You don’t need a fancy camera – photo quiz!

Hopefully this is proof that you don’t need a fancy camera to take great photos – I get fed up hearing of this!! Especially all of you that have I-phones!

As promised, I’m going to expand on the photographs of my last post and share with you some of my favourite images of the evening walking around Forvie NNR. I did take photos with both my phone and my camera. I still am impressed by the quality of the HDR mode of my Samsung S5 neo. See if you can guess which ones are which. Answers at the bottom….

 

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Old derelict green railway cart
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Evening sunset over the dunes

One of these following two is my £300 phone, the other, my £900 camera. Do I feel a little cheated?!

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Looking south over Forvie towards Aberdeen – 1

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1 or 2….1 or 2…?! Which one do you prefer?

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The old buried church

This was my favourite photo of the walk – but what did I take it on?

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Looking south over Forvie towards Aberdeen – 3
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Sunset over the dunes
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An old fence at the beach
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Evening through the marram grass

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Please leave your thoughts in the comments and share with your friends to prove a point 😉

Annette

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Reveal the answers:

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Days 5,6 and 7: 50 miles in!

Sands of Forvie

Walking and/or running 50 miles in 7 days isn’t too bad! I must say that my legs are feeling it a little though.

Days 5 and 6 of my John O’ Groats to Lands End Challenge went pretty well. A few miles walking round at work and a 6 mile run from the nearest local town home each day helped bring in a few miles. Cue sunset number one…

Ythan estuary sunset
Ythan estuary sunset

Day 7 took me on a beautiful evening through Forvie NNR this time with camera in hand. I’m just going to show a few photos here to give you an idea. I’ll write a longer post with more images at a later date, but this will whet your appetite hopefully! The advantages of getting outside are now becoming evident to me….

Looking south towards Aberdeen
Looking south towards Aberdeen
Sunset over the sand dunes
Sunset over the sand dunes

These photos on this page were actually all taken with my phone. I never cease to be amazed by the quality of photographs that phones can churn out nowadays. Despite the fact that I had my big camera on me, most photos I took were in HDR mode on my phone.

It’ll be interesting to compare them to those taken in RAW on my camera, especially the ones looking down the coast.

Hopefully you had some nice walks outside too over the last few days!

Annette

 

Cashew Nut, Coconut Milk and Sweet Potato Soup with Crispy Skins

The finished soup and crisps

This smooth yet really filling soup is perfect for a cold winters day. It’s rich and thick and lightly spiced which is what you need to take the chill off a day spent outside.

Although I have specified peeled sweet potato, feel free to add the skin in too. Alternatively use the sweet potato peelings to make yummy, yummy crispy skins to have with your soup. You may even find yourself peeling a little extra sweet potato than normal!

It’s even great as a base for a ramen – I used one portion for this, adding extra water and stock, green veg like broccoli and thick udon noodles. Cook briefly and voila!

A fully vegan feast!

Follow me on Instagram for more tasty pics like this ;)
Follow me on Instagram for more tasty pics like this 😉

MDM’s Roasted Cashew Nut, Coconut Milk and Sweet Potato Soup

100g roasted cashew nuts, chopped roughly

1tbsp olive oil + 100mls for sweet potato crisps

250g white onions finely chopped

2 sticks celery, approx 100g

1 med-large sweet potato, peeled and chopped

200g carrots

2 tsp ground mixed spice

1tsp chinese 5 spice

1.5pt vegetable stock (more if you want to thin the soup a little)

1 tbsp tomato puree

1 can coconut milk

Salt and pepper

Cashew nut, coconut milk and sweet potato soup fresh ingredients
Cashew nut, coconut milk and sweet potato soup fresh ingredients
  1. Heat the oven to around 150oC fan and put the cashews in and stir around regularly. Roast for around 10-15 minutes until they start to brown ever so slightly.
  2. Meanwhile fry the onions and celery in the olive oil until softened.
  3. Add in the sweet potato and carrots and cook for about 5 minutes. Add in the spices and cook for another 3-5 mins. Add in cashews.
  4. Add in the vegetable stock and tomato puree. Simmer for 30 minutes until all veg is soft.
  5. Take off the heat and blend everything until smooth. Make sure it has cooled a little and add in the coconut milk (allowing it to cool stops the soup from splitting).
  6. Heat the soup up again a little before serving. Swirl in some coconut milk which is left over in the tin.
  7. While soup is cooking, lay potato peelings out on a small tray. The aim is really just to dry them out a little before frying later. Cook for around 10 minutes in the oven (after the cashews). Stir around once or twice.
  8. Remove from oven and lay out on kitchen roll to cool and dry out further.
  9. Heat oil in a small pan and once hot place in potato peelings. They will only take a minute or two to cook. Once cooked scoop out of the oil and place on kitchen roll to drain off excess oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  10. Eat.

Serves around 6 people, or more if you thin it down a little.
Serves around 6 people, or more if you thin it down a little.

Let me know if you try it! I’d love to hear what you think.

Annette

Day 2: John O’Groats to Lands End

The Ythan at Newburgh

I’m making some progress on this one! Despite having a fairly sedentary day in the office doing data analysis I still managed to make up 6.9 miles today.

We had a lovely wee walk at Newburgh, down onto the estuary when there are hundreds of seals – it’s well worth seeing if you are in the area. Apparently in the summer when there are thousands and the wind is blowing in the wrong direction the smell in Newburgh is pretty overpowering!

The estuary of the Ythan river
The estuary of the Ythan river – all those ‘rocks’ on the other side of the river are seals!

