Welcome to my Country Days Blog!

I’ve lived in Devon for over 30 years and while I spend most of my time working in my studio, or in front of a TV camera or on an exhibition stand, country living does give me some time and space… to think about my next project!

A crafter in the country is never bored – nature is a huge treasure trove! Beachcombing, walking on Dartmoor, or rummaging about in hedgerows (while Richard pretends not to notice) produces all sorts of goodies. Shells, feathers, wildflowers, leaves – natural things are so often the ‘light bulb moment’ that gives me an idea for something new!

I have hundreds – actually, make that thousands ­– of ideas and projects from crafts to cookery to flowers that I thought I could share with you through a weekly country-inspired blog.

I love hearing from fellow crafters and swapping ideas and useful hints and tips, so do please feedback your comments on my blog, I’m sure it will be a lot of fun!

Breakfast ‘to go’!

So many people skip breakfast as they “just don’t have time” well these have to be the fastest options ever! I thought it would be fun to share them with you… It takes precisely 2 minutes (oh and the time to crack an egg!) – go on give it a try!

Breakfast Cup

  • As completely as possible, line the bottom and sides of a microwaveable teacup or small bowl with a single rasher of bacon (streaky or back).
  • Carefully break into it a fresh egg. Prick the yolk with the tip of a knife so it won’t explode.
  • Microwave the cup on high for 1 minute. Allow to rest for 1 minute, then check to see how cooked it is. Zap it again in 15-second bursts if necessary.

Veggie breakfast Cup

Substitute a medium-large fresh tomato for the bacon. Cut off the top, the remove and discard the seeds and any loose flesh from the centre. Place this in your teacup and break the egg into it – piercing the yolk as before. You may find it takes as much as a minute longer to coo due to the thickness of the tomato.

Variations

  • For a ‘full English’ use the bacon and the tomato, with a few extra seconds of cooking time.
  • Try adding some grated cheese while the egg is still warm, or a dash of sauce if you like it spicy.
  • Try a ring of thinly sliced pepperoni or ham instead of the bacon.

 

 

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Cod, basil & tomato with a potato thatch

What is it about fish pie that is so warming? I don’t know the answer, I only know it is! With a green salad, this makes an ideal dish for lunch or a family supper.

Serves 8

You will need:           

  • 1kg/2lb smoked cod
  • 1kg/2lb white cod
  • 600ml/1 pint milk
  • 2 sprigs basil
  • 1 sprig lemon thyme
  • 75g/3oz butter
  • 1 onion peeled and chopped
  • 75g/3oz flour
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • 2 tbsp chopped basil

For the thatch

  • 12 medium sized old potatoes
  • 50g/2oz butter
  • 300ml/2 pint milk
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp chopped parsley 
  1. Place both kinds of fish in a roasting pan with the milk, 1.2 litres/1 pint water and the herbs. Simmer for about 3-4 minutes. Leave to cool in the liquid for about 20 minutes. Drain the fish, reserving the liquid for use in the sauce. Flake the fish, taking care to remove any skin and bone.
  2. Melt the butter in a pan, add the onion and cook for about 5 minutes until tender but not browned. Add the flour, tomato pure and half the basil. Gradually add the reserved fish stock, adding a little more milk if necessary to make a fairly thin sauce. Bring this to the boil, season with salt and pepper and add the remaining basil. Add the fish carefully, and stir gently. Pour into an ovenproof dish.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas 4. Boil the potatoes until tender. Add the butter and milk and mash well. Add salt and pepper to taste and cover the fish, forking it up to create a pattern. If you like, you can freeze the pie at this stage.
  4. Bake for 30 minutes. Serve with chopped parsley.

 

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Wine in the Westcountry…

I am fortunate to live in a county rich in locally grown and produced foods. Devon is unique in England in having a coastline on both its northern and southern edges and it’s an area where farming livestock is still an important part of the economy. We are also blessed with lots of artisan cheese makers, bakers and vintners, our climate being suited to all sorts of exciting foody businesses. Through my blog I’m going to take the opportunity to introduce you to some of our local producers and I hope you will be inspired to try their produce and their recipes!

I introduced you to the rather exotic Devon Chilli Farm a few weeks ago and now, equally surprising, I’m going to talk about Devon vineyards. There are no less than NINE in the county and some of the wines they produce are winning awards worldwide.

