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!

Lovely garden flower dies …

lovelyflowerdiesOn Thursday this week I’m launching a new set of garden flower dies as well as some nifty edging dies too! I confess I have totally fallen in love with the cards we have all made for the two shows, so if you have time on Thursday 27th, there’s a show on Create and Craft TV at noon and another at 3pm.

This card uses the lily of the valley option from the set of garden dies. The main image is from the Jane Shasky double CD – one I keep beside my computer as it is my real ‘go to’ answer for card making!

This sample was made by Suzanne and it’s really pretty isn’t it? It’s not too difficult (many of the nicest cards are straightforward) and needs few instructions apart from noting that the case, the lenses in the pair of glasses and the tea in the cup have all had a quick coat of crystal lacquer. This adds some lovely highlights and just finishes the card perfectly.

The other thing worthy of a mention is the green tinged edging that’s made by swiping a distress ink pad gently around the edge. This ageing, or distressing, looks so effective and is a very simple technique to apply.

So whether you set your recorder, or watch live, do tune in to see all the samples. The set of edger dies is in the afternoon and I have some really fun ideas for you to copy!


All about Autumn…

Autumn is the time of year that the poet Keats called the ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’, and how right he was. Autumn is the season famous for its harvest time, turning leaves, cooling temperatures and darkening nights.

mosslaneleavesWe often talk about it beginning to feel like Autumn when the nights start to draw in and temperatures start feeling cooler. Here are a few facts about this mellow season…

Autumn begins
So when is the first day of Autumn? It depends on whether you are referring to the astronomical or meteorological autumn. There are two different dates when Autumn could be said to begin. Autumn, as defined by the Earth’s orbit around the sun, begins on the Autumn equinox which falls on 22 or 23 September. However, for the purposes of recording climate data, it is important to have set dates that can be compared, so the meteorological Autumn always begins on 1 September.

People born in Autumn live longer!
A study in the ‘Journal of Aging Research’ found that babies born during the Autumn months are more likely to live to 100 than those born during the rest of the year. Their study found that 30% of US centenarians born during 1880-1895 were born in the Autumn months. I had never heard that before… and as my birthday is right on the cusp of Summer and Autumn, who knows what that means for me!

autumnstatsWhat is an equinox?
The word ‘equinox’ comes from the Latin equi (meaning equal) and nox (meaning night) accounting for the equinox marking the time when day and night are of equal length. We often notice the nights begin to draw in from this point as after the Autumn equinox, the night becomes longer than the day, until this is reversed at the Spring equinox.

A date for your diary – 24 September 2303
Generally speaking, the Autumn equinox always falls on either 22 or 23 September, but not quite always. Because the Gregorian calendar is not quite in perfect symmetry with the Earth’s orbit, the Autumn equinox will very occasionally fall on September 24. This last happened in 1931… and will next happen in 2303.

Autumn, or Fall?
I always think of ‘Fall’ as the North American version of the word ‘Autumn’ and as being the ‘new kid’ on the block! However, the term fall was actually in widespread use in England until relatively recently. Originally a shortening of the phrase ‘fall of the leaf’, the phrase was common in England in the 17th century. Although Chaucer first used the word Autumn in 1374 it did not become common usage until the 18th century.

Personally, I think Autumn is a lovely word and I shall continue to use it to refer to this beautiful time of year. Right, I’m off to sweep up some leaves in the garden now…

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Chocolate Orange Fudge Cake… naughty but SO nice!

chocorangecake3I thought it was time to share a yummy cake with you that is definitely not something for a healthy diet, but a complete treat and oh so delicious! And this is most definitely a naughty cake! Jo Bridgeman, our bookkeeper, made this to share with all the staff – and I did say it almost had a Halloween feel to it. It will be as near as I get to a Halloween celebration as it’s not really my thing – but hey, the colours are right aren’t they!

Jo B said the recipe and method comes from a really fabulous baking website that’s worth visiting www.shewhobakes.co.uk as there are lots more ideas on there and a good newsletter – I’m off to have a look!


To get a really tall cake like this you need to double the quantities and make two batches using 2 x 7” round tins.

For the cake:

  • 200g self raising flour
  • 150g unsalted butter
  • 100g dark brown sugar
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 50g golden syrup
  • Orange flavouring
  • Zest of two large oranges
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 75ml sour cream
  • 5 eggs

For the orange buttercream:

  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 350g icing sugar
  • A few splashes of milk
  • Orange flavouring
  • Orange colouring

For the ganache covering and topping:

  • 600g dark chocolate
  • 250ml double cream


Mix together the butter, golden caster sugar, brown sugar and golden syrup. Now add the eggs, mix in the flour, cocoa powder and bicarbonate.

Now mix in the melted dark chocolate and sour cream. Finally, add the orange zest and flavouring.

Divide between two lined 7” tins and bake at 140º C for one hour. Check to see if it’s ready by gently inserting a skewer in the centre – if it comes out clean it is done.

Once cooked, leave in the tin for 10 minutes and then place on a cool surface or cake rack to cool completely.

