I love lavender!

I know I write often about lavender, but it’s a herb that brings me so much pleasure. I love the way it looks in the flower beds in the garden, but I also admire the many different ways it can be used.

Let’s start with drying or preserving it, so simple … the trick I feel is picking it at the right time. I find I get the best results if I pick lavender that is fully out but only just. If I need decorative dried lavender or just lavender flowers for filling sachets etc., then the bigger the better really. If you pick it too early, the flowers are tight and narrow with minimal colour. Pick a reasonable length of stalk and then bundle together with an elastic band and hang up to dry.

The reason for the elastic band is that the stems shrink as they dry and can slip out of string ties – so use an elastic band and it will shrink to fit so to speak!

If you want dried heads for their scent not their looks, then you can strip the flowers and lay them out to dry – I tend to use a metal pizza tray as it has holes in it (meant to crisp the pizza base no doubt!) cover the tray with some kitchen paper and then sprinkle the flowers across and leave to dry out of strong light.

The final tip I would add is that if your particular variety of lavender has long stalks as opposed to a stubby variety, then don’t waste your stalks – they look interesting bundled (maybe 30-40 stems) and tied with a ribbon – or if you are a real fire person, they smell nice chucked onto the fire with logs.

But really this blog is meant to be about the card – it’s using the new Jane Shasky Garden Herbs paper pad, which I love.

Mat some backing paper onto cardstock and add to the card blank. Tape on the border from the paper pad and mat the main image onto card and glue on, then add white die cuts using our Signature die Bubble narrow ledger (SD484). Add an embellishment of some ribbon and other pieces from the paper pad page and there you are! Simple but fun to make. Maybe you could scent the card with some lavender, or include a sachet?

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All wrapped up!

I seem to have spent a great deal of my life surrounded by bubble wrap – let’s just clarify that – I said ‘surrounded by’ not ‘wrapped in’! Running a business that posts out thousands of items by mail, bubble wrap is an essential product for protecting fragile objects.

While this is clearly what it was designed for, did you know there are many other wonderful ways you can use it too? As bubble wrap contains lots of little pockets of air, it is a great insulator as well as highly effective padding.

Keeping food cold

Cool bags are great, cool boxes even better, but they are expensive and can be cumbersome. If you just keep a sheet of bubble wrap lying flat in the back of your car, you can prevent your cold or iced foods from getting too warm by lining your shopping bags with it. It also works to keep hot foods warm, so great when you are driving home with a takeaway curry!

Insulating glass

Throughout the winter months, bubble wrap is ideal for lining your greenhouse to help keep heat in. And it’s not just great for plants, if you’re feeling chilly and there’s an annoying draft, you can tape a sheet of bubble wrap across a window – instant insulation for little or no cost, and it still lets the light in.

Hand cushions

That may sound a bit odd, but bubble wrap is perfect for creating makeshift hand cushions. Whether you want to add more comfort to the handles of crutches, a shopping bag or gardening tools, it will stop you getting sore palms.

Knee cushions

OK, I admit this isn’t going to be the fashion trend of the year, but you can tape patches of it to the knees of your trousers and use them as protective pads in the garden!

Protecting your plants

Bubble wrap your outdoor plants the night before a frost to keep them protected, much cheaper than garden fleece and very effective.

Outside taps

Securely wrap your outside/garden taps, and any exposed pipe work with bubble wrap, and fix with something like gaffer tape – job done for the winter!

Relieving stress!

And finally… bubble wrap has to be the best stress reliever ever! I should know, I have popped my way through yards and yards of it over the years!

So, the next time you have a delivery of something precious and the box is full of bubble wrap… think before you throw it away!

Photo copyright: www.eoartlab.com; joannabanana; www.diligentgardener.co.uk; www.builditsolar.com; www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk

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In praise of pudding

This time of year, when the wind blows and the days are cold and grey, it is only natural that we think about ‘warming’ foods… and one of the most warming has to be pudding – just the word itself instantly makes me feel snug! Having said that, it isn’t the most healthy of options, but its role in life was always to be a stomach filler and a comforter, not one of your five a day!

Today, we tend to mean something sweet when we say pudding, and people will often suggest pudding when they mean dessert. But, of course, puddings were not originally sweet at all – they were savoury. The term ‘pudding’ is believed to come from the French boudin, originally from the Latin botellus, meaning ‘small sausage, so it referred to encased meats as used in medieval European puddings.

Puddings first popped up during Roman times when they were made using meat, blood or grains and stuffed inside animal intestines, like a sausage, or a cloth bag. Savoury ones still popular today include black pudding, haggis and of course, steak and kidney, but most of our puddings are sweet. Think spotted dick, sticky toffee or treacle pudding, doesn’t that make you feel instantly warmer?

