Welcome to my Country Days Blog!

I’ve lived in Devon for over 30 years and while I spend most of my time working in my studio, or in front of a TV camera or on an exhibition stand, country living does give me some time and space… to think about my next project!

A crafter in the country is never bored – nature is a huge treasure trove! Beachcombing, walking on Dartmoor, or rummaging about in hedgerows (while Richard pretends not to notice) produces all sorts of goodies. Shells, feathers, wildflowers, leaves – natural things are so often the ‘light bulb moment’ that gives me an idea for something new!

I have hundreds – actually, make that thousands ­– of ideas and projects from crafts to cookery to flowers that I thought I could share with you through a weekly country-inspired blog.

I love hearing from fellow crafters and swapping ideas and useful hints and tips, so do please feedback your comments on my blog, I’m sure it will be a lot of fun!

Viva Las Vegas!

Wonderful work on the Thomas Kinkade stand.

Dropping in our friends, the Giordano brothers, always a joy.

Well, here we are again in Las Vegas! We come here every year for the ‘Brand Licensing Show’ in the hopes of finding something new and exciting for you. It also means we can meet up with the companies we work with already and talk about future projects.

I had a few pictures taken to show you… The chat with our friends at Thomas Kinkade was excellent and there’s a fabulous kit in the making, due out in October, I think, from Practical Publishing, in our Joanna Sheen Cardmaking Collection series featuring amazing products from Thomas Kinkade. Exciting!

We also just had to visit the Giordano brothers, one of our favourite teams, we love working with them. If you haven’t looked at the Giordano paper pads on the website then please do. There are new plans in the pipeline with them too – watch this space!

We had a long chat with Alicia, Jane Shasky’s agent, and there’s some great new artwork there, plus several others that we like to catch up with while we are here.

Of course, some of the time is free time (yay!) and we love walking down the Vegas Strip (Umm, ok and maybe just a tiny bit of gambling!), and did you know, there are more Michelin-starred restaurants here than any other city in the world? Disaster for my diet but I am working hard at it and clocking up 20,000 steps most days. There are also a lot of fun things here, so I couldn’t resist getting close to Poldark(!) giving the eye to a dinosaur and saying ‘Hi’ to Peppa Pig!

So, hopefully, we have found and negotiated some stunning artwork and projects for the coming few months and had a happy few days as a bonus!

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Pansies in a teacup

 

Pansies in a teacup – it’s a gorgeous card, isn’t it? I love it – ok, it’s flowers, and as you know… I always like flowery cards. This, as always, is a relatively simple card to create – thank you dies and a few other techniques thrown in for good measure!

Ingredients:

Quick ‘how to’:

  1. Print out some lace backing paper, the tea cup and pansies from the decoupage section of the CD – print it out several times so that you can have as many layers as you wish.
  2. Edge the larger piece of backing paper slightly smaller than main blank with the gold pen by holding it at a right angle to the edge of the paper and just sliding it down, attach with double sided tape.
  3. Stick a smaller piece of backing paper (same height just chop an inch or so off each side) onto some card to strengthen it and then attach to card using glue gel or foam pads.
  4. Now die cut the borders and add those. Cut out the topper and mount that onto the same white/cream card and attach that with glue gel or foam pads. Now decide how many layers of teacup you would like and likewise pansies. Attach all of those with glue gel. Finally using the last teacup, cover it with glossy accents or diamond glaze or whatever shiny substance you like using to make it glossy. Leave to dry and then add that to the card.
  5. The pansies on this example have all been die cut in white and then coloured with alcohol ink pens – but if you hate colouring then you can die cut in yellow, purple and green and paper piece the flowers.
  6. Arrange them in a nice group on the bottom right, fix with glue gel and your card is finished!
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Memories of Chelsea Flower Show

I exhibited at Chelsea Flower Show for many years – it must have been at least ten – it gets harder to remember exact dates! All the years blend into one long, happy memory and, somehow, you forget the back breaking work of being on the stand, cleaning, serving and then tidying at the end of the day – from about 6am until 10pm at night.

There are some pictures here (very amateurish – sorry not that talented with a camera over the years!) – we were always next to Constance Spry which was hugely important to me as training there was the catalyst that woke up my inner creativity and changed my life from wannabee lawyer to crafter! Our display won awards many years running which was a real thrill – and in the picture you can see myself in the middle (I never said I was a natural blonde!) my sister to the right and Margaret a great friend and ‘right hand person’ in those days, to my left.

