Joanna Sheen Cardmaking Collection

I know many of you will have spotted this Cardmaking Collection back in January when it was released, but we have had so much positive feedback from it – I’m so glad everyone has enjoyed playing with the freebies and the papers – that I thought it would be good to just mention it again.

There are many nice bits and pieces that come with the set – a FANTASTIC embossing folder, that I have loved and used and used, a jug on a lace tablecloth that just goes so brilliantly with the flowers in the kit or any other flowers you choose. The daffodil die is of course very appropriate as the daffs are all struggling to come out now the snow has cleared (at least down here in Devon it has!) and there are so many different designs you could create with this die.

I have to say thank you to some of Practical Publishing’s team that made some of the cards in this picture, Nicky Gilburt, Jo Boland and Sue Hughes. There are many more card designers that worked on this issue and I wish I could mention them all – they are a very talented team.

Also included in this kit is the pretty stencil and of course fabulous rubber stamps and not forgetting the sheets and sheets of backing papers and toppers.

Currently, we have a few copies left so if you fancy one, grab it now before they disappear forever – they never republish an issue!




Cookery for the ‘Middle Classes’!

Sorting my book collection is rather like painting the Forth Road Bridge – it’s a task that never ends! OK, so it’s rather more interesting than the paint job and sometimes, as happened last week, I come across a gem of a cookery book I didn’t even know I had!

I can only guess that this ancient coverless book was one of my Mother’s. It has the wonderful title of: ‘Miss Tuxford’s Cookery for the Middle Classes’. Can you imagine how a title like that would go down in 2018?!

Miss Hester Tuxford M.C.A first published this book in 1925 and several updated editions followed. In the edition I have (dated 1933, I think) she tells us proudly in the preface that the book has so far sold upwards of 200,000 copies – which is a very impressive figure indeed! I haven’t been able to find out any more about Hester Tuxford online, which is a shame, as I rather like the sound of her. She lived in ‘Westwood’, Tattershall in Lincolnshire, but that’s as much as I know.

Offal: Awful!

The book itself is fascinating as a piece of social history. Compare this to a contemporary cookery book and it is hard to believe that only about 90 years have passed since Miss Tuxford was writing her recipes. It seems much longer…

Back then, meat was a staple of all meals – and almost every part of the animal was consumed – from offal, to head to feet! The number of recipes featuring tripe is quite terrifying, including options to stew it, fry it, put it in a pie or make a tripe ragout. Equally, the range of meat eaten would make most of us excuse ourselves from the dining table pretty rapidly – including rabbit, pigeon and rook. Rook pie, anyone?

Miss Tuxford manages only a small section on vegetables and, from the outset, she makes it clear that they need to be treated with caution. She writes:

Green vegetables should always be cooked with the lid off the pan to allow all poisonous gases to escape that are generated whilst cooking. A little salt and a small piece of soda should be added to the boiling water before placing in the green vegetables. All vegetables should be well soaked in salt water for an hour before cooking.’

The section on puddings and sweets is extensive and includes such gems as Puzzle Pudding, Honeymoon Cheesecakes and Canary Pudding. Fortunately, the latter refers to a yellow lemon sauce rather than poor little baked birds as in the Rook Pie! There are no less than five roly-poly recipes and many more substantial puddings, most of which involve a large amount of lard and margarine.

It’s all very well for us to marvel at this stodgy fare but between the wars, life was pretty spartan. Central heating was a luxury and domestic appliances were not that commonplace, nor was car ownership, so calorie-rich meals were essential for warmth and physical energy. Most vegetables were what you managed to grow yourself and many would have been root vegetables. None of the exotic fruits and vegetables that we enjoy today were around, such as avocados, butternut squash and blueberries. Britain was a much greyer place.

Reading Miss Tuxford’s book certainly made me reflect on how fortunate we are today with the food and comfort that most of us enjoy. If you come across a copy of this book, or any others from that era, it really is absolutely fascinating reading…


Light my fire!

This welcoming fire is in a cosy Cornish pub!

I know it hasn’t been that cold this winter, but it’s been so wet and miserable I think we can all do with a bit of treat now and again. Sitting in front of a log fire, or a log burner has to be classed as a real winter treat! While not all of us have real fires, we all seem to love it when we enter an ‘olde worlde’ pub and see logs blazing in the grate. We are lucky here in the Westcountry as there are plenty of such pubs about.

