Chickens and eggs…

My blogs about chickens always seem to be popular – what is it about hens that makes them so appealing? Look in any gift shop and there are ornaments, cards and pictures of chickens everywhere! Is it their fluffiness? Their perceived ‘homeliness’? Or their clucky motherly nature?

Any of you who have hens will know, it’s all those things and more – their fun characters, their daft habits and their lovely noises. Years ago when Julia, my Hen Pal, first had hens, she made the mistake of putting a newly planted half-barrel garden tub inside their run to make it look pretty!

However hens, it seems, don’t appreciate beautiful tubs of annual plants… on returning home, she found four hens closely packed in the tub having a whale of a time! Clucking and ‘pocking’ merrily, they had thrown all the plants out and proceeded to enjoy a luxurious dirt bath of epic proportions, gossiping and chucking dirt at each other in the best ‘hen party’ tradition. Once she’d stopped laughing and grabbed a camera, she managed to catch two of them still in the tub! Their luxury bathing tub remained, but Julia didn’t bother to re-plant it!

Eggs too are a popular image, but what is the shape of a chicken egg? It’s not round and it’s not oval either. Apparently, to be technically correct it’s an asymmetrical mix of oval and tapered, with one end bigger than the other which helps them fit together quite snugly in the nest, with only small air spaces between them. This means the eggs radiate their heat onto each other, and keep each other warm. And of course, you can fit more eggs into the nest. And finally, let’s not forget another reason that eggs are tapered – so that they can get pushed out of the hen more easily!

I wish I had a friend with ducks too – the local farm sells duck eggs sometimes – they’re amazing if you have never tried them, we had a duck egg omelette last week and it was just delicious. However keeping ducks on our stream with a small but manically bouncy spaniel is just never going to go well!

 

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Raspberry easel card

Easel cards have been really popular for the last year or two – and I can understand why – they really do show off all the work you put into the design and aren’t too hard to make.

The cover of this card is made using a design from our Fun and Games decoupage set. The mice are cooling off under the rose of the watering can – so sweet!

The backing papers have been printed from our House Mouse Inserts CD.

The basic card measures 150mm square. The cover is made by layering some raspberry pink card with some backing paper and then adding the finished decoupage image at an angle. The sentiment is also on the sheet and the embellishments have been cut from backing paper.

Make a plain square base card and fold halfway across the front, then attach this cover to the base of the folded front only. This creates the easel effect.

Inside the card, you layer more backing paper over the raspberry pink card and then create the “bumper” – or stop – that enables the easel card to stand up. The little image of the mice is layered and then stuck to the card with foam tape.

In this case we have used inserts to create the backing papers – it’s always worth having a flick through any inserts on one of our CDs as there are lots of extra ideas for designs hidden in there!

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Autumn leaves…

The drop in temperature this week confirms that Autumn has definitely arrived. Crisp Autumn days can be absolutely gorgeous and the beauty of Autumn leaves always makes me feel… well, what? Nostalgic? Romantic? Sad? All of those things I suppose, but there’s also a peaceful, ‘snuggly’ feel and the promise of wood smoke and conkers and fireworks… and then Christmas – one of my favourite times of year!! And then the cycle starts all over again…

But why do leaves change colour so dramatically before they fall? Leaves contain chemical pigments, like chlorophyll, that makes leaves green and help in the process of photosynthesis. The leaves also contain the chemical carotene which has a yellow colouring.

Carotene is in the leaves all year, but is hidden by the green of the chlorophyll. As autumn approaches and temperatures, especially those at night, begin to drop sharply, the chlorophyll breaks down and reveals the other pigments within the leaf (such as the carotene) that aren’t affected by the cooler temperatures… and hey presto, the beautiful reds and golds we love start to appear.

Autumn leaves are very beautiful and a joy to press. If you don’t have the time or patience to press them conventionally, you can always try ironing them between sheets of blotting paper. Iron them on a low to medium setting and then get creative!

A friend of mine wanted to replace the glass panel in her Victorian-era front door. She couldn’t find any etched glass to her taste, so she pressed some leaves, bought two panels of glass to the correct size and ‘sandwiched’ the leaves in between sealing the sandwich with some clear silicon sealant, the sort you can buy in any hardware store.

