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
Jul282015

A little of what you fancy ...

I know sugar isn’t good for us – and particularly if you are diabetic which sadly I am. But I thought these might just be a good idea – especially if I can eat just one (hmmm). I claim no ownership of the recipe, it’s from 'Mary Berry’s Absolute favourites' – a brilliant book if you are on the hunt for a new recipe book.

She says she makes it with her grandchildren and I think they are genius as the little size is good for small people and fun for them to make too!

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients

  • For the biscuit dough
  • 175g/6oz butter, softened
  • 75g/2½oz caster sugar
  • 175g/6oz plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 75g/2½oz semolina
  • For the chocolate chip biscuits
  • 50g/1¾oz milk or plain chocolate chips

For the lemon biscuits

  • Lemon, finely grated zest only and 1–2 tbsp demerara sugar

For the almond biscuits

  • 1 tsp almond extract  and 40g/1½oz flaked almonds

Preparation method

Preheat the oven to 180C/160C Fan/Gas 4. Line three baking trays with baking paper.

To make the biscuit dough, measure the butter, sugar, flour and semolina into the bowl of an electric food mixer and mix until a soft dough is formed, taking care not to over-beat. Alternatively, add the butter and sugar to a mixing bowl and beat with a wooden spoon until soft and creamy, then stir in the flour and semolina. Divide the dough evenly into three and dust your work surface with flour before kneading each batch.

For the chocolate chip biscuits, knead the chocolate chips into one portion of dough, shape into 20 balls and arrange, spaced well apart, on one of the baking trays. Press down with the back of a fork into discs about 5cm/2in in diameter and bake in the oven for 10–12 minutes, or until golden-brown.

For the lemon biscuits, knead the lemon zest into the second portion of dough. Roll into a long sausage shape (about 20cm/8in long) and roll in the demerara sugar. Wrap in cling film and leave in the freezer for about 30 minutes, or until firm and nearly frozen. Slice into 20 even rounds, each about 1cm/½in thick. Arrange on a baking tray, spaced well apart, and bake for about 10 minutes, or until pale golden-brown.

For the almond biscuits, knead the almond extract into the remaining portion of dough, along with most of the flaked almonds. Shape into 20 small balls and arrange on the third baking tray, spaced apart. Place a few almonds on top of each ball of dough and press flat with the back of a fork into discs about 5cm/2in in diameter. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until golden-brown.

Friday
Jul242015

So who is top dog?

Moss, a German Wirehaired Pointer.My partner in crime writing Julia, has a lovely puppy called Moss, who we featured on this blog a few months ago. Moss is a German Wirehaired Pointer. This is not a common breed and Julia is amazed at how often she is stopped in the street and asked what sort of dog Moss is.

Devon is a very doggy part of the world with it being such a great place to walk and also home to lots of farms where working dogs are used. You will find lots of collies – used to work both sheep and cattle and, of course, those wonderful feisty little characters, Jack Russells – used as ratters, rabbiters and general farm watchdogs. They also seem to be the regular driving companion to farmers in their tractors!

And so I started wondering about what the ten most popular breeds of dog in the UK were. The figures I came across are from The Kennel Club so don’t take into account non-pedigree and non-registered dogs so you won’t see a Labradoodle, a French Pug or a Cockapoo on the list! Generally, the most popularly owned and bred dogs in the UK stay fairly consistent year on year, with the same breeds of dogs appearing in the list over and over again. Today’s most popular dogs are:

Our late, beloved Wellington, a Cocker Spaniel.1. Labrador Retriever
The Labrador remains a firm favourite within the UK, and consistently appears near the top of the list every year. Bred as gundogs originally, they make loyal, loving and friendly family pets, great with children, intelligent and easy to train.

2. Cocker Spaniel (my favourite!)
The Cocker Spaniel is statistically the dog most likely to win the Best in Show title at Crufts. But the Cocker is not just a pretty face – like the Labrador, the Cocker achieved its popularity as a working gun dog, and got the ‘Cocker’ name due to its proficiency at hunting the Eurasian Woodcock. Did you know that… 

3. Springer Spaniel (English)
Gun dogs currently hold all of the top three rankings in the popularity stakes, with the English Springer Spaniel coming in third. Affectionate, fun loving and incredibly good natured, the Springer Spaniel loves to play, chase and run.

4. German Shepherd
The German Shepherd (or Alsatian) is a large dog of Germanic origins, and relatively young in dog terms, with the breed originating towards the end of the 19th century. It is prized for its fearlessness, loyalty and A feisty little Border Terrier.intelligence, and can often be found in working roles alongside of the police or military.

5. Staffordshire Bull Terrier
The Staffordshire Bull Terrier comes in at number five, but if you include non-registered Staffys and Staffy cross breeds, you might well find the Staffordshire Bull Terrier in the number one spot! Squat, muscular and businesslike, the Staffy is a loyal dog that forms close bonds with his family and makes the perfect companion for young and old alike.

