Happy Birthday Sis!

Richard and I flew over to Jersey last weekend to celebrate my sister’s 60th birthday (ha ha not keeping that number quiet!) and I decided to make her a simple but, hopefully, popular card.

There have been times when my sister has wrinkled her nose at over embellished “Joanna’s gone mad with flowers” type designs. So I thought I would aim for calm and elegant and leave the photograph to do the talking. In case you wondered I am the little girl on the right and she is on the left. My Mum was always so glamorous when we were small – lovely memories.

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Time for tea?

There are times when I just love playing with the pretty decorations that I have in my house – well I think they’re lovely anyway! Dating back to the times when I was helping style all the non fiction flower arranging and cookery books that I wrote in the 80s and 90s, I have always liked arranging pretty things.

Some might call my house cluttered (Richard does for one) but I just can’t resist lovely bits of vintage lace, shells, pretty flowers, semi precious rocks, old china – you name it and I squirrel it away pretending it might come in for a photo shoot sometime, somewhere!

Well these lovely flowers arrived today and I thought they were too nice not to share with the world. The blue hydrangea is high on my list of favourite flowers as Richard knows and the fabulous bouquet of tulips and herbs was part of my Christmas present also from Richard – a bouquet of flowers every month for six months – how lucky am I?

So I got playing and before you accuse me of eating way too many cakes, these are fake cakes intended for use in photography or window displays and I just think they look lovely sitting on the dresser base I have in that room. I have had to explain to little Grace several times now that they are Granny’s toy cakes like the bits in her toy kitchen and not for eating – you can see her narrowing her eyes and deciding whether to believe me or not!

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Moving on…

My partner in crime writing, Julia, is about to embark on a bit of a mammoth undertaking… moving house after 21 years! I’m jolly glad it’s her that’s moving and not me!! Here, she tells us how preparations are coming on…

“I’ve put it off as long as I can, but the time has come to downsize both my house – very old and spread over three floors, and my garden – too large and steep. As I am sure many of you know, the entire moving process is a bit of a nightmare as this country does not seem to have a particularly logical buying and selling process, unlike Scotland, which does. But I am not going to go on about that side of the business, I was thinking more of the ‘de-cluttering’ exercise that moving house involves…

Over 21 years one does accumulate a lot of ‘stuff’. And the ‘stuff’ always seems to be perplexing. I find myself crawling about in a cluttered cupboard or dusty loft space and thinking: “Where on earth has that come from?” “I don’t ever remember buying that!” or, most commonly, “Why ever did I keep that?!”

My best moment so far has been finding two pairs of curtains and feeling memories fill the air along with the dust of two decades as I opened the plastic bag they were neatly stowed in. The first pair was dark blue velvet, made for me about 50 years ago to keep the early morning summer light out of my bedroom when I was (ahem!) a very young child. The second was a pair of very posh curtains I had made when I bought a house in Cambridge and that I remember, at the time, made me feel thoroughly grown up.

I was thrilled at this rediscovery as I thought they’d been ruined when a squirrel had nested in them in an eaves storage cupboard when I’d first moved into this old house. The endearing little furry creature had gnawed its way through the folded curtains producing an effect rather like we did at infant school when cutting out shapes with scissors on closely folded paper… 

I whipped out the curtains with glee… only to discover that yes, there were the neatly spaced holes created by Mr Squirrel and each curtain completely ruined. So why had I kept them? I have no idea… perhaps some moment of whimsy years ago when I couldn’t bear to part with them. Not so this time around – they went straight in the bin being of no use to man nor beast. But rest assured, anything half decent now resides in my local charity shop. Books, clothes and interesting kitchen rejects now adorn their shelves. All I have to do is stop myself from going in and re-buying everything thinking it’s all so nice and such a bargain… oh dear.

Among many other grubby and rather depressing discoveries was a box of ‘bits’ which included two spanners, numerous packs of travel tissues, a clockwork mouse (really) and two rather bizarre looking red rubber teats. It took me some time, and not a little consternation, to remember that I had once bottle-fed a lamb and teats had been much in demand!