Once dry, she put her ‘double glazed’ panel in place and careful tacked the beading back. The leaves have been replaced once over the years, I believe, as they do fade in the sunlight, but it’s an unusual idea and one that has earned a lot of compliments!

I’d love to hear your ideas for Autumn leaves. Do you press them or simply mulch them to put back into your garden? Quite often, I’ll collect the brightest, plus a few conkers and cob nuts and put them in a bowl on the table just to admire such lovely natural beauty…

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Pear and bramble pie

Now is the time of mist and mellow fruitfulness… We have a pear and an apple tree in our garden, plus blackberries that ramble over the back fence. We therefore try all possible combinations in pies, and I actually prefer pear and blackberry to the more usual apple and blackberry mixture.

You will need:

 

  • 675g (11/2lb) self raising flour
  • 450g (1lb) white vegetable fat
  • 6-8 Conference pears
  • 450g (1lb) blackberries
  • 45g (3 tbsp) Demerara sugar
  • Water

 

Serves 8-10 people

Peel, core and slice the pears. Cook them gently in enough water to cover, with 30g of the (2 tbsp) of the sugar – it is important to cook them gently to keep their shape. Leave them to cool. Cook the blackberries with a little water and the remaining 15g (1 tbsp) of sugar and leave to cool. It is better to keep the pears and blackberries separate – it makes no difference to the taste but does improve the finished look of the filling.

Make the pastry by rubbing the fat into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs, then add about a cupful of water to form a soft dough. Divide the dough in half and gently roll out the first half on a very well floured board. Lift the pastry by folding it over the rolling pin and line a greased 30cm (12 inch) dish with it. The pie is easiest served if the dish has straight sides. Mould the pastry round the edges of the dish and trim off any excess.

Drain the pears and blackberries (save some of the juice), still keeping them separate. Cover the base of the pie with the pear slices and then cover them with the blackberries. Spoon a little of the juice over the fruit and discard the rest. Roll out the other half of the pastry and, having moistened the edges of the bottom layer of pastry with water, place the pastry over the pie to make a lid. Press gently around the edges and trim off any excess. Brush the top of the pie with milk, or a mixture of milk and egg yolk, the use any scraps of pastry to decorate the top of the pie with leaves, apples or any other design you like. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 200ºC (400ºF), gas Mark 6 for 25-30 minutes or until the pastry is cooked and golden brown

 

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No need to shell out!

I hate throwing things away, especially natural things, so I’m always interested in ideas for recycling. Egg shells are of course lovely things in their own right, and we’ve talked about blowing and painting them before… but what about the typical broken egg shells that we throw away every day after we’ve used the eggs?

My Hen Pal, Julia Wherrell obviously has lots of eggshells and has some interesting ideas on what to do with them, plus some ideas she’s been told by other hen enthusiasts… see what you make of these…

1. Sprinkle broken up eggshell around your garden to deter pests

Soft-bodied insects like slugs or snails don’t like crawling over sharp pieces of shell, I find it works really well.

2. Give your tomatoes a calcium boost

Blossom-end rot is a common tomato problem and it’s caused by a calcium deficiency in the plant. A very successful veg gardener friend of mine puts eggshells in the bottom of the hole when he plants out his tomatoes to help combat this problem. I’m definitely trying this next year as my tomatoes were rubbish this year!

3. Use them to start seedlings

I think this is a lovely idea, especially if you are short of space. Give your smaller seedlings a start in rinsed-out shells! An egg box fits perfectly on a small windowsill so use this to hold your eggshells. They need to be at least half shell in size, so try and remember that when you’re next cracking some eggs, rinse them clean and then plant up your seedlings as normal but obviously, best to stick to smaller things, like herbs. When you come to plant out, gently crush the shell as you plant it and it will decompose in the soil around your plant.

4. Compost them

Add calcium to your compost by adding shells to your compost bin.

5. Sow directly into the soil

If you don’t have time, energy or inclination to compost, simply dig crushed shells directly into your garden. It’s still better than just chucking them out!

 

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