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Archive for February, 2012

Auchtermuchty! (I like rolling out the name with a strong Scottish accent.)

If you’re familiar with Auchtermuchty you probably already know of its famous sons. There are three that I know of: Jimmy Shand, Charlie Reid and Craig Reid. Jimmy Shand, or Sir Jimmy to give him his formal title, was not actually born in Auchtermuchty but his family moved there when he was young and Auchtermuchty has adopted him as its own. He was an accordianist so famous that there’s a life-size bronze statue of him surrounded by bonnie purple heather in the town:

Charlie and Craig Reid are also famous for their music, but in their case it’s as the identical twin vocalistis in Scottish band The Proclaimers. This is not perhaps their best known song but it’s called after a place I used to live and the video has a nice shot of the Forth Rail Bridge about halfway through:

There’s no statue in Auchtermuchty of Charlie and Craig yet, but this might be because they’re both still alive.

The tearoom we were bound for is also famous, not so much in its present form but as a location in the popular Scottish TV drama series Dr Finlay, which centred round the life of a village doctor in the 1940s. In fact, much of the town was used for filming Dr Finlay, the older part being quite quirky and characterful. For one thing, it’s the only place I’ve ever seen a cross-eyed red lion door knocker:

The tearoom, no doubt with a nod to its televisual history, has an old-fashioned post-war feel about it:

Thankfully, the menu is more up to date and we had a very tasty light luncheon with lovely fresh side salads. I had a slice of toasted ciabatta with tangy strong cheddar cheese, cherry tomatoes and herbs, and my assistant had a ham salad roll:

A very tall bottle of dressing accompanied our meal:

Lurking in one corner of the tearoom were two wally dugs (I’m afraid I can’t shed any light on why they’re called that but, for those of you not in the know, they’re curious dog-like china ornaments). I took a couple of shots of them but each time one of the dogs was slightly out of focus. Their movement was barely perceptible to the naked eye, but I’m convinced that they moved just as I clicked the button:

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Yesterday my lovely assistant and I headed off to one of our many local antiques centres to take morning refreshments. It’s not just one antique shop, this place, it’s like a huge aircraft hangar full of different antiques companies, each selling their wares in their own little area. There are specialist sellers of furniture, books, pictures, jewellery, ornaments, postcards, clothing, china, cutlery, and a lot more besides.

It’s so big that my assistant and I, having mooched off in different directions for a while, then spent about 10 minutes just trying to find each other again. There was no mobile phone reception so we couldn’t even text or ring each other. Fortunately, they have a tannoy system so if I hadn’t found her when I did I might have gone to the front desk and ask them to put a call out; I feel sure this must happen to missing companions frequently.

Anyway, before all that happened we took ourselves into the tearoom:

I only had my mobile phone camera on me, but I snapped away all the same. The cafe here is more of a restaurant really, with a large dining area and a very nice lunch menu, but there are a few sofas as well, and we flopped onto a couple of them and ordered English breakfast tea (me), an Americano (my delightful assistant) and a cream scone between us. The nice waitress even brought us an extra plate and extra cutlery:

Cream scones are not something I allow myself to have very often, but I just felt in need of a little treat on this occasion, and since we were sharing one it wasn’t so bad. I was a bit unsure about the cream at first, it being that air-filled fluffed up stuff, but in fact it slipped down a treat with the strawberry jam.

En route to the toilets, I noticed some antlers being put to good use:

After our refreshments, and before we lost each other, we enjoyed a leisurely amble round some of the antiques stalls. Quite often when I’m out for a walk, especially on a warm summer’s day nowhere near a tearoom, or sitting in the garden feeling extremely lazy, I dream of having a butler appear out of nowhere with tea on a silver tray, something like this:

Ideally I would like him to present me with a pretty cake stand full of small sandwiches, scones and dainty cakes, but failing that I might be interested in chocolate bars full of sweets:

Especially the one full of chunks of Cadbury’s Twirl, although I worry that the background chocolate might not be as good as the Cadbury’s bits:

On the way out of the antiques centre I passed this beautiful old till, which isn’t used as a till any more but adds a bit of class to the reception area:

I wanted to visit a tearoom in the very Scottish sounding town of Auchtermuchty and in order to work up an appetite for lunch we had a little walk in the hills above the town.

