Has anyone seen Karen?

May in the garden 2016 007 (2)

Friends and neighbours fear that I am being held hostage or have been kidnapped! No one has seen or heard from me for months. But the truckloads of wood, sand, cement, picket fencing and old Victorian ridge tiles piling up in my drive all tell another story and the real reason for my absence; I have been building a new garden 🙂

This is my first year of opening my garden for the National Gardens Scheme.

The National Gardens Scheme (NGS) is the Country’s biggest charitable benefactor to the nursing and caring sectors including, amongst others, The Queen’s Nursing Institute, We Are Macmillan Cancer Support and  Marie Curie. Founded in 1927, when 60 gardens opened for nursing and caring charities and raised a total of £8,000, to 2015 when 3,800 gardens raised more than £3 million, the NGS is a constant and vital source of support for the nominated Charities.  All this is only made possible by gardeners who volunteer  their time and effort to open their private gardens for visitors to enjoy.

Each garden must reach a high standard of content and design to be accepted into the NGS. Mine was inspected by a professional garden designer and I was proud to join a charitable organisation which boasts many large and famous gardens, as well as smaller ones in its iconic yellow book. And with H.R.H The Prince of Wales as the patron and Mary Berry as the President, who would not be a little bit thrilled to have earned NGS status?

Now my garden was deemed good enough a year ago when I was welcomed to the NGS. But It was so, so hard not to want to try a little bit harder to make it even more special for my open days. Especially when people are travelling some distance to visit and are paying an entrance fee.

So  I have made a new garden. A Cutting Garden to add to the Kitchen, Cottage and Meadow Gardens .It is quite small, but with its picket fencing and Bishop’s and bird finials, rows of flowers for cutting, an old wrought iron gate and a sweet painted arbour, it is such a special and safe place to be.

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Inside it has a zinc- topped table for bunching the cut flowers which I sell at my gate.

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So if it stops raining and the Powdery Mildew goes away together with the Black Fly and the wind and then the sun comes out to make my flowers bloom…. then everything will be fine 🙂 And when that happens, I will take some better photos of the flowers for you to see.

But until then….why not take a moments rest in the Cutting Garden arbour?

Run up to open day 2016 096 (2)

 

 

 

Goodbye dear, Gentle Josef….

Janet's fabulous Easter gift and Josef in a sunbeam 2016 009 (2)On Good Friday, Josef, my cat was in the studio, sitting in a sunbeam; he had never looked better. Yet on Easter Sunday morning, as if to remind me that nothing in life is certain, he took sick and then later died at the Veterinary Hospital in the afternoon.

Josef  had needed special care since his brother, Ossie died. He would not sleep alone without his Brother to cuddle up to and he developed a deeper connection and a special language to communicate with me to make up for the loss. Happy to be described as a cliché; the lady living alone with her cat, I tried to compensate as best I could for the absence of his brother so that the bond which  Josef had lost would not affect his health.

He was such a little bundle of joy, a gentle cat who loved to be on my knee. A sweet companion throughout the hours, but especially at the end of each day. He was a little sunbeam, my support team on a bad day and my animal family.

I listen for his little bell on his collar, for his cry at 5 a.m for his breakfast or for the company and affection, for the confirmation that we are both loved. But all I hear is silence.

josef sunny morning Feb 2016 002 (2)

 

 

 

Candied Flowers for Easter….

Crystallising Flowers March 2016 016 (3)

Happiest when I am about to tackle a new challenge and happier still if the job involves flowers, I set off into the frozen wastes of the Cottage Garden to see what I can pick. This wasteland of dried stems with the odd pernicious and very hardy weed is hardly an oasis of verdant growth and colour. And it is hat and gloves cold.  I am looking for something special and I am in luck because despite the low temperatures, the Heartsease is flowering in perfect miniature style with each little face a total miracle of colour and detail. Petals as dark as thunder clouds set against daffodil yellow make me chirpy and glad, which is helpful because my hat just blew off and fell in the pond. But still the flower hunt continues. I find some big Pansies and then some dainty Primroses which I add to my collection. These pale lemon flowers which  grow wild in my garden  will be perfect for crystallising and for decorating my Easter cakes.Devon Primroses March 2016 004 (2)Indoors I cosy up in my kitchen with my flowers. Getting close to these darling, dainty blooms must be the most perfect way to spend a cold afternoon in March. With my little paintbrush and pasteurised egg white at the ready, I get to work, painting each petal then coating it with sugar. But surely, crystallising edible flowers can’t be this easy?  But actually, it is!  And once they are fully dried, I pop them into a special little box. This little collection of fragile, fragrant, sugary delights, must surely be the sweetest way to mark the arrival of spring; a most welcome symbol of all the hope and promise which the garden has in store for us this coming year.

