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The past week has been a very good one for scones.

(I confess, most weeks are good for scones, the scone being pretty much a daily occurrence in my life.)

The first one I have a picture of was devoured in the wonderful Loch Leven’s Larder, after this delicious chickpea salad:

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Following the chickpeas was a truly first class, decent sized blueberry and vanilla taste sensation:

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The chum I was having lunch with also had a scone, opting for the dried fruit sort, served not only with jam and butter, but cream to boot (all of which disappeared very swiftly):

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A couple of days later I had another decent sized, tip-top scone while working in the A K Bell Library cafe. It was of the treacle variety:

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Yesterday I had a golden raisin scone (home produced):

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And today, in honour of my sister coming for lunch, a batch of cheese and poppy seed scones appeared:

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This is not the full complement of scones devoured in the past week, but unfortunately I don’t have a photograph of the pear and walnut or the sultana scones. They are, nonetheless, happy memories.

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A couple of weeks ago my dad and I trotted off to Edinburgh to see the world’s longest tapestry and have a mooch round the Scottish Parliament building, where the tapestry was on display.

Such an expedition required sustenance, and we called in at Mimi’s Bakehouse in Leith en route for energy giving morsels:

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Delightful assistant no.2 making himself at home in the plush surroundings of Mimi’s Bakehouse.

The delightful assistant ordered a cappuccino and a plain scone:

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A plain scone at Mimi’s: imagine a scone of normal proportions and then double it to get an approximation of the size of this gargantuan delight.

I went for tea and a fruit scone:

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Large dishes of butter and jam next to an outsize scone, all very satisfactory.

To my surprise the fruit scone was highly spiced, and extraordinarily fluffy inside:

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Spiced fruity fluffiness inside a Mimi’s scone.

Although the fruit scone was remarkably good, the plain scone really took the biscuit, so to speak.

Not only was it inordinately fluffy but it was also immensely buttery and melted in the mouth. The texture was that of a perfect scone but the taste was more like that of a croissant:

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Mimi’s plain scone of immense butteriness, I think of it now as a croisscone.

The plain scone was so good that not only were we completely enchanted by it during our time at Mimi’s, but it kept coming up in conversation at various points throughout the day.

It was a Scone Great, the sort of scone that, if there were Royal decorations for baked goods, would be in line for a Knighthood.

Having thoroughly enjoyed our comestibles, we scooted up into the old town of Edinburgh. Our destination was Holyrood, where a very modern sort of building sits directly across the road from a more aged one:

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The modern: Scottish Parliament building, opened in 2004.
Although it looks like concrete the facing is in fact made from granite, purchased from an Aberdeenshire quarry at considerable expense.  Initial estimates for the building’s construction were between £10 million and £40 milllion but the ultimate price tag sat at a whopping £414 million. Despite this, and the fact that construction took longer than anticipated, it has won numerous architectural awards. I don’t know why there are giant haidryers stuck to it.

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The aged: gateway into Holyrood Palace, the Queen’s official residence in Scotland.
Building began here in 1128 but most of what can be seen today dates to the 16th and 17th centuries.

I had only once before been to the Parliament building, some years ago, and at that time it was possible to simply walk in off the street.

On our recent visit, there was a police presence outside the entrance (just one lone policeman, but I daresay he could summon others pretty quickly if required):

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Entrance to the Scottish Parliament building, complete with strolling policeman.

Inside, we had to queue up in an airport-style security area where our bags, jackets, belts, phones, etc. went into boxes and through a scanner, while we passed through one of those full body scanner doorway things. The staff on duty were wearing bulletproof vests:

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Tightened security at the Scottish Parliament building.

Once safely inside with guns left at the door for collection on the way out (just kidding), we made our way into the main hall where the massive tapestry was on display.

It was hung in sections and there were lots of people milling about inspecting the stitching.

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The tapestry is a highly educational creation, as well as being a work of art. Prior to visiting the exhibition, I had no idea there had been a false alarm threat of Napoleonic invasion on my birthday in 1801:

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One of the many panels in Scotland’s Tapestry. The whole thing is 143 metres long, more than twice as long as the Bayeux Tapestry.

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Detail from the Napoleonic Threat panel; each panel took at least 500 hours to complete.

