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Archive for the ‘Organic’ Category

In global terms, Scotland is a small country. (In terms of size, it’s apparently smaller than Austria, Tasmania and the US state of Maine.)

Although I’ve spent virtually all of my life in Scotland, there are still many parts I haven’t yet visited and a number of long-held ambitions as yet unfulfilled.

I did manage to tick one off recently though, when the delightful assistants and I buzzed up north towards the Moray Coast, to visit the Findhorn Community.

One of the many nice things about the area of Moray is that the council provide cheerfully coloured bins, and these were in evidence in the community’s streets:

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The Findhorn Community is rather an unusual place, and has grown considerably since it began in 1962.

Findhorn Community Centre near the entrance to the community.

In its early days, the founders created a bit of a stir by growing enormous vegetables, herbs and flowers, the girth of which they said had been achieved by communicating with the spirits of the plants.

For example, an average sort of cabbage weighs about 3lbs, but some of the cabbages grown in Findhorn weighed in at a whopping 40lb! That’s about 18kg, or nearly 3 stone (or the weight of an average 4 year old child).

I wish I had a picture of one of these enormous cabbages, but we searched the grounds of the community during our visit and found not one single outsize vegetable.

These days the community is more concerned with hosting environmental and spiritual workshops and promoting environmentally friendly practises in its ecovillage, so perhaps their days of growing gigantic vegetables is past, I don’t know.

As interested as we were in having a wander round the place, luncheon was calling so we headed straight for the community’s Blue Angel Cafe, tucked in amongst burgeoning foliage with seating outside as well as indoors:

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Soup of the Day was green split pea, and delightful assistant no.2 and I both went for that.

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He had his with cheese and onion sandwiches on the side, and I had rice cakes. The soups came dished up in bowls made in the community pottery:

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Delightful assistant no.1 had cheese and tomato sandwiches, which came with a lovely fresh salad, but unfortunately my photo of it is a bit blurred.

When we’d finished our savouries we went for a trot round The Park, the area of the community containing ecohouses, various small enterprises and gardens.

Beneath the signpost at the entrance to The Park there was an encouraging message:

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As we walked around, I must say I didn’t feel in the least bit worried. The sun was shining, the birds were singing and there were lots of interesting things to look at.

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The Findhorn Pottery Shop, a place to purchase a souvenir or two.

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The weaving studio, where you can perhaps buy woven things to take home with you. I didn’t go in, but I did see some colourful woven items hanging in the window.

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The Boutique – a small building with all sorts of things in it. I believe it’s a kind of swap shop where you can bring something you no longer want and swap it for something someone else has left.

In addition to the businesses there were many ecohouses of interesting design, some leading directly off the quiet paths through the village and others popping up from amongst clusters of trees.

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A curious roof emerging from the canopy.

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An unusual little house nestling beneath its curious roof.

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One of several ‘barrel’ houses, made from massive recycled whisky vats. Very fitting, since Moray is home to the world’s only Malt Whisky Trail.

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The Shire: currently for sale, at offers over £159,000. The outside wood is Scottish spruce and internal wall partitions are filled with sheep’s wool, which no doubt keeps it nice and cosy in the winter. If you want to see the full specification, you can find it here: http://www.lightbringers.info/eco-house-sale.asp

Perhaps my favourite building was this one, the Park Maintenance office:

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A smiley whale, brightening up the ecovillage.

In the middle of The Park there was a wooded garden, designed for contemplation.

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In the middle of this wooded glade was something quite magical, a low stone built house with a grass roof and a small garden, where I daresay the forest folk come of an evening to sit and tell stories.

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Little fairy house in a wooded glade.

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The doorway into a magical kingdom.

Just outside the Peace Garden there was another garden, which was fenced off and had a most unusual gateway:

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No outsize vegetables to be seen here.

This garden contained several minibeast hotels (the little wooden boxes attached to posts in the picture below):

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A Mecca for minibeasts

Having exhausted ourselves strolling around in the sunshine, we headed back to the Blue Angel Cafe for a little refreshment.

Most unusually, delightful assistant no.1 didn’t want anything, not even a nice cup of tea, but delightful assistant no.2 had spied a lemon roulade on our previous visit and had been dreaming of it ever since:

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It wasn’t quite as lemony as he’d been hoping for but it seemed to slip down quite well with a cappuccino.

As is often the case, I was lured in by walnuts; on this occasion they came embedded in a toffee walnut tart. It was sweet, sticky and highly acceptable. In company with a cinnamon chai latte it disappeared without any trouble at all:

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All the way round The Park we had noticed little wooden houses a couple of feet off the ground, which I initially thought were mail boxes and then realised were in fact lights. Each one was wired up and had holes at the front with a light bulb inside. I suppose they must double as hidey-holes for wee beasties.