There was also a small float (?) of eiders and some shore waders of which I weren’t sure what they were! Note to self – improve bird identification!

Lots of seals with those little grey wading birds in the foreground....
Lots of seals with those little grey wading birds in the foreground….

Once we got home, I dusted off the running gear and went out for what I’m going to call a run-walk up the coast a little. Unfortunately I hadn’t quite mastered the headtorch (i.e. I wasn’t holding the button down for long enough :/ ) so proceeded to walk back in the almost dark. It was light enough for walking but not enough for anything faster.

Therefore this was a successful second day, bringing my total up to …. 12.2 miles! Not too shabby!

 

Annette

Loch Lomond in Black and White

Black and white photo of Loch Lomond

It was a pretty grey uninspiring day when I took these black and white photographs of Loch Lomond on Saturday. They aren’t great but just thought I’d share them with you 🙂

Black and white photograph of the old jetty at Balmaha Loch Lomond
The old jetty at Balmaha Loch Lomond
Black and white photo of Loch Lomond with path
Tree looking out over Loch Lomond
Black and white photo of Loch Lomond
Misty views out over Loch Lomond on a grey day.
Black and white photo of Loch Lomond
Views out over Loch Lomond on a grey day.

I guess this kind of weather is to be expected in this part of the world – but don’t let it put you off walking The West Highland Way as even on a grey and rainy day its still beautiful!

Annette

Black and White Photo Study

The intimate nature of a Gunnera leaf

Here are a few black and white photos I took last weekend. What do you think?

A mallard duck paddling into the distance
A mallard duck paddling into the distance
Close-up of a chunky post
Close-up of a chunky post
Gunnera leaves
Gunnera leaves
Eryngium alpinum flowerhead and bracts
Eryngium alpinum flowerhead and bracts
Backlit head of an Umbellifer
Backlit head of an Umbellifer
Gunnera leaf with rain droplets
Gunnera leaf with rain droplets

Black and white photos can be so soothing. Not all photographs will work as black and white but I think these do. They are particularly good when there is texture involved and that texture has many shades of grey.

Do you take black and white photos?

Annette

7 More Ways to Change How You Take Photos: Part 3

Astrantia peering over a log

With Part 1 and Part 2 out the way, this is my final post on how to change the way you think about taking photos. Hopefully through the three posts you will be inspired to go and take photos. I’d love to see what you have taken – feel free to leave links to your photos below in the comments section.

Nineteen: Use your fellow photographers as models

Although photographers don’t always make the best models, feel free to grab someone you go out photographing with and get them to pose for you.

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Using models for photography

Twenty: Look for complementary shapes

I don’t think this is a great photo but I love how this Allium head reflects the clipped ball Buxus in the background.

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Allium, Buxus and Araucaria

Twenty-One: Be empowered by archways

Archways are so photogenic.

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Archways can add a frame to a photo

Twenty-Two: Look for repeating patterns

Repeating patterns can look great in a photo often in black and white.

The pattern of these leaves is repeating but adds a nice balance to the photo
The pattern of these leaves is repeating but adds a nice balance to the photo

Twenty-Three: Shoot flowers

If it’s a grey day, then it’s perfect for photographing flowers. Don’t worry if you can’t get close, photograph them in their surroundings.

Honeysuckle - Lonicera
Honeysuckle – Lonicera

Twenty-Four: Give an idea of environment or context

Find something interesting in the foreground and allow the background to fade out into the distance.

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Astrantia on the river edge

Twenty-Five: Take a ‘frothy’ image

I’m in love with this style of image at the moment. The style where nothing in particular is in focus, but the frame is filled with lots of a similar thing. Great for background images with a blurring filter.

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Frothy Cow Parsley

That’s it for just now. I’m sure I will share some more images and ideas in the future. This is where we visited. Why not go down to your local park with a few interested friends or colleagues and have a go?

Annette X

 

 

What’s Looking Hot in Gardens in July (UK)?

Digitalis purpurea - the common foxglove

Gorgeous things in full flower at the moment (mid July) in Scotland, UK (or is it….)?

 

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Digitalis ferruginia
Thalictrum flavum - Yellow Meadow Rue
Thalictrum flavum – Yellow Meadow Rue
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Himalayan lily – Cardiocrinum giganteum
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Dactylorhiza sp.
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Lupins of varying shades
Aconitum napellus - Monkshood
Aconitum napellus – Monkshood
Iris sibirica - Siberian Flag Iris
Iris sibirica – Siberian Flag Iris
Lavendula - Lavender
Lavendula – Lavender
Eryngium alpinum - Sea Holly
Eryngium alpinum – Sea Holly
Lychnis coronaria - Rose Campion
Lychnis coronaria – Rose Campion in white and pink
Linaria purpurea (pink version) - absolutely loved by bees
Linaria purpurea (pink version) – absolutely loved by bees

 

Salvia officinalis 'Purpurascens'
Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’ – Purple-leaved sage

There are of course many more things but these will at least inspire you.

Annette x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Design: Saint Cuthbert’s Way Ultra Trophy

Saint Cuthbert's Way Ultra Trophy

We were asked to make a trophy base for the Saint Cuthbert’s Way Ultramarathon Race by the organisers of the race, Trail Outlaws. They had purchased a lovely replica St Cuthbert’s cross made by Wild Goose Studio and needed a mount and base with plates for engraving.

