The Dinner Party Collective Begins!

Anne Wheaton:

Have you heard about The Dinner Party Collective?
You may have thought that the Dinner Party is a relic of days gone by, but Margot (creator of the food blog Gather and Graze has set out to re-establish them into the fabric of our society. Margot has gathered together a band of food and wine-loving bloggers from around the world to collectively create menus for delicious and successful dinner parties on The Dinner Party Collective website.
While the menus are being tested and tasted ready for the first dinner party posting, you might like to find out who’s taking part.

Originally posted on The Dinner Party Collective:

To all, a warm welcome to The Dinner Party Collective! We are a group of dedicated and passionate Food and Wine Bloggers from right around the world who are coming together to collaborate and create what will be an ever-growing series of seasonal menus. In time, there will be a delicious array of formal, semi-formal and casual menus for you to choose from.

The first of our menus are being worked upon as we speak and will be published in early June. There will be a winter menu for those in the southern hemisphere and a summer menu for those up in the north. From then on, with each new season, a fresh duo of menus will be released for each of the corresponding hemispheres.

Included will be an Appetiser, Main and Dessert (each dish beautifully prepared and photographed by one of our individual Food Bloggers) and to accompany will…

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Two of my ducks recently spent over a month sitting together on a heap of eggs. Last week, when the ducks had nipped down to the pond for a splash and refresh, I peeked into the shelter and discovered that the heap had diminished to only six eggs. We’ve been losing most of our duck eggs to crows and it seems that a pesky crow had also been raiding the nest as well.

The next evening I spied a duckling peering out from under a wing and it looked as though another egg was starting to hatch. The following morning, instead of staying on the nest as they usually did, both ducks disappeared to the pond with the others, which seemed a little odd as there were no ducklings with them.They left four eggs in the nest and a half hatched egg with a dead duckling inside and no sight of a live duckling. As the ducks showed no signs of returning (my ducks are terrible mothers) I took the four eggs inside. I deduced that two contained ducklings so I left them under a desk lamp and went out to get the half hatched egg so I could dispose of it. But, the [insert any expletive here because I probably used it] crow had beaten me to it.

day old duckling

day old duckling

A couple of days later one of the eggs under the lamp hatched to reveal a little black duckling. My daughter Ruth immediately decided she should have this duckling and that when it was older it could walk with her to work, spend the day on the pond and then walk home with her. To those of you familiar with the novels in the Gamache series, it will come as no surprise that I promptly named the duck Rosa.

Rosa and Ruth

We kept Rosa in the box on the kitchen dresser for a few days and Ruth took great delight in letting her swim in the sink or taking her outside where Rosa would follow her around. But Ruth seemed reluctant to take Rosa home and I was getting more than fed up with a duck in my kitchen, not least because she was a great distraction and time waster.

open farm sunday

Fortuitously, one of the ladies who keeps a horse on the farm said that her school would be happy to raise the duckling, provided that we would take it back when it matured. Before she could change her mind (though giving Ruth time to say her good-byes and Rosa time to do a little Open Farm Sunday promotion) I handed over the duckling so it can take its place in school. I’m sure the children will love her (or him) and it won’t be long before she returns.


Meanwhile, a much more exciting hatching – a gorgeous grandson. It’s a bit of a shock to suddenly become one of the “older generation” and I’m not at all sure that I’m prepared for it.

finding the balance

finding the balance

Last year was very busy on the farm with The Barley Barn renovation, Open Days, the launch of the new business and the massive tidy up before Beth’s wedding, on top of the normal day to day routine. For the first time in a long while, I felt that life was getting a little unbalanced.

One of the lessons I learned when I started working (in fact at 4.55pm on my first day) was to clear my desk at the end of the day. Spending five minutes deliberately packing away was a conscious way of ending the working day and meant that each new day started afresh with a clean space. It’s a habit I’ve tried to continue in the farm office but last year my desk disappeared for weeks at a time under piles of paperwork and files on the computer were left open to be dealt with later (thank goodness for auto save). After the paperwork had cleared and my desk returned to order, I realised that the balance between online and real life was also off kilter. How had I gone from using the internet for fifteen minutes a day dealing with emails and finding information to losing an hour or more reading blogs and other social media? Something had to be done.

