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!

Friday
Jul252014

Keeping it contained!

Just as I enjoy small and intricate card designs, so I enjoy smaller, creative container gardening. It also makes me feel good as I can be frugal by recycling objects that might otherwise be thrown out, like old wellies, and results in something totally original that appeals to my slightly quirky nature!

Now I know you can be thoroughly green and use cut out milk cartons, plastic bin liners and old tyres, but I think whatever you use for your plant containers needs to fit in with your surroundings and be to your style, otherwise, you won’t be happy with the end result.

My favourite quirky planters include old watering cans, old wellies (the more colourful, the better!) and tin cans. The latter need some care and using tins with ring-pull tops are best as they give you a safer edge, you don’t want to cut yourself, but I do think they look good. Any containers you use will need drainage holes, so you might need to get someone (a man with a drill?!) to help you do this, unless it’s something soft when you can probably punch or cut the holes yourself.

Alternatively, old kitchen utensils such as colanders have built-in drainage holes and you don’t need moss or coir to line them – they make great hanging baskets too! Perhaps this is something Victoria should think about in our second novel ‘A Violet Death’, due out very shortly! Oops - did I just give our next book a plug there? Naughty me!

Have a think about what flowers will be right for the scale of your containers and try and get a nice mix of trailing and taller plants and decide whether you want similar colours, or more vibrant contrast shades. 

One lovely idea is to grow herbs in tin cans or in old kitchen utensils, they look great and it’s so apt too!

Here are a few more tips to help you get the best out of your containers:

  • Always raise your containers off the ground so that they can drain freely, both in summer and especially in winter, when they can freeze.
  • Water plants either first thing in the morning or in the evening – avoid the middle of the day when temperatures are high and so is the rate of evaporation.
  • Always add a barrier layer between the drainage materials and the compost to stop the compost washing down and blocking drainage holes. Use old net curtains, washing-up cloths, pillowcases, capillary matting, sacking or landscape fabric, and use old broken pots to help drainage.
  • Group containers in their final position before planting, especially when moving heavy pots.

 

Tuesday
Jul222014

Colourful Couscous!

Edible flowers are a fabulous way to decorate savoury dishes as well as sweet things like cakes and desserts. Here’s a bowl of couscous with some lovely flowers adding a great splash of colour on the top. Obviously you could change the selection depending on what you have in your garden or, if all else fails, some supermarkets are now selling edible flowers – I know Waitrose do. If you are at all unsure, do have a look online to find out what is edible, and what is not. As mentioned in a previous blog, this company local to me, Greens of Devon, has a really useful and very pretty guide, here, that you can refer to.  

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons light olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed but still whole
  • 2 onions, finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 4 cups organic chicken stock
  • 1 cup canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots, quartered
  • 1/2 cup dried figs, quartered
  • 1 red bell pepper, cubed
  • 1 cup sultanas soaked in fruit juice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups couscous
  • Nasturtiums and marigold petals etc to decorate

Method

  1. Sauté the garlic, onions, cinnamon, cumin and turmeric in olive oil, for about 2-3 minutes. Add the chicken stock, stir around well to deglaze the pan then add the chickpeas, apricots, figs, red bell pepper and sultanas. Stir and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. Discard the garlic and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Put the couscous in a large bowl. Boil 2 1/2 cups water and pour over the couscous. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes. Fluff the couscous with a fork.
  3. Mix all the ingredients together and serve in a bowl garnished with flowers.

 

 

Friday
Jul182014

Local producer feature: Tarquin’s Gin

Tarquin with bottles of his gin and his Cornish pastis (rather like Pernod).I’ve always enjoyed a long refreshing gin and tonic but, in these days of trendy drinks, gin has taken a bit of a back seat and become rather ‘old hat’. But now, it seems, gin is in! Boutique gins are all the rage and small artisan gin producers are springing up all over the place - we have several in the Westcountry. My partner in writing crime, Julia Wherrell, recently interviewed a new young Cornish gin maker for an article she was writing and, as soon as we discovered he used Devon violets in his gin, we thought you’d like to hear more about it…

At just 26, Tarquin Leadbetter seems rather young to have set up his own distillery – but that’s just what he’s done, making him the first person to craft gin in Cornwall for more than a century.

