Month: June 2014

Classy Cubes – Ice to lift the spirits



About 5 years ago I lifted a tiny root of blue borage from my Mum’s garden. Now we have it growing everywhere! It is a fantastic plant and the bees love it.


The most common use these days is in summer drinks, like Pimm’s, home made lemonade or a gin and tonic. Borage has a cucumber like taste and you can use both the young leaves and the flowers. As with all herbs there are many medicinal claims, but my favourite is that Borage is reputed to dispel melancholy. So if you can find the time to make these lovely ice cubes then you can really lift both your spirits and the one you are drinking. Cheers!


I usually just stick a flower in each ice cube segment and add water. The flower floats on the water so you don’t end up with it in the centre of the cube. To get the flower in the middle of the ice you need to make half ice cubes first, then remove them from the tray. Put the flowers in then add the half cube on top. When you now refill with water the ice will hold the flower down into the cube. To be honest this is too much faff for me but I have done it both ways to show you the results. They look great in the glass either way.


As I am on the subject of ice for drinks, have you tried freezing lemon and lime wedges? I always do this when I can get the fruit cheap and thought everyone else did too….just remember to open freeze the wedges on a tray before bagging them. This stops them sticking together.

There is absolutely no excuse for buying bags of ice. This is pure idleness and unless you are catering for a large party just don’t do it. How tricky is it to fill a tray with water?

The Dubious Egg Bucket.

As anyone who keeps poultry will tell you hens do not always lay their eggs where you want them to! As we have a very laid back approach with our birds and they are spoilt rotten I often find a batch of eggs in the hedge or hidden under some machinery. These eggs are almost always fine to eat but I cannot risk putting them out for sale so they go into the Dubious Egg bucket for our use only. The main rule with this is any eggs used must first be cracked into a cup, just in case. Often you can see it has been one or two hens ‘laying out’ and work out how many days they have been doing so by the number of eggs. So 14 eggs from 2 hens and they have been at it for around a week.

I try to use them up asap and my favourite high egg using recipe is Lemon Meringue Pie, from Mary Berry’s Ultimate Cake Book.


I have been a big Mary Berry fan for years, long before she regained popularity with the Bake Off. If you are not a confident cook then follow Mary’s recipes along with Delia Smith’s and you really can’t go wrong. Delia’s Complete Cookery Course is still my most used book. I have had mine since I was 16 (thanks Mum!)

I find cookbooks are extremely addictive and I have a shelf in the kitchen which I now restrict myself to. If they won’t fit on the shelf then something has to go. I think I will need to do another cull soon! I love old books, WW2 cooking, local county recipes and anything by the WI. The BBC Good Food website is brilliant and I also have a box file with recipes from there I have used.

What cookbooks could you not do without? If I only had to save one it would be Delia.

Things to do with mint…How to make creme de menthe

We have a huge amount of mint growing around the field and garden. I think we have apple mint. It is the soft and fluffy one. I do the usual things like add it to new potatoes when cooking, make mint jellies and sauces for winter and we have planted lots around the chicken house as I read somewhere that it is a good mouse deterrent. A bit of recent googling gave me a couple of fresh ideas.

Firstly to pick and used as cut flowers for the house. This is brilliant! I now have a display in the lounge and bathroom. The mint tends to droop on the first day then picks back up and roots in the water so you can even plant it back outside. I am potting mine up to go in the honesty shop.


Next I found you can make your own creme de menthe. Not my first drink of choice I will admit but I then discovered that it is lovely in a hot chocolate. That’s more like it!

This is how I made it.


2 x 70cl bottles of vodka

100g of mint leaves

700ml water

400g sugar

Put the mint leaves in a large bowl and scrunch them up with your hands to release all the oils. Add with the vodka and give it a bit of a stir. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave for minimum of overnight, maximum two days. (the longer you leave it the darker colour the finished drink)

Sieve out all the mint leaves. (I used a jelly bag to catch every last drop of vodka)

Put the water and sugar in a saucepan, with a few more mint leaves if you like and bring to a simmer, stirring to make a sugar syrup. Cool and remove mint then add to the vodka. You can add some green food colouring if you like. Bottle and try to keep for around 3 months before drinking. You should end up with 3 x 70cl bottles.

Let me know how you get on!



Welcome to Vanilla Letters

After thinking and talking about starting a blog for what seems like forever, I have finally plucked up the courage to give it a go. I am lucky to have a great husband and life is good. We live in Somerset on the edge of the Mendip Hills and try to live as well as we can for as little as possible. Frugal and thrifty is our way of life but when we want or need to then we don’t hold back! Our priorities seem to be different to many people and my blog posts will reflect this.