On our way to park the car on a quiet bit of road we passed a garden with a notice in it that caught my eye. I am very fond of rabbits and this little sign made my day:

I was quite surprised to find that they have a website (my assistant thought that perhaps it was put up by an indulgent parent with a rabbit-loving child) and that it appears to be a well established little business. The website contains advice about keeping rabbits that was completely new to me (although I’ve never kept real rabbits, myself). This advice includes the following:

“Your Rabbit needs daily exercise outdoors in the sunshine. Around 4 hours a day is best, maybe split up into morning and evening. Remember to give them a bolthole to run into if they want to hide and also a shady spot if they get too warm. Your rabbit may be cooler in their hutch in a shaded place in the garden when it is very hot. Supply some toys for them to play with, and lots of fresh water. Provide tunnels for them to play hide and seek and watch them have fun.”

Some of the toys suggested for rabbits are: old telephone books, plastic keys and rolled up newspaper. I was particularly surprised to learn that 99% of a rabbit’s diet should be hay and that you should not feed your rabbit with lettuce. I thought lettuce was a close second to carrots when it came to what bunnies like to munch, but it seems I’ve been misguided for all these years. Even carrots, apparently, should only be given in small amounts as a special treat.

Beyond the rabbit rescue place we had a walk along a small road. It was a very dull dark day but I took a few photos in the gloom:

I always like a dry stone wall:

I thought this looked an interesting house. It had a new bit added onto the right hand side, but I left that out of the photo because it didn’t really enhance the building, to my mind:

It was quite an energetic walk and by the end of it I was very ready for a bite to eat in Auchtermuchty.

It often astonishes me that people manage to get through the posts on this blog, because I’m afraid they do tend to drag on and become quite intolerably long. In light of that fact, I’m going to save the Auchtermuchty tearoom for a separate entry.

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I imagine that most bakers have their own favourite recipe for scones, and this is the one I base my scones on, altering it depending on what kind of scones I’m making. It comes from the small Be-Ro baking book my mum used a lot when I was growing up, and to my delight I found a copy of the same book in a second hand shop. Here’s the Be-Ro book atop my current favourite cookbook, The MacMillan Coffee Shop Recipe Book:

When I made spiced pear scones the other day (click here) the following recipe is more or less what I used. (Because I’ve made scones so often I’m afraid I don’t always accurately measure ingredients).

I use the rather old-fashioned imperial measures because it’s what I was brought up with, and since the numbers are smaller than measuring in grams, they’re more practical for my easily confused mind.

Ingredients

4 oz self raising white flour

4 oz self raising wholemeal flour

1 heaped teaspoon baking powder

2 oz margarine (you could use butter instead, but I use Flora spread)

2 oz soft brown sugar (any sugar would do, I just fancied using the soft brown stuff, and I think it was 2 oz I used, although I usually only use 1 oz, but I thought it might need more with the pear in it, in any case they weren’t too sweet)

1 level teaspoon of mixed spice

1 level teaspoon of cinnamon

1 rounded teaspoon of nutmeg (I don’t honestly know how much spice I used, I just shook it in, but I think I used more nutmeg than anything else)

1 Conference pear, peeled, de-seeded and chopped into chunks

1 egg, beaten

A little milk (again, guessing here, but it may have been a tablespoon or two, it depends on how big the egg is and how wet the mixture is before you add the milk)

Method

1. Set the oven at about 220 degrees Celsius (I used a fan oven at 220 and then turned it down to 210 after the first few minutes of baking so that my scones wouldn’t burn) with an oven shelf ready at the top of the oven.

2.  Mix flours and baking powder in a bowl, rub in margarine (you could use an electric mixer for this job but I always do it by hand because I find it quite therapeutic).

3.  Add sugar, spices and chopped pear to flour mixture and mix well.

4.  Add most of the beaten egg (keeping just a little aside to paint onto the scones before baking – this gives the scones a nice shiny glaze) and enough milk to make as wet a mixture as you can handle without it sticking to your hands and the rolling pin.

5.  Spread the area you’re going to roll the scone mixture out on with a bit of flour (I have a flour shaker filled with plain white flour, but you could use self raising, it really doesn’t matter).

6.  Divide the dough into two and, handling lightly, roll out each blob into a round about 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick (this was a bit of a squishy job for me because my pear chunks were quite large).