It was so busy in the hall that after a short time we toddled off upstairs to look at the Parliament’s Debating Chamber. It’s rather a splendid place and I’ll post about it separately.

In the meantime, here’s one last detail from the tapestry, showing a Scottish soldier fittingly togged up in tartan garb:

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If you happen to be in Scotland driving along the A90, the main road between Dundee and Aberdeen, you might be surprised by the dearth of good eateries along this busy route.

However, about halfway between the two cities, near the little town of Laurencekirk and about half a mile off the main road, there lurks a gem of a place called Balmakewan:

According to the website, Balmakewan is not only a farm shop and tearoom (housed in the old coach house building pictured above), but also a small family run mansion house, with holiday cottages to rent and a large selection of rhododendrons and azaleas for sale.

When you go through the doors of the old coach house, you find a very spacious and nicely laid out shop area:

Beyond this there is a big table surrounded by tins, jars, packets and bottles of food and drink for sale:

The big table is one of the places you can sit if you want to make use of the splendid tearoom facilities, but there are smaller options too:

Much of the seating appears to have been acquired from a church, many of the chairs having storage areas on their backs (see picture above) for a Bible/hymnbook. Old wooden church pews are also provided:

The tables are remarkably shiny, as can be seen in the picture below. The only other place I’ve seen wooden tables gleaming like this was in a small farm tearoom not far from Balmakewan. Perhaps it’s all the rage in rural Aberdeenshire.

The menu is more of a restauranty affair than you’d expect to find in the average tearoom, but helpfully they offer small portions as well as full size versions.

My delightful assistants and I all went for small portions in order to leave room for pudding.

Delightful assistant no.1 had smoked haddock with boiled new potatoes and spring greens:

Delightful assistant no.2 and I both opted for pea risotto, which came with creamy cheese fritters and was artistically finished with watercress and pea shoots. I thought it was one of the most beautiful meals I’d ever eaten:

I was particularly delighted by the curling pea shoots:

The main courses were very good, but what of the desserts?

Choosing a sweet was a fairly painful business. I’m often torn in situations where there’s a number of pleasing pudding options, and I had a sort of pleasurable nightmare at Balmakewan.

I almost plumped for St Clement’s Log, one of the day’s specials and the choice of delightful assistant no.1. I tasted a bit of hers and, although you might not get all this from the photograph, it was a creamy, moussey, extremely citrussy slab of near perfection:

Delightful assistant no.2 also went down the creamy pudding route, with Bailey’s and white chocolate cheesecake. Texturewise, it struck me as cheesecake perfection, melting in the mouth like a snowflake on the tongue:

Faced with such decadent delights, what do you suppose I went for?

Regular readers might not be too surprised by my choice of a very decent sized (enormous) fruit scone:

It was served with a little dish of swirling butter and a small cup of excellent strawberry jam:

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Due to its great girth I struggled to finish it, but the accompaniment of a pot of Lady Grey tea helped it down nicely. The assistants both went for coffee.

Prior to hot beverages, with our main courses we had a carafe of water between us. In addition to that, delightful assistant no.2 had a bottle of Thistly Cross cider, an alcoholic beverage crafted in the Scottish seaside town of Dunbar.

He enjoyed it very much, but it left him ready for a nice nap, so when our luncheon was concluded he headed off to the car for a sleep while delightful assistant no.1 and I went for a little walk up a quiet road.

On the way we passed the garden of Balmakewan House, which had an unusual stone fence (or perhaps, being made of stone, it would be considered a wall):

There was also a curious old tower in a field that caught our attention. I have no idea what it was doing there, but I thought it looked rather nice sitting alongside some pylons (I like a nice pylon):

When we got back to the car, delightful assistant no.2 was awake and ready for a new experience, so we all whisked off to the nearby Steptoe’s Yard. I wrote about this amazing place on my Teacups Press blog last year but on that occasion it was only delightful assistant no.1 and I who visited.

As anticipated, delightful assistant no.2 was fascinated by the garden implements:

Despite the profusion of items on offer, we left empty handed.

It’s several days since we had this little outing, but while I’ve been writing this post the memory of that Balmakewan scone has been looming large in my mind. It exceeded expectations and days later I’m craving another. This, in my view, is an indication of scone greatness.

