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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There’s nothing like a hottie!!

It must be my age, but I seem to be increasingly aware of the cold. Even though this winter has been mild, a fleece throw or a plump duvet is never a bad thing to have to hand for snuggling purposes.

Before central heating, electric blankets and the duvet (how well I remember my mother buying our first ‘continental quilt’ or duvet which seemed terribly racy at the time!) beds were usually warmed by the good old hot water bottle! Smelling of rubber and occasionally given to springing a leak they were, nonetheless, immensely comforting.
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As a child, I remember seeing an old copper warming pan hanging on someone’s wall and asking what it was. Being told it was used to ‘warm the bed’ in olden days, I spent a lot of time puzzling how you managed to not spill the hot water in such a weird, long-handled thing… not realising they used hot coals rather than water!

Warming pans were in use as early as the 16th century when life was an altogether chillier affair and such warmth must have been very welcome. Soon, containers using hot water were introduced, with the advantage that not only could you keep it in the bed with you, you also were also less likely to set fire to your bedding! As the discovery of rubber was still a long way off, these early hot water bottles were made of various materials such as zinc, copper, glass, earthenware or wood. To prevent burning, the metal hot water flasks were wrapped in a soft cloth bag.

‘India rubber’ hot water bottles were in use in Britain as early as 1875. The hot water bottle, as we know it today, was patented in 1903 and is manufactured in natural rubber or PVC. Not surprisingly, by the late 20th century, the use of hot water bottles had declined around most of the world. Not only were homes better heated, but newer items such as electric blankets were competing with hot water bottles as a source of night-time heat. However, there has been a recent surge in popularity in Japan where it is seen as an ecologically friendly and thrifty way to keep warm, and very sensible too!

There are all sorts of bed heaters on the market now and some of them function like the older bottles but use a polymer gel or wax in a heat pad. The pads can be heated in a microwave oven, and they are generally viewed as safer than liquid-filled bottles or electrically-heated devices. Some newer bottles use a silicone-based material instead of rubber, which resists very hot water better, and does not deteriorate as much as rubber.

Today, hot water bottles come in all shapes, sizes and colours and you can get lovely chunky knitted or prettily patterned fleece covers. They are cheap to buy, quick to prepare and easy to use so perhaps, as the Japanese have discovered, it’s time they made a bit of a comeback!

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A card to welcome the New Year

newyearroseI know I go on and on about the Heart of the Garden CD featuring Jane Shasky’s work, but it really is lovely. I am a huge fan and can quite happily spend an hour or two just browsing the pictures, enjoying the images while I ponder what to print.

All the components on this card come from the CD – and that’s part of the joy of CDs – there’s so much to choose from! Here we’ve got lovely sentimental words for the New Year and some fun decoupage and flowers. The centre of the flowers has been highlighted with some crystal lacquer.

We all think of sending Christmas cards but not always a New Year card – I rather like the idea of a card at New Year – life can seem a bit flat after Christmas Day and Boxing Day guests have left!

Wishing you all a happy and peaceful 2017! Smiles, Joanna.

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Making a Christmas Wreath

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What a lovely day out! From the tutor, to the lunch to the finished article!

Alright, I admit it was a bit of a busman’s holiday, but my goodness I did enjoy myself on Wednesday! I went to a lunchtime course on making a Christmas wreath, held by Karen of 2020 Flowers who lives in Stokeinteignhead, near me. The course itself was held in a dear little café in Shaldon on the seafront, which was fun to go to in itself, and the food they served for lunch was amazing! Honey pumpkin soup and home made bread… it was just perfect.

Anyway, back to the wreath making! I know it all through and through, but it’s sometimes lovely to have a few hours to yourself where the phone won’t ring and the emails can’t get you! Karen is a serene, calm teacher and had all her ingredients so beautifully organised it was such fun to just play.

Using an Oasis ring, which you can get at some garden centres and obviously florist wholesalers, it is so, so simple to make a wreath yourself. A great tip from Karen was to not only soak the oasis in water (knew that) but to add flower food to the water (didn’t know that!) and I can see what a great idea it is.

I’d brought a whole selection of greenery from home as I felt the wreath would mean more to me if it was created using my own greenery and in the end, as I was a touch speedy, (sorry Karen!) I ended up making two wreaths – so my daughter Pippa is thrilled to bits to have a wreath Mummy made!

Another useful tip is that you can use unwanted pieces of Christmas tree – sometimes you trim some away from the base – or maybe you have a Leylandii hedge in the garden that could be carefully snipped at. I used ivy, Leylandii, rosemary and anything else that looked quite tough and long lasting.

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…and this was the second wreath I managed to squeeze in!

To decorate your wreath once the greenery is all pushed in (small lengths only, all the way round) you can use Christmas tree baubles, shells, berries, artificial or real flowers and, obviously, ribbons. As the Oasis is easy to push things in it’s fairly plain sailing until you get to baubles and shells, those are best hot glued onto pieces of bamboo skewer or just hot glued straight on the wreath.

It does make you feel good to have a decoration that you made yourself – I hope my family enjoy mine as much as I enjoyed the course!

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