Sadly, I’ve always found that the romantic ideal of putting a match to the kindling and settling back with a book and a glass of wine on the sofa (oh and with Richard of course!) while it blazes away is very far from reality. Lighting a fire is an art… and an art that has so far escaped both of us!

Sofa, wine, fire… perfect!

There is always much debate about what is the best way to light a fire. Should you use firelighters (smelly), or is that cheating? Everyone has their own idea about how best to do it, but after extensive research online and consultation with some friends who are successful firelighters, this is my definitive guide:

  1. Make sure the grate is clean, so sweep away any ash from the hearth if it is an open fire or if a log burner, clean out the tray. You need airflow to get the fire going, flames feed on oxygen.
  2. Scrunch up balls of newspaper and lay them in the grate. Don’t skimp, and make sure the paper is dry. Some people swear by making the newspaper into a tube and then knotting it – I am told this is a lot of faff and makes no difference!
  3. Plenty of kindling and newspaper are essential.

    Place very dry pieces of kindling onto the newspaper. Kindling is small pieces of wood or twigs that are essential to get the fire going. Again, don’t skimp on these, and poke them in amongst the newspaper to ensure a good base.

  4. Place a couple of well-seasoned logs (small to medium-sized, don’t swamp it with a whopper) on top of the pile and then light the newspaper with a match. If you are using a log burner, close the door, and make sure the vents are open to draw in the air.

Ta-da! That should be the perfect recipe for a blazing fire! If it doesn’t work either paper or wood are very probably damp, in which case… cheat, and use a firelighter or go and have a hot bath, or simply snuggle up under the duvet!

PS. Don’t throw your ash away, mix it into your compost!



Are there fairies at the bottom of your garden?

The ‘real’ fairy house Julia found on Dartmoor!

Your response to my recent Fairy Doors products shows just how popular these little folk are! Even in 2018, there are signs of fairy life as discovered by my partner in crime writing, Julia, when she moved to a new village on Dartmoor. On one of her first exploratory walks with her dog, Moss, she came across two wooden fairy doors in the base of a living tree. Fascinated, she has kept her eye on this magical phenomenon as she passes the tree at least once a week… She has seen tiny figures come and go, little offerings left at Christmas and Easter, and coins pressed into cracks in the tree’s bark. Yet, she has never seen anyone else nearby…!

Intrigued, I decided to have a scoot about online and see what other fairy evidence I could come up with…

Most of us think of fairies as beautiful, tiny creatures, flitting about on gossamer wings, – but history and folklore tell a different tale. When belief in fairies was common most people didn’t dare mention them by name and referred to them as the Little People or the Hidden People. Many explanations have been given for belief in fairies. Some say that they are like ghosts, spirits of the dead, or fallen angels, neither bad enough for Hell nor good enough for Heaven. There are hundreds of different kinds of fairies – some are minute creatures, others grotesque – some can fly, and all can appear and disappear at will.

Sometimes the term fairy is used to describe any magical creature, including goblins or gnomes, while at others it describes a specific type of more ethereal creature or sprite. As so often happens when I look into ‘traditions’, I find that the Victorians are largely responsible! They were the ones who made fairies tiny and twee… resulting in fairy tales for children. It was during the Victorian and Edwardian eras when fairies were extremely popular that winged fairies became the norm. In folklore, wings were very rare and even tiny fairies flew by magic, sometimes flying on ragwort stems or the backs of birds.

Hobgoblins are guardian fairies – they are the useful ones that secretly come and do housework and odd jobs around the house. Unfortunately, they never seem to come and visit me! In Aberdeenshire, Scotland they are hideous to look at, they have no separate toes or fingers and in the Scottish Lowlands, they have a hole instead of a nose. Banshees are less common and more sinister, they usually only appear to foretell a tragedy. Goblins and Bug-a-boos are always malignant – and we should avoid them if possible!

Most of the nature fairies are probably descendants of pre-Christian gods and goddesses or are the spirits of trees and streams. Black Annis, a blue-faced hag, haunts the Dane Hills in Leicestershire and Gentle Annie who governs storms in the Scottish lowlands, are believed to be descended from the Celtic goddess Danu, mother of Ireland’s cave fairies. Mermaids and mermen, river spirits and spirits of pools, are the most common nature fairies.

