Happy New Year!

Well, here it is, New Year’s Day.  Looking back at 2020, I’m not sure if it has been good or bad – I do know that it has been different and oh so tough!

Like many other people, I have had my fair share of mental downs – why did I leave my job to take this on? How on earth will I manage to sell anything while we are in lock down? Why is there no help available for new businesses? But by about October I realised that as a small, new business, we had the flexibility and drive to roll with the punches and adapt our offering around how we COULD work, and you know what? If I could make Yellow Door Cottage work in 2020, I will be bloody amazing in any other given year!

The reality is of course a mixture of circumstance and flexibility.  The motivation for people to stay local has been forced upon them – good for me.  People are spending more and more time on social media, again, good for my advertising. In the first lock down, people were bored and our honesty shop offered them a place to head for during their daily exercise and perk up their day with a little treat.  So, was 2020 the making of Yellow Door?  We will never know how different it would have been in any ‘normal’ year but, as Hubby often reminds me, people wouldn’t keep coming back if they didn’t like what I do.

After working exceptionally hard to make our honesty shop better and safer for the local community, we were dumb struck that the District Council called to say that they had received a complaint about the shop which stated that we were a danger to public health. West Somerset and Taunton Council (EHO and Planning) have been amazing in their support on this, but it really hurt that a public figure closer to home felt the need to be quite so vicious in their attack.  We had got it wrong in the fact that the shop needed planning permission, but on retrospective application, this was granted as the shop was deemed to be such a good thing for the local community and our application had received overwhelming positive support from many of our neighbours.  It is humbling that so many people were prepared to take steps to support us and has given me even more determination to keep providing them with our unique and quality service – I will not be bullied into stopping this, as famously said ‘This lady is not for turning’

At the start of lock down I thought that Supper Clubs were doomed before they’d ever really got going. However, flexing to the requirement to socialise outside and the ‘rule of 6’ we carried out our risk assessment, implemented appropriate controls and became COVID Secure.  An amazing summer was spent enjoying fully booked supper clubs (I didn’t even have to advertise…), our first year anniversary and building up a rapport with the people who got as much out of them as us.  At our final supper before Lockdown 2, it became clear that the people who came along needed supper club just as much as I did. I went to bed that night feeling that I had let them down by not being able to carry on. By the next morning, the solution was clear… Takeaway Tuesday.  Although it just isn’t the same as enjoying a meal with others, I still get to see some of my customers for a few minutes when they collect their meal from the kitchen each week.  This takeaway approach removed some of the pressures of ‘front of house’ and coupled with a new and improved kitchen, has allowed me to concentrate on developing my cooking to make better and better meals each week.  A win win for me and them and the hope of even better supper clubs to come when we can be together again.

My catering offering grew to include providing meals to people visiting holiday cottages in the local area. The idea being that they can enjoy great food in their holiday home with minimal effort.  I am not sure if it is due to more people holidaying in the UK and restaurant capacity being reduced due to COVID measures, but this also proved exceptionally popular.  Having had to cancel our plans to celebrate Hubby’s 40thin April (and with it looking all the more likely that we still won’t be able to celebrate his 41st) I keenly feel the need people have to mark special occasions in some small way this year.  By offering this option to holiday makers, I have been privileged to be a very small part of some of these celebrations.  I have been in on a surprise 60thbirthday family meal, provided the afternoon tea and bubbles to mark a first wedding anniversary and so much more.  All of this reminds me how important the simple things in life are and yet again, makes me more determined to keep doing this for people.

So, what has 2020 taught me? It’s reminded me that I’m as tough as old boots and will fight like a tiger when I am in a corner!  However, what I’ve learnt is that this toughness is driven by a deep desire to make other people feel happy, well fed and loved. I have learnt that no matter how different or unexpected the hand is that we are dealt, there is no changing it. The gift is how you approach your lot – I chose hard work, optimism and determination this year and I will never know if I could have done a better or worse job.  The fact is I just ‘did’ and that no amount of destructive reflection or analysis will change that….

So, I go into 2021 knowing that I did 2020 my way, that my scars and experiences give me an even better foundation to give 2021 a bloody good go without worrying. Most of all, I look forward to riding the roller coaster of life that next year brings with each and every one of you!

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year

Amanda xx

Life in Lockdown

How did we get to July already? It feels like I blinked at the start of lockdown and now we are here!

As I write, with my morning coffee steaming next to me and the drizzle coming down outside, I really don’t know where to start in telling you about what has been happening here at Yellow Door Cottage, I think I’m going to have to do it in chapters…..

So…chapter 1: It’s good to share

Lockdown life here has been full on – cooking for the honesty shop and ushering in new animal and vegetable life.  I can’t even say that I haven’t seen anyone as this place has been a hive of activity with deliveries, orders and collections at the honesty shop.  We are lucky that we live in a beautiful open space and that all of this can been done at a safe distance, but there are some jobs that just can’t be done while maintaining social distancing and animal welfare will always come first here.  Right back at the start, my good friend and I spent an afternoon in close quarters ‘dagging’ the lambs (cutting off the poo-encrusted wool around their tails) and I had to visit neighbours to check on the rams grazing their land.  As a group we talked in depth about the fact that we were ‘breaking the rules’ but we all agreed that it just had to be done to keep the stock safe and well – the risks of not doing the work was far greater than the risk of just getting on with it.  In retrospect, a social bubble of support was created here long before the government had coined the term and I wonder how many other farms and rural communities worked in the same way?

