Tasting olive oil and rocket fuel!

Continuing my holiday adventures…

Yesterday, we docked at a town called Kotor in Montenegro. It was quaintly medieval in many places and very beautiful. I will admit to complete ignorance about Montenegro, the only time I have heard of it was as part of the Eurovision Song Contest but that’s faintly embarrassing! The tour we chose took us around the town and on to a small family olive oil producer.

Left to right: Here I am taking a wander around the old town of Kotor. Ruschka and Mischka the weed control management team. The olive grove.

Our first stop, once we arrived on the farm, was to meet Ruschka and Mischka the weed control management team. Mischka is 18 (on the right) and expecting a baby donkey soon and we shared some of the little welcome doughnuts we had been handed. We didn’t share the welcome drink we were given, I took one sip and immediately passed the rest of the glass to Richard… 50 per cent proof home made brandy… made variously from grapes, apples, plums or, I suspected, any fruit they had handy. It wasn’t unpleasant but wow it blew your head off! They didn’t call it rocket fuel for nothing!

We then moved on to the 300-year-old olive press and machinery, so beautiful, and lovely that it has been preserved. There was a careful explanation of how the oil is extracted. The rubbish/paste left over they reuse as compost material and animal feed. They had goats and sheep for cheese and rabbits for… OK, I will gloss over that one but I kind of assume they may not have kept 20 or so rabbits as pets. They showed us their brand new modern machinery, much less work for the donkeys than the old version, hence their transfer to weed management!

Then we had a lesson on how to taste olive oil and a serious lecture on how the stuff we are all buying is very unlikely to be proper olive oil as most of the supermarkets sell oils that are hugely blended and taste nothing like proper olive oil. Well having tasted some I suspect he was right, it was far fruitier and a little more peppery than the big bottles I buy in Tesco… and a 100cl bottle cost 3 euros direct from the farm, so that is about £25 a litre. Hmm, now what do I pay, about £4.99 at most for a litre. So I may change my ways, I’ll look more carefully when I get home.

Left to right: The old and the new olive presses… and the finished product.

They then gave us a gorgeous lunch, with cheese from their sheep, prosciutto ham made at home by the mother, eggs from their chickens and some lightly battered courgettes. Followed by apple cake (yup made by Mum) and Turkish coffee (fab if you like strong coffee). The cheese was interesting. One was a pale soft cheese which tasted like a mild Lancashire or something along those lines. Then they take some of those cheeses and place them in wire mesh cages and hang them over the patio (!) for three weeks. This dries them out and they then immerse them in olive oil. The resulting cheese was quite firm and almost had the strength of a Parmesan.

Then back to the ship where we found an invitation to eat with the captain tonight, aha … maybe I can persuade him to try card making, he already does various crafts like wood carving etc. in his spare time… so who knows!

The photo at the top is of the beautiful fish filled river and ponds in the town of Kotor.

 

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The Proof is in the Pudding

Hold on to your hats – the fourth and final instalment of the Swaddlecombe Mysteries will be available from mid-October! In ‘The Proof is in the Pudding’, Christmas comes to Swaddlecombe and, as the decorations go up, so does the body count. Victoria and Albert have their work cut out to identify ‘who dunnit’ in this frenzied festive free-for-all.

My partner in crime writing, Julia Wherrell, and I have had a lot of fun re-visiting our fictional village of Swaddlecombe and seeing what Victoria and Albert, the Reverend Ruminant, Jean and pub landlords Roger and Trudy and have all been up to since the last instalment! It’s both exciting and scary as you never quite know where things will take you, the characters definitely develop minds of their own.

This fourth novel opens in the run up to Christmas – Victoria’s first country Christmas in deepest Devon. Everyone’s getting festive, especially Trudy and the triplets and Victoria finds herself on a Christmas wreath-making course – ooh, I wonder where that idea came from?! Julia wanted to write about dastardly doings with a glue gun, but I managed to talk her out of that – I am too squeamish!

Dear old Albert is busy cooking again and ‘feeding’ his Christmas pudding. A local vineyard ensures there’s plenty of wine to lubricate the proceedings, but does it also contribute to two ‘accidental’ deaths? You’ll have to try and work that out for yourselves…

All your messages of encouragement (and nagging!) have been much appreciated and have helped keep Julia and myself motivated. We’ve both had a difficult couple of years and, while the writing project did take a while to come to the top of the ‘work’ pile, it was always in our minds. So, a big ‘thank you’ to all of you who love the characters and have been so patient in waiting for book four.

‘The Proof is in the Pudding’ will be available in Paperback and on Kindle mid-October and I promise to keep you posted on an exact launch date.

