I never thought we would end up doing something like this! But by an unfortunate set of circumstances we have found ourselves caring for a pair of wild ducklings. When they came to us we think they were only about a day old.

This happened on a Friday evening so all of our weekend plans were binned as we spent time keeping them warm, reading blogs and forums about how to care for them and most imporantly finding out what earth we could feed them. Most of the sites we found were about domestic duck keeping, or about feeding adult wild ducks. So while I was busy filling and refilling a hot water bottle for them and chopping up fleece for them to sleep on, Sheps dug around for more info, which he finally found. So for the first two days we fed them from our fingers with mashed boiled egg with ground egg shell and a watery mix of finely sliced cucumber and crushed meal worms. They liked to be held cupped in our hands to keep warm. Through the first few days they followed a one hour cycle of sleeping, eating and preening. At night we would fill their hot water bottle, settle them in a fleece 'nest' and put extra logs in the burner to keep the room warm for longer.
We bought a bag of chick crumb, a feed they need to have until they are around 5 weeks old, we add a bit of brewers yeast to this to help their legs develop properly.

We kept them inside for the first few days,in the living room, in a big box lined with kitchen roll, with fresh water and the foods mentioned above and the fleece to sleep on. On the fifth day we let them have a swim in a washing up bowl and later in our bath.

We have a tiny pond in the garden which we made a few years ago to attract frogs so they have had a pootle around in that too.

One week on and they are spending all day sunning themselves in a pen in the garden. In there they have water to swim in and sieve (we add some pond water for them to explore) fresh water to drink, food and a shelter/hide to sleep in.  We will bring them inside at night for another week or two. After that they will sleep outside in the little hide in the pen.

We are only handling them when we need to now, so thats when we weigh them every morning, and move them to their pen outside during the day and back inside at night. In the space of a week they have both doubled in weight, gaining 8 -12 grams everyday.

It is our hope that once they are two months old or so they will be released. These little beauties should be with their mum, but for the time being they are with us. We keep explaining to our children that unlike our chickens, they are not pets, we haven't named them,we are just helping them on their way. It is a wonderful experience for us, I feel very lucky to be able to do this, we have learnt so much!

Chocolate almond cake with bay and orange

This recipe was in a Guardian food supplement a while back, I've changed it a little to suit my store cupboard. I've baked this cake a few times, we all love it, so much so that my son asked to have one for his birthday cake!
This a flourless cake, the almonds make for a fudgy texture, the orange and bay give a wonderful delicate flavour and the sugary almond topping is lovely and crunchy. Its also a sinch to make.
The cake serves 8 - 10
Tin size - 23cm springform tin
Oven temperature 170C / gas mark 3 / 340F

Cake ingredients
175g butter, chopped plus extra for greasing the tin
cocoa powder for dusting the tin
200g dark 70% chocolate (or thereabouts) broken into pieces
175g ground almonds
4 large eggs
100g soft brown sugar
75g caster sugar
pinch of salt

Almond topping ingredients
100g whole almonds
finely grated zest of a small orange
pinch sea salt
50g granulated sugar
6 - 8 fresh bay leaves

Preheat the oven, temps above.

Grease the tin and dust with the cocoa.

Put the butter and chocolate in a large heatproof bowl over a pan of gently simmering water. Make sure the water cannot touch the bottom of the bowl as this could burn the chocolate. Melt the butter and chocolate.

Remove the bowl from the heat and stir in the ground almonds. Allow this mixture to cool a bit.
Separate the egg whites from the yolks. Stir both of the sugars into the yolks, then mix this into the chocolate almond mixture.

Whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl until they hold soft peaks.

Mix one dessertspoonful of the egg white mixture with the whole almonds, salt, granulated sugar and orange zest in a small bowl.

Gently fold the rest of the whisked egg white into the chocolate and almond mixture, keeping in as much air as possible.

Spoon the batter into the cake tin, then scatter the almond mixture over the top. Press the bay leaves very lightly on top of this, allowing them to sink into the batter a little.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 35 minutes until set and slightly springy. Leave the cake to cool completely.

