Tea for two – just for you!


I simply love blue and white china and have it in many places around the house apart from everyday use. I think the willow pattern is a very attractive and traditional design for a teapot and has lovely childhood memories for me too.

This image from the Anna Browne cardmaking pad makes a lovely birthday or everyday card.

the card measures 7 inches square and has layers of cream, light blue and darker blue and interspersed between the layers are some teatime doilies. You can easily buy these ready made or you may have a cutting die that makes doilies – either is fine!

The pearl heart is actually a little buckle and the ribbon has been threaded through – if you don’t have that then just four little self adhesive pearls stuck to the ribbon would be an easy and attractive alternative.




Local producer feature: Tarquin’s Gin

Tarquin with bottles of his gin and his Cornish pastis (rather like Pernod).I’ve always enjoyed a long refreshing gin and tonic but, in these days of trendy drinks, gin has taken a bit of a back seat and become rather ‘old hat’. But now, it seems, gin is in! Boutique gins are all the rage and small artisan gin producers are springing up all over the place – we have several in the Westcountry. My partner in writing crime, Julia Wherrell, recently interviewed a new young Cornish gin maker for an article she was writing and, as soon as we discovered he used Devon violets in his gin, we thought you’d like to hear more about it…

At just 26, Tarquin Leadbetter seems rather young to have set up his own distillery – but that’s just what he’s done, making him the first person to craft gin in Cornwall for more than a century.

Tarquin is from Devon and, after living and working in London for a few years was very keen to get back to the Westcountry and start up his own business ‘doing something’ in the food and drink industry. Settling in Cornwall, he identified gin as a market with potential and spent the next 18 months distilling the spirit in a traditional copper still on his kitchen cooker.

”After a lot of work and research, I finally perfected my own recipe,” he says. “I use 11 botanicals in addition to the traditional juniper in my gin, resulting in a contemporary take on a classic London Dry.

“One unusual ingredient is the Devon violet. From these I take the delicate leaves, which add a vibrant green freshness to the gin and create something deliciously unique. At the heart of our process is a special flame-fired, copper pot still called Tamara, goddess of the Tamar. The copper gives the gin a very smooth finish – there’s no stainless steel and industrial quantities here! We make small batches of gin, fewer than 300 bottles at a time, and I check every one personally.”

The essential oils present in gin have also been used in herbal medicine for centuries. By looking at each botanical he uses – and its known effect – Tarquin has had fun drawing up a complete character profile of his gin.

“This might provide insight into the effects of drinking Tarquin’s Gin!” he jokes. Here’s the result of his research:

  • Juniper – a natural stimulant, great for versatility and effectiveness
  • Coriander – soothing and calming
  • Lemon – a mood enhancer
  • Orange – creates a feeling of happiness and warmth
  • Grapefruit – increases ones sense of humour and well-being
  • Cardamom – soothes the mind
  • Cinnamon – reduces drowsiness and irritability
  • Orris – therapeutic
  • Angelica – has a protective quality, but also helps to release negative energy
  • Bitter almond – wonderful scent and flavour
  • Liquorice – soothing
  • Violets – relaxing, soothing and inspiring

His gin is delicious. It is a little dearer than standard gin, but as a treat it is well worth trying. It comes in lovely wax sealed bottles and you should be able to find it in independent wine merchants across the country. If you come on holiday to Devon or Cornwall, you’ll have no trouble finding it as it is becoming immensely popular in this area. We reckon Tarquin is onto a winner!

You can follow him on Facebook or look for stockists on his website.



Elderflower Cordial

One of the (many) joys of living in the countryside is the amount of ‘free food’ we can find in the hedgerows. Obviously one must take care that plants are not destroyed or removed but picking something plentiful, such as elderflower, is fine. I am doubly lucky in that I have elderflowers just inside my gate and although it’s a bit dull most of the year – this time of year it’s a marvel!

There are lots of things you can do with elderflowers, my favourites are elderflower champagne and elderflower cordial. I am also going to try making an elderflower salad dressing this year – but no experimenting done yet! This recipe is from River Cottage who produce some of my favourite cookery books.

This cordial will keep for at least six weeks – we have never managed to keep it any longer as we’re always to keen to sample it and check it’s still fine. This recipe makes about two litres so make sure you have suitable bottles ready, I prefer to make small bottles in order to open just a little at a time to keep it fresher. To sterilise the bottles, I use a hot cycle on the dishwasher – quick and easy.


  • 25 elderflower heads (check carefully for insects)
  • 3 unwaxed lemons
  • 1 unwaxed orange
  • 1 kg sugar
  • 1 heaped tsp citric acid (you can get this from chemists or shops that sell wine making equipment) but this is optional
  • You need a jelly bag or a piece of muslin

How to make the cordial

Use a large bowl and put the elderflower heads in there and zest the orange and lemons. Boil 1.5 litres of water and pour over the flowers/citrus mix and leave to infuse overnight.

Strain the liquid through a clean jelly bag or piece of muslin and pour into a saucepan. Add the sugar, juice from the orange and lemons and citric acid.

