mmm, chestnuts…

I was only introduced to roasted chestnuts about four years ago, when my hubby (then fiancee) took me foraging for them in Essex – where we lived at the time – and then his mum cooked them for us. I didn’t think I’d like them, I believe I was imagining dry roasted peanut flavour when I saw them! But I was pleasantly suprised to find them sweet and soft and delicious. Every year since then we try to collect some, but we hadn’t managed to find a spot with a good haul of decent sized nuts, now that we live in Dorset. Until this year.

On Monday we headed for Canford Heath Nature Reserve, where a friend of my husband told him she used to go chestnut collecting when she was young. We wandered around the woods, but could only find empty shells, so we thought we had been beaten to it by the squirrels.

We wandered a bit further, and found ourselves in amoungst pine trees. We didn’t think we’d find any chestnuts there, but it was a lovely day, so we continued our walk, and stopped to eat our picnic lunch on the dry, pine-needle strewn, forest ground.

Then my clever hubby managed to find a lonely chestnut tree surrounded by pine trees. Yay! It only had a few nuts left, which we had to reach up and grab from the branches, but hey, at least we weren’t going home empty handed. We gathered them up and then fought our way through prickly heather to go back the short way round. My hubby would tell you I was leading him through scathing thorns that stabbed his legs like pin-pricks, but there was a path, really. He’d be exaggerating. Slightly.

We got into the car and headed home. And then, as we were driving along, we saw a huge, bumper crop of chestnuts all over the verge, spilling onto the tarmac, from a dozen chestnut trees in a clearing just off the road! Ooh, we pulled over sharpish, our car tyres cracking some of the precious nuts that had strayed too far. We leapt out and ran like eager children on christmas morning, and grabbed up handful after handful of large, shiny nuts. I was sooo happy! I love gathering food. This is definitely one of the main reasons I love the Autumn!
I’m afraid there’s no piccy of where we found the nuts, as I was way too busy collecting them to stop and get my camera out. Instead, here’s a photo of the bowful of beauties we collected:
I included a chestnut leaf in the photo, in case anyone who hasn’t gathered them before is inspired to go find a tree nearby! This leaf is one from the ground, so is obviously quite brown, the leaves still on the tree were yellowy-green. I can always tell when it’s time to collect chestnuts when we drive past a tree and I see the yellow-green leaves!
You should also know, if you want to go gathering, that you need to make sure you’re getting sweet chestnuts, not horse chestnuts (which are also known as conkers). You can tell the difference as sweet chestnuts normally have three nuts in a shell, and you only usually find one conker per shell. And sweet chestnuts fall later, and are smaller (in the uk anyway, I don’t know about countries with different climates). You should gather chestnuts as soon as possible after they’ve fallen, otherwise they get damp. And don’t pick up ones with little holes in the shell – they might have a little worm inside! The shell shouldn’t be wrinkly either – grab the nice smooth ones.
If you then want to roast your chestnuts in an oven, here’s what you do. Use a small, sharp knife to cut a cross in the shell:

And put them onto a baking tray, and then into your oven at 200 degrees C. They take about 20 mins to cook, depending on your oven, but you can tell when they’re ready as the shell will be peeling back, and the nuts inside should not look too white:

Then you just peel of the shell, and the thinner brown layer of skin, until you have a nice, creamy looking nut all ready to gobble up:

These ones were for my daughter – she loves them too!

As we managed to collect so many, and they only keep for a few days at room temperature, I’ve also frozen some, both in puree form and still in shells. I’m hoping the frozen ones will taste good cooked around christmas time!

How about you? Do you like chestnuts? Do you gather your own, or buy them (which I also do when I run out of gathered ones)? Do you have any recipes you like to use them in, or do you just love to roast them? Or can you not stand the things?!

Hope eveyone is having a lovely fall! xx


Alter It Monthly – Sealed with Magic

October’s theme at Alter It Monthly (a challenge blog no longer running) is etheral/magical/supernatural. I was thinking of doing something including a fairy image, as I haven’t done any fairy art for ages, but then I was inspired by both the DT and the other entrants items, to go for something a bit darkly magical. Here’s my altered box:

It started as a plain papermache box from Hobbycraft:

I painted it with red-brown acrylic paint, crackle glaze, and black paint (except for the middle of the lid which I left red-brown):

I painted the inside black too (after failing miserably at trying to glue some fabric in – any tips?):

The top was decorated with various items, including some lace trim which I coloured with Tattered Angels gold Glimmer Mist, an old watch key which I linked onto a bit of bracelet chain, and the words ‘sealed with magic’. I also used blood red sealing wax to attach some items to the lid, and to gloop around the edge of the lid so the box looks sealed. If I was actually giving it to someone with a gift in I’d seal it up properly!

