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!

All wrapped up!

I seem to have spent a great deal of my life surrounded by bubble wrap – let’s just clarify that – I said ‘surrounded by’ not ‘wrapped in’! Running a business that posts out thousands of items by mail, bubble wrap is an essential product for protecting fragile objects.

While this is clearly what it was designed for, did you know there are many other wonderful ways you can use it too? As bubble wrap contains lots of little pockets of air, it is a great insulator as well as highly effective padding.

Keeping food cold

Cool bags are great, cool boxes even better, but they are expensive and can be cumbersome. If you just keep a sheet of bubble wrap lying flat in the back of your car, you can prevent your cold or iced foods from getting too warm by lining your shopping bags with it. It also works to keep hot foods warm, so great when you are driving home with a takeaway curry!

Insulating glass

Throughout the winter months, bubble wrap is ideal for lining your greenhouse to help keep heat in. And it’s not just great for plants, if you’re feeling chilly and there’s an annoying draft, you can tape a sheet of bubble wrap across a window – instant insulation for little or no cost, and it still lets the light in.

Hand cushions

That may sound a bit odd, but bubble wrap is perfect for creating makeshift hand cushions. Whether you want to add more comfort to the handles of crutches, a shopping bag or gardening tools, it will stop you getting sore palms.

Knee cushions

OK, I admit this isn’t going to be the fashion trend of the year, but you can tape patches of it to the knees of your trousers and use them as protective pads in the garden!

Protecting your plants

Bubble wrap your outdoor plants the night before a frost to keep them protected, much cheaper than garden fleece and very effective.

Outside taps

Securely wrap your outside/garden taps, and any exposed pipe work with bubble wrap, and fix with something like gaffer tape – job done for the winter!

Relieving stress!

And finally… bubble wrap has to be the best stress reliever ever! I should know, I have popped my way through yards and yards of it over the years!

So, the next time you have a delivery of something precious and the box is full of bubble wrap… think before you throw it away!

Photo copyright: www.eoartlab.com; joannabanana; www.diligentgardener.co.uk; www.builditsolar.com; www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk

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Thank you!

 

‘Thank you’ truly is a magic phrase at times. It’s amazing how powerful just saying thank you – or forgetting to say thank you – can be. We all feel good when someone thanks us for a card or a present and it’s obvious that you have pleased them.

In the old days, we would perhaps dutifully write thank you letters and this has understandably changed a bit over the years, I am just as chuffed with a thank you email or text these days! But a particularly lovely way to say thank you is to make a beautiful card like this one.

The main butterfly image comes from the Jane Shasky Vintage Butterfly paper pad – I can’t rave on enough about how beautiful the images are and every sheet will make a fabulous card for loads of different occasions.

The backing paper, which blends perfectly is from our Age of Elegance CD. This is such a handy resource to have tucked away in a drawer. There are dozens of quite gorgeous papers on here apart from the main toppers/images etc. My favourite component of this CD has to be the William Morris paper collection.

There’s nothing complex about this 8” x 8” square card – but it proves absolutely how heavy techniques or tricky ideas are sometimes outshone by simplicity!

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Custard, anyone…?

When I wrote about puddings the other week, I did suggest that custard was quite possibly the best accompaniment and that I would look at it another time… well, that time has come!

As I am sure you know, custard is based on a cooked mixture of milk or cream and egg yolk. Depending on how much egg or thickener is used, custard can vary in consistency from a thin pouring sauce, such as crème anglaise, to a thick pastry cream, or crème pâtissière, beloved of so many of today’s chefs, and used to fill éclairs.

Mixtures of milk and eggs thickened by heat have long been part of European cuisine and can be traced as far back as Ancient Rome – perhaps Caesar was a custard fan!?

Most common custards are used in desserts or as a sauce to accompany a pud and usually include sugar and vanilla. But you can also have a savoury custard which can be used for quiches and other savoury foods.

Custard is usually cooked in a double boiler (bain-marie), or heated gently in a saucepan on a stove, although it can also be steamed, baked in the oven with or without a water bath, or even cooked in a pressure cooker.

As anyone who has seen ‘The Great British Bake Off’ will know, creating a good custard is a delicate operation! A temperature increase of just 3–6°C leads to overcooking and curdling and Paul and Mary roll their eyes. Generally, custard begins setting at 70°C and a fully cooked custard should not exceed 80°C.

I am quite a custard fan, but making it from scratch is time-consuming. Nowadays, you can buy delicious fresh custard in pots in supermarkets in full fat or skinny options depending on your conscience. There is also good old Ambrosia tinned custard, always a handy option to keep in the cupboard for an emergency.

However… you do need the right custard for the job, instant, or otherwise. If you are making a trifle, do not do what I did many years ago and used tinned custard, it needs to be a custard that sets! My beautifully arranged cherries and piped cream all sank into the runny custard beneath and I ended up with a bowl full of mush that looked awful, although it tasted fine!

Bird’s Custard is a great way of making set custard quickly and easily and is just what you need in a trifle. However, it isn’t really a ‘proper’ custard at all… Bird’s Custard is the brand name for a powdered, egg-free imitation custard powder. It is a cornflour-based powder that thickens to form a custard-like sauce when mixed with milk and heated in a pan. Bird’s Custard was first formulated and cooked by Mr Alfred Bird in 1837 at his chemist shop, in Birmingham because his wife was allergic to eggs!

