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Archive for the ‘Darjeeling’ Category

One day last week the weather forecast showed the whole of Scotland under cloud apart from one little triangle in the Aberdeenshire/Banffshire area on the east coast.

Chasing forecasts often proves a futile business in this country, but as it happens on this occasion the forecasters got it bang on.

Delightful assistant no.1 and I hopped into the motor and sped off in the right direction, stopping en route at the splendid Balmakewan, where we partook of light refreshments.

A flat white with coffee and walnut cake for my delightful assistant:

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Imagine sinking your teeth into an extremely light, soft and delicious coffee sponge cake with unbelievably fluffy icing that melts as soon as it hits the tongue, and you’re part of the way to having the Balmakewan coffee walnut cake experience.

I had a very hard time choosing what to have, as Balmakewan always has a painfully extensive selection of delectable goodies on offer, but in the end I plumped for this coconut affair with blueberries and raspberries through it, accompanied by a first class decaf flat white:

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We decided to share these two items and while the coconut cakey thing was certainly very palatable, we agreed that the coffee walnut cake was outstandingly good.  I’m sure I’ve never had fluffier butter icing in any cake.

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A delicious duo with first class flat whites to wash them down with.

We left Balmakewan feeling that our day had got off to an excellent start. The weather was not particularly good but we had high hopes for our destination.

Around about lunchtime we reached the twin towns of Banff and Macduff, which lie on the Moray coast, and headed for Duff House.

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Duff House is a rather magnificent Georgian building designed by William Adam in the 1730s:

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Today it’s used by the National Galleries of Scotland to house some of their artworks, with the building being maintained by Historic Scotland and Aberdeenshire Council, but it was originally built by a chap called William Duff (aka Lord Braco, later 1st Earl of Fife).

William Duff had a large family, and even though the side wings Adam designed were never built, I expect the 50 rooms they ended up with were quite sufficient.

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Room for a small one?

I thought the building had many lovely features, but the curving staircases at the front were a particular favourite:

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Due to a broken pelvis that continues to heal slowly, going round the inside of the house with all its floors and stairs wasn’t really possible for my delightful assistant, but there was one area of the building she was very capabale of reaching.

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A sign to gladden the heart – tasty morsels this way!

Inside, the tearoom had the same sort of feel I’ve noticed in other National Gallery tearooms, being light, airy and tastefully decorated. The history of Duff House was written up on the wall in a timeline with photographs, which made for interesting reading.

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The menu was not extensive, nor did it cater particularly well for vegetarians, but there were various sandwiches to be had and I opted for egg while my delightful assistant went for tuna. I’m pleased to say that the sandwich far exceeded my expectations, being freshly made on very tasty brown bread and served with a delightful little carrot salad.

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One very nice surprise was that there was ‘proper’ tea, by way of leaf tea popped into long teabags of the sort that appear to be getting more popular in Scotland’s tearooms.

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We ordered a pot of Assam and a pot of Darjeeling and they were both tip-top. I often find I’m squeezing out the last cup from a teapot when I take tea, but in this case I had to leave some as there was so much to begin with (I managed three cupfuls):

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I don’t take sugar, but I liked the way it was served at Duff House, in a little kilner jar with lid (no flies landing on these lumps) and tongs on the side (hygenically encouraging people not to dive in with their dirty great mitts):

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The facilities at Duff House were another fine feature of the building, being nicely tiled in green and white with pull chain cisterns above the loos:

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After lunch we waved goodbye to Duff House and made our way along the coast to have a look at the two little villages of Gardenstown and Crovie, but I’ll save those for another post.

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As promised in my last post, I am about to present you with several skulls and a host of cherubs.

They were found in Glamis churchyard, a most interesting and slightly spooky place, even in broad daylight.

Before any of that, however, I would like to make up for not including any edible treats in my last post and am starting off here with a pavlova I made for pudding not so long ago.

Pavlova

Pavlova made with brown sugar meringue, whipped cream, strawberries and blueberries.

Back to the graveyard, and several skulls:

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This skull was skulking at the foot of a headstone.

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This one, complete with crossbones beneath, has been embedded into the wall outside the graveyard. I don’t know what it’s doing there or where it came from.

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The skull projects quite spectacularly from the wall.

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I found gazing into the emtpy stone eye sockets slightly disconcerting.

Another skull at the foot of a most elaborately decorated headstone:

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A skull at the bottom and a cheery cherub up the top, with Masonic symbols in the middle and Corinthian pillars either side = a headstone and a half.

There seems to be something of a skull theme going on in Glamis.

In the nearby Glamis Castle, childhood home of the Queen Mother and well worth a visit if you’re ever in the area, there is said to be a Room of Skulls.

This room, now walled up, tells a particularly nasty tale. It contains the remains of the Ogilvie family, who came to Glamis in the 15th Century seeking protection from their enemies. Instead of being welcomed and well treated by the castle inmates, they were put into a chamber and left there to await their demise.

On a cheerier note, how about some cherubs?

There were lots of them in Glamis churchyard, each with its own character and expression.

