow Mein Style Noodles

IMG_6368We really love cooking Asian food at home. Well Ben loves cooking it and I love eating it! As our quest continues to get a bit fitter and healthier and fit back in our old clothes, it’s a cuisine that fits in well. It’s a great way to get loads and loads of flavour into a meal, you can pack loads of veg and lean protein in, and it’s not too naughty. So tasty, filling, and the children even eat some if we have noodles. I think they believe it’s spaghetti and Tom & Jerry eat Spaghetti! Whatever works to get them trying things.

So today’s recipe is for Ben’s King Prawn & Edamame Bean Chow Mein Style Noodles. This need a bit of forethought as the prawns need to be put into marinade a few hours before cooking, but once that’s been accomplished the actual meal is really quick to cook. We buy raw prawns because it’s much easier to get the flavour into something that hasn’t already been cooked, but it would work with cooked ones also if you can’t get hold of raw. We have never paid full price for raw prawns because they are ALWAYS reduced in the supermarkets, maybe everyone tends to opt for ready cooked ones?


This served 4.

For the Prawns & Marinade:

Raw King Prawns (around 150-200g)

Garlic (3 cloves crushed)

1 medium onion diced

Paprika (1/2 tsp)

Cumin ( 1 tsp)

Chinese 5 Spice (1/4 tsp)

Ginger Peeled Grated (couple of inches)

Coriander Sprig Chopper

Soy sauce (couple of splashes)

Sesame oil (1 tsp)

To make the marinade, simply combine all the above ingredients in a sealable tub, and mix together well to incorporate. Put the lid on and put in the fridge for at least 2 hours. Ben prepared this at lunch time so it was ready for out evening meal.

Additional Ingredients:

Sesame Oil (1 tbsp)

Drop Water

Mixed veg for stir-frying (be creative)

Beansrouts (medium bag)


Edamame Beans (amount according to your preference)

To begin, heat sesame oil in a wok. Tip the entire contents of the prawns and their marinade into the pan. Stir fry until the prawns are completely pink and the sauce caramelised. Add the drop of water to deglaze the pan and stop it from sticking. Add in the veg and bean sprouts and stir fry. Finally, add in the noodles until they are warmed through and emulsified with the sauce. Serve this onto plates, then put Edamame beans into the used wok and back onto the heat. Stir for a minute until they are warmed through and have used the additional sauce that was left in the pan. We always keep a bag of Edamame beans in the freezer as a quick add or finishing touch to a stir fry. Sprinkle the beans on the top of each plate, and top with a sprig of coriander.