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Archive for November, 2012

The small Perthshire town of Blairgowrie sits among rolling hills and farmland in the Vale of Strathmore.

The streets of the town slope upwards towards the north-west, and if you continue walking in this direction beyond the limit of houses, you soon reach the top of a small grassy hill called The Knockie.

The Knockie, being only a few minutes’ trot from where I live, provides an easily accesible bit of fresh air and exercise for someone who spends far too much time sitting at a desk. I try to get out for a little walk most days of the week and yesterday, thinking it was too long since I last did it, I felt inspired to go and look at the views from The Knockie.

The track up the hill is often very muddy, but is apparently being upgraded and will soon be covered in stones. I think it has a nicely old-fashioned look, bounded by lovely dry stone walls covered in moss:

When you reach the top of the hill, you can read a ghost story on a board:

The story concerns a Lady Jean Drummond, who lived at nearby Newton Castle around the 13th century. She fell in love with a chap from a neighbouring castle, but the two families were at war with one another over land rights, and any sort of romance was out of the question. Heartbroken, Lady Jean is said to have wandered out into the marshes, never to return. Her ghost, dressed in green silk, currently divides her time betwen the two castles, ever pining for her lost love.

A wooden seat has been thoughtfully provided so that you can sit and contemplate this tragic tale:

Yesterday was not the brightest of days, but on the other side of the hill from Blairgowrie there are good views of the surrounding countryside, and the distant Grampian mountains:

The track on the other side of the hill has a much better surface, being covered in tarmac for some of the way, and there are more mossy walls:

We’ve had a fair bit of stormy weather here lately, and I passed some trees that had not only been uprooted, but had taken the ground with them. I thought it looked as if a giant had come along and lifted up the carpet:

As I rounded The Knockie, the setting sun broke through the clouds casting a warm glow on the hillside to the east:

Over towards the west, the sky seemed to be on fire:

The atmosphere was hazy, but the lighting created this silhouette of a horse on the horizon:

By the time I got home, I felt I’d earned a small snackerel:

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Mimi’s Bakehouse is a tearoom I’ve been wanting to visit for some time. It’s situated in the Leith area of Edinburgh, a part of the city I know reasonably well, having inhabited three different flats in the vicinity.

Edinburgh, and Leith in particular, has been on my mind quite a bit lately. In the past couple of weeks I’ve read two Ian Rankin books set in Edinburgh, and the main character in my own novel (still under construction, currently at 25,000 words) lives in Leith.

All of this, combined with my desire to meet up with a chum who lives in the great metropolis, led to me nipping down there last week.

The day was dreich (wet, damp, dull and – some might say – a bit miserable) but, arriving a bit early, I wandered round some of my old haunts.

One never knows, on revisiting a place, quite what one’s feelings will be. I was half expecting to be irritated by the noise and traffic, put off by the general busyness of the city, which has sometimes been the case when I’ve been back to Edinburgh after my quiet life in leafy Perthshire. However, I was surprised to find that I felt happy, exhuberant and delighted to be back. Quite a few of Leith’s streets are cobbled, rather than covered with tarmac (is this known in the US as asphalt? I’ve never been too sure): I was glad to see this old chap again, a fellow I often used to walk past and bid good day to: Although some of the shops, pubs, cafes, etc. have changed since I was last here, it was reassuring to see that some looked exactly as I’d left them. This wee pub has probably looked much the same for the past 200 years, dating back as it does to 1785: Inside, Mimi’s provided a bright and welcoming contrast to the weather. Indeed, far from feeling the chill outside, the ladies on the wallpaper appeared to be feeling the heat: We opted to sit in one of the sofa areas, which was decorated with some stylish cushions: The main point of interest to my mind, however, was the cake counter. I opted for the coffee and walnut: If I’d been in a chocolate mood I would have found this creation hard to resist: And if I’d been craving the malty crunchiness of Maltesers, this little gem would have been top of my list: To go with my cake, I ordered Teapigs Chai tea, which came in a little teapot with a slice of orange on the side: The cake was heavily iced (a bit too much for me on this occasion, although if I’d been desperate for a sugar rush I’d have scoofed it back readily enough), but the sponge itself was extremely light and fluffy:

Just as coffee and walnut is one of the cakes I frequently like to try, my chum is very partial to a caramel, or millionaire, shortbread. Mimi’s had large slabs of the stuff on offer, and he jumped at the opportunity, pairing it with a cappuccino: I wasn’t too fussed about trying it, since it looked a bit heavy and solid to me, but when I tasted a little corner I was astonished by its melt-in-the-mouth texture. The biscuit, toffee and chocolate disappeared together in a most pleasant manner. It was, surely, one of the best of its kind.