6. Border Terrier
The Border Terrier is a small rough-coated terrier hailing from the Scottish borders, and they are comical, fun loving and lively little dogs that tend to be hardy and full of pluck! While the Border Terrier generally gets on well with children, they often don’t extend the same affection to cats and other smaller pets- except as a snack!

7. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is the third spaniel to make the list. Sharing the traits of loyalty, sunny dispositions and kind natures with the Springer and the Cocker it is one of the smaller spaniel breeds, and Zelda Zen, a friend's gorgeous little Pug.often popular as a lap dog.

8. Golden Retriever
The Golden Retriever is a medium-sized and intelligent dog that loves water! They are also renowned for their loyalty and ability to work with people, and can be found in many working roles such as search and rescue, assistance for blind or deaf people, and as sniffer dogs.

9. Pug
The Pug is often referred to as the comedian of the canine world and is an intelligent, entertaining and good-natured dog. It would certainly be fair to say that their looks are unique and distinctive, with their short, squat bodies, curled tails and squashed faces!

Lennox, a beautiful retriever in training to become a Guide Dog.10. Boxer
The boxer dog, so named for the ‘boxing’ motions they make when fighting or play fighting, has fallen in popularity in recent years, with the incidences of newly registered puppies down 40% in 2010 compared to the 2001 census.

If you have had dogs as pets, what breed did you have, and why…?

 

Tuesday
Jul212015

Butterfly beauty takes centre stage

Who doesn’t love butterflies, they’re pretty, look great flitting round the garden and, as cardmakers, we use them endlessly as embellishments.

This card, however, has them centre stage as the main focus. The image is from our Jody Bergsma pad and is one of my favourites among the collection.

The raised butterflies are made by using a second sheet and cutting out just the butterflies – really effective I thought. 

The great thing about something as pretty as a butterfly is that it happily takes the leading role on the card and you just need subtle papers, ribbons or dies to add little extras – you’re bound to have something in your craft stash?


Friday
Jul172015

Know your umbellifers!

Everyone's in love with frothy planting it seems! It looks so light and pretty in borders and can also be very useful in flower arrangements. Many of these gauzy beauties are ‘umbellifers’ which, you have to agree is a fab name! Umbellifers are members of the cow parsley family and have tiny flowers held on domed heads which spread out to form an open umbrella shape – hence the wonderful name.

Umbellifers cover a huge range of plants, many of then extremely well know and much loved – or equally much loathed! Common cow parsley, or Queen Anne’s lace is everywhere and our roadsides and hedges would look lost without it. Angelica and the wild carrot are also umbellifers and come under the ‘loved’ category, while the very nasty water drop wort and hemlock, fall very much into the ‘loathed’ category as both are incredibly poisonous. It pays to ‘know your umbellifers’ me thinks!

Giant hogweed has been much in the news lately, with tales of children being blistered and burned by it. This puzzled me as, like top gardener Monty Don, I remember playing with it as a child and never suffering any ill effects and no one paid particular attention to giant hogweed back then. Giant hogweed is a ‘phototoxic’, meaning it contains furocoumarins, especially in its sap. When skin is exposed to furocoumarins in combination with bright sunshine, painful sores and blisters can result. So, it’s best to take care, but I have no idea why it seems to have become so much more of a menace lately…

Angelica, like its angelic name, is a thoroughly good plant! It self-seeds vigorously so you need to keep on top of it to stop it taking over, but in the right place it is an absolute joy. No plant is more popular with butterflies, hoverflies, bees and wasps than the lovely, plum-coloured umbellifer Angelica gigas.

The refined garden form of Queen Anne’s lace is ‘Ravenswing’, with dark ferny leaves underneath the tiny white sprays of flower making it really very pretty. All umbellifers attract into the garden beneficial insects like ladybirds, hoverflies and lacewings, which are a great defence against aphids, and gardeners should welcome them. Birds too are attracted in autumn by the seeds, so they instantly enrich the wildlife in your garden.

Photos top to bottom: Angelica, giant hogweed, hemlock, water drop wort and Ravenswing.

Tuesday
Jul142015

Dolphin delight!

The base card for this fun little smiling dolphin is a shaped card made by using some of the large Nestability dies available. If you haven’t got these then any other large shapes can be used or, of course, you could just make a good old rectangular or square card and it will look just as attractive!

The picture and embellishment come from our Jody Bergsma pad and as it is one of our top selling pads I think lots of people would love a card made from one of her designs. 

The background of this card is a lot of fun to make, just tear strip after strip from assorted pieces of blue card and then glue them over each other as in the picture to create a really sea/surf watery effect.

There are a great many dolphin fans out there (I love them too) and this could be just the card for them!