Saint Cuthbert's Cross from Wild Goose Studios in Ireland
Saint Cuthbert’s Cross from Wild Goose Studios in Ireland

Originally the base was supposed to be an ‘impossible wood’ design but unfortunately it didn’t quite work out and we went for this sandwich-style design instead. We both thought it looked better anyway. The woods are walnut and oak and are finished with Danish Oil which acts to protect and darken the wood.

The stand itself has a uniquely-designed celtic style detailing, carefully cut with a mini scroll/fret saw. It is fully removable to allow for engraving to take place. A small dowel holds the cross in place.

The engraving plates and name plate are made of copper and hand stamped. The letters will oxidise over time and add a lovely effect. I thought about adding another couple of plates on the sides but it would have overwhelmed the design with the amount of copper.

 

To finish it off we added these little rubber feet.

Rubber feet on the trophy base to help prevent scratches
Rubber feet on the trophy base to help prevent scratches

We were both pretty proud of the result!

Saint Cuthbert's Way Ultra Trophy
Saint Cuthbert’s Way Ultra Trophy

Congratulations to everyone who finished the 45 miles from Holy Island to Melrose along the Saint Cuthbert’s Way. We hope everyone had fun in the race and congratulations to Peter Gibson who came in first place and will be the first proud owner of this trophy … until next year!

Saint Cuthbert's Way Ultra Trophy ready to be awarded
Saint Cuthbert’s Way Ultra Trophy ready to be awarded!

Seaton Park, Aberdeen – As Beautiful as Ever

Grass heads in front of a rose

Despite there being lots of works on at the moment to improve the park, which at first glance may seem messy and destructive, Seaton Park, in my opinion, is looking as beautiful as ever. All thanks, of course to the hard work and patience of the gardeners, the local council and The Friends of Seaton Park. I hope these photos do it some justice.

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Seaton Park by the River Don
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Umbels beside the river
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View up the River Don from Seaton Park towards Donside Village
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Slate river effect
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Flowering Cornus (Dogwood)
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White-edged Hosta is reflected in these airy white flowers (Crambe?)
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Lady’s Mantle and this Nepeta work well together
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Lady’s Mantle glowing
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Grass flowerheads
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The formal walkway in Seaton Park
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People enjoying Seaton Park
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Views towards St Machar Cathedral from Seaton park
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The hanging basket display at Seaton Park
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Vibrant red Begonia
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Clipped box line the path to the fountain
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Memorial for the fountain
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Festuca and this old rope work well together
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The many colours of Carex
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Rope fence detail
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Driftwood and grass planting towards Hillhead
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Catching the light
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Glowing umbellifer
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Glowing fern

 

9 More Ways to Change how you Photograph: Part 2

Iris with Azalea in the background

On saturday I mentioned my first 9 tips on how to change the way you take photographs. Here are my next 9 ideas.

Ten: Rule of Thirds

If you drew lines in your photo to divide it into thirds, the places where these lines intersect are natural aesthetic positions for an object to be. Aim to place the object of interest where these grid lines intersect. You can often add gridlines to your camera viewfinder or screen.

Rule of thirds
This tip of this hook falls roughly in the intersection of the furthest right and lower ‘imaginary’ gridlines

Eleven: Break the Rule of Thirds

Place your object right in the centre of your photo and see if it works.

Breaking the rule of thirds
Breaking the rule of thirds – place your focal point right in the centre of the screen. This photo follows ‘fifths’ more!

Twelve: Go Square

The square format is great. It’s the format of choice for Instagram and is great for really focusing in on a subject. You’ll see many of my photos here have been cropped to the square format.

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Square photograph format works well for detail shots like this derelict shipping container

Thirteen: Look for Something Which Stands Out in a Scene

Find something that doesn’t fit into a photograph and enhance it.

This yellow sign on the side of this vehicle hut doesn't really blend in with the scene
This yellow sign on the side of this vehicle hut doesn’t really blend in with the scene

 

Fourteen: Try Simplistic and Minimal Subject Matter

Completely blur out your background using a large aperture to keep your photo focused on one thing.

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The only thing here that is in focus is this cow parsley head. It would make a great card.

Fifteen: Quirky Signs

Capture a candid of something which is out of place that might be seen as fun in years to come.

Find run things in a scene that are out of place.
Find fun things in a scene that are out of place.

Sixteen: Try Abstract

Look for unusual detail. Think of something that would fit more into a modern art museum that a photograph you would show your mum.

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Abstract photo of bamboo against a neutral grey background

Seventeen: Look for Interesting Shapes and Positioning

Think about how objects are connected in a scene. Are things in order or is one thing out of place?

These floral heads all look identical and fill up most of the frame of this photograph
These floral heads all look identical and fill up most of the frame of this photograph. They are all equidistant and connected by the starburst style petioles.

Eighteen: Look for complementing colour and texture

Find harmonious colours and textures and try to photograph why they look good together.

I loved how the texture, shapes and colours complemented each other in this photo.
I loved how the texture, shapes and colours complemented each other in this photo.

That’s the last one for today. Check back Wednesday for the last installment!

Annette

 

9 Ways to Help Change How You Photograph: Part 1

White-edged leaf hosta in black and white

As I mentioned previously some friends and I recently went on an evening after work taking photos. I thought I would share with you some of my top tips when it comes to taking photographs and how I consider different aspects of a scene. This will be Part 1 of 3, so I hope that you will also join me for the next parts on Monday and Wednesday.

The idea is, if you’re just getting into photography to suggest some things to think about to change how you take photos and for those more seasoned experts, maybe some inspiration. In my opinion none of these images are going to win any competitions but they were all taken within a couple of hours and they demonstrate perfectly how photographers can see things differently.