Mimi’s is, altogether, rather a stylish establishment. The ladies toilet can be located by this attractive notice on the door: The black and white theme evident throughout the tearoom itself, is continued in the bathrooms: After our delicious repast, my comrade had to get back to work and I thought I’d get a little exercise by way of trotting round the Botanic Gardens, which were on my route out of the city. The colours were beautiful but it was raining quite heavily. One good thing about going to the Botanics on such a wet day was that I virtually had the place to myself, including the magnificent hot houses: While I was pounding the pavements in Leith and driving through the city, I noticed that there are lots of new tearooms that weren’t there in my day.

The trouble, if you can call it that, is that there are far more tearooms to sample than I have the capacity for. Just as I don’t expect to die with an empty in-tray, neither do I anticipate managing to consume all the cakes I would like to gorge on in this one short lifetime. If ever there were a reason for reincarnation, that must be it.

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The autumn colours in Perthshire are particularly good this year and, thinking that the Scottish Borders would be putting on a similarly spectacular show, I took the delightful assistants down there for a gawp at the weekend.

We were most surprised to find that, despite being further south, it felt like winter rather than autumn in the Borders. Many of the trees were completely bare and most of the leaves that were left on the trees were well past their flame-grilled best.

However, I’m happy to say that at our destination of Dawyck Botanic Gardens, nature’s loveliness was abounding:

A couple of beech trees had curious wrappings round their trunks:

There was a poem, entitled The Bandaged Trees, attached to one of the trunks, but I found it a tad depressing so I won’t burden you with it.

Looking up into the trees was beautiful with the sunlight on the leaves:

Dawyck (more or less pronounced Daw-ik) is a beautiful place to walk around, and even though there were a lot of cars in the car park, we met very few people as we strolled through the gardens.

Here are a couple of tiny assistants perched atop a lovely bridge:

The air smelled very fresh and I took lots of deep breaths. The amount of lichen on the trees was perhaps a good indicator of just how pollution-free the atmosphere was. Some of the birches looked as if they were dressed in furs and feather boas:

Bits of the garden were in the shade and quite frosty, an ideal hiding place for ice nymphs and frost elves. Apparently, if you run backwards making chirpy little whistling noises they sometimes pop out. I tried this, but I didn’t see any. Mind you, I find that trying to stay upright while running backwards takes up most of my concentration.

My camera battery died just past this bench,

which was a pity as I had been hoping to take photos of the lunch we had after our walk.

However, I wouldn’t like to sign off without a small morsel to share with you, so here’s a Christmas pudding scone* I made yesterday instead:

*so called because it was inspired by Christmas pudding, and contains sultanas, mixed peel, slivered almonds, cherries, dates, mixed spice, cinnamon, nutmeg and treacle, as well as the standard scone ingredients

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Today is the second of Annie’s Virtual Vegan Potlucks, in which a whole host of vegan and vegan-friendly bloggers unite in a big festival of meat- and dairy-free noshing around the globe.

Participants chose a category from a list of menu items (breads, mains, desserts, beverages, etc.), decided on what they wanted to bring to the virtual table, and were then placed in a list organised by Annie (for the full list of participants, please see here).

Each blogger taking part will post their own contribution today, adding a link to the blog before and after them on Annie’s list, creating a chain of vegan blogs that you can, if you wish, work your way through in a massive banquet of vegan delights.

Last time we did this, I opted for the beverages category so that I could write about tea. This time I’ve opted for the beverages category so that I can write about tea.

If you happen to live in the northern hemisphere you will perhaps have noticed a chilly change in the weather of late. In light of this, I’ve chosen to bring a lovely warming chai to the potluck (equally tasty south of the equator, I’m quite sure):

20 years ago I popped off to live and work in Pakistan, thinking I might stay there for about 3 months. Unwilling to leave a country that dished up such excellent tea, I gave up on coming home so soon and stayed on for another year to get in a decent amount of tea drinking.

During my time there I drank a lot of chai. It was consistently hot, spicy, usually sweet, and virtually always delicious.

I can only recall one less than satisfactory chai experience. I was visiting someone, I forget now who or where it was (there was a lot of visiting and tea taking going on), and was given a welcoming cup of sweet chai to sup on. My host, as he was pouring out the chai, unwittingly dropped some of his cigarette ash into the cup. Out of politeness, I consumed both the tea and the ash.

Speaking as one who has tried it both ways, I would strongly recommend drinking chai without the addition of cigarette ash.