These little flowers travel across the miles from my garden to yours as a little gift of love,

Happy Easter x

Crystallising Flowers March 2016 049 (2)

HOW TO CRYSTALLISE EDIBLE FLOWERS

You will need

A small artist’s paintbrush

1 sachet of dried egg white powder

Caster sugar

Edible flowers

Tweezers

A plate

A small bowl

 

  1. First of all, please make sure that all the flowers you choose are edible, for a helpful list please go to the RHS website. Never pick wild flowers unless they grow in your own garden.
  2. Pick your flowers when they are just at their peak, not when they are beginning to go over. Always pick when the bright sun is not shining on the flowers. You need the petals to be firm, not floppy and limp
  3. Pick just a few at a time. Remove all but a very tiny bit of stem to hold on to with tweezers. Remove tiny leaves with a small pair of scissors.
  4. Using dried pasteurised egg white, reconstitute using the manufactures instructions
  5. Holding the flower with tweezers, gently brush each petal with egg white. You can rest the flower on the plate to do this. Turn the flower over and paint the other side.
  6. Hold the flower over the bowl of sugar and either press in gently into it to cover, or sprinkle sugar over it using a teaspoon
  7. Make sure you cover all the petals with sugar. Tap the tweezers with the teaspoon to remove any excess sugar.
  8. Place the sugared flower on the plate to dry. Moving I them gently as the drying begins to happen so that it does not stick to the plate.
  9. Leave in a warm place overnight and when totally dry place very carefully in a lidded box and keep in a dry place.

The Cosy Cake Club….

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I am in a baking frenzy. There is a flour tornado in my kitchen as I open up self-raising, plain and gluten free flour and bag after bag of sugar. The KitchenAid mixer is maxed out and I am juggling four recipes whilst desperately channeling Bree Van de Kamp and trying to remind myself that I used to be a pastry chef in a country house hotel. Where did all this anxiety come from? In my stressed state I have already cleaned my teeth with Savlon not toothpaste and had a run-in with the oven door. What is there to fret about? After all, all I have to do is bake a few cakes for the launch of my Cosy Cake Club.

I think it’s the Red Velvet Cake which tips me over the edge. This is a serious cake, big enough to go catastrophically wrong. A rich and divinely decadent cake which requires 4 perfect layers of dense, luxurious chocolate sponge, topped and filled with cream cheese frosting heaven. The kind of cake big enough to knock out a burglar!

And what if no one turns up?

But come 11 a.m on the 25th February the door bell just kept ringing, until eventually I have 20 sassy, bright, excited ladies in my studio; all of them fired up with joy and enthusiasm for this new social group. And wonder of wonders, everyone just loves the cakes, the chat and the company. I stand back and hear the buzz of excitement which resounds through the house and I realise that these women feel empowered today. They are ready for anything, up to starting something new, happy to be in a space which is dedicated to them.

I brush the flour from my face and start to plan the next months Cosy Cake Club date which is just before Easter…..it just has to be soft, doughy hot cross buns, fragrant with spices. It’s going to ok 🙂

 

Cosy Cake Club……

“It’s a pop-up cake club on Dartmoor and the sweetest place to be”

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Meet ‘Jewel’, the Cosy Cake Club mascot……isn’t she adorable?

I used to own and run a restaurant and inn. So I know a bit about how to make a place look nice and how to make people feel welcome. I can cook, write a menu, lay a table, clear it and lay it again (and again and again). And I did that many times over the years. But what I loved best about being in hospitality was looking after people. Being front of house you have the chance to make folk feel happy, comfortable and cared for. Looking after people is a privilege; it was never just a job to me.

But working so hard left no time for me to connect with friends in town or in the village where I live. Now that I do have more time, I see that the ebb and flow of life in my rural community means that there is exactly the same need for somewhere to go where you will be greeted by the friendly face of someone who cares.  A place to eat cake and share some laughter; a safe haven on a trying day.

So, I am launching the Cosy Cake Club in my home.

Cosy Cake Club Card FrontIt will be a monthly, pop-up club with no ties and no membership, where I do all the baking. In winter we will be inside, sitting on colour washed settles by the open fire. In summer the Cosy Cake Club can move outdoors to the garden and the summerhouse.

 The first Cosy Cake Club is on February 25th and opens from 11 a.m -1 p.m Everyone is welcome; it’s not just for the girls.  Why not come along and eat cake?

I can’t wait to see you.

Cosy Cake Club Business Card 2015 Back (2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Compulsive Carrot Disorder

Carrot Painting 2016 002 (2)

When other artists were painting landscapes, portraits and flowers, I was painting vegetables.  Big blowsy bunches of Beetroot and gentle bunches of Carrots with feathery fronds. The buyers at my exhibitions bought paintings of strings of garlic, onions and the like and for my private views I wore silver earrings in the shape of carrots.

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Or a necklace with enough veg to fill a Sussex trug!

Carrot earrings 2016 008 (3)

Loving the look of vegetables makes growing them a joy. Each single Carrot is a thing of beauty especially when baby sized and grown in a tub to keep for Winter picking

Christmas Carrots 2015 016 (2)

So here I am, on a drizzly day, in my Sunday-best frock with my wellies on, armed with a fork, digging up my Amsterdam Sweetheart and Resistafly Carrots from the Kitchen Garden. It is all mud and mayhem. Every one of these orange roots has to be given an outdoor shower before they can be taken indoors to be prepared for cooking. And yes, I know that the ones you buy in the supermarket are clean and ready to cook. But these little beauties, so fabulously fresh, so colourful and bright, will make flavoursome soups and purees that money just can’t buy.

And as if that was not really quite enough already, each one of them, big or small, really is a work of art.

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