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!

An egg-citing post…?

Did you know chickens lay blue eggs? No, neither did I until my Hen Pal presented me with a lovely eggy selection last summer which included a blue one.

I love hens, but don’t have time to keep them myself. Hen Pal currently has eight chickens and we are lucky in that we get a regular supply of gorgeous, totally free-range eggs. The yolks are a rich orange, not like anything you can buy, and they taste amazing.

The blue egg layer is a pretty chicken called Hetty and, just to confuse things further, she is a Cream Leg Bar! The blue eggs taste no different to the other eggs, but they just look so lovely…

Eggs are wonderful things – delicious to eat of course, but also fun to be creative with. Blowing eggs is not that difficult and you can still eat the egg so it’s not at all wasteful.

As a child, I loved blowing eggs and decorating them, why not have a go this Easter, it’s great fun!

How to blow an egg:

You need to ‘get the feel’ of your egg, grip it firmly enough, but not too hard so it breaks. If you always work over a bowl even if you break one you can still use the contents once you’ve picked any shell out!

First, grasp your egg! Insert a long needle into the large end of the egg to make a small hole. Work the needle around a bit to enlarge the hole slightly.

Then, do the same on the other end, but this time wiggle the needle more to make a bigger hole – this is the end the egg will come out from.

Push the needle into the centre of the egg and move it around to break up the yolk.

Now, place your mouth over the end with the smaller hole, the other end over a bowl and gently blow into the egg. It might take a few puffs before it starts to come out, but once going it will all come out with a few blows. If any of the egg gets stuck, shake the egg and give it a few more prods with the needle.

Rinse out the egg by running a thin stream of water into the larger hole, then blow out the water the same way that you blew out the egg. Leave to dry and then they’re ready to decorate.

And now – it’s up to you! Paint them, stick on sequins, draw on them with Promarkers or any other alcohol-based ink like the Spectrum Noir range. Great Easter gifts for old and young alike.

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Bread – the stuff of life

What could be more wonderful than the smell of freshly baked bread? It seems to be an aroma that automatically makes us feel good. The kneading process is very therapeutic and then there’s the eating… well it’s the perfect comfort food all ways round!

As you’ve probably gathered I am very keen on herbs in all forms – and this recipe is so delicious! Rosemary is an evergreen perennial so it’s hard to kill off. Even in the depths of winter, I can scurry outside and snip off an aromatic sprig to use in lots of different dishes. Just bruise the leaves slightly and that wonderful scent fills the air…

Rosemary Bread

Sliced thinly, this herb bread is delicious with cheese or soup for a light meal.

Makes one loaf

You will need:

1 packet (7g/¼ oz) dried fast action yeast

170g/6oz wholemeal flour

170g/6oz self-raising flour

2 tbsp butter, plus more to grease bowl and tin

60ml/2fl oz warm water (45ºC/110ºF)

250ml/8fl oz milk (room temperature)

1 tbsp sugar

1tsp salt

1 tbsp sesame seeds

1 tbsp dried chopped onion

1 tbsp fresh rosemary leaves, plus more to decorate

115g/4oz cubed Cheddar cheese

Coarse salt to decorate

 1. Mix the fast-action yeast with the flours in a large mixing bowl. Melt the butter. Stir in the warm water, milk, sugar, butter, salt, sesame seeds, onion and rosemary. Knead thoroughly until quite smooth.

2. Flatten the dough, then add the cheese cubes. Quickly knead them in until they have been well combined.

3. Place the dough in a clean bowl, greased with a little butter, turning it so that it becomes greased on all sides. Cover with a clean, dry cloth. Put the greased bowl and dough in a warm place for about 1½ hours, or until the dough has risen and doubled in size.

4. Grease a 23 x 13cm (9 x 5 in) loaf tin with the remaining butter. Knock down the dough to remove some of the air and shape it into a loaf. Put the loaf into the tin, cover with the clean cloth used earlier and leave for about 1 hour until doubled in size onece again. Preheat the oven to 190ºC/375ºF/gas 5.