To make the buttercream, whisk the butter for 5 minutes so it is aerated (and yes this is assuming you have electrical help here – not by hand!) Then add the icing sugar one cup at a time, if necessary add a few splashes of milk to soften. Finally, add the orange colouring and flavouring to taste.

Split the cakes in half, or even into thirds, then fill with the buttercream. Stack them gently and put in the fridge while you make the ganache.

Put the chocolate and cream into a bowl and microwave for 30 seconds, whisking hard and then put in for another 30 seconds, whisk again and then into the microwave for a third time again whisking hard when it comes out.

Once it is set, cover the cake with a palette knife. Then return the cake to the fridge. Melt what is left of the ganache so it is spreadable and pour over the top so it drips down the sides.

Finally, decorate with rosettes of orange buttercream and sections of a Terrys chocolate orange… then sit back and enjoy!


Putting the ‘festive’ back into Christmas shopping!

In my opinion, Christmas shopping – whether you are battling a busy high street, overwhelmed in a mall or sitting hunched over your keyboard shopping online at 3 in the morning – none of it is as festive and fun as it should be! So why not take the stress out of your festive shopping with a visit to a Christmas market?

I’m going to start with a fairly local one in the very pretty town of Tavistock on the far side of Dartmoor.

Tavistock Dickensian Christmas – 25th November 2016xmastavistock

The Dickensian evening includes the switching on of the Christmas lights, and an opportunity to start your Christmas shopping and enjoy the festive atmosphere. Be transported back to the ‘olde world’ with shop owners and staff wearing Dickensian dress, stalls selling roasted chestnuts and even steam engines adding to the atmosphere. You can find out more here.

Blenheim Palace Living Crafts for Christmas fair 17th – 20th Novemberxmasblenheim

On a rather grander scale… stock up on stocking fillers at the Living Crafts for Christmas fair in this stunning Oxfordshire stately home, where you’ll find more than 150 selected designer-makers, including artists, milliners and jewellers. Indulge in some hot chestnuts or a hot chocolate, then choose handcrafted decorations to adorn your home. Magical! Click here for more information.

Bath Christmas Market – 24th – 11th Decemberxmasbath

I love Bath any time of year, but this magical Christmas market makes it extra special. There will be more than 170 traditional wooden chalets lining the streets of the centre of beautiful Bath, transforming Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths into a wintry wonderland. Along with stalls from craftspeople from all over the South West, there is also the chance to go ice skating, ride on a carousel or enjoy a glass of mulled wine in the Après Ski Bar.

Find out more here.

Edinburgh Christmas Markets 19th November – 7th January 2017xmasedinburgh

If you really, really enjoy Christmas markets, then Edinburgh is the place to go as this lovely city has TWO markets, one Scottish and one European and they run through into January! The Scottish Market in St Andrew Square showcases food and drink from the country, including seafood and sausages, chocolate and cakes, plus handcrafted items. The popular European Market has been running for 20 years and is held in East Princes Street Gardens, offering traditional toys and gifts.

Click here for more information.

And finally… another Dickensian market. The trouble is the Victorians and Mr Dickens, did Christmas so well that, for many of us, it has become the ideal Christmas!

Ulverston, Cumbria Dickensian Christmas Festival – 26th & 27th Novemberxmasulverston

Ulverston puts on a tremendous show every year marking the start of the Christmas season and bringing a little Christmas magic to both young and old. The historic market town is full of fantastic shops, great pubs, cafes and cobbled streets. The Dickensian Festival boasts a huge variety of free entertainment, free events for children, fabulous Christmas market stalls with lots of unique gifts and festive food, costume competitions, horse-drawn carriages, music and dancing. If you really want to get into the spirit of the festival, why not come in costume and take part in the grand parade around the town?

Find out more here.

Photo credits, top to bottom:
tavistockbid.co.uk, nmctours.co.uk, www.bathchristmasmarket.co.uk, Visit Scotland, OxfamBirdsEye.

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I love hydrangeas!


hydraniasI have to give a huge shout out for my hydrangea bushes – they give such amazing service all summer long with their flowers. Then they start changing with the coming of autumn and the colours are amazing and jewel-like. Now is the time to harvest some to bring into the house.

So having served us all summer on the bushes, you can then get months (or years) more service from their beautiful blooms indoors. Cut them off the bushes either on a long stem or just the heads depending on how you plan to use them.

I personally cut longish stems making sure I cut near a new pair of buds. This cutting, or pruning, alters the size and shape of the hydrangea bush but, to be honest, mine are so huge I am grateful to prune a bit in any direction! I am sure this is not the correct way to re-shape your hydrangeas (So sorry Monty Don) but it has always worked for me and never caused any harm to my bushes.

So, I cut longish stems and then arrange them loose in a vase or in a basket with dry Oasis. No need for water – just leave them to it and they will dry out.

You can enjoy them for months and, if you any of the hydrangea heads that go too brownish or mottled, there’s nothing like a can of gold spray paint for a glorious display at Christmas!