 

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As mentioned in my last post, the delightful assistant and I took ourselves to a new tearoom in Callander the other day. (New to me, that is, although the delightful assistant was sure she’d been there before.)

I’m not sure why, but I had been anticipating something quite refined, possibly with starched white linen tablecloths.

The reality was quite different, with mismatched old chairs and something of a studenty feel about it.

It took me a few minutes to readjust my thinking, but when I had, I settled in very nicely.

This tearoom is part of a larger Mhor family, incluing Mhor Fish (a fish and chip shop in Callander) and Mhor Hotel (a luxury boutique hotel).

In 2007 the Lewis family, who own and run the Mhor businesses, took over the Scotch Oven bakery, which had been supplying bakery items to the good people of Callander for over 100 years.

In its current guise, the bakery offers artisan breads as well as traditional Scottish bakery goods. All of the bread is handmade using locally milled flour, and I was very much looking forward to sampling it.

Given the cold weather I opted for the Soup of the Day, which was chilli, sweet potato and honey, and came dished up with chunks of locally made bread.

The delightful assisant decided to have her bread toasted, with poached eggs on top:

Before our meals came, cutlery was delivered to the table, along with some upmarket butterpats.

I got two of these for my bread, and the delightful assistant was cock-a-hoop to get no less than three for her toast.

With my first mouthful of chilli soup, steam came out of my ears and I began to breathe fire. ‘Tingled’ hardly covers it, but that was what the roof of my mouth did, and I was very glad I’d ordered a glass of tap water. I quickly slooshed some of the water down to dowse the flames, and stuffed bread in to dampen the raging inferno.

At that point I really thought I wouldn’t get through more than perhaps 3 or 4 spoonfuls of soup, but as I slowly persevered, stuffing in bread and throwing back water, I gradually became adjusted to the heat and did, in fact, manage to finish the whole lot.

As a culinary experience it was somewhat alarming at first, but it most certainly warmed me up, and the bread was absolutely top notch.

To get to the tearoom you have to go through the bakery. We did this quickly on our way in, but on our way out we lingered and observed the wares. There were pies aplenty:

There were also cakes and puddingy things. A pear tartlet (bottom right, below) was selected as a souvenir for delightful assistant no.2:

Last but not least, the bakery had some fine looking loaves on display in the window. I was tempted, but resisted.

Nicely warmed up and filled by our luncheon, we took a stroll along Callander’s main street, calling in at the rather splendidly housed tourist information centre:

We passed some interesting buildings, including this one with its name painted onto the wall:

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We were bound for a place I had specifically wanted to visit:

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This little place has quite a reputation amongst bibliophiles. It’s a well stocked and very reasonably priced second hand bookshop whose owners not only sell, but also bind, books.

I’m sure the sign in the window is applicable to a fair number of Callander’s visitors:

Inside, I was delighted to find a copy of a book I had been considering buying full price at £9.99 recently. I got it at Kings for the bargain price of one shiny new pound:

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A few days ago, on a morning when the sun shone out of a blue sky for the first time in what seemed like ages, I whisked the two delighful assistants off to a big hut in Fife:

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St Andrew’s cheese farm and coffee shop

This fine establishment bills itself as “Fife’s only artisan farmhouse cheesemakers” and has been on the go for about 5 years.

I do like a bit of cheese, but what particularly attracted me to the St Andrew’s cheese farm was the fact that it had the Butterpat Coffee Shop attached to it and that, according to the website, cheese scones were likely to be on offer.

Although the sun was shining beautifully, the wind was the sort that laughs through layers of warm clothing, chilling one to the bone in seconds.

The dash from the car was astonishingly cold, but inside the cafe the sun was sweeping in through big windows warming the room like a greenhouse.

We nipped into a sunny seat and settled down to peruse the menu.