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Last one (there were more but I realise I’m already pushing my luck):

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The day I visited this graveyard, and the one in the previous post, was a day on which I had very little appetite due to feeling a bit under the weather.

My delightful assistant and I did partake of a little luncheon between graveyards, but I wasn’t in the mood for photographing it and in any case the interior of the cafe we had it in wasn’t conducive to photography, being rather dark.

However, I’m pleased to say that I have since indulged in a number of small treats, including a piece of deliciously moist gingerbread at the excellent Caoldair Coffee Shop near Laggan:

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Delicious gingerbread with a mug of Darjeeling tea. The gingerbread had occasional nuggets of crystalised ginger in it, making it even more exciting.

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An arresting sign on the road just before Caoldair.

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Outdoor seating at Caoldair (there are tables inside, too).

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Part of the interior at Caoldair, with all manner of things for sale including clothing, pottery, toiletries, cards and toys.

By the way, if you liked the look of the pavlova at the top of this post you might be interested to know that it’s been made into a note card and is available for puchase on Etsy, here, along with several other teatime-related cards, including the photo from the front of my Tearoom Delights book:

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You might recall that I put four of my other cards for sale on ebay to see if they would sell in an auction. They didn’t sell there, but I have sold a few on Etsy, so thank you very much to my lovely customers.

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Being rather partial to a tearoom, I used to think I really ought to aim to open one of my own.

Then I realised that if I was providing tasty fare to the hungry customer, I wouldn’t be sitting at a table being waited on.

I had already found my tearoom niche: walk in, nosh up, walk out.

Very fortunately for me, not everyone thinks like this.

Blessed are those angels in human form who invest time, energy and money in delightful tearooms into which I can wander when in need of sustenance, and from which I can depart when replete.

Hallelujah!

If I were such an angel, and wondering how to go about becoming a successful tearoom provider, I might well turn to the English Garden Tea Room company to assist me.

I follow this company on Twitter and they recently very kindly sent me a stack of teas to taste:

I wasn’t expecting this volume or choice, and I was quite astonished when I received the boxes.

Rather fortuitously, my brother and his family came to visit at Easter and when my brother’s partner learned that I’d been sent all this tea and was feeling a bit overwhelmed about tasting it properly, she sprang into action.

She made a cup of each of the eight English Garden teas and labelled the brews with their packaging:

She then brought me, my mum and my brother (who were lounging around chatting) each tea in turn, and recorded our scores out of 10, as well as recording her own. Each tea was tasted black, to keep things on an even keel (ignoring my dear mama’s repeated comments of the ‘I’d like this if it had milk in it’ variety).

Later on, my dad and my sister appeared and also tasted the teas, marking down their scores on the little pieces of paper that had been provided for the purpose:

Before tasting I had my own ideas about which teas I’d like best; my preconceptions were overturned quite spectacularly.

The eight teas were:

Assam

Camomile

Darjeeling

Earl Grey

English Breakfast

Green

Lemon

Being an enthusiastic consumer of black teas, but rarely venturing into herbal arenas, I assumed that the black teas would be those I’d prefer. I was pretty much convinced that two of my most frequently chosen beverages – Assam and Darjeeling – would top my list of English Garden teas.

Here, however, was the order in which I liked them, with my score out of 10 in brackets:

Earl Grey (9)

Camomile (9)

Peppermint (8)

Darjeeling (7.5 – I just couldn’t decide on 7 or 8)

Green (4)

Lemon (4)

Assam (2)

English Breakfast (1)

There were many views and comments on each tea and although on some occasions other people completely disagreed with me (rather shocking, since when I taste a tea and make a pronouncement about it I assume I’m right), I was delighted to witness the passion with which each taster spouted their own opinion.

9 was the highest score given for any tea (2 scores of 9 for Camomile), and 0 the lowest (1 score of 0 each for Camomile, Earl Grey and Green).

I didn’t attempt to guess the outcome prior to tasting, but if I had I certainly wouldn’t have put any money on peppermint coming home in a blaze of glory.

This is the order in which they were rated, with a score out of 60 in brackets (6 tasters each scoring out of 10):

Peppermint (37)

Camomile (33)

Earl Grey (31)

Lemon (30)

Assam (30)

Green (27)

Darjeeling (27)

English Breakfast (25)

Tasting tea is all very well (and it is, to my mind, an excellent way to pass a Saturday afternoon), but sooner or later one needs a bit of stodge to balance out all the liquid.

What with it being Easter and all, I had baked a Simnel cake (which, for anyone not in the know, is a fruit cake traditionally decorated with marzipan and with a secret layer of marzipan in the middle of the cake; the marzipan on top is often browned under the grill or with a blow torch):

The making of Simnel cake apparently dates back to Medieval times. The cake is traditionally decorated with 11 balls of marzipan on top, symbolising each of Jesus’s 12 apostles minus the traitor, Judas Iscariot.

I’m a bit late to be wishing anyone a Happy Easter, but I hope that wherever you spent it there were tasty treats involved.

 

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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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