A new decade and a new website on the way! Because of changes to the hosting arrangements of my website, my site will be out of action from 20 February 2020. I‘m taking this opportunity to revamp the content before it goes live again so I’m looking to be up and running again by the beginning of April.
I won’t be posting any recipes in the new slimmed down format so if there’s anything you want to keep now’s the time to take a copy.
Welcome to 2020 and a new decade. I started the year with the publication of the latest in my ‘little concertina artist’s book’ series. This one features seashells and interesting snippets of mollusc-related information.
The book features 10 common shells, all of which I have collected from British beaches over the years. Made in the concertina fold format, the book can be displayed as ‘instant art’ on a window sill or mantlepiece.
As usual, I’ve also produced a postcard that comes with the book and also a co-ordinating greetings card – this time with a bright tangerine envelope.
I particularly like the format of these cards as it allows me to wrap the design around and onto the back of the card. I’m delighted that people have commented that my painted versions of the shells are more ‘shell-y’ than the actual shells!
And finally on the illustration front, I also designed another butterflies greetings card – this time featuring the British Swallowtail butterfly which we’re lucky enough to have living, and thriving, in Norfolk and a little Orange-Tip butterfly.
Again, this card features a design that wraps around to the back of the card, space to add a Painted Lady butterfly and hide away a snail. As always, the artist’s book and greetings cards are available in my online shop The Museum Shelves on Etsy.
I’ve been using the occasional dry day to start to tidy up the garden. I like to leave seed heads and decaying foliage in place over the Winter to make the garden wildlife friendly, but now that new growth is starting to push through, its time to start on a bit of a clearance. Added to that, it’s time to continue with my programme of raising the crowns of the trees that I’ve planted. When working in the garden, it’s lovely to see the first bulbs starting to emerge.
I initially developed this soup for Hodmedod’s and I’m pleased to say that their canned Carlin Peas are now increasingly available in shops as well as online. However, if you can’t get hold of them, just substitute canned or dried black beans.
This is a brilliant modern take on that old classic: pea and ham soup. This version uses Hodmedod’s ‘Black Badger’ Carlin Peas with coriander, lime and a splash or two of Tabasco Sauce giving you a soup that’s deeply comforting yet with a fresh, contemporary taste.
This recipe is quick and easy to make, especially with the convenience of Hodmedod’s cannned and ready to use ‘Black Badger’ Carlin Peas. I usually have some pre-cooked ‘Black Badgers’ in the freezer ready to use for recipes but it’s easy enough to soak 300g of Hodmedod’s Black Badgers/Carlin Peas overnight and then put them on to cook (following the instructions on the packet) while you start the initial stages of this recipe.
An excellent way of making use of the stock produced by boiling a gammon joint, this soup is perfect to make in the Winter months. However, whatever the season, it’s difficult to express in words just how absolutely fabulously delicious this soup is!
Pea & Ham Soup
Makes 6 servings
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
4 rashers of smoked streaky bacon, roughly chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
3 cans of Hodmedod’s Carlin Peas, drained OR 300g (dry weight) Hodmedod’s ‘Black Badger’ Carlin Peas, soaked and cooked
½ pack of coriander, including the stalks, chopped
1-2 tsp Tabasco Sauce (depending on how much warmth you want)
1.5 litre stock from a boiled gammon joint (or Knorr or Oxo ham stock cubes work well)
finely grated zest and juice of a lime
salt and freshly ground pepper
In a large pan heat the oil and fry the bacon for 5 minutes, stirring from time to time. Addthe onions and continue to stir for a further 5 minutes.
Add the sweet potato and stir well. Turn the heat down and cover the pan with a lid and cook for a further 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, dry roast the cumin seeds in a small pan over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Crush the toasted seeds in a pestle and mortar.
Add the garlic and cumin to the pan and stir for 1 minute. Add the carlin peas, coriander, Tabasco Sauce and stock. Bring up to a gentle boil and then turn the heat down and cover with a lid. Simmer for about 30 minutes until the vegetables are tender.
Leave to cool slightly and then process with a blender to a smooth consistency. Gently re-heat, stirring in the lime zest and juice. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.
When there’s nothing much in the garden to paint, it’s always useful to have the miniature items on my museum shelves. Inspired by the image I put together for Just a Card‘s Indie Week in November, I’ve been spending these dark and wet days in my studio happily immersed in the details of these tiny mementoes. I’ll be pulling these together to make up a postcard design in the new year.
