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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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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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Elderflower and strawberry jam

Making your own preserves is a very satisfying thing to do. Those pretty rows of little jars full of homemade goodness make me feel very pleased with myself! It’s always good to try and ring the changes and, although strawberry jam is a huge family favourite, I thought the addition of elderflower sounded fun.

Ingredients:

  • 2kg (4lbs) strawberries
  • 2kg (4lbs) preserving sugar
  • Juice from three lemons
  • 8 large elderflower heads

Method:

Prepare some sterilised jam jars, either in the oven, or in a dishwasher, or you can microwave a jar (leave slightly damp) for about 45 seconds. I always buy new lids and greaseproof covers as that way I am sure they are bacteria free. Also, put an ordinary saucer in the freezer so that it’s ready to use for jam testing later in the cooking process.

Prepare some sterilised jam jars, either in the oven, or in a dishwasher, or you can microwave a jar (leave slightly damp) for about 45 seconds. I always buy new lids and greaseproof covers as that way I am sure they are bacteria free. Also, put an ordinary saucer in the freezer so that it’s ready to use for jam testing later in the cooking process.

To intensify the strawberry flavour, prepare the berries and put them in your preserving pan (or large saucepan) add the sugar and lemon juice and leave (covered) overnight.

Now start to heat them slowly and add the elderflowers. This should be done by first shaking the flowers (adding creepy crawlies to jam really isn’t a good thing) and then picking off the flowers and add to the strawberry mix.

Stir well and bring to the boil for about 5 minutes. Skim off the scum that may form on the surface.

If you have a sugar thermometer then boil until it reaches 105ºC and then test a small spoonful on the cold saucer. Place the test spoonful and saucer in the fridge and within 5 minutes it should have formed a skin that wrinkles when you push it. If this doesn’t happen then boil again for another couple of minutes and try again.

Once you are happy that it has reaching the setting point, allow it to cool for about 10 minutes and fill the sterilised jars.

This is particularly nice with scones and Devon clotted cream – me biased, not a chance!

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Roses, roses all the way!

It’s roses, roses all the way in today’s quick inspiration blog that uses our Climbing Rose die SD526 which have been die cut in both pink and green card to save any colouring. The papers come from the Jane Shasky ‘From the Heart of the Garden’ CD and the circle and scalloped circle can be any nesting dies that you happen to have.

The edges of the backing paper have been antiqued a little with some Tim Holtz distress ink (Mowed Lawn) but this is just a little extra touch that you could skip, it just adds a little depth to the papers.

To make the tying of the bow easier – the ribbon is stretched around the strip and secured at the back and then a pre-tied bow glued on – much easier I always think!

The final touch, of course, are the sparkly bits in the corners, these could easily have been pearls or whatever you have in stock!

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Landmarks on journeys – are we there yet?

 

Whether consciously or not, I think we all have a certain view, or signpost, or possibly even scent that tells us that our journey home is almost complete. It is a rather lovely and comforting sensation and one that brings a sigh of contentment. Of course, it doesn’t have to be reaching home – it could be arriving at a favourite holiday destination or a close friend’s house. Landmarks on journeys lodge in our brains and can bring back waves of nostalgia years later when we come across one by chance.

As a child, the vaguest scent of the sea (often imagined!) would start me wheedling “Are we there yet?” from the backseat of the car. One friend, who had to commute up and down to London from Devon three times a week told me he always gave a cheer when he drove past the ‘Devon’ county boundary sign on the M5.

Cookworthy Knapp – the ‘coming home’ trees. Photo copyright: ALAMY

My partner in crime writing, Julia, was amazed to see a photo on the BBC website this week of a much-loved copse of beech that she always says ‘Hello’ to as she goes on holiday to Cornwall and crosses over the Devon/Cornwall

border. Apparently, it is an incredibly popular landmark with lots of people! The beech trees, which stand on a hill south of the A30, tell weary Cornwall-bound travellers that their journey is nearly over.

Now, says the BBC, people have been taking to social media to share their love for the Cookworthy Knapp trees, which were planted around 1900 and have become known as the ‘coming home trees’.

I thought this was rather lovely and set me thinking about what are my ‘coming home landmarks’. I have two – the lovely sweeping view of the Teign estuary as we drive over the road bridge on the last 10 miles of our journey home… and the dear little fingerpost on the Torquay Road that says, very small, ‘Stokeinteignhead’!

And so… I’d like to hear from you – what are your ‘coming home’ landmarks? Are they distinctive hills, or trees, or signs, or something more quirky? Let’s hear it! Smiles, Joanna.

The Teign estuary… I’m almost home! And, just to be sure, the little fingerpost confirms it’s only half a mile.

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