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!

Lettuce make soup!

We have had huge success with lettuce this year. So huge in fact that I am worried about how to use it all! So I started asking friends and reading up on the internet – hmm I wonder if you can make lettuce jam? Lettuce fritters?

Well, the sensible answers I got, bearing in mind this is a one person family for feeding lettuce related dishes to (Richard doesn’t like greens very much) were all headed by lettuce soup. My first reaction was yuk, how can that be nice and the answer is – try the recipe and see! I used mainly Cos and Romaine lettuce as that’s what was threatening to bolt in the garden.!

I am now definitely a fan of lettuce soup, I have multiple pots sitting neatly in the freezer and if I have another glut in a month or two, I will be making it again. I have to say if I was being given a blind taste test I would just say it’s a green soup but would not have guessed lettuce. The butter I think adds flavour but of course, if you really can’t have the fat content there are ways around it like using a spray oil instead for cooking.

The other thing I must mention if we are on the topic of lettuce, is how often I use the leaves as a wrap. So my smoked salmon/lettuce or hard boiled egg/lettuce sandwiches are just that – no bread just a wrap made from a large crispy lettuce leaf. I like it – give it a try and see what you think!

Lettuce Soup

The quantities in this are fairly arbitrary, I tweak them to match what I have coming out of the garden or in the fridge at that moment.

Ingredients

  • Large handful of chopped spring onions
  • 1 garlic clove chopped (or skip if you don’t like it)
  • 3 tablespoons or so butter
  • Salt (small teaspoon) and pepper maybe half a teaspoon
  • I medium to large potato chopped into slices or diced
  • Then about 12 ounces of lettuce – I often use even more
  • 3 cups of really nice chicken stock – or use a chicken stock cube

Method

  1. Sauté the spring onion and garlic in a large saucepan with about half the butter. Stir gently until they are soft and then add the salt and pepper and cook for another minute or so.
  2. Now add the potato chunks, the lettuce roughly ripped to pieces and the chicken stock. Bring to boil and simmer for 12 minutes or so, until the potatoes are cooked. I leave the lid on the saucepan to preserve the liquid.
  3. I have been known to add more lettuce at this point if I felt it was too thin, in which case I just simmer a little longer to soften the lettuce (it wilts pretty fast) and then continue.
  4. Let the mixture cool a bit and then purée with either a hand blender or a food processor.
  5. Finally, stir in the rest of the butter and then taste for seasoning. This freezes well, just defrost and then warm in a saucepan.

I realise this is a fairly loose recipe but each time I have made it, I have tweaked the amounts of the main ingredients. It is a very flexible concept that can work with whatever you have to hand!

25 Comments

It’s a boy …

Would that be for a boy giraffe? No, I suspect it would be aimed at a small human! But I thought this was a lovely use of the Giraffe Panel die.

I am often stumped for a novel twist on a new baby card. It’s fun to be able to send new Mums and Dads a card with a difference that still send the same congratulatory message. Using giraffes is rather fun.

Obviously, you could instantly tweak this to a new baby girl by using pink instead of blue – or if you were being super efficient and making in advance without prior knowledge of the gender of the baby, how about a lovely cream colour scheme or pale green. The giraffes could be made sepia rather than shades of grey.

I often find a monotone themed colouring process is a lot more successful than I expect. Try using sepia or shades of grey on your next project and see what you think.

10 Comments

A glutton for punishment

While growing your own veg is a wonderful and rewarding thing you can find yourself becoming a glutton for punishment. If you get too good at it, there can be one big problem – a glut! After weeks and months of nurturing, everything seems to ripen at the same time, so you have tonnes of tomatoes, more lettuces than Sainsbury’s and, possibly the worst of all,­ a mountain of courgettes! I don’t know what it is about courgettes, but they creep up on you. One minute you have one, the next 10 and at least two of those will have turned into marrows overnight.

The only thing to do with any glut is to ensure you have freezer space and some great recipe ideas to ring the changes and stop you getting completely bored with whichever veg is in glut.

I am currently wrestling with the annual courgette glut. Not only is my neighbour kindly giving me their excess, but I have quite a few of my own to contend with too. It is clearly a very well catalogued problem – there is even a book called ‘What Will I Do With All Those Courgettes?’ obviously written by someone who has endured many a courgette excess.

