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Archive for May, 2012

“Tearoom of the Week” has been a bit neglected lately, so I thought it was high time I slipped another one in. This tearoom comes to you from the county of Angus.

Angus sits on Scotland’s east coast, with Dundee to the south, Perthshire to the west and Aberdeenshire to the north. If you kept going east out of Angus you’d end up in the North Sea.

This picture was taken bobbing about somewhere in the North Sea last year. I was astonished by the number of gulls sitting on the water so far from land, I don’t know what they were doing there but there were hundreds of them (you might need to click on the picture to enlarge it and see them properly):

This isn’t particularly relevant to the tearoom in question, since it’s not on the coast, I just fancied putting a cool watery picture in because I’m sitting here typing this on a very warm day.

One of the wonderful things about this tearoom is the setting, which is quiet and attractive, surrounded by rolling green hills. Unfortunately I don’t seem to have a photo of the views from the tearoom windows, but this is what it looks like when you arrive. It’s inside an old forge on the right where the window is, and the building on the far left houses a stable (with horse):

Inside, it’s light and airy and has a farmhouse feel, with exposed stone walls, wooden beams, and wooden furniture around the room:

My delightful assistant and I popped in here yesterday for a light luncheon, having just had enormous pancakes at another tearoom not far away. Since we weren’t terribly hungry, we shared egg salad sandwiches:

I think the eggs may have come from some of the free range hens that we saw wandering around the car park. There were some lovely grey stripy ones, which I think were Scots Greys, that were wisely sitting in the shade of a fence:

And there was a very attractive little black one. Its feathers had a greenish sheen that caught the light. It’s not demonstrated brilliantly in this photo, but it had the sort of silky iridescence you see in oil slicks:

After our sandwiches and some cool drinks, we left the car at the tearoom and went for a walk nearby to enjoy the glorious weather and work up an appetite for some spice cake. I had spotted the cake under a glass cloche and was keen to sample it, but I needed to make room by burning up some calories first.

We found a grassy path through some deciduous trees, and the dappled light made it look refreshingly appealing in the heat:

It was indeed very pleasant and peaceful, and by the time we arrived back at the tearoom I found I had a cake-shaped hole inside me.

We ordered a big pot of tea for two, and the spice cake:

I don’t think I’ve ever had this cake before, but as far as I could gather it was a basic sponge with cinnamon and other spices in it. The icing was very nice and spicy too, and I got a jelly sweet into the bargain.

All of the chairs in this tearoom are wooden, but some of them are of delicate design, with prettily frilled cushions on them. These were perhaps my favourites:

As we were leaving the tearoom, a little chap popped up from behind a dry stone wall and thanked us for coming. We thanked him for having us, and I look forward to renewing his acquaintance in the near future:

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After what feels like ages (actually about 4 months), I’m now nearly ready to publish my first guidebook to splendid tearooms, part of the forthcoming Tearoom Delights series.

I’m aiming to get it to the printer in the next week or so and then, hopefully, receive the finished article in mid-June. Between now and then, however, I have a few reviews to complete and some odds and ends to tidy up.

Yesterday, to refresh my memory before finishing the review, I revisited one of the featured tearooms.  I had never had a scone in this place and I was very keen to remedy this situation, particularly as on a previous visit they had looked very good indeed. Yesterday the options were fruit, plain or banana and brown sugar. The banana and brown sugar looked so good I couldn’t resist:

The photo really doesn’t do it justice, it was an outstandingly good scone. I had thought that it was a piece of dried banana on top, but it turned out to be fresh banana which just melted in my mouth, all soft and delicious. I washed it down with beautifully fragrant Lady Grey tea (a vague glimpse of a fruit scone can be seen behind the milk jug, the choice of my delightful assistant):

The weather in Scotland, indeed the whole of the UK, has been unseasonably warm over the past couple of days, and after our refreshments we headed to a very quiet country road for a stroll amongst the livestock and wildflowers. I made chums with this very curious cow, the only one of the herd who seemed remotely interested in having her picture taken:

I also found some attentive sheeps with lovely black-faced lambs. Whenever I see sheep, I say ‘sheeps!’ just because it amuses me:

One of my favourite trees is the hawthorn, and the roadside verges were filled with hawthorns in beautiful bloom:

It was a very hazy start to the day, but it was in the mid-20s (very warm for Scotland) and by late afternoon the haze had burnt off.  This picture was taken while the haze was still very much in evidence, and the temperature was rising:

I don’t know if this is a worldwide phenomenon, but it’s not all that unusual to find an old bath plonked in a field in the Scottish countryside. What is more unusual, however, is finding one that still has the taps on:

Back to the subject of the book, one of the things I had to do was come up with a name for my publishing house (in reality, more of a publishing corner of a room). I was amazed to find that many of the names I came up with were already in use, but eventually I settled on one that would appear to be fairly unique: Teacups Press. It now has its own little website (WordPress blog) although there’s not much on it yet.

In due course, I’ll be posting more information about the wee book, how you can get a copy if you want one, and all that sort of thing. At the moment it’s coming out in an A6 paperback format, but if it does well I’d like to try and make the series available as e-books.

In the meantime, this is what’s going to be on the front cover:

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 “Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did.”

- William Butler, 16th Century writer

It must be summer in Perthshire because it’s warm and sunny and local strawberries are appearing all over the place.

There’s a small town called Coupar Angus just a few miles from where I live, and every year a travelling strawberry seller sets up shop on a rough bit of ground next to the Red House Hotel there. I gave him some custom today, and in return he let me take a photo of him and his strawberry kiosk:

These are the strawberries that were purchased from him:

Here they are nestling amongst some fruity chums:

I turned my back for two seconds and what do you know, but the strawberries had hopped away from their fruit comrades and clustered round this tub of double cream. Look how lovingly they’re cosying up to it:

Strawberries and raspberries are a big thing round here, an area often referred to as ‘the soft fruits capital of Scotland’. I do like strawberries but if I had to choose between them and raspberries (which would be dreadful), I would probably go for the raspberries.

In celebration of berries in general,  how about a big cake covered in raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and various other things besides? I poached this from Home is where the boat is, via the lovely Lucinda who posted it on her Crazy for Tea Time Facebook page. When I saw it, I was stunned and delighted:

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On holiday in Galloway last month, my delightful assistants and I visited Logan Botanic Gardens:

This is a pilgrimage each of us makes, usually at least once a year. Being members of the Royal Botanic Gardens (which comprises a set of four lovely gardens in Scotland, including Logan), like true Scots, we want to get our money’s worth.

The big bonus for me is that Logan also happens to contain one of my favourite tearooms in Galloway.

At first sight the striplights and tiled floor might seem a little stark and utilitarian, but I find this place warm and welcoming and I like the bright cleanliness of it. As soon as I step through the door I get a sense of having come home.

On this occasion, we had come here not only to enjoy the tearoom and look round the garden, but also to attend the Annual General Meeting. Despite all having been members for some time, none of us had ever attended any of the AGMs, and since this one happened to be on while we were in the area, we took the opportunity to pop in.

The meeting wasn’t being held until 2pm, so we rolled up in time for morning snacks, intending to munch those, mooch round the garden, have lunch and then drop into the meeting.

I noticed behind the counter that scones were being cut out of dough, and knowing that scones only take about 10 minutes to cook, I wondered if we might partake of these when they were ready. The lovely lady who was making them said that if we didn’t mind waiting she’d bring some over to our table when they were cooked, and in the meantime fetch us beverages to be getting on with.

So, we sat down with our drinks, and a few minutes later delicious piping hot scones appeared:

They were quite small and dainty, but perfectly formed and absolutely delicious. When the bill came I was surprised at how little we were being charged, and when we queried it we discovered that they’d cut the price of the scones as they were smaller than usual.

Thus refreshed, out we trotted for some fresh air and greenery.

I could do a whole post on this garden, but I will instead limit myself to showing you a hotel complex for minibeasts:

These hotels are at the top end of the market, the minibeast equivalent of a right royal residence:

I wondered if it was Prince Charles who came up with the hotel name. I saw him at Logan Botanics a few years ago when he had turned up to open something, although I can’t now remember what. I remember it was a lovely sunny day, and he was very tanned and wearing a sandy coloured suit that made him look like a pukka sahib abroad. (He was sort of abroad I suppose, having come from England).