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Unobtrusive street lighting in Findhorn ecovillage.

Before leaving the Findhorn Community we called in at The Phoenix community store:

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I was amazed by the range of goods for sale, particularly in the food area which had the most extensive range of nut butters I think I’ve ever seen, as well as many other interesting goodies of the sort you find in a wholefoods shop.

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They also had a good variety of wines and locally produced real ales, apothecary items, cards, books and gifts. I was prepared for the prices being higher than you’d find in towns and cities, but in fact in some cases the opposite was true. They were even competing with supermarket prices, which I thought very commendable.

Another surprising thing about the Findhorn Community is that it has its own currency, the Eko (1 Eko = £1), although the pound sterling is equally accepted.

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Various Eko notes (courtesy of http://e-info.org.tw/node/70731).

According to an article in The Scotsman last year, several pubs in the Moray area accept the Eko.

In 2012 the Findhorn Community celebrated its 50th anniversary, and I wonder what it’ll be like in another 50 years’ time. Perhaps this sort of community living will have grown in popularity by then and there will be other similar places dotted around the country. I suppose it’s possible that I might just live long enough to find out.

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After a trip into the local metropolis of Perth for a bit of shopping the other morning, delightful assistant no.1 and I popped into the estimable Loch Leven’s Larder for a little luncheon.

There were two soups on offer: cream of celery and courgette, and curried green lentil. The delightful assistant went for the former, while I chose the latter.

I didn’t have my camera on me but I did snap my soup with my phone. It was all jolly tasty:

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Following the soup, we both fancied a bit of fresh air and exercise, and took ourselves off to the Lomond Hills in Fife.

The air was bracing and we trotted along swiftly under a lowering sky:

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We stuck to walking along the road, and were surprised by the amount of snow on the hill tracks:

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The biting wind was so cold that we imagined ourselves in the Antarctic, and paused to think of poor Ranulph Fiennes, whose recent trip there was cut short due to a horrible case of frostbite.

He had been hoping to be the first man to ski across the continent in winter, while some chums accompanied him in vehicles. The chums are now completing their expedition sans Ranulph, while he sits frustrated at home supporting the expedition from the UK. As he remarks rather wryly in this press conference, now that he’s had to pull out of the challenge, the Norwegians will no doubt step in and do the job.

I don’t know what the temperature was when we were in the Lomond Hills, but puddles by the road showed that it was above freezing. It did feel considerably colder then 0ºC due to wind chill, but nothing like it must feel right now in the depths of the Antarctic winter.

Feeling virtuous after our stretch in the open air, we sped off to the Pillars of Hercules, a wonderful organic farm shop and cafe, about which I have written on previous occasions.

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One of the many things I like about Pillars of Hercules is the seat cushions:

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I had forgotten that this place was the first cafe in Scotland to be certified 100% organic, but was reminded when reading the menu:

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We ordered our drinks and cakes at the counter and were given a number on a stick to take to the table.

It used to be the case here that when you ordered, you got a little wooden block with a number on it, and it wasn’t until I was searching around on the table for some way of making the stick stand up, that I noticed a hole in the tabletop.

Lo and behold, when I tried putting the stick in the hole, it fitted perfectly. An excellent idea, I thought (sorry for the darkness of the second picture, I don’t know what happened there):

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The delightful assistant had ordered a black coffee with cold milk and a slice of lemon cake. My photo is poor but I can assure you that the comestibles were anything but. I’m reliably informed that the coffee was lovely and I know that the lemon cake was because I tasted it – very lemony.

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I opted for a chai tea and a vegan apricot slice:

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The apricot slice exceeded my expectations. It was made with a wholewheat pastry base smothered in thick apricot jam and liberally sprinkled with seeds: sunflower, pumpkin and hemp, to be precise. I was very pleased with it.

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These little trips out that I take very regularly, often in the company of a delightful assistant or two, are a nice break from sitting staring at a computer screen and, I feel, a vital part of a healthy balanced life.

To update anyone who’s interested, this is Day 73 of the year 2013 and, in keeping with my resolution to get rid of 365 items by the end of December, I have so far managed to release 69. This means I’m four items behind in my schedule, but I have high hopes for getting rid of more stuff with a spot of spring cleaning.

I have also now completed the second draft of my novel and am putting it aside to gestate for a bit.

Any agents/publishers with a gap in their lists and looking for an average length of novel of the general fiction variety, please enquire within.