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Our table was next to one of the large windows, giving us an open view out across farmland to the sea a few miles away. There was a decking area with seating immediately outside, which I expect would be lovely to sit out on in the summer (I fully intend to return later in the year and try this out):

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The menu contained a lot of things that attracted me, including a vegetable ragu, which was the vegetarian dish of the day. However, I plumped for the vegetable soup, and could not have been more pleased about my choice. For one thing, it came with a cheese scone, made using the farm’s own Anster cheese (the farm is close to the coastal town of Anstruther, pronounced ‘Anster’ by the locals):

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I’ve eaten a fair number of cheese scones in my time, but rarely have I had one with a texture quite as magnificently fluffy as this one was. It was also, rather unusually, abounding in mustard seeds:

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The soup was a perfect partner to the scone, and was absolutely chock-full of lovely tasty chunky veggies.

Here’s a sample spoonful containing carrot, leek, celery, onion and turnip, and possibly other things I didn’t identify:

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Delightful assistant no.1 opted for the leek and potato soup, which also came with a delectable cheese scone:

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Delightful assistant no.2 bypassed the soup and went instead for a cheese and ham toastie, which came with spring onions inside, and more cheese and tomato on top:

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We were all exceptionally pleased with our food, as well as our drinks (water for me and delightful assistant no.1; apple juice for delightful assistant no.2):

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Above the cake counter were some words that I found inspiring. “….always striving to be the best we can be”:

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I look forward to seeing how things strike me on a second visit, but I can’t imagine that with any more striving they could have created a better cheese scone, or served it up with a more satisfyingly vegetable-filled hearty soup.

Following consumption of savouries, I unfortunately had no room for a sweet. I settled for a decaf cappuccino instead, which was jolly nice and had the right sort of chocolate on top (the sweet sort, as opposed to the unsweetened cocoa I’ve occasionally been shocked to receive):

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Delightful assistant no.1 had tea, and delightful assistant no.2 had the same as me but with a significant addition:

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That slab of brown cakey stuff is a slice of iced gingerbread, something that claims to be Scottish in origin. Such gingerbread is not always iced but it is often served with butter, although this seems to me a little superfluous when icing is present.

When butter is offered to either of my delightful assistants, however, it is never turned away:

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I tasted the gingerbread, with a little bit of the thick fondant icing. It was delicious and the icing melted in the mouth.

Through a door from the cafe there was a cheesemaking viewing gallery, allowing members of the public to pop in and see the cheese hard at work. You can only see this on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays and, as luck would have it, we were there on a Wednesday.

Here’s the cheese vat we saw, filled with liquid in the process of becoming cheese:

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Before leaving the cheese farm, I stopped by the cheese counter in the cafe and selected a little wedge of Anster to take home and try. The assistant did it up very nicely in a sheet of paper with a sticker to seal it up:

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Before leaving the premises I popped in to the facilities, and was delighted by lovely hand painted tiles of Fife coastal scenes above the sinks:

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I was so full after all the noshing at the cheese farm that I could easily have lasted the 1.5 hour drive home without stopping for more refreshments, but the delightful assistants twisted my arm up my back and made me stop at Culdees tearoom in Abernethy, roughly halfway home.

Delightful assistant no.1 is very partial to a piece of tiffin (a chocolate-topped biscuity traybake, usually containing some dried fruit), and I like it too but am wary because I’ve had more than one bad experience with the stuff. To my mind, the tiffin on offer at Culdees didn’t look especially appetising, but this didn’t put my delightful assistant off and on tasting a little nibble I discovered that I had completely misjudged it.

The chocolate was of a high quality and the fudgy biscuit bit underneath was almost cakey in texture, rather than biscuity. It was a very fine tiffin, and she selected a coffee to sloosh it down with:

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Delightful assistant no.2 plumped for tea and a cherry and almond slice (also excellent):

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And I fell back on that old staple, the chocolate cake (complete with two giant chocolate buttons), and a lovely pot of lemon tea:

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By the time I’d finished my last mouthful I really was fit to burst and had no room for further food, that is until teatime a couple of hours later.

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There’s nothing like a bit of comfort food on a cold day, and when I saw these on Alice’s delicious blog, girl in a food frenzy, I was keen to make them.

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They should, by rights, be sticky on top, but due to my impatience they didn’t get the icing they deserved and had to make do with melted butter sprinkled with brown sugar instead:

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I’ve been missing my blog a little lately, but have been attempting to concentrate on writing my novel (coming along nicely, thanks for asking).