In Medieval times, banquets would feature highly spiced savoury meat puddings and sweet puddings, still using intestines as a casing, that were then boiled, smoked or roasted. I’m not entirely sure I would have enjoyed any of those…

By the 14th century, things were looking up and Richard II’s cook produced a book featuring rice pudding and baked custards. During the next century, pudding cloths first get mentioned as an alternative to intestines… thank goodness!

In the 16th- century life became a lot sweeter with the arrival of sugar loaves (cones of refined sugar) and by the 17th-century cookbooks were being published, featuring puddings we still eat today, such as bread and butter pudding, one of my favourites!

In Georgian times, feasts became much more elaborate with jellies made in intricate moulds and ice cream became popular. But the traditional pudding was still a mainstay and appeared in all courses of a banquet.

The Victorians, who never did anything by halves, had a pudding for every occasion. Recipe books, such as the hugely influential Mrs Beeton’s ‘The Book of Household Management’ appeared, while many were devoted purely to puddings. It is at this time that jam roly-poly, spotted dick and treacle sponge first made an appearance.

Making puddings using a cloth or a greased pudding basin complete with baking parchment and string, plus hours of boiling, was pretty labour intensive. Unsurprisingly, in the 20th century as servants disappeared, so did the traditional pudding. By the 1970s and 80s, we were all into eating French gateaux and profiteroles and feeling very sophisticated. You did not expect to come across a spotted dick on the dessert trolley in a restaurant – very passé!

But then… as so often happens, old becomes new and puddings are back in fashion. Along with ‘heritage’ vegetables and homemade bread, classic puddings now pop up in 5-star restaurants as well as your local café. What should accompany a pudding? Is it ice cream, cream, or good old custard? I think the latter… but that is a whole other subject and one I might just have to have a look at in a future blog!

Meanwhile… Are you a pudding fan? If so, what’s your favourite? I’d love to hear your thoughts…

 

 

 

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Feed the birds …

birdseeddownThis is just the time of year when we ought to think about our feathered friends the most.

We may live in nice warm houses but poor birds are huddled outside somewhere and wondering where their next meal is coming from. Well… not so if you are a bird in a 100-yard radius of my house! We have a weight watchers class for pigeons (who can barely waddle in mid summer), there are polite queues of assorted birds waiting for the fat balls to be renewed and picky birds sifting through the birdseed for their favourite varieties.

We feed the birds all year round. Monday to Friday it’s the task of Dave the ‘goods in and out’ chap to replenish the bird food tree. Yes, a whole tree is devoted to hanging bird seed holders, half coconuts and fat balls and often we scatter more seeds around the base of this long-suffering tree. It’s a weeping pear and quite short so we get a lovely view of the birds indulging themselves!

birdseedhangingYou know I often mention making your cards into small gifts by adding a little something. Well, this House-Mouse card has bird seed added. It’s not difficult – you just design a landscape card and then staple(or glue) the clear bag of bird food in position. I think this would make a lovely little present for an avid bird feeder. It is enjoyable on a slow day to be able to just (in my case) lean on the kitchen worktop and gaze out of the window at the bird canteen!

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The not so humble cabbage

Today, I feel inspired to write about the cabbage! Many people think of the cabbage as a bit of a poor relation in the veg world, a dull old veg and one that many of us were presented with at school in a disgustingly overcooked state. This is very unfair as cabbages are versatile, great to grow in your veg plot and good for you.

Cabbages come in many different shapes, sizes and colours and every variety has its own character, texture and flavour. With a little planning it’s possible to pick them fresh nearly every day of the year in your garden. They can be used raw in salad or coleslaw, and as ingredients in soup, boiled, steamed or braised.

The savoy cabbage, a wonderful dark green and heavily textured individual, is wonderful when slowly braised with onion and finished off with a dash of cream. You can also give it a quick plunge in boiling salted water and then toss it with butter and black pepper, simple but so delicious.

Other thick-leaved cabbages, such as January kings, are excellent for using as wrapping and making parcels for meat stuffings.

The pale green pointed spring cabbages have sweet, delicate leaves that are tender enough to stir fry or even char on a griddle.

In contrast, red cabbage is sturdy and tightly packed and traditionally used for pickling. Braised red cabbage has become immensely popular as a Christmas vegetable when cooked slowly with red wine, cinnamon, apples or cranberry. It is also superb for adding some colour to a boring winter salad when shredded finely.

Last, but not least… the classic white cabbage! A tightly packed, football-sized bundle of excellence it is the mainstay of coleslaw, a popular healthy salad at any time of the year and certainly one of my favourites.

Cabbage is very low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and is a good source of fibre, so it’s a good way to fill yourself up for very little calories. What’s more, it is a good source of vitamin C and vitamin K. We all know how important vitamin C is in our diet, while vitamin K makes bones stronger, healthier and delays osteoporosis. Like other green vegetables, cabbage helps provide many essential vitamins such as riboflavin, pantothenic acid and thiamine that we need for a balanced diet.

So if you tend to think cabbage is a bit of a dullard, please think again and, if you can, try growing some yourself – they taste even better!

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