Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Hill Head Farm near Edlingham

In June I was commissioned to paint a view of Cheviot from Corby Crags- but including Hill Head Farm near Edlingham. This was to be a very special retirement present for the owner of the farm, who was retiring in July after years of being a very popular school secretary.

It's a massive, iconic view and there were a number of logistical problems about capturing a view at the right time of year to show the farmhouse, which is obscured by foliage on the trees in the garden during spring and summer. It was a difficult painting to create- not least because of the scale and complexity of the landscape, but also because it was commissioned and paid for by a committee- all of whom wanted the very best for the recipient, but had sightly differing views of exactly what that might be.

I was delighted with the final painting and believe it to be one of the best paintings I've ever done. But was it what the recipient wanted? I'm perfectly well aware that a painting spends a lifetime with its owners, whereas it's only with me for a short time. So while I need to feel I've created something I'm proud of, it really needs to speak directly and clearly to the owner.

Today the very happy recipient has been into the gallery to thank me and tell me just how much she loves it too. We both stood with tears in our eyes and agreed what a magnificent view it is... and yes....what a great painting!! 

It's made my day, my week, my month.... and possibly my year.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Life's Little Lessons....

Crown Studio Gallery before the new facelift! 

The sudden reappearance of summery weather made me decide to tackle re painting Crown Studio Gallery's shop front myself rather than having to wait for an available local painter and decorator. Since we bought the property in 2006 it's been painted twice by professionals and while it looked excellent on each occasion, it didn't last as long as I'd hoped.
This time, doing the prep work myself alerted me to a couple of interesting things- and has taught me several important lessons-
1) The "mortar" between the stonework below the window turned out not to be mortar at all, but injected silicon- so all of that had to be pulled out like giant strings of chewing gum and the whole lot re-pointed by a builder.
2) While the mortar was given chance to thoroughly dry, I accumulated the rest of the materials for the job. Who knew that gloss paint specifically formulated for stonework and masonry existed? Certainly not the woman in B&Qs Paint Department, who looked at me as if I was delusional when I asked her where I'd find it!! "You must have seen shopfronts that are painted?" I remarked- but apparently not. So I had to buy this online as it's a specialist product.
3) I prepped most of the wood work ready for painting yesterday, washing and sanding it, but this morning I noticed that the tiny brown spots I'd removed from the sill yesterday- and seem to wash away on a daily basis- had returned. So I concluded that they must be the "droppings" of an insect living at the top of the window frame. Turning my gaze upwards I noticed a crack in paintwork, so concluded that the offending bug must live in there. Up my ladder I went with my awl in hand and discovered that there was a long bubble of paint the full length of the shop front. So I had to remove all of that and fill the gap to avoid more wildlife taking up residence there.
The defecating critter turned out to be a spider.
Now, I can remember being asked by our eldest when she was about two years old, "What does spider poo look like Mummy?" At the time I had no real answer, but now I can tell her with some authority... it's pretty much like from fly poo!!!
The silicon filler all removed.

Mortar replaced.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Chocolate Cupcakes.

The last time I had a cupcake was to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in 2012. Commercially made, it was an amazing looking confection, topped with a picture of her majesty and smothered in edible glitter... It looked wonderful, but tasted disappointingly synthetic and plain nasty. The sense of anti climax made me vow never, ever to bother eating another.

But yesterday when our four year old Granddaughter begged to do some baking, rather than make a single large cake, I decided to give cupcakes another chance. She insisted that they had to be "really chocolatey" and I wanted something simple so that she could do as much of the process as possible- so I used the following easy recipe.

Chocolate Cupcakes


100gm plain flour

30gm Green and Blacks Organic cocoa powder (or another brand)
1½ tsp baking powder
140 gm granulated sugar
40gm unsalted butter (at room temperature)
120 ml milk
1 egg
¼ tsp vanilla extract

12 hole cupcake tray with paper cases.