7.  Cut each of the rounds into quarters (you could just mark the round and cook it all as one, dividing the scones once cooked which would make for more triangular scones, or you could press each scone out using scone cutters, which is what I normally do) and put onto a baking tray.

8.  Brush the top of each scone with the beaten egg using a pastry brush (I have occasionally smeared egg on with my fingers if I haven’t had a brush to hand) and bake at the top of the oven for 11 minutes (it could be 10, it could be 12, but I generally do it for 11 because I’ve found that this is what works with my oven).

The picture below shows how mine turned out. I did open the oven door quickly after about 7 minutes and turned the oven tray round but that’s only because my oven doesn’t cook evenly, you shouldn’t have to do that.

Happy baking! :)

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It’s a dull dreich morning in my neck of the woods and it occurred to me that spiced pear scones would brighten it up considerably.

I’m having a day at home today, writing and getting odd bits and pieces tidied up, so rather than go in search of such a thing in a tearoom (and what are the chances of me finding exactly what I was after? Quite slim, although I do know of one place in Dunkeld that sometimes features spiced pear scones on the menu), I decided to make some myself. Here’s the result:

I’ve just had one with butter (well, truth be told, Flora spread) and a nice cup of tea.

Pears are, in my opinion, a good addition to scones because they keep the whole thing moist and they melt away in the mouth when cooked (they’re also one of my favourite fruits and, apparently, one of the foodstuffs least likely to cause an allergic reaction). I peeled and chopped one Conference pear into chunks and I was pleased to see it in evidence in the finished article:

At the same time as enjoying my English Breakfast tea and pear scone, I also enjoyed a couple of blogs. If you’re not familiar with them you might like to have a little look. I only came across the first of these today but was very glad to have found it:

http://jowoolf.wordpress.com/

I’ve been following the next one for a short while, and am always cheered by the excellent photography:

http://thenaturephile.com/

This morning’s post by Finn (of thenaturephile.com) contains several superb photographs of blackbirds, as well as an entertaining drama starring the birds in his garden. I’ve borrowed one of these marvellous photos to give you a taster, but you’ll find plenty more wonderful pictures on the blog itself:

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This week’s Tearoom of the Week comes to you from the Kingdom of Fife. As my delightful assistant and I were driving through Fife the other day I wondered why Fife is known as the ‘Kingdom of Fife’. Apparently it goes back to Pictish times (about 2000 years ago) when Scotland was divided into 7 kingdoms. Fife was one of them and for some reason the name ‘Kingdom of Fife’ has stuck, although it’s the only one we still refer to in that way.

The tearoom in question is a favourite of mine that I’ve been using as a carrot to help me finish my self-imposed task of collecting tearooms in the areas of Perthshire, Angus and Dundee. It’s so close to Perthshire that I’ve often been tempted to sidle into it over the past few weeks, but somehow I’ve managed to keep away until now.

What could be better than a tearoom that grows its own food? That’s precisely what happens in this place, for it’s attached to an organic farm. The farm was established in 1983 and grows a wide variety of salad items and vegetables, and produces lots of free range eggs from its 150 hens. The tearoom is fully organic and vegetarian, with most of the menu items being available as vegan and gluten free options. Here’s what greets you when you’ve bumped down a rough pothole-filled track:

The outside decking area has been built around a tree:

It was a bit chilly for sitting outside, not to mention a tad damp and very windy, so we headed indoors and found a nice little table for two tucked in a corner with pretty cushions on the chairs:

As soon as you open the door to this place your senses are assaulted. It has the kind of earthy smell you often get in healthfood shops, a creative mixture of herbs and spices, and right inside the front door is a magnificent array of fresh and organic fruit and vegetables:

Once you’ve successfully negotiated the fresh produce you’re hit with lots of other exciting things on shelves, many of which are edible. In addition to freshly baked bread, packets of biscuits, interesting chocolate and the many other food and drink items, there are organic shampoos, soaps, brushes, detergents and all sorts of other environmentally friendly products:

The whole place has a rustic, healthy, wholesome feel about it and it always makes me (and other customers, by the look of the lady below)  happy to wander round the shop or sit in the cafe.

