Listen of the Week: Dear Sugar

My Listens of the Week have so far have been quite cerebral in their tone, so before you get the wrong idea about me… this week I want to recommend something a bit different for your Podcast time.

Listen of the week

I always describe Dear Sugars as a sort of extended Agony Aunt (and Uncle) column (which I think was how it started originally, in the New York Times). It pitches itself as a podcast for ‘the lost, lonely and heartsick’, but you don’t have to be any of those really – you just need to enjoy listening to the thoughtful, well-considered responses to listeners’ dilemmas about love, friendships, relationships and life in general.

Dear Sugars

The topics are really diverse – recently they have covered the impact of early bereavement, the ending of friendships, sexless marriage, body weight and romance, and owning pets…!

One of the things I really enjoy about the show is the dynamic between the two presenters, Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond. They don’t always agree, and they aren’t at all predictable in their responses, which always makes it an interesting listen. They also have special guests who often have some insight into the problem being discussed. I absolutely love this episode -“My Best Friend’s Wedding” which has the novelist Ann Patchett as a guest. More recently they have had Oprah Winfrey on the show, and Hillary Clinton too in an episode intriguingly titled “The Double Bind of Female Ambition” (I haven’t listened to that one yet, I’m saving it for over Christmas).

As well as being intriguing and entertaining, I also really appreciate the opportunity to challenge some of my rather middle-aged values and and preconceived ideas about relationships and friendship. I don’t always change my mind, but I really value the opportunity to reflect on it all whilst I’m working away at my sewing machine.

If you have a listen, do let me know how you like it.

Recipe: Ginger & white chocolate blondies

Ginger and white chocolate blondies recipe by Very Berry Handmade

At this time of year, it’s so useful to have some recipes for quick sweet treats that you can turn to, when needed, for a unexpected get-together, surprise guests, a bring and share party, or a quick foodie gift. These blondies, which if you don’t know, are a kind of non-dark-chocolate-brownie, with all the deliciously fudgy sweetness that that implies, exactly fit the bill. They take about 10 minutes to stir up, are out of the oven in 25 mins, max (20 in my fan oven), and are pretty much foolproof.

Ginger and white chocolate blondies recipe

I am not going to apologise for the fact that these are super super sweet – my solution to this is to cut them into very small pieces – no more than a couple of inches square, or you could even cut them to petit fours size. Of course, then you have to really work on the temptation to scoff more than one…! Feel free to play around with the additions – next time round I am going to try dark chocolate pieces and chopped apricot – and there’s definitely potential for chopped roast hazelnuts and sour cherries…

A word about crystallised ginger – a few years ago I discovered Crazy Jack’s crystallised ginger – which I fell in love with because it was so much more spicy, gingery and seemed to bear much more relation to actual ginger than other available versions. Sadly, Crazy Jack stopped doing this wonderful stuff and I have been searching for something similar ever since. Finally I have found it – Whitworths Fiery Crystallised Ginger is absolutely brilliant – spicy and quite definitely fiery, and here it makes a brilliant contrast with the soft creamy flavour of the white chocolate, so if you can get hold of it (and most supermarkets seem to stock it here in the UK) then do give it a try.

Ginger and white chocolate blondies

Ginger and white chocolate blondies

  • Servings: 16 small slices
  • Print


  • 100g butter
  • 200g soft light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 100g plain white flour
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 40g crystallised ginger, chopped into small pieces
  • 50g white chocolate, chopped into small pieces


  1. Preheat oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4 (170/Gas Mark 3 for a fan oven) and line a 8 inch (20cm) square baking tray (or equivalent-ish – I have used a 7 inch tin with no problems) with baking parchment.
  2. Melt the butter over a low heat in a large pan.
  3. Remove the butter from the heat and add the sugar straight to the pan. Beat the sugar into the butter for about a minute, the texture of the mixture will change a bit and stick more to the sides of the pan as you beat it – that’s what you are aiming for.
  4. Beat in the egg until the mixture is nice and smooth.
  5.  Stir the flour and ground ginger into the mix, quite gently, until everything is thoroughly combined.
  6. Stir in the milk and then the ginger and chocolate pieces.
  7. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 20 minutes in the first instance. The blondies need to be just barely set when you take them out of the oven and it’s always best to err on the squidgy side (they will firm up as they cool), but you can add an extra couple of minutes if you need to.
  8. Leave to cool for 10 minutes or so in the tin, then transfer to a cooling rack. Cut into slices when cool.

These blondies keep for 3 or 4 days in an air-tight tin, or they freeze very well too. I freeze them between layers of greaseproof paper in a plastic box, which means you can sneak one out and quickly defrost it when you are in need of a boost (don’t tell anyone…).

Tutorial: Appliqué Christmas Tree Mug Rug

Applique Christmas tree mug rug by Very Berry Handmade

Mug rugs are such cute little projects and make lovely gifts. If you’re not a quilter, you might not have encountered them before – the idea is that they are larger than a coaster and smaller than a place mat – ideal for a cuppa and a side order of festive treats…! If you are gifting a mug rug, I love the idea of including a label with a bit of explanation of what it is – something like this perhaps, although probably with some washing instructions too.

Applique Christmas Tree mug rug

‘Mug rugs’ make really nice wall art too – in fact I’d say that quite often there’s a very fine line between quilted postcard and mini-quilt and that line goes straight through the middle of a mug rug..!