No matter how many TV shows tell you about Chelsea and demonstrate how much hard work goes into creating the show, it will accurately reflect the life’s blood, sweat, tears and back breaking effort everyone puts in. I could often only stand in awe of the growers with staff of all ages sweating, lifting and endlessly tweaking to get their display looking amazing.

If you have never been to Chelsea then I would encourage you to consider going, but it does get so VERY crowded. I would recommend being there at 8 in the morning when it opens or after 6 when many have gone home. We used to wander around happily at 5am and get see everything really well – as no public were ever there – but during the day I stayed firmly on the stand!

Nowadays, while I wonder whether watching every minute of the TV coverage is enough enjoyment, I remind myself that at least I don’t have to handle the crowds!

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It’s British Sandwich Week – The British sarnie rules supreme

From the top: The man who invented the sandwich, the Lord himself. ‘The Sammies’ the sandwich industry’s annual awards. Copyright: The British Sandwich & Food to Go Association. A crab sandwich by a real fire – perfect!

Did you know that this is British Sandwich Week? No, neither did I, but then it’s hard to keep up to date with all these ‘national’ weeks and days… but this one struck me as worthy of a blog.

The modern sandwich is named after Lord John Montague, the 4th Earl of Sandwich. A dedicated gambler, his Lordship did not like to take time out from the card table to have a meal. He would, therefore, ask a passing servant to bring him slices of meat between two slices of bread… and thus, the sandwich was born!

I was surprised (although nothing should really surprise me these days) to read that that the British sandwich industry even has its own annual awards ceremony… called ‘The Sammies’. Honest!

Given this household’s newfound passion for homemade bread (see my post about the new bread maker!), the sandwich is pretty high on the list of tasty snacks! I did a quick poll of family members to find out their favourite fillings:

Richard – ham and cheese on homemade white bread, with butter!

Emily – anything exotic you have never heard of, possibly with Acai berries and chia seed, or perhaps a weird Brazilian delicacy (she has just returned from a work secondment in Brazil)

Pippa – has to be Nutella. That’s it really… or, if very hard pressed, peanut butter

And me? I’d choose smoked salmon and avocado on rye bread or pumpernickel.

Thinking about this blog has made me smile as I recalled my parents’ choices. My father used to like peanut butter and marmite or marmalade as, when he was growing up in the Far East, they sometimes didn’t have any dairy products. My Mum, bless her, liked lots of things in sandwiches, but they always tasted nicer if they were cut in triangles and served on a plate with a lacy doily. Quite right!

So what’s your favourite filling? I’d love to hear your thoughts, do share…

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Crunchy Chocolate and Peanut cupcakes

Here’s a delicious recipe for crunchy chocolate and peanut cupcakes. Our wonderful baking bookkeeper, Jo B, produced these cracking cupcakes for our member of staff Maggie, who was celebrating her birthday!

Makes 12

For the cakes:

  • 125g butter
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs, large
  • 125g of self-raising flour, sifted
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 75g milk chocolate chips

For the frosting:

  • 100g butter, softened
  • 160g smooth peanut butter (nice with almond butter too)
  • 60g icing sugar, sifted
  • 21/2 tbsp milk
  1. Preheat the oven to 170˚C/150˚C fan /gas mark 3 and line a 12 hole muffin tin with paper cases. For the cakes, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and eggs then beat well until thoroughly combined. Add the flour and milk and mix until smooth and fully incorporated.
  2. Fold the chocolate chips into the cake mixture then divide equally between the paper cases. Bake for 18-20 mins or until firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the tins and place on a wire rack to cool.
  3. For the frosting, beat the butter and peanut butter together until smooth and fluffy. Add the icing sugar and milk and beat together slowly until combined then beat a little faster until soft
  4. Now make the honeycomb which, by the way, could be used in ice cream or just gobbled by grandchildren!
  5. 200g caster sugar, 4 tablespoons golden syrup, 3 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda and chocolate to melt (optional)
  6. Put sugar and syrup into a pan and bring to the boil. Then gently simmer for 6 minutes. Add the bicarb and mix around quickly because it will immediately begin to fizz.
  7. Pour into a greased tray (the butter wrapper works well if you have one) and leave for 5 minutes, then gently begin prising from the tin. Leave for another 5 minutes and completely remove from tin. Break into pieces and keep in an airtight container.
  8. To clean the pan, add water and bring to the boil and just use the spoon to scrape.
  9. You can then half dip pieces of the honeycomb in chocolate if you wish – indeed I suspect serving just the honeycomb dipped in chocolate could get great granny points for me!

 

 

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