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!

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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Triple fold envelope card

This sumptuous and very special card will delight anyone who receives it. It can be made in a variety of sizes, some people love making huge cards, some very small – I would aim for somewhere in the middle.

To make the basic card you need a triple fold – so three panels of equal width. I used an A3 sheet to start with but you can also buy triple fold card blanks (from Craft Creations) if you don’t like having larger sheets of card in stock!

Once you have the triple fold then using a guillotine of just a pencil, ruler and scissors, trim the out fold into a triangle to create the envelope concept. Then using flowers from “If Flowers Could Talk”, decorate the edge of the envelope ‘flap’. The strip at the bottom can simply be a couple of strips of gold peeloffs or you can layer a thin strip of matching card onto gold mirri and attach it to the main card. The butterfly and wording are both peeloffs to but could just as easily be die cuts.

The inside is simply constructed with an insert from that same CD which features the words from Patience Strong together with artwork from Jayne Netley-Mayhew. Layer the insert onto some backing paper to fill the inside panel of the card and decorate.

The basic idea of this card is so very versatile it can be tweaked to produce lots of different creations depending on the images and ideas you have. Have a go and see what you think!

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Nature’s first aid kit…

I love herbs and flowers but would never call myself an ‘expert’ on their more alternative uses and I am constantly being surprised by the things I discover they can be used for in relation to our health and well-being.

I was always told to use a dock leaf to relieve the pain of nettle stings, but reading my pal Julia Horton-Powdrill’s Wild Pembrokeshire website last week I saw her recommend this instead:

“Pick a young nettle leaf and scrunch it up tightly so that it gets juicy. It won’t sting. Then rub it onto the stings. There are one or two herbs/plants that help ease stings, but this one will always be on the spot – so to speak!”

Someone else on her website was extolling the virtue of rib leaf plantain as being wonderful for binding wounds and staunching bleeding. Natures first aid kit!

I am very keen on the soothing benefits of herbs and rosemary has a great many uses in this area. It is a common ingredient in sleep pillows and can be combined with other herbs like lavender, hops, and chamomile – they really are very restful.

Fennel is one of nine Anglo-Saxon herbs known for secret powers. In ancient days, a bunch of fennel hung over a cottage door on Midsummer’s Eve was said to prevent the effects of witchcraft. Today, if witches are not a problem, try nibbling on the herb’s seeds, as Roman women did centuries ago, to help depress the appetite!

Our dear old friend, sage – which I expect almost everyone has growing in their herb patch, could almost be called a cure all. The botanical name (Salvia officinalis) is derived from salvere, meaning ‘to be in good health’.

Sage acts as an antiseptic and soothes coughs and colds, flu, bronchitis, swollen glands, laryngitis, is a relaxant for nervous disorders, relieves headaches and expels worms! It is also very effective for the treatment of cystitis.

Sage (pictured right) has always been thought of as good for the brain, improving the memory and, in some cases, even as a cure for insanity. So there’s hope for me yet! And if that wasn’t enough… a sprig of sage in the wardrobe will keep away moths!

One of the joys of the internet is that there is so now much information about these things at our finger tips. But, as with all natural remedies, do exercise caution as concentrated doses can be immensely powerful. If you are pregnant I suggest you don’t try ANY of these ideas.

 

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