One: Frame the photo with something

Leaves, a window, a building, a fence – it provides focus.

Seaton Park - The formal garden with view framed by leaves
Seaton Park – The formal garden with view framed by leaves.

Two: Zoom in – try and find things in the distance.

Zooming in changes the perspective and makes things seem closer together than they are.

The formal walkway showing plants - zoomed in view
The formal walkway showing plants – zoomed in view.

Three: Get down low

Look at what’s happening under your feet. A low perspective emphasizes size and scale differences.

Daisies and buttercups low view
Daisies and buttercups low view.

Four: Aim up high

Point your camera upwards or get a higher vantage point. It can give the impression of things towering above you.

Dappled sunlight in the canopy of a beach tree
Dappled sunlight in the canopy of a beach tree – looking upwards.

Five: Be quick to act to changes in light

Lighting is around 90% of a photo in my opinion so be quick to act when the light changes. Have locations in mind that you would like to return to when the light is better. Generally evenings and mornings are best but it depends what you want to photograph – cloudy days are better for flowers.

Cocksfoot grass
This Cocksfoot grass would have been boring had the evening sun not come out and back lit the stems.

Six: Look for unusual colour combinations

Sometimes the light or a different view can change the colours of things completely. Find a colour combo you like and try different angles to highlight them each in different ways.

Bronze-leaved sycamore
This dark-leaved sycamore at first looks bronze but the light shining through leaves made them look glorious yellow.

Seven: Go black and white

Black and white looks best where there is good contrast across the image. Red and green will look the same shade of grey hence why colour blind people can’t tell the difference.

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Black and white version of the bronze-leaved sycamore.

Eight: Use lead-in lines

Lead-in lines do just that – they lead your eyes into the frame of the photograph and leave to wondering what lies beyond them.

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Lead-in lines formed by the edges of the path. Also considers point ‘Three.’

Nine: Try an easy ‘fake’ infra-red filter effect 

If you are lucky enough to have photo-editing software, try converting your photo to black and white and lightening only the green tones in your image. What you get is a really easy way to make a ‘fake’ infra red effect which is where all the plant foliage goes white.

Easy fake infra red effect using photoshop
Easy fake infra red effect using photoshop

Want more ideas? Check back tomorrow!

Annette X

Cocoa Tea – Chocolately, Healthy Warming Goodness!

If you haven’t tried cocoa tea, then now is a good time to start. I tried a wee sneaky bag at a friends house and it was so good I went and bought a tub as a special treat to myself (my OH just got his new job so it was deserved, for him, honest…..!) Anyways. This stuff is from Hotel Chocolat and it’s so good, and completely vegan too unlike a lot of their other oh-so-tasty chocolates. As I have hinted at, it isn’t cheap, working out at £10 for 18 tea bags. Enjoyed in moderation though it is worth it. The smell when you open the tub is almost worth it alone anyway….

It’s a bit like ‘watery hot chocolate tea’ if that’s how I would be asked to describe it. I’m perhaps not completely selling it there but hopefully you get the idea. Sometimes hot chocolate can be really sweet and sometimes you want that chocolate hit without the calories. Well, your prayers have been answered. OK, I’d be lying if a bar of delicious chocolate wasn’t better….but it’s a step in the right direction at least.

All in all I really like it.

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Chocolate Tea
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Hotel Chocolat Cocoa Infusion Tea with Vegan Brownie

Add in my favourite vegan chocolate brownie recipe so far: Kris Holechek’s (modifed) Ultimate Brownies and you’re sorted. The one in the photo is from The Minimalist Baker.

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Vegan brownie from The Minimalist Baker

Featured flower today is Clematis ‘Marjorie.’ She is very beautiful and absolutely covered in these wonderful double blooms with a cream centre and pink edges around June time. Most pictures I have seen don’t do her justice.

Laters,

Annette x

A Unique Craft Business – Medals and Trophies

So, in case you don’t already know, I, well technically we(!), have a little craft business on the side (one that is designed to be profitable rather than just a ‘hobby business’ as they say). We have the rather unusual business of making bespoke and different-to-the-usual medals and trophies.

We have made anything between 3 and 500! Get in touch if you are interested in what we can do for you!

craftrocks@hotmail.co.uk

I want to go through each thing I’ve done individually, but here’s my favourites so far:

Cakefest 1
Cakefest  (2014) – my ultimate favourite medal!
D33 2016 medals
D33 ultramarathon (2016) medals and trophies
D33 beer and medal
D33 ultramarathon (2011) – the first production
D33
D33 ulramarathon (2014) – another favoutite
Jedburgh Ultramarathon
Jedburgh Ultramarathon (2015) – designed around the Jedburgh Abbey window
Lindsays borders marathon
lindsays Borders Marathon (2014)
Stonehaven running club
Stonehaven Running Club (2011)

What do you think? Would you be happy to receive one of these?

Annette

Plant Focus: Meconopsis (Blue Poppies)

On a recent visit to the Scottish Plant Hunter’s Garden (The Explorers Garden) in Pitlochry I was lucky enough to see their famed Meconopsis collection pretty much in full bloom. This post was a few weeks in the making as I had a few more photos to add.

Although also know as Blue Poppies, they actually come in many colours. Generally Meconopsis like cool, fairly moist, sheltered conditions and as such I’ve never had much success in my sandy, slightly windy garden. Some are monocarpic – that is they flower once and die, others will form perennial clumps. I should also note that the trusty Welsh Poppy (M. cambrica) also belongs to this group and is an easier one to grow.

