Phew! It’s a scorcher!

Deckchairs2I am always amused at the British enthusiasm for talking about ‘The Weather’ – it is always either too wet or too dry or too cold or too hot! The trains can’t run for leaves on the line, the wrong kind of snow, or as a few days ago, rails buckled due to the heat! In among all these weather stories online are pages and pages of hints and tips about how to manage this roaring British summer weather… But what is true and what is false? What is fact and what is fiction? We know the common advice for coping with the warm weather – stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day, drink plenty of water, use sunscreen when you’re outside. But what about all those other tips?

Wearing white cotton clothing is best

It is true that natural fabrics like linen and cotton absorb sweat and allow it to breathe. They’re much better than man-made fibres like polyester, which can trap the moisture against your skin, leaving you hot and uncomfortable. But when it comes to colour, things are a bit more complicated. White is good if you’re out in direct sunlight a lot – it will reflect the heat better than any other colour. But if you’re spending time in the shade, black is a more effective colour to wear as it radiates out heat into your environment, cooling you down.

ColdWaterDrinking hot drinks actually lowers your body temperature

Staying hydrated is very important. If you don’t drink lots of water and beverages like fruit juice, you can start to become unwell, with symptoms of headache and tiredness. It can lead to heat exhaustion and heatstroke. But can hot drinks help cool you down? I’m afraid we are back to sweat again… The thinking is, drinking a hot drink raises your body temperature, causing you to sweat. Sweating cools you down because as the moisture evaporates it takes away some of the heat of your body. But sweating also means that you are losing liquid from your body, meaning you need to take on more to stay hydrated! Why is life so complicated?!

Keep the curtains closed as they block out the sun

This is another one where there is no straight answer. If you have thick dark curtains then keep them open otherwise, the fabric can keep the heat trapped in the room. However, lighter curtains can help reflect the sun’s rays back out of the room, so keep them closed.


HotDogKeep windows open during summer to circulate the air

Surprisingly, this is another instance where there is no hard and fast rule. If the room you are in is actually cooler than the temperature outside (as in my old farmhouse) then keep the windows closed otherwise, all you are doing is letting hot air in. But if the room is warmer – and this is much more likely to be the case at night – then opening the windows will help cool your home down. Always consider home security and safety when it comes to leaving windows and doors open though.

There’s lots of advice online (some of it very strange) but to be sure you get sound advice, always go to an ‘official’ site. The NHS website has lots of useful advice on how to cope in hot weather. If all else fails, wear a knotted hanky on your head, and stick your feet in a bowl of cold water – always works for me!

 

 

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Posh rhubarb!

It’s rhubarb time! It seems to be a good year for it and you can spot the massive leaves lurking in people’s gardens all over the place. Partner in crime writing, Julia, grows rhubarb and has been giving it away to friend and neighbours as she can’t keep up with this year’s crop! Fortunately, she also enjoys drinking prosecco, or cava (she isn’t fussy!) so I’ll leave her to tell you her latest rhubarb discovery…

“I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, so you won’t find me turning out rhubarb crumble or pie, I simply stew it, keeping it quite sharp and eat it with yogurt for breakfast… but you can only eat so much of it and can only get so many tubs in the freezer! 

In desperation, I began looking online for other uses for rhubarb… and came up with a very easy idea for putting a zing into your summer drink selection!”

How to make a rhubarb prosecco cocktail:

First, make a rhubarb syrup:

Makes about 250ml

  • 450g/1 pound fresh rhubarb cut into disks
  • 100g/3.5oz cup sugar
  • 125ml/4.2fl oz cup water

Method

Put all the ingredients into a medium saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes or until the fruit is very soft. Turn the heat off and cool in the pan.

Strain through a fine sieve into a measuring jug. Leave the fruit to drain for a few hours and then use a funnel transfer to a bottle or other suitable container. Keeps in the fridge for up to four weeks!

Next, add the alcohol!

Put 1tbsp of the luscious pink syrup in a glass

Top up with prosecco, cava or, if you are splashing out, Champagne

The rhubarb syrup will keep for up to a month in the fridge so why not make a big batch and invite all your neighbours round!

If a cocktail isn’t your thing, it’s also delicious as a porridge topping or drizzled on ice-cream!

 

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Tea please!

Top to bottom: Traditional Chinese tea. A ‘proper’ cup of British tea… but should it be milk or tea first? Portuguese Princess, Catherine of Braganza, started the tea craze in this country and finally, tea smugglers!While rummaging around with the TV remote recently, I stumbled across a historical take on tea, starting with the origins of the tea cup, and I started thinking about the significant part it has played in our history.

Tea is often thought of as being a quintessentially British drink and, while we have been drinking it for over 350 years, the history of tea goes much further back. The story of tea begins in China where tea drinking became established many centuries before it had even been heard of in the west.

In the latter half of the sixteenth century there are the first brief mentions of tea as a drink among Europeans. These are mostly from Portuguese living in the East as traders and missionaries. But it was not the Portuguese who were the first to ship back tea as a commercial import. This was done by the Dutch, who in the last years of the sixteenth century, began to encroach on Portuguese trading routes in the East. Tea soon became a fashionable drink among the Dutch, and from there spread to other countries in continental western Europe.

A cup of char!
We Brits, always a little suspicious of continental trends, had yet to become the nation of tea drinkers that we are today. The first dated reference to tea in this country is from an advert in a London newspaper from September 1658. It announced that ‘China Drink, called by the Chinese, Tcha, by other Nations Tay alias Tee’ was on sale at a coffee house in the City… and that’s why people talk about a ‘cup of char’!

We owe it all to a Portuguese Princess
It was the marriage of Charles II to Catherine of Braganza that was a turning point in the history of tea in Britain. She was a Portuguese princess, and a tea addict, and it was her love of the drink that established tea as a fashionable beverage first at court, and then among the wealthy classes as a whole. 

