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!

Speedboats, soap making and stonemasonry!

I thought it would be fun to share a day of my holiday with you all, I am on a cruise that goes from Venice, around the coast to Croatia, Albania then onto Greece.

Yesterday I visited the island of Brac, pronounced Bratch, in Croatia. This is my first visit to this part of the world and it is quite stunningly beautiful and the people have been so friendly. The tour I chose for the day was much better suited to my crafty interests than the trip Richard chose – visiting Split. This part of Croatia is where they filmed the Game of Thrones and being a super fan, he was so excited to see it all and indeed came back to the boat with loads of pictures and tales to share.

Such stunning stone work… including an outfit! The sculptress who made the the two-piece outfit is Ida Jaksic while the statues were made by her son www.galerijajaksic.com

But back to my trip, first we went on a fabulous speed boat from Split over to the island of Brac… oh I do like fancy boats! Travelling at 30 knots is very exciting. Climbing onto the speedboat helped by two young, topless Mediterranean guys was a nice bonus too!

We travelled first to the home and studios of a family of stonemasons and artists. How wonderful that mother, father, son and daughter can all be so talented and live together too. This limestone outfit (see picture) was just amazing, shown at New York fashion week some years ago, they were also selling some gorgeous carved stone blocks for candles, but I thought it might be asking too much from my luggage allowance!

Onwards then to the highlight of the tour for me. Another family business. The father, Joseph, lost his job but had a family of four children to bring up and get through college, expensive in any country. So he and his wife experimented with traditional family soap recipes and now make over 550 bars of soap every day… wow! The key to the soap is that it is clear and uses only local herbs, oils etc and Joseph himself was oh so interesting. They still operate out of a little room with these pots, barely bigger than you would use in the kitchen. I have so much respect for a family that pulls together like this and the children have now graduated with really impressive degrees.

Quite amazing how they make so much soap in a tiny kitchen!

My fabulous gold soap on the left … and a few of my other soapy purchases! Brac Fini Sapuni www.bracfinisapuni.com

Did I buy anything? Come on, do you need to ask?! They have started manufacturing clear soap with 27 carat gold in it, which is apparently really good for anti-ageing… who cares, it smells gorgeous and is a fab souvenir! It sells for massive amounts all over the world but I managed to buy a bar for 6 euros rather than the 100 it sells for in Scandinavia ! I also got mint, basil, tangerine… oh ok, I bought a lot of soap but hey, it’s my holiday!

A fantastic local meal at Restaurant Ziza completed the day, with red wine, local seafood, fresh figs picked from the tree we sat under and local goat, sheep and ricotta cheeses. I think it was a truly fabulous day. I will try and write more later in the week…

The photo at the top of the page is our delicious lunch at Restaurant Ziza. You cannot beat fresh local produce!

 

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The Proof is in the Pudding

Hold on to your hats – the fourth and final instalment of the Swaddlecombe Mysteries will be available from mid-October! In ‘The Proof is in the Pudding’, Christmas comes to Swaddlecombe and, as the decorations go up, so does the body count. Victoria and Albert have their work cut out to identify ‘who dunnit’ in this frenzied festive free-for-all.

My partner in crime writing, Julia Wherrell, and I have had a lot of fun re-visiting our fictional village of Swaddlecombe and seeing what Victoria and Albert, the Reverend Ruminant, Jean and pub landlords Roger and Trudy and have all been up to since the last instalment! It’s both exciting and scary as you never quite know where things will take you, the characters definitely develop minds of their own.

This fourth novel opens in the run up to Christmas – Victoria’s first country Christmas in deepest Devon. Everyone’s getting festive, especially Trudy and the triplets and Victoria finds herself on a Christmas wreath-making course – ooh, I wonder where that idea came from?! Julia wanted to write about dastardly doings with a glue gun, but I managed to talk her out of that – I am too squeamish!

Dear old Albert is busy cooking again and ‘feeding’ his Christmas pudding. A local vineyard ensures there’s plenty of wine to lubricate the proceedings, but does it also contribute to two ‘accidental’ deaths? You’ll have to try and work that out for yourselves…

All your messages of encouragement (and nagging!) have been much appreciated and have helped keep Julia and myself motivated. We’ve both had a difficult couple of years and, while the writing project did take a while to come to the top of the ‘work’ pile, it was always in our minds. So, a big ‘thank you’ to all of you who love the characters and have been so patient in waiting for book four.

‘The Proof is in the Pudding’ will be available in Paperback and on Kindle mid-October and I promise to keep you posted on an exact launch date.

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Rebel, rebel!

I hate wasting food. I always fear my grandmother will send a bolt of lightning down if I waste so much as a crust. But I have a slight problem… I am off on holiday and I have way, way too much food in the house, but I do not want to throw it away. Well, I have got braver over the years and despite my grandmother’s dire warnings of what happens if you waste food, I do occasionally give up on things, but not if I can avoid it.