Unfortunately I didn’t see too many labels, which, in a genus plagued by naming difficulties was a little disappointing. This could be because they were hidden or because I missed some. I thought I might be able to name some of them post photograph but there’s nay chance!

So you will pretty much have to mostly enjoy photographs of them which is fine because they are so beautiful!

Meconopsis napaulensis - yellow/cream version
Meconopsis napaulensis – yellow/cream version
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Meconopsis napaulensis – pink version
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Meconopsis ‘George Sheriff Group’ Crewdson Hybrids
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Dark blue against the stone wall
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I think this one was Meconopsis ‘Dalemain’ if my notes serve me correct!
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Meconopsis ‘Inverewe’
Meconopsis x sheldonii
Meconopsis x sheldonii
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Meconopsis baileyi ‘Alba’ (aka M. betonicifolia ‘Alba’)
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Such a beautiful range of shades on this Himalayan poppy. This is probably my favourite photograph.
M. grandis (2)
Meconopsis grandis – check out all those anthers!
Meconopsis Huntsfield 1
Meconopsis Huntsfield 1
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Gentle nodding head of a Himalayan Blue Poppy

It’s also worth looking at other parts on the plant in detail. Some have furry stems, others smooth.

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Furry stemmed. It’s amazing how many colours there are.
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Smooth-stemmed ‘Alba’ form

 

Plus how cute are these seed pods with their little waistline belts and furry jackets?

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Meconopsis seed pods

There were a couple which hadn’t yet flowered which is always interesting to know if you’d like to extend the season.

And some which are over such as Meconopsis quintuplinervia – how many times do you think I had to check that I had spelt this right?

As usual I like to give some ideas of what to plant them with.

Here’s some planting ideas mostly from the Scottish Plant Hunter’s Garden:

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They look fantastic under trees.
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I couldn’t get enough of these blue and white forms against the mossy stone wall.
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These Meconopsis were interspersed with Primulas.
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Meconopsis planting which looks straight out of a show garden.
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Look fantastic with bright yellows which highlight the rich orange anthers.
Meconopsis napaulensis and Aquilegia vulgaris
How lovely does this M. napaulensis look with these purple wild-seeded Aquilegia vulgaris?
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This Meconopsis was standing tall against a Tibetan Cherry Prunus serrula. Note the self-seeded Foxgloves behind too.
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A late-flowering Rhododendron makes for a great backdrop for these blue and purple poppies.

I hope that this inspires you to grow some if you have the right garden or why not have a go and find out. If not get along to the Scottish Plant Hunter’s Garden in Pitlochry to have a look. Also the National Collection is held by Holehird Gardens near Windermere in the Lake District – now would be an excellent time to see them!

 

Annette

Photo Club Walkabout

We have a group of us at work who are all keen on photography. We went on a walkabout last night around the local park. I haven’t had a chance to go through all the photos properly yet but here are a few.

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Bronze-leaved Sycamore: I loved how the light caught these leaves
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Old rusty shipping container with paint peeling off: I do like dereliction photography
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Bamboo planted to try and hide this shipping container
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Having fun doing a quick modelling shoot!
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Archways can be so photogenic! Although this looks natural, it was completely posed.

Candelabras and Hostas

Dark pink Candelabra Primula

Candelabra Primula and Hosta form a perfect enlightening planting combination for a cool, damp and shady spot in the garden. These two plants together will really lighten up a dark hole. Fend off any slugs which can munch away at these plants using a nature friendly homemade garlic repellent spray.

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Pink and Yellow Candelabra Primula
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White-edged Hosta great for damp shade
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Pink candelabra Primula of various shades
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Many different types of variegated Hosta planted en masse
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Lilac and yellow whorled Primula
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Dark pink and yellow candelabra Primula
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Light pink with dark pink centres and a Hosta in the background
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Hosta make great ground coverage for shadier spots.
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Hosta and Candelabra Primula planted together alongside a path.

Have you tried this planting combination?

Annette.

Visit: Glen Tanar NNR

Vaccinium myrtillus and Calluna vulgaris undergrowth (Heather and Blaeberries)

I think that everyone has a list of favourite places to go or be. Glen Tanar NNR, near Aboyne, Aberdeenshire, is one of those places which is in my Top 10. I can easily spend a good few hours wandering up and down paths or a good day venturing further up the valley.

It’s a fantastic place to photograph especially in the evening when the mist starts rising through the trees. It was a glorious sunny day on Thursday – one of the best this year – when I had a wonder around. The harsh contrast between highlights and shadows makes it difficult to take pictures in such sunny conditions but I certainly enjoyed the walk and have a few images to share with you.

It’s a few pounds for the car park and there is a small visitor centre with toilets. There are well signposted walks of a mile or too or if you fancy there are also longer walks. For example if you fancy a munro, there is always Mount Keen, although be prepared for a 7 mile walk before you even start ascending it.