Milk in first or last?
Putting the milk in last was considered to be the ‘correct’ thing to do in refined social circles, but the real reason for this is often forgotten. In the early days of tea-drinking, poor-quality cups were inclined to crack when hot tea was poured into them, and putting the milk in first helped to prevent this. When finer and stronger materials came into use, this was no longer necessary – so putting the milk in last became a way of showing that one had the finest china on one’s table! Evelyn Waugh once recorded a friend using the phrase ‘rather milk-in-first’ to refer to a lower-class person, and the habit became a social divider that had little to do with the taste of the tea…

Tea smuggling and taxation
Tea became a popular drink in coffee houses, as much locations for the transaction of business as they were for relaxation or pleasure and were the preserve of middle and upper-class men. Women drank tea in their own homes, and as yet, tea was still too expensive to be widespread among the working classes. In part, its high price was due to a punitive system of taxation. The first tax on tea in the leaf, introduced in 1689, was so high at 25p in the pound that it almost stopped sales. It was reduced to 5p in the pound in 1692, and from then until as recently as 1964 (amazing!), when tea duties were finally abolished, politicians were forever tinkering with the exact rate and method of the taxation of tea.

One unforeseen consequence of the taxation of tea was the growth of methods to avoid taxation – smuggling and adulteration. By the eighteenth century many Britons wanted to drink tea but could not afford it, and their enthusiasm for the drink was matched by the enthusiasm of criminal gangs to smuggle it in. What began as a small time illegal trade, selling a few pounds of tea to personal contacts, developed by the late eighteenth century into an astonishing organised crime network, perhaps importing as much as 7 million pounds (weight) annually, compared to a legal import of 5 million pounds! Worse for the drinkers was that taxation also encouraged the adulteration of tea, particularly of smuggled tea which was not quality controlled through customs and excise. Leaves from other plants, or leaves which had already been brewed and then dried, were added to tea leaves. Sometimes the resulting colour was not convincing enough, so anything from sheep’s dung to poisonous copper carbonate was added to make it look more like tea – euw!

By 1784, the government realised that enough was enough, and that heavy taxation was creating more problems than it was worth. The new Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, slashed the tax from 119 per cent to 12.5 per cent. Suddenly legal tea was affordable, and smuggling stopped virtually overnight.

The topic of tea is huge and fascinating, I could go on… about when cups got their handles, why tea caddies were so important and, of course, the Boston Tea Party. But perhaps I will save that for another time. I’ll just nip off and have a cuppa now…

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Drying herbs and more!

Fresh herbs next to the dehydrator.I’ve got such a glut of herbs at the moment – I couldn’t use them all in my cooking if I were feeding the five thousand. So I’m going to be preserving them for the grumpy days of winter when something tasty might bring a smile!

I have a very old and over used dehydrator, in my pressed and dried flower days I used it constantly for things like decorative orange slices and little bunches of herbs or lavender. I have to admit I have never used it properly – ie to make things like beef jerky (yuk) or dehydrate fruit (too busy eating it). But it is going to come in handy for drying a lot of the herbs I have in mind.

I drink a lot of peppermint tea and my good old mint is running riot everywhere – three different varieties and I currently pay a fortune for the Teapigs brand of peppermint tea. So putting all those facts together… I am going to make my own herbal teas for a change.

Herbs after they have been dried.Now if you are thinking ‘well fine but I have no dehydrator’ that’s ok too as you can dry the herbs by bunching them with an elastic band and hanging them up to dry – don’t use string or ribbon as the stalks shrink and it all falls on the floor. You can also freeze herbs – I have done this by open freezing – ie spreading the chopped leaves on a baking dish and freezing them, then storing in the freezer in a plastic box. Another option is to chop finely and fill a plastic ice cube tray, fill it up with water and add an ice cube’s worth of that herb to soups or casseroles etc.

If you are thinking about a dehydrator there are a huge number of dehydrator bargains on Amazon reduced to £30 or so. Anyway, all I have done here is to spread cut sprigs of herb onto the trays and then switch onto low-medium for a few hours, checking occasionally.

So look out – there may well be a lot of herby recipes on the blog during the winter!

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Just coasting along…!

Here’s something a little bit different for you today. We sell all sorts of shapes and sizes of MDF pieces. Recently, we introduced two shapes of coaster mats and Eunice Meeus has made some lovely examples to inspire everyone to have a go. I personally use loads of coasters as I carry mugs of tea and coffee all over the house, so I have them in many different rooms. If you have some CDs, paper and coasters, you are well on your way to creating what I think would make an amazing present.

The instructions below were created by Eunice too so a big ‘thank you’ to Eunice!

You will need 

Instructions

  1. Decide on your image and print onto A4 paper, it may seem a waste but it means you can place the coaster exactly in the area you want to use and have some left over for another project
  2. Lay the coaster down on the wrong side of the backing paper and draw around it in pencil 
  3. Now over cut on the outside of you pencil mark, this makes it easier to handle
  4. Apply the ready mixed adhesive wallpaper paste to the coaster
  5. Place your image on the table with the wrong side of the image face up so you can see the pencil line
  6. Carefully pick up your coaster by the edges and place it sticky side down inside the pencil mark and gently put pressure on
  7. Leave to dry for about an hour, then check that it is firmly stuck to the coaster, if it lifts anywhere you can apply more paste with a small paint brush and leave again to dry
  8. When you are sure it is firmly stuck down trim the excess paper from around the edges
  9. Now, very gently sand the edges starting on the image and moving down over the edge of the coaster
  10. Finally apply two coats of the varnish, leaving to dry in between each coat.

 

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