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
Feb092016

‘Vegging out’ is good for you!

It’s been a very mild, wet winter here in Devon and I haven’t been able to get out in the garden much at all as the ground has been so saturated. My lovely raised beds that Richard constructed for me last Autumn are sitting empty and calling to me to be planted. So far, I have had to keep my green fingers occupied by leafing through seed catalogues and Googling different varieties of veggies… but very soon it will be time for me to make a start!

I find Sutton Seeds (coincidentally, Suttons are based just down the road from me near Paignton) Facebook page and blogs very useful for ideas and for advising when to get on and do things. I was interested to see that they have designed a special range of vegetable and flower seeds with 25p from the sale of each promotional pack going to Cancer Research UK. Not only is this a vary commendable idea, it also links in to the fact that the actual act of gardening is good for us – in so many ways.

Here are some interesting facts from the Cancer Research UK website:

  • Around 3,400 cases of cancer in the UK each year could be prevented by keeping active.
  • Heavy gardening counts as moderate activity
  • Healthier diets could help prevent 1 in 10 cancers.
  • Fruit and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet and can affect the risk of some cancer types, like mouth and throat cancers.
  • Choose fruit and vegetables with a variety of colours to help you include a broad range of vitamins and minerals in your diet. The chemicals that give these foods their colour are often the same ones that are good for you.

So gardening and growing plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables can play their part in keeping us healthy. And let’s face it, being outside in the fresh air is always an uplifting experience. If you are lucky enough to live somewhere with plenty of wild birds, they can really enhance your gardening experience too!

Sigh... no, not my veg beds, but the most perfect veg garden ever at RHS Rosemoor in North Devon. They even have Peter Rabbit!A total of 15 different packets make up Sutton’s special range. Each packet contains 2 varieties. This helps to broaden the range of vitamins and minerals and also the range of colours. For example, the Mangetout Pea packet contains both Shiraz and Oregon varieties and so will produce both deep purple and vibrant green pods. Attractive, tasty and healthy!

I really enjoy my veg, so being able to grow my own will be thrilling and the flavours really are so much more intense than shop bought examples. I don’t have a great deal of space, so I will think carefully about what I grow and there’s lots of excellent advice online. If you don’t have a garden, or only a very small one, you can still grow all sorts of vegetables in tubs and window boxes.

To view the Cancer Research UK Vegetable Seed Range in full, please click here.

Friday
Feb052016

Happy memories…

Guest blog from Julia Wherrell

We have all been feeling immensely sad for the past couple of weeks after the loss of both Joanna’s Mother, Diana, and step-father, John, in such quick succession.

I was fortunate enough to know both Diana and John for about 45 years and have shared many Christmasses and birthday celebrations with them after we all ended up living near each other in Devon. They were very kind and inclusive, there was always a wonderful sense of warmth and the comfortable feeling of things being done ‘just so’.

As a child, I was always awe-struck by Diana as I thought she looked like a film star – always elegantly dressed and coiffured. John had the most beautiful speaking voice and what people call ‘a military bearing’, and they made a fine couple.

I always associate Diana with two things –­ flower arranging and baking. She excelled at both and always had flowers in her house and delicious smells coming from the oven. Up until a couple of years ago, she was still entering flower arrangements in the local flower show and I can remember helping to carry them to the car in readiness for John to deliver them to the judging tent in good time. She invariably won!

About three years ago, when my own Father was visiting me, we were invited to tea with Diana and John. I had assumed with would be a cup of tea and a biscuit… but no! Diana wheeled in a tea trolley laden with freshly-baked scones, home made jam, fresh strawberries and clotted cream! It was a magnificent feast and my Father, well known for his healthy appetite, tucked in very happily.

Diana’s favourite flowers were violets and I know these were foremost in Joanna’s mind when we wrote our second novel ‘A Violet Death’. I was hunting round for violets to photograph for the front cover when I received a call from Diana telling me that she had plenty in bloom in her garden if I wanted to drive over and snap them… so I did.

They will be hugely missed by their family and friends.

