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!

Hearty meals for winter warmth

I must confess, this isn’t my favourite time of year. The days are short and the garden is looking very sorry for itself. So for me, the best thing to do is to get in the kitchen and cook up some really comforting and delicious food! I love pies and this one has a twist to give it extra oomph! I would recommend that everyone has parsley and a bay tree, or bush, growing in their garden, or in pots on a balcony, they are both such useful herbs. I know a lot of you are vegetarian, so I’ve also included an easy but scrummy veggie dish too. Enjoy!

Steak and Kidney Pie, with Mustard and Bay Gravy

This is a sharpened-up, bay-flavoured version of a traditional favourite. The fragrant mustard, bay and parsley perfectly complement the flavour of the beef.

Serves 4

You will need: 

  • 450g/1lb puff pastry
  • 2.5 tbsp flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • 750g/1.5lb rump steak, cubed
  • 170g/6oz pig’s or lamb’s kidney
  • 25g/1oz/scant 2 tbsp butter
  • I medium onion chopped
  • 1 tbsp made English mustard
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 150ml/5fl oz beef stock
  • 1 egg, beaten
  1. Roll out two-thirds of the pastry on a floured surface to about 3mm/ 1/8in thick. Line a 1.5 litre/2.5 pint/1.5 US quart pie dish. Place a pie funnel in the middle.
  2. Put the flour, salt and pepper in a bowl and toss the cubes of steak in the mixture. Remove all fat and skin from the kidneys and slice thickly. Add to the steak cubes and toss well. Melt the butter in a pan and fry the onion until soft, then add the mustard, bay leaves, parsley and stock and stir well.
  3. Preheat the oven to 190ºC/375ºF/gas 5. Place the steak and kidney in the pie and add the stock mixture. Roll out the remaining pastry to the thickness of 3mm/ 1/8 in. Brush the edges of the pastry forming the lower half of the pie with beaten egg and cover with the second piece of pastry. Press the pieces of pastry together to seal the edge, then trim. Use the trimmings to decorate the top in a leaf pattern.
  4. Brush the whole pie with beaten egg and make a small hole over the top of the funnel. Bake for about 1 hour until the pastry is golden brown.

Stuffed Parsleyed Onions

This is a very tasty, easy to prepare vegetarian main course, great served with salad and crusty bread. These onions also make a wonderful accompaniment to meat dishes.

Serves 4 people

You will need:

  • 4 large onions
  • 4 tbsp cooked rice
  • 4 tsp finely shopped fresh parsley, plus extra to garnish
  • 4 tbsp strong Cheddar cheese, finely grated
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp white wine, to moisten
  1. Cut a slice from the top of each onion and scoop out the centre to leave a fairly thick shell. Combine all the remaining ingredients, moistening with enough wine to mix well. Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºƒ/gas 4
  2. Fill the onions and bake in the oven for 45 minutes. Serve garnished with the extra parsley.

 

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A very special celebration

A Baby’s Birth Date

Whether it’s your own baby or that of a friend or relative, it is lovely to commemorate the new celebration dayby surrounding the baby’s name and birth date with pressed flowers. The result is a unique gift that can be hung in the nursery. You could also add more details such as the baby’s weight and length. This would make a really super gift to bring when you visit a new baby and mum once they are home from hospital!

What you will need:

  • 25cm x 20cm (10in x 8in) frame with glass cut to fit and a hardboard back.
  • Cream or pale-coloured card, to fit the frame, with the baby’s name and date of birth either in calligraphy or printed from your computer.
  • A selection of pressed leaves and flowers
  • Latex adhesive – or any glue that starts white and dries clear

1. Start by positioning your chosen leaves to frame the wording, leaves with silver colouring were used in this project, but you could use any pressed leaf or even a paper diecut instead of real leaves.

2. Next, add dainty touches of gypsophila and heuchera or diecut flourishes. Follow these with larger flowers, in this case roses but whatever you choose would be fine.

3. To finish, add some more flowers – pink larkspur and hydrangea florets, the latter with potentilla centres forming the middles. When you are happy with the design, secure each item with adhesive, applying it with a large needle or cocktail stick. Cover the finished picture with clean glass and then fix it in the frame.

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A breakfast with a difference

Guests staying with us for the weekend are always impressed when I serve scrambled egg with smoked salmon and dill filo pastries. Even if they don’t normally eat breakfast, they always seem to change their minds when this dish is mentioned! So, if you have reluctant breakfasters (and it is SUCH an important meal to eat) try persuading them with this dish…

I am lucky in that I have a friend who keeps her own hens, so we get to eat fantastic fresh eggs with bright orange yolks. If you aren’t so lucky, do seek out really good eggs (definitely free range) if you can – happy hens are a must!

Scrambled Eggs with Smoked Salmon & Dill Pastries

Serves about 8 people

You will need:

  • 8 large free-range eggs
  • 75–100gm (3–4oz) smoked salmon
  • 225g 8oz) cream cheese
  • 200ml (8tbsp) milk
  • 25g (1oz) butter
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 25-50g (1–2oz) fresh dill
  • 350g (12oz) ready-made filo pastry
  • 225g 8oz) butter
  • Cherry tomatoes or parsley to decorate

Chop the smoked salmon, some of the dill (the exact quantity depends on your taste) and mix these two ingredients with the cream cheese. Add a pinch of salt and a liberal sprinkling of freshly milled black pepper.

