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Archive for April, 2012

Today my dad turned 83.

I have another blog (on Blogger) that I often forget about, but I was reminded about it today and thought I’d do a little post for my dad’s birthday on it. Rather than repeat the post on this blog, you might like to have a look here:

A nice cup of tea

Although I don’t post on my other blog very often, I had it before I joined up with WordPress and there are some other bits of my life on there, including me at work (in theory I work offshore, but it’s more than 6 months since my last contract, and at the moment I can’t do it because of my wrist trouble). It’s so long since I’ve been to work that it feels quite nostalgic looking at the pictures. Here’s a taster:

A nice cup of tea

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Annie from anunrefinedvegan is hosting a potluck that any fellow bloggers can join in with on 12 May. If you haven’t signed up yet, why not have a look at this and see if it takes your fancy. I think it’s a great idea and Annie’s done a wonderful job of co-ordinating it all. Come on in, the more the merrier!

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Some very kind fellow bloggers have bestowed awards on me recently and I’m afraid I’ve been rather remiss about passing them on.

As with my previous awards post, I’m going to break the rules and combine them all (which is a bit cheeky but I seem to have got away with it last time).

The lovely Tania of taniajessicasmith (as soon as you click on this link you’ll see her incredibly impressive make-up!) takes beautiful photos and has been to some amazing places.  She awarded me the Blog on Fire Award:

The lovely Meg of megtravelling awarded me two awards: the Sunshine Blog Award and the Genuine Blogger Award. I’ve done a bit of travelling in the past and have been lucky enough to see quite a few of the places I always wanted to see. These days I generally feel quite content to be an armchair traveller, but I must admit that some of the posts on Meg’s blog really make me want to see more places for myself, and maybe one day I will. Just as I was composing this post I also received the Sunshine Award from the lovely Fundemental, and then the lovely Nicole at cauldronsandcupcakes so thank you all very much!

The lovely Robin of bringingeuropehome awarded me the Versatile Blogger Award. Robin’s blog is a very satisfying mixture of Europe (where she’s travelled and lived) and America (where she’s from and now lives) and her posts always show me something new and interesting I didn’t know before:

Each of these awards comes with its own rules, but if I obey them I’ll never get this post finished and I’ve been trying to get it done for ages now. So, I’m just going to make up my own rules, which is very impudent, I know.

I have decided to give each award to the people the award made me instantly think of, however many or few that happened to be, although I realise they may well have had the award before. I know this is bad and very cheeky, but alas sometimes I get that way and no matter how much of a talking to I give myself, I fail to take any notice of it.

The Blog on Fire Award goes to anunrefinedvegan and girlinafoodfrenzy because both of these lovely ladies have blogs that are completely on fire! I don’t know how they do it but they are both amazingly productive when it comes to blogging about their wonderful food. They both astonish me, on an almost daily basis, with their culinary skills. I would also like to give it to cauldronsandcupcakes because Nicole is a truly astonishing blogger. I think I’m right in saying that she does a post every day, and very often they’re extremely thought-provoking and inspiring. I am constantly amazed by her ability to put out so much high quality content, which I know is appreciated by many other bloggers.

The Sunshine Award goes to thenaturephile, desayunosveganos, itsonlyerica and land-sea-sky because all of these blogs brighten my day when I look at their blogs. (In fact, this happens with all the blogs I read regularly, but these four jumped into my mind in particular when I thought about who to give the award to.)

The Genuine Blogger Award goes to mehmudahrehman and sukirthasphotography because both of these delightful ladies have strongly held beliefs that they bring to their blogs in a gracious and humbling manner. I may not share their beliefs but I do respect them and I appreciate the way in which they put their views across. I would also like to give it to Mike, who probably doesn’t want it (sorry, Mike, just ignore this if you like!) because I think he is a genuinely nice chap with a genuninely nice blog.

The Versatile Blogger Award goes to jo’sjournal, allsparkleduptimefortea, teabuddy and gippslandgranny – all of whom are very versatile ladies with a whole host of different and most admirable skills.

I feel sure that this time, as happened last time I did this, I will think of other blogs I wished I’d given the awards to over the next day or two. However, all I can say is that if I’ve ever visited your blog and clicked ‘like’, then thank you.

