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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

At this time of year, when it’s cold and dark in Scotland, I find myself conjuring up memories of warm, sunny places.

A few years ago I spent part of the British winter in New Zealand, and I’ve been enjoying revisiting it in my mind recently.

I hope I can go back in person one of these days, see some of the many places I missed first time round, and squeeze in a return visit to the beautiful Bay of Islands, pictured below.

Thanks to everyone who’s popped in for a read of my blog over the past year, and a very Happy Christmas to you all – whether you’re spending it cosying up indoors or soaking up the summer sun.

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Peaceful Russell, in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand. You can leave your hats, scarves and gloves at home over Christmas.

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I recently received an email from a company offering to send me some free Twinings tea of my choice to review.

Looking in the kitchen tea cupboard, I observed that there were already 7 boxes of different Twinings teas lurking there, 5 black teas, 1 herbal and 1 green tea:

Taken in the context of the 115 varieties on offer from Twinings, this is a very small sample.

A quick squiz at their website suggested a few others I’d like to try, so I wrote back requesting some teas and a couple of days later a substantial box arrived.

The box contained not the handful of individual selected teabags I had been expecting, but no less than four full boxes of Twinings tea. Also enclosed was a high quality ‘with compliments’ card, adorned with a gold lion:

It felt a bit like Christmas.

Of all of the teas enclosed, the Yunnan tea was perhaps the one I was most excited to try, simply because I had no idea what to expect and it sounded intriguing.

According to the blurb on the box, “Yunnan, in South West China is well known for it’s* magically fertile land and spectacular fields of beautiful flowers. It may be no surprise then to learn that Yunnan is where tea was born over 2000 years ago, and many of the ancient tea trees are still nurtured and picked from today.”

(*A superfluous apostrophe; when I saw this mistake I was reminded of just how difficult it is to achieve perfection. When I was writing my tearoom guidebook I read and re-read the text numerous times, checking for errors. I also had two other proofreaders, and yet when it was published several mistakes were discovered. Frustrating, but part of life!)

The front of the box showed a golden land and an appealing description of the tea inside:

The tea came in teabags:
The first time I brewed this tea, I made it for myself and my two most delightful assistants. I should have taken photographs at the time but I’m afraid I was too intent on the tea consumption.

Brewing it again for myself this morning, I had a second bash at the tasting.

The instructions on the box say that you should “drink it black, or with a drop of milk”. When tasting with the delightful assistants, we all started off trying it black. The thing that struck me most about it was a smokiness that reminded me of Lapsang Souchong.

It reminded me of Lapsang Souchong again today, although the smoke was less prominent than I’ve found it to be in Lapsang Souchong. The other thing that struck me was a silkiness, which was perhaps my interpretation of the “mellow” alluded to on the packet.

When I first tasted it black I found it a little too bitter, but tasting it today I wasn’t put off by the slight bitterness.

In my mind, I was whisked off to the lounge of some quiet country house hotel. The room contained good quality, but comfortably worn, soft furnishings and a log fire producing sweet smelling wood smoke. A grandfather clock ticked soothingly in the corner, there was the gentle murmur of background chatter from other guests, and time slowed to a pleasantly relaxed pace.

I had been fully intending to add milk after the first couple of sips, but looking into my teacup I found that I had polished off the whole cupful before getting round to it.

Luckily I still had some in the teapot for another cup:

During our first tasting, both assistants declared that the flavour was improved by the addition of milk. It then improved for both of them again with the addition of sugar. I didn’t go that far myself, having tasted a sip of a sugared tea, and stuck to the addition to milk only.

Although I would have been completely happy to drink another cup black this morning, there was something nice about it milked up.

The taste became smoother, and the little bitterness present when black disappeared.

Drinking it with milk transported me to the grounds of the aforementioned country house hotel, where I sat in an elegant outdoor chair on a patio, looking out over beautiful gardens under a bright blue sky and blissful sunshine. The twittering of small birds and the buzzing of bees filled the air.

Being ever ready for a small snack, I didn’t drink the tea without a little comestible. A piece of fruit cake slipped down just as well with milky tea as it did with the unmilked version.

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What I deduce from these tea tastings is:

a) I initially enjoyed Yunnan with a splash of milk
b) On second tasting, I found I enjoyed it just as much black
c) I am utterly delighted to have been given a free box of this delightful beverage

I still have another three teas to taste, but I’ll keep them for other posts. In the meantime, I raise my teacup to you, dear bloggers, and say a hearty thank you to Twinings for introducing me to the joy of Yunnan tea.