Tarquin is from Devon and, after living and working in London for a few years was very keen to get back to the Westcountry and start up his own business ‘doing something’ in the food and drink industry. Settling in Cornwall, he identified gin as a market with potential and spent the next 18 months distilling the spirit in a traditional copper still on his kitchen cooker.

”After a lot of work and research, I finally perfected my own recipe,” he says. “I use 11 botanicals in addition to the traditional juniper in my gin, resulting in a contemporary take on a classic London Dry.

“One unusual ingredient is the Devon violet. From these I take the delicate leaves, which add a vibrant green freshness to the gin and create something deliciously unique. At the heart of our process is a special flame-fired, copper pot still called Tamara, goddess of the Tamar. The copper gives the gin a very smooth finish - there’s no stainless steel and industrial quantities here! We make small batches of gin, fewer than 300 bottles at a time, and I check every one personally.”

The essential oils present in gin have also been used in herbal medicine for centuries. By looking at each botanical he uses – and its known effect – Tarquin has had fun drawing up a complete character profile of his gin.

“This might provide insight into the effects of drinking Tarquin’s Gin!” he jokes. Here’s the result of his research:

  • Juniper - a natural stimulant, great for versatility and effectiveness
  • Coriander - soothing and calming
  • Lemon - a mood enhancer
  • Orange - creates a feeling of happiness and warmth
  • Grapefruit – increases ones sense of humour and well-being
  • Cardamom – soothes the mind
  • Cinnamon – reduces drowsiness and irritability
  • Orris - therapeutic
  • Angelica - has a protective quality, but also helps to release negative energy
  • Bitter almond – wonderful scent and flavour
  • Liquorice - soothing
  • Violets – relaxing, soothing and inspiring

His gin is delicious. It is a little dearer than standard gin, but as a treat it is well worth trying. It comes in lovely wax sealed bottles and you should be able to find it in independent wine merchants across the country. If you come on holiday to Devon or Cornwall, you’ll have no trouble finding it as it is becoming immensely popular in this area. We reckon Tarquin is onto a winner!

You can follow him on Facebook or look for stockists on his website.

 

Tuesday
Jul152014

Have a relaxing day!

Down by the river, quietly fishing... this is no doubt many people’s idea of a lovely time. I confess it wouldn’t be my ideal way to pass the day – partly because I don’t like catching fish and partly because I would rather read a good book. But I can see the lure (pun intended) of the peace and tranquillity that fishing can provide!

This 6inch square card shows how effective kraft card can be – it gives a real ‘man-appeal’ feel to the card and it’s a colour combination I love. Another point to note is the button glued on top of the knot of the bow – again a really great look I think!

 

Friday
Jul112014

Memories of Mrs Tiggywinkle!

When she created Mrs Tiggywinkle, Beatrix Potter secured a place in our hearts for this funny little prickly creature. For all us children who read about her, the hedgehog will forever be something cute and special.

Just down the road from where I live is a lovely children’s attraction called Prickly Ball Farm – can you guess what that’s all about? Yup, hedgehogs! In fact, they have a hedgehog hospital where you can go and see the fantastic work the staff do to rehabilitate sick and injured hedgehogs to bring them back to health before releasing them back into the wild. They often care for up to 80 of the prickly little beasts at any one time and it takes a lot of time and love to nurse these little creatures.

They are always happy to receive donations of old fleeces, blankets, towels, hot water bottles and food bowls. They also ask for any unwanted newspapers, shredded paper, sawdust or straw to help with the daily clean out of all the hedgehogs. And while you are there, you can learn more about hedgehogs and their habitat from one of their daily hedgehog talks.

Of course, as with all such attractions these days, they have to offer a whole range of interesting things for visitors to see and do and Prickly Ball Farm has grown to become a very popular attraction. They have a wide variety of animals including ferrets, pigs, chickens, ducks, pygmy goats, ponies, donkeys, rabbits, guinea pigs and even foxes! As well as getting to see all the animals, they run activities throughout the day so visitors can get a real ‘hands on’ experience with everything from pony grooming to walking a ferret and feeding the goats.

Spike’s Farm Shop sells everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to home made products from the café, local produce plus a range of prickly gifts and souvenirs. And just as the adults are starting to flag, there’s a very nice café with an excellent range of home made cakes! It’s a sweet day out and just a little bit different. Once my granddaughter Grace is old enough to appreciate it, Granny Joanna will be using her as an excuse to visit!

You can follow them on Facebook