100gm unsalted butter

200gm icing sugar
1 tablespoon Green and Blacks Organic cocoa powder


  1.  Preheat the oven to 170°C (325°F) Gas 3
  2.  Weigh out the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and mix these together in a bowl until they are evenly mixed. Add the sugar and butter then beat with an electric mixer on a slow speed until the ingredients are combined into an even sandy texture.
  3.  Measure the milk in a large glass measuring jug, then add the egg and vanilla. Beat these together in the jug until well mixed. 
  4.  Pour half of the milk /egg mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients and beat on a slow setting to combine. Add the rest of the liquid and beat for a further 2 minutes until the mixture has turned lighter in colour and is smooth. (Scrape any unmixed ingredients off the sides of the bowl with a spatula)
  5.  Spoon cake mixture  evenly into the paper cases. Bake for 20- 25 minutes until the sponge bounces back when touched. 
  6.  Carefully lift the cakes onto a wire rack to cool. 
  7.  While the cakes cool, make butter icing by beating together the butter, icing sugar and cocoa. Beat for several minutes until the mixture becomes light in colour. Pipe rosettes of icing onto the cold cakes and decorate as desired.

Cleaning the mixing bowl

The finished cakes iced, decorated and ready to eat

Add family and a cup of tea for a perfect afternoon! 

Sunday, 26 January 2014

A tried and Tested Marmalade Recipe.

This is the recipe I've been using for decades- so old that it's still in imperial- like my kitchen scales.

2lb Seville oranges
2 lemons
4 pints water
4lb sugar

Wash the oranges and lemons. Put whole fruit and water into a jam/ preserving pan and cover with a lid or tin foil. Bring to the boil, then simmer gently for about an hour and a half until the fruit is soft.

Remove fruit from pan and place in a bowl. Retain the water / juice in the pan. Using a sharp kitchen knife and a fork to hold the fruit, slice the peel into desired thickness. I tend to do this by quartering each fruit, then scraping out the flesh, pips and pith. Put the pips aside to use later. We like the peel very fine "shred"- which makes the cutting process long and tedious- but I make this a little easier by using the fork to hold several pieces of peel together, then slicing through all of these at the same time.

Do NOT discard the pith as this gives the characteristic bitterness. Once all the pips have been assembled, put them all back into the retained water in the pan and boil for ten minutes (this is important in helping the marmalade set as you are harvesting pectin from the pips) Remove the pips from the water, then return the cut fruit back into this water. Bring to the boil, then add the sugar, stirring over a gentle heat until the sugar is all dissolved- making sure you don't leave any sugar crystals on the sides of the pan.

 Then boil rapidly- stirring only if it looks like it might burn- for about 30 mins or until the setting point of approx 220 F is reached. When set a small amount on a cold saucer will wrinkle when allowed to cool and pushed with finger.  

Put into clean, jars that have been preheated in a warm oven. I usually stand these on a wooden board covered in clean paper to make catching spills easier and clearing up less of a sticky nightmare! Use a ladle to fill jars. Cover with waxed discs of paper and put lids onto jars while still hot for a good seal.

This makes about 10 jars- depending on the size obviously!

Marvellous Marmalade.

It's marmalade making day here at Crown Studio Towers.... I prefer a really powerful, zesty, bitter, solid marmalade...not that light, wishy washy jelly stuff that one is usually served at breakfast in hotels and B&Bs. So every year I make a batch of my own.

It's a job that brings back a lifetime's memories- my very first batch made as a school girl at my parents house in Ferryhill County Durham during the early 1970s- which wasn't anything like sweet enough for my Dad- who much preferred Roses' lime marmalade and made no secret of it!

Living as a student in Droylesden in Manchester our house was near the Robertson's jam factory and during January and February the grey, wet tired streets were filled with the glorious, invigorating smell of oranges and sugar being transmuted into marmalade.

When Graham and I worked up in Appin I was introduced to a new revolutionary way of marmalade making by Trudi Finch-who used a food processor to chop the fruit in a matter of moments. This created a chunky, opaque result. But Graham remains unconvinced by this and to this day I cut each piece of peel to the finest "shred" slowly and laboriously using a wickedly sharp knife.

Every year I use the same recipe and method, but nevertheless the results do vary- one year dark and rich- as a little bit of sugar burnt early in the process, another year clear and lightly set. But every year it's tangy with a citrus hit that's almost painful in its intensity.

One year I went to Seville during February and was charmed and surprised to see streets littered with Seville oranges dropped from the trees growing along the central reservations. I was quickly brought back to earth when I noticed the amount of dog muck also lying there!

Saturday, 25 January 2014

My Paper Sculpture Peacock

 If you didn't get to see my Crown Studio Gallery Peacock video- which was made for my Christmas window display - here's a second chance. I created the paper sculpture peacock from two coat hangers and 8 sheets of white cartridge paper.

Friday, 17 January 2014

A New Start

It's been over a year since I posted anything on my blog. 

But now I'm back!