Living the good life…

Many of you will know Sandra Goodman as our bright and bubbly Customer Service Manager… but there’s another side to Sandra that you probably don’t know about! To find out about her ‘other life’, read on… 

Sandra met her husband, Charlie, in 2011 and they set out to fulfil a lifelong dream – running their own smallholding. With property prices sky high in Devon they headed west to Cornwall. In the wonderfully named village of Polyphant they found their dream home – an old barn once used as a potato store and now converted, in a rather rustic way according to Sandra, into a two-bedroom house.

Sandra says: “We knew instantly that this old barn, set in a picturesque valley with a couple of fields, was where we wanted to settle.”

Charlie, having been raised on a farm, has in-depth knowledge of not only livestock but wildlife and the countryside in general. Sandra’s background is in craft, interior design and floristry and she has a love of flora and fauna and all things country. 

Their aim is to be self-sufficient – yes, totally! To date, they have 20 chickens, soon to be 40, and are about to take delivery of a pregnant Oxford Sandy and Black sow, followed by two ‘Lowline’ cattle. These gorgeous ‘mini’ cows are bred to be about a metre high at the shoulder, they are easy to handle and docile and ideal for the ‘small acreage’ farmer, which Charlie and Sandra definitely are with their four acres having to produce a lot of food to sustain the two of them!

As well as livestock, they have also put up an impressive poly tunnel (in Polyphant – sorry!) and, when I asked Sandra what they were growing, I couldn’t write it all down quickly enough, but the list included: Carrots, onions, parsnips, potatoes, beans, peas, tomatoes, kale, cauliflower, butternut squash, aubergines, cucumbers, melons and lots more that I missed!

So far, Sandra says everything is germinating and growing really well in the poly tunnel, so she’s optimistic for good crops this year. Their next project is to prepare the outside veg beds and get even more produce underway.

Charlie and Sandra are keen to be as eco-friendly as possible and are looking at ways to generate their own power through a small wind turbine and solar panels. The River Inny runs through their land and they are permitted to take water from it to irrigate their crops as keeping overheads to a minimum is really important.

Sandra stays up in Devon three nights a week and then travels back to Cornwall where Charlie is based full-time. It’s a tough regime, but her enthusiasm when she talks about her Cornish life is so infectious, you just can’t help believing they will make a great go of it!

 

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Rising to the challenge!

I’m a firm fan of raised beds as they have so many plus points. They’re a great way of growing all sorts of plants, particularly vegetables. They’re also excellent if you have poor soil in the garden as you can simply fill your raised beds with a different soil type with a mix of compost. Raised beds are also a useful way to garden if you have restricted mobility as they reduce the need to bend and reach.From building these new beds in the spring…

Raised beds should never be more than three to four feet wide, that way you can always be sure to reach into the middle easily. If you’ve got a small garden then a raised bed is ideal as you can plant much more closely and grow more!

It’s easier to plant vegetables in close formation – much closer together than in conventional row gardening. Because they are close together, but evenly spaced, once the vegetables are fully grown, their leaves just almost touch each other, creating a microclimate that helps keep out the weeds and conserves moisture. It makes life a whole lot easier as there’s no need for fiddly hoeing in between rows and constantly grubbing about on your hands and knees weeding! You can see why I’m a fan, can’t you! … to all this veg by the summer!

You can grow almost any plants in raised beds – you could try the following:

  • Most vegetables can be grown in raised beds.
  • Soft fruits, such as strawberries, currants, raspberries and blackberries.
  • Herbaceous perennials, raised beds are a good idea for establishing a cutting garden for cut flowers – I love having flowers in the house.
  • Alpines, ideal for alpines that love good drainage.

Raised beds can be made any height you like, from about 12” upwards. If you need to sit down, or are wheelchair bound, a raised bed can be built at just the right height for you and make gardening a real pleasure again.

Top tipsNo matter how small the space you can build, or buy, a raised bed to fit!

  • To save cost, use soil scooped from paths to fill beds, and fill paths with bark, gravel or other paving materials. I like gravel as it is not only neat it also seems to do a good job of stopping slugs and snails in their slimy tracks!
  • Bury any turf removed in creating the beds in the lower levels of the bed’s soil to enrich the soil as it decays.
  • If you don’t have a handy man (or woman!) to build your raised beds from scratch, you can buy a range of sizes and styles of ready-to-assemble raised beds at garden centres, or online, and you really can grow a lot in a small space! Have fun!
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Chocolate strawberries

Chocolate dipped strawberries are a special favourite of mine – we had a big pile of them instead of a cake at our wedding reception which was great fun! I think they look lovely and they are very simple and easy to make. In this photo I have displayed them on little tiny doilys which I made by using a Cheery Lynn die through my Grand Calibur – it’s the one called Sophia’s Heart – very sweet!