It would be good for a halloween gift, or for storing gemstones with magical properties. I’m not sure if I’m going to keep it for myself or not yet!
We went chestnut collecting today, I’ll be back tomorrow to talk all about it! xx

Let’s Eat Blog Hop

Hello! If you’re new here and you’ve found me through the hop then welcome! I bet you had a great time at Mel’s place, and I hope you’ll enjoy reading about one of my favourite meals. If you’re a regular visitor then I’m pleased to see you again, and I hope you like this foodie post.

To start with I’m going to take you back to when I was about 13, and being a difficult teenager by declaring myself a vegetarian. I can’t remember what prompted this, it might have been that I was copying a friend, it might have been that I’d just re-read Daggie Dogfoot (a pig story by Dick King Smith), and decided I didn’t want to be eating the characters I loved. Whatever it was, I was certain I was a vegetarian from then on.
It lasted about a week. My mum had been quite patient about me eating a lot of cheese sandwiches and veggie pizza etc, but then one night she forgot (that’s her story and she’s sticking with it), and she cooked my favourite meal. I smelt it cooking from my bedroom, and stomped down to the kitchen to rant at her. My wonderful mum didn’t pack me off to my bedroom for being ungrateful, like she probably should have, but instead she offered to cook me something different. But it was too late by then. My mouth was watering from the scent of it, and I knew I didn’t have the willpower to turn it down. I really admire anyone who is a vegetarian, as I’ve tried again since then and something always tempts me back to meat eating.

Anyway, here it is, that tempting meal that threw me back into carnivore status:

Sheperds Pie with Baked Beans

Now, firstly I should point out that this meal uses beef mince, not lamb, and so some people might be confused at it being called Sheperds pie instead of Cottage pie. But I’ve never called it Cottage pie in my life, so I won’t start now!


-600g White Potatoes
-250g Beef Mince Meat
-Half of a 420g tin of Baked Beans
-One small white cooking onion (optional)
-Large Knob of Butter
-Dash of Milk
-Olive oil
-Pinch of Salt
-Cracked Black Pepper
-Bisto Gravy (150ml)
-Pinch of Salt
-Worcestershire Sauce


-Large Saucepan
-Frying Pan
-Pyrex Dish (big enough to hold at least 2 pints of water—test with a jug)
-Spatula, masher, & large spoon with no slots (to dish up)
-Slotted Spoon
-Jug for Gravy

To Cook:

Fill a large saucepan with water and put it onto boil (on high heat).

Peel and chop potatoes for mash, put them into the saucepan once it’s boiling. Put a frying pan on a medium heat hob. Add a small dollop of oil.

Once the frying pan is hot start cooking the mince, using a spatula to break it up. If you are using an onion you can chop this up and add it when the meat is broken up and starting to take a little colour.

Turn on the oven to 200 degrees C to warm up. Don’t forget to stir the spuds.

Make sure the mince is cooked through. There should be no big lumps and it should all now be grey/brown in colour (ie. Not pink). Take it off the heat and transfer to the pyrex dish. If trying to make it healthy you can drain off the excess fat first.

When the potatoes are done take them off the heat and drain.

Boil the kettle. When boiled mix approx 150ml (a quarter of a pint) of bisto gravy – mix it gently with a fork whilst you pour the kettle so you don’t get lumps, mix faster once you’ve put the kettle down until all the granules disappear.

Mix the baked beans with the mince (and onion if using) in the pyrex dish (if the beans have a lot of sauce drain some off first.)

Mix gravy into beans and mince. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and a glug of worcestershire sauce.

Mash the potatoes with a large knob of butter and a little milk (or olive oil if you prefer). Also a pinch of salt and pepper.

Now add the mash in dollops to the top of the mince mixture. Try to do it evenly otherwise you’ll have more mash at one end and the gravy will ooze out the other.