If you haven’t got time to rustle up a delicious courgette soup or veggie bake, don’t despair – some genius has invented the spiralizer! If you haven’t tried courgetti yet, you’re in for a treat. Courgette spaghetti can be made and served in less time than it takes to make conventional pasta. All you need is a spiralizer or even just a vegetable peeler. You can turn the humble courgette into the perfect healthy meal in minutes with a couple of minutes (no more) in boiling water.

If you pick your courgettes before they get too big – about the length of your hand from palm base to finger tips – you don’t even need to cook them as they are delicious eaten raw if sliced, shaved or grated.

They are very versatile and can even put on a show on the BBQ – slice thickly and brush with oil and you can griddle them. Alternatively, braise slowly in butter with crushed garlic and thyme leaves and you get a delicious pasta sauce.

But if you really feel you are sinking beneath the weight of courgettes then why not knock up a batch of soup and freeze in portions, then you can remind yourself of summer when you tuck into a warming bowl in the depths of winter. Enjoy!

This Simple Courgette Soup really is very easy to make, it freezes well and is delicious with homemade bread. It is great eaten hot or cold!

Simple Courgette Soup:

Ingredients

  • 450g courgettes thickly sliced
  • 700ml chicken stock, or vegetable stock if you want to keep it completely vegetarian
  • 1 medium onion sliced
  • ¼ teaspoon oregano (fresh is best!)
  • ¼ teaspoon rosemary (fresh is best!)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Place all ingredients into a large saucepan and bring to boil
  2. Reduce heat and cover and simmer for 15-20 mins
  3. Blend in blender/processor till smooth, reheat when ready to serve, or chill and serve cold.
11 Comments

A pair of Thomas Kinkades!

One of the biggest licenses we have ever negotiated was the thrill of signing with Thomas Kinkade. Sadly he is not with us anymore but the legacy he left behind is mountain high. He is known as the Painter of Light and is the most collected contemporary artist in America.

I have recently been writing an article on his life story for a special magazine/box set that we are bringing out with Practical Publishing later in the year and he really did achieve so much.

We do a triple CD that has a great majority of his work on it – I wonder now if I should have brought it out in instalments, but I felt it was a special crafting CD to have in your collection with close to everything on it. There are so many topics he liked to paint, pretty cottages, gorgeous gardens and, my favourite, his marine paintings oh, and even a teddy bear!

These cards are made from the CD and the one on the right uses an insert as the backing paper which is always a useful trick to get even more out of your CDs. The card on the left has a lovely embellishment that’s easy for you to copy and create. Just layer a small part of a picture onto card and then cover with several coats of a glaze. You can use glossy accents, Crystal Glaze – there are many others out there too. Once it is complete, it looks like a pretty piece of enamelled jewellery and makes a great little embellishment.

Happy Crafting! Smiles, Joanna.

20 Comments

On safari

We have loved playing with all the jungly safari type dies we produced not so long ago. They make fun cards for all ages – my little Grace loves safari type programmes and I hope she gets to see some of them in the wild when she grows up. I haven’t been on a safari, I keep saying “when I retire” but that doesn’t seem to be getting any closer!

We have all seen the main safari animals in a zoo and one of my favourite visits was the Disney Animal Kingdom. If anyone has the chance staying in a hotel where, when you open your curtains in the morning you can stare at a giraffe not that many paces away, I highly recommend it. I am also very fond of Longleat. We took Grace just recently and she was squealing with excitement at the little monkey sitting on the wing mirror two inches from her face, as she sat on my lap in the front of the car. I was quite happy to have the window glass between us and the monkeys, cute they may be, but I bet they bite!

So lions or monkeys make great subjects for cards whether we have seen them in the wild or not. The animal patchwork dies we have in the series are also a huge success when you use them as backing pieces like the card on the left. They come in various animal effects – this one is the tiger – but crocodile, giraffe and zebra work just as well. The background on the right-hand card shows what fun you can have with some of the inks and pads around at the moment. I am very keen on the Tim Holtz pad ranges but Adirondack Alcohol Inks give amazing effects too. True to our craft, half the fun is just playing!

Simple effects, like cutting a circle from a Post-It note and then sponging around it to create the sun, or snipping cloud shapes again from a Post-It and sponging blue around them for clouds in a blue sky – just play and fiddle, inspiration always strikes!

9 Comments