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!

The wonders of willow!

This week, I’ve asked my ‘hen pal’, Julia Wherrell, to produce a guest blog. As well as keeping hens Julia also grows lots of veg and enjoys doing battle with a steep garden up on Dartmoor.

“I’ve been wondering about working with willow for some time now. I often buy little decorative willow items such as hearts, or wreaths and really fancy some willow sculptures for the garden. As these can be quite expensive I thought – why not have a go myself?

So, I booked myself on a day’s course at Musgrove Willows up in Somerset entitled ‘Birds and beasties’. Our tutor Sarah Webb, a very experienced basket maker and willow sculptor, was very laid back and let us create whatever we liked. Predictably, I opted for a chicken!

I was amazed at how flexible the willow was. We were working with 3ft lengths that had been soaked before hand. Initially, I found working in 3D a little strange (I usually only draw or paint) but once we all got the hang of thinking about how to create the structure – a series of hoops linked together and then built up into a flowing shape – it wasn’t too difficult.

Working with willow was good fun, and I found it very therapeutic, I concentrated so hard on what I was doing that I lost all track of time! It’s very easy to get started and you don’t need any previous experience.

Willow is amazing stuff! It grows incredibly quickly, depending on the type – anything for 5ft to 13ft a year! It can be worked wet, as we were, or dry and you can plant ‘living’ willow and create amazing garden structures that you prune back in autumn, and watch burst into life in spring.

I came home armed with my wicker hen (proudly displayed here, next to some of my ‘real’ hens!) and a bundle of willow to make some more. I intend to build a living willow hedge in my garden and make some other willow items so, if Jo will let me, I’ll update you in another blog later in the year!

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Turning ‘nothing’ into ‘something’

Whether you refer to it as Folk Art, Barge Art, Canalboat Art – or even the modern version One Stroke or Fusion Painting – they all cover roughly the same territory. The artwork is bold and simplistic and once tutored, even a relative beginner can produce some really fun pieces of artwork.

Many moons ago my mother and I signed up for barge art evening classes and for ages, we plagued the entire family with decorated gifts for birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries – you get the drift! But joking aside, it is a fun way to decorate the most inexpensive household bits and pieces.

These enamel items are all painted using glossy paint (small pots of Humbrol) but you could use other mediums on cards or canvas. I think it’s a great way to pretty something up and it encourages me horribly to hoard more dilapidated bits and pieces ‘for when I have time…’!

We’ve decorated wonderful flat irons, horseshoes, hat boxes, coal scuttles, washing up brush containers, bottles, trays, jars… the list is endless, and many of these bits and pieces we managed to collect for nothing.

One of the joys of crafting I guess… turning nothing into something and creating a really pretty thing that takes pride of place in your home!

Smiles, Joanna

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Lovely lavender…

Lavender is one of my favourite plants – to grow, to dry, to use in pot pourri and to cook with (truly lavender cookies are yummy!). I wrote a whole little book about Lavender many years ago and it’s just a wonderful, wonderful addition to any garden.

This card mixes a lavender backing sheet and image from our Jane Shasky CD and some parchment stamped with our AMAZING lace stamps. If you haven’t played with them yet, I think they prove just how accurately and beautifully a rubber stamp can be made.

The way to get the best from the stamps is to stamp on parchment using Versamark and then some detail white embossing powder. I choose to heat from behind when embossing with the heat gun as I can keep a really sharp eye on when the powder starts to turn and whip the heat away so that I use the least heat possible and so slim down my chances of spoiling the parchment with too much heat.

Nothing brings a smile to a girl’s face like lavender and lace and maybe even a fragranced card – why not keep the card in a drawer with some lavender or some cotton wool with drops of lavender oil dotted on it – just don’t let the oil touch the card!



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Spinach, Walnut and Gruyère Lasagne with Basil

Having been fooled into thinking spring had arrived in March, we are all now shivering in this cold and wet April. So, time for some comfort food, says I!

This nutty lasagne is a delicious combination of flavours and an all round ‘comfy’ dish!

Serves 8

You will need:

  • 350g/12oz spinach lasagne (pre-cooked sheets)

For the walnut & tomato sauce:

  • 3 tbsp walnut oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 225g/8oz celeriac, finely chopped
  • 1 x 400g/14oz can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • 115g/40z chopped walnuts
  • 150ml/¼ pint Dubonnet (or cheap port if you prefer!)

For the spinach & Gruyère sauce:

  • 75g/3oz flour
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • 1.2 litres/2pints milk
  • 225g/8oz grates Gruyère cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • ground nutmeg
  • 500g/1lb frozen spinach, thawed and puréed (or fresh, steamed and puréed)
  • 2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped 
  1. First, make the walnut and tomato sauce. Heat the walnut oil and sauté the onion and celeriac. Cook for about 8-10 minutes. Meanwhile, purée the tomatoes in a food processor. Add the garlic to the pan and cook for about one minute, then add the sugar, walnuts, tomatoes and Dubonnet. Season to taste. Simmer uncovered, for 25 minutes.
  2. To make the spinach and Gruyère sauce, melt the butter with the walnut oil and add the onion. Cook for 5 minutes, then stir in the flour. Cook for another minute and add the mustard powder and milk, stirring vigorously. When the sauce has come to the boil, take off the heat and add three-quarters of the grated Gruyère. Season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Finally add the puréed spinach.
  3.  Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas 4. Layer the lasagne in an oven-proof dish. Start with a layer of spinach and Gruyère sauce, then add a little walnut and tomato sauce, then a layer of lasagne, and continue until the dish is full, ending with a layer of either sauce.
  4.  Sprinkle the remaining Gruyère over the top of the dish, followed by the basil. Bake for 45 minutes.

 

 

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Crystallized flowers – what little gems!

This week, I’ve asked Julia Horton-Powdrill to write a guest blog. I met Julia on a creative writing course a few years ago, and was impressed by her great writing, humour and enthusiasm.

When not writing, she keeps extremely busy running a number of ‘wild’ businesses including the Really Wild Food Festival and Wild about Pembrokeshire!

Wild about Pembrokeshire is all about foraging and runs wild food foraging walks and day courses and, as Julia says, encourages you to ‘Discover your Inner Forager’!!

Julia’s mission is to encourage people to have a fun day in the countryside or on the coast and help them to identify and make the most of what is available from Mother Nature! She also advises on the legal side of foraging from the wild and how to collect sustainably and responsibly.

To find out more, visit: www.wildaboutpembrokeshire.co.uk

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As everything is fresh and young in the countryside (apart from me!) now is the time to try out a few recipes. One I mean to do each spring but always forget is to crystallize flowers. Gorse, primrose, sweet cicely, wild violets, apple blossom and rose petals can be used, but experiment yourself as long as you know what you are using isn’t poisonous.

Beat an egg white lightly with a fork, paint each petal, immerse or sprinkle over, some caster sugar then leave overnight on a lined tray. Use to decorate puds or cakes or just to eat on their own. Mothers used to crystallize flowers on the stem where they grew then let their children loose into the meadow to hunt for them and eat them… great idea!

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