After our garden stroll we strode back into the tearoom for a spot of luncheon prior to the meeting. We all opted for soup, the two delightful assistants taking lentil, while I chose minestrone.

Lentil soup:

Minestrone (it was probably the best minestrone soup I’ve ever had, I can still remember how good it was a month later):

The bread was also surprisingly good. I usually prefer brown bread, but this was very tasty, really crusty and crunchy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside.

We did wonder if there might be biscuits at the AGM, but in case not we had a little sweet thing after our soup. We got two pieces of Malteser slice to share between us:

I find it endlessly satsifying to break through the middle of a Malteser:

Nicely filled and not requiring the AGM’s biscuits, we filed into the meeting along with 20-odd other punters.

The sight that met my eyes caused me to gasp. Spread out inside the room was a magnificent buffet consisting of trays of sandwiches, scones, biscuits and cakes, and there were several pots of tea and coffee next to a stack of teacups. We looked at each other in a distressed way and wondered what to do about this situation.

Despite having no room for more food at this juncture, I simply could not pass up this veritable feast. I chose a small fruit scone (this was what the lady in the tearoom had evidently been making them for) with butter and jam, helped myself to a cup of tea and sat down in the back row next to delightful assistant no.1 (who was so full of lunch she couldn’t even manage a cup of tea).

After a bit of toing and froing with people finding seats and selecting goodies to nibble on, the chap in charge offered us another chance to take some treats before the meeting began. I really hadn’t room but I just couldn’t leave all that food there uneaten and looking deliciously at me. I thought perhaps that as the meeting went on I might develop an appetite, and so I topped my teacup up and helped myself to a coconuty cakey pink thing, which I laid on the windowsill beside me. Needless to say, it had gone by the close of the meeting:

After the meeting, which included a most interesting talk on ferns by a very enthusiastic fellow, we bid a fond adieu to Logan and its inhabitants, and are already looking forward to our next visit.

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As some of you may be aware, today is a big vegan foodfest in the blogging world. Dreamt up and coordinated by the quite astonishingly brilliant Annie of anunrefinedvegan, 66 bloggers are taking part in a virtual vegan potluck.

Each blogger is making and posting about their own vegan dish or drink, chosen from various categories (e.g. starters, salads, mains, desserts).

I chose the ‘beverages’ category and am bringing you a couple of lovely teas. The beautiful teacup below isn’t mine, I saw it on Facebook recently, on Pavlova and Fox’s page. I think it would enhance any cup of tea:

My first tea is perhaps something of an acquired taste, and doesn’t necessarily appeal to the mass market, but if you haven’t tried it I would recommend at least having a sniff.  I believe there are people who like a splash of milk (soy, or otherwise) in this tea, but personally I like it black.

It smells predominantly of woodsmoke, and one heady sniff of it is enough to bring about an urgent desire in me for a big smokey cupful of the stuff. The smokiness comes from the preparation of the leaves as they’re dried over the embers of pine wood fires. As the piney smoke rises up, it infuses the tea leaves lying on racks above the fire, and gives them their unique taste.

Tea no.1 – Lapsang Souchong:

When I was very young I had a Disney game, which consisted of a board painted with Goofy, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and perhaps one or two others. Their noses/beaks were made from plastic and stuck out at right angles to the board. The game came with a set of rubber rings, which were thrown at the board, in an attempt to lasso the protruberances which resulted in winning points. I mention this because the smell of those rubber rings has stayed with me through the years, and in addition to the obvious smokey smell of Lapsang Souchong, I detect this rubber ring scent, along with a touch of Creosote and perhaps a smidgen of tar.

I think of Lapsang Souchong as the “Islay malt” of tea, because it has similar qualities to the malt whiskies from Islay (an island off the west coast of Scotland, pronounced ‘eye-la’), which are characterised by a peaty smokiness.

