Welcome to my Country Days Blog!

I’ve lived in Devon for over 20 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, while taking our dog Welly for a walk, 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 start sharing 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!

Tuesday
May032016

Love your lettuce!

What a Little Gem!If you think lettuce is just lettuce – think again! Before you start sowing and planting your salad leaves this year, give some thought about how you’d like to use it in your dishes once you have grown it.

Little Gem
What a gem it is – small and sweet! It is the perfect size if you’re serving up a salad for one. You can use the leaves whole or cut the head into quarters.

Cos
A flavoursome, long-headed lettuce with crisp, green, narrow leaves. Perfect for a classic Caesar salad with shavings of parmesan and croutons.

Cos lettuce works really well in a Caesar salad.Italian lettuce
These are fast growing, colourful varieties – they look great in the salad bowl or as a garnish. What I like about them is they are ‘cut and come again’ varieties, so you can pick them by the leaf, rather than as a whole head, and they will keep on growing. 

Iceberg
Years ago, I always used Iceberg lettuce as a crunchy base for prawn cocktails – the height of sophistication for a dinner party starter! It is a crunchy, crisp head lettuce, that can be cut into chunks, shredded, or the larger curved leaves used whole as a dish, or a wrap, for an attractive and healthy presentation. It keeps well in the fridge and can be eaten a bit at a time.

Versatile Iceberg makes a healthy bowl or wrap.When you pick your home-grown lettuce, wash your lettuce leaves in cold water, carefully checking for insects! Pat them dry with kitchen paper or use a salad spinner to dry them.

Try not to use a knife on your leaves as this can bruise them. Instead break or tear them into bite-sized pieces ready for use in your salad or sandwich.

 

Friday
Apr292016

Brilliant barbecuing!

As I sit here shivering in an unseasonably cold April, I find myself hoping that May will be a glorious month – it very often is in this part of the world. I am hoping that by the second, if not the first, May Bank Holiday, we might be in a position to start thinking about a barbecue on the patio...

I have got numerous books of recipes for barbecues but so often, a successful barbecues is about HOW you cook the food and not so much what it is! We have all been subjected to charred sausages that are still raw in the middle and chicken so tough you can’t even cut it… so to avoid these mishaps, here are a few top tips:

If you are using wooden skewers always soak them well in water before use… otherwise, not surprisingly, they tend to catch fire!

Don't forget you can marinade vegetables too!Use marinades on your meat. This not only helps with flavour and helps keeps the meat moist, it also protects food on the grill from the intense and temperatures of the barbecue grill.

If you have forgotten to marinade meat overnight, or it’s a bit of an impromptu event, you can speed things up by popping the meat or fish in a plastic bag with the marinade, seal and give it a good massage for a few minutes then place in the coldest part of the fridge for around 30 minutes.

Vegetarians often get a raw deal (no pun intended) when it comes to barbecues, but don’t forget vegetables, even fruit, can also be marinated and cook well on the grill.

One of the biggest failures for the barbecue chef is everything sticking to the grill and burgers and fish falling apart and disappearing through the bars into oblivion. Make sure that the grill-bars are well oiled and turn meat or poultry once to sear and then once more to cook through. Do not keep fiddling with it and turning food as this removes it from the heat and delays cooking.

Oh dear. Absolutely NOT what you want to see!Do not try and grill too quickly as, we have all experienced at some time… this will result in food burnt on the outside and undercooked in the middle.

Burnt food on the barbecue is a real ‘no no’ and has been proven to be a bit of a health hazard. However, do ensure that all food, particularly poultry, sausages and burgers are cooked through… or that is a health hazard too!

Remember to remove food at the end of the grilling process and leave to cool or rest for a few minutes before serving. The meat will be more tender and any metal skewers won’t be burning hot!

 

Tuesday
Apr262016

Garden in a drawer

I was given this little garden over Easter - so I can't say I made it myself, but I love it so much I thought I would try and reuse the drawer once the bulbs have finished.

It's not always easy to find a spare drawer although I might just have a look in our recycling depot at the council tip. Thinking about it, anyone tried searching on ebay for an old drawer - I wonder if anyone sells them?