I think custard is a very personal thing. I was very nearly put off it for life at school when we were served a quartet of custards of varying degrees of hideousness at school. In order of awfulness they were:

  • White custard – just about bearable
  • Yellow custard – a bit sickly and often lumpy
  • Brown custard – very unpleasant to look at and having no relationship with chocolate at all
  • Pink custard – utterly, utterly vile and sickly with a peculiar smell and very often with a skin on top!!

But each to their own. Perhaps you prefer cream, or ice cream on your pud or were so traumatised by custard at school that you don’t ever want to see it again… I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Get well again soon!

Oh dear – January the month of coughs and sneezes and all things cold related – I thought I ought to have a get well soon card as the theme for today. If any of you have a nasty old cold then get well soon, but also if you have a friend or family member that’s suffering – send them a get well wish to speed things along!

There are so many things people recommend for coughs and colds and we all have our favourite tips and tricks. The main thing I was always told was drink lots and lots (not alcoholic!) – my choice is often just plain water but I often make up a jug with lots of slices of cucumber in it, a slice or two of lime or lemon or even satsumas. This, after it has been in the fridge for a while, is wonderfully refreshing and fractionally less boring than plain water!

Another favourite of mine are all the new flavoured green teas – have you tried Twinings salted caramel or fudge melts flavoured green tea? No calories to worry about and I am really keen on it at the moment (drinking a fudge melts one as I type). There are loads of fruity and flavoured teas on the market these days, hot and refreshing and, no doubt cool, and refreshing if I were to make up a jug and put in the fridge this summer.

Anyway I am going off track! I added this card as today’s blog as I wondered if it might inspire you to send a card to a neighbour, friend or relative that’s under the weather for whatever reason – you can rely on House-Mouse to cheer someone up!

Ingredients

Instructions

This is a nice straightforward card, so doesn’t take long to make – trim some raspberry card slightly larger than the main image and another piece to just less than the 8″ square main card. Then cut some aqua card slightly smaller again than the main raspberry.

Run the aqua through your die cutter to get the lovely arch edge to it. If you feel unsure, then do this first by cutting say a piece 8″ x 8″ and then trimming once you have added the edge so that it’s smaller than the raspberry card.

Now using double sided tape (or your choice of glue) add the raspberry to the card blank. Then layer on the aqua. Cut out the main topper and layer onto the smaller piece of raspberry card and attach.

Then simply decorate each of the top corners with a plaster (made me smile as I was doing that!). Now hand deliver or pop in the post.

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In praise of pudding

This time of year, when the wind blows and the days are cold and grey, it is only natural that we think about ‘warming’ foods… and one of the most warming has to be pudding – just the word itself instantly makes me feel snug! Having said that, it isn’t the most healthy of options, but its role in life was always to be a stomach filler and a comforter, not one of your five a day!

Today, we tend to mean something sweet when we say pudding, and people will often suggest pudding when they mean dessert. But, of course, puddings were not originally sweet at all – they were savoury. The term ‘pudding’ is believed to come from the French boudin, originally from the Latin botellus, meaning ‘small sausage, so it referred to encased meats as used in medieval European puddings.

Puddings first popped up during Roman times when they were made using meat, blood or grains and stuffed inside animal intestines, like a sausage, or a cloth bag. Savoury ones still popular today include black pudding, haggis and of course, steak and kidney, but most of our puddings are sweet. Think spotted dick, sticky toffee or treacle pudding, doesn’t that make you feel instantly warmer?

In Medieval times, banquets would feature highly spiced savoury meat puddings and sweet puddings, still using intestines as a casing, that were then boiled, smoked or roasted. I’m not entirely sure I would have enjoyed any of those…

By the 14th century, things were looking up and Richard II’s cook produced a book featuring rice pudding and baked custards. During the next century, pudding cloths first get mentioned as an alternative to intestines… thank goodness!

In the 16th- century life became a lot sweeter with the arrival of sugar loaves (cones of refined sugar) and by the 17th-century cookbooks were being published, featuring puddings we still eat today, such as bread and butter pudding, one of my favourites!

In Georgian times, feasts became much more elaborate with jellies made in intricate moulds and ice cream became popular. But the traditional pudding was still a mainstay and appeared in all courses of a banquet.

The Victorians, who never did anything by halves, had a pudding for every occasion. Recipe books, such as the hugely influential Mrs Beeton’s ‘The Book of Household Management’ appeared, while many were devoted purely to puddings. It is at this time that jam roly-poly, spotted dick and treacle sponge first made an appearance.

Making puddings using a cloth or a greased pudding basin complete with baking parchment and string, plus hours of boiling, was pretty labour intensive. Unsurprisingly, in the 20th century as servants disappeared, so did the traditional pudding. By the 1970s and 80s, we were all into eating French gateaux and profiteroles and feeling very sophisticated. You did not expect to come across a spotted dick on the dessert trolley in a restaurant – very passé!

But then… as so often happens, old becomes new and puddings are back in fashion. Along with ‘heritage’ vegetables and homemade bread, classic puddings now pop up in 5-star restaurants as well as your local café. What should accompany a pudding? Is it ice cream, cream, or good old custard? I think the latter… but that is a whole other subject and one I might just have to have a look at in a future blog!

Meanwhile… Are you a pudding fan? If so, what’s your favourite? I’d love to hear your thoughts…

 

 

 

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