 

 

Tuesday
Feb022016

Malted Chocolate Cake

We decided we needed to celebrate the ongoing success of our latest Swaddlecombe Mystery novel ‘ A Fowl Murder’… and what better way to celebrate than with a cup of tea and homemade chocolate cake!

The recipe is by Mary Berry from her ‘Absolute Favourites’ cook book ­ – an excellent buy by the way!

Cake Ingredients

  • 30g (1oz) malted chocolate drink powder
  • 30g (1oz) cocoa powder
  • 225g (8oz) butter softened, plus extra for greasing
  • 225g (8oz) caster sugar
  • 225g (8oz) self raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 4 eggs

Icing Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp malted chocolate drink powder
  • 1 ½ tablespoons hot milk
  • 125g (4 ½ oz) butter, softened
  • 250g (9oz) icing sugar
  • 50g (2oz) dark chocolate, melted
  • 1 tbsp boiling water
  • 20+ Maltesers to decorate

Method

You will need 2 20cm (8 inch) round sandwich tins. Preheat oven to 180c/160 fan/Gas 4 and grease the tins with butter and line the bases with baking paper.

Measure the malted chocolate drink powder and cocoa powder into a large bowl, pour over 2 tablespoons of water and mix to a paste. Add the remaining cake ingredients and beat until smooth.

Divide evenly between the prepared tins and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Set aside in the tins to cool for 5 mins then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, measure the malted chocolate drink powder into a bow, add the hot milk and mix until smooth. Add the butter, icing sugar and melted chocolate and mix again until smooth, then add the boiling water to  give a gloss to the icing.

Place one cake on a plate and spread over half the icing. Sandwich with the other cake and spread (or pipe) the remaining icing on top using the tip of a rounded palette knife to create a swirled effect from the centre to the edge of the cake. Arrange the Maltesers over the top.

Friday
Jan292016

A Murderous Success!

Well, what can I say other than ‘thank you’? My partner in crime writing, Julia, and I have been thrilled by the response to our latest novel, ‘A Fowl Murder’. It has sold incredibly well and the early reviews have all been very kind.

We have, tentatively, started thinking about a fourth novel in the series, set in the winter time. However, we both lead fairly hectic lives and have all sorts of other projects ‘on the go’, so we need to sit down and discuss it further…

Of course, the talking and the plotting is the fun bit! We both enjoy creating new characters and thinking up dastardly ends for some poor unsuspecting soul or other. Writing as a team has distinct advantages – egging each other on when the going gets tough, but has disadvantages too – as when continuity gets scrambled and characters have been known to change name or completely vanish!

Going over and over your work and editing and correcting can be a hard slog and cups of tea tend to mysteriously change into glasses of wine every now and then… and then of course, there’s the need for all the cake baking and recipe testing to ensure authenticity! It can be a tough job…

There’s also the fear of arrest. Julia was sitting in a pub garden discussing a potential plot idea with a friend and said: “I really don’t know if we could get away with stabbing him. It’s too obvious, perhaps poison might be better?” At which point, her friend pointed out that a passing waiter has turned pale and has now having an urgent whispered discussion with a colleague. A flurry of embarrassed explanation followed, and she was able to leave after her drink with nothing more than suspicious glances, and not in handcuffs.

I have been known to wander around garden centres asking about the poisonous potential of plants and shrubs. I may even have used my Granddaughter, Grace, as the reason for my concern, disgraceful!

And so, dear readers, if you ever hear of two middle aged women from Devon being held in custody, you will come and explain, won't you…?

 

Tuesday
Jan262016

Zodiac cards

Choosing someone’s sign of the zodiac is a great way to ensure you create a really personalised card! Whether you are a die hard fan of horoscopes or, like me, read them occasionally and only believe it if it’s something good, a zodiac card is sure to prove a hit.

We have designed a set of zodiac dies with the help of Sylvie Ashton. The great thing about all of them is that, yes, they have the sign in the middle but there are also frames around each one so you could use just the frame. By cutting out the zodiac detail inside you are left with lots of space and room for designs, photos or whatever you like.

Here are a few designs to show you what can be done and there are more to see on the website and, of course, you can have a good look around the actual set of dies on the website too!