Lately, with the dodgy wrist business, I haven’t been reading as many blog posts as I used to, because I’m trying to use my computer less. I also haven’t been posting very much, and this makes it all the more amazing that I’ve had all these awards, so thank you again to everyone who has given me an award, to everyone who reads my blog, and to everyone who provides such great material for me to drop by and read.

Here’s to you, every marvellous blogger tapping away! I hope to visit you soon, and thank you for visiting me.

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If you’re ever thinking of having a little self-catering holiday in the south-west of Scotland, and fancy staying in a most comfortable and splendidly well equipped cottage, I can heartily recommend Culmore Bridge Cottages as a first class option.

The truly delightful Jim and Marilyn Sime have built four excellent self-catering bungalows next to their own cottage, in an area of grass and woodland near the sleepy village of Sandhead (about 8 miles south-east of Stranraer), and have taken great care to make them fully accessible with a range of thoughtful design ideas for disabled, as well as able-bodied, guests.

I spent last week there with my two most delightful assistants (as well as a special guest assistant), and we had a marvellous time. We’ve all stayed there before, never want to leave and are always looking forward to our next visit.

Here’s a picture of Rowan Cottage, the house we stayed in. The paintwork was being redone during our stay, which is why it looks a little fuzzy round the edges, but I’m sure that it will be looking tip-top by now with all the black paint round the windows touched up. This was taken halfway through the repainting, with the whitewashing already done and just the window surrounds to finish:

Inside, the house was spacious, well laid out, warm, cosy and comfortable.

The very well equipped kitchen:

With dining area next to it and light streaming in from the French doors that led onto a small decking area outside (outdoor chairs and a table provided for those al fresco moments):

The view from the decking area (there was a road beyond the trees but apart from that peace and tranquility reigned):

There were paths around the demesne, some of which led to ponds full of wildlife, including several species of newt. I’ve seen at least two different species here, including the great crested newt. They like to hide in murky water and lurk amongst foliage so this was the best shot I could get:

The cottage had three lovely relaxing bedrooms (2 doubles and a twin). This was my room, where I did a lot of happy snoozing:

Snoozing opportunities were to be had elsewhere in the house, too, as weary assistant no.2 discovered after breakfast in the lounge one day (well, he is nearly 83 after all, and if you can’t take a nap after breakfast at that age, when can you?):

The lounge led onto the dining area and kitchen, all open plan but very nicely designed so that they felt like separate areas:

While some of us were indulging in a doze, others were perusing improving literature on the subject:

Many delicious tearoom experiences were had on this holiday (of which more to come) but before I get onto that, I will leave you with a health-giving salad (the cucumber was pushed to one edge so as not to offend those who didn’t care for it):

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For several weeks now I’ve had shooting and burning pain in my wrists, especially the right one. Sometimes I can’t use my right hand at all, although it’s generally worse at night and in the morning and gets better through the day (no doubt something to do with the painkillers I’m wolfing during waking hours).

I think consumption of cakes also helps, a skill I have yet to master in my sleep. Here’s an example of the sort of medicine I enjoy taking:

My ailment would appear to be a complaint called De Quervain’s syndrome or tendonitis.  Initial treatment for it is to wear a support or splint to keep the wrist from moving too much, take anti-inflammatory medication and rest it as much as possible, particularly from doing the things that make it painful. Very sadly for me, one of the main things that makes it worse is typing, and so on doctor’s orders I’m going to type less and sleep more, like this sensible teenager:

(If I haven’t visited your blog or left comments recently, I really am most aggrieved. My particular apologies if I haven’t replied to any comments you’ve left for me on here or on your own blog, I did try to catch up with them today but I may have missed some.)

In order to try and enforce this cessation of typing and blogging, I’m taking my two most delightful assistants down to the south-west of Scotland next week for a holiday. I plan to sample some marvellous tearooms while I’m there, which will eventually appear in all their glory on this blog.

We’ll be staying a very lovely self-catering cottage in Galloway, where we’ve all stayed before, but strangely I can’t find any pictures of it (I’ll have to remedy that next week). Instead, here are a couple of shots from a little camping trip I had in April 2010 a few miles away in the same county. It was just me, my tent and this lovely view:

One of my favourite tearooms anywhere in the world exists in Galloway. On more than one occasion I’ve had what they call the Mata Hari, which is a sticky toffee pudding with ice cream. It’s so absurdly delicious that I suspect any spy might be tempted to trade in state secrets for the recipe:

And so dear readers, thank you for your patience during my convalescence. I will miss you terribly, but I hope to be back before too long, stronger and full of yet more inane witterings about tearooms.