One of my favourite menu items here is the salad, and I’m sure there’s nowhere else I’ve been that serves a fresher salad with fewer food miles. My assistant and I both chose the salad, with oatcakes for me and seeded bread for her (rice cakes are another option):

I was particularly surprised by the broccoli, which is not normally one of my favourite vegetables, but was prepared to perfection in this salad bowl. I could very happily have eaten a whole bowl of this broccoli, which I find quite astonishing. Every time I’ve been the salads have been different, because the ingredients change with the seasons. This is the way we should eat food, I suppose.

After a most delicious lunch, which included some excellent Rooibos tea for me and a glass of sweet cloudy apple juice for my assistant, we had a look round the shop and I bought a toothbrush, and three replacement heads (for the toothbrush, that is):

One thing I was tempted to buy, but didn’t, was some of the beautiful earthenware they had on display. The glaze was sort of pearlescent and I thought some of the individual pieces were very attractive. I was particularly keen on the domed butter dish towards the bottom right of this picture, which I thought was a most pleasing shape:

Some of the bowls had a magnificent lustre:

Before tootling away from this organic haven of healthiness, I visited the facilities, which are situated in what is more or less a large garden shed:

The somewhat basic privy arrangements might not please everyone, but I quite like them because they remind me of happy childhood camping holidays.

I feel I’ve come to the end of this tale, but the only problem with finishing here is that when this post is put onto my Facebook page it displays the last photograph. I have a feeling that ‘Tearoom of the Week (5)’ and then a picture of a toilet might not inspire many people to read on, so here’s a salad I had at the same tearoom last year instead:

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On my way home from the lovely outing to Royal Deeside yesterday I spotted this veritable carpet of snowdrops. I meant to stick them in yesterday’s post, but it was already so long and, to be quite honest, I forgot. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many at once, they just went on and on into the distance. Unfortunately, the sun wasn’t on the majority of them, but they still looked magnificent:

 

 

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The Queen (aka our dearly beloved Sovereign of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle) (just in case you were mixing her up with some other monarch; there are still a few of them about, after all) has rather a nice gaff in Royal Deeside, known as Balmoral Castle.

In search of a nice cup of tea and some sunshine this morning, my charming assistant and I headed north to Royal Deeside, driving through the barren but lovely countryside of the Cairngorms national park:

We drove past the Glenshee ski centre, which was almost entirely devoid of snow, and were reacqauinted with a sculpture I always enjoy saying hello to:

The sculpture is by Malcolm Roberston and is entitled “Tommy and Wife”. They seem to me a very British sort of couple, the wife gazing up to the north:

While her husband looks longingly in the opposite direction:

Our first port of call was the sleepy village of Braemar, where we had a choice of tearooms and opted for one we’d never tried before.

It was very Scottish, if Scottish means tartan tablecloths at every turn:

Whenever I’m in a completely new place I’m tempted to try the scones, but I’m always a bit nervous about it. However, I’m delighted to say that I had one of the best scones I’ve had for ages (and I have had quite a few over the past weeks). My delightful assistant and I decided to share one as they were quite big and we wanted to leave space for luncheon in rather a nice place a bit later on. By the time I’d got my camera out, half of it had mysteriously vanished:

Some years ago, quite possibly as many as 23, my assistant and I had a weekend break in this area and it was quite an eventful little trip. On the way to Braemar the car’s radiator exploded (not strictly speaking true, but I thought it had at the time and I use the word now for dramatic effect) and we got a lift in a police Range Rover. At Braemar we had to get a new radiator cap and while the local garage was helpfully sourcing one for us, we took shelter (it was snowy) in the wonderful Fife Arms Hotel, where they were very kind to us and plied us with steaming hot cups of tea. Now, whenever I pass through Braemar and see the Fife Arms, I look upon it very fondly (my apologies for the squintness of this picture; all day I had problems taking photos because of the strong winds combined with my unprofessional camera technique (no tripod)):

After a few freezing minutes of being buffeted by an icy wind taking photos and wandering around like tourists, we took refuge in the car again and drove on to the village of Crathie, famous for Crathie Kirk and its proximity to Balmoral Castle. Crathie Kirk is where the Royal Family apparently attend church of a Sunday when holidaying up in Balmoral, and I can’t say I blame them as it’s presumably the cheapest day to get in.  If you go on any other day of the week they charge you £4.00 admission. At least, I assume you can get in for free on a Sunday, I’ve never tried it myself, although I imagine they expect you to cough up for the collection, so perhaps it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other.