To make the strawberries, choose the chocolate you like best – plain, milk, white whatever and melt in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Take this stage slowly and you will get a better result. It is quicker to melt in the microwave if you are in a hurry but do be endlessly careful and not overheat/overcook the chocolate or it will be ruined.

Once you have the chocolate just melted (not too runny) then using a cocktail stick pressed in through the centre of the strawberry top, dip and swirl in the chocolate. Keep twirling slowly to give the chocolate a chance to stop dripping and then lay gently on greaseproof paper or a non stick baking sheet (very handy). Once they are set, place them in the fridge until needed.

A few extra pointers about these. Do not make more than 24 hours in advance and don’t get the chocolate too runny or it all gets very messy, just melt the chocolate enough and no more. Finally you can dip in melted chocolate as above and then as an extra, dip into finely chopped nuts – which makes an interesting change.

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Infusing oil with herbs and spices

Oils infused with herbs and flavours are very handy to have in the kitchen. They can alter a salad from yawn to yum in a flash. I particularly like basil oil and use rosemary oil when I am roasting lamb. You can infuse any variety of oil, I use a mild olive oil for infusions destined for salad and then any mild vegetable oil if you plan to use it for roasting etc.

It is important to use dried ingredients, if you use wet basil or fresh garlic, it contains a large percentage of water and this can cause bacteria to grow in the oil and give you botulism, which is not worth the risk.

So choose your dried ingredient (or dry them by hanging in a dark place for a week or so) and an attractive bottle. I try and remember that any old bottle produces oil that tastes just as nice but I do love pretty bottles! You can buy bottles that would make lovely gifts filled with oils from Lakeland the kitchen company.

Insert dried ingredients into your bottle and then fill up with oil. Leave on a sunny windowsill for a couple of weeks before using – there see that doesn’t stretch anyone’s cooking abilities! I recommend keeping the infused oil in the fridge just to be safe and I usually err on the side of making it little and often rather than vast quantities that will take forever to finish.

My suggestions for things to flavour the oils would be dried lemon/orange peel, basil, rosemary, garlic, chilli and so many more that I am sure you can think of… they make a lovely nibble before a meal as a dip with chunks of a really good or unusual bread too!

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Chocolate brownies at the NEC…

We all need a bit of a treat when we have to stand up for about four days at the NEC Hobbycraft exhibition – so we thought maybe chocolate brownies would be the answer… and it certainly seemed to go down well with everyone that tried them!

One tip – by trying to save time and melting the chocolate in the microwave on batch two, I would say it definitely did not improve the mix. So I’d suggest staying with the slow but sure method of melting the chocolate over hot water!

The only thing I can’t vouch for is the healthiness of this recipe – I think it comes under the naughty but nice category!

And one other hint – I used foil roasting tins from Tesco – means you can fold them up and throw them away rather than washing up after you have finished. Also, the thin tinfoil keeps the brownies cooking evenly rather than getting a burnt outside and too gooey inside – these were just divine all the way through!

Ingredients.

  • 150g dark chocolate (I used 79%),100g of milk chocolate
  • 300g golden caster sugar, 3 large eggs, 250g of butter
  • 120g plain flour, 60g cocoa powder (I used Green and Black’s)
  • ½ teaspoon of baking powder, pinch of ground sea salt
  • Icing sugar to dust after baking

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4. Line the tinfoil roasting tray with greaseproof paper and butter the paper slightly. It makes the brownies easy to get out once they are cooked.
  2. Melt the butter, dark and milk chocolate in a large bowl over simmering water.
  3. Beat the eggs in a cup and in another separate bowl sift the flour.
  4. Add the sugar to the warm chocolate mix and stir thoroughly. Add the eggs and mix. Finally add all the other ingredients and fold and mix everything until you have a good consistency.
  5. Pour the mixture into the tray, bake in the oven for about 20/25 minutes. Oven temperatures vary so keep checking. Use a skewer or knife and stick it in the middle of the brownie, it should come out a tiny bit sticky which means they are done. Cool in the tray for about an hour so they are 100% set. Then dust with icing sugar.

 

 

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