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I’m glad that rabbits are such a big part of Easter because it gives me an excuse to dedicate a post to them.

I’ve always been fond of rabbits. I used to draw them all the time as a child, and they’re still one of my favourite doodles.

Earlier this year I received a beautiful birthday card from my dear parents:

I also got a calendar for Christmas which is full of rabbits. These two little gems appeared in March and fairly brightened up my month:

Along with my drawings of rabbits as a child, I used to write stories about them. According to the date on the back of this piece of paper (my parents are very good at putting dates on things), it was done in spring 1977, when I was 5. The translation is: “I saw a rabbit in the forest, it was jumping, it was furry, it was very nice”:

He’s now retired, but in his working life my dad was an astronomer and worked at the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh.  He used to bring box-loads of what we called ‘computer paper’ home with him from the office for us to draw on. It came in perforated sheets with holes along the top and green stripes on the back.

In June 1977 I made use of some of this paper to write the following story, and draw a one-eyed rabbit filled with flowers to illustrate it. The translation would appear to be: “I saw a rabbit in my garden. I like the rabbit, it was furry, it was running all over the place. I want it as a pet, mummy said that I could have it. I had it for a pet.”:

On the other side of the paper I drew a jolly little dancing rabbit:

Yesterday there were three small Lindt bunnies playing round this wooden drawered ornament:

This morning they were outside having a serious discussion in the grass:

Very fittingly for Easter, my April calendar page depicts this delightful little rabbit with two eggs that are not that much smaller than the bunny itself:

Happy Easter!

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Tea has widely recognised medicinal qualities.

It is an elixir used to treat multitudinous ailments, working in mysterious and wonderful ways to relieve the mind and body of pain and discomfort, trauma and distress, shock, disturbance and suffering.

When combined with the healing qualities of a slice of cake it can soothe the soul and liberate the spirit from its terrestrial tethers. It tastes jolly nice too.

 

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I can’t claim to be an expert when it comes to tea, but I do drink several pints of the stuff most days.

My first tea of the day is taken in a large mug, which holds just over a pint. I fill it as full as I can, and so each day starts off with a nice big pint of tea:

This first tea is Darjeeling, brewed from a teabag:

It has just occurred to me while writing this that taking Darjeeling in a pint mug is a bit like wearing a silk dress with steel toe-capped boots. Somewhat incongruous, for Darjeeling is a very light, almost floral, floaty sort of beverage, also known as the ‘champagne of teas’. I think it would be the tea of choice for butterflies, flower fairies and water nymphs (this may be entirely erroneous and simply a figment of my imagination, then again it may not).

There have probably been many mountainous tomes written about Darjeeling tea, because it likes to think of itself as the glamourous face of hot beverages, attracting lots of attention and high prices for the first crops of the season. Perhaps I’m subconsciously trying to keep its feet on the ground by swilling it from a pint mug, I don’t know. All I do know is that when I wake up in the morning I am desperate for a large quantity of Darjeeling tea.

I like my first cup of tea to be black, and Darjeeling is perfect without milk. Because I take it black I can brew it slightly stronger than I want it and then add cold water to it, which allows me to drink it immediately without having to wait for it to cool down. This, to my mind, is the perfect scenario: a large quantity of instantly drinkable tea at the point in the day when I’m most keenly in need of it. Tea purists would no doubt be horrified by this ritual, and if I have offended you in any way I apologise.

About an hour or so after breakfast comes stronger leaf tea with milk. At the moment I’m in the habit of mixing two leaf teas that happen to be in the cupboard, because it turns out that they make a very flavourful and delicious blend:

The one on the left is my local supermaket, Tesco’s, cheapest leaf tea. You might think that since it’s so cheap (only about 95p for the box, I think) it wouldn’t be up to much, but it has some tricks up its sleeve. It’s a blend of African and Indian black teas and is quite astonishingly good, in fact I would say it’s even better than some other more expensive leaf teas. The one on the right is also a blend of African and Indian black teas, and was purchased in the Lancashire town of Carnforth, in the famous railway station refreshment room. Carnforth was the location for the film Brief Encounter, and they’ve jumped on the bandwagon by flogging all manner of film merchandise to anyone giddy enough to part with their cash. Being prone to a bit of giddiness, this included me when it came to their specially packaged tea.