Anyway, assuming that none of us are lucky enough to have a load of old drawers hidden in the shed(!), all you'd have to do surely would be to make or buy a wooden box that's roughly drawer shaped and then buy a drawer knob or handle and screw it onto the front?

As part of my useless collection of lovely things I do have a couple of really nice ceramic floral doorknobs - hmm they might look lovely.

Anyway, I just wanted to share the inspiration with you. Enjoy!

 

Friday
Apr222016

Ninety years young!

The Queen on her 90th birthday walkabout.I make no apology for being a royalist! I think our Queen is magnificent and, for her still to be as active as she is at 90, is just incredible. What a role model she is and what changes she has witnessed in her lifetime. What I also love is picking up little nuggets about the Queen being herself, the ‘real Elizabeth’, especially tales about when she was a youngster. These are two of my favourites:

Horse-mad from the earliest, Lilibet, as she was known, used to tie dressing gown cords to her nursery bed posts as reins to drive her pretend horses. Some 30 toy horses were fed, watered, groomed and then ‘stabled’ in a corridor each night.

Once, while very bored in a French lesson with her governess Crawfie, Lilibet tipped a full ink pot over her own head!

"Good evening Mr Bond."And then, possibly my favourite moment where she showed her great sense of humour… the Queen surprised the world during the London Olympics by pretending to parachute into the opening ceremony, uttering the immortal line: “Good evening, Mr Bond.”

Well done, and many happy returns for yesterday your Majesty!

---------------

Here’s a quick summary of some of the events, major and quirky, that Elizabeth II has witnessed:

8 May 1945

Victory in Europe Day

Elizabeth and Margaret walked miles through the London streets, witnessing public jubilation for themselves.

17 May 1956
Elvis Presley's first chart hit Heartbreak Hotel reaches number 2 in the UK

The Mini, with its creator Sir Alec Issigonis26 August 1959
Launch of the Austin Mini

30 July 1966
England win the World Cup

1 July 1967
First UK colour television broadcast

20 July 1969
The moon landings

1 January 1973
UK enters the European Economic Community

First man on the moon. Photo: NASA20 July 1976
Viking I lands on Mars

1977
Silver Jubilee

4 May 1979
First female UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher was also the longest-serving UK Prime Minister of the 20th century.

1 January 1985
UK's first mobile phone call is made

9 November 1989
Fall of the Berlin Wall

20 December 1990
First web page

1992
"Annus horribilis" In the words of the Queen "1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure."

6 May 1994
Channel Tunnel completed. The tunnel was the first land link between Britain and France since the last Ice Age.

4 August 2000
Queen Mother's 100th birthday

11 September 2001
Terrorist attacks in New York claim 2,996 lives.

2002
Golden Jubilee – although 2002 saw the deaths of both the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, the Jubilee year was marked with popular support for the Queen.

Lovely portrait of the Queen surrounded by her grandchildren and great-grandchildren to celebrate her 90th birthday. Photo: Annie Leibovitz14 April 2003
Human genome decoded

4 February 2004
Facebook launched! And here's a page for the British Monarchy.

2008
Global financial crisis – the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

2012
Diamond Jubilee – Elizabeth became the first British monarch since Victoria to celebrate a Diamond Jubilee... and appear alongside James Bond!

9 September 2015
Elizabeth II becomes UK's longest-reigning monarch. The Queen entered the record books as Britain's longest-reigning monarch after surpassing the reign of her great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria. At 5.30pm she had officially equalled Victoria's 23,226 days, 16 hours and 18 minutes on the throne - over 63 years, seven months and two days.

Tuesday
Apr192016

Happy Birthday Sis!

Richard and I flew over to Jersey last weekend to celebrate my sister’s 60th birthday (ha ha not keeping that number quiet!) and I decided to make her a simple but, hopefully, popular card.

There have been times when my sister has wrinkled her nose at over embellished “Joanna’s gone mad with flowers” type designs. So I thought I would aim for calm and elegant and leave the photograph to do the talking. In case you wondered I am the little girl on the right and she is on the left. My Mum was always so glamorous when we were small – lovely memories.