Melt 225g (8oz) of butter in a pan. Take a sheet of filo pastry and butter it with a brush. Fold it in half and put about an eighth of the salmon and cream cheese mixture on top of the sheet of pastry. Fold over as shown in the diagram.

Once all the triangles have been prepared, place them on a baking sheet and brush the tops with butter. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 200ºC (400ºF), gas mark 6 for about 20 minutes until they are golden.

Meanwhile, break the eggs into a medium-sized bowl and add the milk, a pinch of salt and some pepper. Beat well with a fork. Just before you serve the dish, melt the 25g (1oz) of butter in the pan and pour in the egg mixture. Cook gently, stirring constantly, but do not overcook – aim for a creamy consistency. Serve a triangle of salmon filo with some scrambled egg and decorate with the cherry tomatoes or parsley.

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Herbal Pleasures

Happy New Year!

I thought we’d kick off 2012 with some personal pampering – I’m sure we’ve earned it after all our hard work over the festive season.

I love natural products and making your own beauty treatments is so much more rewarding than opening jars and sachets and fighting with fancy packaging… and you can feel extra virtuous as you’ll be saving yourself a fortune as well! So here are two of my favourites, simple – but lovely… 

Chamomile and Honey Mask

Although this mask makes you look a bit strange while it’s on your face (best not to answer the front door!) it’s worth it as it smooths and softens skin beautifully. Chamomile flowers are usually easy to find in health food shops as they are often used for making chamomile tea.

You will need:

  • 1 tbsp dried chamomile flowers
  • 175ml (6fl oz) boiling water
  • 2 tbsp of bran
  • 1 tsp of clear honey, warmed

1. Pour the boiling water over the chamomile flowers and allow them to stand for 30 minutes. Then strain the infusion and discard the chamomile flowers.

2. Mix 3 tbsp of the liquid with the bran and honey and rub this mixture all over your face. It may be a little stiff at first, but will smooth out over the skin. Leave the mixture on your skin for at least 10 minutes then rinse off with warm water.

Herbal Bath Bags

These are much more fun than putting commercial bubble bath into the water. Tie them over the taps and make sure the hot running water is going through them – this will release lovely herbal scents that will relax and comfort you.

You will need: 

  • 3 x 25cm (9in) diameter circles of muslin
  • 6 tbsp bran
  • 1 tbsp lavender flowers
  • 1 tbsp chamomile flowers
  • 1 tbsp rosemary tips
  • 3 small rubber bands
  • 3m (3yds) narrow ribbon or twine

1. Place 2 tbsp of bran in the centre of each circle of muslin. Add the lavender to one bag, the chamomile to a second and the rosemary to the third.

2. Gather each circle of material up and close with a rubber band. Then tie a reasonable length of ribbon or twine around each bag to make a loop so that the bag can be hung from the hot tap in the stream of water.

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Something really ‘hot’ for the kitchen…

Chilli Kitchen Wreath

Taking the Christmas decorations down can leave you feeling a bit flat and the house looking rather bare. I love this Chilli Kitchen Wreath – which is fun to make, really pretty and smells wonderful too!

Both the chillis and the cinnamon have natural fragrances of their own, but this can be enhanced by adding a little cinnamon oil or another suitable fragrance to the wreath once it is finished.

You will need: 

  • 3 or 4 large hydrangea heads (dry them from the garden by just hanging them somewhere warm)
  • A bunch of 10 red (Mercedes) roses – buy ready dried or buy fresh, strip the leaves and hang upside down somewhere warm
  • 10 golden/apricot (Calypso) roses – as above
  • About 15 slices of apple – see below for how to dry
  • A few sticks of cinnamon
  • A spray of red pepper berries

For the structure:

  • One willow, vine, or twig ring, about 30cm (12in) in diameter
  • 60cm (24in) tartan or checked ribbon, 5cm (2in) wide
  • 30cm (12in) of matching ribbon, 2.5cm (1in) wide
  • About 15cm (6in) of 0.71mm (22 gauge) florists’ wire
  • A hot glue gun and glue.

Form the wider ribbon into a figure of eight (see diagram below). Wrap the wire firmly around the middle, making a bow. Then, knot the narrower ribbon over the wire to hide it and making two more streamers. Glue the bow to the base of the ring. Separate the hydrangeas into florets and glue these around the ring, making sure they are fairly evenly spaced.

Glue three cinnamon sticks across the bow, attaching them one at a time. Further pieces of cinnamon could be included in the design if you wish. Then, take the apple slices and attach them in groups of 3, placing them around the ring. You can make the dried apple slices by simply slicing a fresh apple and drying the slices in a very low oven for 3 or 4 hours on a cake rack,until they are dry and leathery.

Trim the stems of the roses until they measure about 2.5–5cm (1–2in). Glue in the rose heads, again in small groups, either keeping the colours separate or mixing them together. You could use other roses, or cheaper dried flowers to reduce the cost of the project or to change the colour scheme. Finally, glue in the chilli peppers one by one, positioning them in a fairly random fashion around the ring, including some in the group of items around the bow. Finally, add the spray of pepper berries to the bow.

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