Press down gently to fill in the holes but leave it uneven on top so that you get crispy bits. Your pie will crisp up better if the mash is right at the top edge of your dish, but don’t worry if it’s not (mine isn’t usually).

Put it in the oven on the middle or top shelf, and leave to cook for 20-30 mins. You may want to put a baking tray on the shelf underneath, to catch any gravy that oozes out, mine often does. Also, if you want to give the mash extra crispyness on top you could grill it for a couple of mins at the end, but watch closely so it doesn’t burn.

Dish it up, and serve with bread and butter, and/or peas and carrots.

Note: This is for 2 greedy people! It will easily serve 3, maybe even four if you’re cooking vegetables with it. Or you could save some and re-heat in the microwave the next day. Also: If you want to increase the recipe for more people you can just add more ingredients (eg. 2 x ingredients for 4 people, 3 x ingredients for 6 people etc, but you will need a bigger pyrex dish, or 2 dishes. This will also increase the oven cooking time, if using 2 dishes it will increase by 5-10mins, if using a bigger dish 15-30mins extra. Just keep checking it!

Hope you don’t mind that my recipe is quite rustic. I know baked beans aren’t to everyone’s taste but I love them!

Your next stop along the blog hop trail is Liberty Cottage. Have a great time! If you get lost anywhere along the way, then head back to Amy’s for a list of all the blogs taking part. xxx

Kids Crafts

art journal page, a sweetie boot, & kids halloween, what a mix!

As promised, the first thing I have to show you is an art journal page (a double spread) that I made following week one’s lesson of Art, Heart and Healing:

The left page was therapeutic – writing down negative thoughts and then covering them with layer on layer of prettiness, finally adding a sentence of how to use those negative thoughts positively.

My negative thoughts were all about worrying that I’m not a good enough mum, wife, friend, artist etc, because I feel I try to do too much to make any of it perfect. I decided my negative thoughts are trying to tell me that if I want to try and balance these things, then I need to stop stressing about them all being faultless. It doesn’t matter if my daughter sometimes watches more TV than I’d like so that I can cook the dinner, and if I want to spend an evening watching telly with hubby then I shouldn’t stress about not getting an online challenge done that I’d wanted to do. This is a message that I knew already really, but hopefully having an art journal page to remind me will help me be strong about it:

The right hand page is sort of a self-portrait – one that doesn’t necessarily look like me, but is supposed to represent me. It must look like me a little bit, because when I showed it to my daughter she said ‘it’s mummy!’. Tam suggested we should take a word that sums up the positive move forward and write it on the portrait somewhere, so I chose ‘balance’ – you can just about see it between the collarbones:

I loved creating this page. The lesson was a video with Tam talking you though all the steps, and it gave me real confidence with shading and building up layers. It was also great to finally get use out of some watercolour pencils my mum bought me years ago (thanks mum!) but which had been sitting in the bottom of a cupboard. Now I want some more! If you’d like to give the class a go, you can still join up and see this lesson. The course is free, you just have to sign up to Tam’s ning site (also free). Go to http://www.willowing.ning.com/.

Next up tonight is an item inspired by the Paper Variety blog – their challenge this week is to create a project that incorperates candy or other sweet treats. So I made this:

My husband lived in Germany until he was 6 years old. He doesn’t remember huge amounts from living over there, just because he was quite young when the family moved back to England, but every December he reminisces about St. Nicholas Day on the 6th of December, when german children wake up to a boot stuffed with sweets, nuts or fruit. I’m not sure if this is a tradition in other countries too? I’d never heard of it before I met him anyway.
Every year I mean to make him a boot to stick some sweeties in (I certainly wouldn’t want to just put sweets in his smelly shoes!), and this Paper Variety challenge has given me the push to finally make one, after 10 years together!
I made it by sticking together some loo roll inner tubes onto a base cut from a cereal packet:
And then I used modge-podge to stick xmas papers and tissue papers all over it. I chose blue papers because that’s my hubby’s fave colour. I also stamped and stuck on the tag saying ‘St. Nick’s Day’ placing it so it looked a bit like a boot tongue. I used Copydex to glue silver laces on too:
Finally I used glamour dust to glitter the toe of the boot and the top rim:
Now I just have to try and remember to actually fill it with sweets and leave it for him to find on the morning of the 6th. I bet I’ll be posting on the 7th of Dec saying ‘arrgghh, I forgot!’. If you want to join in with the Paper Variety Challenge you can see it here.
Okay, a last couple of pics to show you (thank you if you’re still with me!). This morning I read the lovely Rachel’s latest blog post, with some kiddies halloween crafts she’d been making with her son. I was inspired, so today me and little miss have made these:

Fun eh? I think my daughter enjoyed making them, though she wasn’t too sure about painting her hand white until I did mine first. She has a bit of a fear of getting her hands sticky. I love the faces she’s created on the ghosts, especially the one with freaky green and brown pupils! Thank you Rachel for giving me the ideas!
Right, that really is it. Until tomorrow morning when I’ll be back with my recipe as part of the Let’s Eat Blog Hop. Sorry if you’re getting sick of me! xx
Scrapbook Layouts

Latest DT project

Hello all!

My latest DT project is up on the Fiskarettes blog. I created this layout with a photo taken around christmas time last year:

My favourite bit of this layout is the masking tape – it was normal white masking tape until I painted, stamped, and coloured it, and I love how it turned out:

If you want to see more details, including materials used, you can see the project on the Fiskarettes blog here.

This week has been a little more manic than I anticipated, especially as I’d forgotten about Tam’s class starting (Art, Heart and Healing – see button on right sidebar). But more on that tomorrow – I’ll show you the Art journal page I’ve made from her first class.

I’ll also be here early Sunday morning as part of this blog hop:

Which is being organised by the lovely Amy from Over at Our Place. I’ll be sharing with you a simple recipe that I’ve loved since I was young, so check back on Sunday to read that, and to hop through the other delactable offerings across the blogosphere.

Night night! xx

Scrapbook Layouts

Many names

My nan has had a lot of nicknames. I think it’s definitely something about her generation that they haven’t always been called by the names they were born with. I had to create a layout about this as I think it’s fascinating, I know a lot of people have nicknames when they’re at school etc, but it’s wierd to think of being called by a different name almost your whole life. Here’s the layout (click photo to enlarge, scroll down this post for journaling):

Journaling reads:
‘Ann Crawte was christened Margaret Ann Bullen, in the year of her birth, 1935. But when she was still very young her brothers began to call her ‘Maggie’ – and her mum didn’t like this abbreviation, saying ‘it’s not her name’. So her mum called her by her middle name ‘Ann’ instead, as that can’t be shortened.
She’s been known mostly as Ann ever since (‘Ann’ might have been chosen because she had an Auntie called Annie).
Ann also had the nickname ‘Feenie’, which her dad started and the other’s in her family picked up too; and the nickname ‘Pap’ was given to her by her future husband Jeff, though they can’t remember why! xxx’
I have many stories about my grandparents so they’ll be some more layouts of them!
I had a good time this weekend with Rosie, running the creative writing course for kids. It was very tiring too though!
Everyone made up a character to be on the Saturday, when we went exploring. They all had a bit of costume to help remind them of their character, and to encourage them to think about how their character would feel in the setting or situation we were in. Of course me and Rosie had a character too, we wouldn’t ask the kids to do anything we’re afraid of doing! My character was Agatha Cotton, a wandering storyteller. Here I am in my costume on the walk across the Mendip hills in Somerset:

And here’s some of the fantasy worlds the kids made from junk and mod-rock, to base their stories in. It’s a great way to make them think big when imagining settings for their stories, and to give them a visual stimulus for their descriptions:

I was covered in plaster and paint for a lot of the weekend! xxx
DIY Gifts

Bookmark and Journal gift set

My latest project for the Fiskarettes blog:

If you want to see more pictures and find out how I made it you can go to the Fiskarettes blog here. I made it thinking it would be a nice christmas present for someone, but I like it so much I might keep it for myself!
I’ve had a very busy week this week. Me and Rosie have been preparing for this:
An event that we’re performing at between 10.30am and 1.30pm on Saturday the 30th of October, at The Lighthouse, Poole (it’s part of Poole Literature Festival, see here for details). If any of you will be in the area you should come and check it out!
Sorry this is such a short post, I’m in a rush now as we’re working this weekend, running a course called Tall Tales and Wonderful Worlds. The kids (ages 7-11) will be making fantasy worlds from mod-roc, building dens in the woods, and writing stories. Should be fun!
I promise I’ll write some more in-depth posts next week. xxx