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!

Remember, remember the 5th November…

… gunpowder, treason and plot! Ah, the smell of bonfires, gunpowder – we had many wonderful family parties on Guy Fawkes night when I was a child.

My parents always had their respective jobs – Father would disappear purposefully down to the bottom of the garden wearing his gardening jacket, “Come along John dear, the nights are drawing in, don’t forget your scarf”. Meanwhile, my Mother would have spent hours in the kitchen cooking up a ‘feast’ that invariably consisted of jacket potatoes, sausages, occasionally baked beans with apple pie and cream for pudding.

We children would all be trying hard not to get over excited (not sure one can ever be over excited – just more excited than usual maybe!) and would restlessly tackle puzzles, or try and read books and keep busy – anything to make the time go faster until it was dark enough for the fun to begin.

I must have been about 12, the year of the disaster. As was tradition, we had all moved to the end of the garden where a small bonfire glowed and the Black & Decker workmate had been turned into a table, where the box of fireworks was laid out in readiness for the ‘grand display’.

We could never afford many fireworks, I think I remember about £2-£3 being the family budget. This would have been spent on carefully chosen favourites – sparklers, Catherine wheels, Roman candles… one called a chrysanthemum I remember and, inevitably, in that selection were the dire and dreaded jumping jacks… how I hated them!

This particular year we were huddled round the small bonfire, eagerly anticipating the first Roman candle… my father struck a match with a flourish – and a spark leapt into the box of waiting fireworks sitting on the trusty workmate. We were treated to an amazing, if somewhat scary display of jumping, shooting, whizzing fiery noisiness for about one minute … and that was that! The whole box was gone in a single flash.

Ah sad memories, the over 40s were inconsolable, the children thought it was hilarious if a bit short lived and we have teased my father with the story ever since. But they were happy and simple times, when a sparkler and a jacket potato were really all you needed – my precious memories of 5th November.

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Just the tonic!

Hair tonics are not something you often see among commercial hair care products. They are a special hair treatment that can be applied as a finishing rinse. These tonics and rinses will help make hair shinier, have more body and generally look healthier. Think of it as an extra dose of help, whether your hair is in good, bad or indifferent condition!

To make up hair tonics, or finishing rinses, simply infuse the herbs for about an hour. To make an infusion, put the herbs in a measuring jug and add the correct amount of boiling water. Leave to infuse and then strain through a sieve and discard the herbs. Then add the essential oil, and any other ingredients included in the recipe, to the cooled infusion.

Use the tonic after you have finished any other treatments on your hair. Stand over a large bowl or hand basin, with the plug in, and pour the mixture over your hair. Recycle as much of the liquid as possible using a cup and pour it over your head again to get as much as possible into your hair. Then gently massage your scalp.

Finally, use a little cool water to lightly rinse off the tonic. Don’t use a power shower to blast all the mixture off as the idea is that the treatment will continue working on your hair until the next time you come to wash it.

Rosemary Herbal Finishing Rinse

For all hair types

  • ·      2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves (or 1 tablespoon of dried)
  • ·      300ml boiling water
  • ·      2 drop rosemary essential oil.

Chamomile and Lemon Tonic

For fair hair

  • ·      2/3 cup of chamomile flowers
  • ·      500ml boiling water
  • ·      Juice from 1 lemon
  • ·      2 drops lemon essential oil
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Hedgehogs, frogs and (non) barking dogs!

I think we’d all agree that, in weather terms, it’s been a bit of an odd year. This in turn has made a big impact on the flora and fauna in our gardens.

I’d just been listening to a friend bemoaning her lack of peas and broad beans this year – almost all eaten by Jays, something she had never witnessed before – and I suddenly thought (as you do!) – hedgehogs!

Hedgehogs have always been regular visitors in our garden – I’d spot them toddling across the lawn just at it turned dimpsy, as we say in Devon – or dusk to the rest of you.  But this year I haven’t seen any.

Predictably, Wellington, our slightly mad cocker spaniel, would always enjoy a good bark at any passing hedgehog, but not this year. And that seems very strange as we’ve had so many slugs and snails which hedgehogs adore.