If you haven’t tried Lapsang Souchong, but you like a peaty, smokey whisky, I think this tea might appeal to you. And, vice versa, if you like this tea, you might well also enjoy an Islay malt. If you’re not usually much of a drinker of either tea or whisky, but you can’t pass a freshly Creosoted telegraph pole without inhaling deeply, Lapsang Souchong could add a wonderful dimension to your life.

If, however, none of the above sounds like your sort of thing, perhaps I can tempt you with an alternative. There is such an enormous choice of teas that deciding what to offer up has been difficult, but I thought that since this is an international affair it would be a good chance to highlight something from my native country.

My second choice is another black tea, which is often taken with milk (perhaps soy, rice, or indeed almond) and sugar, should you so wish. Unlike Lapsang Souchong, this is a blended tea (a sort of “Famous Grouse” of teas, to continue the whisky analogy), made up of Assam, Ceylon and Kenyan teas. You may have heard of English Breakfast tea, but this might be new to you:

Tea no.2 – Scottish Breakfast:

When I open a new packet of this tea, my senses are awakend to a warm, velvety maltiness, the sort of smell tea had in my youth. I am transported to the diningroom of the house I grew up in, taking tea in fine china cups on a Sunday with my grandparents visiting, a large table laden with cakes, and my grandmother shockingly licking her side plate knife. As a tot, I liked my tea weak and milky with sugar. These days I take it stronger and unsweetened, but if I were to try and recreate those days of yore, the tea I’d choose to do it with would be Scottish Breakfast.

And so, back to the point of this whole business, the Virtual Vegan Potluck.

In theory, there is a chain of all the participating bloggers, one post leading on to another in a set order determined by Annie (the order can be found on her blog here), so that when you click the images below, you will be taken to the previous link in the chain (the ‘go back’ image) and the next link (‘go forward’). However, because people are posting from all over the globe, the timings may not quite coincide. Being in the UK, I’m a considerable way behind Australia but ahead of America.

If you click on the ‘go back’ image below, you’ll be able to visit the page that came before me, Good Clean Food, where you will find another post in the ‘beverages’ section. If you don’t see the potluck post now, perhaps you could pop back later in the day.

And to visit the next blogger on the list, Turning Veganese, the final ‘beverages’ post, you can click on the image below this:

I hope you enjoy all the wonderful vegan fare on offer today, and thank you again to Annie for doing such an amazing job of organising it all!

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(This post follows on from the previous one, which is why I’m just diving in here expecting you to know what’s going on.)

Having worked up an appetite browsing round The Book Shop, my delightful assistants and I trotted across the road to find our lunch, in another of Wigtown’s bookshops.

Many of the town’s bookshops have specialised in certain genres, and this one is dedicated to the work of women’s literature (anything and everything written by, for, and about women, although they do also have a small section in one room labelled ‘male authors’, as a sort of token gesture to the gents). Apparently, it’s the only extant specialist women’s bookshop in the UK, and one of only 13 in the world (how they obtained this information, I have no idea, but it sounds impressive to me).

I failed to mention that prior to visiting The Book Shop, we did in fact call into the ladies’ bookshop (it has a clever name which I’m tempted to divulge, but that would break my vow of secrecy on the subject of tearoom names) for a snack first. In my last post I showed you a fruit scone, which was what I had by way of a morning nibble, along with a pot of tea. Delightful assistant no.1 also had a scone:

Delightful assistant no.2 had a coconut creation, which exceeded expectations on tasting. It was very moist and extremely coconuty:

The tea and coffee they serve here is Fairtrade, and the jams and chutneys are made by a local family-owned business.  As mentioned in my previous post, the jam was plum and was exceptionally good.

The tearoom is very much a part of the bookshop, having lots of books within easy reach of the seats. This corner was where we sat:

Or we could have sat more in the body of the shop:

Or, indeed, in this lounge-type area:

Which has a wood burning stove and an interesting ceiling:

The menu contained a good number of interesting vegetarian and vegan options and I chose the vegan shepherdess pie, which was made with puy lentils, courgette and onion in a spiced tomato sauce, topped with mashed potato. It was served with steamed carrots, turnip and cabbage, and was absolutely delicious (according to the waitress it was cumin that gave it the excellent flavour):

I washed this down with a bottle of fragrant Rose Lemonade, a drink I came across last year and have become quite fond of:

I was so deeply involved with my own meal that I seem to have failed to record what my delightful assistants had, but I think one of them had the same as me and the other had cottage pie, which was similar but with meat in it.