I developed this pattern for my Christmas stitchy club, and even the beginners finished their mug rugs with in the 2 and a half hours we had available, so I’d say this is a nice quick project (especially if you are already good with patchwork, Bondaweb etc.) and also very achievable for a new stitcher.

Pattern notes

  • This is a self-binding project, so the backing will also form the binding – make sure that the fabric you choose for the back will work well as a binding on the front.
  • The finished mug rug is 6.5 inches by 8.5 inches.
  • The seam allowance is 0.25in throughout.

You will need

  • Strips of fabric at least 1.5in by 7in for the tree and the patchwork
  • At least 6.5in square of background fabric (the dotty fabric on my mug rug)
  • At least 8.5in by 10.5in fabric suitable for the backing and binding
  • Small piece of Bondaweb (at least 4.5 inches square).
  • Spray baste (optional)

Cutting list

  • For the patchwork strip and the appliqué tree cut 6 strips measuring 7 inches by 1.5 inches.
  • For the appliqué background and side strip cut one piece measuring 5in by 6.5in and one piece measuring 1.5in by 6.5in.
  • For the back and binding cut a piece of fabric measuring 10.5in by 8.5in.
  • Cut a piece of batting measuring 8.5 by 6.5 inches.

Make the patchwork strip and appliqué tree

Stitch the six 7in by 1.5in strips together and press the seams open:

Christmas Tree Mug Rug Step 2

Christmas Tree Mug Rug Step 1
Cut this patchwork piece into 2 sections measuring 3 inches by 6.5 inches and 4 inches by 6.5 inches.

Draw an isosceles triangle measuring 4 inches high and 3.5 inches across the base on the paper side of the Bondaweb piece and cut out roughly.

Christmas Tree Mug Rug Step 3Iron the Bondaweb triangle onto the back of the 4in by 6.5in piece of patchwork.

Christmas Tree Mug Rug Step 4

You can position the Bondaweb however you like, but avoid having any very narrow strips at the top or bottom of the tree. Cut out the tree shape:

Christmas Tree Mug Rug Step 5

From the left-over fabric cut out a small rectangle to form the tree trunk/pot and back with Bondaweb.

Making the mug rug top

Decide which way up you want the patchwork strip to be. Pin the 5in by 6.5in piece of background fabric right sides together with the left hand long edge of the patchwork strip.

Christmas Tree Mug Rug Step 6

Stitch (you don’t need to reverse stitch), then press the seam towards the patchwork strip.

Christmas Tree Mug Rug Step 7

Christmas Tree Mug Rug Step 8

Repeat the above with the 1.5 inch by 6.5 inch piece of background fabric to the other side of the patchwork strip:

Christmas Tree Mug Rug Step 9

Christmas Tree Mug Rug Step 10

Peel the backing paper from the Bondaweb and position the appliqué pieces centrally on the larger piece of background fabric and iron into position.

Christmas Tree Mug Rug Step 11

Square up the mug rug top, making sure that the edges are nice and straight and you have 90 degree angles at the corners.


Apply a light coating of spray baste to one side of the batting and lay the completed mug rug top onto it. Spray baste the back of batting and place centrally on the large piece of backing fabric. If you don’t have spray baste, just pin the 3 layers together, making sure the backing fabric is 1 inch bigger all round.

Christmas Tree Mug Rug Step 12Remember that the ends of your quilting will be visible on the back of the mug rug – you can’t hide them in the binding, so finish off stitching by burying the knot, or with a bit of discreet back/reverse stitching.

Adjust the stitch length on your machine to 2.8mm and quilt round the edge of the tree (actually on the tree itself) – leave long threads at the start and finish. Pull the threads to the back and knot, then bury the knots between the layers of fabric.

Quilt either side of the patchwork strip on the background fabric – reverse stitch at the beginning and the end of the stitching to secure it.


Starting on one of the longer edges, fold the edge of the binding in to meet the edge of the mug rug top.

Christmas Tree Mug Rug Step 13

Fold over again to create a binding on the mug rug top, and pin into position. I found a glue pen and lots of pins/clips to be very helpful with this.
When you reach the corner, fold the fabric at a 45 degree angle, so that it forms a triangle. The fold in the fabric needs to align with the adjacent edge of the mug rug:

Christmas Tree Mug Rug Step 14

Fold the next section of binding down over the triangle, so it touches the edge of the mug rug, as before:

Christmas Tree Mug Rug Step 15
Then fold the binding over the front of the mug rug, making sure you create a nice neat mitred corner. Pin to hold the mitred corner in place.

Christmas Tree Mug Rug Step 16
Continue all round until the binding is all folded into position:

Christmas Tree Mug Rug Step 17

You can now choose whether to hand stitch the binding down with a blind hem stitch, or machine stitch it into position.
If you choose to machine stitch, make sure that the fabric at the corners stays in position as you stitch – you might find it helpful to use an awl, a long needle or a Hera tool to hold the fabric in position as you stitch.

Christmas Tree Mug Rug Step 18
You can also choose to either leave long threads at the beginning and end of your stitching, knot them and bury the knots in the binding, or you can do a little bit of reverse stitching in an inconspicuous place to secure the machine stitching.

Applique Christmas Tree mug rug Very Berry blog

Hope you enjoy the tutorial, as always I’d love to hear how you get on with it.

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