Think of summer… and think of sunflowers!

Think of summer… and think of sunflowers! Surely the sunniest flower there is, their huge golden faces cannot help but bring cheer.

I think most of us will have grown a sunflower at some time in our lives. Well, this year, we have had the pleasure of watching our granddaughter Grace plant and nurture her own sunflower. She planted the seed herself and waters it every time she comes to visit – and it has now grown to about 7 feet high! Pretty good for a first effort Grace!

The sunflower is actually an important plant in many areas. Grown as a crop for its edible oil and edible fruits – those delicious sunflower seeds – sunflower seeds were brought to Europe from the Americas in the 16th century, where, along with sunflower oil, they became a widespread cooking ingredient.

The tallest sunflower on record achieved an extraordinary 30ft, or over 9 metres! Goodness knows how they kept the thing upright, perhaps it was draped over something?

Sunflower seeds are sold as a snack food, raw or after roasting in ovens, with or without salt and seasonings added. Sunflower seeds can also be processed into a peanut butter alternative, sunflower butter, which sounds pretty yummy to me.

Sunflower oil, extracted from the seeds, is used for cooking, as a carrier oil and to produce margarine and biodiesel, as it is cheaper than olive oil. Sunflowers also produce latex and are the subject of experiments to see if they can be used as an alternative crop for producing non-allergenic rubber.

A common misconception (and one that I thought was true) is that the glorious golden sunflower heads track the sun across the sky. Actually, it’s only the immature flower buds that do this, the mature flowering heads point in a fixed, usually easterly, direction. Ah well, that’s another lovely image shattered!

But these gorgeous plants are useful across so many areas of life – have a look at the list of facts below, I think you’ll be surprised…

Here are a few sunflower facts for you:

  • There are two basic types of sunflower seeds: black and stripe.
  • Young sunflower plants orient their heads toward the sun – a phenomenon known as heliotropism.
  • The sunflower is the national flower of Russia and the state flower of Kansas.
  • Sunflower seeds are a rich source of vitamins of the B group and vitamin E, and minerals such as copper, phosphorus, selenium and magnesium.
  • Black sunflower seeds are a rich source of oil that is used for cooking.
  • Striped seeds are popular as snacks.
  • Seeds of sunflower are an important food source for birds, squirrels and insects.
  • Sunflower seeds are used for the production of biodiesel, an eco-friendly type of diesel, designed to reduce pollution of the atmosphere.
  • The sunflower is able to absorb heavy metals and toxins from the ground and it is often planted in the heavily polluted areas. These plants were used to reduce nuclear pollution after Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. How amazing is that?
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‘Pop’ goes Prosecco!

It’s fun, it’s fizzy and just about everyone seems to be drinking it – Prosecco has taken the country by storm! This Italian sparkler has made celebrating a whole lot more affordable, so much so that now, you don’t even need an excuse to raise a glass a glass of fizz! People head off for ‘Fizz on Fridays’ in their local wine bars and pubs and, opening a bottle at your BBQ is no longer seen as decadent.

I’m not entirely sure why Champagne was always seen as the ultimate celebratory drink, perhaps it is nothing more than a kind of snob value – as the top brands are expensive it must, therefore, be ‘good’. A wine merchant friend told me years ago that a good bottle of Cava (the Spanish equivalent of Prosecco), was really just as good as Champagne – and how right she was!

For some reason, Prosecco has become the most popular fizz out there (perhaps the name sounds more fun than Cava?) and now, we can’t get enough of it. It’s relatively cheap and, served chilled, it slips down very easily.

In the 1960s, Asti Spumante was the popular Italian sparkling wine but that was sweet, a bit like the dreaded Babycham, the blight of many a teenage party! Since then, production techniques have improved, leading to the high-quality dry Prosecco we enjoy today.

The most exciting development I have come across is the arrival of – wait for it – Skinny Prosecco! Yes, seriously folks! I recently came across this description on a pub’s wine list:

“A low calorie, vegan, organic, delicious wine that captures all the taste of normal Prosecco but with around half the sugar content. At about 65 calories per glass – less than a normal sized apple – this could be a cheeky alternative to one of your five a day!”

I confess I do love Prosecco as a very cold summer drink, the bubbles are somehow uplifting! It also works well in a Bellini cocktail and, of course, mixed with orange juice can make a very acceptable Bucks Fizz. Oh hang on, if you add orange juice, does that make it TWO of your five a day? It’s getting better all the time – cheers!

 

 

 

 

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Peas, please!

Peas – those round, sweet, green things – even people who don’t much like veggies seem to approve of peas. It’s the perfect instant veg, to be whipped out of the freezer and cooked at a moment’s notice, but let me assure you they are even better when picked and eaten fresh.

Lots of people think growing peas is a bit of a waste of time and space… but they have probably never picked them and eaten them straight from the pod. They are so sweet and so delicious! I pick a few at a time, as they mature on the plant, and steam them for a couple of minutes, then run them under cold water and add to my salad alongside my home-grown leaves and broad beans creating a garden salad ­– delicious.

Peas are one of those things that we think of as essentially ‘British’. Fish, chips and mushy peas, pie and peas, pea soup… but as is so often the case when you look into it, they are a relatively recent arrival on our shores and originate from north-west Asia!

But our climate suits them perfectly and they thrive here. As a nation we certainly love them – we eat far more than any other country in Europe, chomping around 9,000 each per year. That’s a lot of peas! Fortunately, they are good for us combining fibre and protein with vitamins and minerals and must be the most popular of the ‘5-a-day’… or is it ‘10-a-day’ now? I can’t keep up!

They are relatively easy to grow either from seed, or you can buy them as small plants. The only real problem is with pigeons… they love them! Having lost an entire crop in one day a few years ago, I now cover them with netting. Even then, they still get a bit nibbled. But to me, the sweetness, the vivid colour and that pleasing ‘pop’ of the pod makes them all worthwhile

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Happy Birthday Chickens from Marjolein Bastin

This lovely image of chickens is painted by Marjolein Bastin, an artist whose works I really admire. So many of her designs that we have licensed are just brilliant. This particular image comes from her ‘Spring’ collection pad. Excuse me if I have a slight snigger at the rather weak joke of a ‘Spring Chicken’ card for a friend who possibly isn’t one anymore!

You can use so many different embossing folders with this style of card and although the ‘Best Wishes’ words are using the All Occasion (147) die – you could use any you have handy. The useful thing about our paper pad collections is that pretty much everything you need is on the page and, in this case, the fun spotty border with the hen is from the same page as the main image.

 

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Seagulls and Butterflies

Seagulls and butterflies  – these two cards are a lovely summery pair to inspire you to make a card, whether it’s someone’s birthday or to show you are thinking about them.

Both images come from the Marjolein Bastin Summer pad and I am constantly happy that we came up with the combination of “almost everything you need on one sheet” pads! It saves so much time and frustration if you all you need to do is dip into your stash for the blank cards and perhaps the odd embellishments or two.

The Seagull card is simple – some matting and layering on white and grey card with a trellis style backing paper. Then the border and decoupage pieces are all from the same sheet on the pad.

The pretty little butterfly card uses the addition of the Signature Dies Jessica lace border (SD514) and some rhinestones as well as all the interesting little embellishments included on the page of the Summer paper pad.

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