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!

Triple fold envelope card

This sumptuous and very special card will delight anyone who receives it. It can be made in a variety of sizes, some people love making huge cards, some very small – I would aim for somewhere in the middle.

To make the basic card you need a triple fold – so three panels of equal width. I used an A3 sheet to start with but you can also buy triple fold card blanks (from Craft Creations) if you don’t like having larger sheets of card in stock!

Once you have the triple fold then using a guillotine of just a pencil, ruler and scissors, trim the out fold into a triangle to create the envelope concept. Then using flowers from “If Flowers Could Talk”, decorate the edge of the envelope ‘flap’. The strip at the bottom can simply be a couple of strips of gold peeloffs or you can layer a thin strip of matching card onto gold mirri and attach it to the main card. The butterfly and wording are both peeloffs to but could just as easily be die cuts.

The inside is simply constructed with an insert from that same CD which features the words from Patience Strong together with artwork from Jayne Netley-Mayhew. Layer the insert onto some backing paper to fill the inside panel of the card and decorate.

The basic idea of this card is so very versatile it can be tweaked to produce lots of different creations depending on the images and ideas you have. Have a go and see what you think!

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Nature’s first aid kit…

I love herbs and flowers but would never call myself an ‘expert’ on their more alternative uses and I am constantly being surprised by the things I discover they can be used for in relation to our health and well-being.

I was always told to use a dock leaf to relieve the pain of nettle stings, but reading my pal Julia Horton-Powdrill’s Wild Pembrokeshire website last week I saw her recommend this instead:

“Pick a young nettle leaf and scrunch it up tightly so that it gets juicy. It won’t sting. Then rub it onto the stings. There are one or two herbs/plants that help ease stings, but this one will always be on the spot – so to speak!”

Someone else on her website was extolling the virtue of rib leaf plantain as being wonderful for binding wounds and staunching bleeding. Natures first aid kit!

I am very keen on the soothing benefits of herbs and rosemary has a great many uses in this area. It is a common ingredient in sleep pillows and can be combined with other herbs like lavender, hops, and chamomile – they really are very restful.

Fennel is one of nine Anglo-Saxon herbs known for secret powers. In ancient days, a bunch of fennel hung over a cottage door on Midsummer’s Eve was said to prevent the effects of witchcraft. Today, if witches are not a problem, try nibbling on the herb’s seeds, as Roman women did centuries ago, to help depress the appetite!

Our dear old friend, sage – which I expect almost everyone has growing in their herb patch, could almost be called a cure all. The botanical name (Salvia officinalis) is derived from salvere, meaning ‘to be in good health’.

Sage acts as an antiseptic and soothes coughs and colds, flu, bronchitis, swollen glands, laryngitis, is a relaxant for nervous disorders, relieves headaches and expels worms! It is also very effective for the treatment of cystitis.

Sage (pictured right) has always been thought of as good for the brain, improving the memory and, in some cases, even as a cure for insanity. So there’s hope for me yet! And if that wasn’t enough… a sprig of sage in the wardrobe will keep away moths!

One of the joys of the internet is that there is so now much information about these things at our finger tips. But, as with all natural remedies, do exercise caution as concentrated doses can be immensely powerful. If you are pregnant I suggest you don’t try ANY of these ideas.

 

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Scrubbing up well!

When thinking about beauty treatments and pampering, we often tend to think about our faces and neglect our poor old bodies.

A very effective way of making your body smoother and softer and altogether nicer to look at, is to treat them with a scrub, followed by a soothing cream and there are lots of ways of doing this using natural products. Here are a couple of ideas for you to try.

Coconut scrub – Suitable for any skin type

You will need:

  • 150ml dessicated coconut
  • 150ml ground almond
  • 150ml oatmeal
  • 45ml liquid honey
  • Rosewater, as needed

This scrub makes skin lovely and soft. Mix the dry ingredients and add the honey. Pour in as much rosewater as necessary to make a smooth paste. You can use it anywhere on your body. Simply rub it in and leave for 20 minutes. Then, with strong circular strokes, rub off with a flannel – you will be positively glowing!

Marigold mask – This is ideal for backs!

You will need:

  • 23ml (1½ tablespoons) of marigold tea (see below)
  • 1 tablespoon of clay
  • 10ml (3 teaspoons) glycerine

This an excellent way of making your upper back look beautiful in summer dresses and swimming costumes!

Marigolds purify the skin and blood circulation is invigorated by the massage that automatically happens when you remove the mask.