On the up side, at this time of year you can park in Crathie car park for free, and we took advantage of this to have a walk around some of the perimeter of the Balmoral estate. You have to cross the river Dee to get to Balmoral from Crathie, and there’s rather a fine iron bridge designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel that takes you the short hop across the water:

When you get over the bridge there’s an impressive gateway, leading to Balmoral Castle, in one direction:

In the other direction is a small road, along which we walked in the sunshine, until we reached another bridge that took us back over the Dee. This bridge is very different in design from the first one, but beautifully elegant and pretty in its white paintwork:

On the way back to the car park I spotted a purse hanging on a tree. It was emtpy, so some honest soul had obviously handed any cash, etc. into the local police.

By this time I was becoming ravenously hungry, after only half a scone at morning tea time, but fortunately we already knew where we were going to have our lunch, and so I drove off with some gusto, and not a little impatience, to our next stop. It’s another of these matches made in heaven – a farm shop and a tearoom combined:

It was lovely and sunny inside the tearoom and we both ordered one of their soups of the day: carrot and leek. It was thick and delicious, served with both brown artisan bread and oatcakes, with little butter curls, and my only regret was that the bowl wasn’t bigger:

After our soups we found room for some tea and a cake each. I went for Victoria sponge, having missed out on one in a cafe recently (see Tearoom of the Week (4)) and my assistant chose a piece of tiffin:

The sponge was nice but the tiffin, in particular, was excellent. It had been made with dark chocolate, so it wasn’t too sweet but it was incredibly chocolately and delicious:

As you may have noticed in the Victoria sponge picture, there was some attractive hand-painted china in the shape of tea mugs and a milk jug. Both the mugs and the jug had two holes for holding them with, rather than the usual one. This made lifting and pouring/drinking a very stable experience:

When it comes to covering Aberdeenshire, as it appears I have already begun to do (maybe I should just soldier on and put everything in one guide book to tearooms in the whole of Scotland?), this farm shop and tearoom will definitely be one of my top picks.

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When it comes to Cadbury’s chocolate, I have long held the view that the Cadbury’s Twirl is my favourite chocolate bar:

When I’m doing my ‘proper’ job at sea, there are teams of cooks who look after all the catering during the voyage. No unauthorised personnel are permitted to cook on the boat and so what we eat is determined largely by the cooks onboard. Being a reasonably health-conscious* vegaquarian, this is not the ideal situation for me, because meals are largely meat-based and there can be a lot of fried food. There are certain foods I miss at sea: my breakfast bagel, scones, cakes, and various veggie food I enjoy cooking at home, and although I would like to take more of my own food with me, there simply isn’t the luggage space. However, one thing I do always make room for in my luggage is a big bag of Twirls.

The Twirl first burst onto the scenes in the 1980s, and is now Cadbury’s best-selling chocolate bar. Hardly surprising, when you eat one and realise the absolute genius of the product.

It is based on the concept of the Cadbury’s Flake, which has been around since the 1920s:

The Twirl, in its standard form (there are several deviations available), consists of two bars of Flake, each coated in a thin layer of chocolate. The Flake is a single bar, slightly longer than the Twirl, and exists without the extra chocolate coating:

Even if you’re not familiar with Cadbury, you may well have seen a Flake, or something like it, sticking out of an ice cream, for the Flake has been a popular addition to ice cream cones throughout the decades, in the form of the ‘99‘ (there are suggestions about the derivation of the name on Wikipedia, which can be viewed by clicking on ’99’ above).

The Flake came into existence, the way many great inventions do, as a by-product of something else. In the 1920s some eagle-eyed employee of Cadbury’s noticed that when excess chocolate dribbled over the moulds used to create other bars, it fell off in folds leading to the trademark flakiness so central to both the Flake and the Twirl:

I do remember having a passion for Flakes pre-Twirl, but since I was born in 1972 I didn’t have much opportunity to establish them in my diet before Twirls came muscling in and stole my heart. The question that has been troubling me is this: is the Twirl really better than the Flake?

