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!

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.


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.


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.


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.



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.