I have often tried to recreate at home the taste of the lovely ashless Pakistani chai that I drank so much of back then, but I’ve never succeeded in getting it to taste as good.

Clipper’s chai isn’t quite like the stuff I remember from those days but it is a very quick and easy way to get that spicy, warming, delicious tea taste, and the combination of spices Clipper have come up with is far better than any concoction I’ve managed to mix up for myself. One of the slightly unusual ingredients in the tea is lemon peel, which I think is what sets it apart from other chai teas I’ve tried. The lemon is not overpowering but it adds a little citrusy zing to the spiciness, which I think works very well.

In order to bring joy to your life once you have a packet of this stuff, you’ll need some boiling water, and possibly some sort of milk and sweetener, if you like it that way (although it’s also jolly nice black, in my opinion).

It is highly acceptable served straight into a mug, or from a teapot with pretty china and a few chums to share the pleasure with.

At first glance (or indeed, after a prolonged stare), turning up to the potluck bearing nothing but a box of teabags might seem like a bit of a cop-out. I can’t deny that, I admit that it shows a distinct lack of culinary effort on my part, but on the up side if I’m let loose near a kettle I can promise you a perfectly brewed pot of tea.

As any regular tea drinker will know, there are a few key elements to making a nice cup of tea, and chief amongst these (at least for black tea) is boiling water .

I’m sorry to report that occasionally in a tearoom I have been brought a pot of hot water with a cup and teabag on the side. This has been both painful and distressing, very much like standing on an upturned plug or stubbing a toe.

In a tearoom, even if the water is boiling when it goes into the pot, it certainly won’t be boiling by the time it reaches the customer. Sitting alone in the pot, its bubbly loveliness is wasted on the inside of the pot instead of usefully infusing the tea.

Pouring hot – but not boiling – water onto a teabag is the sort of experience one should restrict to those occasions when one is marooned at the top of Mount Everest.

Following their successful ascent of Mount Everst in 1953, Tensing Norgay and Edmund Hillary take tea out of tin mugs (I bet it tasted pretty good, too).

Up at 29,000 feet, due to a decrease in pressure that results in the water boiling at a lower temperature, a warm slooshy tea-like concotion is the best the weary climber can hope for. (I have this on good authority, although I can’t claim to have tested it out for myself; it’s regrettable, but being in possession of this information has put me right off climbing Everest). Down nearer sea level there are no such excuses for shoddy tea preparation.

Here are my top tips for making a lovely pot of Clipper chai:

1. Get some Clipper chai tea, a teapot and however many teacups you require.

2. Put plenty of freshly drawn cold water into a kettle and put it on to boil.

3. Just before the water boils, pour a decent splash of nearly boiling water into the teapot to warm it.

4. Slosh the water around the teapot while the kettle comes to the boil, and then discard the teapot water and bung in as many teabags as you think you’ll need (one per person, is my advice).

5. When the kettle boils, immediately pour the water into the warmed teapot onto the teabags and give the whole lot a stir with a spoon (and perhaps a squidge of the bags, if you feel like it).

6. Pop a teacosy onto the teapot (such as this delightful creation by veteran teacosy maker, Laine Williams:

7. Wait patiently for around 3 minutes and then pour the tea into cups (personally, I wouldn’t warm the cups because my feeling is that the tea has already done all its infusing, and now I just want it to be cool enough to drink as soon as possible).

If you want to add milk, you might like to glug a slosh of soy or alternative milk (I have tried it with oat milk, which was quite nice, but I wonder if almond might be preferable) into the cup prior to adding the tea. Alternatively, you may prefer to add the milk afterwards, but in any case I don’t think you need to worry about the china breaking with the hot tea (which is, apparently, one of the reasons for adding the milk first) since the tea will have cooled down a little since you added the water to the pot. If you’re nervous about adding too much milk, I would advise adding it after you’ve poured the tea, and just a little at a time so that you can taste it and find the quantity you prefer.

Sweetener is another matter of personal taste. The chai I had in Pakistan was generally very sweet, and I enjoyed it greatly at the time, but when I make Clipper chai I don’t add any sweetener because I’ve developed a taste for it ‘plain’, so to speak.

If you fancy trying this tea but can’t find Clipper chai at an outlet near you, it is available online from a number of websites, including the Clipper site, here.

Bottoms up!

image courtesy of thethreetomatoes.com

To visit the blog on the list before mine, Don’t Switch Off The Light, please click on the image below:

To visit the blog after mine, Veganosaurus (which, as it happens, contains a chai recipe), please click on this image:

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