Today, I set out to find the answer. In order to start my investigation, I had to obtain both a Flake and a Twirl, which was an extremely easy task as my local shop very handily stocks both in profusion.  I got them home, opened them up and, as you can see, took some photographs of them, before diving in for the taste test. As shown below, the Flake (on the right) is slightly larger in perimeter than the Twirl:

The outside edges of the Flake are heavily textured with lots of visible folds, while the Twirl is encased in a smooth outer shell that barely suggests the interesting structure beneath:

According to the ingredients and nutrition information on the packaging, the two products are almost identical. They only differ in tiny ways in terms of typical values per 100g. The Flake apparently contains very slightly fewer calories, a bit more protein, a little less carboyhdrate and just 0.1g of a difference in fat, fibre and sodium than the Twirl. Why these differences should exist at all, I really can’t tell but perhaps one of my intelligent readers could enlighten me.

So, down to the important bit of all this: eating them. I started with a bite of the Twirl, which was quite a clean and neat operation:

And then, carefully because I know what sort of crumb trouble can ensue with this manoeuvre, bit into the Flake:

As you can see, eating a Flake is a messier procedure than eating a Twirl, which is the major thing against the Flake, in my opinion. On the up side, if you eat it carefully enough and manage to save all the crumbs (particularly if you catch them in the wrapper and make a chute out of it, down which the crumbs can slide straight into your mouth) there is the enjoyable prospect of the ‘extra’ bits at the end when you’ve finished the main body of the confection.

But what of the taste? Well, at first I really didn’t detect any difference in taste, but the more I went on with it the more I became convinced that the Flake tasted slightly creamier. However, I’m a bit suspicious that this could actually be down to the texture rather than the taste. Since it doesn’t have the outer coating to break through, the Flake melts immediately in the mouth whereas the Twirl takes a bit longer to disappear on the tongue. Could this result in a creamier tasting Flake? I don’t honestly know. I think I will have to try and induce some volunteers to test this out in a blind tasting.

So, what is the result of this investigation? Well, based on this one trial I think that if I had to choose a favourite taste and texture combination, I would – surprisingly to me – choose the Flake. On the other hand, in terms of portability and ease of scoffing, I would opt for the Twirl. I should imagine that this means I will continue to take Twirls offshore with me, but perhaps when I’m at home I’ll veer more towards the Flake.

Welcome back old chum!

* you may take issue with this, given the number of cakes I devour, not to mention bars of chocolate

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This week’s choice is one of those excellent farm shop-tearoom combinations, where locally grown produce and locally baked cakes stroll hand in hand along leafy country lanes (if I was a gifted cartoonist I would insert a little doodle of a carrot ambling along a grassy path with a sponge cake, but maybe you can imagine such an image).

It is located in a very beautiful area of rolling farmland, with a duck pond across the road from the tearoom (the first two photos were taken last summer, hence the leaves on the trees):

There’s a loch nearby which has a road going all the way round it and it’s a lovely peaceful place for an easy stroll:

The tearoom sits in a courtyard not far from the loch. The courtyard also contains a shop full of handcrafted items, some antiques, books and clothing, and a separate farm shop selling locally grown produce, preserves, etc. I really can’t account for this, but rather than take photos of the buildings to give an idea of the layout, all I have of the outside area is two tractors:

This one appears to have been made out of an oil drum and some leftovers:

The tearoom has been done up several times since I first started visiting it, and it’s more popular than ever these days. One of the reasons for that could be the size of the cake slices (although I must admit the entire menu is exellent, with several delicious hot meals available). Given the lack of scale, it’s hard to see how big this is, but the cake itself was a large one, cut into only eight pieces, making each slice a very substantial portion. This was a carrot cake:

Seeing how big the slices were, my beautiful assistant and I decided to share a piece and plumped, not unsually, for the coffee cake. We had both secretly wanted to go for the Victoria sponge, but each thinking that the other was more keen on the coffee cake, we remained silent in a very British manner, and ended up with our second choices. This was the Victoria sponge we were both secretly longing for:

The coffee cake that won the day:

It was served, as shown, on a very pretty tea plate, and turned out to be quite superb! I’m sure the Victoria sponge would have been equally good, but there were no complaints about the coffee cake, that’s for sure.