Also in the new year I’m hoping to publish my latest little concertina book ‘Seashells’. I produced all the artwork much earlier this year but I’ve been a little lackadaisical in getting it printed. Again, the shells were the perfect subject for when the weather was wet and grey – which seemed like pretty much all of the Autumn.
At this time of the year the garden is very reliant on structure – the lines of the lawn, the rounded shapes of topiary and reliable evergreens. However, less solid structures like grasses make beautiful outlines during the winter months, especially when coated with frost. The first of the bulbs are beginning to poke through the soil and I’m looking forward to the emergence of the snowdrops next month.
This recipe is quick and easy to make – indeed, I’d go so far as to claim that it’s child’s play. Yet the resulting cookies are surprising decadent with a rich chocolatey flavour and a lovely slightly squidgy centre – rather like individually baked chocolate brownies.
I’ve adapted the recipe to make a gluten-free version using Hodemedod’s British grown and milled green pea flour. And if you’re thinking “pea flour?!” I have to say that no-one, to date, has guessed that they are made with pea rather than wheat flour.
I was inspired to add the pistachios when making the gluten free version because of the beautiful colour of the green pea flour but these cookies are wonderfully adaptable, so add 50g of roughly chopped nuts to the non-GF version, or give either a whirl with hazelnuts and white chocolate, or substitute glacé cherries or dried apricots for the nuts.
Delicious with a cup of tea or coffee you could also serve them for pudding – slightly warm from the oven with a scoop of ice-cream – gluten-free or otherwise!
Makes 9 generous cookies
Ingredients 125g unsalted butter, softened 100g soft light brown sugar 1 tsp vanilla extract I medium egg 100g self-raising flour 100g plain flour 25g cocoa powder 25g desiccated coconut 75g dark chocolate, chopped
You will need 1 baking sheet non-stick liner
Preheat the oven to 160°C/Gas 3 and line the baking with a non-stick liner.
Beat the butter, sugar and vanilla extract together until pale and fluffy using either an electric hand mixer or a wooden spoon. Add the egg and beat well.
Sift the flours and cocoa into the bowl and add the coconut and chocolate. Use the back of a wooden spoon to work the mixture until all the ingredients are combined. (Initially it will seem too dry but persevere and the ingredients will come together.)
Use two dessert spoons to place 9 equal portions of the mixture onto the baking sheet, spaced well apart. Use the side of a spoon to flatten the mixture slightly.
Bake on the middle shelf for about 15 minutes. The biscuits are cooked when the edges are baked but the centre still looks a little soft and under-done.
Leave the biscuits to firm up on the baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring with a palette to a wire rack to cool completely.
Gluten-Free Chocolate Cookies
Makes 12 generous cookies
125g unsalted butter, softened 100g soft light brown sugar I medium egg, lightly beaten 1 tsp vanilla extract200g Hodemdod’s green pea flour 2 tsp gluten-free baking powder 25g cocoa powder 50g pistachios, roughly chopped 75g gluten-free dark chocolate, chopped
You will need 1 baking sheet non-stick liner
Preheat the oven to 160°C/Gas 3 and line a large baking sheet with a non-stick liner.
Beat the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy using either an electric hand mixer or a wooden spoon. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat well.
Sift the flour, baking powder and cocoa into the bowl and add the pistachios and chocolate. Use the back of a wooden spoon to work the mixture until all the ingredients are combined. (Initially it will seem too dry but persevere and the ingredients will come together.)
Use two dessert spoons to place 12 equal portions of the mixture onto the baking sheet, spaced well apart. Use the side of one spoon to flatten the mixture slightly.
Bake on the middle shelf for about 12-15 minutes. The cookies are cooked when the edges are baked but the centre still looks a little soft and under-done.
Leave the cookies to firm up on the baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring with a palette knife to a wire rack to cool completely.
All best wishes for the New Year – see you in 2020…
This is always a busy time promoting the artist’s books in my online shop The Museum Shelves. These little books are always very popular as gifts. One of my other best sellers is ‘Biscuits: a few crumbs of wisdom’. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a special gift, my handmade artist’s books with paper engineered pop-ups on the themes of British Butterflies, Tulips, Shells and Eggs feature delicate watercolour illustrations and calligraphy and are stylish and elegant – and highly collectable.
