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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Murder & mystery in deepest Devon…

The west country, with its dramatic coastline, brooding moors and secluded hideaways is a pretty perfect place for writers to escape to – well that’s what I keep telling myself whenever myAgatha Christie enthusiasm flags! Over the years, this corner of England has been home to some of our most popular authors of the 20th century. Two female literary giants – Daphne Du Maurier and Agatha Christie – both spent many happy years in this part of the world.

South Cornwall was the home of Daphne Du Maurier, writer of the haunting classics Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel and Frenchman’s Creek, among many other excellent novels. She lived a reclusive life down on the wild south Cornish coast and nowadays there is an annual Daphne Du Maurier Literary Festival (now called the Fowey Festival or Words & music) which I keep promising myself I must go to! 

In Devon, we lay claim to Agatha Christie. The undisputed queen of crime was born on 15 September 1890 in Torquay, just a couple of miles away from where I live. Once her fame was established and money no object, there was nothing she loved more than escaping with her family to Greenway, their Devon holiday home.

The National Trust opened Greenway House to the public in 2009 and for the first time, visitors had the opportunity to view the many personal collections and mementoes of this much-loved mystery writer and her family. It’s well worth a visit.

Greenway is an imposing house, sitting high on the slopes of the valley running down to the beautiful riverGreenway House Dart, near Dartmouth – one of my favourite Devon towns. If you take the Dart River Boat trip from Totnes to Dartmouth – wonderful in itself – you get superb views of Greenway from the river and can appreciate what a lovely place it was for her to escape to. 

Outside you can explore the large and romantic woodland garden, with a restored vinery, wild edges and rare plantings, which drifts down the hillside towards the sparkling Dart estuary. Lovely!!

I keep saying to Richard, all we need is a nice mansion by the sea where I can sit and muse while sipping a gin sling and I’ll have no trouble writing all my murder mysteries!! Somehow, I don’t think he is taking me seriously…

 

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Fear not – misting is easy!

This card is one of the projects in the Tom Mielko Project Book and CD – so I won’t go into the nitty gritty of creating it, but I thought it would give me an opportunity to talk about the Cosmic Shimmer range. It’s a massively popular range of spray misters that come in a myriad of colours – all of them super wonderful.

For those of you that are already converts – you might want to look away and skip the rest of the blog! However there are so many people that are afraid of this product – not sure what it does, not sure how to use it  – that I thought this was an ideal opportunity to hold forth!

The first thing to know is that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ with the end result of your playtime. The joy of the misters is that it’s quite impossible to replicate the same thing twice – every piece you make will be unique – which can be a tad frustrating when you create a really special one! 

I usually place a sheet of newspaper (tabloid size is quite big enough) onto my kitchen or craft table as this protects the surface from over-enthusiastic misting! Choose around three of the colours, one of which I would recommend to be a metallic. Lightly mist one colour after another and between each stand back and look. When you feel you have misted enough colour then leave it to dry. The piece of card can then be cut up and used in strips, as a large backing piece – or in any other imaginative ways you care to think of.

Play and have fun – and you will create a piece of art that’s unique to you! 

 

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The power of three

Have you ever stopped and thought about the number three? No, neither have I much, but if we do stop to analyse, it is actually quite an interesting little beast.

While that old saying ‘Two’s company, three’s a crowd,’ has a negative slant, the fact that three can be a crowd is actually very useful when it comes to arranging flowers and planting in the garden. It’s also a very important number to remember when you’re writing…

In appearance, an uneven number of things, three, five, seven and so on, always gives a more random, ‘natural’ look. A farmer friend of mine planted all his daffodil bulbs two by two in a regimented march across his lawn and, oh dear, did it look odd! If he’d done little clumps of three it would have looked much better.

I always plant my perennials in clumps of at least three, and the same goes for bulbs. Flower arranging, which I am trained in and did a very great deal of earlier in my career, works a lot with threes and the triangular shape, and the science behind it and how our brain sees things is very interesting…

The ‘Rule of three’ is a writing principle that suggests that things that come in threes will be funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things. And that sentence was itself an example of it!

Apparently, we are more likely to absorb information if it is written in groups of threes. From slogans – the Olympic’s “Faster, higher, stonger!” – to films, many things are structured in threes. Examples include the Three Musketeers, Three Little Pigs and Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

When I’m busy writing – whether it’s an article, a book or this blog – (that’s another three!) the rule of three does come to me quite naturally after all these years. At the moment, as some of you will know, I am working on a novel and, when I am trying to create dramatic, impact I do sit and chew my pen – well actually my finger nails as I type everything – and put a lot of effort into producing the most concise, clever and crafty sentences that I can. A series of three creates a progression in which the tension is created, built up, and finally released.

Will I succeed? Or will time, tiredness and tedium get the better of me…? Only time will tell. I’ll keep you posted on the novel’s progress…!

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Tom Mielko stationery gift

Cards are always handy as there are so many occasions when we can give a card – but I love being able to give home made presents too! This collection of notelets and stationery is made from the images on the Tom Mielko project book CD.

The good thing about Tom’s art is that it’s suitable for men, women and children so it makes a very versatile gift for someone too.

The notelets are just small cards with the topper printed on glossy photo paper. The envelopes are all lined with some backing paper which really isn’t hard (just cut a rectangle the same width as the envelope and then draw round the tip of the envelope and trim) but it makes a huge difference. You can always make an envelope template by using a bought envelope, gently pulling it to pieces and then trace around it.

The folder is a fairly straightforward one – a scoring board is really handy for this. Decide what size folder you want to make and then do a couple of parallel scores down the middle – in this case they are about an inch apart.

The notelets and goodies are all held in by strips of velvet ribbon in this example, but you could use any narrow but sturdy ribbon or small strips of card if you prefer. The quickest way to create notepads is to buy plain little white pads or cheapie pads of some description and just alter the covers. Time to have a browse around the pound shop perhaps!

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