5. Bake for 30 minutes. During the last 5-10 minutes of baking, cover the loaf with silver foil to prevent it from becoming too dark. Remove from the loaf tin and leave to cool on a wire rack. Decorate with rosemary leaves and coarse salt scattered on top.

PS. Rosemary is another one of my ‘essential’ herbs that I’d put alongside bay, parsley and mint, as already mentioned. I’m plan to be blogging quite a bit about growing herbs over the coming months…

 

 

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Bring your garden into your home…

The garden is looking so forlorn at the moment that I popped into a local florist last week when my eye was caught by a lovely burst of colour – a bunch of pink, purple and cream anemones! Such cheerful flowers, I bought some and did an informal arrangement that has really brightened up my craft room. I used a terracotta pot from the patio which helps give a feel of bringing the garden inside.

Depending on where you live, anemones should soon be emerging in your gardens but, if like me you can’t wait, you should easily find them in a florist or supermarket at this time of year. Hellebores, which as everyone probably knows by now are one of my most favourite plants, are certainly out this time of year and I’ve made use of their amazing leaves in this arrangement too.

Anemones in terracotta

Most of us only think of using terracotta outdoors, but it can look stunning when used for informal arrangements indoors. Either waterproof the container by coating the inside with PVA adhesive and blocking the hole in the base or, much more simply, put your flowers in a jam jar hidden inside the container.

You will need:

12 – 15 Helliborus foetidus leaves

3-4 bunches of mixed anemones

One jam jar (or seal the container, as above)

One terracotta pot

1.            Clean the pot if it has been outside, but don’t scrub too hard as the discolouration is really attractive. Put the jam jar inside the pot (or waterproof as mentioned above) and fill with water. Place the hellibore leaves around the pot and a random way to forma base for the flowers.

2.            Place the flowers in the container one at a time, mixing the colours randomly. Ensure that the stems are well down in the water. This is an informal arrangement, and the look should be natural – the backs of the flowers and curves of stems can be as attractive as the full face.

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A basket of flowers…

I thought it was about time I had a look at a card design – and I’ve chosen a really lovely one for you! The artist behind this series of 3D-decoupage is T.C.Chui and I just love all the flowery interior scenes we have chosen in this pack – such pretty pictures. The sheets are available from my website.

A basket of flowers on a card can be just the thing for so many different occasions and gives you the chance to add some pretty paper or silk flowers as embellishments.

The decoupage is made up using silicone glue or Pinflair glue gel – or alternatively you can use little foam pads. Then mat and layer on some pretty pink card and place on a seven or eight inch square base card with a fairly neutral backing paper. The fun can then begin with floral or die cut embellishments and ribbons!

With Valentine’s, Mother’s day and Easter looming, you can have great fun creating something really lovely and personal for those special people in your life.

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A treat for your feet!

Our poor feet will have spent most of the winter months stuffed into socks and jammed into boots so now it’s time to show them we love them and give them a bit of pampering!

Mint Footbath & Massage Oil

This soothing footbath is great any time of the year for tired feet, but especially good now if you follow it up with this wonderful mint massage oil. Use the massage oil just before bed and it will smooth and soften your feet as you sleep… If you apply the massage oil at some other time do be careful not to slip.

Mint Bath:

  • 12 large sprigs of mint
  • 120ml/4flo oz cold water
  • 2.4 litres/4 pints boiling water 

Massage oil 

  • 1 tbsp almond oil
  • 1 drop mint essential oil

1. Place the mint in a food processor and add the cold water. Process well until it becomes a green purée. Pour this into a large bowl and add the boiling water. Once the mixture has cooled to a bearable temperature, soak both feet at once until the water is too cool to be comforting.

2. Gently rub your feet dry with a soft towel. Mix the almond oil and the mint essential oil and rub well into both feet.

I think we quite often neglect our feet but, once you’ve tried pampering them, you will find how relaxing and soothing it is and how generally ‘content’ it makes you feel… sigh!

PS. Mint is another ‘essential’ herb as far as I’m concerned. Last week I suggested you grow bay and parsley, and to that list I’d add mint. However, mint is a herb to keep your eye on! Always keep it in a pot as it will spread and grow very quickly and take over everything else if you let it.

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