Boxes and boxes of photographs are still sitting waiting to be opened. I will sort through and chuck out the completely pointless, the out of focus and the images of people and places long forgotten. But I am sure most will get packed up again and carted off to my next house as I can’t bear to chuck out images of childhood or of the dear departed. Throwing them away always feels like a rejection somehow. Anyway, sorting through old photos won’t be a chore for today’s young people as printed photos are almost obsolete now. While this may make for less clutter I can’t help but think it’s a shame. Flicking through old and faded photos is a rather lovely way to reflect on who, and what, have gone before and to think positively about what lies ahead.

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Diana’s simple, classic apple pie

My Mum was legendary within our family for her fabulous apple pies – indeed she won contests and appeared on Pebble Mill at One years ago. This picture shows an excerpt from the Best of British Cookbook that the BBC published with a very young and pretty Diana some 25 plus years ago…

To the side of the recipe, the cookbook includes this paragraph about Diana:

“Diana says her husband married her for her apple pie and, as they’ve been together for 26 years, it must be good! The secret is her melt–in–the­–mouth pastry, using a high proportion of vegetable fat to flour, which she prefers to the more biscuit crust produced with butter and the apples, cooked quickly to retain their flavour and colour with no spicy additions. A deliciously simple, classic apple pie.”

I can attest the fact that John never tired of her apple pie and she was still making it until very recently. I’ve reproduced her recipe here for you:

Ingredients

  • 3 large Bramley apples
  • 2–3 tablespoons sugar
  • 3–4 tablespoons water

Pastry

  • 12oz self-raising flour with a pinch of salt
  • 8oz soft lard or vegetable fat
  • 6 tablespoons cold water

Method

Peel, core and chop the apples into pieces, put into a large pan, add a little water and the sugar to taste. Cook at a very high temperature – stir occasionally – don’t leave it, it will burn easily. Just as the apples are ‘breaking down’ (about 4–5 minutes) tip the apples into a dish and leave to cool.

Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl – add the fat and rub in lightly with your fingertips – now add the cold water – enough to make a soft dough. Roll out half the dough to fit the base of your flan dish – trim the edges – fill the pastry case with the cold cooked apple and brush the edges with a little cold water. Roll out the remaining pastry and lay it carefully over the apple and secure the edges – now trim and flute the edges to look attractive. Brush the surface with a little cold milk or use a little beaten egg brushed over to produce really golden pastry. Cook the apple pie for about 25 minutes in a pre–heated oven Gas 6 (200ºC/400ºF) – eat at once with a generous helping of cream!

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Making anniversaries special…

Anniversaries are very important to some people… but sometimes a couple can completely forget the correct date, can’t they Richard?! I don’t think the exact date always matters, but what is important is that you still love and honour each other.

A bunch of flowers on a Tuesday because he was thinking about me is every bit as wonderful as the bouquet that arrives on ‘our day’. A spontaneous ‘date night’ when we disappear off to the cinema and have a KFC takeaway afterwards is just as precious to me as a long planned trip to a Michelin starred restaurant in Paris would be.

There are also lots of different anniversaries we can celebrate. Five years at work, 40 years from the date we met a special friend – all these things are important too. This card was made thinking of a wedding anniversary, but perhaps we should remember others as well. Here are some instructions for it.

Products needed for the project

Method

  1. Cut out the pieces of decoupage from the Jane Shasky decoupage collection. Using glue gel layer the pieces up – giving them shape to look more realistic.
  2. Mat and layer the pink gingham and pink pearl.
  3. Die cut the Filigree Aperture, Clarissa Lace Edger and Butterfly Flourish out of the pearl card. Place the Aperture die on a slant on the left side of the project, lay the decoupage flowers and Clarissa die on the right side.
  4. Spray the Butterfly flourish and cover with the fine glitter. Cut another Flourish in lemon pearl and offset onto the white to leave a shadow effect and add the sentiment.
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