This Christmas malarky is also taking up considerable time and effort, and I’m looking forward to the new year when everything’s settled down and we’re heading into spring again.

Incidentally, for fellow bloggers, I’ve noticed over the past day or two that when I try to comment on other blogs my comments aren’t showing up the way they used to. I’m trying to get to the bottom of this, but if anyone has any bright ideas about how to fix it I’d be glad to hear them.

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A few weeks ago I took my delightful assistant to the pretty village of Culross (pronounced Coo-ross) in Fife.

To my mind, there is such a thing as taking too many photographs, and it’s something I suffer from quite a bit. The problem for me is that when I get home and download them, if I’ve taken too many I feel overwhelmed, and if I want to write a post I just don’t know where to begin and which pictures to choose.

Since the visit to Culross my camera has given up the ghost and I can’t say I blame it. The place is so ridiculously picturesque that it’s impossible not to snap a new view with every step. Since we spent several hours there, I came home with literally hundreds of pictures. You’ll be relieved to hear that I’m not going to post them all, and will attempt to limit myself to a reasonable number.

One of the big attractions of the village is Culross Palace, which dates from 1597. It’s in the care of the National Trust for Scotland, which means that the delightful assistant and I got in for free (we’re both members). This is the entrance to the palace:

It’s one of these attractions where you just wander around at your own pace, reading information sheets about each area, and there are guides in several of the rooms who can answer any questions you might have. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for me, in this instance) you’re not allowed to take photos inside. Most of it was quite dark with small windows letting in little light even on a sunny day.

There are several unusual features of Culross Palace, but I think chief amongst these are the tiered garden at the back of the buildings, and the fact that both palace and garden are situated in a village that seems to be frozen in time.

The garden slopes upwards at quite a steep angle and is laid out on a number of terraces. Here are some of the steps leading between terraces:

Part of the garden is occupied by chickens, which delighted me. In fact, afterwards when we were discussing our favourite things about the day I chose the chickens as one of my highlights. I don’t know why it is, but I’m always very taken with chickens on a day out.

We spent a long time in the garden, enjoying the chickens and some beautifully scented stripy roses:

Of course, before all this we had to bolster our energies with refreshments. I’m doing this the wrong way round (you see, I’m all confused by the number of pictures, and too distracted to do anything about it in this post), but here’s where we took them:

I think it was the first time I’d ever seen teacups hanging in windows on strings. I think it was also the first time I’d seen Iron Goddess of Mercy tea on the menu.

The tea was an oolong from Taiwan, and with a name like that I felt unable to resist. The glamorous assistant opted for coffee and we both had fruit scones with jam and butter. My tea came in one of those nice heavy black Japanese teapots:

Those sheets of paper at the left of the teacup comprise the impressive tea menu. There were some exotic varieties with interesting information about each one and it was tricky to choose. I will obviously need to return and try some of the others in due course.

Nextdoor to the tearoom was a pottery and gift shop with some interesting tea things:

Beyond the confines of the tearoom, pottery and palace, Culross has much to offer the visitor. Just wandering through the little streets, some of them cobbled, offers a variety of beautiful buildings and a sense of the history of the place.

So many householders seemed to be taking pride in the appearance of their houses, with flowers galore, in baskets, tubs and gardens:

Even those with apparently nowhere to display flowers had tied flowerpots to the walls:

In addition to all these privately owned flowers, there was botanical abundance to be found in the Culross Old School Yard Community Garden which, with considerable dedication and hard work, had gone from being a wasteland to this:

With a wildflower meadow and a seat to enjoy it from:

On our way back to the car, via more delightful little winding streets:

we passed this 17th century house that had been made into an electricity substation, with a vintage motor parked outside it to please the tourists. This was a shot I considered entering as my ‘white’ photo in the recent Capture the Colour competition:

Two last photos, if you haven’t already wandered off (my apologies for the length of this post and the number of photos in it), the first showing a series of crow-stepped gables with pantiled roofs (pantiles were imported into Scotland from the Netherlands centuries ago as ballast in ships and traded for other goods):

and one last flowery picture of a yellow foxglove from the Culross Palace garden. Flowers were a big part of our visit, and I’d like my next visit to be at a different time of year, to discover what other treats Culross has up its sleeve and along its winding streets:

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