Internationally, I think Britain is probably more famous for producing gin and beer than wine but in fact, we have been producing wine since Roman times. Historically though, English wines were seen as a bit of a joke, with people making their own peculiar brews such a potato or parsnip wine (remember Reggie Perrin?) while commercially the quality and consistency was very variable. But, since about 1970 – and particularly at the beginning of the 21st Century – things have improved dramatically.

It seems that Devon, and Cornwall too, enjoys an ideal mix of soil and climate making them suitable areas for growing vines. The latitude and longitude are very similar to the well-known wine growing regions of France so it’s not too hard to see why this area is proving successful.

There’s a vineyard just down the road from our village that produces four types of wine, a white, red, rosé and sparkling. Rather unromantically, these days there are no peasants trampling round in great vats of grapes pressing out the juice with their feet (actually, that always put me off a bit!), today it is all stainless steel tanks and white coats, but the wine they produce is excellent.

The best-known vineyard in this part of the world is Sharpham. They also happen to make excellent cheeses, but that’s another blog altogether! Their Sharpham Sparkling Reserve NV recently won the ‘Best International’ trophy at the World Sparkling Wine Competition, beating French champagnes in the process!

If you are in this neck of the woods, the Sharpham estate is well worth a visit. There’s a lovely café on site for lunch before you walk through the vineyards that go right down to the banks of the river Dart and the wine tastings are inexpensive and very enjoyable!!

For more information, do have a look at the Sharpham wine website at www.sharpham.com

 

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Cupcake heaven

We have been really inspired by a cupcake site on the internet www.carinascupcakes.co.uk and so I bought various PDF guides that they sell. These cakes were created by Jo, our accounts person, using inspirations from Carina and also some ideas of her own.

Cupcakes have a wonderful way of making people smile – often on a glum day. Offering round a plate of cakes in the office brings out smiles from all of us! My younger daughter, Emily, is a huge cake making fan and she had said that making people at university and her current job placement, pretty cakes has had excellent results!

Vanilla cupcakes recipe:
(makes 12 cupcakes)

  • 110g butter
  • 110g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 110g self raising flour
  • 1tsp vanilla
  • 1-2 tbsp milk

Buttercream:

  • 140g butter
  • 280g Icing sugar
  • 1-2tbsp milk

Cream the butter and sugar – add the eggs a little at a time. Then add the flour and vanilla, add a little bit of milk. Pile into cake cases and bake for about 20 minutes in a medium oven. Allow to cool thoroughly before icing.

The variety of ways that these are decorated all use sugar paste but they have had touches of the metallic food paints and decorations that we sell. Our cake department is growing every week now so if you enjoy playing with cakes it might be worth a browse around!  

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Marvellous Mr Badger!

Why do so many of us see badgers as sweet and appealing creatures? I think, for me, it comes from reading ‘Wind in the Willows’ as a child and adoring Ratty, Mole and Badger. Mr Badger, in his dressing gown and slippers was rather grumpy, but wonderfully solid and dependable. Or maybe it’s just their lovely stripy faces that we like? They always look so characterful. 

Badgers are nocturnal and elusive. We have a great many of them in this part of the world and, driving home of an evening, we will sometimes see a badger lumbering along the side of the road. They are quite big creatures, with short, powerful legs and they amble along with a swaying gait like proper old men! They will often turn to look at the car lights before they disappear into the hedgerow and you get the lovely flash of their white-striped faces before they vanish. 

Like humans, they are omnivorous, although unlike us, they eat several hundred earthworms every night! Badgers are social creatures and live together in large underground setts, made up of a series of interlocking tunnels with nest chambers, toilets and several entrances.

Unfortunately, badger pooh, always neatly piled up in the toilet areas, is seen as the Chanel No.5 of doggy perfumes! If you are unlucky, your dog will come home ‘wearing’ it, usually liberally applied around their shoulders and neck – ugh!! It is very unpleasant, extremely pungent and hard to remove! Our spaniel Welly, the dear boy, has tried this a few times, but he finds the cleaning up exercise (baths, shampoo, towel dry etc.) more trouble than it’s worth.

Again, rather like some humans, Badgers inherit these homes from their parents, while always expanding and refining them. The resulting huge tunnel systems are, in some cases, centuries old. I like to think of them discussing the addition of a new bedroom, or enlarging the lounge over a supper of worms before snuggling down for the night in their ancient abode. Apart from the worms… could almost be me and Richard!

 

 

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