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!

Memories of Chelsea Flower Show

I exhibited at Chelsea Flower Show for many years – it must have been at least ten – it gets harder to remember exact dates! All the years blend into one long, happy memory and, somehow, you forget the back breaking work of being on the stand, cleaning, serving and then tidying at the end of the day – from about 6am until 10pm at night.

There are some pictures here (very amateurish – sorry not that talented with a camera over the years!) – we were always next to Constance Spry which was hugely important to me as training there was the catalyst that woke up my inner creativity and changed my life from wannabee lawyer to crafter! Our display won awards many years running which was a real thrill – and in the picture you can see myself in the middle (I never said I was a natural blonde!) my sister to the right and Margaret a great friend and ‘right hand person’ in those days, to my left.

No matter how many TV shows tell you about Chelsea and demonstrate how much hard work goes into creating the show, it will accurately reflect the life’s blood, sweat, tears and back breaking effort everyone puts in. I could often only stand in awe of the growers with staff of all ages sweating, lifting and endlessly tweaking to get their display looking amazing.

If you have never been to Chelsea then I would encourage you to consider going, but it does get so VERY crowded. I would recommend being there at 8 in the morning when it opens or after 6 when many have gone home. We used to wander around happily at 5am and get see everything really well – as no public were ever there – but during the day I stayed firmly on the stand!

Nowadays, while I wonder whether watching every minute of the TV coverage is enough enjoyment, I remind myself that at least I don’t have to handle the crowds!

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It’s British Sandwich Week – The British sarnie rules supreme

From the top: The man who invented the sandwich, the Lord himself. ‘The Sammies’ the sandwich industry’s annual awards. Copyright: The British Sandwich & Food to Go Association. A crab sandwich by a real fire – perfect!

Did you know that this is British Sandwich Week? No, neither did I, but then it’s hard to keep up to date with all these ‘national’ weeks and days… but this one struck me as worthy of a blog.

The modern sandwich is named after Lord John Montague, the 4th Earl of Sandwich. A dedicated gambler, his Lordship did not like to take time out from the card table to have a meal. He would, therefore, ask a passing servant to bring him slices of meat between two slices of bread… and thus, the sandwich was born!

I was surprised (although nothing should really surprise me these days) to read that that the British sandwich industry even has its own annual awards ceremony… called ‘The Sammies’. Honest!

Given this household’s newfound passion for homemade bread (see my post about the new bread maker!), the sandwich is pretty high on the list of tasty snacks! I did a quick poll of family members to find out their favourite fillings:

Richard – ham and cheese on homemade white bread, with butter!

Emily – anything exotic you have never heard of, possibly with Acai berries and chia seed, or perhaps a weird Brazilian delicacy (she has just returned from a work secondment in Brazil)

Pippa – has to be Nutella. That’s it really… or, if very hard pressed, peanut butter

And me? I’d choose smoked salmon and avocado on rye bread or pumpernickel.

Thinking about this blog has made me smile as I recalled my parents’ choices. My father used to like peanut butter and marmite or marmalade as, when he was growing up in the Far East, they sometimes didn’t have any dairy products. My Mum, bless her, liked lots of things in sandwiches, but they always tasted nicer if they were cut in triangles and served on a plate with a lacy doily. Quite right!

So what’s your favourite filling? I’d love to hear your thoughts, do share…

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Crunchy Chocolate and Peanut cupcakes

Here’s a delicious recipe for crunchy chocolate and peanut cupcakes. Our wonderful baking bookkeeper, Jo B, produced these cracking cupcakes for our member of staff Maggie, who was celebrating her birthday!

Makes 12

For the cakes:

  • 125g butter
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs, large
  • 125g of self-raising flour, sifted
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 75g milk chocolate chips

For the frosting:

  • 100g butter, softened
  • 160g smooth peanut butter (nice with almond butter too)
  • 60g icing sugar, sifted
  • 21/2 tbsp milk
  1. Preheat the oven to 170˚C/150˚C fan /gas mark 3 and line a 12 hole muffin tin with paper cases. For the cakes, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and eggs then beat well until thoroughly combined. Add the flour and milk and mix until smooth and fully incorporated.
  2. Fold the chocolate chips into the cake mixture then divide equally between the paper cases. Bake for 18-20 mins or until firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the tins and place on a wire rack to cool.
  3. For the frosting, beat the butter and peanut butter together until smooth and fluffy. Add the icing sugar and milk and beat together slowly until combined then beat a little faster until soft
  4. Now make the honeycomb which, by the way, could be used in ice cream or just gobbled by grandchildren!
  5. 200g caster sugar, 4 tablespoons golden syrup, 3 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda and chocolate to melt (optional)
  6. Put sugar and syrup into a pan and bring to the boil. Then gently simmer for 6 minutes. Add the bicarb and mix around quickly because it will immediately begin to fizz.
  7. Pour into a greased tray (the butter wrapper works well if you have one) and leave for 5 minutes, then gently begin prising from the tin. Leave for another 5 minutes and completely remove from tin. Break into pieces and keep in an airtight container.
  8. To clean the pan, add water and bring to the boil and just use the spoon to scrape.
  9. You can then half dip pieces of the honeycomb in chocolate if you wish – indeed I suspect serving just the honeycomb dipped in chocolate could get great granny points for me!