Heat gently to dissolve the sugar and then bring to a simmer and cook for a couple of minutes.

Use a funnel to pour the hot syrup into sterilised bottles and seal them with either swing-top lids, sterilised screw tops or corks.



The amazing avocado!

Well, where do you start with something as amazing as the avocado? They look exotic, have a totally unique taste and texture and are incredibly good for you too! Yes, I know they are high in calories but, if you are sensible and don’t gorge on them, they are packed full of good things that far outweigh their ‘bad’ reputation.

Glance at the fruit bowl on my kitchen table any day of the year and you’ll see avocados in among the apples and bananas as I absolutely adore them. I use them in vegetable smoothies, slice them in a salad and, if you follow some of my beauty blogs, will know I sometimes even slap them on my face as they make a terrific moisturising mask!

It’s one of those foodstuffs – rather like the butternut squash – that I can’t imagine how we ever managed without it. Avocados first arrived in the UK in the 1960s and I can well remember them being regarded as highly exotic, rather decadent and ever so slightly odd! How could it be a pear and yet not be sweet?

Avocados have a much higher fat content than most other fruit, and it’s mostly monounsaturated fat… which means it’s fatty but in a really good way! This makes them  really popular with vegetarians who can sometimes struggle to get enough good fats in their diet.

Generally, avocado is served raw but you can cook with it. I used to serve a dinner party dish where the flesh had been scooped out and mixed with prawns and cheese and then put back in the avocado shell and grilled but, to be quite honest, it’s a rather rich dish and, as avocado so lovely on its own, why bother?

And, of course, they are terribly good for you too. Not wishing to bore you with too many statistics, but here are a few of the more impressive ones:

  • About 75% of an avocado’s energy comes from fat, most of which is monounsaturated fat
  • On a weight basis, avocados have 35% more potassium than bananas.
  • They are rich in folic acid and vitamin K, and are good dietary sources of vitamin B6, vitamin C and vitamin E
  • Avocados have a high fibre content of 75% insoluble and 25% soluble fibre.
  • High avocado intake has been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels.
  • Extracts of avocado have been studied to assess potential for lowering risk of diabetes
  • The avocado is also being researched for potential anti-cancer activity
  • The ability of avocado to help prevent unwanted inflammation is widely accepted and many arthritis sufferers swear by it.

And if that weren’t enough… it’s also great fun to grown an avocado plant from the stone, or pit. It won’t fruit but it does grow into an attractive houseplant!

What more could you possibly want from one fruit? If you want to find out more, there’s lots of information online… but do be wary of crank sites!


A real tonic

I’ve never been much of a tea or coffee drinker, which is odd as the rest of my family are. I do like herbal teas though, and am especially fond of peppermint tea. I’ve recently bought a sweet little infusion teapot so, once the mint in the garden has grown, I can literally pick a few leaves and stick them in the pot with some boiling water for a very refreshing brew!

Herbal teas have become popular both for their flavour and for the many medicinal qualities they are supposed to possess. It’s claimed they can help with everything from easing a cold and indigestion to fighting infection and nausea. But when choosing a herbal tea remedy, make sure you pick the right one. While fruit flavoured teas – such as rosehip, apple and orange – taste nice, they are developed for their flavouring more than anything else.

Herbal teas on the other hand, such as thyme, peppermint and ginger really do have therapeutic uses. Check the label when you buy – if it mentions real herbs then the quality will be good. Try and avoid any teas with artificial flavourings.

My partner in crime writing, Julia, can’t take cold remedies anymore as she gets a rather violent allergic reaction, and she finds ginger or thyme tea really help when she’s fighting a cold. One of the benefits of peppermint tea is that it’s good for indigestion, so if you have over-indulged (which of course I never do!) it is nice to drink after a meal.

Here are my top five herbal teas:

Ginger: Ginger is a great remedy in the early stages of an infection because, as a warming spice, it can promote a fever and hasten healing. Ginger’s warming effects are also said to relieve rheumatic aches and pains by widening the blood vessels and stimulating circulation.

Chamomile: The small golden buds of chamomile give many people relief from mild insomnia. Chamomile is the principal ingredient in many ‘sleepytime’ tea blends. This is because chamomile contains tryptophan, an amino acid known for its tranquilizing effects. When taken as an infusion, these properties act as a relaxant and help you to sleep.

Thyme: This Mediterranean herb is an effective treatment for colds. This is because thyme contains volatile oils – constituents in the plant that protect it against virus and infection. When taken as an infusion, these properties act as a good decongestant for the chest.

Peppermint: A traditional remedy used for nausea and indigestion. By stimulating bile production in the gall bladder, peppermint breaks down fat in the digestion system, thus relieving nausea.

Nettle: I’ve waxed lyrical about nettles before on this blog! It is good to take when feeling run down as it has a rich mineral content. Nettle is a good source of iron, calcium and silica. Iron produces red blood cells, essential for energy while calcium and silica are important for building bones, hair and teeth.