I like to take this blended tea from one of my recently purchased tea-and-cup-plates (aka tea and toast sets, thank you for that information, Marian). Sometimes I accompany it with a scone, or a slice of cake, or some chocolate, and on other days I am a good girl and have a healthy snack instead (chunks of honeydew melon and sultanas sprinkled with cinnamon, in this instance):

My regular post-luncheon cuppa is English Breakfast (oddly enough), or occasionally Traditional Afternoon, both supplied by the inestimable Twinings:

Other black teas that are currently resident and sometimes get a look-in include the beautifully packaged and very flavourful Yorkshire Tea:

The somewhat suave and gentlemanly Earl Grey:

And Cafe Direct’s tasty blend of African teas:

One tea that is not currently residing in the tea cupboard is, strangely, one of my all-time favourite black teas: Assam. For information on this tea, I would like to refer you to the magnificent Shona Patel, a fellow blogger who was brought up on an Assam tea plantation and is a wealth of information on the subject.

If I’m not awake and drinking tea, then I like to be asleep. I’m a big fan of bedtime and look forward every night to getting into my jim-jams preparatory to falling into bed nice and early and allowing myself a decent long snooze.

In order to make the most of this,  after about 14:00 I switch to decaffeinated tea. I’ve tasted many woebegone tasteless decaf teas, but thankfully I have found two brands that do at least have a bit of oomph about them. My current favourite is Twinings Everyday Decaffeinated:

I drink this as I would most other black teas, brewed nice and strong, taken with a little cold milk and no sugar. If I fancy something a little lighter, or slightly different, in the evening there are several other decaffeinated teas I often turn to. One of these is Redbush, a beautiful red coloured tea from South Africa:

If I’m in the business of consuming a considerable quantity of chocolate (a not unusual occurrence)  there is a tea that I think is the perfect accompaniment. It’s called Kukicha and is made from roasted Japanese twigs. It’s taken black and has a sort of smoky, earthy flavour that I think is truly wonderful:

When it comes to tea on a worldwide scale, I feel I am dreadfully ignorant. I know very little about Far Eastern teas and one of these days I would like to visit Japan and attend a tea ceremony.

What I do know about tea is probably what most other Brits know. Tea is a big part of life in Blighty and, as far as I’m aware, I have only ever physically met two people who didn’t like tea. One of them didn’t like any hot beverages, and I can’t remember anything about the other one, I just remember mentally chalking up a second non-tea-drinker on my radar.

I’m not sure how widely travelled the concept of ‘Builder’s Tea’ is, but I believe it’s a British expression. It refers to strong tea with milk and lots of sugar in it, the sort that builders apparently prefer (along with a big plate of chocolate biscuits, cakes, scones, sandwiches and pies, if they can get them). I didn’t know, until yesterday, that it existed as a brand. I might not have noticed it at all, were it not for the fact that it wolf-whistled at me from the shelf:

It claims to be ‘tested and approved by real builders’ and, according to the side of the pack, the tea people are ‘proud to work in partnership with the Federation of Master Builders’. I almost bought a pack but then I put it back, remembeing that there simply isn’t any room in the tea cupboard.

There are many other excellent teas I haven’t mentioned here, some of which I only have occasionally and keep for tearoom consumption, such as Oolong and Russian Caravan, but since tea is such a massive subject any post I do will barely scratch the surface.

This afternoon, in an attempt to soothe my burning throat (all sympathy welcome, I appear to have caught a cold), I tried a sort of hot toddy tea, using this Yogic concoction:

I thought the spiciness might be good for throat pain, and to give it a bit more welly* I added some honey and a splash of whisky. The whisky was, for any interested parties, a 10 year old Macallan fine oak triple cask matured single malt. Adding this to a cup of tea might seem a disgraceful way to treat such a prestigious beverage, but it was the only whisky I had to hand, and I must say it produced a most satisfying throat soothing medicine.