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Keys to the Beach Hut!

Sadly, we don’t all have a fabulous little beach hut, but we do all need to keep keys somewhere! One of the best things about being a crafter is that our stash can be used for so many different things. Cardmaking, home decorations, scrapbooking, gift making and just plain old playtime for us!

This is a lovely example of two of those categories, you could make something like this as a gift or just to decorate your home. We all need somewhere to put those dratted keys (the ones I lose all the time), and hanging them on a pretty little set of hooks like this is very pleasing! I have a lovely big wooden key with hooks along it in my home, that was made for me by my baby brother when he was at school… um, quite upsetting to remember he has long since had his 50th birthday and runs a very successful pub in Crickhowell in Wales (The Kestrel Inn – I highly recommend the food!) but the key holder is still in place, hand made gifts mean a lot.

You can use MDF as a base or thin plywood or even a piece of thicker wood if you have easier access to that. Get drilling first and make some holes for the string – some chunky rough string looks good. Then start your choice of paint effect. This has been crackled with Weathered Wood – but you could do nice straight stripes or just paint it plain white, or blue or whatever you like.

Once the paint is dry, screw in the cup hooks at the bottom and die cut and colour your beach huts. If you want to make them more serviceable, you could add a layer of matt or glossy varnish or laminate them to make them stronger. Now add them to the plaque together with the seagulls using trusty Pinflair. Use a fair sized blob to make sure you have some height.

Thread the string through and knot – and away you go. This same idea could be utilised with so many different dies and designs.

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Crafting with Granny

One of the joys of our hobby is being able to share, whether it’s sharing the making of cards with family and friends or just giving them the finished product!

This weekend I was playing with my little granddaughter Grace. She absolutely loves ponies and regularly rides a little Shetland pony called Pippin. Her mother has a lovely grey called Bobby and Grace has grown up thinking everyone has to clean up after horses and wears wellies most of the time!

So knowing her passion for all things horse related, rather than playing yet again with her model stable, we decided to do some cardmaking. I have a little box and a drawer which I am slowly saving things in when I spot something that might be fun for her to use.

The Cuttlebug is ideal for children and even this little 3 year old can turn the handle if you hold the machine steady for her. We have a couple of suitable horsey dies in the Signature Dies range, so they have been waiting in the drawer for some time!

Poor old Bobby got kicked by another horse and is confined to his stable on box rest until his leg heals. So we made him a get well soon card!

Grace is definitely a chip off the old block, so to speak, she chose colours beautifully, and is very good already at accurately wielding the glue dispenser. I did the double sided taping, more for speed than anything, but soon I am sure she will manage with a tape dispenser. We die cut many more horses than we needed (ok so she wouldn’t stop and I didn’t like to halt the enthusiasm!) and included those inside the card “so Mummy can play with them” – think of it as alternative confetti to put inside a card!

The front you can see here in the picture, inside we used a Get Well Soon die and wrote a message for Bobby. The grass is made by using the Icicle border die. This design could be used with any of the animal families we have, so it could be a dog card, farm card or whatever you like!

 

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Seals and Surf!

This lovely card was made by Sylvie Ashton for the last TV show. Apart from demonstrating beautifully how fab our Seal Family die is, it also has a fascinating use for our Ocean Corner die.

I think it’s really important to encourage everyone to look at dies and think of different ways to use them. Dies are an investment, they aren’t going to perish or evaporate, they will always be there. So let’s try and get the best use from them that we can.

What this design does is take the coral edging from our Ocean Corner and round the edges a little, snip a little and turn them into the foam on the waves. Very effective and a great additional use for a corner die!

The waves and rocks are also worth pointing out – these are cut/torn papers from our Paper pad volume 3 – so often it’s easy to flip through a pad and say “Nah, not my kind of patterns” but backing papers have many uses and gorgeous flowers and lace are indeed some of my favourite backing papers (see Volume 1!) but we also need creatively inspiring colours and designs to help do something just a little bit different.

The last point I want to make is the sky. Any of you that caught the show will have seen the post it note demo, but for those that didn’t …. the sky is so very simple but effective I reckon! It needs a post it note and a pad of Tim Holtz Distress Inks – one of the blues – and an implement to apply the ink. You can use a lovely whizzy fat brush as I do, or a foam applicator as he does or just use a screwed up old tissue…. it works! Cut the clouds out from the post-it (making sure there’s a piece of tacky left somewhere on the cloud) and position them on a suitably sized piece of white card. Splodge or whisky around the clouds and across the sky …. then remove the post it notes and ta-da … clouds in a blue sky.

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