New Year’s resolutions and reflections…

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Ahhh! My partner in crime writing Julia was a big Sir Terry fan and met him a couple of times. She confirms he was a lovely, lovely man.

Well, “Goodbye 2016″! I can’t, in all honesty, say I will miss you one bit – and I am excitedly looking forward to what I hope will be a fabulous 2017 for us all.

There seem to have been so many sad deaths of people that brightened our lives with brilliant entertainment – like Terry Wogan (I love that the BBC have named their building Wogan House). Victoria Wood was another entertainer I loved to bits, great lady. The list is horribly long this year with people such as Alan Rickman, Greg Lake, Prince, Ronnie Corbett, Gene Wilder, Andrew Sachs – oh the list is too long to quote. May they all rest in peace.

We have had dramatic political happenings this year (let’s not dwell on those), war and fighting continue in so many areas of the world I can only pray for more peace next year. In my personal world, which I realise does not impact the main population, I lost both my beloved parents only hours apart at the beginning of the year, and then decided I would pop up again on Create and Craft.

Back on Create & Craft!

Back on Create & Craft!

Life goes on and life is for living and the main wisdom that I have ringing in my ears (thank you, Mother) is the advice to live every day to the maximum. Love those around you and tell them so, help the community around you and be the best person that you can.

That’s as close to New Year resolutions that I am going to get for 2017 … oh ok, that old chestnut, I am going to reach my target weight at Slimming World in 2017, but my guess is it will be nearer the end of the year than the beginning, but I will get there!

I wish you all happiness and health, family and friendship and let’s hope the world decides to take a

turn for the better this year!

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Dear Santa…

I thought I’d share my personal ‘wish list’ for Christmas books, both cookery and fictional. I have cheated and also included one book that is top of Richard’s wish list – just in case there are any history buffs reading, or if you need an idea for a history-loving relative!

I try very hard to limit my intake of cookery books these days as there’s so much out there for free on the internet. However, nothing compares with curling up with a cup of tea on the sofa and a beautifully illustrated cookbook!

The novels I have included are definitely not candidates for any Booker or Orange, or whatever, book prize – my reading tastes are very straightforward and, if there’s one thing I hate, it’s pretentious literature that you are ‘meant’ to like as you struggle through it. I want to be entertained by a book, I want to smile a bit, cry a little and definitely feel I can’t bear to put it down until I have finished

So, I offer this list just as a personal – “hHere you go, this is what I am asking Santa for this year!” They are all available on Amazon – as are all my own novels (hah!) – surely you knew I wouldn’t be able to resist a plug!

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A Christmas cracker!

You can’t have Christmas dinner without Christmas crackers – well, that’s my view anyway! We groan at the awfulness of the mottos, we laugh at the pointlessness of the ‘gift’ and we feel silly wearing the paper hats… but it is a tradition and we stick to it every year.

In moments of great industriousness, I have made my own crackers and spent ages thinking of appropriate gifts and jokes to go inside. They always go down well, but they take a lot of planning.

This will be my first Christmas without my parents, Diana and John, so this year will be tinged with sadness for all the family. But Mummy’s enthusiasm for a traditional family Christmas is firmly entrenched with all of us and I shall be filling stockings, dressing the table and fussing about the sprouts just as always.

I love decorating the table, I think it makes such an impact with pretty napkins, candles and, of course, a special Christmas table centrepiece. I have produced so many over the years and always find myself getting excited as I add the finishing touches. If you don’t have a large table, you can still make it look lovely with a table runner ­– cheap enough to buy even in supermarkets these days – or run up one of your own very simply. Table sprinkles are also great fun and really do add a touch of glitz and sparkle… but you’ll be hoovering them up for weeks afterwards!

Returning to the Christmas cracker… did you know they were invented in 1847 by a London sweet maker called Thomas Smith? Rather unromantically, he devised the Christmas cracker as a money-making idea when bonbon sales slumped. They originally contained love messages and a sweet. The enterprising Mr Smith then went on to the snapping strip to replicate the sound of a crackling log fire!

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The sweet smell of rain…

We have enjoyed the most beautiful October here in the Westcountry, in fact, I think most of the country has too. The Autumn colours have been fabulous and it has been unseasonably warm and dry ensuring lots of lovely crisp leaves and breathtaking sunsets.

Today, we have had rain for what seems like the first time in months and, as I went outside, I was struck by the ‘smell’ of the rain. Seriously! It’s rather like that wonderful smell you get when you brush against geranium leaves, an earthy richness, a sense of, well… nature!