*according to the Wiktionary this expression means to add fuel or power to an engine, but it’s generally used as a slang term in the UK to mean adding some ‘oomph’ to something

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Something wonderful happened on Monday the 2nd of April: one of my favourite local tearooms reopened its doors for the season, an event I’d been waiting for all winter.

This tearoom is situated on the outskirts of Perth, on my main route into the city, and many’s the time over the past few months I’ve driven past, longing for it to open again. When the big day finally arrived, on Monday morning, I took two delightful assistants Perthwards to celebrate this marvellous event.

I have been warned on many occasions by my delightful assistants that in my over-the-top enthusiasm for certain tearooms I may be getting people’s hopes up so much that they end up being disappointed when they visit one of my recommendations. I understand this concern, but there are some occasions when I simply cannot help myself. If it’s of any reassurance, when my tearoom guidebook comes out it will be a little more restrained and balanced in its reviews (that’s the plan anyway, but who can tell what will actually happen?), so that hopefully if you read it you won’t be let down. I do apologise in advance to anyone who suffers as a result of my adoration, but when it comes to certain tearooms I feel I have some sort of defence.

If you’ve ever had a relative, friend, partner, pet or pair of shoes that you have felt a deep and fervent love for, you will understand my feelings about this tearoom. Like a proud parent when their child comes first in the egg and spoon race on sports day, stepping through the door of this tearoom the other day briefly felt like the best moment of my life.

A sight for sore eyes: an empty table in this wonderful tearoom:

It being that lovely time of day between breakfast and lunch I selected, from their splendid scone options (on this occasion: plain, fruit, date and cinnamon, and cheese), a date and cinnamon scone. It was almost certainly the best date and cinnamon scone I’ve ever had (at least, since the last one I had here):

What’s more, it had not long ago come out of the oven and was still slightly warm. A universe away from a microwaved job. The outside was of perfect crispness, while the inside was as fluffy and light as you could possibly want, and the datiness and cinnamoniness made it nothing short of heaven on a plate:

To accompany this marvellous creation I had a pot of excellent tea, which lovely assistant no.2 joined me in along with her choice of a fruit scone, while lovely assistant no.1 had a decaf coffee and another date and cinnamon delight.

One of the many things I love about this tearoom is the way the teacups and plates are laid out on the pretty tablecloths ready for my arrival. It’s so welcoming, as if they’ve been expecting me and have popped the required crockery out because they know I’ll be needing a nice cup of tea and a scone when I sit down:

Had I not gone for a scone, I might have had a slice of one of these very tempting looking cakes that were smiling at me in an engaging manner from inside the chiller cabinet:

A thing I always like to see in a tearoom is a ready supply of napkins/serviettes, because you never know when you might need a spare one. Here, we even had a choice of yellow or green, and a most delightful little cow to serve them to us:

This tearoom, as well as being one of my top places for a good scone and a nice cup of tea, has charming service. The lovely ladies (and, occasionally, men) who take the orders are volunteers, and all profits from the tearoom go to a cancer charity. Despite the very reasonable prices, they raise thousands of pounds a year by selling their delicious morsels. By patronising this tearoom, not only can you indulge in superb fare, but by doing so you’re helping to save lives. It is a most excellent win-win situation.

Attached to the tearoom is a small gift shop which sells, amongst other enticing items, the cafe’s own first class cookery book. I mentioned this book in a previous post (see here) because it is currently my favourite recipe book, and I was delighted to see that they were still selling it this year. Delightful assistant no.2 was overjoyed to discover this, as she had been waiting for months to buy a copy for herself.

Seats were set up outside ready to welcome the long warm days of summer (I live in hope), along with a rack of second-hand books, from which I have sometimes found a little gem to take home with me:

As if all of this were not good enough, when I went to pay the bill I discovered that, since we had been one of the first 12 customers of the new season, the coffee was free of charge!

If I could recommend this tearoom more highly I would, but bearing in mind the stark warnings I’ve been getting about my over-enthusiastic approach to such things, I will content myself with saying that this is a jolly nice tearoom and I’m looking forward to many more visits during the coming months.

N.B. There was no Tearoom of the Week last week because the previous one had been in two parts (see Tearoom of the Week (Part One) and Tearoom of the Week (Part Two)), and I decided to have a small break before the next one. I was delighted to be able to make this one TotW (9) though, as I’ve been wanting to highlight it ever since I started this blog. Hurrah!

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