Church (1)
Chapel of St Lesmo
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Glen Tanar green – all the houses are painted in this colour of green.
Church (4)
The bell on St Lesmo’s chapel
Undergrowth (1)
Sun dappled undergrowth
Tree stumps (6)
Views of Glen Tanar
Tree stumps (5)
Pignut and wood
Cows (1)
Cows grazing in the field.
Cows (2)
Close up of a young bullock.
Path (1)
Path alongside a field – this route follows the river upstream.
Loch (1)
Loch with boat house and private fishing – return in autumn for some amazing colour here.
Loch (2)
Ethereal loch at any time of the day.
Reeds (2)
Reeds with dragonfly zooming by.
Rhododendron
Rhododendron growing next to the loch.
Foxglove (2)
Foxglove – Digitalis purpurea
Purple Thistle and Bee
Thistle – Cirsium
Dragonfly lake
Smaller loch with loads of dragonflies and damselflies
Path (2)
Path dappled with sunlight
Sign post
Plenty of signposts are around
Broom (2)
Broom is everywhere and flowers in June
Tree stumps (1)
An unsusual natural tree sculpture
Path (3)
The view down Glen Tanar
Tree stumps (2)
Sunlight through the Scots Pine
Tree stumps (3)
Blaeberry and Scots Pine, Pinus sylvestris
Undergrowth (2)
Galium saxatile
Undergrowth (3)
Galium saxatile closeup image
Glider
A glider from the Deeside Gliding Club

I’ll share some autumn pictures with you at some point. Do you have some favourite places you like to visit as much as you can?

Annette.

Visit: The Scottish Plant Hunter’s Garden

Candelabra Primulas

I have been wanting to visit The Explorer’s Garden (aka The Scottish Plant Hunter’s Garden) for many years but have never found myself around Pitlochry to make that visit. It was made better therefore on the day I was able to visit, that the OH wasn’t there to be bored while I walked around. And finally what was ideal was that it was at the time of year when the Meconopsis, for which this garden is well known, were in full bloom. Excellent! Oh and on another note – it was not raining!

Camera at the ready I paid my £4 to enter which I regarded as an excellent price. I was fully expecting to pay over £10. There is not much you’ll get for less than a fiver nowadays.

So off I set with my map…after a brief hello to the cat.

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Map for The Scottish Plant Explorers Garden

The first section was a lovely little landscaped section planted up with Saxifraga sp. whose frothy white blooms complemented the grey slate coloured organic forms well. In fact there were many lovely planting combinations throughout the garden.

There was also some lovely Aquilegia and Alchemilla mollis planting as you walked under the trees towards the main section of the garden.

There was a strong Himalayan theme throughout the garden, despite many regions being represented, probably because many of these plants suit the Scottish environment very well. Most of the Rhododendrons were past but there was one I spotted in full bloom. At first I thought they all had a bout of rust on all the flowers but looking closer I saw that it was part of its design – nice up close but not so much from a distance! Some of the Rhodies had shed their flowers in recent days and formed these wonderful pink carpets underneath. A little reminiscent of Japan perhaps?

Dotted around the garden were works of art, all of which I though went well within their chosen settings. I love outdoor art when it works in harmony with the surrounding landscape and planting. I particularly loved the Perspex mobiles with the names of plants and skeleton leaves incorporated into them along with the wonderful pagoda roof.

I also loved the composting toilet! It was a little space age when you went into it. Next door to that there is a lovely little room which would be amazing for a small wedding. On the day I went they had a photography exhibition from someone who had gone on a recent expedition to the Himalayas. I left feeling that I know that region of the world just a little better and also how magnificent the Meconospsis look in their native environment.

Speaking of such, they didn’t fail to disappoint! They were in full bloom. I couldn’t get enough of them against the wonderful stone dykes they have built there. The colours are so beautiful. I was however slightly disappointed that there weren’t many labels about (although looking through my photos I realised there was a section I missed, sob). There were a few which I spotted but I would have liked to have been able to see more for my next Plant Focus: Meconopsis. Many more images will be available in that post to come later. I’ll also do another post with more flower images as I have so many! Here is one to whet your appetite….

 

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Meconopsis close up photograph

 

I’d say the garden is definitely at its best at this time of year or earlier when the Rhododendrons are also out. I’m not sure what would be out after around the end of July. It’s open April-Nov, every day 10am-5pm and well worth a visit if you’re near the area. There’s plenty of information boards around which tell you all about the parts of the world the plant explorers visited to bring back many of the plants we have in our gardens today.

 

 

Hope you enjoy your visit.

AnnetteX

Vegan Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cupcakes

…with Chocolate Avocado Frosting…

This was the first vegan cupcake recipe I made from Ms Cupcake: The Naughtiest Vegan Cakes in Town. I did make the cocoa brownies earlier which you can read all about here. This is one of my go to recipe books at the mo and I’m having fun working through them all.

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Excellent Vegan Cupcake Book 🙂

I made the cupcakes as per the recipe and they were sooo good. They were really light and fluffy and chocolatey and peanutty. They weren’t heavy or stodgy at all.


The icing on the other hand, I decided I wanted to try and make chocolate avocado icing. Here’s the recipe I ‘developed’ for that, roughly.

Chocolate Avocado Frosting

  • 85g avocado (half a medium one)
  • 40g vegan margarine
  • 100g chocolate
  • 3 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 100g icing sugar plus extra if too liquid
  • dairy free milk (I used soya) to make more runny if neccessary
  1. Melt chocolate over bain marie and cool a little before using.
  2. Mush up avocado.
  3. Add milk to cocoa powder in a small bowl.
  4. Combine everything together including margarine and icing sugar. Mix until smooth and add milk as required. Add more icing sugar if it’s too runny.

TBH I followed a recipe from elsewhere but it ended up too runny and I made too much icing because of that. If you only have half the above ingredients I think you will still have plenty for 12 cakes. The above should work if you fancy trying to make “Chocolate Avocado Frosting.”

However I wasn’t overly fond of this icing. Others have said it tastes great but to me it tastes quite a lot like chocolate icing and avocados….I’m not going to do it again. It was edible, there was just a strong after taste of avocado!