If you’ve never tried Twinings teas, or even if you have, you might like to know about the free samples you can obtain from their website. I don’t know if this is restricted to the UK or not, but I took advantage of it myself some time ago and it led to me buying a box of tea I might not otherwise have tried.

Incidentally, I wasn’t the only one taking an interest in the tea tasting this morning:

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In a previous post about the tasty contents of my Christmas box, I missed out the fruit cake component because I hadn’t yet tried it.

I can now report that the cake has been consumed, and slipped down nicely with some Ceylon Orange Pekoe tea.

Here’s the cake as it was when whole: a round of fruit-filled cakiness decorated with a thick lid of fondant icing and a gold snowflake supporting a white star:

On cutting into it a layer of marzipan was revealed between icing and cake:

This piece of cake might look quite small, which it was, but it was also very rich:

It was stuffed with cherries, sultanas, raisins, apricots, brandy and other delicious ingredients:

As I was writing this post, I felt inspired to bake.

Initially I thought I’d make a fruit cake but, given the inordinately long time it takes to cook, I opted for the quick fix of fruit scones instead:

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I recently mentioned a box of goodies I received as a Christmas present, and said I would report on the contents when I’d tasted them.

I’m pleased to say that I’ve now tasted 4 of the 5 items in the box, as follows.

The Plum Pudding:

Wine Society Plum Pudding

Plum pudding ready to eat

I like a nice fruity plum, or Christmas, pudding, and this one was particularly well endowed with fruit. In fact, the first thing on the list of ingredients was mixed dried vine fruits, at a lovely big 33%.

Plum pud stuffed with fruits and a heady dash of brandy

I haven’t got the packaging any more so I can’t check, but I do remember that brown sugar came quite low down on the list of ingredients. The pud was stuffed with sultanas, raisins, apricots, cherries, nuts and brandy, all of which were present in larger quantities than the sugar.

The pudding was duly heated up and dished out, steaming, into plates for me and my two most delightful assistants.

All sorts of things can accompany plum pudding, such as brandy sauce or ice cream, but I think the pick of all accompaniments is single pouring cream:

Plum pud doused with cream

A little snowy mountain of pudding

Unfortunately, technology doesn’t yet allow pictures on the screen to be tasted, but I can assure you that this plum pudding was a first class specimen. Fruity, nutty, boozy and extremely rich and delicious.

You might think that after such a pudding one ought to have had one’s cravings for sweet rich foods satisfied.

What, though, if you had a packet of shortbread biscuits and a box of jelly babies that had been neighbours to the pudding in the Christmas box looking as if they, too, yearned to be tasted?

Shortie and jelly babies

A pot of Afternoon Ceylon Orange Pekoe Tea (that also came in the Christmas box) was made, and the biscuits and babies laid out for contemplation.

Being a bit of a stickler for my preferred biscuit texture, I’m sometimes a little nervous when it comes to shortbread.

When I took these shortbread biscuits out of the pack they stuck together a bit, which caused anxious furrows to appear on my brow.

However, I needn’t have feared, for the dampness did not in any way impair the flavour or, indeed, texture of the bite. I wonder now if in fact the dampness was there simply as a reminder to me that dunking was called for.

Diving in for the dunk

Dunked shortie

To my mind, a biscuit successfully dunked (i.e. almost saturated with liquid and withdrawn just in time to avoid slippage into the bottom of the cup), is a biscuit that has attained the highest possible achievement in the biscuit world.

The biscuit packaging stated that the contents were duty bound to be dunked. I’m delighted to report that they performed with aplomb.

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Feeling I was on an unbeatable winning streak, I didn’t stop at biscuits.

Baby on the brink

Baby diving head first into tea

The babies, unlike the biscuits, didn’t mop up liquid, but they did melt very slightly and glistened with tea when brought out of the cup.

On the whole, I take my jelly babies dry, but on this occasion the tea-coated baby was a very pleasant departure from the norm.

The only thing remaining for me to try from my Christmas box is the Christmas cake, and I’m saving it for its own little post.

Simply Delicious hand made Christmas cake

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The lion is one of those beasts that does an excellent job of brightening up a gatepost.

I don’t know if it’s a peculiarly Scottish or British thing, but certainly in my neck of the woods it’s reasonably common to find gateposts sporting lions on their summits.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. These lions sit atop a couple of gateposts in the village of Bankfoot in Perthshire. This was how they looked just before Christmas, with a bit of festive decoration:

Festive Lions at Bankfoot

The other day, delightful assistant no.1 and I went for a walk past these same lions. The decoration had changed from Christmas wreaths on the posts to hats of snow on the lions:

Snow-capped lionsLion with snow hat

A variety of poses and expressions can be seen in gatepost lions, and these particular ones seem to me to be unusually fierce.