But, argh, you have no idea how badly my food planning has worked out over the past few days. Over the weekend I was expecting to feed a lot more people than it transpired I actually had to. I also reckon I was half asleep when I did my last online Tesco shop. So… I have very little time and an awful lot of food! What to do?

Runner beans:

I’m not taking the blame for the mass I have of these – it’s that time of year and I don’t buy them, they appear magically in my garden! Now I have always thought you had to blanch veggies before freezing, well guess what, seems you don’t! I agree it will probably be at most three months before I use these as we will pounce on them once we return. Maybe the blanching is more important if you are leaving them in the freezer for a year, but I have experimented and they are fine unblanched. So beans… get slicing. One food item down, several to go.

Eggs:

I have talked about freezing eggs before. I often have an omelette for breakfast in my trusty omelette maker that I wrote about here. So I am freezing two lightly beaten eggs and a couple of twists of salt – pink Himalayan salt actually. No, I can’t believe it is any better for you but hey I like pink, it pleases me! So gently mix that lot and pour into a little container. I had 10 eggs left and so have 5 little containers waiting for the next time I plan to have an omelette for breakfast. In the same size containers I froze spring onions that can go with it. That’s another foodstuff ticked off!

Assorted fruit:

What do you do with multiple grapefruit, satsumas, pineapple, and watermelon, oh and not forgetting the butternut squash? (Told you I wasn’t concentrating on my last Tesco shop). Butternut squash, chop into small chunks (ready for roasting or adding to a soup mix) and freeze flat then bag. Pineapple likewise. Grapefruit and satsumas, chop them into small chunks too, trim off any pith and freeze flat, then bag. These are delicious floated in a glass of sparkling water (or still water come to that) and as I drink many bottles of that every week, result!

The final hurdle was the massive watermelon – that wasn’t really my fault either! Sometimes they are quite small but this one could house a couple of small people if you hollowed it out – well maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but you get the picture! Thank you, Mr. Tesco for £2.50! So I got out my trusty Nutribullet (or any other blender will do), removed a few of the pips and then gradually blitzed the lot. Result – several containers of melon juice. This is lovely served cold and is a happy freezer inhabitant!

So now I am wondering about freezing leftover beer and wine – oh, wait! It seems that despite the lack of visitors, there wasn’t any …. (I’m teetotal, so take a guess who’s responsible!)

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Congratulations!

This, I thought, would make a great congratulations card for a clever youngster that has managed to get some GCSEs, or A levels, a place at university or an apprenticeship, just a happy card with a wise old owl saying well done!

All levels of achievement with exams are fantastic and I think it helps a child’s self-esteem a lot, if random aunts and family members send some congratulations when the results are announced.

The ingredients in this card are as follows:

Signature dies, Beautiful Owl

Signature Dies, Rose Leaves

Then a Lisa Audit pad 1 or 2 – if you haven’t had a look through her images, do have a wander through… She is such a talented lady and the cards you make will be just a little bit different which is always fun!

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Your frugal freezer!     

The amount of food that we waste in the Western world is really quite shocking. I do try not to buy too much but there are still times when things do end up in the bin as they have sat in the fridge for too long.

As you know, I am a bit of a freezer fan and I have blogged about freezing your own produce before. But your freezer is not just great for your own produce it’s also a good way to help you cut waste by being a bit canny… Here are some ideas I hope you’ll find useful.

Bread

If you tap sliced loves on the worktop before freezing, it helps the slices come apart more easily when taking them out of the freezer. You can also divide a sliced loaf up into smaller batches and freeze 4 or 8 slices. Convenient to take out use and also easier to store than a big bulky loaf.

Fruit

Slice lemons and limes, bag and freeze already to drop into your G&T. You can also freeze grapes and berries and make fun ice cubes – I love this idea!

Eggs

I’ve touched on eggs before, but I thought this was worth passing on: Separate yolks from whites and put them into food bags (sturdy zip lock ones are probably best) before freezing, handy for baking. Alternatively, you can beat the eggs before freezing and store in a plastic container all ready for scrambled eggs or an omelette.

Chillies

Freeze them whole and then you can chop or grate them directly into whatever you are cooking. Simples!

Meat

Separate with greaseproof paper so sausages and rashers of bacon don’t stick together.

Get it write!

I know it sounds a bit dull, but it is important to label what you freeze. You can buy indelible marker pens easily these days. I keep one in the kitchen, especially for freezing stuff. Write what it is and the date you froze it. Let’s be honest we’ve all had that moment where we’ve defrosted what we’ve thought was one thing and discovered it was another. I think my worst one was defrosting what I thought was stewed apple to make a crumble… only to find it was marrow. Fail.

Wrap it up

Again, boring but essential. Proper wrapping prevents freezer burn that can do horrid things to texture and colour. ‘Portion meals’ (like lasagne or shepherd’s pie) work well in foil trays. If you are freezing food for a short time, then plastic bags and cling film are fine. Remember to never put glass in the freezer!

Fill it up

A freezer is more economical to run if it is full. Fill free space with plastic bottles half filled with water.

If you’ve got too much of something, always think ‘freezer’ before you think ‘bin’!

 

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