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!

Don’t be too tidy… and help wildlife!

I really don’t want to admit it, but Autumn is here. It’s September and the days are getting noticeably shorter.

Even for those animals and creatures that don’t hibernate over the winter months autumn time is very much a time to stock up on supplies. You’ll see more birds gorging on autumn berries in the garden and fattening themselves up on whatever they can.

If I do any digging at the moment I find myself closely watched by a beady eyed but very tatty little bird… it’s a young robin. It still has the pretty gold speckling of youth and patchy bits of red breast just starting to show. It pounces on every worm and I watched it gobble up two enormous worms the other day. It had a third lined up, but kept pecking at it half-heartedly, I really think it was completely full, but couldn’t bear to leave it! He eventually gobbled that one down as well – a very full tummy!

They are such lovely little birds, but robins are renowned for their aggressive territorial nature. I hadn’t realised until I looked it up the other day that the juveniles don’t develop their red breast until they are mature because otherwise their parents would attack them and drive them away just as they do other robins!

If you want to encourage wildlife in your garden don’t be too tidy! Late butterflies will be tempted by fruit that’s fallen from trees in the garden and you may get more of an opportunity to see hedgehogs as they look for food to stock up on their reserves in preparation for hibernation.

There are still seeds to be found on the likes of sunflowers and thistles, so by allowing this kind of vegetation to die off it provides more food and shelter, for birds in particular as well as other wildlife.

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Rustic charm…

Isn’t this a pretty card? This image is from the Jane Shasky CD. I have lost count of how many times I have got this CD out of the case and felt sure there was going to be something that would suit a specific card or project I had in mind. There are so many lovely ideas on there. As you know I am very enthusiastic about herbs and so the images really do inspire me over and over again!

The printing has been done on a cream textured paper this time which adds a nice extra touch to the design. The cream card base is approximately 8” x 8” and the next layers are dark green and then some of the textured cream. Wrap some sage green ribbon around these and tie with a knot (makes a nice change from a bow) and then attach to the card blank with 2mm foam to give a bit of a lift.

The topper is constructed by using three same size toppers. One is the background, a second has the herbs cut out and then decoupaged onto the base. The third has a cream border left around it and the centre removed with a sharp craft knife and ruler. I often find a glass mat helps a craft knife cut more easily.

Layer the base image onto dark green and gold and attach to the card. Then using some string, knot a couple of pieces top right and bottom left across the frame and fix onto the card with foam tape.

This card is so pretty I am sure someone would tuck it away as a keepsake!

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Blackberry vinegar for coughs & colds

This week, it’s a guest blog from my writing pal and foraging guru Julia Horton-Powdrill. Julia’s website is full of useful tips, fascinating facts and lovely dollops of humour as is her Facebook page for her annual Really Wild Food & Countryside Festival.

“This recipe is here to coincide with the blackberry season so that you can stock up on this for the winter. Do use local honey if possible, and cider vinegar rather than any other kind.

You will need:

  • 1 pint of fresh, clean blackberries
  • 1 pint cider vinegar
  • 1lb local honey
  • ½ cup brown sugar

Put blackberries in a jar with the cider vinegar and soak for a week, shaking the jar every so often. Strain through cheesecloth collecting the juice in a pan. Add the honey & sugar and bring to the boil, stirring until dissolved. Allow to cool then bottle and close with a tight cork. Store in a refrigerator or cool place. When a cough, cold or sore throat arises, mix a tablespoon of the mixture with 1 cup of hot water and drink.

PS. This combination of ingredients is so versatile, you needn’t restrict yourself to using it just as a remedy. It makes a lovely warming drink even if you don’t have a cold! You can also use it as a marinade, and if you add olive oil it can be used for a salad dressing!”

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Hot Brie with hazelnuts on a watercress sauce

Have to say, this is one of my favourite recipes. The warm gooey-ness of the rich cheese is very comforting and, as I feel the inevitable arrival of Autumn (after no summer at all) it seems rather timely… sigh….

I love Brie, but you can make this with another cheese if you prefer. Great as a dinner party starter (as per this recipe), or a delicious veggie main meal perhaps made using two different types of cheese, camembert is another good one… it’s up to you.

You will need:

  • 350g (12oz) ground hazelnuts
  • 225g (8oz) granary breadcrumbs
  • 675-900g (1/2-2lb) small whole Brie
  • 50g (2oz) self-raising flour
  • 4 large eggs, beaten

For the Watercress Sauce

  • 1 bunch fresh watercress
  • 1 handful of fresh parsley
  • 30g (2 tbsp) fresh chives
  • 15g (1tbsp) fresh dill
  • 100g (4oz) plain Greek yoghurt
  • 30ml (2 tbsp) mayonnaise
  • 22ml (12 tbsp) lemon juice
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Sprigs of watercress for decoration 

The Brie

Mix the hazelnuts and breadcrumbs together. Cut the Brie into eight equal pieces. Coat each piece with flour then brush on the egg, or dip the cheese in the egg, and roll in the crumb mixture. Dip the cheese in the egg a second time and roll it in the nuts and breadcrumbs again. Cover a baking sheet with a piece of greaseproof paper and place the pieces of cheese on it until they are needed.

Deep-fry the pieces of cheese for about 1-2 minutes and then place in the oven, pre-heated to 180ºC 9350ºF), Gas mark 4, for another 4-5 minutes. Do not leave the Brie in the fat or the oven for too long or it will run everywhere and look terrible! Serve in a pool of chilled watercress sauce – see below.

Watercress Sauce

Place all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process for 20-30 seconds until well incorporated. If you don’t have a food processor or blender you should mince all the herbs or chop them very finely, and mix well with the other ingredients.

To serve, spoon a puddle of sauce on to the middle of the plate, place a hot Brie portion on top and decorate with a sprig of watercress.

 

 

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Gardening myths…

I came across something that so surprised me in a recent edition of the (very excellent) RHS magazine ‘The Garden’, that it set me thinking about myths as a topic for my blog…

The Garden announced that, after proper research, there is no scientific evidence that watering in bright light causes damage to plant leaves. Well, you could have knocked me down with a dahlia! I’d always believed that watering in sunshine was very bad. It can, obviously, be wasteful at a very hot time as the water will just evaporate, but generally it is fine.

What do you get if you chop an earthworm in half? Haven’t we always been told ‘two worms’? Actually, it’s mostly a dead worm. The trouble is that if a worm is cut in two, both halves wriggle, and they may continue for some time. The head end, the bit with the fat broad saddle segments about one-quarter down the length, may even burrow off into the soil again. The good news is that, with luck, the head end may survive, and the tail cut might heal, if it can cope with infections, huge loss of body fluids and all the other problems associated with major injury trauma. The tail, however, will eventually stop moving and die. Sorry, rather depressing…

So, what are your favourite gardening myths – true or otherwise? Let’s hear them!

Smiles, Joanna

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