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!

Marvellous Mr Badger!

Why do so many of us see badgers as sweet and appealing creatures? I think, for me, it comes from reading ‘Wind in the Willows’ as a child and adoring Ratty, Mole and Badger. Mr Badger, in his dressing gown and slippers was rather grumpy, but wonderfully solid and dependable. Or maybe it’s just their lovely stripy faces that we like? They always look so characterful. 

Badgers are nocturnal and elusive. We have a great many of them in this part of the world and, driving home of an evening, we will sometimes see a badger lumbering along the side of the road. They are quite big creatures, with short, powerful legs and they amble along with a swaying gait like proper old men! They will often turn to look at the car lights before they disappear into the hedgerow and you get the lovely flash of their white-striped faces before they vanish. 

Like humans, they are omnivorous, although unlike us, they eat several hundred earthworms every night! Badgers are social creatures and live together in large underground setts, made up of a series of interlocking tunnels with nest chambers, toilets and several entrances.

Unfortunately, badger pooh, always neatly piled up in the toilet areas, is seen as the Chanel No.5 of doggy perfumes! If you are unlucky, your dog will come home ‘wearing’ it, usually liberally applied around their shoulders and neck – ugh!! It is very unpleasant, extremely pungent and hard to remove! Our spaniel Welly, the dear boy, has tried this a few times, but he finds the cleaning up exercise (baths, shampoo, towel dry etc.) more trouble than it’s worth.

Again, rather like some humans, Badgers inherit these homes from their parents, while always expanding and refining them. The resulting huge tunnel systems are, in some cases, centuries old. I like to think of them discussing the addition of a new bedroom, or enlarging the lounge over a supper of worms before snuggling down for the night in their ancient abode. Apart from the worms… could almost be me and Richard!

 

 

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Doggy treats!

Now if I ever wanted to launch these as a commercial product – I know one little chap that would happily endorse them – if only I could keep his nose away from them long enough to show them on TV. These liver treats are Welly’s idea of heaven.

Forget tedious old store bought goodies in bone shapes or sticks – better even than rawhide or smelly socks (yes another bad habit Wellington). These treats are simple to make and I have yet to find a four legged friend that doesn’t go crazy when they are near enough to smell – Welly can find them even when they are sealed in a plastic bag! 

  • Cover some thinly sliced liver with boiling water and boil for about 15 minutes or so.
  • Rinse the liver well as it looks a bit manky (technical term?) and improves when you give it a good rinsing.
  • Arrange the liver flat onto a baking sheet and bake in a moderate oven for about 15-20 minutes.
  • Once they have cooked – break into bite sized pieces and store in an airtight container… which the dog can’t reach!

As you can see from our photo shoot, Welly was driven mad by the smell and when we pretended not to be looking… sneakily photographed him in
 the act of stealing the goods!!!

 

 

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Caramel apple cake

This week it is decidedly nippy and, therefore, cake weather! This caramel apple cake is a lovely light but rich cake, if such a thing is possible, and is perfect to have with a nice cup of tea on a cold afternoon. I know, because I did after we’d taken the photo!

To make the cake:

  • 500g Flour
  • 2tsp baking Powder
  • 1tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2tsp cinnamon
  • 1tsp ground all spice
  • 1tsp ground cloves
  • 300g butter (room temp)
  • 500g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 500g apple sauce (2 small shop bought jars if you must, or homemade)
  1. Line 3 x 8 inch tins and preheat oven to 180º (160º fan oven).
  2. Mix flour, baking powder, bicarbonate and spice in one bowl and put to one side.
  3. Cream butter and sugar, then gradually add eggs, then fold in flour mixture until combined.
  4. Finally add the apple sauce until just combined.
  5. Pour mixture into your 3 tins and pop in the oven for about 40 minutes.
  6. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before decorating.