And so, I started thinking about all the other things that have been strange in 2012…

I haven’t noticed many frogs or toads. These usually make their way into the garden via the stream. Despite the months of rain from April onwards, and the generous supply of slugs to feed on I haven’t seen a single one. Perhaps the hedgehogs and frogs have more food than they know what to do with closer to home, so haven’t needed to look further afield. Have others gardeners among you noticed this, or is it just me?

On the other hand, we seem to be inundated with woodpigeons, squirrels and magpies all of which are hugely destructive in different ways. Jays being members of the crow family, as are magpies, have been much more prevalent probably accounting for my friend’s vegetable losses.

If you feel like helping out some of our smaller garden inhabitants, you could try building piles of sticks and leaves at the back of borders for them to use for winter shelter. Nothing complex, just welcoming homes made from natural materials, something a hedgehog would find very cosy.

And, finally, as Halloween and Guy Fawkes’ Night loom, if you are having a bonfire do please restack the heap on the day of the bonfire on a fresh site to ensure no wildlife has crawled in and taken up residence.

 

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Mushroom and Madeira bake

This is a delicious vegetarian dish that seems to be as popular with meat eaters as it is with veggies! An excellent warming supper dish for this gloomy time of year…

You will need:

  • 100g 4oz cashew nuts
  • 100g 4oz walnuts
  • 100g 4oz unsalted butter
  • 30ml (2 tbsp) sunflower oil
  • 2 large onions
  • 450g (1lb) mushrooms
  • 450g (1lb) granary breadcrumbs
  • 450g (1lb) fresh tomatoes
  • 60ml (4 tbsp) Madeira
  • Salt and black pepper

Serves 8

Chop or process the nuts and mix them with the breadcrumbs. Melt the butter in the frying pan and gently fry the breadcrumb and nut mixture until it is pale gold in colour. Remove from the pan and set aside. Chop the onions, mushrooms and tomatoes coarsely and fry in the pan with the oil. Once they have softened a little, stir in the Madeira and continue to cook gently. Add plenty of freshly ground black pepper and a little salt to taste.

Lightly grease an ovenproof dish and put a thin layer of breadcrumb mix on the bottom. Carefully pile the vegetable mixture over the top and level it out. Then put the remaining breadcrumb mix on top. Sprinkle the top of the mix with a little extra Madeira and bake in a pre-heated oven at 200ºC (400ºF), Gas Mark 6 for about 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

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Did you know…?

Care of my writing and foraging pal, Julia horton-Powdrill, here’s a quick list of fascinating flora and fauna facts for you! Julia’s website ‘Wild About Pemrokeshire’ is full of interesting things…

Did you know…

  • The world’s oldest known recipe is for beer.
  • Examples of countryside foods that were being eaten in 1917 include blackbirds, sparrows, starlings, hedgehogs, brown rats, grasshoppers, caterpillars and bees!
  • Samuel Pepys liked nettle porridge for breakfast.
  • Daffodil bulbs contain a substance called galanthine that scientists are developing for use in the treatment of Alzheimer’s.
  • Primrose and daisy flowers can be put into salads.
  • The Acer (maple) was used by the Romans to make arrows. Acer means ‘sharp’ in Latin.
  • Human urine is a great source of nitrogen for plants and can be used on compost heaps to accelerate the decomposition process. No, really…!
  • A single dandelion flower has about 180 seeds, but a mature three year old plant can produce up to 5,000 seeds!
  • Water travels up tree trunks at roughly 150 feet per hour.
  • There are more than 375 micro-species of blackberry in Britain, providing a wide range in shape, size, fruiting time, sweetness and flavour.

And on that note… here’s a really quick and easy blackberry recipe:

Place 300g blackberries in a blender with 75g icing sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice. Whizz to a purée, then pass it through a sieve into a large bowl. Stir in 300ml double cream and use an electric whisk to whip into a fluffy mousse.

Spoon into four dishes, or you could put it into a large serving bowl (glass is good as the colour is so lovely!) and decorate with a few extra blackberries. Eat straight away, or cover and chill – you can make it a day in advance if you need to.

 

 

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