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In the second of my Twinings free tea tasting posts I would like to introduce that stalwart of British tea culture: English Breakfast.

English Breakfast is a blended tea, the contents usually being some mixture of Assam, Ceylon and Kenyan teas, and it became a popular brew in the 1800s.

Whereas our present Queen is said to favour the Earl (Grey) in her teacup, her great great grandmother, Queen Victoria, was more of an English Breakfast kind of gal. Here she is having just been offered a nice cup of tea:

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“A cup of English Breakfast? One should say so! What a jolly day this is turning into.”

Amongst my free samples, I was sent a box of Twinings English Breakfast leaf tea and a box of Twinings organic English Breakfast teabag tea:

My delightful assistants were on hand to assist me in the tasting.

I was interested to see if they could a) taste a difference between the two teas, and b) identify which was which.

I brewed the two teas in two different teapots, in great secrecy, and then presented each pot with its own set of teacups. (This was mostly in order to avoid me getting confused about which tea was in which cup):

In the green teapot corner we had one type of tea, and in the white another, but which was which?

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Both assistants tasted their teas and made comments.

Delightful assistant no.1 declared that the white corner seemed more flavourful than the green, although she added that she could discern very little difference between the two. On being asked which she preferred, she said she would be happy with either, since they seemed to her to be virtually identical.

Delightful assistant no.2 made written notes regarding his thoughts on the subject, as illustrated below. (The little shepherd fellow is a clay pen holder my brother Donald made at school many years ago.) 

When I quizzed him about his tea notes he said: “If I was having it [tea] as the liquid accompaniment to a meal, for example a spicy soup, I would like this one [the white teapot tea], but if the tea was on its own, particularly if there was a window open and a draught blowing, I would go for that one [the green teapot tea]“.

Elaborating on the open window, he explained that he considered the second tea to be an outdoorsy sort of brew. As he wrote in his notes, he found it to have “outdoor picnic overtones”, whereas the first tea was more of “an indoor tea”.

Although delightful assistant no.1 tasted virtually no difference between the teas, delightful assistant no.2 noticed a considerable difference. Delightful assistant no.1 claimed that this dulling of her taste buds was due to an affliction with catarrh, and certainly delightful assistant no.2 had no such problem, quite the reverse; I don’t think I have ever met a chap who went in for such frequent bouts of sneezing.

In terms of which tea was which, not surprisingly delightful assistant no.1 declared that she couldn’t tell the leaf tea from the organic teabag variety. Delightful assistant no.2, on the other hand, had a stab at the stuff in the green teapot (“outdoor tea”) being the leaf tea, and the stuff in the white being that of the teabag.

He was quite right.

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Since I made the tea myself, I knew which tea was in which pot, but I did notice that the leaf tea seemed to have a stronger, fuller flavour and was the more robust of the two.

Mind you, since I generally expect leaf tea to have a fuller flavour, was I predisposed to think that? On first tasting, I was more impressed by the leaf tea, but while drinking from both cups at random rather absentmindedly, it was the organic teabag tea I finished first.

This might have been due to the tea, or perhaps due to the teacup. I used a more delicate teacup for the teabag tea, and that might have had a bearing on which tea I gravitated towards. I appreciate that I have not conducted this experiment as scientifically as I should have done, but I’m happy to report that we all enjoyed both the teabag and leaf versions of Twinings English Breakfast tea.

The big question remaining is, of course, which would I serve to visiting royalty?

Well, it would depend on which royals were dropping in.

If HM Queen Elizabeth II (of England, but I of Scotland) popped in for a brew, naturally I would offer her some Earl Grey.

But if, for example, King Harald V of Norway turned up, I think I’d crack open the English Breakfast teabags. I sat a couple of rows behind him once on a flight from Aberdeen to Bergen, and he struck me as a down-to-earth, teabag-in-a-mug sort of monarch.

If they both happened to call in at the same time, and brought Prince Philip with them, I think I’d go the whole hog and get the leaf tea out too.

I have the distinct impression that the Duke of Edinburgh would appreciate a robust outdoors sort of tea, the kind you might slip into your hip flask with a tot of whisky.

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King Harald V of Norway, Prince Philip, and Queen Elizabeth delighted to inspect the range of tea options on offer at Chez Lorna.

Incidentally, anyone who read my previous post might recall that there was a rogue apostrophe on the Yunnan tea package I was sent. As far as I could tell, the organic English Breakfast tea box was in tip-top condition from a proofreading point of view, but I did notice a spelling mistake on the loose leaf English Breakfast.

Not that I’m exempt from making such mistakes myself – far from it – but in case they feel in need of assistance, I have written to Twinings to offer my services as a proofreader.

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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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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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