You are welcome :)

Christmas Cake Recipe

         Every year we make our Christmas cake in the October half term holiday. This stems back from  my Nana, she used to bake them for her family and all her sisters - it was a mamoth task!
I 've used quite a few recipes over the years from the fancy ones that involve hard to find exotic dried fruits, jams, melted chocolate... but these things don't add mech to the finished cake. This is my favourite recipe. I've tweaked it to suit our family's tastes. Although most recipes suggest using sherry, whiskey or madeira I use brandy like my Nana always did. I never use candied peel because my husband doesn't like it.
         Having spent a frustrating time trying to find the scrap of paper I'd written and crossed the recipe out on, I'm typing it here so next year I'll know where to find it.
        The beauty of this recipe is that as long as you stick to the same weight of dry ingredients (the fruit and spices) and the same volume of alcohol you can change them to suite yourself.


275g currants
275g sultanas
275g dried figs, roughly chopped
100g glace cherries, halved
125ml brandy, plus extra to feed the cake after baking
125g softened butter
125g muscovado sugar
4 eggs
130g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 and 1/2 tsp mixed spice
pinch of salt
50g ground almonds
grated zest of 1 lemon
50g whole almonds
25g crystallised ginger, chopped

Put all the fruit and the brandy in a bowl, mix, cover and leave to soak overnight.
Grease and line a 20cm cake tin with two layers of baking parchment.

Preheat the oven to 140C.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light - this takes quite a while! Gradually add the eggs, beat well after each one to stop the mixture curdling.

In another bowl mix together the sifted flour, baking powder, spice, ground almonds, salt and fold this into the butter and sugar mixture. Add the fruit and any brandy left in the bowl, then the lemon zest, chopped almonds and ginger. Give it a stir.

At this point I get everyone in the family to stir the mix, does anyone else do this? Its always been a tradition in our house.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the surface. Make a small hollow in the middle of the cake to prevent it doming during baking.

Bake the cake for an hour then cover it with foil to stop the top of the cake getting too dark. Bake the cake for another 40 minutes then check it. Its done when a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Check every 10 minutes until its cooked.

Cool the cake in the tin. make a few holes in the cake with the skewer and brush more brandy over the cake. Leave the parchment around the cake and wrap the whole thing in foil. Feed the cake with a little beandy each week until you are ready to odecorate it.

This is last year's effort,
I'm not sure how we will decorate this year's cake. I liked the icing candy canes but they were what is known in Yorkshire as 'a right faff'' to make! What are your Christmas traditions?

Early mornings

As I've got older and has life changed in many ways - mainly by havng a family and working for myself - I find I'm hopeless at late nights. Long gone are days when I could rock in or just stop work at one or two in the morning. Now I find I'm fit for nothing at around ten or eleven. I used to love a long lie in (and very occasionally I still do, 'til eight maybe even nine but thats pushing it).

I find myself waking up at five and laying there, turning over ideas, making mental lists. Sometimes I found this really frustrating even though I was wide awake I'd wind myself up trying to force sleep. Then I had a revelation, get up! Get out of bed and use this quiet time when everyone else is asleep to get on.

 There is something really lovely about creeping downstairs while everyone is asleep, making a brew and going into my workroom. At the weekend I can spend a few hours like this before everyone else comes downstairs. Its turned into a bit of a treat. Its a good time for me to tackle paper work and lately to have a good sort out. I need to simplify my work space, pare down the things I work with. This weekend I decided I had to make a start.

I made these upcycled storage panels for my acrylics. The boards are from some broken shelves we've had lurking in the garage. The tubes are hung by binder clips on panel pins. Its made it so much easier to see the colours I have. There is one more panel to go up then I can move on to another corner. More photos when I've made more progress - its such an awful mess I won't let anyone in here at the moment.
PS that is not an old cup of tea - its paint brush water :)

When is your most productive time of day?