I did have an oopsy moment when I was ‘supposed’ to put the peanut butter under the icing but forgot so instead I dabbed a line across the centre of the cakes. Then I took a cocktail stick and drew it across the cake each time going in the opposite direction to the last to make a zig zag effect. I thought they turned out alright for a random cake decoration idea! You could also try this effect with some white icing.

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How to make a zig-zag pattern.

 

They went down pretty well with my ‘guinea pigs’ though I won’t be presenting avocado icing any time soon.

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Chocolate and Peanut Butter Vegan Cupcake with Chocolate Avocado Frosting

Laters, Annette

Co-ordinating Garden Colour

I love this time of year when everything is fresh and green and bright, vibrant, colour is exploding everywhere. Here’s some of my favourite combinations and colours in my garden at the moment.

 

Now for some spicier colours.

 

 

These Nasturtiums are just outside my back door and as long as I keep watering and feeding them they’ll keep going crazy and shouting “HELLO” everytime I go past.

 

Annette x

Why do you Blog? Blogerative.

In the last few months I have written more than I ever have in my life. I’m writing a Master’s thesis, I’m writing a book and I’m writing a blog. I’ve learnt to express all aspects of my mind, my dandelion mind, in a way that makes me feel better about myself and the people around me.

So why do you blog? Why do we become obsessed by getting those little ‘likes’ everywhere? Or a comment – those little gold nuggets which make us feel a little like we’ve won the lottery. Are we so craving approval by other people? Does that little like button somehow give us a sense that we are normal?  

On the internet we can almost be anyone we want to be. We can give the impression of a perfect life. Like the fact that every meal is a delicious work of art, that we are fit and healthy and that we always look great.

We want people to think that is how we live our lives. 

We all respond strongly to imagery, colour and beauty. There are a hundred ways to photograph and construct your buddha bowl but you must now do it in a way that is a lot more than throwing a few things together to make a lunch. There must be art and beauty and colour and pattern in the image. We find the best background and take multiple images until, yes, that’s the one. It makes us feel better when we have that beautiful image to share with the world.

And so we construct some text to accompany the image. It could be something we want to inspire others with, something to make us feel better by ourselves, it could be a confession or a story. It expresses how we feel we want to be seen at that time. It follows our mood. Then there are the keywords, tags, hashtags, anything we find to add to share our wonderful moment with the world.

That’s it now, that’s what we want to say. That’s what we want to say to the world. That’s what we want people to listen to us say. People will definitely be interested in what I, the writer, must share to the world.

And then nothing. Then maybe a few likes. Did they read it? Did they actually read it and take it onboard? How do they feel? Do they agree? Have we changed their life? Was it useful? 

Or did we just waste 30 minutes of our time talking, as usual, to ourselves, in our mind? Except this time anyone can now read our thoughts.

Why do you blog?

 

A beautiful evening in Fort William

Thought I would continue with the Scottish walk photographs after Loch Lomond last night. These were taken a year or two ago at the start of the long distance Great Glen Way walk which takes you from Fort William, all the way up Loch Ness and up to Inverness. They also show the Caledonian Canal which also can take you along the same route but via water! You can see Ben Nevis in the background of some of the photos.

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Along the Caledonian canal
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Caledonian canal
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Black and white daisies
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Summer in Fort William
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Setting sun in Fort William
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Reflections over the Calendonian canal
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Sky over Ben Nevis
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Canal Reflections

Loch Lomond in Black and White

Just thought I would share three black and white photos I took of Loch Lomond, in previous years, tonight. They are taken just north of Balmaha a little along the West Highland Way long distance path. It is a beautiful route achievable over 4-5 days. You can even get people to transport your bags around for you so you can fully enjoy the walk. It takes in some of the best views in Scotland including those of the Loch Lomond National Park seen here. I would highly recommend it as a ‘thing to do.’ Hope you enjoy.

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Looking out over Loch Lomond
36
Loch Lomond view near Balmaha
35
Loch Lomondside

Annette X

Week 2 – Fueled by veg

After week 1 went well i was apprehensive as to what week 2 would bring. In fact week 2 of my ‘transitioning vegan’ diet went pretty well also. Here’s a round up:

Monday: gym session
Tuesday: gym session although stomach was acting up.
Friday: good gym session today with a good session on the treadmill.
Sunday: Aberdeen Baker Hughes 10k race.

Getting back to the gym was good and i didn’t have any food faux pas. I did a lot of cooking this week and my lunchtime salads seemed to be doing me well. I discovered the wonders of falafel and how easy they are to make.

Annette

6 Reasons to Run and G.O.T

The formal gardens of Seaton Park

G.O.T.: Get Out There. As the infamous Nike slogan says – Just Do It.

It has taken me a while to get into running and even now it hasn’t yet become habit. Now looking back I suspect that was because in the past I had no deep down reason to run or do exercise or to G.O.T.

Just recently I have started to try and run for a reason. What I mean by this is that running we will generally do to keep fit – and that is a great reason, but alone it’s not enough for me. Each run has to have another reason.  It’s almost like it has to serve more than one purpose. I need a goal or an aim for each and every time I go out. It needs to be fresh in my mind and it has to be motivating. It’s almost as if I need my mental self to agree with my physical self.