Make an infusion of the marigold petals in 300ml of boiling water. Leave it to stew for one hour. Measure out the required amount and stir in the other ingredients. If needed, add some more marigold tea to get a good consistency, then rub your back with it and leave for 20 minutes to work its magic on your skin as you relax, lying on your stomach. Remove the mask with strong circular strokes with a flannel. It might be easier (and rather more relaxing!) if you ask someone else to do this for you!

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A swim on the wild side!

This week, our guest blogger is my very own youngest daughter – Emily! She has been home from university for a few weeks before going away for six months on a work placement. While here, she was able to spend some time with old school friends and head off to the beach… where she had an interesting encounter!

“The sun put in a rare appearance, so I decided to head down to Babbacombe beach and enjoy a dip in the sea with some friends. As always, the British sea proved to be a lot colder than we remembered, but we took the plunge and swam out towards the five-knot-buoy. 

Suddenly, we spotted a smooth, dark shape gliding just below the water surface. We turned and a head popped up, watching us with large, dark eyes. We were so excited, it’s so rare to see a seal in the wild, let alone swim with one!

The large grey seal known as “Sammy” is a regular visitor at Babbacombe, coming almost daily to coax the locals into giving him the fish they catch off the quayside. Now that’s what I call smart – let the humans do the hard work, so you don’t have to! Recently featured in the local paper, Sammy worried locals a few weeks ago when he swam up to the quay with a hook in his side, although he left before the RSPCA had arrived. We can only presume he was protected by his thick hide. 

After a while we got out of the water to fetch our cameras and ran to the quayside where the seal was cruising up and down waiting for fish. He seemed hugely tame and was content to come within an arm’s length of us, even gently taking a fish straight from a fisherman’s hand! It was just fascinating to watch such a large creature (it looked to be about one and a half metres long and at least half a metre wide) move so gracefully in the water!

It had to be the best trip to the beach ever, and we plan to head back tonight and see if he’s still there!”

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A summer tea party…

It’s so sad that the popularity of afternoon tea has gone down massively over the years. It’s a great way of entertaining people as cakes, pastries and scones can all be made well in advance and are all far less expensive than a dinner party! Here are a couple of ideas for summer tea parties that you might like to try – let’s keep the tradition alive!

Squirrel Cake

This is a recipe of my mother’s and, although there are no nuts in the cake mixture it nevertheless tastes very nutty and delicious! It is also economical to make.

To make a 17.5cm (7in) cake, you will need:

  • 100g (4oz) margarine
  • 100g (4oz) sugar
  • 100g (4oz) self-raising flour
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 15ml (1 tbsp) cold water
  • 10g (2 tsp) instant coffee granules

For the Squirrel’s Cream:

  • 425ml (3/4 pint) double cream
  • 45ml (3 tbsp) Tia Maria liqueur
  • 45ml (3 tbsp) chopped hazelnuts, plus extra for decoration

Grease and line two 17.5cm (7in) sponge tins. Cream together the margarine and sugar until white and creamy. Add the beaten eggs a little at a time and beat well (no cheating with an electric mixer – the results are much better by hand!). Using a metal spoon, fold in the sifted flour and add the cold water until a soft consistency is reached. At the very last moment fold in instant coffee granules.

Spoon the mixture into the two sandwich tins and spread evenly with a palette knife. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 190ºC (375ºF), gas mark 5, for about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven when they are cooked and turn out onto a wire rack to cool. When cold, sandwich the two cakes together with the Squirrel’s Cream (see below).

Squirrel’s Cream

Whip the cream and add a little sugar if you wish. Fold in the Tia Maria and the hazelnuts. Use as a filling and decoration on the top of the cake. Sprinkle the top of the cake with extra hazelnuts

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Lemon & Mint Cooler

Old-fashioned lemonade is delicious and much better for you than the commercially available varieties, so do try some.

You will need:

  • 2.5 litres (4 ¼ pints) water
  • Juice of 8 lemons
  • 75g (3oz) castor sugar
  • Large handful of mint leaves
  • Extra mint leaves for garnishing

Chop the mint leaves coarsely and place in a large bowl with the sugar. Pound the two ingredients together well so that the sugar takes up the flavour of the mint leaves. Heat the water to boiling point and pour over the mint and sugar. Add the lemon juice and leave to cool.

When cooled, carefully strain it through a fine sieve and chill in the fridge. Serve in the prettiest glasses you can find, garnish with ice, slivers of lemon and sprigs of mint.

 

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