Cliff Top Break

We had a week away earlier this month, it was wonderful, exactly what we all needed. We were staying at St Abbs Head in the Scottish Borders. I can honestly say its my favourite place we've ever visited, it had  really big impact on me.
We rented an apartment for a week which is part of the white house behind the lighthouse in the photo above. All of the lighthouse buildings have been converted into holiday rents ranging from a one room 'bovey' to a 2 bedroom cottage. This all sounds grander than it actually is, but when I first saw the place I couldn't believe we could afford to stay there! Its the location that really took my breath away.
The headland is one of the most important seabird nesting sites in Europe.  At the beginning of the nesting season there are over 30,000 guillemots nesting on the cliffs below. At this time of year we saw guillemots, hundreds of kittiwakes and gannets.

 Its a very wild bit of coast but so many plants thrive on the cliffs and in the lighthouse walls, the colours are stunning.

We spent lots of time exploring the cliffs and enjoying the spectacular sea views. Its almost always windy up there but when inside its really hard to appreciate just how windy it might be - there aren't any trees or bushes up at the head so until you stand outside its hard to judge. We were treated to all weathers, these photos were taken a day apart, the first one when the rain eased off....

 It was a really relaxing week, visiting the fish merchant in Eyemouth to buy dinner or having lunch at the fantastic Oblo, feeding seals in the harbour, exploring the rock pools at Coldingham Bay and walking around Cove harbour hunting for sea pottery and shells.

 Just writing all of this down is making me want to go back. I love our home and living in Haworth but I'd really love to live by the sea one day too. This photo really draws me in....

Catch up from The British Craft Trade Fair

It's just over a week since the British Craft TradeFair 2015 finished and its been  a very busy few days. Here are a few pics of my stand - not the best images but they give an impression.
 I took more stand equipment than in previous years. The bare stand looked stuffed to the gills when we unloaded and we struggled to move around during set up but it came together in the end.

  Every year I promise myself that I will take more and better pics but I never manage it, sorry!

 I do think this show is a bit special. This was my spring board to being a full time designer maker. I had a great response when I exhibited in Newcomers five years ago and BCTF has been good to me ever since. Its lovely to meet up with other makers (we are scattered all over the UK so for some of us  this is our only chance to have a catch up). Its also good to meet up with buyers who have stuck with me since the beginning. This year I have taken orders from a number of new stockists and will be taking part in several exhibitions. Now that I've got over my achy feet I'm cracking on with the orders. I've already booked for next year and paid the first installment. On the final day I took some time to sketch out my stand, take some measurements and make some plans for next year.

British Craft Trade Fair preparations...

This photo is of my stand at the British Craft Trade Fair (BCTF) last year. I love this fair, this year will be my 5th time exhibiting. For this years event I want to change things a little, I need more space to exhibit my cufflinks but I want to freshen it up too while still making it look like my 'brand'.
          The trickiest thing about this event is the stand itself. Most trade stands are made from wooden boards which are reasonably sturdy so shelves can be screwed in place, picture frames hung, paper stapled up, often the boards can be painted. But not here. The boards are some kind of plastic with metal struts to support them. Shelves and picture frames need to be hung from the top of the stand using 'S' hooks. The boards wobble quite a bit so this needs to be considered when placing furniture against them. Last year brooches kept falling off my pigeon hole style shelves when the exhibitor on the other side of the board moved his ceramics around, I was more worried that moving things on my side would knock his work! So when planning the layout its really important to consider all of this.

 As my designs are garden / flower related and involve upcycled elements I want this reflected in the stand layout and I also want to be able to use the props at other craft events. I decided to make the new display borards myself. Now I'm no carpenter but since I wanted a rustic, garden shed look I thought I'd be ok.

I used tongue and groove planks to make the boards (the wood was left over from when we had our bathroom replaced). I finished them with 3 layers of chalk effect furniture paint, red, green and aged white. I sanded the white paint to expose some of the layers beneath.

 The cufflinks need more space than I thought so I made a set of shelves from a wine crate with some Ikea picture ledges, these will sit on one of the potting tables and a wall mounted set from an old bread tray. I love this tray - it was left by the people we bought a house from about 12 years ago. They were using it in the cellar to store plant pots, I've used it as a prop for photos and for display at fairs.

  In the end I have five new (old) pieces of display equipment which have only cost the price of the picture ledges and paint. Got to love recycling / upcycling! I still need to decide how all of this will fit together, I'll post photos x