Thankfully, because the portions weren’t too large, we had room for dessert. There were a number of tempting choices but delightful assistant no.1 and myself opted for the rice pudding, which came as a magnificently stodgy block:

Delightful assistant no.2 went for a chocolate brownie, but unfortunately my picture of it is blurred. The brownie came with a jug of cream, which delighted both assistants, and when the attentive waitress noticed that the jug had been emptied, she swiftly brought along another jugful. I don’t think the cream was meant for the rice pud, but when there’s cream on the table and the assistants are in attendance, it tends to get sloshed onto whatever’s available:

Feeling very happily filled, we took ourselves off for a poke around ‘The Hut’. The bookshop itself contains around 8,000 books for sale, but you can find another 17,000 to browse through in the Hut, a sort of little warehouse of several rooms attached to the back of the shop. Some of them were interestingly cramped and full of makeshift shelving:

And one of them was bright and full of boxes that we were invited to rummage through. I don’t know what the significance of all the portrait photos is, I admit to being perplexed by them:

On the way out, I was tempted by a piece of coconut sponge on the counter, but I was still too full of rice pudding to do it justice. A fine reason for a return visit, I think:

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There’s a small, spooky little town in the south-west of Scotland, with rather an unfortunate history, that has become known as Scotland’s Book Town.

It’s called Wigtown and it’s home to more than 20 book-related businesses (quite impressive for a place with a population of only about 1000), many of which are second-hand bookshops. One of them claims to be the largest second-hand bookshop in Scotland:

Those twisting pillars on either side of the door are made of piled up books covered in wax:

I remember the first time I went to Wigtown I had an unnerving sense of unease. I had no idea why I felt the way I did, but I had a strong impression that something wasn’t quite right. I’ve since visited it with three different friends, on separate occasions, and to my astonishment each one of them, with no prompting from me, reported the same strange feeling. My parents went there before I did and they felt it too.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be telling you this, in case you want to visit the place yourself and will now be predisposed to sensing something, but I feel I can’t write a post about Wigtown without mentioning it. If you’re curious, the explanation my parents gave me for it, and which seems quite convincing to me, relates to the story of the Wigtown Martyrs.

On to more cheerful matters – books galore! Despite the unsettling atmosphere of Wigtown, I do enjoy visiting it because of the marvellous range of bookshops on offer, and The Book Shop is definitely one of the highlights:

When I was there in April I noticed that a couple of the bookshops had closed down, perhaps due to lack of business (Galloway is a pretty quiet corner of the country and Wigtown is a very sleepy little backwater), but a fair number seem to be thriving and are still packed to the gunwhales with interesting tomes. The Book Shop has many different nooks and crannies, and books covering virtually every topic imaginable. If you like books, it is an absolute joy to wander round:

Amongst all the books, there are some curious ornaments, including a violin-playing skeleton suspended from the ceiling. I assume the poor fellow was hoisted up there after he’d passed on, and didn’t actually expire in situ, violin in hand:

Beneath the skeleton, in the bottom left hand corner of the above photo, you might make out a table with paper cups and things on it. This is a tea and coffee station, from where one is free to help oneself to hot beverages. There are a couple of comfy chairs next to it, upon which you may perch while you imbibe, and peruse a book or two. When I visited, the fire in the fireplace was blazing away and it was very cosy:

Knowing that I was bound for another bookshop that contained a more elaborate tearoom, I didn’t indulge here, but instead continued to wander round looking at books and reading messages in unlikely places:

As I say, I was saving my appetite for another bookshop that contained a tearoom. I’ll keep the details for another post because there’s quite a bit to say about it, but just to whet your appetite here’s a picture of the tasty fruit scone I had there. The jam in the background was astonishingly good. I wasn’t sure what the flavour was, but according to the waitress it was a locally made plum preserve. They had some jars of other jams on sale, but unfortunately none of the plum; if there had been any, I would have purchased one to take home:

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