My other delightful assistant (my dad) had also joined us for this excursion, in order to take a little refreshment and get some exercise in the peaceful countryside nearby. He had a lemon slice:

The tearoom sells a few gifty things and also has a fine selection of tea packets for sale near the counter:

As I was leaving the tearoom, I managed to sneak a quick shot from the doorway while no-one was looking:

After our tea and cakes we took a leisurely stroll around the loch, passing a village school (I call it that becuase it’s so rural, but in fact there’s no village in sight, it’s just in the middle of nowhere, next to the farm and tearoom). The school catchment area must be fairly wide, because the community is quite spread out in this neck of the woods. It includes the area known as Glenisla, beautifully declared in mosaic form on a wall next to the school:

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Yesterday morning I felt rebellious.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been limiting my tearoom visits to the areas round where I live, because of the guide book I’m writing (luckily for me, this area has a wide variety of interesting tearooms). Yesterday, I don’t know what it was, maybe the sunshine and the hope of spring in the air, but the urge to venture beyond the confines of Perthshire, Angus and Dundee was too strong to resist.

Thanks to a staunch puritanical upbringing, however, morning refreshments were taken in Perthshire, so that I could at least compromise with my inner dissident (it doesn’t do for one to become entirely nonconformist, after all).

I had a yearning, as I often do, for chocolate, and so my glamorous assistant and I stopped in the small town of Auchterarder at a chocolaterie and cafe. Last time I was here I had a decadent hot chocolate in a little earthenware cup (see Chocolate post) but this time I fancied biting into some chocolate rather than drinking it. There were many tempting foodstuffs, but in order to get the right mix of chocolate and cakiness I was craving, I opted for this rather delicious looking morsel:

You may be surprised to learn that this is a chocolate and beetroot cake. Being both intrigued and delighted by such a combination, but not wishing to fill up too much, we ordered one slice between us. It was moist, dense and, oddly enough, tasted more of ginger than anything else. It was, altogether, quite a surprise of a cake, but being partial to gingery things I found it very pleasant and decidedly edible.

I wanted to sloosh it down with a cappuccino but at the last minute ordered a decaf latte. I don’t know why I keep doing this, but although I often like the idea of a cappuccino, I somehow feel more secure with a latte. I think it’s all that milk, it makes me feel loved and protected. Perhaps I was a cow in a previous life.

The weather forecast promised better weather towards the west of Scotland, so we drove off in a westerly direction and ended up in Stirlingshire at the lovely Flanders Moss, a Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) wildlife reserve. In the words of SNH: “Flanders Moss is a vast expanse of all things damp and wonderful”. Quite true, it is damp, and it is wonderful. Near the entrance to the reserve is a very solidly built viewing platform (tiny mother in pink for scale):

There are  a lot of steps to get up to the top (I counted them, and then promptly forgot how many there were):

The reserve is largely peat bog and is apparently the largest raised bog in the UK to remain in a predominantly near-natural state. A series of boardwalks enables visitors to get out on the bog:

The area is a haven for sphagnum moss. It’s everywhere, loads of it, and yesterday quite a bit of it was under ice:

There aren’t many trees here because SNH are trying to preserve the boggy habitat. Trees take up a lot of moisture, drying out the bog, but this birch had somehow survived the cull:

Wandering round the bog worked up an appetite for lunch, and after a short drive (not having a clue where we were going to eat but hoping for something magical to pop up out of the heather) we stumbled across this promising looking place:

It was a bit nippy for dining al fresco, but I would imagine on a sunny summer’s day it would be lovely to sit outside:

We had to wait for a table inside because it was very busy, but after a few minutes we were seated in the conservatory and both went for soup of the day, which was carrot and coriander, and came with either crusty brown bread or sandwiches. My delightful assistant stuck with the bread, while I opted for the sandwiches, choosing egg and cress on granary bread, with their special carrot chutney as an added extra. I must say, I was jolly glad I’d added the carrot chutney because it transformed the egg and cress sandwiches into something spectacular!

Having filled up on sandwiches, I didn’t have room for a sweet treat, but my assistant had a slice of coffee cake, which I’m assured was very good:

Replete and happy we wended our way back north and east, but on the journey I felt very thirsty and extremely keen for a cup of tea, so we stopped in a road-side cafe not far from Auchterarder. By this time a small space had appeared in my stomach, just about the size of a melting moment:

All in all, a grand day out, and a nice change of scenery and location. I’m looking forward to more food forays in Stirlingshire, and I have the excellent carrot chutney cafe at the top of my list.

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