My ‘Flowers for….’ books illustrate the flowers that attract butterflies or bees into your garden and look lovely displayed on a mantlepiece or windowsill. They come in a pack with a coordinating postcard so they are also an easy shape to gift wrap!
This is a little ‘behind the scenes’ peek at my sketchbook where I developed the ideas for the ‘Flowers for Butterflies’ book.
I took part in ‘Just a Card’ INDIE WEEK this year – the small and independent businesses’ response to Black Friday. This is the image that I designed featuring the Just a Card pin. The campaign was set up a few years ago by Sarah Hamilton to highlight the importance of ALL sales to small business – even the small ones. Find out more about the campaign at Just a Card. This painting portrays the small items I’ve bought from independent businesses and artists over the year showing them on display on ‘The Museum Shelves’ (printers’s drawers and also the name of my online business). I really enjoyed producing the painting and I’ve got plans for themed paintings of museum shelf items in 2020….
During these dark and slightly gloomy days it’s hard to remember sunny days out in the garden. But now is the traditional time for planning – so why not plan how best to encourage wildlife into your garden. You don’t have to dig up your lawn and turn everything into a wild flower meadow – there are plenty of plants that look good and are excellent for wildlife too.
This is the perfect cake for the run up to Christmas. Full of Christmassy flavours – but lighter than traditional Christmas cake and a change from the ubiquitous mince pie – it’s extremely easy to make. I often get asked for the recipe for this cake – a sure sign that it’s a winner. I’ve also developed a vegan version of this cake – find the recipe at the Hodmedod’s website.
Cranberry, Orange and Walnut Cake
Makes 8-10 slices
1 orange 100g dried, sweetened cranberries 85g butter 150g-175g ripe bananas, peeled weight (about 2 medium bananas) 140g caster sugar 2 medium eggs, beaten 1 tsp orange extract 250g self-raising white flour 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda 50g walnut pieces, chopped
You will need A 2lb / 900g loaf tin Non-stick liner or butter and greaseproof paper Wooden or metal skewer
Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4. Lightly grease and line the loaf tin, or pop in a liner.
Finely grate the zest of the orange into a mixing bowl. Squeeze the orange and put the juice* into a small saucepan with the cranberries. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 2-3 minutes, stirring continuously, until the cranberries have plumped up and the orange juice has evaporated. Place into a small bowl to cool.
In the same saucepan, melt the butter over a low heat. Set aside to cool.
Add the bananas to the mixing bowl and mash thoroughly with a fork. Add the sugar, eggs, cooled melted butter and orange extract and stir well.
Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda over the banana mixture and fold in. Fold in the cranberries and walnuts.
Spoon the mixture into the tin and level the surface. Bake for about 50-60 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
Leave the cake to cool in the tin for 10 minutes then remove and place on a cooling rack.
* You can replace the orange in the recipe with 4 tablespoons of orange liqueur such as Cointreau or Grand Marnier
This cake is so easy to make – yet you wouldn’t believe it to taste it. It really is delicious.
It’s been a quiet month on the art front apart from ordering in card blanks in anticipation of designing some new Christmas cards. I particularly like these kraft card blanks as they are made from 100% recycled paper – as are their matching envelopes – and they’re lovely to draw and paint on. I’m hoping to get my Christmas card designs into my online Etsy shop The Museum Shelves in a couple of week’s time…
I’ve been slowly planting bulbs since the start of September whenever the weather conditions have allowed. I love crocuses as they are so early to flower and bring a bit of colour into the garden.
I’ve bought a couple of different crocus bulbs this year: Pickwick (purple with a white stripe) and fuscotinctus which are bronze with brown stripes at the base of the petals. I’ll look forward to posting photographs at the end of Winter/start of Spring.
While I love crocus for the splash of colour they bring to the garden when not much else is in flower, I also grow them as they are so useful for providing early season food for the bees who seem to absolutely love them.
Ginger and Sweet Potato Cake with Zesty Lemon Icing
This month’s recipe is a fabulous gluten-free ginger and lemon cake. Continuing last month’s theme of incorporating vegetables, this cake uses grated raw sweet potato – although you’d never guess it. I developed this recipe for Hodmedod’s using their fava bean flour as it is naturally gluten free. You can get the flour online or in a range of local delis. The flour makes a great bread improver and makes perfect gluten-free pastry – check our my other recipes on their website.