First I applied my clear desk policy to comments on my blog, newsletters and blog feeds; open it and deal with it. No more skimming through and going back later to read properly or to comment. If the newsletter or blog feed didn’t interest me I deleted it instead of just leaving it unread with a vague notion that I might return to read it later and if I was continually deleting particular ones, I clicked to unsubscribe.

But what of the time still spent blog hopping, gazing at photos and online chatting. Without it I wouldn’t have discovered some delicious recipes or known about printing with a mangle or 101 other things that have enriched my life; I wouldn’t have enjoyed conversations and connections made, such as this day with Jane (the Shady Baker). As Elizabeth pointed out here, time spent online can be “inspirational, creative and horizon-stretching … “up to a point” and beyond that point I’m not so sure that it’s so creative a way to spend time. The virtual can take over from reality as well as emulate it.” So, no more. While I’m not sure I can revert to the days when my computer was switched off from Friday evening to Monday morning (how will I sneak online hints to complete the crossword in the Saturday newspaper when it’s particularly difficult?) I try not to go online on Sundays or after eight in the evening and to use the time more productively. Rather than join the bloggers whose New Year resolutions are to blog more often, extend their reach on social media and tell their story on Steller, I shall stick with the tribe who blog when the fancy takes them and use their phones for chatting to friends rather than photographing their life to share with the world.

Most importantly I’ll be making the time to walk. It doesn’t surprise me that a Cambridge University study recently found that a brisk twenty minute walk could add years to your life. Quite apart from the physical benefit of exercise it’s good for mental health too. I don’t know if it’s the fresh air, being in the countryside or the rhythm of walking or perhaps a mixture of all three, but I have my best ideas and solve problems when I’m walking (though the more I think, the slower I walk). We usually have a long distance walk on the go that we do in stages, snatching a couple of days at a time when the farm work is up to date and the weather is set fair, but last year whenever we thought about walking, something cropped up and we put it off. So, this year we are going to schedule specific dates for walking; once they’re written in the diary then we’ll stick to them. It will probably pour with rain and we’ll mutter that it was a stupid idea and return to our old ways. We’ll see. And we haven’t managed to agree on the dates yet. But we will.

more random thoughts …


trees in January

Random thoughts on a slightly bleak January day.


1. What did the cheese say when it looked in the mirror? Hallo Me. I am making halloumi cheese using a kit that I was given for Christmas. The ingredients are minimal but the instructions long. There appears to be a good deal of waiting for things to happen. With luck it will happen.


2. I have staggered back from the library with a bag full of books. If the blurb on the back of the books is to be believed, then in time I shall be master of mixed media techniques, fabric art, metal clay jewellery, knitted pets, colour in the home and aboriginal art. All in the three week loan period.


3. What is the point of three quarter length sleeves on jumpers and how have I managed to buy jumpers without proper length sleeves?


4. January can be a cold and grey month. The wind is blowing outside and seems to find its way through every crack betwixt frame and window or door. I am wearing muffatees as I type because it is so cold and draughty (see number 3 also). If you’d like to know more about muffatees, Annie gives an excellent description here, together with a pattern should you wish to knit your own. Muffatees are superior to my fingerless mittens because they don’t have a proper thumb and so can be pushed back to act as wristwarmers without an empty thumb waggling around. Perhaps muffatees are of little interest to you if you’re sweltering in midsummer heat, but they’re a very useful addition to the layers of clothing needed when working all day in a large, unheated barn*. My tip for knitting muffatees is to use an i-cord bind off as it looks neater and wears better than a normal bind off.


5. Since my last “random” post, more blogs have disappeared. As I don’t travel to work on a train or wait in the car for schoolchildren, I see little attraction in Facebook or Instagram, which is where I suspect some of the bloggers have migrated too. Perhaps some new ones will show up. Any suggestions?


6. A brisk walk on a cold windy day lifts the spirits and frees the mind. I have my best ideas on a good walk, though on a day like today my brain is used mainly to avoid slipping over on a muddy track.


7. The tomatoes in the greenhouse are not going to ripen and should have been cut down months ago. The sight of dead tomato plants still tied to the canes in January alongside the vibrant green of the weeds growing next to them is not the sign of a good gardener.


8. The days are getting longer. Hurrah! Soon be spring.




*Despite my best efforts to spend December in the warmth of The Barley Barn, I was (apparently) more useful in the Christmas Tree Barn and so instead of selling pretty baubles and gin I was stuck in a big unheated barn standing on a cold concrete floor.