During the last three months, we have had to adapt and overcome on many things. Stan worked hard to build a commercial kitchen quickly using things that we and friends had available – apart from the fact that I’m still using a washing up bowl and hot water urn as we can’t get a sink, you’d think that everything was made under normal conditions.

There have been lows and highs – the setting up of the shop created a monster that I felt beholden to and I burnt myself out. Again, a chat within the social bubble and ideas were born and a rhythm that I could maintain was found. I’m surprised at how many firsts I’ve had – the things that I have cooked (without any disasters… yet!) have amazed me, but my favourite high has to be the clotted cream.  This came about as on VE day I struggled to buy enough for the huge amount of cream teas that had been ordered. I panicked and all I could think of was making my own.  As it turned out, Mole Valley Farmers came up trumps on the cream but I’d already started to make the calls!

The farm team at Brymore School (where I work as a reader and scribe during exam season) agreed to let me have some milk, so not being one to miss an opportunity, I rolled out of bed early the following Monday morning and headed for the parlour.  It had been over 30 years since I’d last stepped foot in a dairy and I’d certainly never been tall enough to do anything other than cleaning up.  But Mr Kingston reminded me of the drill and I was soon wiping udders, opening gates and putting on suction cups.  The milk from the only Jersey cow, Dani, was deposited into one of my massive saucepans and I headed home.

While I was growing up, my Godfather had a dairy farm, and due to the milk quotas of the ‘80s, there was always a pan on the hob making clotted cream. How hard could it be? A quick internet search on how long to scald the milk and I’d be away I thought as I drove home.  Oh how wrong could I be! All of the recipes wittered on about leaving the milk in a warming oven overnight….that certainly wasn’t what I remembered.  So, I did the only thing I could do, I phoned Auntie Joan to ask her how to do it.

Auntie Joan is one of the most amazing people I know, she is in her 90s and has worked hard on the farm almost every day of her life.  She’s as sharp as a knife and to this day, she still keeps a diary of the things that happen each day and she has so many old sayings that just make you think about what you’re doing and why you do it that way.  Anyway, she gave me crystal clear instructions and violà, my first clotted cream was declared a success by the lady herself! Fist pumps and celebratory dancing took place in the yard outside her kitchen window much to her amusement!

This made me wonder…I’m happy to tackle most tasks after a quick ‘Google’ (other search engines are available) but what would I have done had Auntie Joan not been at the end of the phone? I’m sure that I would’ve got there eventually, but I suspect that I would have beaten myself up for wasting milk along the way and actually, would the success have been as sweet without the ‘man from delmonte’-style thumbs up from this little, full of smiles old lady?

Thankfully, I’ll never know.  For now, I’m just so grateful that I have such wisdom and experience in my life – not just Auntie Joan – Dad and his friend John are forever teaching me about our vintage machinery. Another friend Paul teaches me something new about butchery every time I see him and there are many more. I’ve known all of these people for as long as I can remember and, for as along as I can remember, they have had the patience to teach me things and the fondness to be proud when I have learnt them.  It is only now I am a little older that I realise what a great gift sharing is, I love showing kids and adults how to look after the animals and know first-hand how much taking an interest in what people are doing means to them.  While search engines and video channels all have their place in sharing knowledge, I just can’t help but think that it’s the personal interaction that benefits us and our mental well-being the most.  I dare you, go and learn something new from someone you know, I promise it will be good for both of you.

Amanda x

Our first blog

Being of a ‘certain age’ it’s taken me a while to get to popping my cherry as a blogger so strap in for my first attempt!

It would seem easy to focus on the strangeness of being in a country in lock-down because of Covid-19, but to be completely honest; things haven’t really changed that much here. Sure, we can’t see friends and family and like many, we’re not getting paid, but animals still need feeding, seeds need planting and jobs need doing, we’re just concentrating on what we can use our collective time and resources to achieve.

Some things are ticking along – the ewes and lambs are doing well and have moved to new pastures. The fox has made a few appearances and reduced our poultry flock. We have a surprise pregnancy with the goats so await the challenge of ‘kidding’ and Poker the pig has gone on his holidays to visit another woman in his life.

Other things are changing at speed and through the many contacts that I have made over the last few months, the ideas and the business has grown here at Yellow Door at a much faster rate than I could have imagined at the beginning of lock-down. Sure, we can’t get the catering side off the ground yet, but as our good friends at Quantock Steamers have no use for their show trailer at present, we can use it as an honesty shop and with fridges, expand our offerings.

I had the brain wave to make hot cross buns on Good Friday; over 120 of them later and our feet finally touched the ground for an hour or so on Easter Sunday! My pork scratchings, something that happened by accident, have made such a hit that I am having to arrange extra deliveries of pig skin from The Meat Men just to keep up with the demand. Anne’s pies and puddings are being delivered daily as people clean us out of stock of these tasty treats and my spare loaf of sourdough bread didn’t even hit the shelf this morning before it was snapped up.

So what does this all mean? I think that people have been shocked to the core by the availability of food in supermarkets and have turned to small, local businesses to fill the gap. Living in a rural location, farmers pass our gate all of the time, what has shocked me is the fact that even now, they are struggling to get a fair price for their meat and supermarkets are favoring imported goods over our own. The interest that these farmers are showing in what we are trying to do is humbling.

All of this got me thinking; things are slowly but surely working for us because we are working with other people who compliment our brand and ethos – what about if we work with more people? Will it help them and, as a bonus, help us in some small way too? I really do hope so.

Maybe just one or two of you reading this will make the effort to help someone too, not just in the current situation, but by making this part of your life. It doesn’t have to be much, but it could make the world of difference to someone…

A x