It is perhaps a little uncharitable of me, but ever since seeing them with snow on I can’t stop thinking of them as ‘the disgruntled lions’. I think the expression popped into my head when I saw this one with his snow mohican:

Snow mohican

His teeth looked especially menacing, with an icicle having formed between his jaws:

Teeth of ice

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One of my dear chums gave me a box-shaped gift at Christmas.

When I unwrapped it on Christmas morning and saw that it was indeed a box of something, the dimensions immediately suggested a pair of shoes.

Here is the Christmas box unwrapped on the left, with a rather natty shoe box on the right to show the similarity in size:

Shoeboxes? The Christmas gift box on the left with a natty shoebox on the right for size comparison

The wording on the box, however, suggested something quite different:

Christmas box inscription

This might lead you to believe that there was wine inside. However, this chum, despite being something of a wine connoisseur himself, knows that I don’t drink the stuff. What, then, was in the box?

Something much more up my street:

Menu card inside Christmas box

Menu items described

Having so much other rich food at Christmas, I wanted to keep this special box for a later date. It is definitely a sharing present, and was given to me with the intention that I share it with my delightful assistants.

Inside the box

I’m excited about all of it, but I’m especially looking forward to trying the tea:

Orange Pekoe tea

And the cake:

Christmas cake

And the jelly babies:

Jelly babies

And the pudding:

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And the biscuits (which I will be very happy to dunk in the tea, to allow them to fulfil their duty):

Shortie for dunking

I look forward to reporting on the tasting of these in due course.

Having seen what was in the left hand box in the first picture, you might be curious to see what was in the right hand one.

The box itself is rather decorative, with pretty tissue paper covering the the shoes inside:

Decorative shoe box

The shoes:

Decorative shoes

These are in fact the shoes I got married in. The marriage is, alas, no more and sciatica prevents me from tottering around in heels these days, but I do still take these beauties out of the box every now and then to have a look at them.

As you can see, they’re not only decorative on the top, but the soles are covered in rabbits popping out of teapots:

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The shoe is lined with turquoise velvet, the outside being finished in pink velvet with tinselly coloured stripes and a big bow at the toe. The heel is chunky, pink and translucent, with a leaf motif and a blue bit at the end:

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This particular intriguing sight first met my eyes about a year ago, and came into my world again just before Christmas.

One day in December, delightful assistant no.2 (the pater) had been off doing his salesman bit on local tearooms, asking them if they’d like to stock my book, Tearoom Delights.

He had previously left a copy of the book with the owners of the Joinery Cafe in Meigle, and called in again on this occasion to see if they were interested in taking any to sell.

If you’ve got, or seen, a copy of my book you might recall I wrote a review of the Joinery Cafe. In addition to delicious tearoom fare, they also sell various gifts and oddments.

Here’s an exerpt from the book:

“…on the previous few occasions I’ve been here I’ve been very taken with one particular item. I think it’s a draught excluder and is all joined together, but it looks like six toy dogs in a row.” 

Back at the Joinery Cafe, the owner said that although he appreciated the review I’d done of his cafe in my book, books weren’t a thing he was interested in selling. However, to make up for not stocking any, he wanted to present me with a little something.

On his return from the Joinery Cafe, delightful assistant no.2 told me this story and produced the little something out of a box.

Imagine my surprise and joy when I beheld the very thing that had caught my fancy in the Joinery Cafe and that I had written about in my book. I admit, I cried with happiness when I received this lovely gift:

Joinery Cafe dogs

An Intriguing Sight: six little dogs all joined together – a draught excluder perhaps, or simply a decadence of docile doggies?

Not only are they delightful on their own, but they added a bit of sparkle to the festivities at Christmas:

Six little festive dogs

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Here’s a little game for you.

A few years ago a small stowaway hopped onboard a ship with me in Shetland, and has been my travelling companion on a number of offshore trips since.

I haven’t been offshore for over a year now and my small companion has mysteriously vanished. I think she got tired of waiting for me to go anywhere exciting and has galloped off on her own little adventure.  I could probably lure her back by leaving a trail of Maltesers in the garden.

Agnieszka at the Maltesers

She’s in all of these photos. Can you spot her in each one?

(Some of them are quite tricky, but she’s there all right wearing her little horse blanket, knitted especially for her by a lovely Polish surveyor called Anna).

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I spent Christmas 2007 on a boat in Hammerfest, way up in the north of Norway, and my mischievous little chum got herself right in amongst the festivities.

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A very merry Christmas one and all, 

and many good things to come in 2013!

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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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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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