As is my way, I looked up ‘the smell of rain’ on the internet… and was delighted to find it has a name – petrichor! I am now working at dropping this word into casual conversation at least once a week! Petrichor is ‘the earthy scent produced when rain falls on dry soil’. The word comes from Greek ‘petra’, meaning stone, and ‘ichor’, the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology, all rather lovely I thought.

Before it hits the ground, rain is just water, it has no smell. But after the drops hit the ground and interact with soil, the fresh and almost sweet fragrance of rain is released. Now, scientists think they’ve identified the exact mechanism that releases this aroma into the environment. When a raindrop hits a porous surface it traps tiny pockets of air. These bubbles then speed upward, like bubbles in a glass of champagne (hic!), before breaking the drop’s surface and releasing microscopic particles, called aerosols, into the air. The researchers think it’s these aerosols that carry the ‘rain like’ aroma.

This set me thinking about a farmer friend who has a very sensitive nose (he does not like all the stinky cheeses I enjoy!) and he always says he can smell rain coming. Pah, I thought, a Devon farmer’s yarn… but no! Following on from my discovery of petrichor, it seems weather patterns really do produce distinctive odours that sensitive noses can sniff out.

Before the rain begins, one of the first odours we may smell, as winds pick up and clouds roll in, is a sweet, pungent zing in the nostrils. That’s the sharp, fresh aroma of ozone — a form of oxygen whose name comes from the Greek word ‘ozein’, to smell.

After a spell of heavy rain has passed, what’s often left is an earthy, musty whiff of wetness. This is the aroma of geosmin, a metabolic by-product of bacteria or blue-green algae. Ok, not quite so romantic, but interesting, nonetheless.

So, what’s the point of all these strange smells? As you may have guessed, Mother Nature doesn’t do anything without a reason and all these chemicals stirred up by the weather carry messages. Some biologists suspect that petrichor running into waterways acts as a cue to freshwater fish, signalling spawning time. Microbiologist think that geosmin’s fragrance may be a beacon, helping camels find their way to desert oases.

Although humans don’t appear to have a built in response to these odours, we do learn to associate them with our experiences. Flooding may forever scar us with moist, ‘mildewy’ memories, but for many of us, the smell of rain is cleansing and refreshing.

So, if I am spotted running around the car park outside the Create & Craft studios, skipping and shouting “Yippee!” in the rain, I haven’t gone mad, I am simply enjoying the scent of petrichor. Well, that’s what I shall tell everyone anyway!

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Salt of the earth

There’s been a lot of publicity over the past few years about cutting down salt intake as it is ‘bad for you’, especially with regard to blood pressure… but let’s not get too panicky about it. Salt is actually absolutely vital for our bodies to function.

Salt – whether it’s the stuff they spread on the road in winter, common table salt or an exotic pink one from the Himalayas – has the same chemical composition, an equal amount of sodium and chloride. Salt is essential for life and, as the body can’t produce it itself, we have to add it to our diet in some way. Without it, our bodies become chemically unbalanced, our muscles and nervous system cease to function and eventually we will die.

If you think about it, all our body fluids are salty – blood, sweat, tears and saliva. The general consensus among experts is that a healthy adult should aim towards a daily intake of five or six grams of salt to maintain a good balance. It seems the biggest problem with controlling our salt intake is through eating convenience foods as these often contain astonishing amounts of salt – and that’s in both savoury and sweet dishes! If you prepare most of your meals fresh and from scratch, you can govern how much salt you do, or don’t, add and your intake is probably absolutely fine.

Salt is all around us. Underground and on the earth’s surface in the dried up residues of ancient seas. Some salt has even arrived from outer space in meteors. But our biggest source of salt is in our seas and oceans. With an average of 26 million tonnes per cubic kilometre, seawater offers a seemingly inexhaustible supply that, if extracted, would cover the world’s total land mass to a depth of 35 metres.

Apart from its essential health benefits, salt is also a fantastic flavour enhancer. It is one of the key five tastes that we experience on our tongues, the others being sweet, sour, bitter and umami. It can reduce bitterness and enhance sweetness – salt just makes things taste better!

And what an amazingly useful thing it is too. Think how we use it as a preservative (and have done for thousands of years), it improves texture and colour and is an abrasive too. It’s soothing – we take salt baths and my Mother used to make me gargle with it as a child if I had a sore throat and if you spill any, do remember to chuck a pinch over your left shoulder and it will ward off evil spirits too!

Salty facts:

  • Roman soldiers were sometimes paid in salt – which is where the word ‘salary’ comes from
  • Every cell in the body contains salt – an adult contains about 250g
  • Salt is used to remove traces of water from aviation fuel after it is purified
  • Salt was used to preserve Egyptian mummies
  • Salt removes red wine stains.
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