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!

Chocolate-dipped orange shortbread

These biscuits are quick and easy to make and judging by the reaction here, will go down a storm. Ideal if you are having someone very smart to tea … or actually just something nice to have in a tin in case of emergencies like ‘Oh must have a biscuit’ times! 

Ingredients

  • 250g plain flour
  • Pinch salt
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 220g butter
  • 220g granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • Grated rind of 1 orange
  • 100g dark chocolate

Method

Preheat oven to 175ºc and grease or line baking trays.

Cream butter and sugar, add the egg and orange rind and mix, then fold in the flour, salt and baking powder until combined.

The mixture can then be piped onto the baking trays using either a piping bag or a biscuit gun, leave about 1 inch between the biscuits as they will spread a little during baking.

Once cool melt the chocolate in a bowl and dip in biscuits, place on parchment paper until chocolate hard.

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Summer Solstice

Today, 21st June, is the Summer Solstice – a date that holds great significance for many people. For me, I always reflect on it being the real start of summer and enjoy it being the longest day… and try to ignore the fact that it’s now downhill all the way to Christmas! 

Solstice, or Litha means a stopping or standing still of the sun – hence the longest day – and it is the time when the sun is at its maximum height. 

This date has had spiritual significance for thousands of years as humans have been amazed by the power of the sun. The Celts celebrated with bonfires that they believed would add to the sun’s energy. Christians placed the feast of St John the Baptist towards the end of June and it is also the festival of Li, the Chinese Goddess of light.

Like other religious groups, Pagans are in awe of the incredible strength of the sun and the divine powers that create life. For Pagans this spoke in the Wheel of the Year is a significant point. The Goddess took over the earth from the horned God at the beginning of Spring and she is now at the height of her power and fertility.

In England thousands of Pagans (and non-Pagans!) flock to ancient monuments, such as Stonehenge, to see the sun rising on the first morning of summer. At Stonehenge the Heel Stone and Slaughter Stone, set outside the main circle, align with the rising sun – which must be a magnificent site to behold!

As well as all the annual drama and news coverage of the celebrations at Stonehenge, many more Pagans will hold small ceremonies in open spaces, everywhere from gardens to woodlands.

Let’s hope the lovely weather holds and we can all enjoy the longest day!

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Making beachcomber hearts

Aren’t these hearts just adorable? The base is a heart shaped MDF plaque. You can get these on our website.

The next time you are wandering along the beach, in the countryside, park or anywhere that you might find interesting natural bits and bobs – start collecting! There, you have official permission to collect bits and pieces… as if you didn’t already if you are a crafter!

Once you have a collection then sit down at your craft table or kitchen table or wherever you prefer to work, and start creating. It’s rather like doing a jigsaw! If pieces are too big, you can cut them up, but once cut it is worth sanding or smoothing them so there are few rough edges. You can use pieces of cork from wine bottles too (now they’re fun to collect!) but if you don’t drink wine you can try asking at your nearby pub or restaurant they will often oblige with used corks.

You could add little shells, pieces of dried sea weed, mini cones, even tiny pieces of sea washed glass… the sky’s the limit and I think it’s a lot of fun!

The key obviously is strong glue. My choice is a hot melt glue gun, but you could also use something like Pinflair glue gel – just be a little patient while it dries overnight.

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My Top 10 days out in the West Country

The West Country is a wonderful area to visit, it combines stunning natural beauty with lots and lots of attractions and interesting places to visit. I have picked just ten of some of the thousands of possibilities – seriously I could have done my top 100 and not run out of ideas! – some are days out that I have done with my family over the years, and there’s one I plan to try this year too!

Morwellham Quay1.  Paignton Zoo 
If you enjoy zoos, I think Paignton tries really hard and has some excellent exhibits – my favourites being the red panda, giraffes and the meerkats!

2. Buckfast Abbey
There’s a monastery shop here that sells products entirely from other monasteries – great Belgian beer and lovely perfumes etc. There’s also the most amazing stained glass window and a great cream tea!

3. Morwellham Quay
Both my girls loved visits here, it really brings history to life – it was a great copper ore port in Victorian times and there’s so much to see.

Cornwall’s Eden Project4. Eden Project
Interesting plant displays and environments, it’s internationally famous for its groundbreaking exhibits and even has concerts down there now!

5. House of Marbles, Bovey Tracey
I am somewhat biased here as this is run by friends of mine, but the glass blowing is fascinating to watch, the restaurant does a great lunch and the shop is very tempting – the marble displays were adored by my daughters and nephews alike!

6. Miniature Pony Centre, Dartmoor  
I just love this place, the ponies are adorable and make you want to take them home and I think I remember Pippa crying just because she couldn’t! Nice picnic area too.

Steaming through the countryside…7. Steam Trains from Buckfastleigh
Travel back in time… and rekindle your memories of steam trains! A lovely few hours reminiscing as you travel close to the River Dart from Buckfastleigh to Totnes – huge thumbs up from me. Have a browse round Totnes while you are there too – a lovely town.

8. Kent’s Cavern, Torquay
I have been here many times with visiting family and the stalactites and stalagmites are always fascinating and the cream tea is fun too!

9. Babbacombe Model Village
The detail in the work is great to see and when the village is illuminated at night it looks very pretty – lots to see including a fire breathing dragon on the model castle!

Kent’s Cavern10. Greenway House
Agatha Christie is one of my heroines and there’s a new trip for 2013 – departing from either Torquay or Brixham and travel on a river boat to her former home Greenway House and then return on Barnaby, a vintage bus. The garden is amazing and I have bought many plants from the nursery section in the past – so I am definitely planning this as a day out this year!

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Lemon Drizzle Cake with Cream Cheese filling

I was so thrilled how well this cake turned out and the fruit decoration looks stunning but more importantly it goes really well with the cake. The addition of the fresh fruit can lift it from a tea time treat into a lovely pudding… err with some clotted cream? No OK, maybe that’s too many calories!

The filling is delicious and not overly sickly as it’s a Philadelphia base – so try it!

Cake

  • 210g Caster Sugar
  • 210g Butter
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • 3 eggs
  • 160g SR Flour
  • 50g Ground Almonds

Preheat oven to 180ºc/160ºc fan, grease and line an 8” tin.

Beat sugar and butter until creamy, mix in lemon zest and then the eggs one at a time, fold in the flour and ground almonds until just combined. Pour into a prepared tin and bake for about 30-40mins.

Drizzle

  • 75g Caster sugar
  • Juice of 2 lemons

Mix together until sugar dissolved. Once the cake has cooled, prick the top and drizzle over the liquid.

Cream Cheese Filling

  • 1 tub (300g) Philidelphia cream cheese
  • 100g Icing Sugar
  • 1 Lemon (juice & zest)

Mix all together until smooth, use as much or as little icing sugar depending on how sweet you would like it to be and add lemon juice a little at a time, to ensure mixture does not get too runny.

Split the cake in two, spread with the filling, finish by dusting with icing sugar and lemon zest. Then decorate with fruits as in the icture, or choose strawberries, raspberries or any other fresh fruit of your choice. 

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