 

 

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Birthday in Paris

 

I absolutely love this birthday in Paris card – it’s a simple process but doesn’t it look amazing. The spots/dots on the base card are made using a Japanese screw punch – just press it around wherever you want a hole – fabulous gadgets!

Ingredients:

  • Plain cream 8” square card blank
  • Pink cardstock and cream card
  • Circular dies (or draw around a plate/saucer?)
  • Selection of alcohol inks
  • Signature dies Paris SD537 and Classica Word set (Multibuy is best bargain)
  • Ribbon and glues etc

How to:

  1. Start by punching a load of holes in the cover of the card blank – don’t worry too much about the middle as obviously this will be covered by the image. Now wrap some ribbon around the left-hand side of the card, and secure inside. Then add a 7½” piece of pink card onto the back of the front cover, hiding where the ribbon was secured and making the pink dots appear!
  2. Cut out some circles – the pink one measure 6½” and then a cream one a little smaller. If you have a circular die that size – that’s perfect …. if not then you can draw around something circular like a saucer that’s conveniently the right size!
  3. Die cut the Paris die twice. Use one die upside and pat some alcohol inks around and across it. Allow it to dry and then attach the nice clean die cut with some glue gel or foam pads.
  4. Finally, tie a bow and attach that to the left-hand side of the card.
  5. The little handbag is made from a template found on the internet, decorated with some paper scrabble style letters and a die cut coloured brown.
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Eurovision – love it or hate it!

Copyright: https://eurovision.tv/story/ukraine-is-ready-to-celebrate-diversity-in-2017

There will be much excitement in our household this Saturday as it is Eurovision party night – woo-hoo! Rather like Marmite, Eurovision does tend to divide people into ‘love’ and ‘hate’ camps. I love it!

Yes, most of the music is awful and the costumes bizarre but it is so wonderfully naff and eccentric, I think it is a joy. Terry Wogan was, of course, the master of Eurovision but I have to say that Graham Norton makes a very good job of it too. Must be something about the Irish sense of humour.

The days of other countries voting for the UK seem to be long gone, but the spectacle of it all is still worth watching, not least because so many countries take it so very, very seriously. We Brits, with our ironic sense of humour, are able to take our ‘nul points’ with good grace. However, this year’s UK entrant, Lucie Jones is, apparently ‘one of the favourites’… we shall see!

This year is the 62nd edition (wow!) and it is being held in Kiev in the Ukraine. One of the great things about the show is seeing all the participants backstage laughing and having a wonderful time together with no sign of any divisions or political argument, which has to be a good thing, surely?

And so, we will be getting together with family and any friends potty enough to join us, and cheering and booing and doing our own scoring of the 42 countries taking part… if we can stay awake that long! I have such fond memories of previous Eurovision parties organised by my wonderful Mother. One year, we all dressed up as our designated country (I’m sure someone came as the Eiffel Tower!) while Granny always concentrated on wearing the colours of the French or Italian flags. Ah, such happy memories…

Why not host your own Eurovision party? It’s a great opportunity for silly hats and themed food! Here are some suggestions:

  1. Pizza! Perfect Eurovision fare!

    In tribute to France – garlic bread

  2. For Italy – pizza
  3. German sausage
  4. Some Danish bacon
  5. A few Belgian chocolates to round everything off!

But let’s remember one very important thing – if it wasn’t for this crazy annual music fest, we might never have discovered Abba!! Need I say more?

Five fun Eurovision facts:

  1. Fifty-two countries have participated in the Eurovision Song Contest since it started in 1956. Of these, 25 have won the contest.
  2. The “Euro” in “Eurovision” has no direct connection with the European Union! Several countries outside the boundaries of Europe have competed: Israel, Cyprus and Armenia, in Western Asia, Morocco, in North Africa and Australia making a debut in the 2015 contest! How did that happen?
  3. Ireland has won a record 7 times, Luxembourg, while France and the United Kingdom have won 5 times. Sweden and the Netherlands won 4 times.
  4. Poor old Norway has ended last 9 times! They came last in 1963, 1969, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1981, 1990, 1997 and 2001.
  5. In 1981 the UK act Bucks Fizz stunned viewers with their Velcro rip-away skirts and within 48 hours, Velcro had sold out across the country. Fabulous!
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