Some of the reasons I have used to G.O.T. could be:

  • to explore a new place or take a new path – there are so many little paths which we would never go down.
  • to listen to music which I enjoy and others may not – then no-one else has to hear it. Cheesy pop tunes, why not?
  • to take photographs along a route – often we go out in the evenings or early mornings when the lighting is best. Grab your phone camera and don’t feel bad about stopping. Just enjoy it. Explore new places. Share.
  • to focus on something in particular such as a book chapter or blog post – generally my mind goes blank when I run but sometimes I can concentrate on one thing. Sometimes that mind zen time is what you want. It’s just you against the world.
  • to listen to the waves – get muddy, run in the sea. Run where you want. A path is just where everyone else goes, but you can make your own
  • to get out into the countryside – you can see more and get further, just don’t forget to enjoy it. Walk if you want. Breathe. Feel.

 

 

Now they may sound like mundane reasons but my point is that each run has a focus. It could be a fitness focus like ‘I’m going to get a PB up that hill” or “I’m going to really push myself today.” Or it could be, like for me today, wanting to take photos of the local park, Seaton Park, to capture the fresh vibrant new spring growth.

In the past I would have felt’guilty’ for stopping so often but actually I’m out there, running, and more importantly enjoying it while I was doing so. It feels productive both physically and mentally. Can’t get over that ‘guilty’ feeling? Use it as a sprint session between locations.

 

 

Find things you didn’t know were there. Know that just by being out there you are achieving something – after all the hardest part is taking the decision to get off the sofa, to put on your shoes, to go out into the cold and to G.O.T in the first place. Find out what it takes to do this, then grab it by the horns and knee it in the balls as you fly over that hurdle.

 

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Wallace Tower, Tillydrone
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New Box balls in the Formal Garden

 

Whatever your reason, enjoy Getting Out There.

Annette X

Jamie Oliver’s Vegan Brownies

I made Jamie Oliver’s Vegan Brownies last weekend. To be honest I was nervous. They were to be my first vegan cake. No eggs? Yikes! I was expecting a gloopy lump of slightly weird tasting stodge. However, I was very pleasantly surprised – these were pretty good!

They had nice simple ingredients all of which I actually had in the fridge or store cupboard. They were easy to make and follow. I’m surprised they are only rated as 4/5 stars as I thought they were better than that indicated.

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Ingredients (forgot to put the oil in the picture)

The mixture turned out brownie-like and the nuts on top were a great idea.

 

I over-baked them a little bit because I forgot to set the oven timer but they still turned out really great. They are on the cakier side of brownies and they do go a bit more stodgy as they store. They had a slight crust but it wasn’t obvious mainly because of the nuts over the top.

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So how do these rank in my perfect vegan brownie quest?

  1. Caki-ness = 7.5
  2. Gooiness = 6 (need to check whether that’s because I cooked them a little too long)
  3. Crispy top = ?
  4. Chocolate flavour = 7
  5. Sweetness = 8
  6. Ease of baking = 9
  7. Ingredient complexity = 9
  8. Overall taste = 7.5 to begin with, dropping to 7 after a day

I would definitely make these again, next time reducing the cooking time a little and perhaps leaving the nuts off to find out if we find that crispy top. They are super easy to make and the ingredients are great too. They work really well if you heat them up in the microwave as it relaxes them a little – and who doesn’t love a warm brownie. Overall I would say these are a great baseline recipe and you won’t be disappointed.

Some spring garden flowers

Now that it’s starting to warm up a little things are really starting to take off in the garden. This is what’s looking good in the garden at the moment.

I got these gorgeously coloured and hugely-flowered pansies from Dobbies a few weeks ago. To be honest their flowers are a little too big and floppy, but they weather really well which is great.

I’ve planted them here with white Petunias and a Limnanthes douglasii (Poached Egg plant). These should produce some really nice colour over the summer.

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It’s been so mild this year that my Dahlias which I left out over winter have survived. I was going to redo this tub but decided just to freshen up the compost. The white Petunias and Limnanthes douglasii will go really well with this white-edged Hosta. If I remember correctly the Dahlia in here is dark red – super contrast! Looking at this picture now I think a white Dahlia would have been better but the red will pack a punch.

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My Clematis cartmanii which if I can remember I think is ‘Avalanche’ is filling the greenhouse with the most wonderful fragrance. It didn’t flower much last year, partly because it got attacked by aphids but this year it’s covered in pale greeny flowers. I love the cartmanii Clematis‘. They are only hardy to -5°C so you really need a greenhouse but if you do I really recommend that you get one. They aren’t cheap to buy but worth every penny for the show and scent they put on at this time of year. I got this one at Gardening Scotland a good few years ago and it was wonderful the number of comments I got from people as I walked around with it!

 

Pulsatilla‘s also look great at this time of year. Calendula also pretty much do not stop flowering in my garden. They go quiet around February but generally they will show a happy face most of the year. I just allow them to seed around and they come up in various shades of yellow and orange plus some have light centres and some dark. Chuck a few seeds around and they won’t disappoint. The same goes for Honesty as well. They move around the garden growing where they please. Foxgloves are also going that way in our garden too. These are all welcome travellers because they are all great for wildlife.

Keep an eye out for sleepy bumblebees at this time of year. Those sitting under flowers often overnight can get cold and hungry. Often all they need is a quick sugary pick me up. You can help them out by dissolving a little bit of sugar in some water on a teaspoon. They’ll slurp it up and be off in no time. If they aren’t taking it, pop them on a Dandelion (they love these and they are everywhere) and pour some into the flower. They’ll soon start drinking as it’s a more natural way for them to realise that it’s nectar. I found one today which had gotten stuck in the greenhouse. It was glad of a very long drink.

It was a glorious afternoon here today. I hope that you have managed to get out and enjoy your garden too.

 

Annette X