A famous fairy story

One of the most famous fairy stories, and the photos that we have probably all seen was of the Cottingley Fairies who appeared in a series of five photographs taken by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths two young cousins who lived in Cottingley, near Bradford. In 1917, when the first two photographs were taken, Elsie was 16 and Frances was 9. The pictures came to the attention of world-famous writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (he of Sherlock Holmes fame), who used them to illustrate an article on fairies he had been commissioned to write for the Christmas 1920 edition of The Strand Magazine. Doyle, as a spiritualist, was enthusiastic about the photographs and interpreted them as clear and visible evidence of psychic phenomena. Public reaction was mixed – some accepted the images as genuine, but others believed they had been faked.

Interest in the Cottingley Fairies gradually faded after 1921. Both girls married and lived abroad for a time after they grew up, yet the photographs continued to hold the public imagination. In 1966 a reporter from the Daily Express newspaper traced Elsie, who had by then returned to the UK. She left open the possibility that she believed she had photographed her thoughts, and the media once again became interested in the story and I can remember reading about it myself and wishing the photos were genuine.

In the early 1980s Elsie and Frances, by then very old ladies, finally admitted that the photographs were faked, using cardboard cutouts of fairies copied from a popular children’s book of the time, but Frances maintained that the fifth and final photograph was genuine. The photographs and two of the cameras used are on display in the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford.

How extraordinary that such a hoax could go on for so long, even deceiving Sherlock Holmes’ creator. It just goes to prove how many of us dearly wanted to believe it was genuine and to believe in fairies… do you?






Time for tea – part two!

There’s nothing most of us like more than a hot drink and, in the midst of this wet and gloomy January, I am sure everyone’s kettle is in very regular use! A hot drink revives, comforts and warms you all in one go – can’t be bad! I wrote a blog about tea a couple of years ago and lots of you responded and said you’d enjoyed it… so here are a few more thoughts on what is, surely, Britain’s national drink.

I can remember when tea bags first became popular (yes, I am that old!) and loose-leaf tea was suddenly regarded as old hat and rather a lot of faff. In my family, we still used a teapot, but with the new-fangled bags. Nowadays, most people tend to just plop a tea bag into a mug, dunk it a bit – and there you have it. But tea times are a-changing… just as coffee has become a huge industry, with bean grinders, expensive coffee makers and exotic types of beans, so tea is reinventing itself as a healthy ‘on trend’ beverage. Actually, trendiness aside, the amazing range of teas that are now available to make tea drinking a lot more interesting and, in health terms, it’s pretty good for you.


Freshly picked tea leaves.

Returning to loose leaf tea isn’t just a trendy thing, you actually get better quality tea. Loose-leaf tea is made from whole leaves or large pieces of leaf that still contain aromatic oils. As you wait for it to infuse, or brew as we used to say, the flavour is slowly released into the water. Commercial tea bags are filled with small pieces of the lowest grade tea, making them quick to infuse. Like so many things in life – what you gain in time, you lose in quality. There are better quality tea bags around now, some with the pyramid shape that gives the tea more room to brew, but loose-leaf tea is still the best for taste.

Going back to brewing your tea properly will also help give you a better cuppa. Just as with coffee, there are now books and websites on how to do this, plus oodles of fancy equipment. But let’s be sensible here – we don’t all have time for an elaborate tea ceremony – so here are a few simple tips for how to get the best from your tea.

  1. Treat yourself to some loose-leaf tea
  2. Use fresh water in your kettle. If you live in a hard water area, filtering your water would be good but it’s an added faff.
  3. Get your water temperature right – black tea (the sort most people drink, like English breakfast, Assam etc.) wants boiling water, as do herbal teas. If you are making green tea, oolong or white tea, use cooling water. Boiling water burns the leaves of these delicate teas, making a bitter taste. Now I know where I have been going wrong with green tea!
  4. Make sure you get the right ratio of tea to water, read what it says on the packet, or do what my mother always did – a teaspoon per person, plus one for the pot! Then leave your tea to brew. Black teas need about three minutes.

But let’s not forget something very important… if we went back to loose-leaf teas we’d be able to see our fortunes! Tasseography is the art of reading tea leaves or fortune-telling. As a child, I remember my grandmother doing this and I was always enthralled! Make a pot of loose leaf tea, pour yourself a cup (ideally a white cup) sip your tea, leaving the tea leaves and a little liquid in the bottom. Then, swirl the contents three times and upend your cup carefully over a saucer, getting rid of the last bits of liquid. You then need to squint closely into your cup at the tea leaves still clinging there and look for the symbols. The common ones include stars for good luck, spirals for creativity and parallel lines for travel or change. Just think what we have been missing all these years!