Cream cheese frosting

  • 120g cream cheese (I used Philadelphia, but a low fat option can be used)
  • 120g butter (room temperature)
  • 250g Icing sugar (more or less can be added depending on how sweet you want it)
  • 1tsp vanilla extract

Combine all in a bowl using an electric mixture until smooth.

Caramel sauce

  • 120g light brown sugar
  • 120g butter
  • 100ml full cream milk or double cream

Melt the sugar and butter in a sauce pan for about 5 minutes, being careful not to burn the sauce, then stir in milk or cream and stir until a smooth consistency is achieved, about 2 minutes.

Finally, layer your cake with the frosting then cover completely (as I have done) or you could add more frosting between layers and just cover the top of the cake. Now comes the best bit… pour over the caramel sauce! Yum yum…!

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Beautiful shell boxes

Decorating boxes with shells has been a popular craft for centuries… possibly as long as humans have admire shells! I am a huge fan of Mary Delaney, who was born in 1700 but managed during her lifetime to create some of the most beautiful craft pieces I have ever seen. Mary loved decorating with shells but also created many paper decoupage works depicting flowers, so that gets several of my favourite crafts in one hit!

The boxes in the picture were actually made by my mother. As a young child we always collected tiny shells and treasures whenever we were on a beach and to this day (she was 84 this week), she has a big collection of beautiful shells in the bathroom and some tucked away in her craft room.

I believe to get the best effect when decorating objects with shells, the trick is to use smaller shells and arrange them artistically as opposed to sticking big blobby shells on randomly. Here you can see why you need tweezers to work on intricate patterns like these. Another crucial thing is a good glue that will dry clear – I use Pinflair Glue Gel but there are other makes that are just as good.

Inevitably you will get some unsightly gaps between the shells, no matter how you tweak and twist, shells simply won’t fit together like Lego! The way we have got round this is to gently sprinkle a little sand between the shells before the glue is dry. This stays in keeping with the theme but gives a neutral filler that is easy to find and quick to drizzle over your finished design!

Both of these boxes were ‘found’ items at either a car boot or a local giftware shop, so it’s worth keeping your eyes open for objects that would lend themselves to this lovely form of decoration.

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A picturesque landscape…

As we drive out of our village towards the motorway for another of our trips to TV land, we get a lovely view of the high tors of Dartmoor in the distance. For quite a few weeks in January, the tors were covered in snow, as was much of the moorland area and the communities within it.

One of the many attractions of this beautiful area are the Dartmoor ponies that roam the moorland alongside grazing cattle and sheep. They are incredibly sweet and you will often see young foals by the road, barely able to stand on their ludicrously long legs, with their hugely round mothers watching protectively nearby.

They are hardy animals and, unless snow cover is very deep and prolonged, they manage to forage quite well. Contrary to what most people think, the ponies on Dartmoor are not truly wild animals. They are all owned by farmers, who let them out on to the commons to graze for most of the year and this is where most visitors to Dartmoor come across them.

They are an integral part of the moorland landscape and are a part of the area’s cultural heritage and important for conservation grazing.

Dartmoor National Park is home to the native breed Dartmoor Pony. But not all the ponies on Dartmoor look the same. Importing other breeds has created various colours and shapes and some of them are absolutely gorgeous – I’ve seen a spotted one, just like a Dalmation!

The ponies live out on the moor all year round. They spend most of the time in small herds of mares with one adult stallion and young ponies. Local farmers who keep ponies get together to clear ponies off their particular common. These round ups are called ‘drifts’ and are held in late September and early October. Once, driving across the moor to Tavistock, we came across a drift, and stopped to watch. What a magical sight it was as all these ponies streamed down across the hillside, crossing the road in front of us, and then down to the collecting pens.

Once in the pens, ponies are separated into groups according to ownership. The health of all the animals is checked, and treatment is given where appropriate. After the drifts pony keepers decide which ponies to sell. The rest are returned to the moor until the following year. And so the cycle continues…

 

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